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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

January 31, 2005

Mac Mini Has Landed

UK dealers have started to receive stocks of the new Mac Mini - I've even held one in my hands. I didn't see it running, just held it, cold out of the box. It really is dinky (external power supply not included, natch), and feels weighty and well-built.

The ports round the back all line up very neatly, though I suppose it might get a bit tight round there with a full suite of cables plugged in.

Do I want one? Good question. If I was running a newspaper, I can see no reason why InDesign or Quark XPress wouldn't run sufficiently on a Mac Mini - but the coming generations of these apps will almost certainly be optimised for G5 and dual processors. Same story with most music and video software. On the other hand, if you've got your ambitions in perspective, a Mac Mini will certainly run over 20 tracks of digital audio quite happily (with an external hard drive of course), so a cheap and easy way to set up a multi-track home recording system - or a school media lab.

As I just overheard a salesperson say, anything you can do with an eMac, you could do with a Mac Mini - though for a complete system purchase it's still not as cheap as an eMac.

in other news, Apple have just announced new, speedbumped PowerBooks, if that's your kind of thing.

Script Doc

I meant to mention this story from Friday's MediaGuardian.co.uk (log-in required, sorry) about the sorely troubled EastEnders:
"EastEnders reportedly came close to going off air because of disagreements over plot lines, with scripts being constantly ripped up and rewritten."
Personally, I think 'Enders' problems go back many years, and you could see they were sowing the seeds of the whirlwind back then. Going 4 times a week was a bad move. Sure, you can make hay and catch viewers while they want to watch, but it makes it impossible to go back to 3 times a week when you run short of ideas, however temporarily.

What's always annoyed me has been their method of introducing new characters and storylines. They always do it in the same way, so that it reinforces their problems. The new characters are always introduced as one big family, and for months, all the storylines revolve around them, and it all spirals down the drain.

For example: the Jacksons. Remember them? There was the mother, who had loads of kids by different fathers, her current partner, Alan, and their, ooh, 4 was it? kids, one of whom was a thieving scallywag. And it all got boring and they were written out, except Sonia, who exists in the twilight world of characters without storylines for now.

Then there was that italian family, another extended family, supposed to be running some kind of restaurant, and one of them was a cop, and they were always fighting, except it got boring, so they were written out.

Then came the Slaters, another extended family, grandmother, father, multiple sisters, multiple storylines. Some of them have been written out of it.

Then the Ferreiras, an extended Asian family, and they were derided and mostly written out - I think a couple of them might be knocking around still, in limbo, soon to depart.

Not content with that sequence, another big family has been introduced, the Shelley-like unemployed father, deluded mother, pregnant teen daughter, thieving scallywag of a son etc.

Can you see the pattern? It's all rubbish. What they try to do, again and again, is parachute plotlines into the square, which is why none of the families is quite what you'd call "normal", balanced, or complete. But drama works best when it takes ordinary people and puts them under stress, into extraordinary circumstances etc. So they should be starting with mostly average people who, over time, develop relationships and storylines in a more organic way.

But that's the other thing. Everything is so rushed. The beauty of a long-running drama serial, it seems to me, is that you have all the time in the world to let things develop, to fester, to come to fruition. Illegitimate children can be forgotten about until they're of plottable age etc. Secret affairs can go on for years without being discovered. Only this morning they were talking on the radio about a bloke who pretended to his wife to be working in the far East for 6 years, while all the time living 2 miles down the road in West Bromwich. Yes, the Dash Hammett Flitcraft plot from the Maltese Falcon. But in EastEnders, every plot is accelerated to try to pull in the viewers, and guess what? It's a big turn-off.

It's a tired, tired old format. Things that used to be funny about it are no longer funny. Nobody can keep a normal job that takes place of the Square, for example. So if you're cop, like Beppe and then Kate, you have to give it up and go work in a pub or a nail bar. You either work in the arches, one of Ian Beale's businesses, the pub, the club, or on the market. The number of people who magically produce the capital to become a market trader is miraculous.

Why isn't someone working in the city, insider trading, or selling shares short and getting caught out? Why doesn't some Sarah Beany style property developer couple move in and start doing up houses and selling them on, attracting well-paid middle-class people? Why is nobody in a band? What about a busy restaurant with a loud braying celebrity proprietor hot and noisy kitchen, full of hungry sous-chefs and desperate waiting staff looking for love? None of this would be hard to achieve within the constraints of the format. Someone moving in who owned their own washing machine and shopped at a supermarket would be a start.

Still, they know where I am if they want to call me in.

Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

Well, do ya? Because I do. I had such a lucky week. Not the big kind of luck, so there's no need to hate me.
  • First of all, there was the Letter of the Week in the Radio Times, which is a small point, but points win prizes

  • Then there was the coming of the Caramac Kit Kat, another small point, but it made me happy and allowed me to spread joy by giving them away to my colleagues and friends. We'll gloss over the diet issue for now

  • Saturday night, I won another tenner on the lottery. Again, not the "exciting news" their email indicated, but better than a kipper down the trousers

  • Sunday, I found a gold ring in the garden. Looks like a wedding band, which is going to have a story attached to it, isn't it? Either thrown out in a fit of pre-divorce pique, or lost in the potato peelings and thrown into the compost, or simply dropped by a magpie who bit off more than he or she could chew.

It all adds up to a peaceful, easy feeling. And you know what? The strange thing about this run of good luck was it started when I began, in a slightly self-conscious way to engage myself in positive self-talk in the morning on the way to work. I've known about this sort of self-help therapy for many years, and used it once before, when I was at university. It was particularly useful in meeting deadlines, and I also used a sign on the wall that read, "Just Do It" (hmm where have I heard that before?). So when I glanced up from my work, ready to stare into space for a while, there was the sign. It worked. I never missed a deadline, and I got a First.

You just have to say things like, "It's going to be a good day, a good week, I'm in a good mood," etc. Nothing fancy. Just a simple, positive message, repeated several times. Nothing negative, nothing like, "It's not going to be a bad day," or (in terms of the sign mentioned above), "Stop messing around." Because a negative message just reinforces your negativity.

Anyway, I'm starting to sound like some kind of low-rent guru, so I'll leave it there. But you too could find a discarded wedding ring in your compost heap.

