Saturday, 28 February 2009

What's in a Word?

I love words. I enjoy writing and don't do enough for leisure although I have started to write a book. I'm not trained and haven't done any courses for creative writing, so I'm not taking it too seriously - just for fun - a cathartic exercise like this blog?

Ernest Hemingway once said, "The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in shock-proof shit-detector".

Spoonerisms, made more popular by the Two Ronnies and the first class script writing abilities of Ronnie Barker (Gerald Wiley) and others, are one of my favourite word play giggles. My mother recently stated while sorting out items for recycling, that she needed to go to the 'battle bonk'.

Tom Swifties can be fun too. Work it out without me explaining: 'Doctor, I keep thinking I'm a machine gun,' said the patient repeatedly. 'I've gained over fifty pounds,' he remarked roundly. 'Welcome to the Teetotallers ball,' said the MC drily, and a clever one: 'That chicken has no beak' the farmer pronounced impeccably.

I am guilty as anyone of regular tautology: a waste of or redundant language. A good example is 'an absolute certainty;' if it's a certainty - it's absolute! Why use two words instead of one? Other examples are 'forward planning' - what else would it be? 'Free gift;' gifts are generally free. 'Past history;' yes it is - one or the other.

Cliches are my favourite and I can't say too many sentences without one, but what do they mean? Adding colour to verbal language is easy but annoying after a while; avoiding cliche in the written word is essential. Here's a few of my worst examples - sorry. 'At the end of the day,' 'Between the Devil and the deep blue sea,' 'Doom and gloom merchants,' 'Not to put too fine a point on it,' 'Tarred with the same brush,' 'To all intents and purposes,' and finally for now because there are too many to speak of, 'There but for the grace of God...' Avoid cliches like the plague (groan!)

I would imagine non UK people can find the English language complex. I know UK people find it complex! Even if you know what the word means, the context is different for different people. Take for example the British meal time and its associated nouns. An invitation to dinner from strangers could be disastrous - what time of the day do they mean? Some people eat Luncheon around 1 pm as the main meal while others eat dinner (sometimes called supper) at 7 - 8 pm. Others have dinner at midday and a main meal called tea at 6 pm with a light supper before bedtime. Others have a lunch snack before noon, dinner at midday, tea at 4 pm and supper during the evening. High tea, God forbid is a meat or fish dish served late afternoon. Thanks to the Sunday Times Wordpower book for this one.

Mother, "Bobby's teacher says he should get an encyclopedia."
Father, "Let him walk to school like I did."
Giles Brandreth, 1980.

Chat soon


Thursday, 26 February 2009

Diet Tips Required...

I once asked my wife how I could lose 25 pounds of ugly fat. She replied far too quickly, "Chop your head off!" I was watching the BBC news yesterday and a report on obesity and as I am clinically obese and don't normally like to watch such programmes, I did take particular notice of one woman who had lost a lot of weight: she said, "You don't see many old fat people, they've usually gone by then." Hmmmmmm. I have asked my wife who has a little more time on her hands these days to consider planning for a diet again! Having reached the 'dangerous fifties' I have to take action.

"I went on a diet, stopped all drinking and heavy eating, and in fourteen days, I lost two weeks!" Joe E Lewis

The problem I have is that when I am determined to do something I do it. That's fine, but the trouble with dieting is (years ago, I lost three and a half stone through dieting) once I've taken the weight off - keeping it off. A change of lifestyle is needed which is more problematic than it first seems. I don't know if you've ever noticed that it can be quite expensive to diet - reasearching and buying the right foods, organising and planning meals and then fitting them in.

Listen to the language: 'The problem is...' and 'The trouble with dieting is...' and '...more problematic...'

I am not talking myself out of doing it, honestly but my other half will have to take responsibility for us both, we both need to shed some weight. Before - it was just me on the diet so the family ate snacks clandestinely, had treats behind my back, openely ate packets of crisps etc. That will have to change, temptation must be removed! I heard on the radio the other day that they had brought out or are bringing out a new drug which when used alongside a diet can help shed pounds although it does have side effects the report said that was not approprate to talk about in polite conversation - what, what?

So what kind of diet? There are hundreds: some controvertial; some superficial that can be found in a woman's magazine for example; some advertised on the television but cost money to join and be monitored - I haven't got a clue. All my grandparents were thin at my age and I once put that down to a healthy wartime diet - in fact there could be nothing further than the truth - a wartime diet was horrendous. What made them thin in the war was hard work, worry about whether they or their loved onces would survive tomorrow and a simple but poor diet, particularly for those unable to grow their own vegetables for instance.

So I'll stick to the old diet regime that we had a few years back and for which my other half has kept the paperwork and see how it goes. I don't want to weigh myself to get some baseline data from which to work, but I'll bite the bullet and do it with my eyes closed.

I once got onto a speaking weigh scale at a local station; stood on the scale, put the money in and the machine said, with a sarcastic tone, "one at a time please!"

Chat soon


Wednesday, 25 February 2009

What's in a Name?

My children's names are very straightforward, traditional and impossible to shorten. Those were the parameters that my wife and I set when searching for names. Names of ex girlfriends were definitely out as was anything obscure and high-profile biblical. I wonder what Sir Bob Geldof was thinking when he named his first born Fifi Trixiebelle Geldof. As if to snub his nose at his detractors he named his second born Peaches Honeyblossom Michelle Charlotte Angel Vanessa Geldof; at least Peaches has the option of calling herself by the relatively normal names such as Michelle or Charlotte etc.

But then what's 'normal?' Indeed why should we rail at the choice of a parent for their child's name.

