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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

July 28, 2005

Holiday Reading

Holidays are an excellent opportunity to catch up on reading.

Here's my bag:

i) The Jewish Wars - Josephus (Penguin translation)

ii) 3 magazines about Astronomy (including issue 3 of the new Sky at Night Magazine, featuring editorial by Patrick Moore who is famous for playing the glokenspiel and wearing his trousers hitched up to the level of his nipples)

iii) a book about bees

iv) 2 guitar magazines

v) The book Bob leant me.

Not very exciting is it really. I'd like to take my guitar too, but there won't be enough room in the carmobile.

Your mysterious mountains interest me. May I land my kinky machine?
quote from Hendrix's 3rd Stone from the sun.

Was that Jimi Hendrix's way of asking for a soapy tit-wank?

Nothing doing, love

I'm probably unusual in that I still only have the terrestrial TV channels.

We had some others but we started to get foisted with additional channels that we didn't want. It seems some of the providers assumed that having more channels would make their packages better. The reason that we didn't have all the channels was because we didn't want them. So we issued our provider with a cease and desist order and went back to the old TV channels.

That disenfranchisement has put me in a unique position to observe the decline of the old TV channels though.

I've never been a huge TV fan. But it was fairly standard for there to be, say, across the channels, an hour's worth of interesting television on per night.

By "interesting" I mean stuff that I might switch the telly on for if I have nothing better to do.

I checked the TV guide for this week, and for the second week running there was nothing "interesting" at all. All week. In fact it's actually worse than that: it seems to me that over 95% of scheduled content is so crap that it would make me switch the TV off.

I'm seriously thinking of getting rid of the TV completely.


Big Paella

I will shortly be disappearing from the blogworld for two weeks or so. It's not that I won't be near any computers - I will doubtless be tech-supporting friends and relatives of my wife throughout the holiday - but I will not participate in any on-line activities. As complete a break as possible then.

As I am going to my in-laws' for two weeks, I am guaranteed to eat each of the following at least once: paella, veal, pigeon, rabbit, and freshly laid eggs.

I leave you in the incapable hands of Andrew, Roy and Simon, though I believe Si may be off on an extreme sports adventure holiday or something (parachuting down waterfalls with a broken bungee and stuff), so things may be quiet around here for a fortnight or so. Andrew has a lot of his road-kill recipes to share with you, so there should be some of that going on.

It is a good time, therefore, to take your own holiday, though I believe some travel agents inflate their prices for the two-week Holyhoses Holiday. Sorry about that.

beanz meanz fartz #3 - sweet chilli

nice surprise with these - very tasty. i tried them on a baked potato, not through lack of imagination but in the interests of scientific thoroughness.

i would rate these on a par with, if not higher than, the mexican. and there is a difference; the sweet chilli are spicier.

still no sign of the jalfrezi beans.

Your house stinks and your car insurance just ran out

Adverts are rubbish at the moment, aren't they? They lack wit and guile. Another thing I've noticed is that there seems to be an incredibly limited amount of things being advertised. This may be a phenomenon of the new digital channels, but I find myself being bombarded with car insurance ads to the point where I feel like getting in my car and driving at 83 mph into a brick wall.

Air fresheners, room fresheners, are on constant rotation, too. In fact, ever since I heard that news report on the radio a while ago about how some scientists think room perfumes cause anxiety and depression, they seem to be advertising them even more. Probably shoring themselves up against the day when they are banned. Personally, when I use a room perfume, it makes me feel like getting in my car and driving at 83 mph into a brick wall.

I'm sick of the sight, too, of skinny male and female models with hobo hair and their jeans hanging round their arses. I think if they're going to push so-called beautiful people in my face they should at least be beautiful and not look like the sorriest kind of gormless fashion victims. There's a bloke at work with the hobo hair. He looks like an alcoholic street person. So they've gone from Heroin Chic to boot polish and Thunderbird chic.

I've now gone beyond that Generation X, "Oh, I'll buy your stupid product, but not because..." attitude to wanting to shout at people in shops about how crap everything is. I'm often mildly sarcastic in shops anyway, but people don't get it because they are thick. I'm going to adopt a hobo haircut and carry a tin of air freshener and spray it in a shop assistant's face one of these days.

Save Your Money: Echinacea doesn't work

According to this article in the New York Times (subscription required):
"Echinacea, the herbal supplement made from purple coneflower and used by millions of Americans to prevent or treat colds, neither prevented colds nor eased cold symptoms in a large and rigorous study.

The study, being published today in The New England Journal of Medicine, involved 437 people who volunteered to have cold viruses dripped into their noses. Some swallowed echinacea for a week beforehand, others a placebo. Still others took echinacea or a placebo at the time they were infected. Then the subjects were secluded in hotel rooms for five days ... [T]he investigators found that those who took echinacea fared no differently from those who took a placebo: they were just as likely to catch a cold, their symptoms were just as severe, they had just as much virus in their nasal secretions..."

I can confirm from my own experience that it doesn't work. Chicken soup, though, is great for a sore throat.

July 27, 2005

Fagged out

One of the irresistible side effects of growing old is the sensation that everything is collapsing around you.

It's like being an outsider. It's as though you're sitting in a time machine and looking at an accelerated view of the world changing around you. You can see the landmarks crumbling and new improved ones replacing them, only to see them collapse in their turn.

You've heard me talk before about how it's very easy to succumb to the fallacy that "new" means "better", so I won't repeat that.

But I've been getting depressed about a number of things recently. The worst thing is fairly recent. It's not that all this renewal and change goes on constantly. It's the realisation that we have a personal world map - our own view of the world, and those changes make shell holes in that landscape.

I was thinking about all the very negative things that have happened to me over the years. I'd supposed that the effects of these changes heal over, given enough time. And I'd always supposed that change could be refreshing and exciting: a discovery.

But I don't think that anymore. It's like a rip in a picture that we just covered over with masking tape. Eventually there's nothing left but masking tape.

And I got to thinking that this is a personal thing. The shell holes in the landscape actually become landmarks to people who follow after us, rather than holes. So, objectively, all the changes amount to a renewal, but subjectively (to us as human individuals) they are entropy.

Which means that to me as an individual it will keep on getting worse: more alien crap; more new improved detergents; more places lost; more people gone; more intolerable nonsense and buzzing around me.

And that thought, that it is never going to be alright again, gives me vertigo.

The Crazy World of Arthur Dreams

When I'm in bed asleep and really really need a wee, I have anxiety dreams about trying to find a toilet.

Usually they involve me finding the toilet at some public location, and then rejecting all the available options due to lack of privacy and/or hygiene. So I'll find some Butlins-style concrete monstrosity, with a load of blocked traps and open views. That kind of thing. I'll seek a secluded alternative spot for a wee, but discover a forgotten angle that makes my transgression public in the worst possible way.

Then I wake up, and -- sweet relief -- use my own toilet, which is both unblocked and private. That'll teach me to drink two glasses of water before bed.

We're trying to night-toilet-train Didi at the moment. It's not going very well. She wets the bed every night (we're using Pampers Bed Mats to protect the mattress), and then spends the rest of the night in our bed, in a nappy - which so far she manages to keep dry. In other words, she's having one accident per night, at about 1-2 a.m.

Another thing about dreams is their cunning way with the pun.

Note that we are endeavouring to train Didi to sleep through the night. Last night's "I need a wee" dream found me on a train - unable to use the train toilet because it was occupied and/or blocked. The train stopped in a station and I hopped off to use a public loo, but I was too late and there were women using the Gents, because the Ladies was too busy.

So I went round the corner, to the back end of a residential street, and found a likely looking tree which was positioned close to a likely looking wall (privacy) - but just as I was setting up, a little girl came past and basically stood, walking on the spot, right next to the tree.

Of course, in dream language this was a message that Didi was in bed next to me, as I found when I woke up.

July 26, 2005

Your questions answered

It's time for our periodic trawl through the magical search keywords that have caused people, however briefly, to visit Hoses of the Holy. Welcome one and all, I say, and if we can answer your questions about life etc., we will endeavour to do so.

  1. heater smiths hillman minx - I'm afraid this one stumps me. It appears almost to be a random collection of words. My dad did once have a Hillman Minx, and it was a very bad car. I don't know if the heater even worked.

  2. what time is herbie on in the mansfield odeon cinema? - That's a very good question, but I'm afraid I don't know the answer. I recommend you dial 999 and ask this one. I'm assured that the police do not mind this kind of thing.

  3. simon le bon daughters -- I've said it before: our Simon-the-Good is not the one you're thinking of. Lord knows why ours chose that moniker, but we seem to be stuck with it.

  4. hattie carrol - a song by Bob Dylan. You do not specify if you want lyrics, or chords/tab, or just that interesting article from the Guardian a while back

  5. array - hooray!

  6. cubase record a virtual instrument - Tricky one. If you're used to Pro Tools, the way Cubase does things seems clunky and bizarre. Basically, you have to bounce an audio file and then import it into your session from the Pool - I believe Cubase now offers you the option to import the file straight into your track. If you have a multi-output instrument, I'm afraid there's no other way than to solo two outputs at a time and do it that way. The good news is that it happens faster than real time, unlike in Pro Tools.