January 28, 2005

"Formerly" my arse

What do they mean, "the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens"? Because, as far as I'm able to make out, they keep calling him that because that's all he's known as, all the time, ever. Because people just can't cope with that tricky foreign name he adopted, can they? They go all goldfish, confronted with that: what did you say? Garam Masala? Chicken Jalfrezi? Oh, Cat Stevens... Why didn't you say that in the first place?

Photo Printer update

; ;

It's been a while since we talked about this kind of thing, so it's about time I told you about the printer I've been using for my photo printing for the past couple of months. The HiTi 730PS uses dye-sub technology and will produce standard 6x4 inch prints, larger 5x7 prints, and frameable 8x6 prints.

So why this one? A few years ago, I turned my nose up at dye-sub printers, thought they'd had their day. The consumer models I saw were slow, and the final output bore no comparison to prints you could get from, say, an Epson Photo 6-colour inkjet printer.

Even recently, it appeared that inkjet was wiping the floor: manufacturers added additional colours to the mix (lighter blacks for better greys, red and blue, in addition to the standard cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). But it all came at a cost. Epson insist on putting chips in their ink cartridges which inform you that they're empty before they're empty (because the print head has to stay wet); and they were not cheap to buy, especially for those models with an all-in-one colour cartridge. Run out of yellow, and you had to fit a new cartridge, regardless of other ink levels.

Canon came along to address these issues, and for inkjet printers now, I'd recommend one of the Canon PIXMA range, which are both pretty and fairly cheap to run. I've got one of the cheaper models, just for every-day printing purposes.

But for photos, I wanted something special. My last Epson Photo model dried up and died (when you start to get banding in prints, you can run through the head cleaning cycle anything up to a dozen times to unblock the print-head), and I couldn't get it working properly. So I thought again about dye-sub.

Canon also make dye-sub models, which you'll have seen advertised on TV perhaps. But for the most part they're restricted to 6x4 postcard prints, and it's always nice to have the option of something bigger. I saw the Hi-Touch at the Focus on Imaging show last year, and got the company in for a demo.

(I should explain, if you don't know, how dye-sub works. Whereas an ink-jet squirts dots onto the page to build up tones, dye sub printers feature a waxed film which passes across heated rollers and transfers the ink to the paper in a continuous tone. So, even with a magnifying glass, there are no dots to see. It's impossible, therefore, to compare "dots per inch" figures with inkjet models.)

The nice thing about dye-sub printers is that the running costs are a known quantity up front. You buy ink and paper in one package. So a 60-print kit gives you exactly enough ink and paper for 60 prints, at 30p per print. While you might find lower print prices on the high street, you won't have the ability to completely optimise your prints, not the flexibility of different sizes and formats.

The 730PS is quick, and the output is superb, indistinguishable from a photographic print. For a quick 'n' easy job, you can just stick the memory card from your camera in the front and choose pictures from the handset - without the need to connect to a computer. And while the pictographic instructions for fitting the ink roll and paper are confusing, in practice this is quite easily done (if you need to swap sizes, you can store the unused media in a ziplok bag).

For 2005, you can also buy CD labels and sticky backed paper to print on (I imagine I'll decorate a few blank CDs at a time, if I use that), and new media sets for ultra-vivid photo prints - which will please the Flickr colour junkies.

The most amazing thing about this technology is that for standard prints, it uses just 3 colours: cyan, magenta, and yellow. And yet you wouldn't know it: blacks look thoroughly black, reds look red, greens look greens. I've even printed a full set of black and white prints, and they looked fantastic.

Finally, it's brilliant at producing ID photos and the like. So you can stick someone against a suitable background, snap a head and shoulders shot, and print out 8 perfectly proportioned ID photos on a single 6x4 sheet. On the whole, I'm delighted with it. The only downside is that you do need a regular printer for doing letters etc., but at around 45 quid for a PIXMA iP1500, that's not going to break the bank.

Public Service Announcement

A lot of visitors to Hoses of the Holy seem to be looking for pictures of Marge Helgenberger (also Charlotte Ross, which means they think I am the number one source on the web for pictures of nice birds from cop shows or something). Anyway, folks, the mistakes you're making are of two kinds. First of all, the best search engine for images, in my experience, is alltheweb.com (click on the image search tab).

The other mistake you are making is in including an "e" on the end of Marg - which is short for Margaret, not Marjorie, and is probably something I did myself on an earlier post (and used above for illustration). The best advice with any search is to look for the unique element. In this case, to avoid results pollution, you should just search on the surname, because there aren't many Helgenbergers out there on the innernet. Go to alltheweb and search on Helgenberger and I guarantee you pages of hits.

As for the lovely Ms Ross, choose alltheweb as your search engine, and you will find what you're looking for, which I bet is something like this, you pervy perv.

Give the Dog a Bone

originally uploaded by mcmrbt.
At long long last.

Older readers will remember that I've been banging on about this for a long long time; some have even tried to have me committed. After first thinking of it some time in the mid-90s, I wrote to Nestle, and then emailed them more recently, receiving their standard "reply to a nutter".

But I knew that in the current climate, where they release new products and new variations on old products on a weekly basis, that they'd eventually give it a go.

Found in Waitrose in Towcester, which, I have to say, is a very nice place - the cleanest supermarket I've ever been in.

January 27, 2005


originally uploaded by mcmrbt.
Older readers will remember that I mentioned the other day that we had a 20th Anniversary Mac in the repair dept.

It's been there a while; I don't know if it's awaiting a part or a flash of inspiration.

Heh. Did nobody notice it was brown?


I woke up from a strange dream about ramshackle country piles, drop-top cars, the Jeremy Clarkson God of Motoring and flirty posh birds thinking about... flirting.

I don't really indulge anymore, no opportunities, but I used to get a real kick out of it. I love a good flirt. Flirty girls are the best. Many years ago, I worked with a world class flirt. If flirting was Formula 1, then she was Spoonface; if flirting was football, she was Brazil; if flirting was herbs, she was basil.

She had the power, the force. I first met her before she even came to work in my office, when she still worked behind the Boots photographic counter. I went in there one lunchtime to have some film developed - the one hour service - and I spent the whole hour thinking about her. Hazel was her name. She was no particular beauty, a freckle-faced Irish-looking girl with brown hair and green eyes. Her skirt was very tight, I noticed that about her. But she had the brightest of smiles and the sweetest of natures.

She switched it on immediately. I walked away from the counter with my colleague and we looked at each other: she was fantastic.

Then she came and worked in the office. I was gobsmacked: "It's you!"