I suppose in the back of my mind was that I didn't want my kids to go through school life hell being bullied just because of a crazy name. Having said that my son went to school with a boy called Christopher Peter Bacon: Chris P Bacon?

I thought the BBC triumphed again with a bit of nonsense today in their news reporting with a list of names given to them from the researchers of parenting group after trawling through online telephone records. There are some real classics, but this time is is not the outrageous but the wordplay between given name and surname, for example Justin Case, Barb Dwyer and Stan Still.

Parents must have been either drunk, insensible to the possibilities or had a cruel sense of humour with which they have burdened their kids (although some apparently, like Rose Bush don't see it as a burden.)

Some real life UK examples were Pearl Button, Jo King, Barry Cade, Carrie Oakey, Priti Manek, Tim Burr, Hazel Nutt and Rose Bush. In America, they found Anna Prentice, Annette Curtain and Bill Board.

Trust the inimitable Samuel Goldwyn to come up with a classic Goldwynism: "Now why did you call your baby 'John'? Every Tom, Dick and Harry is called 'John'"

Chat soon


Monday, 23 February 2009

"Lego is NOT for Posting in the Video Recorder Dear!"

At least there is some success in the UK economy with the toy-maker Lego reporting a 51% rise in UK sales today on BBC News. This has great memories for me because as a young child I had a biscuit box full of Lego pieces.

I can remember saving my pocket money for weeks and going to Barker's Toy Shop in Cottingham to buy a tiny box of red bricks 'eight dots' long. The long bricks gave stability! I played incessantly with Lego and I bought my kids loads of Lego when they were young, but the product had naturally changed over the years. Little figures are now available and all sorts of extras and add ons with moving pieces and flashing lights, themes such as pirates and witches. I remember a thrill at getting bricks that had wheels on which meant I could build cars!

Does anyone remember the boy's toy Johnny Seven? It was a multi-purpose gun type weapon which fired spring loaded plastic bullets and grenades and let me tell you my Action Men figures got a real raw deal being constantly bombarded the long length of our Victorian hallway. Me at one end protected by piles of coats and my action figures with their impotent plastic guns surrounded by a cardboard fort at the other end.

I loved books and drawing. As an only child living in a three storey Victorian house, I also enjoyed exploring although there was one room, as a child frightened me. The door was in the middle of a wall on the stairway between the first and top floor. What I didn't know was that it was the water tank room, but of course no-one ever told me and it was always locked with a key in the lock. What or who was being kept prisoner in there? I always ran past it, never dwelling anywhere near it.

Well today, our kids have their imagination stretched to the full by the variety of entertainment and intelligent toys and computer based stuff which they can interact with - perhaps parents have been able to abrogate a little of their responsibility to interact with their kids as they get older. Who knows.

"Anyone who can hate children and dogs can't be all that bad,"
WC Fields

Chat soon


Sunday, 22 February 2009

What Men REALLY Mean...

While interpreting a woman’s meaning is difficult for men, I am sure that women have the same anguish occasionally. After yesterday’s ten puzzling comments from women, I’ve had a look at how us men puzzle women.

Man, "I'm getting more exercise lately." = The batteries in the remote are dead.

Man, "I do help around the house." = I once put a dirty towel in the laundry basket.

Man, "I missed you." = I can't find any clean socks, the kids are hungry, and we are out of toilet paper.

Man, "I don't need to read the instructions." = I am perfectly capable of screwing it up without printed help.

Man, "That's women's work." = It's difficult, dirty, and thankless.

Man, “You’re the only girl I ever cared about.” = You’re the only girl who hasn’t rejected me.

Man, “I like the way you’ve done your hair.” = I’m trying to impress you because for once, I’ve noticed.

Man, “How was your day?" = I have prepared myself for an hour of complaining. My nerves of steel will last as long as they can bear.

Man, “Yes dear I was listening.” = Please God don’t let her ask, “What did I just say?”

Man, “I am not lost, I know exactly where we are.” = we are lost, I have no idea where we are.

“Women have their faults,

Men have only two:
Everything they say
And everything they do.”

Chat soon


Saturday, 21 February 2009

What Women REALLY Mean...

If you’ve ever done a language course, like French for example, you can go to France and although you may recognise odd words or catch the occasional phrase, it’s wise to think about having a phrase book or an interpreter; the same can be said about the language of the female gender of our species, so here’s some phrases women use and their real meaning – some are from my experiences, some from others.

Wife, “I’ve been thinking…” = This is going to cost you a fortune.

Husband, “Where are the new dishcloths?”
Wife, “Just wait ‘till I’ve finished doing what I’m doing and I’ll get them for you.” = For God’s sake do I have to do everything in this house, it’s like looking after a five year old child?

Husband, “I know you’re busy, just tell me where they are and I’ll get them.”
Wife, “Just wait, I’ll be one minute.” = I don’t want you rummaging in all the cupboards and making a mess, in any case I’m not sure where they are but don’t want to admit it.

Woman, “I don’t want to talk about it.” = Oh yes I do, go on I dare you – ask, I’m ready with all guns primed.

Woman, “I’m fine, really I am.” = No I’m not.

Woman, “Honest, there’s nothing wrong.” = Please ask me because it will give me an excuse to chop your balls off.

Woman, “Thanks a lot.” = I am really cheesed off with you, but don’t ask if anything is wrong because I shall say “nothing,” and keep you guessing.

Woman, “We need to talk.” = I want to complain.

Woman, “You need to learn to communicate.” = Listen to what I tell you and just do it.

Wife, “What do you think?” = I’ve already made my mind up – just agree for goodness sake.

