Thursday, 16 May 2013

Gluttony for punishment

On a happy note I received a press release this morning, and unusually thought I'd use it:

Sweet...everyone loves a baby story.

"HUNDREDS of fluffy cygnets are beginning to hatch at Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset after the first baby swan was born at 7.45am today (16 May). The Swannery is the only place in the world where visitors can walk every day through a colony of mute swans, see cygnets hatching and participate in mass feedings at 12 noon and 4pm.

Swanherds noticed the first signs of hatching when the pen (female swan) on nest number two became restless and began hovering over the nest, to allow the emerging cygnet more room to peck its way out of the egg. The pen is continuing to turn the remaining six eggs, until they finish hatching."

But not all bird stories are quite so happy.

As a rubber duck aficionado you can imagine how distraught I was to see this sequence of photos as Florentijn Hofman's floating, inflatable sculpture came to a sticky end in Hong Kong's harbour.

I stopped buying from Amazon when their tax avoidance scams became known a year or so ago...and it has burst into the open again here.  If I could avoid Google I would, but I'm trapped in their net (even Blogger is Google-owned isn't it?).  What fascinates me is that all these businesses and many, many more have 'Corporate Social Responsibility' policies, yet without batting their eyes, they can't help but duck their most basic of responsibilities.  The greed is good philosophy seems to have been ratcheted up more and more in the last thirty years...let's hope it is close to breaking point.

I don't know why I do it.

This is The Cat's and The Boy's last term.  Exams have begun.  The stress levels are high.

But at the end of the exams, their school days all just seem to fizzle out.  Shortly, they go on exam leave, and only go to the school when there's an exam on.  At the end of the exams, that's it.  They don't go back.  For the parents, it means their seven year involvement ends with a whimper, not with a bang.

So a little while back, I proposed to the school that a celebration dinner is held for the parents of the Sixth form leavers.  For me it's a chance for the parents to thank the school for turning their babes in arms into something approaching an adult, and like wise for the school to thank the parents for their support.  The headmistress leapt on the idea, and the culmination of my efforts takes place on Friday.  Dinner for 140 of us.

But it does make me wonder how some parents function.  When asked about dress code by one mother, I replied 'lounge suits'...which is most people's lingo suggests a dress code for women as well.  I got a shrieking reply that she wasn't going to wear a lounge suit...what was she supposed to wear.  I've had to move some people around because the people they asked to sit with no longer want to.  I had one parent accuse me of telling him the wrong I told him the right one, and he just wrote it down wrong.  I've had people ask to sit with particular people, only for me to find out that the people they've asked to sit don't want to sit with them.  I've had a parent ask if they could bring their kids... it's a semi-formal dinner for parents.  The original hall 'The Great Hall' we were due to be in suddenly became unavailable because the teacher who booked it for me forgot there would be exams in there.  And so it goes on....

I'm looking forward to it.  There may be a tear in my eye.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A bit of olive oil on troubled waters

Please don't trouble yourself reading this post if you're irritated by my occasional  political pontificating or do I mean posturing?

Obviously I'm gutted about Brighton and Hove Albion being knocked out of the play-offs last night.  I'm not a footballing man, but you have to support your home team.  That's why I wore my shirt for the first leg on Friday night.

I'm even more gutted that my favourite radio station has been closed by its owners.  Q Radio has been my station of choice for several years now, churning out the sort of music I like with DJs who don't interfere too much.  A second choice is BBC Radio 6...but if anyone has any suggestions for alternatives, that would be much appreciated. Muchly.

Evidently, I am a grammar guru.  I scored nine out of ten in the BBC quiz here.  It would have been ten, but I forgot that lesson about reading the question before answering...something I've not had to do for a few years.  Anyway, I realise that I may be better at knowing good grammar than I am at putting it into action.  You just have to read this blog to discover that.

The BBC is on form at the moment.  I read this article - 10 things about Hell.  It was prompted by Dan Brown's new book.  And if you know anything about Dan Brown's books, they are hell to read and then even worse when translated into a film.