Of course, she had no recollection of me. She was the same way with everyone, total flirt. I loved working with her. She had a boyfriend, of course. Those are the best kinds of flirts; she was very intimate, there were no barriers or taboos, far as she was concerned. So she knew everything about you, your love life, talked about everything, gave advice. We even socialised, I knew her boyfriend/husband. She got married and got knocked up and she was still at the top of her game.

Whatever happened to her, I wonder?

More from the Register on the MS flying car

Update: yet another brilliant route plotted by Microsoft Autoroute. Excellent. Probably actually quicker, if you take account of the usual traffic conditions that prevail in the UK.

God forbid that microsoft ever publish software that was, y'know, buggy.

January 26, 2005

Breaking News - Caramac Kit Kat is real

After years of relentless pressure from me and a few dedicated others, Nestle have finally released their secret skunkworks project the Kit Kat Caramac.

I just can't concentrate now. I've got to have one. If you see one, post it to me.

In other news, I have a "letter of the week" in next week's Radio Times (in all good newsagents about now). How embarrassing. I didn't write it in green ink, though, which is a saving grace.

Apple Pages First Look


MacWorld gives Apple's Pages the once-over:
"If Pages can’t do any of these things, then just who might want to use it? Just about everyone, I’m guessing, since it makes the creation of professional-looking documents a relatively trivial process."
The things it can't do are some of the more advanced features of Word, like mail merge, change-tracking, and macros. As the article says, hardly anyone really needs these features. Pages looks pretty much like the old Drawing module in AppleWorks, which was a fairly respectable desktop publishing tool if you knew how to use it - certainly better than all the budget DTP packages I've ever seen.

Advanced features are interesting things. They always follow the 80/20 rule (or even 90/10). Take Photoshop, for example: superb application. But Elements, at just a few quid, makes more sense for most people. The only bits you really miss are the high-end pre-press features, which, unless you're actually producing images for a printing press (as opposed to a home printer), you don't need. Same is true of advanced desktop publishing packages like XPress and InDesign. Unless you are seriously doing ths stuff for a living, you can do what you need to do in something like Pages.

For a home or small business user, it's often just a delusion makes them think they "need" a pro app. This is especially true of high-end music software. In the days when Logic came in 3 flavours, most people needed no more than the Gold version, unless they were using Logic as a front end to a high-end Pro Tools system. Still, the biggest seller was always Platinum. And when Pro Tools LE was artificially limited to 24 tracks (it's 32 now), people would complain about it, as if it was going to be utterly useless to them. Whereas most home hardware was barely capable, at the time, of doing 24-tracks simultaneously; and even if you could, if you weren't capable of coming up with something good with 24 tracks, you just weren't capable.

So I'm looking forward to Pages. I've never been fond of templates and stuff, but I'm hoping you can still start with a blank page and do your own thing. I suspect that my love for TextEdit won't wane though. TextEdit has almost all of what I need, 90% of the time.

January 25, 2005

Blue Windscreen of Death

Also from the Register today:
Is Microsoft preparing a flying car?


37 milk bottles and a dog

From the Register:
Londoners top world in leaving laptops in taxis
. What a forgetful/careless bunch. My sister was notorious in my family for losing handbags and purses; her daughter carries on the family tradition - she's always leaving her phone places. My favourite bit:
"UK taxi drivers reported finding a 'harp, a throne, £100,000 worth of diamonds, 37 milk bottles, a dog, a hamster, a suitcase from the fraud squad and a baby' in their cabs."

January 24, 2005

Roy Orbison in Cling-film site

These stories about Roy Orbison wrapped in Cling-film are truly excellent.
It takes a second or two for the penny to drop. 'Black clothes and dark glasses you say. I implore you to think carefully. Could the man's name conceivably be Roy Orbison? This is a matter of extreme urgency to me.'

'Yes! That was it exactly! Fancy, he is in the next room waiting for me to give him a sea-weed wrap.'

Macworld UK - Mac celebrates 21st birthday


Macworld UK reports on today's 21st anniversary of the launch of the Mac. It's kind of a shame there won't be any special products to celebrate this milestone, but the unfortunate fact in this industry is that today's limited edition product is tomorrow's landfill. In fact, we have a sad and abandoned 20th Anniversary Mac in our repair department. Forgotten and unloved, this brown, 603e machine with an undersized display wasn't really worthy of its name.

Which reminds me. If you ever want to know whether a product is worth buying, a trip to the local household waste recycling centre can be salutory. Take Dyson, for example. I was at the local dump the other weekend, and there was a fetching display of abandoned dysons lined up against one of the skips. Seven or eight of them, various colours. Now, you might think, they were old, after all. But a vacuum cleaner can last for decades for chrissake! I know several Dyson owners who swear by them, in much the same way 20th Anniversary Mac owners probably have their own club. But few people have the gumption to admit when they've been sold a bucket of dogshit by a bunter.

So my advice re vacuum cleaners: get a Sebo. Especially good if you have an asthmatic in the house. And remember this: it's not about suction, it's about brushes.

Kind of Blue

I bought one of these Digifusion (who?) hard disk recorders last week. Mine is an 80GB version. It does more or less what it says on the tin, apart from the "chase record" feature (where you start watching something you're recording while it's still recording), which doesn't work so far. Still, it's got 2 FreeView tuners, which means I no longer have issues about being able to tape digital channels, which was the main reason for buying it.

It pauses live tv etc, and the quality of actual recordings (on SP rather than any of the compressed extended play options) is indistinguishable from the original broadcast. The main benefit over VHS, apart from picture quality, is the sound quality, also excellent.

So I'm mostly pleased with it - I'm now able to record obscure-but-quite-good shows from Freeview channels, like abc1 (sports night, the geena davis show, mad about you, 8 simple rules for dating my teenage daughter), itv2 (3rd rock from the sun) and itv3 (the practice, hack, crossing jordan).

But that's not why I'm writing this. No, I wanted to comment on the interface of the thing, which is horrible. One of the reasons I tend to buy Sony over, say, Philips, is the user interface. Digifusion get theirs very wrong indeed.

It's blue. With white writing. Only it's not even a plain blue. It's like some kind of garish, sappy, Windows desktop background. And it reminded me, obviously, how often it is that interface designers confuse the concept of "user friendly" with "bright and garish colour schemes." Look at the evidence. Windows - overwhelmingly blue. Even (gasp) OS X - mostly blue by default (or "Aqua", but who are they kidding?). Quite often the on-screen VCR programming interface is - dammit - blue, as well.