So as not to be considered sexist in any way shape or form, tomorrow, I shall be listing what men really mean.

"Women have more imagination than men. They need it to tell men how wonderful they are.” Arnold H Glasgow.

Chat soon


Friday, 20 February 2009

Ne'er cast a clout 'till May is out...

What do you call it when worms take over the world? Global Worming!

Spring seems to be here and the birds are singing again. Although there is a warning of colder weather returning soon, going to work and going home in daylight makes all the difference. I noticed a neighbour’s garden has drifts of snowdrops in flower and with fewer frosts I actually had the window at work open these last two days.

I love the garden and I don’t really touch it at all after picking up the last of the leaves in mid December. Two months absence will be at an end next week when I have a few days off work and tidying up ready for the year ahead starts in earnest. The fish will be looking forward to a few bits of wheat germ based food after a winter of abstinence – something they can digest easily. I won’t clean the pond out just yet; they don’t like being disturbed too much when they are torpid. I’ve had the pond waterfall going all winter and that’s kept the water reasonably filtered and clear for them.

Sitting in the garden at dusk is magical this time of year. The air is generally still, the cloud formations are so attractive; the birdsong is clear and melodious and when it gets chilly, a hot cup of tea and a warm fire beckons.

The grass has survived well and I have some compost from a compost bin with last year’s green kitchen waste and clippings that need to be forked in around the borders. I will be pruning some shrubs and getting ready to sit out on a tidy patio.

This is the only real exercise I get and am thoroughly looking forward to it. I only wish I could afford Garden Force to come in and give me some ideas for a small patio for us to sit on in the middle of the garden.

Ne'er cast a clout 'till May is out... I can't give you a literal translation, but essential it means don't take a chance in taking any layers of clothes off until June arrives, because this country is famous for its last minute chilly spells as we get lulled into a false sense of security.

Chat soon


Thursday, 19 February 2009

Skeleton in the Cupboard

My grandmother often wondered if the family ever had any "skellington's in the cupboard?" She also used to use the names Thorningumbald and Witherunsea for the Holderness villages as well as 'cerstificate' if you ever needed a note from the doctor. Back to the 'skellington.' Ironically, when I started my family history research nearly 30 years ago, the only skeleton I ever found was in her cupboard, but I never had the heart to tell her while she was alive.

I don't need to say that life was tough in the 1920s after the great war and my grandmother's father had eight children. He died when the youngest was four months old. My grandmother told me when I was doing the research that she had been told by her mother he had been hit on the head in an accident on the docks and had died in hospital as a result. I looked all over for the accident record, articles in the paper etc etc, because I didn't know enough about him to start applying for birth or death certificates then - no access to family history on the web like there is now.

By sheer coincidence I went to the local council archive and lo! there was my great grandfather's death recorded in a dusty red leather bound volume and he had died outside of his home city. In fact the sad truth that had been kept from my grandmother is that he had died in an asylum from "softening of the brain" and he had gone into the asylum just three months before his death from the city workhouse. No accident on the docks - he wasn't even working - he was described as a 'pauper' - that was in 1925 post war Britain. A hunt for his death certificate which became easy after I had the information from the archives. Death was due to 'cerebral softening, contributory factor cerebral hemorrhage and dementia'. He was just 41 years of age.

If I meet someone with a mental illness today where it is obvious or a physical condition that renders that person unable to communicate clearly, I become very uncomfortable and nervous. Don't ask me why, I have no idea but I just can't shake it off - I feel a coward for not confronting it. And yet dementia of one sort or another is so prevalent in our society today. We spend money on anti smoking (quite rightly), campaigns on drink driving, excess alcohol, obesity, keeping your heart healthy and next to nothing on highlighting dementia and how to cope with it.

I am following John Suchet's story of him coping with his wife's Alzheimer's Disease in the news at the moment; he says he has gone from 'lover to carer.' Because of where he lives, he has the services of an Admiral Nurse from a group of specialist carers. He is luckier than most but that's nothing to do with his wealth, it's to do with his postcode and a more caring local authority.

I wish him and all carers who have to cope with looking after a loved one with a mental illness well. They have a difficult job which requires courage, patience, stamina and above all, love.

I struggle to find an appropriate one liner today because writing this has dampened my spirit a little, but I lighten the mood with a short sketch from Morecambe and Wise, 1979.

Morcambe, "My wife has a terrible memory."
Wise, "Has she?"
Morcambe, "Yes, she remembers everything!"

Chat soon


Wednesday, 18 February 2009

It's Just Not Cricket...

Cricket was the only game, as a young guy, I was ever any good at to a reasonably competent local level thanks to a dedicated teacher Brian Chubb who took his duties as sports teacher seriously including spending his time out of school getting kids to play sport. I played twice in goal for the school soccer team in goal (won one, drew one) and I broke the school shot putt record once.

"It's a funny sort of a month, October. For the really keen cricket fan, it's when you discover your wife left you in May." Dennis Norden, 1977.

Cricket however when I played is not the same as it is today. To be fair, professionally, it's much more of an athletes game now than it was although the skill levels are not much different - the pace is quicker. 20 - 20 cricket, one day internationals (ODIs), three day county games and five day tests starting on a Thursday and playing on the Sunday and the world cup are just some of the changes. This was all prompted by the outrageous (at the time) action by Kerry Packer who organised a highly paid rebel tour that stunned the establishment, and things were never the same again.

Imagine my mirth today to learn of the investigation into an alleged $8B investment fraud by Sir Allen Stanford (source BBC News online), the man who sponsored the controversial Cricket Super Series matches which took place in November, which England lost comprehensively to the Stanford Superstars, who netted $20m (£12.4m). I understand contracts for further tournaments have been suspended. Good.