  7. tonelab patch - do let me know if you find one that stops it from picking up Radio Canada

  8. rode nt1a negative reviews - You won't find many of those in the world. It's a bit thin-sounding and quiet for my personal taste, but it's a fabulously popular microphone - one of our top sellers. Very few come back faulty.

  9. suit and string vest and headband - I believe the answer you're looking for is "Rab C. Nesbitt."

  10. shelley wordsworth cbeebies ... and
    storymakers actress shelley - Let's take these two together, shall we? Yes, she's lovely, but there is only one photo of her - so far - on the internet, which is her publicity photo. You'll find it over at the web site for the musical 125th Street, in which she's appearing. Her name is Lauretta Nkwocha. You may be interested to learn that she's been spotted by me in some advert, only I can't remember what it's for. Some lotion, I think, and she shakes her booty in it. A bit.

  11. lazy bastard postmen - Indeed.

  12. cracked groove agent vst - you won't find none of that going on around here. We're all equipped with NFRs of everything.

  13. here is an unrecorded song - is how Bob Dylan introduced a song, I can't remember which, on his Live at Budokan album. His actual words were, "Here is an unrecorded song... see if you can guess which one it is." I think it was something from Street Legal, so it may have been the song "Is Your Love in Vain?"

  14. judy tzuke stay with me till dawn audio sample - Again with the no, though that is Si's department.

  15. simon le bon and wife - see above

  16. make your own balloons - try Hamleys in Regent Street.

  17. sarah beany pregnant - is she? She'll be needing a breast reduction then, I should think.

That is all. No perverts today. Except maybe the Sarah Beany one. And the Lauretta Nkwocha one. And the Simon le Bon daughters one...*sigh*

No Limits

Following yesterday's upload of latest_news.mp3 and the raging controversy about latency (or was it), I sat down and had a quickie mix sesh last night, and moved Roy's guitar track several hundred samples forward. It still sounds great to me; there are a couple of places where the attack of the guitar is obviously late, and I'll fix those at some point, but to look at the track(s) visually, there's no way you could line up Roy's guitar with the other instruments and it still sound right. I like the feel because it sounds like a totally different groove going on.

Obviously I've listened to it a lot more times than anybody else on earth, so maybe I'm too close to it, but I think it sounds (and sounded) great. James sort of agrees with me that the "latency" isn't/wasn't a problem. But follow the link above to the "new improved" version and judge for yourself.

As part of the mixing, I used a different compression plug-in* on the master fader (Focusrite ISA 130, from the Forte Suite), and capped everything off with the new Sony Oxford Limiter plug-in*, which sounds superb to my ears.

*In case you don't know, "plug-in" is another name for a bolt-on or add-on. In computer recording terms, you're adding functionality to your multi-track recording software by buying yet more software. In the case of Sony Oxford and many others, the add-on can actually cost more than the original software, so you'd better be sure you really want them. Because I work for a dealer, I get to demo them.

Most plug-ins are designed to affect the audio in some way. Sometimes you feel, given the expense, that you want to throw everything to the maximum so as to get "value for money" in what you hear. Sadly, the best way to use most plug-ins is to apply their effects subtly, so it's barely noticeable.

In the case of a limiter, the idea is to boost the overall volume of the track (so it sounds "commercial") without exceeding the level at which the audio would distort (digital distortion always sounds horrible). Sony do another plug-in called the Inflator which achieves an increase in perceived loudness without ruining the dynamics of the original recording. It's a sad fact of modern life that A & R men and other record company suits in recent years have insisted on making records as loud as possible, destroying the musical dynamics in the process. It's why, to take an obvious example, someone like Robbie Williams doing "Swing" music doesn't sound anywhere near as good as Sinatra on Capitol in the 50s.

Given the existence of the Inflator, the Limiter is a little confusing, because it does a similar job, though not in the same way. I guess you could use both, which I'll try at some point, though using too many plug-ins can result in mashed potato.

Anyway, one side effect of both compression and limiting can be that the "brightness" of a recording is lost as the higher frequencies are compressed along with the high-energy bass frequencies. The Oxford Limiter allows you to restore brightness by adjusting the "Enhance" slider. It goes up to 125%, at which point you will hear artefacts, but at a level of around 75%, I thought it sounded much better than without the Enhance effect. I think what it does is allow higher frequencies through without compressing them so much (or at all), which allows you to make the limiting process more musical and transparent.

Sorry for that long footnote, if you've read this far!

July 25, 2005

For your listening pleasure


Roy came over at the weekend and played a bit of guitar on a couple of things. I didn't pay him the usual Musicians' Union fee, so I had to guarantee him 75% of everything I earn from the track(s).

In the spirit of trying it on as many different systems as possible, I was listening to this in the car this morning, and I thought it sounded pretty good, until "Drive" by Alan Jackson came on straight after and shattered my illusions.

Still, this is approaching the kind of sound I want to be my sound. It's kind of chaotic but I think that helps. Roy plays the late-Velvets-style electric guitar in the left channel that comes in after the first chorus.


The file is a 128kbps MP3, about 4MB in size, and it lasts 4 min 21 secs.

Feel free to cast it in your pod, or whatever it is you youngsters do these days.

Damning with faint praise?

...tour de france 2005
Originally uploaded by l--o-o--kin thru.

Apart from Chris Boardman, it seems to me as if the BBC SPORT web team got a pretty weak set of "tributes" to Lance Armstrong following his 7th TDF win.

Nobody likes a winner, do they? Is it just an odd quirk of history that we've been living through the Armstrong era, the Schumacher era? Interesting that in Formula 1, they felt the need to change the rules a lot in order to ensure Spoonface couldn't walk away with the drivers' championship again; whereas Le Tour has been basking in reflected glory, and will be concerned now about what will happen to their global television audience.

Both are team sports, and it's arguable whether both men would have been as successful as they have if not for the support of their team. Ferrari's Ross Brawn is something of a tactical genius. On the other hand, I've seen Armstrong do that thing he does, in the mountains, that thing where he wipes out his main rivals with extraordinary feats of physical strength and endurance, I've seen him do that seven times. That ain't no fluke. His team actually let him down badly on two occasions on this Tour, not that you'd have noticed.

As I said to Roy the other day, the key thing about Armstrong is that just one of those mountain stages would be the death of most ordinary mortals. That 150+ other cyclists can get over them is beside the point: only Armstrong has consistently used the hardest mountain stages to prove that he's better than everyone else. It takes a special kind of cyclist to be good in the mountains (hence the King of the Mountains jersey) and - usually - a different species to be good in the time trials - in which you race against the clock, and yourself. Chris Boardman was a time trial specialist, but could never hack it in the mountains.

But who has been the best time trialist in the past seven years? Oh, yes, that would be Lance Armstrong.

As to all the snide remarks about alleged EPO use on Armstrong's part, I simply don't believe he could have gotten away with it, given the number of times he must have been tested, given the spotlight of attention he commands. Besides, even if guilty of some transgression, his achievement is still incredible. You could give me all the drugs in the world and I couldn't get up one of those HC climbs.

Anyway, I for one will keep watching Le Tour. The agony and the ecstasy, the sprints, the crashes, the climbs, the descents. It's compelling viewing, with or without the giant who just retired.

July 22, 2005

The Day Today

It's incredible to think that The Day Today was made 10 years ago.

Kids today just wouldn't get it, because the exaggerated way that current affairs items were spoofed is actually quite normal in production these days.

They didn't anticipate the low quality footage we're used to now, fly-blow with compression artifacts, but 10 years ago nobody could have estimated the great technological leaps we'd have.

I always thought the bomb-dogs sketch was a bit far fetched, but of course, with the bombings in London over the last couple of weeks, I have to say, "look Chris! Here we are! Living the dream!"


You gotta love those Amazon.com recommendation algorithms. "People who bought that also bought this" is one thing, but when it comes to categorising your tastes and basing recommendations on them, there's a long way to go, and the views aren't great. Simon has some interesting stories to tell about this.

My own personal favourite experience was when I'd purchased Brothers and Sisters by the Allman Brothers Band (y' know, for Jessica), and I received an email that went, "As someone who has previously purchased melodic pop, you may be interested in the new Cliff Richard record..."

Here's the new low, though. Because I like country music and have previously purchased Martina McBride records, how would I like a Barbie Collector Martina McBride Doll?

Well... does it have realistic pubic hair and nipples?

It's Chinatown, Jake.

In years to come, one suspects, the water wars will make the current oil wars seem like a mere distraction. In this fascinating Guardian article, it seems clear that European water shortages are not so much caused by climate change (for which, as we've previously discussed on this blog, there is little in the way of hard evidence) as by increased consumption
: Ricardo Torres, a Spanish environmental activist living in London, puts it a different way. 'When you eat a Spanish watermelon or an iceberg lettuce in Britain, you are really drinking our water,' he says. 'You could say that your demand is partly responsible for our land turning to desert.'"