So, boo to blue, back to school, people, and learn all about human interfaces. Again.

Beyond the blue, it does crappy things like opening confirmation dialogues which are exactly the same colour (and background) as the interface in the background. So you often don't notice that you're being asked to confirm something. Bonkers.

January 21, 2005


; ;

Reading about the Magic Roundabout movie puts me in mind of the only lecture I really enjoyed during my Critical Theory M.A. course.

Speaking on the subject of disenchantment, the lecturer explained what he meant by referring back to the good old days of television, when the evening news bulletin came on straight after the children's telly; in particular, The Magic Roundabout. One minute you're in a magic garden with Florence and Dougal, and the next, Zebedee says, "Time for Bed" and you get Robert Dougall reading the news.

For children, this was the continually repeated moment of disenchatment. For my own kids, the equivalent of this is the nightly end of CBeebies broadcasting at the ripe old hour of 7 p.m., or the moment I swan into the room like I own the place and switch over to ITV3 to watch The Practice, if I'm lucky enough to be home for it.

But, of course, that's just a metaphor. You could equally use the end of the long summer holiday, the first day back at school, whatever strikes your fancy. The real moment of disenchantment is a much bigger thing; it could be when you stop believing in Father Christmas; or when you realise that life is hard, some people are not very pleasant. "They fuck you up, your mum and dad," wrote Philip Larkin, but when do they do it, and how?

These questions haunt me as I watch my two girls growing up, when half the lifetime of one is the whole lifetime of the other. And I wonder when they'll look at me with the sad eyes of disenchantment, with the knowledge they've been lied to for their whole lives. Last night, CJ was getting excited because her "favourite grown up programme", 3rd Rock From The Sun was about to come on (ITV2, just about every day at 7 p.m.). She was jumping up and down. Didi joined in: "We're going to watch 3rd Rock!"

Two minutes later, I'm in the kitchen cooking dinner and I hear Didi's small little voice say, "I don't like it 3rd Rock." In general she doesn't like men being silly, it's a thing. A couple of weeks ago she was dancing at CJ's school disco, and suddenly stopped stock-still, like a statue. Later she explained it was because she didn't like "the man," meaning the DJ, because he was silly.

Maybe their moment of disenchantment will come when school discos stop being called school discos. For me, the beginning of fuckup dates back to my 8th birthday, when the world stopped revolving around me, the youngest of my parents' 6 kids, because that was the day my mum went into hoppital to have the seventh. Not his fault, but I carried a lot of resentment around about that.

You want to hold on to it for kids, the enchantment, you don't want it to stop. This last Christmas, we took them out for the usual trip round the house, chasing the ringing bell sound, while the presents magically appeared back in the salon. But CJ had too much experience, and knew that the place the be was back in the room, because that's where Pere Noel was going to be leaving the presents. So you're physically holding onto her, trying to maintain her illusions.

The God of Motoring

Nice post from Si over at the roadrageblog
: People will overtake me, you see, to get into my lovely space, even when I'm driving fast enough for it to be unnecessary. It's as though they think that I am displeasing the God of Motoring (a sort of Elephant-Headed 30-bosomed Jeremy Clarkson) by leaving a gap.

What a turn of phrase, and what an image to keep in the mind on a friday!

January 19, 2005

Should have got a Mac

I heard the Health Secretary on the radio this morning being asked about yet another government IT debacle as GPs refuse to use the new ebooking system for hospital places. John Reid said at one point that the NHS was "Bill Gates' 3rd biggest customer."

Oh dear oh dear.

It's a slightly not-known fact that many doctors actually prefer to use a Mac in their practice. I base this on the good evidence that a lot of them buy their Macs from a company I might have worked for at some point, mentioning no names.

It's also a known fact (to me) that even software that looks and feels quite good on a Mac, Microsoft Office, for example, can be absolutely shite to use on a PC. There's just no avoiding the fact that people who are very time and production sensitive - like graphic designers, publishers, video and music producers - people on deadlines and with limited time - like GPs with full waiting rooms - often prefer to use Macs because they can get more done. Windows software is clunky, slow, nothing seems to work the way it's supposed to, which is not even to mention security issues like spyware, worms, and viruses which do not afflict Macs to the same degree.

Someone wrote to MacUser magazine a while ago pointing out that an NHS Mac implementation would cost a fraction of the big Windows/PC rollout. I've believed for a long time that IT consultants who specify PCs into production-sensitive environments are charlatans and thieves. Anyone who doesn't consider the total cost of ownership is just plain thick.

January 18, 2005

Life's too short dept

Stuffing peppers is not something I normally do, but it did occur to me that it might be quite a low-point meal, so I made something up. I never do anything fancy like take the skins off first (you can always do this if you think people will hate pulling the skins off themselves as they eat). Speed, as always, is of the essence. This didn't take too long to do.

I used 6 peppers, which happened to be mainly red, with one yellow. Didi insisted on having the yellow one, which I thought was very interesting of her. Actually, the kids had half of one each, and the adults one each, which meant 3 were left over for another day.

I sliced the end of the pepper off at the stalk end, and then roughly scooped out the seeds and white bits from the middle. The peppers were set aside in an oval ovenproof dish then to wait for the filling.

To make the filling, I first added about 300g of Sainsbury's lean steak mince to a non-stick pan. To this I added a chopped red onion and a crushed and chopped clove of garlic. When the meat was nicely browned and the onion soft, I added a couple of handfuls of chopped mushrooms (again, I've used the "basics" kind of mushrooms which are "all shapes, all sizes" from Sainsbury's). When the mushrooms too were soft, I added half a bottle of sieved tomatoes (passata or similar), a tablespoon of "A Touch of Taste" beef stock, and a box of chopped tomatoes with sliced black and green olives.

This latter product I found in Sainsbury's too. Instead of a tin of tomatoes, you get a square carton with around the same volume of tomatoes - it's easier to store, so they say - the chopped olives are a welcome, labour-saving addition.

Anyway, that's your filling. Bring to a simmering boil, then season with black pepper if desired (there's plenty of salt in the stock).

Fill the peppers, then cover the dish with foil (shiny side inwards) and place in a hot oven - 200°C, something like that for the first stage of cooking. This is about an hour or so. I didn't time it, sorry. It just smelled right to me, the peppers nicely softened and the flavours beginning to blend together.