That amount of money - similar to the obscene money paid to top flight professional footballers will bring down professional sport if we are not careful in the current climate.

I was saddened to hear of the retirement today of Richie Benault from commentating duties. The former Australian cricket captain has been commentating on cricket for 47 years and with some notable others, became the voice of the sport. The others were the late John Arlott, Brian Johnston (Jonners), and Benault's co-commentator for many years, the late Jim Laker who took an awe inspiring 19 wickets for England against Australia in 1956 in just one match at Old Trafford.

Listen to Jonners greatest moment here during a cricket commentary on BBC Radio 4 Test Match Special

Three spelling mistakes today :(

Chat soon


Tuesday, 17 February 2009

'Another Glass of Port Please'

What's gout and have I got it?

I was sitting with some friends the other day and I got this piercing stabbing pain, albeit short lived in one of my big toes. Then I got another one under the sole of my foot, and both made me jump and wince. My good friend Linda turned to me nonchalantly and said, 'you've got gout - don't eat chicken,' then she turned back to her companion with whom she was having a conversation as if nothing had happened.

There I sat non-plussed being a generally healthy if overweight fifty something year old with a diagnosis of gout an never again be able to eat a favourite food. My imagination, as you can imagine ran amok and I envisaged this portly grey haired, red faced, old man in a velvet jacket sat with his foot wrapped in bandages like a mummy on a stool
sipping port. Well I didn't have a velvet jacket and I don't like port except in minute quantities and only at Christmas with cheese and biscuits. I have the occasional sharp shooting pain in a toe or under my foot but nothing that I want to do anything about, but curiosity like the cat overcame me and I had to have a look at the t'internet to find out more.

Wikipedia, we all trust it right? says "Gout is characterized by excruciating, sudden, unexpected, burning pain, as well as swelling, redness, warmth, and stiffness in the affected joint. This occurs most commonly in men's toes but can appear in other parts of the body and affect women as well." Okay, well I have no warmth, swelling or redness or unexpected stiffness, (no jokes now). Apparently, the uric acid that gets into the joints depositing crystals causes the problem and this comes with eating protein rich foods.

My friend Linda is right and other protein rich foods are all foods that I adore! This is clearly not fair! They include tuna, duck, turkey, eggs, crocodile and kangaroo meat, nuts and seeds and tofu (what the hell is tofu?) among others.
Not that I've ever had crocodile or kangaroo meat. My research shows Crocodile has a firm-texture, light-coloured meat with a delicate fishy taste, similar to monkfish, that absorbs other flavours well.

For best results Crocodile should be cooked in the same manor as lean pork or chicken and can be prepared using both wet and dry methods of cooking. You can buy it too!
On the other hand, Kangaroo meat is tender, very high in protein, low in cholesterol (less than 2% fat) and deep red in color. It can be used in most beef and lamb recipes or served with a light sauce, however because of it leanness care must be taken to avoid overcooking.

The problem is of course that if you try to catch one it will eat you and the other will fight you. I'll stick to lamb burgers.

Vegetarians don't read this - whoops too late!

FIVE Spelling mistakes today - keyboard must be faulty.

Chat soon


Monday, 16 February 2009

If Only...

What's the fifty something man's view on poetry? Well I'm no stranger to it although I know virtually nothing about it's technicalities or intricacies or how to interpret the more complex poems. My school days hero was Walter de la Mare who wrote mystical and whimsical shorter poems. I bought books of comic poetry which I still read today, but I don't know a lot about serious poets. I once read John Betjeman who I thoroughly enjoyed because he didn't take himself too seriously and I could relate to what he was saying about upper middle class suburban life. Roger McGough is cool when I saw him deliver poetry to kids and the Barnsley poet, the delightful Ian McMillan who I have met a number of times a few years ago is just down right brilliant fun.

I can’t abide the national Daily Mail; they hate everything and everyone (as if they were so perfect and never made a mistake) and in particular anyone in public service is fair game to be shot down and their life ruined as a result. However for once, they published an article today (16 February 2009) intelligently written by Geoffrey Wansell who has clearly put some dispassionate research into the fascinating subject (honest) of one of the nation’s favourite Poem, ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling.

Briefly, Wansell tells the story: Kipling published Rewards and Fairies in 1910, a collection of short stories and poems of which ‘If’ was one. Indeed, the poem was written to celebrate the achievements of a friend of his, a little known named Scottish born adventurer Dr Leander Starr Jameson. Jameson suffered at the hands of the British Government as a result of a military action in the land that eventually became South Africa, an action which was supported in planning at the time by the British Government.

Jameson led a group of men in a political raid that was designed to encourage an uprising as a result of him overrunning Johannesburg in Boer held Transvaal. The politics are too complicated for this blog, save to say that the country that is now South Africa was then divided into four colonies, two British: Cape Colony and Natal and two Boer: Orange Free State and Transvaal. Needless to say that the British Government when hearing of the intended raid, panicked and changed its mind. Fed up with the political arguments and bickering that arose about the plan from the Governments change of mind, Jameson went ahead but his raid failed miserably. Boer Government troops chased Jameson and his troops, killed 30 of his men and also cost him supplies and horses. He surrendered and was handed over to the British Government who tried him for the raid and imprisoned him for 15 months.