In our modern lifestyles, we all use much more water. Personal hygiene, for example, is far better than it was 30-40 years ago. When I was growing up, I can honestly say I only had a bath once a week (!), whereas my kids are in it every day. I can remember scraping layers of dirt off my skin in the bath at home after a two week camping holiday, when I was a pre-pubescent 12 year old. Shortly thereafter, I became a germ-free adolescent, but there never seemed to be any urgency to have a bath before I reached puberty. What's with all the washing now?

So there's that, and our awareness of food hygiene - washing salads and all that, and our increased wealth and desire to go and live in hot countries. It's obvious that all these new builds in Spain are sucking water out of the ground in a chronic way - the land really can't support that level of population, along with their swimming pools and golf courses.

One of the most obscene things, in a world in which farmers are forced to halve the amount of land they grow crops on, is to see a lush green golf course in the middle of a desert. The Americans have been doing this kind of thing for years. And worse: the great plains, of course, scene of the 1930s dustbowl, are kept artificially fertile by pumping water. Cities like Phoenix, Arizona, and Las Vegas simply couldn't exist without vast quantities of water being pumped from elsewhere.

We've known about this sort of thing for many years. That movie, Chinatown made reference to the scandal of water rights in Los Angeles - another city that simply couldn't exist in its present form without pumping vast quantities of water.

So don't come to me with your stories of climactic apocalypse: think of all the water you waste and learn to think of it as something precious and valuable, in increasingly scarce supply.

July 21, 2005


Alison Graham, in this week's Radio Times, asks an interesting question concerning the Tarantino-directed CSI Finale, which was postponed following the suicide bomb attacks in London and finally showed on Tuesday this week.

I watched it, and it was the first CSI I'd seen for a while, because my tolerance for gore and children in peril (a recurring theme) is at an all-time low at the moment.

The week before, I'd recorded the replacement episodes, but deleted them when I realised they were just repeats. But as Alison Graham asks, the question is, how many of the 3 million + viewers realised they weren't the Tarantino ones?

The fact is, this finale wasn't all that. I certainly wouldn't put it up there with the best of CSI. If anything, it came across as a pastiche of someone's idea of what an episode of CSI directed by Tarantino would be like. QT did the story but wasn't credited with the script, which was full of pointless QT-tpe trivia discussions [yawn] and featured someone being buried alive [yawn]. Inevitably, insects played their part [yawn] and Gil Grissom, Insectologist, spotted what they were and correctly identified that they would only nest on a small patch of ground on map grid reference blah blah blah.

So I wasn't overly impressed. My favourite "essence of Grissom" episode is the one where he's left on his own in a hick town, investigating a death without the co-operation of the local police. They arrange for all his kit to disappear, and he just goes round a hardware store, buying every day household stuff, and cracks the case that way.

Far as I'm concerned, the big shot Hollywood movie directors and special guest stars can disappear up their own arses where they belong.

scotty beamed up

wonder how much that costs?

Resigning and job-seeking

The time has come for me to speak out. The secret scandal of British working life is the general shiteness of recruitment, interviewing, and (in particular) recruitment agencies. It's hard for people to talk about, because it's a secret squirrel kind of activity, the kind of thing you do without talking about it to anyone else.

Recruitment agencies are exactly as crap as those other charlatans: estate agents.

It's basically the same thing: a salesperson on commission, looking for a quick sale and easy money, but who basically can't be arsed to do any actual work.

A colleague is resigning today, and we were having a laugh about the previous employer of him and two others who work here, and how they had a resignation form letter on their network because so many people resigned all the time, due to the shocking salaries and working conditions.

Reminded me of a funny story my brother-in-law told the other day, about a guy who worked at his place, who printed off his CV on a network printer - but chose the wrong printer, so the printout emerged in somebody else's office. Because this individual had embellished his CV to such an extent (falling short of describing himself as the MD, but not by far), it was immediately circulated to all and sundry. Then, someone thought, hang on: if he's lying so blatantly about his current position, did he lie to us when we employed him?

And of course he had.

I've never lied on a job application; I'm honest to the point of stupidity, and that includes the replies I give to questions at interviews. I find the whole interview process a ridiculous chore. I've been involved in recruiting people where I work now, and it's true that you make your mind up about people within the first 5 minutes. You could almost shake their hand as you meet them in reception and say, "Congratulations, when can you start?" The more you speak to someone, the harder it is to be sure about your initial gut reaction, but it's rarely wrong. My employer administers a simple verbal reasoning and logic test, just to make sure of people. Some do badly on it, but the ones you think will do well, do well. Then again, we've even gone ahead and employed people who did badly on the test, just because we knew they'd be all right.

Job ads dismay me. Really: you look at the salary on offer and the "person requirements" and it's as if the HR people who put the ad in are living on a different planet. For a simple marketing job they essentially require Steve Jobs; for sales, they want the CEO of Tesco, and for cleaning the toilets they want Richard Branson with a loo brush up his arse (I can't wait for that search string to come up in Google, you pervert).

As the organisations become closer to civil service (e.g. university institutions, local government, and the actual civil service), the salaries on offer become lower in inverse proportion to the job description and selection process. The 16 page application form is followed by a selection panel which takes a whole day and consists of an outward bound leadership course, role play, presentations, and then a test. Finally, if you can shit a gold nugget on demand, they might shortlist you for the second interview.

As for signing up with employment agencies, forget it. Put them out of business, ignore them. My employer loves it when people just send their CVs direct (it's what I did) - because it means they can save the £2000+ agency fee, which you pay in order to receive a by-the-numbers form-generated CV containing multiple spelling and grammatical errors (all inserted by the agent) and a sequence of unsuitable candidates who totally waste your time and can barely tie their own shoelaces and dress.

Often the best people arrive as I did, by looking up interesting companies and applying direct, or through friends or former colleagues. Of course, civil-service style recruitment is all about avoiding that kind of nepotism or near nepotism, but face it: they, too, make up their minds in the first five minutes, but then waste whole afternoons viewing half-baked Powerpoint presentations and wondering if the biro in front of them is sharp enough to puncture an eyeball.

Feedback? You want feedback? Here's some for ya: gobshite.

A Limo to the Prom

Arriving home last night at around 6.30 pm, there was a near-gridock situation on my street, which is a no-through-road terminating in the gates to the local primary school. There were cars parked on both sides of the road, and a huge fecking stretch limo, two taxis getting in each other's way (and mine), and my driveway was nearly-not-quite blocked by a parked car.

For why? I hear you ask.

Well, it was the "Year 6 Prom," wasn't it?

Think about that for a moment.
In the United States, a prom (short for "promenade") is a formal dance held at the end of the second-to-last and last year of high school, called junior prom and senior prom respectively. In British English and Australian English such an event would be called a ball, although in Australian government schools and in Canada it is also often called a formal. In Australia, the term "prom" has also come into sparse usage from North America and in Britain it is becoming widespread...

Accept it that British kids just love to adopt Americanisms, as if most Americans weren't more like Napoleon Dynamite than Brad Pitt, but note that the "Prom" happens in high school, not junior or primary, and it's an event aimed at 16/17/18 year olds - the equivalent of 6th formers in this country. You know, people old enough to get drunk and have sex, that kind of thing.

But the year 6 prom? These are 10 and 11 year olds, for chrissake! And not just having a prom, but a stretch limo? Obviously, you blame the parents. Not just that they're too rich, and too stupid, but what on earth are they thinking? "Let them have the Prom when they're 10, and then they can get on with being addicted to crack and becoming anorexic - they could be in therapy/rehab before they're 15 that way. Then he/she can get married before the age of 20, and fetch up in the divorce courts still looking young and beautiful."

Yeah... The great gift of the 20th century to children in wealthy economies was childhood. Compulsory schooling to the age of 16 (oh, boo hoo, kids) and the opportunity to remain a child for longer. But in the early 21st, as late capitalism searches round the world for cheap labour, and wealthy countries develop economies based around ringtones and insurance, the idea that child labour is wrong is slightly forgotten, and the idea that a 10 year old is still a child is obviously not in the world view of parents who hire stretch limos for a school disco.

They'll be injecting their 9 year old daughters with hormones and suggesting plastic surgery to enhance their boobs before you know it.

July 20, 2005

Bean there, done that

Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

Roast pork, so the story goes, was "discovered" when someone's pagoda burned down with a pig inside it. Mmmm...

I was thinking about that story as I made my first stab at roasting my own coffee beans. How, I wondered, did we go from the red berries of the coffee plant, to the roast-and-ground beans used to make your modern cup of coffee?

The creation myth of coffee holds that an Ethiopian goat-herd noticed that his older goats acted more like kids when they'd been eating the berries and leaves of a certain plant. He thought he'd try it himself.

That story has an elegant simplicity. It involves goats, so it must be true. Even so, there is no burning bush in the story telling the goat-herd to try roasting the beans and making a drink.

The myth continues, saying that the shepherd told some monks (in ethopia?) about the beans, and they threw them into a fire, declaring them to be the work of the devil. Then, when the aroma began to escape from the fire, they quickly changed their minds.