For the next stage, slice some half fat mozzarella and top the peppers with it. Return to the oven for half an hour - or until the cheese is just brown and bubbly. Serve with some nice bread and butter if you can afford the points. If not, I reckon it's only about 4 points per pepper, which is excellent.

Didi ate it with gusto; CJ made a face and struggled through it, especially the mushrooms.

John Wayne Walking

The excellence of Lari White's Green Eyed Soul has prompted my to go into my record collection and listen to all her previous stuff. The interesting thing for me here is that I never paid much attention before. She wasn't quite "country" enough to fulfil my Jones for country music, so I tended to listen once or twice, then just pick out the obvious ones for in-car compos. I never considered any of them for the car boot sale, though, because the tracks I liked I knew I'd always like.

But now I can put on one of her early records and listen afresh, it's really been like discovering a new artist. Her voice is that unique mix of country-soul that makes Green Eyed Soul stand out, but she also always had a strong range of material on her records, much of it co-written by White herself.

Some of the stuff will be out of print, but the second hand market on Amazon is pretty good these days; failing anything else, you should be able to get hold of The Best of Lari White quite easily.

January 14, 2005


The idea of having a Mac Mini in place of a regular car stereo has already inspired some people. God, you could have everything on there. Games to amuse the kids in the back, movies, music, route planning software. You could even dictate hilariously misspelled memos using the voice recognition.

Mac Mini Concerns

Andrew Orlowski of The Register goes back to Macworld and gauges the reaction.
"For your reporter's money, it's a reasonable machine, but Apple needs to deal with the memory issue, as even this budget model is another excuse to gouge customers for expensive memory. With just 256MB, and a slow laptop hard drive, a lot of new Mac users first introduction to this superior system isn't going to be a happy one. Again, we'll know in a year or so."

This is a real concern. For me, OS X is a truly great consumer operating system, and set up properly can take all the angst out of home computing. But there is nothing worse than trying to run a machine with inadequate RAM. In machines with only 1 or two RAM slots, 256MB is, frankly, throwaway, a write-off. All of which adds to the expense, because to config a machine, you either have to pay Apple memory prices, or pay twice.

I'm gratified to note that the included RAM is a standard chip, and not a more expensive SODIMM (laptop memory), but you've still got to throw one away and put a bigger one in. The truth is, anything under a gigabyte of RAM isn't going to get the best out of X. I noticed a massive improvement in performance on my work machine when I took it over 1GB.

Back to the point, that first-time experience of OS X is crucial. With adequate RAM, it's plain sailing. But with 256MB, you're going to be washed up on the sand with the spinning beachball of death. I am now experiencing extreme guilt because I know a family in France who bought an iMac a couple of years ago. Not only do they probably just have 256MB, but I think they're probably on OS X version 10.1, which means they probably just don't use their computer at all.

January 13, 2005

Strictly Confidential

The only thing I really miss about working in the civil service, apart from the annual leave entitlement, the extra bank holidays, the index-linked pension, and flexi-time... the only thing I really miss is the accident book.

Management having decided I was a complete slacker, I was posted, for a couple of years onto the Common Services section, which meant I got to order and steal as much stationery as I wanted, hide in the stock room for hours on end, play table tennis when I was supposed to be working, and read everybody's sick forms. Ah, I see, Miss V, you were sick again on the first Monday after pay day after your monthly weekend in London... have you got a Doctor's note?

The accident book was hilarious, because, being civil servants and trade union members, people felt obliged to record every paper cut, minor tea-urn burn, and hour spent in the stuck lift. One of my favourite entries was posted by one of the most incompetent and contrary members of staff in the office. He was the living example of the old Civil Service adage, "You'd have to burn the building down to get fired from here..."

He wrote in the book, in great detail I might add, how he'd picked up a telephone and dialled a number, only to be deafened by a high-pitched squealing noise from the phone, which left him "partially deaf" in one ear. The whole thrust of his entry was that the Service had installed a faulty telephone which had caused him an injury. Actually, what he'd done was dial a fax number instead of a phone number.

This same individual was barely able to cope with the IT revolution that arrived in the mid-1980s. Doubtless the particular branch I was in have moved onto their 10th barely functional computer system by now, but the first system was a dumb terminal arrangement, whereby you were logged into a very centralised server that existed somewhere in the wilds of East Anglia. This meant, of course, that one VDU terminal in the office was very much the same as another: proper hot-desking. Still, this guy used to stay late into the evening (*sigh* flexi-time), and on one memorable occasion was having trouble inputting something. He'd done it wrong, so the system kept bouncing back an error message at him, after a suitable pause to think on it.

So, he got the idea of "surprising" the system. While it was thinking about the first incorrect query, he'd dash across to the next desk and input the same query again, hoping to get it by the camp guards while they were distracted elsewhere. By this method, he went from one end of the office to the other, trying again and again to send his incorrect input. Garbage in, garbage out, so it goes, especially with a garbage operator. Early retirement would have been cruel, I thought; he should have been put down by a vet.

I've depressed myself now. If I was still there, I'd have 22 years pension stacked up, I'd be on 30 days annual leave, and I might even be able to afford my own cup and spoon.


originally uploaded by mcmrbt.
The fish were a promise to the kids, CJ mainly; something she could have if we moved house. So that she was actually looking forward to the new house instead of worrying about leaving her friends from school behind.

So, knowing nothing about fishkeeping, we got away with buying tank, gravel, plant, and fish, on the same day, and setting it all up without a pump or filter - since the guy in the aquatics centre never suggested we needed those. My theory is that he thought we'd be in to buy more fish every week to keep the kids happy - but surely there's more profit in accessories than there is in fish?

Anyway, by some miracle, they survived. The water was incredibly cloudy very quickly, so we realised we needed a filter pump, and since it was a small-ish tank, we got one that acted as filter and air pump in one. Except it's rubbish, and you have to take the whole thing apart every couple of weeks to clear the gunk out of the works.

So I looked into getting a better filter system, bought a separate air pump, and things have been much better - especially since we stopped the kids over-feeding the fish!

But they were getting bigger and, having realised the cost of a decent filter, I discovered the BiOrb - an aquarium with an easy to maintain filter system, both fish- and grown-up who has to clean out the fish friendly. I must say, it looks lovely in the dark with the light on. We can't move the second fish in until the end of the month, but I'm sure they'll be happier in there. Took this one two days to come out of the jug (or off the bottom), but he seems to be enjoying the extra space.