This action caused Cecil Rhodes to step down as the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. Jameson, undaunted by his time in jail returned to South Africa to become Prime Minister of Cape Colony until just before the creation of South Africa in 1910. Jameson never revealed the extent of the British Government's support for the raid and Kipling paid tribute to him in his poem, but not more so than in his famous opening lines:

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

Kipling, my dear blog friends had the courage to speak out against Jameson’s unjust treatment; Jameson, who acted whilst others dithered. Kilpling wrote about it and put his money where his mouth was by refusing a knighthood, an Order of Merit, the post of Poet Laureate and Companion of Honour.

This is about courage. Jameson's courage do do what he believed and Kipling's courage to defy the establishment for something he believed they had done wrong.

Jean Kerr in who wrote the book Please Don't Eat the Daisies in 1957 that was later turned into a film (1960) wrote, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it's just possible you haven't grasped the situation."

Thanks Jean, for bringing me back to earth.

One spelling mistake today.

Chat soon


Sunday, 15 February 2009

"The name's Bond..." but which Bond?

There are some serious questions for the world to find answers for: How do we combat climate change; how do we come out of recession; how do we stop the march of extremism; more importantly, who was the best James Bond?

This is an argument I have listened to but rarely contributed to because up to now I have had no real idea. Each of the Bond's are so different in character and the style which the producers used around them is also different.

To start the process here are my top five Bond films:

  • Octopussy (1983) - Roger Moore
  • You only Live Twice (1967) - Sean Connery
  • Casino Royale (2006) - David Craig
  • Thunderball (1965) - Sean Connery
  • Live and Let Die (1973) - Roger Moore
My top five Villains:

  • Ernst Stavro Blofeld - Charles Gray - Diamonds are Forever
  • Doctor Kananga - Yaphet Kotto - Live and Let Die
  • Kamal Khan - Louis Jourdan - Octopussy
  • Le Chiffre - Mads Mikkelsen - Casino Royale (2006)
  • Jaws - Richard Kiel - various
Top Bond Girls:

Too difficult - they're all gorgeous.

So, James Bond? Well let me discount Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby who never really made their mark (in my humble opinion) with any real distinguishable character. Timothy was too much of a rebel for me. David Craig hasn't done enough yet to judge but he will certainly be up there if his next film is a good one - good looking (damn him!) reserved, slightly aloof - good British Bulldog. If I was female I'd vote for him (don't ask).

Pierce Brosnan is a great Bond. Cool, debonair, lots of stamina, likes his gadgets and always cool in a crisis. Can be too serious and over dramatic.

Sean Connery is so enigmatic and his Scottish brogue and snappy dressing is so appealing and always ready for action but too 'off the hip', sometimes badly prepared and he was let off the hook by the villains too many times. He was clearly never breast fed as a child.

Roger Moore. Handsome, not that fit, sense of humour, adventurous, daring in the situations he gets himself into and can be very ruthless; very British - he's someone us lesser blokes could aspire to be if we were to be given the chance to be 007. He just takes the medal by a short head over Connery for me.

Two favourite quotes:

Goldfinger - with Connery on the laser torture table.
Connery, "Do you expect me to talk?"
Goldfinger, "No Mr Bond, I expect you to die"

Moonraker - at the end when Moore is alone with Holly Goodhead!
M: "Good grief, what's Bond doing?"
Q: "I think he's attempting re-entry sir!"

Two spelling mistakes today.

Chat soon


Saturday, 14 February 2009

Valentine's Chicken Surprise

Happy Valentine's Day. I do hope you have a romantic meal tonight. I really enjoy cooking. I'm not a bad cook and can create a nice tasty meal providing it's not too complex or arty. I was one of the latchkey kids of the late sixties early seventies. Mother and father had to work to bring in meagre wages and I lived with my grandfather as well who was blind so when I came home from school there was a list of instructions how to cook basic meals and there it began.

"Where there's smoke; there's usually toast."

My favourite meals are:
  1. Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding with fresh steamed vegetables;
  2. Home made beef lasagne;
  3. Fresh salad;
  4. Lamb chops, grilled with soy sauce;
  5. Chicken breast in seasoned flour and paprika and casserolled with fresh vegetables;
  6. (Don't laugh) Tinned salmon sandwiches in fresh brown bread;
  7. Minced beef with mashed potatoes;
  8. Butternut Squash (A Jamie Oliver recipe on the BBC web site) baked with bacon and chestnuts on its own or as an accompaniment to pork or chicken;
  9. Toasted cheese and onion sandwiches;
  10. Roast pork and, of course, crackling.
I'm not a pudding lover particularly because the main meals tend to be fairly sizeable, but my favourite puddings are:
  1. Home made bread and butter pudding;
  2. Chocolate sponge pudding and chocolate custard - just like they made at school!
  3. Biscuits and a variety of cheese, particulary stiltons, Danish and most French cheeses;
  4. Rhubarb crumble, well baked with traditional custard or fresh single cream;
  5. Fresh fruit salad with single cream.
Hence why I am overweight. When we were first married, pressure cookers were all the rage and we tried slow cookers but they went by the wayside, but we've just rediscovered the slow cooker and as the other half is working and wont be home until early evening, I have done a chicken surprise (the surprise is there's no chicken in it!)

CHICKEN SURPRISE: Ingredients to feed four hungry souls for the slow cooker, done in about 8 hours, prep time about half an hour.

5 large chicken thighs in their skins (come pre-prepared from Messers Sainsburys);
5 carrots - sliced;
Medium onion diced roughly;
Half a turnip - diced;
2 leeks - sliced;
2 courgettes, topped and tailed and sliced;
2 large celery stick washed and sliced;
Tin of chopped tomatoes;
2 ounces of butter.