I love the image of monks scrabbling around in hot ashes in order to rescue the first roasted coffee beans. By golly, this could be as big as Champagne!

I finally got the opportunity yesterday to use my pop_corn

popcorn maker
to roast some green beans, supplied by Whittard.

It really is a remarkably easy (if smelly and smoky) process. You essentially just have to throw a handful of beans in the popcorn maker, run it, and wait for them to turn the right shade of brown.


First of all, you get an aroma which is like nothing else so much as a delicious chocolate cake cooking in the oven. Not a coffee smell at all, but rich, melting, chocolate.

They begin to crackle, throwing off husky, flaky material, and quite quickly turn brown. The popcorn maker gets hot. When they're as dark as you want them to be, you stop the machine. There's a lot of smoke! I was lucky to be doing it in my conservatory, next to an open window, with the door wide open too.

I quickly emptied them into one of two sieves, and dashed outside to cool them as rapidly as possible, passing them between the two sieves.

Finally, when they were cool, I put them in an airtight container. Within an hour, the essential oils of the beans had started to come through, and the aroma of coffee was strong and good.

I left them overnight and ground some up for my breakfast brew. The result wasn't brilliant, because all I had to hand was an antique manual grinder, which didn't really get them fine enough for espresso. So I brought them into work for the bean-to-cup machine.

A qualified success. Certainly tastes good, though not quite the revelation we were promised. My first batch wasn't really dark enough, though, and even my second batch wasn't quite as dark as a true espresso roast. So I'll try again. The main thing is, there's nothing to fear: it's very easy, and all adds to the fun.

Day of fish

Rob and I both had fish today from the Endangered Species and Chips shop. Rob reported that they were substandard. Mine was OK.

My only general gripe with the chip shop is that often the cans of soft drink smell of fish. I'm not sure whether that is down to me, or the people in the shop. Either way, sugary drinks and fish pong are not ideal bed-fellows.

This morning my daughter announced that, it being the last few days before the end of term, they were going on a school outing and she needed a packed lunch.

This is Bad News at such short notice. My wife has been boycotting the consumerist concept of shopping for food and groceries for about two weeks now. I had to improvise rapidly. In the back of the cupboard was a tin of tuna, hiding behind the tins of Stuff That Nobody Likes.

I remember my parents buying Stuff That Nobody Likes, and my schoolfriend Russ complained of similar behaviour on his parents' part. It's to stop the children from bingeing and leaving the cupboard bare in a matter of hours, I suppose. Funny how we all become clones of our parents.

So I opened the tin of tuna, and decided to drain it into the sink (the tin being full of brine and fish oil). As I squeezed the lid into the tin to force the liquid out, an arc of the brine rose out of the tin, over the edge of the sink and onto the crotch of my trousers.

Now I'm not your average sartorial fop by any means, but the thought of having fairy rings on the crotch of my strides, smelling of old tuna, forced even me to go and get changed again before setting off.

Home sickness

While we're on the subject of nostalgia (at least in the internal monologue of the starship of my imagination) I thought I'd share this with you.

It's not so much the toy car, although, when I close my eyes, I can still feel the shape of it exactly, but the box it came in.

The memory of the box had long been consigned to the subconscious part of my mind.

I rather like the design, I have to say. If you're like me, the Matchbox Superfast branding will give you flashbacks to your childhood.

Airfix kit boxes do too: designs from the seventies are like old friends. A quick search on the internet brings the memories bubbling familiarly right up to the surface of consciousness, as though 30 years didn't exist.

Anyway. This car (though not numerically identical with the one in the image) was bought for me by my parents in 1971, in Mevagissy, on a family holiday in Cornwall.

I remember that I thought the car was magic: that it would be a flying car and a car that could go underwater as well.

I can remember sitting in the back of my dad's blue Vauxhall Viva playing with this.

I can remember playing with it on the beach. It was my Best Thing all that summer.

I still liked it some years later, when I was older; say ten years old. But my brother managed to shove plasticine in all the openings and it got hair tangled round the wheels. And then one day someone trod on it and the top broke off.

Entropy: contrary to what the empirically-challenged young believe, that's the real meaning of life.

Spud Update

Referring back to my Ocado online shopping experience, I am happy to report that Ocado have apologised and refunded me for the taters.

I got two separate emails from people at Ocado about the matter, from two different people with the same forenames as two of my sisters - not terribly common names, either, so quite a coincidence.

July 19, 2005

I miss back when

There's a lot to be said for children's literature. The enthusiasm many adults feel for Parry Hotter is no surprise; there can be more emotional satisfaction in children's literature - more emphasis on a rollicking good yarn and a good pay-off.

My theory is that a lot of adults miss out on this kind of thing by not reading enough genre fiction. If you restrict yourself to adult "literary" fiction (the kind of fodder that is promoted via the Booker prize etc), you will by-pass the joy of the genre, the thrill of the thriller, the sci of the sci-fer.

True to my contrarian self, I've never read any HP, though my wife does. She's got the first three or four books in French translation, and the last couple in English.

I serpently don't sneer at grown ups who read HP, though I do believe a lot of the hype surrounding the books is millennial in nature. I'm not saying they're badly written, but I suspicion there are many, many equally worthy children's writers.

This weekend, having bought a couple more of the books for CJ (and Didi when she's older), I've been reading Arthur Ransome's Swallowdale, which is set in the summer following the original Swallows and Amazons but published a lot later, I think, with other books in between (like Peter Duck and Winter Holiday). I'm not a Ransome scholar, so I can't be sure.

Anyway, Swallowdale is ace. They arrive at the lake (based, sort of, on Coniston) looking to pick up where they left off the summer before, and It All Goes Wrong. The Blackett girls are imprisoned by their Great Aunt, who won't let them dress or act like pirates, and the Walker children wreck Swallow on a rock and are forced to camp, not on the island, but in a mainland valley they discover while Swallow is being repaired.

When the Great Aunt finally despatches herself, the Blackett girls join the Walkers on a trek up The Old Man of Consiton, rechristened Kanchenjunga in their imaginations. When they get to the top, there's a moment that really hit me, and made me feel deeply sad. They find, hidden at the foot of the cairn on top of the "mountain," a tin box from the Victorian era (30 years before their own time). In it they find a Victorian farthing and a note written by the Blackett girls' parents and uncle, before marriage, before adulthood, before Bob Blackett (the father) died. Dated some time in 1901 it reads, "We climbed the Matterhorn."

How obvious that Arthur Ransome put that bit in for his adult readers to weep over (Nancy wouldn't cry, of course).

Before the Second World War, it seems to me, it was always possible for a new generation to play the same games in the same places as their parents. That continuity, so poignantly captured by Ransome, is something that was more or less deliberately destroyed in the social revolution(s) that followed the War. I've been responsible myself for pouring scorn on that kind of conservatism and traditionalism. I'm not becoming a Conservative with a big C, but I do think myself a bit of an arse for doing that, for decrying the very notion that you might live where your parents lived, that your own children might do so also.

Holidays in the Lake District were once the preserve of the privileged; later, they weren't; now it's just a great big tourist hole, all of us being equal. Better that fewer people are so poor, but along the way we lose so much, so much that is impossible to keep hold of in the circumstances, and which exists now largely in the pages of classic children's literature: simpler times, when children (in books at least) were children for longer, and when imagination (not technology or branded sportswear) played a large part in having fun. There was no question of John Walker snogging Nancy Blackett, (though I might have done if I'd been there). I believe there's some snogging in the latest HP, a sign of the times: not a good one.

One of the key things about these books is that they were written precisely when most people could only dream of the kind of holidays these children had. Importantly, too, the children in the Arthur Ransome series never go hungry. Farmers ply them with milk and eggs, and new cakes and other goodies arrive daily. "Lashings of ginger beer," goes the snide modern commentary on these things, but between 1930 and 1950, lashings of ginger beer, fruit cakes, and plenty of bread and fish you've caught yourself was an impossible dream for many people, and the escapism these books offered was a wonderful thing.

I mentioned above the sadness engendered by Swallowdale and of course it's no accident that there were 10 hard years between the original Swallows and Amazons and its "sequel." In 1940, the summers portrayed in the book were already part of a lost era, something we could never get back.

My own childhood was in large part spent running around on the Blows Downs (part of Dunstable Downs), which were behind my house. I'd go up there with siblings, friends, or just on my own, running across the hills and looking down on the town. I was lost in a fantasy world, never felt I was in danger, and killed hours and hours up there.

I can't offer that to my kids, but when we go back to my wife's home village in France, well, things are pretty much the same there as they were for her as a child. There are more people living there, there are more cars on the road, but the narrow lanes around the village don't change, and the same old faces are there. We visit people who live in homes that have been in the family for generations, and listen to the wind in the trees that have always been there. Visiting the in-laws, as we will at the end of this month for a couple of weeks, is always a bit of a task for the likes of me, but I do treasure every moment my kids spend there, because I know how lucky they are to have it.

July 18, 2005

Millennium Nation

I've mentioned in the past that it's my belief that we are (still) going through a bout of millennial hysteria.