Well, they are Germans

I love the story about "prince" Harry and his Nazi uniform. It says so much about our society, on so many levels.

One of those toff parties, for a start, where they behave as toffs always behave, as if they can do anything they fucking want. Cuts right through all that "people's princess" crap to the heart of the matter. And then there are the different levels of stupidity on display. First, I ask, what exactly has a nazi uniform got to do with the toff party theme of "colonial and native"? Bit of a stretch, or he's just too dumb to know what the theme means. Unless, of course, I'm just too dumb to know that "colonial and native" is toff-speak for "Africa."

And then, he knows who he is, he presumably has heard of the existence of cameras, digital cameras, compact digital cameras, camera phones, camcorders, disposable cameras, tabloid newspapers, chequebook journalism etc., and yet still chooses to dress as a nazi.

And then, natch, there's the "rolling news" style reaction, the endless repetition of the sketchy details, the whipping up into a frenzy, the po-faced correspondents, the outraged pundits, and the listener/viewer backlash, the navel-gazing analysis. Everybody's existence is justified for another day and we can forget about it until the Royal Bad Boy gets pissed again, or smokes another joint, or gets hazed at Sandhurts (sic). O joy.

More Apple Hilarity

As one of the comments on The Guardian Online Blog points out there's another example of Apple's hilarious footnoting at the bottom of the Mac mini page: "Keyboard, mouse, megaphone and display sold separately."

They are having a laugh, of course. But only about the megaphone.

January 12, 2005

Not quite ripe

Apple surpised nobody with their new Mac Mini (or mini Mac, if you will).

As you know, I'm a long-term Mac moonie, but I can hear the complaints about it already.

So it's got a UK base price of £339 inc VAT, but with that you only get 256MB RAM, which is not enough, I'm afraid, to run OS X in a realistic way. So replace that with a minimum of 512MB RAM: another £150 (Kingston, natch). And Apple have done that thing where they hit the price point by shaving off features - in this case, the keyboard and mouse. So assuming you don't already have a USB keyboard and mouse, and you want to buy nice Apple ones: £70. And, for the sake of argument, you need a display, Mitsubishi and Sony have stopped making CRT displays, so the future is clearly in flat screen. Anyway, it would spoil it to add some shitty CRT. Let's say you're going to add a half-decent 17-inch TFT display (you'd go blind if not): £200.

With that basic set-up, you're looking to spend around £760 - and that's before you consider Bluetooth and Airport, your printer, digital camera etc.

Or you could get an eMac, with 512MB extra RAM, for around £660 - and the keyboard, mouse, and display are included. And an entry-level iMac proper (without the RAM) for £899.

These headline cheap prices don't cut it with me. Let's not forget, too, that the hugely disappointing thing about the neat and beautiful Apple Cube was that you had to put up with a huge lump of an external power supply: that's how they were able to leave out the cooling fans. Ditto the Mac Mini: external power supply, not attractive.

January 11, 2005

Do Not Eat

So the iPod Shuffle is announced, and on this page compared in size to a pack of gum. Note that footnote number 2 takes you to the warning, "Do not eat iPod shuffle."

The lawyers made them put it there.

Great Expotations

It's another January, another Macworld San Francisco, a kind of exhibition cum conference in which people gather in an earthquake zone and think that it is somehow not embarrassing to describe products as "cool" in a whiny nasal voice.

Apple reserves January for Big Announcements, usually of consumer products. Last year it was the iPod mini, which - before you get excited about this year's announcements - finally reached UK dealerships halfway through July. That's right: every American who wants one has to get it first.

Anyway, enough of my moaning. As usual, rumour and speculation will probably outstrip interest in the final product. There's a kind of inverse equation, but as with tsunamis and weather systems, I'm not proposing to do the maths. It's all part of the long-established Apple Product Cycle. Recent innovations to this cycle of hype include the necessity for Apple to sue or threaten to sue those who are "leaking secrets". As with Hollywood and bootlegged DVDs, the real culprit is always someone who works for Apple, which you'd think they'd be able to sort out if they paid people enough, but in the end you have to conclude that the legal action is just part of the pre-publicity, because it's guaranteed to be reported by the people most under threat.

Anyway, this year's rumours have included some kind of el-cheapo computer, which will possibly be pitched as a home media centre. So, imagine (!), just as with today's Macs, you will be able to keep your music, photo, and iMovie collection on it. Possibly, it will plug into your telly and allow you internet access as well as the above; if it allows you to tape programmes, so much the better for the average teenager's bedroom.

I do wonder about the TV tuner issue. Big media will panic about people recording and keeping stuff, burning it onto their own DVDs, and you have to be concerned about the TV tuner element. If it has a tuner, will it be analogue, or digital? What kind of quality?

I've always been massively sceptical about so-called convergence. It's a bit like the marketing obsession with the internet. On-line marketing is all very well, but there is nothing quite like a proper printed catalogue, something you can carry from desk to desk to show people, flick through quick as lightning and even read on the loo. For me, listening to music and watching TV are completely separate activities that take place in different locations and at different times. On the one hand, we're all fat fucks who need to exercise more and diet; and yet on the other the tech pundits are encouraging us to sit on our arses in one place and do everything. Bollocks to that.

The other rumour, more of a dead cert, is a flash-based iPod thing. A modern car key-sized music player that will hold 250-ish songs encoded at 128 kbps, but offer no control as to which track plays when (no built-in display). "Life is random," goes the catchphrase. The marketing geniuses have identified that people are too lazy (see above) to organise their 10,000 iPod songs into playlists, and instead hit random play and listen to their entire collection. The joy of this is in discovering forgotten gems from among unloved albums. On the other hand, 240 songs is the kind of quantity you'd carefully choose yourself, so the joy of randomness is somewhat lost.

My opinion, a computer's idea of "random" is never really "random," as any half-educated programmer knows. You have to program the computer to appear to be random, but it is not, not in the way that humans are.
Finally, the iLife suite of software is due an update, and the once-wonderful now-slightly-crap AppleWorks is long overdue a revamp. You know, I wrote my PhD thesis in AppleWorks, with the help of the excellent EndNote software, and it surely did everything I needed it to do. But that was version 5. Version 6, the OS X version, is a bit of a dog: ugly, slow, clunky, made up to look like a toy. More than anything else Apple might do, my fingers are crossed that they sort this sick puppy out. In the meantime I've resorted to TextEdit, and even MS Word, because even that isn't as horrible as AppleWorks became.