About 4 ounces plain flour mixed with a chicken stock cube, 2 tablespoonfuls of ground paprika, lots of freshly ground pepper. Salt is optional - I never use it in cooking, if you need it there's enough in the stock cube.


Prepare the carrots, turnip and courgettes and place them in the crock pot. Cover the chicken thighs in the seasoned flour and fry them in the butter, turning until golden brown all round. Place the thighs on top of the vegetables in the pot. Using the same frying pan, fry the onions, leeks and celery together until soft and starting to go brown and then add the tin of chopped tomatoes (beware of spitting) and bring to the boil. Once up to the boil, pour over the chicken in the pot and then cover the whole lot with boiling water.

Cover and cook on medium in the slow cooker for around 8 hours and serve with rice of your choice.

You can use an identical recipe for the oven and cook for about an hour and a half on about 180 degrees; just make sure you check that the water doesn't evaporate.

Have a great Valentine's day.

One spelling mistake today!

Chat soon


Friday, 13 February 2009

Funeral for a Sea Dog

I went to a funeral today and as funerals go it was okay. Two minutes short of 20 minutes on a bright, sunny chilly day - a good day to be cremated. There are okay funerals, enjoyable funerals, embarrassing funerals and funerals that are too long. I've been to fun humanitarian funerals, ritualistic Roman Catholic funerals and ordinary mundane C of E type funerals. Today was the funeral service of an old neighbour of ours who died last week and whilst I won't name him, he was a retired merchant navy sea Captain. He had a stroke five years ago, just before his wife died and he's spent most of that time in a nursing home. The son, who we haven't seen for a while greeted us warmly and said, "The old bugger's dead." I thought, 'thank goodness, we're here for his funeral.' There's always room for humour. The Captain was a strong character and although he couldn't speak following his stroke and was less than mobile, I get the impression he communicated exactly what he wanted and dictated the pace. I don't know how old he was when he died but I guess in his mid 80s and it was quick; so a decent innings.

Wife: Arthur...
He: Yes dear?
Wife: I think I would like to be cremated.
He: Okay dear, get your coat on.
Attrib. Jerry Dennis

I used to enjoy the summer months in the front garden chatting to him about his life at sea, his adventures and his family who he adored. But his wife told me that he liked things just so; so when he was about to arrive home after months at sea, there was mad frantic activity getting the house and garden 'up to scratch'.

As time moves on and when you get to my age, there are more funerals to attend as contemporaries or what few senior relatives you may have left go on their merry way to wherever souls or spirits go after death. The worrying thing about that is when one of them is the same age or younger and that has happened to me recently, both lost to cancer. I have liked the humanitarian funerals particularly because they conform to my ideal: a celebration of a life gone and giving thanks for enrichment obtained through knowing the individual. There is a life history, funny or whimsical stories, and no objection to music - strange or otherwise being played at appropriate moments in proceedings. There are a lot of people I know who have had religious funerals who have had no particular religious interest and I wonder about that but I'm sure God would not object, we are after all all his children.

Planning for my own funeral has not been committed to paper but in my head there are a couple of songs I want played and I want it to be a relatively short and sweet affair with no hymns (no-one sings them anyway because they are too embarrassed, too upset or they key is too high and they don't want to be heard wailing out of tune) and prayers or thoughts for the living left behind that they should enjoy their lives in happiness and health.

What would you have as a memorial? There's a question. As I am to be cremated there will be no headstone, but perhaps a plaque on the wall at the crematorium would be okay. Spike Milligan had written on his tombstone, "I told you I was ill." Or I could publish a book either a novel or a home made tome like a family history (I like that idea). Or just be a memory to those who you have touched in your life - I like that too. There will be an eternity in the other world for us all to get to know each other better; shame we can't do it here and now.

On his seventy fifth birthday, Winston Churchill said, "I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter."

Four spelling mistakes today :(

Chat soon


Thursday, 12 February 2009

Snoring? Boring....

Like 99% of all human beings, I snore. I know I snore, I wake my self up with my snoring. Get to my age and add a couple of pounds to my fighting weight (did I say pounds?) and snoring becomes easier - I don't even have to practise (or is it practice?) I am frequently reminded by my other half that it took her ages to get to sleep because I was making such a racket. Very interesting dear but I can't do a lot about it. I have tried those nose clips that footballers used to wear to increase their oxygen intake but they don't work apparently. I have tried sleeping on my back, left side, right side, upside down in the cupboard and nothing works. I think it deflates her for me to acknowledge that I snore - here's a tip guys, admit it all, take a bollocking and move on. If anyone has tips for decreasing the decibels, answers on the comments please.

We are lucky that when I had a cold recently and my snoring, she said, was bad, while my lad is at university, she slept in his bed for a fortnight - bliss - two weeks of not having the blankets pinched or me listening to her snoring!

When I tell her she snores she denies it and fights back like two politicians over the dispatch box with an accusation that it does matter and had I ever heard myself snore like a passing train? No dear I am asleep, and so it goes on.

The snow has returned today with a vengeance and this time it's laid heavy with about 4 inches - very picturesque! I have discovered that a massive benefit of the bad weather is that the satellite can't receive a picture - hooray! So here we are, she's knitting and I am eating crisps and actually talking with a Rod Stewart double CD The Complete Great American Songbook playing softly in the background. I asked her if she wanted a cup of tea and as a joke I came back into the room with an empty cup and pretended to trip and pour it over her. She is not amused and as a consequence she is not talking to me! Hurry back Sky!

Looking forward to the weekend but I must wash the car, under the snow it is encrusted with road salt. But then the minute I take it on the road, it gets covered again! More time for me to sit and watch a bit of sport - if there's any on because of the snow or flooding. I can't take the opportunity to talk to her again at leisure during a few quiet moments this weekend, she's working - oh well.