I hope Rupert Murdoch doesn't come chasing me for quoting this interview with Jamie Oliver in the Sunday Times:

"He is known as the cheeky Essex charmer who can rustle up a culinary feast for friends and family in the blink of an eye. This weekend the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver showed a political side, saying he was disillusioned and frustrated with the government.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Times, Oliver, who employs thousands of people, attacked prisoner reforms, suggested that school meals were not being funded properly and said that although he did not support UKIP he loved the fact that the party was “stirring it up”....

....While he admitted that he did not know much about UKIP’s policies, he observed that “with Thatcher dying and seeing how we reacted to her death and then how UKIP did over the last weekend I think it is part of the same stuff. I think the public reacts to clarity and single-mindedness. I know I should be careful what I say but I do believe politics has got more squashed in the middle and samey.

“What I love is that UKIP are stirring it up. Now they have stirred it up they have got my interest and I will listen to them and I don’t think anyone would before . . . It is a clear sign from the public that they want someone to have a view.

“I think the public want prisons sorted out properly, I think they want hospitals sorted out properly. We have tried a few things in the recession and I think they are question-marking whether we are going down the right path. I think UKIP has changed the path for the next two years.”

Now apart from a disastrous meal or two at his restaurants, I have to say I rather like his cooking.  And in fairness, it;s a long time since he was just a chef...he's quite a campaigner.  I think generally he has quite a lot (of good things) to say.

Unfortunately, I think what he is saying is both probably right, and probably quite dangerous.  He is 'bang-on' in saying the two major parties are occupying the same centrist ground...and have done for quite some time.  Just before the last election I went to a presentation where the economic policies of the two parties were analysed in depth.  The difference in their spending forecasts was around £5bn.  Now whilst that sounds a lot and is a little more than you and I take home every week, it is in fact a tiny, tiny, tiny amount when on an annual basis the government spends £720 bn per annum or there abouts. If my maths is right, we're talking less than 0.2%.  So whilst the Tories like to portray themselves as the politicians who are careful with our money, in fact they're no different to the Ed Miller Band.  And vice-versa.  my best guess is that The Eton Rifles are much more likely to stick to their guns because they have an elitist view that they and they alone know what's best, whereas Ed's gang would probably have wavered.

Jamie suggests that people like clarity and single-mindedness...he may be right...although many would argue that the current bunch in charge have acted with single-mindedness.  What I think, and have said before, is that people appreciate leaders with vision.  And that is where the current political generation is lacking.  The concept of vision.  What is Britain's role in the world, how should our society be shaped, what sort of communities do we want to live in...not just now but in 25 years time.  If a political party could and would shape that vision, I suspect they would garner enormous support...with a few enemies.

But until then, the danger is that crackpot organisations like UKIP will focus on a few populist policies and actually prevent a new order emerging.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Sore loser

I have a feeling David Cameron is being hoisted.  Having said that he wants to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU and then hold a referendum on it, a whole host of Tory Grandees and senior ministers are just manoeuvring just to have a referendum.  Almost certainly the result would be a British exit from Europe.  Cameron thought he was being clever, but really he's just a little boy playing with men's toys.  Useless, useless little man.

We bought a 'dock' for our digital music recently.  Very splendid it looks too.

We chose this one because a) it looks good and b) you can plug in both an iPod and an android phone.  Except we discovered that our iPod is too old to be compatible and the Android connector (if you're not a techy...if you don't have an iPhone, but do have one onto which you can download apps, the chances are that it is an Android phone, probably made by Samsung, Motorola, Sony or LG) just charges the phone whilst the music has to be sent by bluetooth...yes that does sound over-complicated, and yes it's a bit beyond us.  So it's a bit of a white elephant really...

A little while back I mentioned the new members of the cast here   Well there's been some changes already.  Firstly Mrs Mop has gone.  I don't what we did to upset her, but she decided to not  remain.  Since then the office has deteriorated as no one is clearing up and washing up.

Secondly The Bishop has been renamed to Mrs Sweary Shouty.  In fact she just swears.  Like a trooper.  Enough to make a sailor blush.

New in is Quiet Girl.  She is that.  And very lovely too.