I've also got another set of fingers crossed that they don't over-egg the iMovie pudding. Version 2 was ace, version 3 was a dog, version 4 is more useable but still not as good as version 2. You see a pattern here?


It was an excellent edition of Fighting Talk last weekend (I download it and listen in the car, since I'm rarely near a radio at that time on a Saturday). One of the funniest in a long time. Download it while you can (until the weekend, I suppose, when the put the next one up).

January 10, 2005

Much Mush Soup

I made a mushroom soup at the weekend. It's based on one I had in a vegetarian cookbook many years ago, but I've lost the book and forgotten the details, so it's slightly not the same.

The basic principle here is that (a) mushrooms are very quick to cook and so this soup is ideal for rushed weekend lunches; and (b) you need to extract the maximum flavour from the mushrooms in the shortest available time.

I used one of those big el cheapo Value boxes of mushrooms - the kind supermarkets package - the only thing "wrong" with these mushrooms is purely cosmetic. And since you're going to chop them up into tiny little pieces, who cares?

1 tbsp olive or groundnut oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
big box "value" mushrooms, finely chopped
handful of porcini dried mushrooms
200 ml boiling water
1 pint stock
juice of 1 lemon
3 desertspoons creme fraiche

First, set the dried mushrooms to soak in the hot water. Meanwhile, warm the oil in a large saucepan and add the finely chopped onions. I use the Magimix to chop both the onion and then the mushrooms. Gently fry the onion until it turns transparent, then stir in the mushrooms in batches. Cook for a few minutes, then add the stock, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, add the soaked porcini and the water they soaked in, and set to simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, juice the lemon. When the soup has simmered long enough, blend it in batches (use the food processor again since you already have) and return to the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, wait a couple of minutes for the soup to warm through, then add the creme fraiche and serve immediately with hot buttered toast.

My estimate is that the whole recipe is no more than 6 points, so a generous bowl of it is 2 points or less.


What is going on in the world? What's with all these religionists getting fired up about every damn thing? It's like we're only now experiencing what could have been end-of-century Millenarianism. From Janet Jackson's nipple to Gerry Whatever the Whatever, they're acting like they should have a say in how we live.

Dear religionsists, that kind of shit only works when people cannot read. We live in a mostly literate mostly secular society. So fuck off.

Pray silence

I expect we will have some kind of 5-minute silence for the people who died in the UK tsunami disaster in Carlisle.

Facetiousness aside, and I'm not volunteering to do the maths, but you have to wonder if there isn't some chaos-theory-butterfly-effect explanation. When an earthquake in the Indian Ocean flaps its wings, causing a seismic wave that circles the world 3 times, according to Japanese scientists, then can it cause gales and floods in the North West of England? The tsunami deposited a lot of water onto the land, which then evaporated and went into weather systems. A month's worth of rain fell in one day up there on Saturday.

They kept playing some audio on 5Live this morning, some geezer who was saying he'd lost his car, his fridge, his cooker... signs of our abundant western/northern wealth...

January 07, 2005

The Kedg

I lurve a good kedgeree, but unfortunately it is at its best when made with a little creme fraiche - even half fat creme fraiche is good. And if you use 4 medium hard-boiled eggs, and, say, 250g rice, you're looking at 18 and a half points before you've even started.

So here's my points-moderated kedgeree. Still lovely, and worth doing. As with other things I've done, this will serve two adults and two kids easily - though only one of my two kids is likely to even try it.

200g brown basmati rice
2 medium eggs
35g curry paste (mild, medium or hot, your choice - I think mild works best)
1 red onion
1 clove garlic
1 green pepper (optional)
1 large fillet of undyed smoked haddock (or dyed if you can't get it)*
300 ml skimmed milk
a handful of chopped fresh parsley (optional)

*Because this is the low fat version, I erred on the generous side with the haddock, and put in around 500g - or 4 points worth. Just point at the fillet you want on the fish counter and go with it.

Pre-cook 200g brown basmati rice. This takes around 25 minutes. When cooked, the rice can be rinsed in cold water and set aside. By the way, my foolproof rice-cooking method is to always use 3x the volume (in mm or fl oz) of water in proportion to the weight (in g or oz) of rice. So one, non-dieting person's portion would be, say, 3 oz rice, which requires 9 fl oz of water/stock to cook perfectly. So 200g rice needs 600 ml water/stock. I always cook rice in stock rather than salted water.

Also, pre-cook two (just two for the lo version) eggs till they are just hard boiled. Bosh them on the top and leave in cold water.

That done, finely chop a red onion, crush and chop a clove of garlic, and, optionally, chop a fresh pepper - green or red. Pre-heat your wok. I used a non-stick one, which means you can get away with a lot less oil than usual.

At this point, skin your fish if you need to, and stick it in a microwaveable dish with the milk. Smoked haddock is harder to skin than regular haddock, but it's still fairly easy to do when the fish is frozen. So, even if you buy it fresh, my tip is to freeze it anyway, then it's easier to work with. Cook in the microwave until just done. Do it for 2 minutes at a time and check.

Meanwhile, avail yourself of one generous spoonful of curry paste. I used one that only had 0.9 g saturated fat per 100g, it worked out at 2 points for 35g of the paste or something. It contains vegetable oil, so add to your hot wok, with a tiny amount of oil (e.g. groundnut). Mash it about a bit and add the onion and garlic, cooking till soft. Stir in the chopped pepper if using.

All of this takes much longer to describe, it seems, than it does to do. Kedgeree is one of the great "cooks in 10 mins" dishes (as long as your rice and eggs are pre-cooked).

Add the rice to the wok, and stir thoroughly so it gets coated in the curry paste and onion mixture, keep stir frying till the rice is heated through. While that's happening, take the shells off the eggs and slice them as you wish (I always quarter them, but any way you want to do it is fine).

When the rice is heated through, add the fish and the milk, and the eggs, to the wok, and stir it all through, till the fish is breaking up nicely. This is the stage you'd add 100g or so of creme fraiche, but for the lo-point version let's not. Stir in the chopped parsley, if using, and serve.

Depending on the amount of fish, this is again around 20 points for the complete meal, which means 7 points for a generous and satisfying adult portion.


The other day I realised that I've become a charicature, like something out of Only Fools and Horses or the like.

I was buying some clothes in John Lewis, and the slightly camp shop assistant asked Didi what her daddy's name was. "Robert," she said.