I'm sure historians of the future (and, when time travel is invented, futurologists of history) will look back on the last years of the 20th and the first years of the 21st as an era of madcap craziness and crazy madness.

Consider the evidence.

Religionists blowing themselves up all over the place, blowing other people up, and generally behaving like the world is going to end, or they want it to.

Lists, countdowns, more lists, more countdowns, and people going bonkers to be first, whether it's queuing up outside bookshops for the latest Harold Pinter or the Apple Store for, er, an operating system? If you think about it, it's all about counting down, whether it be the top 100 farts in the movies, or the minutes-to-midnight when the shop opens to allow you to pay for a book that, believe it or not, would still be available during normal shop opening hours.

The need to be first also equates to the need for speed, whether that be speed reading Hairy Potty (afraid you'll die before you reach the end) or just dashing about everywhere, without the time to take stock, take a breath, and savour the slower things in life.

Worrying about things is also a sign, and people everywhere are worried about the weather (signs and portents), asteroids (what ho, BBC Horizon team? What's going to destroy us all this week?), or everybody getting too fat and exploding like hysterical religionists.

Then there is completely out-of-character behaviour, like one/two-minute-silence for anything and crowds of people turning up to look at gates, doors, and walls, as if there was some hidden meaning in looking at them. And leaving flowers, of course, whether they are at little shrines at the side of the road, on lampposts, or left propped against the aforesaid gates, walls, and doors.

Whatever happened to "Fresh flowers in next lay-by"? Fresh and wilting flowers seem to be in every lay-by, and at every roadside death spot.

We drove home a very different way from my Dad's house the other day, a 2.5 hour drive from Lincolnshire to Bucks. And in spite of the unusual route, across winding roads in beautiful countryside and through many more villages than usual, it took more or less the same time as dashing up every dual carriageway we could find and avoiding those 30 mph signs.

Not only does this indicate that by-passes may improve quality of life for villagers, but certainly do not make journeys faster, but it goes to show that most journeys take as long as they are going to take, no matter what you do.

Getting my Gaggia at home has brought home to me that some things just can't be rushed, that there are indeed some things that have to take a certain amount of time. If the shot of espresso doesn't come through in 20-25 seconds, then it just ain't right. And if you try to hurry, you'll do something wrong like leave the steam boiler switched on, and fuck everything up and have to start again.

In spite of my many years of higher education, the book that has most impressed upon me the right way to live is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is the Bible of Doing Things Right. I commend this book to anyone who wept at the deux-minutes, or sat up all night speed-reading the latest Furry Potter.

Something for the weekend

Hmmm. We had a pet mortality on Saturday morning. One of my daughter's guinea pigs managed to shuffle of this mortal coil, mid morning.

One of the few "modern" novels I've read is pet cemetery by Stephen King. Somehow, my youngest son has always reminded me of that book.

As if life imitated art, I found my son digging up the just buried corpse of the said guinea pig in the afternoon. I was just in time.

I tried to explain to my son that it wasn't nice to dig up dead things. You should know that we have a shrub in the garden under which we bury pets that have gone to play with Bubby Jesum.

He said, "daddy, is Monty under the ground there?" (Monty was a cat.)
"Can you dig him up? Because I want to see him dead."

No action was taken.

I once caught my son walking along the window ledge, outside, of an upstairs window. He was playing spiderman. He's a bit of a livewire in other words. You have to keep your eye on him.

On Sunday he came running up to me in the living room and said, "daddy, you've left the cooker on."

Of course, I hadn't. But that was indeed his way of saying, "daddy, I've turned the cooker on and started a fire in the kitchen and don't know how to stop it."

He'd managed to set fire to a plastic knife handle and a pan which had been left on the hob pending the grand washing up session.

Good work.

However, in spite of erecting fence posts yesterday and an advanced Salsa class in the late evening, the weekend was not entirely wasted, because I saw the police pull a car over for speeding on the 40mph section of Gotham Road.

Speedy fules should always bare in mind that police cars are less easy to identify behind you in the dark. Lovely.

Fantasia on a theme

Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan-Williams, is my all time favourite piece of music.

It takes a tudor choral theme and builds upon it to create a musical picture of England: the countryside and the people; England from the time when it became great through to more recent times when it ceased to be great; rolling countryside, butterflies, waves of wheat swaying in the wind, majestic slow-moving rivers. Those sort of pastoral images.

My fear now is that it is only a matter of time before it gets taken up for something; media-felched so it becomes the theme tune of a political party or some soap series on TV and loses its mystery and meaning, and thus its potential to become anybody else's favourite for those reasons.

And the nut was good

I tried posting my nut selection in response to Roy's last Friday, but was thwarted by strange blog tardiness.

I've always liked Brazils, tasting like something you've coughed up while suffering bronchitis, albeit slightly milky.

Cashews, which are the nut equivalent of a bag of chips, are also rather pleasant.

However I can't leave the subject without mentioning the Walnut, which has a bitter, astringent taste and summons physical sensations that are the closest to nicotine withdrawal I've ever experienced. Perhaps I have a looming allergy to them.

And when you crack one open it looks like a little monkey brain.

Pickled walnuts also have the odd property of probably looking like a mummified bell-end.

Pac Man's melon head

We've gone fresh juice mad in our house and our quest for more interesting juices than orange and apple led to the purchase of a great big watermelon for the princely sum of 99p.

I was struck by two things. Firstly, watermelon is without doubt the most appetising foodstuff ever - it's beautiful shiny green exterior matching its fantastic pink centre and the sweet fresh aroma that emerges as you slice it.

Secondly, if you take a chunk out in the right place it looks just like Pac Man.

Booze lolly

In order to speed up the cooling process my girlfriend popped a bottle of wine in the freezer. Unusually for me I forgot all about (as did she).

I remembered it sometime on saturday afternoon. By this point the wine had frozen completely and expanded enough to blow the bottom of the bottle out. I was going to throw it in the bin till my curiosity got the better of me and I had to lick it.

It was like a calippo but much much better.

July 15, 2005

"mrs white had intended to buy heinz, but the shop only had hp"

it was while i was researching for my baked beans testing that i found this. it's very sad. some people can take these things far too seriously. though i suspect there is more to this story than over-developed brand loyalty.

it reminds me of a small news item from quite a long time ago. might even have been ten years' ago. about a man who beat up his parents because they couldn't answer the questions in his specially-devised claudia schiffer quiz. he was obsessed with her, you see. i cut the article out of the paper, so if i ever find it i'll share it with you.


i am becoming increasingly fond of almonds. and the thing is, i used to hate them. i think i would go so far as to say that at this present time, the almond is my favourite nut.

it's the coating of a nut that will always let it down. like those little peanuts with the bitter reddy-brown skins, for instance. and you can't separate the almond skin from its meat. not that i would want to, nowadays. i've grown to love that chestnuty texture and taste. but the best thing about the almond is how you can crunch it sideways between your teeth and get two halves with the perfectly smooth inside.

i would be interested to know the identity of the other team members' favourite nut.

This is too much

It's Princess Di all over again: what is up with the British character all of a sudden? One minute, we're all, "You won't change our way of life, we will endure," and the next people are blubbing and applauding yet another fucking two minute silence.

As one correspondent to Five Live put it last night, if we'd had a silent vigil every time a bomb dropped during the Blitz, we'd have lost the war, wouldn't we?

To put this in perspective, another story on the Guardian today reminds us that people in Iraq are being killed by suicide bombers at the rate of 800 a month. That's one an hour. Do you think they should have two minutes of silence every day at noon? What good would that do?

I am fucking sick of the grief fascists with their flowers at the side of the road and their silent vigils. Take a bloody pill and get over yourselves.

July 14, 2005

2 minute silence (slight return)

It feels slightly preposterous and self-important to be observing this silence. I mean, there are lots of Bad Things going on all the time that are equally deserving of respectful silence.

Why particularly this one, just because some snowy-nostrilled media-luvie thought it was a good way to get herself noticed with the programmers?

It was with some relief therefore that the silence around the office was broken by the happy and innocent music of mobile phone ringtones going off constantly. Mobile phones are no respectors of respect.


Bob recently posted about French farmers pretending that their children are being carried away by dingos or something and using that as an excuse for highjacking and robbing the Tour de France.

I commented that it was time for us to start thinking about reintroducing wolves into the UK. Most young people will wonder what the hell I'm talking about because Wolves already are in the UK. But I mean the species of dog rather than the soccer team, of course.

You may be interested to learn that the wolf was once part of Britain's indigenous fauna. There have been stranger animals here in prehistoric times, such as cave lions, woolly rhinos, dragons and mammoths, but the wolf was found here until as late as the 18th century, as documented in the Hammer horror films.

You will appreciate how delighted I was to learn that there already are several projects in progress aimed explicitly at reintroducing wolves into the UK.

Just imagine the eerie beauty of the blood curdling howl of a wolf on a moonlit night echoing across the Yorkshire Downs again.