No spelling mistakes today!

Chat soon


Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Theatre of Tragedy

I have followed the news for years, partly because that was one of the main television programmes when I was a kid and we always watched it - our window on the world. In later years I followed it through professional interest and involvement in media issues. These days, I hold a reasonably responsible job linked to business risk. Fortunately there's not too much finance involved - it's mainly reputation and legal stuff. Nevertheless, I've got responsibilities and I take them seriously. I get paid for doing a good job and I enjoy the challenge (or is that a little old fashioned these days?). I was fascinated today to read the story of the resignation of the deputy chief of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) Sir James Crosby.

You see, like the reputation of Scots people for thrift and saving money, Monty Python also had a view on Yorkshiremen and their relationship with money and wealth. I know from my own experiences that there is also a fondness in this part of the country for exaggerating our hard times as kids:

I was happier then and I had nothin'. We used to live in this tiny old house with great big holes in the roof.

House! You were lucky to live in a house! We used to live in one room, all twenty-six of us, no furniture, 'alf the floor was missing, and we were all 'uddled together in one corner for fear of falling.

Don't groan, it is a political bent to today's blog, but actually it affects every single one of us in this country today. Sir James was HBOS bank chief when a risk manager Paul Moore allegedly told the Board that that it was expanding too fast and he was allegedly dismissed by Sir James because he did not like what he was hearing according to the BBC News site. Sir James then became deputy of the very service (FSA) that was supposed, as an independent body, to regulate the financial services industry in the UK. To you and me, that means making sure that the banks and financial institutions play by the book in promoting fair, efficient and orderly markets.

I am absolutely delighted Sir James has resigned, after this story whether it be true or not, he has no credibility and Paul Moore is adamant that it happened. If you follow the cliche that 'there's no smoke without fire' then he had no choice. The other delightful piece of theatre was the big four bankers appearing before the select committee and apologising for what had happened in the banking industry. That may or not be enough, but I can't really get a grip of the fact that the Royal Bank of Scotland is losing 2,300 employees and we, the taxpayer has given them £20 billion to keep them afloat. Why? Because they are incompetent, and now they carry on and frankly I'm not convinced that the Government has the power or the will to act to stop this happening again in the private sector. I wouldn't want to be the Tory party today, knowing they will win the next election to have to inherit the deepest recession we have seen for 100 years.

I feel for all those who have lost their jobs in this recession and not because they were incompetent or performing badly. I feel for all the small businesses particularly many in the area I live who were carrying out business in a professional way but were let down by the very banks that are now so risk averse that they feel they can no longer support thriving and successful firms in difficult times. Banks that were so bad at their own business that others suffered and are suffering and will continue to suffer. Their arrogance is staggering and today the Government have shown themselves as toothless.

An anonymous quote in the Penguin Collection of Modern Humerous Quotations is as follows: "A banker is a man who lends you an umbrella when the weather is fair, and takes it away from you when it rains." Perhaps the very question should be asked of those regulating the financial services industry - the watchdog - what the hell were they doing while Rome burned... fiddling on their violins no doubt.

On a lighter note, what do you call 200 bankers on the sea bed? A start.

Two spelling mistakes today

Chat soon...


Monday, 9 February 2009

The Delights and Dispair of Snow

Snow has been subject of much debate lately due to this extraordinarily long period of cold weather. Questions arise like “Why does the country come to a standstill with an inch of snow?” and “I can remember when I was a kid when winters were real winters…” Well I have no such experiences of long hard winters except perhaps one in the late seventies where the local bypass had snow piled up either side to several feet.

But I can remember in my childhood home rubbing beautiful and intricately patterned ice off the inside of the windows in a morning. You have to remember however that ‘in those days’ (showing age and maturity) we had single glazing and no form of heating in the bedrooms (showing good memory) and pyjamas and a dressing gown were a must if you didn’t want to freeze to death on the journey between the bedroom and equally cold bathroom. I can still remember a stoneware hot water bottle that my grandparents used to have for their bed in the tall three storey Victorian house I used to live in as a kid. Double glazing, central heating, smaller rooms, carpets and instant access to gas/electric fires have made us soft perhaps, hence why we probably suffer more colds and sniffles these days.

Let’s face it this country has always come to a standstill whenever there has been snow – when was it any different? Why do we moan about it – it happens in a winter – live with it! My concern I suppose is the economy and our jobs. More of us feel the need to take a risk and travel to work. Bosses should be more understanding (ha!) and good bosses (and there are some) should put contingency plans in place to allow workers to ‘work from home’. Clearly, extremes of weather allegedly caused by climate change will continue but it doesn’t necessarily mean temperatures are simply rising; as I understand it weather will be come more extreme which means harsher winters and hotter summers. I just need to buy more table salt for the drive in case the council run out - they've bought up all the gritting salt! I have some rock salt in the kitchen cupboard, it's better for my health but is it good for the environment?

The forecasters will tell you that long hard winters when it snowed for weeks and winters were permanently cold year after year is an urban myth like long hot summers every year – they never existed; statistically anyway. Simply put, the memory plays tricks because as kids we had the freedom to spend more time outside; thats it! But I do have this child-like fascination with snow – I love it, which I know is selfish because it does bring hardship to the vulnerable, but I can’t help it. I love being in and watching thunderstorms and seeing hard rain bouncing off roofs. But being fifty something does mean that for the first time, I feel the effect of the cold more. I was out just before Christmas in a particularly chilly wind gathering up the tons of leaves that seem to end up in my garden from the surrounding town’s trees when, after an hour outside I couldn’t feel my face at all and it took ages for the feeling to come back so I could get to the point where I could smile or articulate my words properly. And here’s the rub, I’m not fit enough to wade through feet of snow having fun or climbing up hillsides all day to go tobogganing.