"And what's your mummy's name?"


January 06, 2005

The Low Point Tuna Bake

If you buy a tin of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, you will likely find on its label a recipe for a quick and easy tuna bake which I can highly recommend. In my own version, I top the bake with low-fat mozzarella; and if you want to make it a bit special, a half tin of black olives mixed in is a good idea.

Made with a tin of tuna in sunflower oil, with low-fat mozzarella (one pack) and without the olives, using 200g pasta, the whole dish works out around 20 points. Which seems extreme, but a goodly adult portion is only around 1/3 of it - so I counted 7 points, and there's enough there for two adults and two kids to eat.

I reckon you could shave a couple of points (or more) by using tuna in brine and by looking out for a low-cal version of the Campbell's soup, though I suspicion that they only do that in the Cream of Chicken flavour. Still, tuna is the chicken of the sea.

Tonight, I'm going to attempt a kedgeree, hoping to bring it in at around 7 points per portion.

As it turns out, you can get 99% fat free "cream" of mushroom soup, so I have since tried the bake using this, and the tuna in brine. There was no low fat mozza in the house, so I did a gratin top with grated low fat cheddar and breadcrumbs. The overall verdict - not as satisfying to eat, and, honestly, for the points saved, not worth it. Stick to the orginal, it tastes better.

Tesco Nation (short reprise)

Ah, yes, people are starting to notice, Mr Bond, but it is already too late... mwah mwah ha ha ha!
"Tesco, thanks to its move into clothing and other non-food lines, now accounts for £1 in every eight spent in shops in Britain. On one calculation, its UK sales account for 2.6% of the country's gross domestic product. With 237,000 staff in the UK, it employs twice as many people as the British army."

Problem for me is, I live in a town with two supermarkets, and one of them is Budgen. Now, I'm not going to get hearts of palm, low fat mozzarella, fennel and other "exotic" vegetables etc in Budgens, am I? So the only real choice is T*sco, or drive 18 miles to Sainsbury's or Waitrose.

But I think I might take Saino's up on their "6,000 lowered prices" offer... paying with my T*sco credit card, natch.

January 05, 2005

Lo point baked spuds with fish

For the ultimate baked potato, you always need to cook them twice. In my youth, one of our standard weekend teas was baked potatoes for everyone. They were cooked first, then scooped out, mixed with butter and grated cheddar, then re-stuffed and cooked again for 20 minutes or so. Is there anything more delicious?

If you are like me, then right now you're on a diet. A big diet. A six-month, must-lose-10-kilos diet. So you have to compromise with some of the comfort food ingredients.

The following is a little dry in comparison with the ultimate baked spud, but still tasty enough to satisfy.

I cooked two potatoes, weighing around 300g each. I don't go for what supermarkets call baking potatoes, and I use regular Maris Piper or King Edward spuds. There's usually a few that are large enough in any bag. Anyway, they cook for an hour in a hot oven.

While they're cooking, get out of the freezer a rectangle of white fish (cod, haddock, coley), and leave to slightly defrost - or, if you have sharp knives like me, don't worry about it. When the fish is soft enough to cut, dice it into cubes.

Then, when the potatoes are done, you scoop out the flesh into a bowl (don't burn your fingers) and add the following: 1 egg, two teaspoons half-fat butter; and the cubed fish. Mash it all together with a fork. Re-stuff the potato skins and return to the oven (200°C) for about 20 earth minutes.

As an alternative to the egg, you could use a couple of points' worth of cheddar; if you have any handy, you could scoop in a bit of low fat natural yoghurt; I've also used half-fat creme fraiche in the past. The beauty of the egg is that it fluffs the potato up a bit. In an ideal world there would be both egg and cheese and hang the consequences (in my case, a heart attack before my 45th birthday).

Serve with just-cooked crunchy green beans, something like that.

January 04, 2005

Smell update

Older readers may remember that just before xmas I reported on a strange odour that seemed to be pervading my house.

I now need to hold up my hand and admit that it wasn't the house.

It was me.

This is after my wife kindly washed and ironed every single curtain and piece of fabric we had.

Turns out I was suffering from a side effect of Omeprazole, which I'd been taking for my persistent and ongoing stomach acid problem (15 years and counting, cheers, thanks, ta). These tiny little pills are very effective, but you are warned not to take it for longer than 14 days, nor more frequently than every 4 months. Being so clever, I'd adopted a policy of just taking it every few days. I was thinking I could get it down to one a week, and that I could control my symptoms that way.

So I was halfway through my second course of 14 tablets in a row when it occurred to me that my ongoing "what's that smell?" problem was strangely coincident with my taking the tablets.

It must work by building up in the system, hence capability of one course being effective for months. And it was coming out on my skin, fingernails, hair, beard. This happened before, when I took it for the first time, too. Back then, we'd just got some pet fish for the kids, and I decided the smell of the fish food and tank water was sticking on my skin.

So - not before time - I stopped taking the fucking pills, and, within 10 days, the smell is gone from my life. I feel like a stupid dumb sun on a beach, but they really worked!

Smoooth Smoked Haddock Soup

I love a good soup. One of my daughters, the youngest, shares the love, while the other retches and pulls faces at the very prospect. Why should that be? It bewilders me; not liking soup is like not liking oxygen. Yeah, I prefer to breathe carbon monoxide, thanks. The oxygen molecule is just too symmetrical.

Anyway, I made this up from stuff that had been in the fridge/cupboard. It worked for me.

You need:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 bulb fennel, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
300g sweet potatoes, cubed
500g potatoes, cubed (good floury ones - I used Maris Piper)
750ml chicken or vegetable stock
300g smoked haddock, skinned, can be frozen
100 ml half fat creme fraiche
White or black pepper
Bay leaf (optional)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then sweat the onion and garlic till transparent. Add the fennel and pepper and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the cubed potatoes, both kinds, then the hot stock, season with pepper to taste, bring to the boil, and leave to simmer for 20 earth minutes. You could add a bay leaf at this stage, though I suspicion the gentle flavour of the fennel could be overwhelmed by this.

When the vegetables are cooked through (the potatoes should thicken this soup nicely), blend in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to the pan and the heat and add the fish. Heat gently, allowing the fish to cook through and begin to break up in the pan. When the fish is just cooked, stir in the creme fraiche and serve. Goes great with hot buttered toast... if you're not on too much of a diet. I worked out that about a quarter of the soup was just under 5, you know, points. Or stars.