And finally we have Scooter Girl.  Yes she rides a scooter, is a photographer comes from Wales with a broad accent and is very full of life.

So it's all quite fun really.

After the exertions of Friday night it would have been sensible to have had a quiet weekend.Fat chance.  We met The Muffins for lunch.  Naturally I wore my Bradley Wiggins top as I tried not to fall asleep at the table.  The Wicked Witch of The West arrived with Boss...they'd come to collect The Boy as there was a christening to be done down in Buckinghamshire.  At the same time we took the opportunity to talk about arrangements that need to be made now that he's 18 and he is technically responsible for a whole host of things from his mother's estate.  Not taxing at all.

And then last night we went off to see Jack Dee.  I struggle to enjoy stand up just seems odd to sit and watch and listen to one person in the middle of an enormous stage.  But I enjoy Jack Dee's miserable gait and he does his stuff very well so we laughed along for a couple of hours.  His theme was the miserable week he'd had, and he comic observations that permits.  Very good.  Recommended.

The alternative for Sunday evening would have been to go to the BAFTAs.  The Olympic Opening Ceremony was up for an award, but cruelly our hopes were dashed.  I blame that Clare Balding for being exceptionally good throughout the Olympics and Paralympics...a worthy winner.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Cook some

Surprisingly I managed my cycle ride up to Cambridge.  Even more surprisingly I did it about 20% faster than I normally cycle to work...a distance of just 27 km as opposed to the 103 km of this ride.  It took four and a half hours of peddling to complete it in the wind rain and cold.  I have to say I was pretty chuffed with myself, as it wasn't until I'd left the house that I had decided to do it. I think you can see the route if you click here

It was a trip through my own little history.  The start point was just by the changing area for the Olympic Opening Ceremony, and as we peddled through London I went past many familiar sights including my father's old factory.  Later on we went past Audley End...I remember leaving my bicycle there as a young teenager when I went off for a day trip to was just propped against the wall, completely unchained or shackled and still there on my return - would that happen now?

I didn't really see all that much in the was heads down stuff and concentration required all the time...the rain was pretty consistent from start to finish, so we ended up soaked top to bottom before we'd hit five miles.  It didn't matter too much really...I quite liked the cooling effect, although it made things a bit slippery, especially over drain covers.  The wind was blustery so it could catch us unawares, but fortunately it was generally blowing in the right direction.  I was delighted to see an owl fly past...they're great to see, and enjoyed the coincidence of a cock crowing as we arrived in Cambridge.

The three refreshment stops were marvellous...a hot warming drink and some energy-giving food were just what I needed.  But it did mean that when you went out side again, it felt really, rally cold.  The worst time for me was just after the half-way mark after a short stop...out into heavier rain, uphill, loads and loads of pot holes, and nearly missing a turning.

I learnt some things

Being part of an ad hoc team thrown together as we met in the cafe at the start made all the difference.  We swapped lead position as one would flag and another would find a burst of energy,we all rolled merrily along as the hours ticked by

You don't get sleepy as you peddle.  I had wondered whether I would just fall asleep at some stage...I had no idea what the impact would be

Pot holes can floor anyone.  The roads were littered with dangerous pot holes.  i managed to miss them all just about, but a good number didn't complete the ride simply because they crashed down the holes and buckled their wheels

A seven car police chase in the middle of the countryside at midnight is not exciting, just terrifying

If you wear a Brighton and Hove Albion shirt on the night of one of the play-offs, people will want to talk to you a you'd better know what the score is/was

The mysteries of the rail network are beyond belief.  I took the train back at a cost of £24 - I was only going to Stratford.  The six people who were going all the way to Liverpool Street paid the princely sum of £10.50 each, although they were travelling a longer distance.  My route mean a change at Bishops Stortford, onto a train to Liverpool Street and then back to Stratford, even though there is normally a train directly from BS to Stratford....this was the route they made me take, even though it would have been better to have taken the train directly to Liverpool Street and then out again...quicker and cheaper...grrr

As for the title of this was text I sent The Cat's Mother about one in the morning....predictive text can have some interesting results...wonder if you can guess what I thought I'd written