So here I am – a spectator of the wintry weather, still affected by it through higher heating bills, longer journeys to work, more reluctance to walk, work, drive or play in it, but I still love the magic of the sight of thick laying snow.

BTW (text speak for 'by the way' - is that cool that I know that?) I only knew one blogger personally, Andy Comfort a senior broadcaster on BBC Radio Humberside. I met another today - Lisa and I look forward to reading her blogs about food - a favourite pastime of mine.

NO spelling mistakes today - wow.

Chat soon…

Ta ra!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

How to Listen and Convince People...

The picture taken by Rare Lesser Spotted shows hardy fishermen on Hull's Corporation Pier approaching high tide on the afternoon of 8 February 2009. Mad buggers!

Sundays are not necessarily a family day these days. I have some duties to perform with the local football league; my other half attends her church and evening meal is the only time we really sit down with each other and we don't talk too much because while we eat, we watch Time Team on Channel 4. We normally drink milk or a cuppa with our fairly traditional (for the English) Sunday roast - this week beef, steamed fresh vegetables and roast potatoes (no Yorkshire Puddings - sacrilege!) But this week after a long week at work I had a bottle of 'Badger' world champion beer, brewed, it says, with First Gold single English hop to around 4% alcohol volume. In fact a nice smooth tasty drink considering its 96% HO2.

My acquaintance with real ale started a couple of years ago shopping in
Sainsburys where there was a selection of bottles of real ale. Not being a big drinker at all, I thought I would become fashionable and cool like my kids who knew this stuff fairly intimately and for a now-and-then drinker I found it rather nice for a change.

Talking with the other half is not a tradition I enjoy too much when I'm tired after a long day at work, but having read the exceptional book (although you have to get used to the strange prose) Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, I learned to listen to my other half who seemed to want to spew out her days story albeit there was rarely anything but routine work in her NHS role. See? For a fifty year old guy to buy that book to try to understand women or more accurately relationships is not bad. However, I'm not sure what I got from it other than 'listen harder', she has peaks and troughs in her moods, men like to go into their caves (the shed) and if you are in her bad books, don't buy her flowers from the local garage .

The trouble is most of it goes in one ear and out of the the other - a practise I have honed over the years and am frequently reminded about when I can't remember salient facts about this or dates relating to that. I'm not sure I'll change after 29 years of marriage and what worries me is that when I retire, how will I adapt to convincingly ignore a greater intake of chatter whilst appearing to be interested? Ideas on a postcard...

Alan Ayckbourn in his 1975 play Absent Friends created the line, "You must come to our house next time. Absolute peace. Neither of us says a word to each other. It's the secret of a successful union." Wise man.

Only three spelling mistakes today.

Chat soon... Ta-ra.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Warmth of Recycling

I suppose the effort of recycling may extend the life of the worlds resources by a few weeks but it does give me a warm feeling to recycle. Why is that? As a fifty plus Yorkshireman to whom recycling, until the last couple of years, has been a non event, the recognition that my grandchildren (my kids haven't even got regular girlfriends!) may have to live in a world that will be more difficult to navigate through that I have been lucky enough to enjoy has been motivation enough.

There are a few stumbling blocks to overcome to wipe out any vestiges of cynicism I may have about the efficacy of recycling. A good friend works on a redundant landfill site monitoring methane and other nasty gasses, and he tells me all sorts about mysterious lorries turning up to remote parts of the landfill site where he works and dumping 'stuff'. No one is allowed to go close enough to examine the material. Other rumours abound that since the start of the 'depression', sorry Gordon, 'recession', recycled material isn't worth the effort because there is no return. Since the Chinese have been hit by the worlds troubles, they are no longer snapping up the world's detritus. Such material is simply being dumped apparantly. If it is - I would be very annoyed - I might even write a letter!

Continuing with the recycling theme, concerned that my identity might be stolen, I am a regular shredder of the important rubbish that comes through the door about 11.30am when the postman gets round to visiting. I end up with black bin liners full of the stuff but my local council (East Riding of Yorkshire) tell me I can't put it in my blue recycling bin because the shredded paper falls off the conveyor belt, gets into the works and sets it alight! Wrap it in newspaper (like fish and chips presumably) and place it carefully in the blue bin they say. I can only imagine that when the bin gets lifted onto the bin man's lorry and the contents get violently shaken into its smelly belly, the quality of my wrapping will not be sufficient to save it from being strewn all over the place and be a potential fire hazard in some anonymous warehouse somewhere! I wonder if there is a night class for effective chip wrapping?

Some weeks ago, I took my black bin liner full of shredding to the local tip and attempted to put the shredded paper into the requisite bin through a slot about the size of a large letter box slit with the result that my hands were getting trapped in the flap and most of the shredded paper went on the floor. I got a bollocking for my trouble.

I went today and the man at the gate to the tip politely said that he would open the back door of the large bin and I could walk in, tip it all out with the proviso that I didn't leave the bin liner in the bin. Why couldn't the guy a month ago been as helpful? Duly dumped, tidily and without littering the surrounding area, I am now attempting to physically warm up at home listening to the football on the radio and cuddling a mug of tea. So there we are - I am spiritually and physically warmer than I was all through putting paper in a bin.

Four spelling errors today!

Chat soon. Ta-ra!