Let's hope that this time they are not driven to extinction by ignorant hunters with guns and snares thinking, wrongly, that wolves have carried away their children for food, or all trace of them bludgeoned from the face of the British countryside by confused football louts confusing them with a running pack of Wolverhampton United supporters.



Just looked at the film Bob mentioned in his post about Olympix 2012 (twendy twelve).

Is it just me, or is James Bond (Roger Moore incarnation) being suggestive with Moneypenny, viz. suggesting that they "share a banana sandwich"? And we all know what a banana sandwich is, eh folks?

Good to see so many actors braving the cobbled streets of London in support of the bid too, altruistically dodging suicide bombers and that all for the love of Sport.

2 Minute Silence

Don't forget that when remembering the dead of the London bombings at 12 o clock today, 2 percent, or 2.4 seconds, of your 2 minute silence will be for the bombers themselves. I suggest you emit a small fart for this period of time.

A cynic blubs


Egg and Spoon will be an Olympic event in 2012

I'm an almost complete cynic when it comes to the Nike Olympics (soon to be spelled Olimpix in order to appeal to the youth), but every time I even think about one of the London 2012 promo films I start to tear up.

It's the one called "Sport at Heart" that gets to me - in particular the girl in the playground near the end, who sees the runner go past and then goes into a sequence of gymnastic moves. Even now, the thought of it makes me want to blub. I was watching yesterday afternoon and I had to leave the room to go blow my nose. Notwithstanding the M-People soundtrack (what is it about M-People?).

By Christ, having daughters makes you a total soft touch. Rest assured that in all other aspects of my life I am a hard-nosed, unsympathetic bastard.

July 13, 2005

Turn to Frank

As usual, two minutes in the company of the BBC's Frank Gardner tells you everything you need to know.

Join Our Team and Achieve Immortality*

Do you have what it takes to be a part of a winning team? We're recruiting now (4 vacancies), and we're looking for guys (or girls, no mini-skirts please) who have the "right stuff". Our client is a multi-national organisation that can offer all the benefits you would expect from working for a big company, including a direct line to God.

Please take a few minutes to answer these questions so that we can assess your aptitude for the post. There are no right or wrong answers. It's multiple choice, so just pick the answer closest to the way you feel.

1. The football team you support is relegated and near bankruptcy, do you:

(a) Shrug it off philosophically and say, "Oh well, at least we might start winning some games in a lower division"?
(b) Protest outside the club, demanding the resignation of the Chairman and management team?
(c) Start supporting a winning team (like Chelsea)?
(d) Hijack an aircraft and fly it into a building whilst reciting verses from a religious text?

2. Some friends of yours are having a philosophical argument in a pub. Do you,

(a) Blow up the pub?
(b) Join the argument, throw a few insults, drink a few beers and go home?
(c) Join the argument, throw a few insults, drink a few beers and go to Casualty?
(d) Protest outside the pub, demanding that it be closed immediately?

3. The world refuses to live by the tenets of your interpretation of a largely fictional text. Do you,
(a) Shrug it off philosophically and say, "Oh well, boo hoo, live and let live is what I always say."
(b) Protest outside the houses of Parliament, demanding that new laws are passed to force people to respect your overworked imagination?
(c) Pick up some more books, and discover that you don't have to believe everything you read?
(d) Strap explosives to your chest and blow yourself up in a public place?

4. You see an attractive girl at the bus or tram stop. She has a perfect face and beautiful legs. Do you,
(a) Thank the sweet bubby Jesus that it's summer and you have eyes and can see?
(b) Say hello and pass the time of day?
(c) Throw stones at the bus/tram/girl and demand that she cover herself immediately?
(d) Hide explosives in a duffel bag and leave it on the bus/tram connected to a timer and detonator?

*May not be true.

July 12, 2005

Bad Wolf?

It seems astounding in this day and age, that today's Tour de France stage was disrupted by French farmers worried about wolves eating their sheep.
The start here this morning will be put back 7 miles to avoid a demonstration by angry Alpine farmers, demanding action against the ravages of les loups among their flocks.

They've tried this twice before, but both times it turned out they were lying about the wolves. Tour organisers refused to listen this time.

Mellow Birds Yellow

Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

Finally, my Gaggia has arrived. Not the all-singing, all-dancing bean-to-cup monster we now have in the office, but a traditional 3-button machine, very much based on their Classic model, possibly slightly smaller.

All the important elements are here: the 1425 watt boiler, the 15-bar pump, the all-metal body, and the chrome plated brass filter holder, which takes longer to warm up (6 minutes), but retains heat better than the aluminium type.

Got some kind of bizarro attachment for the cappuccino frother, too, one of those things that sucks milk from a container (e.g. carton of milk), froths it, and then dispenses it directly onto the cup. I'm in two minds about it. It certainly works really well, but it's a lot harder to clean than a regular frothing jug.

I was pleased that I got a good cup of espresso at my first attempt (using Illy ground coffee), and also at my second - when I did two cups at the same time and got a deliciously thick syrupy brew, just the way it's supposed to be.

I tried it with some of the coffee pods from my Senseo machine, and the results weren't good. Gaggia also sent a sample of their own espresso pods, and the result was only acceptable. My next step is to get some green beans and roast them in my popcorn maker... keep watching this space.

beanz meanz fartz #2 - tikka

i tried the tikka beans yesterday, again on a jacket potato. they were a big letdown after the mexican beans. not that much different really, but with a horrible aftertaste. i'd give them 2 out of 10. that bad.

i have 2 cans of sweet chilli beans, which i confess i'm not that excited about. i don't understand how these can taste much different to the mexican either.

i have still not found the jalfrezi beans anywhere, not that i have been scouring supermarket after supermarket since my last report.

This is what I was talking about

Originally uploaded by mcmrbt.

Older readers may remember that, following positive reports from the Consumer's Association, I decided to try the Waitrose/Ocado online grocery shopping experience.

The view I've expressed in the past is that you just can't trust that people are going to be as fussy about picking up vegetables and stuff as you would be.

Previously, I'd tried to Sainsbury's service, and while it was okay, you never quite got all you ordered, and there were often substituted items.

The positive news about Ocado is that, not only did they deliver on time, but every single item ordered was present and correct. And the whole thing cost about a pound less than the on-line estimate.

So far so good, but oh dear, look at the potatoes. Would you have picked these up in the shop? Out of 5kg of Maris Pipers, 600g goes straight in the bin (pausing briefly for a photo opportunity). They weren't hiding: the bag was damaged, and it's clear the damage to the spuds was caused mechanically - they obviously got caught up in the packing machinery. It's bad enough that they were then sent on to the supermarket/online shopping warehouse - but they were then carefully chosen and dispatched to my house.

Cheers for that, Ocado.

July 11, 2005

The trouble is

I've just been reading a post elsewhere of Rob's, about cars and ecology and our attitudes (as car-driving public).

The trouble with us (as any sort of public) is that we actually need a world that stays the same, but contrary to that, as post-industrial consumerised monkey men, we all demand change in the world.

It's like the health of a business. Profit itself is not enough. Having constant profit, albeit without growth, is deemed as failure. It has to show exponential growth. Delta X over delta T.

And so we need more and newer everything.

It's partly driven by the omnipresent commandment Thou Shalt Sell in order to keep the economy moving: We need the now-even-better improved and new biological washing powder.

But it wasn't always so. Until the 18th century a man might never see the world beyond the village he was born in. He'd be apprenticed to his father, and in turn continue in the family trade.

I'm not saying that things were better then. Just that it's a shame that we will probably end up loosing a lot of the actual Good Things that have come along since the industrial revolution, just because people want mobile phones that can play tunes, just because someone has conned them into thinking they do.

Nostalgia Bulletin

Yesterday, ITV showed the 1974 film, Swallows and Amazons, based on the first in the series of Arthur Ransome books. It was too hot for the kids to be in the garden all day, so I suggested they watch it, hoping they'd enjoy it.

First I should point out that it is a truly terrible film, bearing all the hallmarks of the Children's Film Foundation, and featuring child actors who vanished without trace. Wooden, stilted, miscast, uncommitted, and uncharismatic. The best of them, Suzanna Hamilton, went on to have a respectable career (she's been in a few tellys and was Julia in 1984), and her face is now the most familiar.

That said, my kids (raised on Toy Story, Shrek, and the like) were glued to it, and the oldest enthusiastically picked up Ransome's Winter Holiday when I pulled it (and 4 others, in varying states of repair) off the shelf. So I immediately ordered the original Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale, which was the first one I read.

As a voracious reader, I consumed the S&A series wholesale - multiple times - and found in them the right level of escapism and nostalgia for an age I never knew (doubtless the Germans have a word for that). And, in spite of the awfulness of the film, and the stilted, awkward, performance of Kit Seymour as Nancy Blackett in particular, I was in love with Nancy Blackett for many years. This love was based on her brilliant character in the books and on the appearance of Ms Seymour in the film. I fell for her when I was 12 - she seemed impossibly older and mature-looking (probably a year too old to be playing Nancy), and fuelled my escapist fantasies for, ooh, shall we say a couple of years?

The books were, naturally, products of their time (how could they not be?), and contain many references to "savages" and "natives" and - later in the series - to stereotypes from all round the world. Even in the 70s, when I first read them, these references may have been considered beyond the pale (*ah hem*) by some, but I've never been one to allow such concerns to spoil my enjoyment of something on its own terms. It's like Alias on TV - preposterous but ridiculously entertaining, and only works as such if all concerned play it straight. To ask the well-travelled Arthur Ransome to be anything other than what he was is to demand the impossible.

Kit Seymour has vanished into the Where Are They Now file, probably glad to forget about her single, unsuccessful foray into acting. She may be a bit nonplussed that the piss-poor film adaptation of S&A is still doing the rounds, its availability down to the popularity of the books rather than artistic merit. Still, she looked great in that red pirate hat, and it's something to show her grandchildren when they pick up the books, as they surely will.


Talking of mortality, the local evening paper ran a special recently to commemorate the VE day celebrations.

Yesterday my mother showed it to me, as a friend of hers had saved it for her. One of the pictures was of Grainger Street in the Meadows in Nottingham. Taken in the yards behind the houses.

I have some photographs of me taken in the early 70s on holiday, and it has always been noted how much I looked like my son at a similar age.

As a child my dad lived on Grainger Street. They lived at number 6. And in 1945 my old man would have been 8 years old.

Well, I took one look at the picture in the paper. There, unmistakably, is my grandmother, looking pretty much the same as I remember her when I was a child. And she was very short too, so there's no mistaking. And there next to her, looking like a photoshoppage from the picture of me in the 1970s, or of my son from 5 years ago, is, we think, my dad.

I say "think" because there is no way of knowing for certain, as neither my father nor my grandmother are still alive to be asked, and as far as we are aware there are no photographs of my dad as a child for comparison (they were very poor and couldn't afford clothes, let alone cameras).

It's kind of freaked me out a bit because the resemblance is uncanny. Like some weird Doctor Who time travel shit. Like it's me looking out of the photograph.

And then it's like I can look into the eyes of that child and think, "I know how, where and when you will die".

Inappropriate Much?

The L0nd0n b0mbings have revealed a great deal about bl0gs and bl0gging that is being talked up by the media in a mostly positive way (spellings altered to avoid search engine hits). Personally, it made me uncomfortable, because there seemed to be too much "me too" and "look at me" about it. There's a sense that people switched to a mode in which they weren't really thinking about what to say, but rather thinking about what would be said about what they were saying.

In other words, a instead of a moment in which bl0gs proved their true worth, we were left with the unedifying prospect of (lots of) people writing about events in order to get noticed by the mainstream media. Meet the new boss - same as the old boss. People couldn't wait to get their photos up on Flickr - no matter how crap, no matter how little they showed - because they knew they'd get their 15 seconds of fame.

Another thing to note, how some people don't have any sense of boundary, and will post their illiterate drivel about terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan and other buzz words in any old place, no matter how inappropriate. The example link there is from the Guardian Online blog. JOHN (the capital letters are part of the charm) uses this, one of twenty zillion blogposts on the subject of the b0mbings, to spout the same drivel you will find posted on all the other twenty zillion blogposts.

Some go further beyond the border, and start posting crap on blogpostings which aren't even vaguely related to the subject. That last link is something about a new reality TV show about Bobby Brown. As one of the commenters says, "We've been sending random messages into outer space for about forty years now in the hope of contacting alien life. Something out there has clearly had the same idea."

Random indeed. There's a word for this kind of thing isn't there? These are people who you might see wrapped up warm on a hot sunny day: inappropriately dressed, inappropriate comments - all in a day's work for the paranoid schizophrenic.

Online nutters, attention seekers, the terminally self-important, all creep out of the woodwork following a major event. I have to say it, but I'm now a symptom of the same disease (hence my attempts to change spellings, so as not to fall into the Great Shit Bucket of Buzz). In the end, just one minute of Frank Gardner is worth 2000 years of this crap.

July 08, 2005

Playtime is over...

The whistle just blew in the playground, which means morning break is over and it's back to lessons.

Due to the road closures necessitated by Bernie Ecclestone's blackmailing of the organisers of the British Grand Prix, I'm working from home today. My route to work is closed, and the alternative is also the alternative for just about every other route you could think of, so my employer agreed I could work from home.

And I'm loving it. My concentration level today is actually higher than normal. I was at my desk at 8 o clock this morning (as usual), and I've got through quite a lot of the work I brought home already. My work phone is diverted to my mobile, and I'm online with my email, remotely-connected to the office MIS system, and also logged into our Basecamp project management account.

I got up an hour later, had a leisurely rather than a rushed shower, an unhurried cup of tea, and my commute to work was about 10 seconds. Tonight, I can leave my desk at the normal time and be home one and three quarter hours sooner than normal. How fucking cool is that?

It's a pleasant day. The sun is shining through the window of my garage/studio/office, and I can hear birds singing outside, the caretaker mowing the grass in the school next door, the kids playing in the playground, and the engines at Silverstone when they're running (at 11 am I should hear the F1 cars at their morning practice).

I can use my own loo, unsullied by people who eat too much curry and don't know how to clear up after themselves; and to cap it all, I just made a cup of tea in my own teapot with my own tea leaves and properly boiled water.

If I did this just one day per week it could save me around £750 in petrol costs, not to mention nearly 8000 miles on my poor car and poor hips and other joints. £750 is around 6 guitars from the John Hornby Skewes range, a family holiday, or a top-of-the-line Gaggia coffee machine and some beans.

Mars attack

I heard that a conspiracy-theorist's type of rumour is doing the rounds at the moment.

The rumour is that Mars is coming close to the Earth. Now, to most people I know that sounds stupid and ludicrously funny.

But I'm willing to admit that due to the Internet and Computers we live in a sort of renaissance of dark age mysticism when it comes to believing the unbelievable. Hey! It's on the Web. It must be true!

Check it out for yourself.

Blimey that David Blaine is so canny with his real magic that he must be the Bubby Lord 'Imsen.

July 07, 2005

Bananas - we have seven, no, three...

One of the bugbears of rolling news, breaking news, and the importance of Being First is the fact that for the first few hours, you just get a load of garbage. As Simon mentions below, it's Yes, We Have No Bananas. I note that this afternoon BBC NEWS are reporting three (3) blasts on the Underground network and one (1) on a double-decker bus.

Not seven (7) and three (1).

This ramps down the size of the incident by a considerable margin, of course. It's clear that when blasts happened between stations, they were initially reported as a separate blast at each station. Similarly, 3 people reporting the one bus were all counted individually.

The important thing here is that in exaggerating the story, the news outlets created more panic and hype - completing the job the terrorists started.

A more measured approach, reporting only known facts and not falling into the trap of needing to fill airtime with speculation, fuelling the sense of alarm, would actually serve to reinforce the message that we will not allow terrorists to defeat us.

Looking across the office now, Sky news is still showing a big red NEWSFLASH graphic, and endlessly repeating grainy, out of focus video footage and interviews with shocked victims. Again, all of this serves the terrorists, and not the public good.

They're only human

It's an odd thing. I've talked about it before. I tend to think that all people are nice. I tend to think that the only cultural barriers today are ones of racism or bigotry. I tend to assume that only red-faced white-men would unjustifiably harm other men.

But that's not so, is it? The world is such a small place now that it is very easy to forget how different we all are, how incompatible we often are.

In the UK we quite often pay public lip service to the idea that different strokes get along. Perhaps, deep down, we are all capable of global empathy and humanity. But it takes a certain intimacy between individuals before the capacity for empathy really comes into play.

I'm sure I read somewhere that we all have an innate capacity for unbelievable cruelty to other men. Unbelievable, that is, from the perspective of an outsider.

And it seems worse when cruelty is coupled with some sort of abstract pseudo-logic; you don't need to look any further than nazi Germany in the time of our grandparents to see what ordinary people are capable of.

Now, if the object of that cruelty is an abstraction then it becomes easy to inflict enormous agonies on other individuals by proxy.

I read someone's comment on the BBC website about the bombings in London today. "How can anyone be so cruel to other humans", she said.

And if it's true, as they are now saying, that the bombings have been undertaken by Al Qaida and are therefore born of religious and cultural motives, it does seem odd, because London is one of the most culturally neutral cities in the world at the level of the streets and the people who walk them: one of the most tolerant places.

But the bombings aren't aimed at killing Londoners, whatever the colour of skin or faith: they're aimed at something rather more abstract: Britain as an abstraction.

It's an odd thing. Blair has announced that terrorism will never win. But it seems to me that it already has. It may have killed only 40 or 50 people but it has created an enormous stir in the collective conscious again, disrupted business enormously, and set the media off on another wankfest of yes-we-have-no-bananas news bulletins. In other words it's hurt individuals and Britain qua abstraction.

It always strikes me as curious too that translations of Islamic texts on the Internet are very beautifully worded: almost poetic in their elegance. Whoever does these translations obviously cares deeply about maintaining form and structure in the use of English. I wonder why. Maybe that is reflective of an academic exercise; abstraction again, rather than concrete. Or maybe it is just a respect for the word of Allah.

I don't believe any religion is enough to condone murder, and it is often angry young men who employ it as justification, rather than cause, for inhumanity. But it is still unsafe to assume that a stranger will be a friend in our little world.

Breaking news

Don't panic anyone. but according to BBC News, some Hidden stuffed birds have been revealed due to the removal of some partitions. They have been concealed since the 1990s.


It was very strange this morning, as I left the motorway at J26 and went to switch on Wogan (because I think it's on Thursdays that he reads out the hilarious Janet and John stories) - but Wogan was being interfered with by what sounded like Muslim calls to prayer. It was Radio FIZA, broadcasting on entirely the wrong frequency (radio 2 is down at 88.x. whereas FIZA is supposed to be on 97.1).

Went over to Radio 4 FM, and that too was being interfered with by some other station - couldn't tell you what it was as no station ID came up.

Conspiracy theories anyone?

I wonder if the French or Spanish had won the 2012 Olympics whether this morning's explosions might have been elsewhere?


While I dislike the editorial commentary over at Overheard in New York and Overheard in the Office (it's a little bit too much like someone telling you why things are funny - all the time), they do have some corkers. Simon's post just reminded me of a classic from Office.

A bagel left in a microwave has caused a fire alarm. The half-melted and smoking microwave is taken outside and left on the pavement. A firefighter comes along and says, "Is this the thing that started the fire?" A quick-witted office worker says, "No, when we take a break, it takes a break."

There's an apposite one on New York today. A sleazebag is overheard talking on his cell phone, saying, "Yeah baby, yeah, I'm still in London. Yeah, I'll be back on Wednesday, baby."

Classic from Paxman

Rob was talking about stupid questions from interviewers.

They're covering the London blasts and I just heard Paxman himself do a corker.

Having listened to an American tourist describe how the roof of the bus blew off, he asked, "was it an ordinary London bus, or was it an open-topped sightseeing bus?"

It is now, Jezz.


a feminist once insisted to me that the v-sign was the ultimate violation of woman; one finger in the bumhole and the other in the front-bumhole. it's interesting how anyone who wants to be offended will always manage to find a way.

Fantasy Island

I love all this stuff about G8 and Live 8 (or whatever) and underground explosions and Olympics 2012. It's all just waving sticks at the monkeys on the other side of the river, innit?

Olympics 2012? We don't mention Agincourt do we? It wouldn't be polite. Who cares about politics when there are v-signs to be waved.


cheese-eating surrender monkeys

the day after our brave boys and girls bring back the 2012 olympics, london's underground system is thrown into chaos by some sort of as-yet unexplained accident. coincidence? or instant retaliation by those cheese-eating surrender monkeys?

The Hard Cell

Interesting article today in The New York Times (registration required) concerning cellphone etiquette. Not a new subject of course, but the first time I've seen mobile phones described as
...the cigarettes of this decade. It's an addiction. And just like cigarettes are banned from some places, so are cells banned. I think we'll see more organizations take a firmer line."

As someone whose last mobile bill was the princely sum of £1.48 I feel I am uniquely qualified to tell you how to use yours. I got my phone when we were moving house last year - it did prove useful in that short period of torture and flagellation by estate agents and vendors. Since then, the only time I really feel like using it is when I'm in the supermarket and want to ask my wife whether we need toilet roll or something.

Ironically, it rarely works when I try to do this. I get no signal at all in Tesco, or it turns out my wife has her phone switched off.

People do sometimes leave the room when their phone rings, just as they would if they nipped out for a swift fag. Someone in our office sent an email round the other day asking if she could put her SIM card into someone else's phone in order to check her messages (her battery was flat). Yet another person sent an email asking if anyone could lend him a phone for a week while his was being repaired.

An addiction, indeed.

As the NY Times article indicates, there tend to be different schools of thought. Some people do think that the more calls they get/make, the more important they seem. They're wrong, of course, because the more calls they get/make the more disorganised and stupid they seem - just like the proverbial chain smoker will seem neurotic and pathetic rather than cool.

Really important people are impossible to get hold of, and lead mysterious and distant lives - like the girl/boy you loved when you were thirteen.

In my experience, to the true VIP, there is nothing so important that it won't wait till they are good and ready to deal with it. While everyone else is panicking and running about, the VIP will slip quietly out of a side door. Elvis has left the building.

So, dress like a rock star, that goes without saying. And use your phone like a rock star: they're for people in your entourage to use, and you can't be bothered.

July 06, 2005

le Tour

From my point of view le Tour de France 2005 is a bit more interesting, because it's one of those years when it passes near/through a few locations that are dear to my heart.

The first time trial, for example, was on Noirmoutier island - which is my favourite place - and then there was stage 3, which saw them ride down the Vendée coast from St Jean de Monts to Les Sables d'Olonne - both places we visited on our recent holiday.

Stage 9, and the Tour passes very close to my in-laws' place (Basel-Mulhouse is the airport we'll fly to this summer), and one of the climbs of the stage is the 1st Category Ballon d'Alsace, which I have climbed several times... in a car (well, on foot to the summit). The Ballon is within striking distance of Auxelles and Plancher-Bas, to the extent that I've swished over there for a beer with my wife's uncle Christian in his Audi TT while everyone else sat around in the garden.

All of this means that the local roads will have had an upgrade, being coated in incredibly smooth tarmac which is great fun to drive upon, yay.

Oh well

The French can console themselves that at least they had the best logo, which is an idea that can be used again for any year up to 2999.

So, anyway, can someone now explain to me where this whole schtick about "Anglo-Saxon" came from? Have the French forgotten we were invaded by the Romans and then the Normans (who were also Norsemen) and that many of us share the same celtic roots as the bretonnes?

Anglo-bleedin'-Saxon? Get out of fecking town.

Climate of Fear

In the end, talking up global warming and climate change suits just about everyone, doesn't it? Governments like to spout rhetoric about lowering taxes, but in reality they can't live without them, so any excuse they can come by to tax popular and common activites will suit. The Green lobby likes it, because they can say, "Told you so," and get their little whiff of power when invited to the top table. The oil companies love it, because prices skyrocket; and scientists love it because they get research grants etc etc.

We've been talking about this issue increasingly on the blog. Let me make my position clear. As Simon said the other day, we've only got 100 years of data, so any firm conclusion about climate change is a mere negotiating position. The earth has been around for millions of years, has gone through periods of extreme cold and warmth, and we're supposedly in a warm spell in the middle of an Ice Age right now.

So just because we've had a couple of dodgy summers and a few windy days is no cause for alarm. I'm prepared to admit the possibility of the climate slowly changing; such a thing is inevitable. I'm also prepared to admit that increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are likely to have a warming effect - as is the hole in the ozone later (don't hear much about that these days, do you?) and increased solar activity (sun spots, flares etc).

When it comes to weather systems, we're just passengers, no matter how many supercomputers scientists throw at the problem.

On the other hand, we are going to run out of oil and the increase in consumption globally seems to be accelerating, so the oil will probably run out sooner than it would have. This is another reason that it might suit politicians to talk up global warming. As Simon said the other day, it's a sign that things are probably worse than they admit.

So we do need new technologies, and the House of Lords Committee is correct in pointing out the following (as reported in the Guardian):

· the Kyoto agreement to limit carbon emissions will make little difference and is likely to fail

· the science of climate change leaves "considerable uncertainty" about the future

· there are concerns about the objectivity of the international panel of scientists that has led research into climate change

What would we do without the House of Lords, eh? So often, they turn round to the government of the day and point out that they're being infantile.

It depresses me that all this hot air is being spouted about climate change, and scientists are concentrating on looking for evidence of global warming, when the real effort should be spent on looking at alternative energies. Nuclear fusion, for example, is the holy grail of energy production, and not some pie in the sky I dreamt up yesterday. Fusion potentially means the production of limitless electricity very cheaply, with no CO2 penalty. It means that in the future that everybody could be self-sufficient in energy (people in arid countries could use solar panels, and batteries produced using fusion electricity).

Another quote from the Lords to finish this:
We also want to see a far more serious effort into research and development of new carbon-free technologies ... we suggest such an effort might be compared to the scale of resources given to the US Apollo programme that put the man on the moon."

Let the French Pay

You'd expect me to be contrarian about the Olympic 2012 bid, wouldn't you? So why should I disappoint.

Yes, I think the French should have it. And welcome to it. People who want to see the games will still have it on their doorstep (you can cross in the Eurotunnel for £98 return, with their new pricing), but without the boredom of listening to Scots and Northerners moaning about it being in London.

And the Olympic games aren't what they were. Not since the athletes turned pro. It's just a bunch of overpaid superstars in bling-bling gold trainers being sponsored by Reebok and Nike and the like. And the Games themselves are sullied by Pokey Pola, McRonalds, Reebok and all the rest of the corporate sponsorship cock.

So let French taxpayers foot the bill, I say, and let them crow about it. By all means, regenerate inner-shitty London, but spread the love.