Friday, 31 December 2010

Surrogate Track Suits

There’s something about the Elton John and David Furnish surrogate baby story that I find extremely distasteful.

Perhaps it’s the offensive picture of an elderly, paunchy man with a hair transplant dressed in a track suit – especially when wearing black shoes. Obviously he’s just given up caring how he looks.

There’s another aspect to this that’s disturbing; Sir Elton (at 63) is eminently young enough to be a father, but David (at 48) is obviously too old to be a mother. It just ain’t natural.

Got the 2nd refund from eBay for the other APad I bought but was never dispatched. Not sure how they will get the cash back from the absconding Glaswegian seller, but that’s their problem. The seller had an unblemished 3 year record of voluminous sales of trinkets, but I suspect his recent entry into the APad market was a tad too much for him and he must have had a few recalls. Ended up paying substantially more and obtaining one from Maplins. The lesson about buying electronics via ebay has been well learned.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

A Full Hand of Overheards

Overheard while unwrapping Xmas presents:

Hayley: “I’ve bought you T-shirt. It’s slim-fit, but I can send it back.”

Overheard while unwrapping Xmas presents:

Hayley: “It’s a packet of stem ginger biscuits.”

Chairman: “Yes, but under the right circumstances, they can become any ginger biscuit.”

Hayley: “Ah, by stem ginger they obviously mean undifferentiated ginger.”

Overheard while the Chairman is emptying the ashes from the wood burner:

Chairman: “Have you seen the fire mit?”

Hayley: “You are joking, aren’t you?”

Chairman (after suddenly seeing the glove materialise right in front of his eyes): “It was camouflaged.”

Hayley: “What as? A fire mit?”

Wednesday, 29 December 2010


A quote from the BBC news website:

“An international group of scientists is aiming to create a simulator that can replicate everything happening on Earth - from global weather patterns and the spread of diseases to international financial transactions or congestion on Milton Keynes' roads…..”

“….It will only be possible by bringing together social scientists and computer scientists and engineers to establish the rules that will define how the simulator operates.”

Well, if it’s going to be realistic, it’s going to have to incorporate a simulation of the simulator itself. Ever read Isaac Azimov’s Foundation trilogy (which later became a series)? A mathematician called Hari Seldon developed a statistically predictive, mathematic modelling technology called psychohistory, which could predict the actions of suitably large populations, such as those on an entire galaxy. However, it would only work without the subject population knowing it was being subject to predictive simulation.

Can’t ever see an earth simulator being of the slightest bit of use, as social science is anything but a science; the very term social scientist is an oxymoron. Furthermore, a computer that could simulate the entire earth would need to be as large as the earth itself to be capable of any meaningfully predictive calculations, and even then the earth is too chaotic and complex to be modelled as small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) will yield widely diverging outcomes, rendering long-term prediction virtually impossible.

I was looking or some cereal for No.1 son the other day and he forced my eye to alight on a box of chocolate Weetabix. The packet screamed out the fact that there was less salt, less fat and half the sugar. Now I thought it rather strange that something loaded with chocolate, which itself has more sugar than something with a lot of sugar, can have half the sugar of normal Weetabix. It was only on closer inspection that I saw the small print, which read; “……than the average chocolate-based cereal product.” Seems honesty has gone completely out of the window when it comes to advertising.

Been reading about the righteous indignation expressed by some concerning the failure of airports to stay open during the recent inclement weather and the demands that they be fined to within an inch of their livelihood because some smug, self-obsessed prat couldn’t get to his Christmas skiing holiday in St Moritz. If I had my way, anyone who left home in snowy conditions without snow chains and a shovel should be fined for the cost of their rescue if they get into trouble.

Heard something on the radio yesterday about corporate team building exercises. You can’t really call it team building when you’re thrust into a contrived situation with several people, any of which would gladly stab you in the back as soon as look at you in order to achieve advancement.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Perils of e-Bay

Well, we managed to get back from St Ives with no mishaps. The caravan had not been ransacked by thieves; however, the water pipes had frozen in our absence and we have no fresh water. The thaw has set in though and it’s just a matter of time before we discover a burst somewhere in the pipe work.

Kitty had kindly eviscerated a selection of charming wildlife in the living room, depositing the entrails all over the carpet, much to Hay’s annoyance.

Glad to be back – I’m all holidayed out. I must have put on a stone in weight and the amount of booze I drank is in grave danger of leaving me with a case of gout.

No. 1 son spent most of our holiday with old school friends in various parts of Cornwall and is now on his way to Centre Parcs in Longleat to stay with another friend over the New Year.

Well before Christmas I bought him an APad on e-Bay, primarily as a means of keeping him off my computer. It’s identical to an iPad, but several hundred pounds cheaper.

The first one I bought turned up but was not as described, being several versions out of date (Android 1.5 as opposed to version 2.1). I returned it and had to raise a dispute through e-Bay as the seller went to ground and didn’t respond to any of my e-mails. I won that one and got a full refund, less the cost of postage back to the seller.

The second one was supposedly despatched from Glasgow well in time for Christmas, but when the seller disappeared from e-Bay within 24 hours of saying it had been sent I got a bit suspicious. It still hasn’t arrived and I lodged yet another dispute through e-Bay.

Never again will I buy anything electronic through e-Bay.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Still stranded in Cornwall by the weather. As you can see, the beaches are impassable.

No. 1 son has been staying for a few days with an old school friend in Cape Cornwall. Picked him up yesterday from the last house on the right before America.

The place was a derelict wreck until a few years ago. It’s since had a complete renovation to the original specification, plus the installation of geothermal heating. Learned a thing or two about under-floor heating and wooden floors. Major re-think ahead when we get home.

There was a news story yesterday about a Cornwall PC who retired after 40 years on the beat. It shows how little news there is when ‘man retires’ becomes a major news item. I wouldn’t mind, but he retired aged 60, which is well before you or I will retire. I suppose it’s a miracle he hadn’t retired much earlier on full pension due to some trumped up health reason. It’s even more miraculous that he never got above PC in 40 years’ service.

Here’s something to ponder the next time you’re caught in a traffic jam; you’re actually part of the problem, so stop complaining!

May I wish a Merry Christmas to anyone out there taking the trouble to read this.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Black Rock, St Ives

Overheard in the rented house:

Hay: “There’s a recipe on the wrapping of that goose.”

Chairman: “For what?”

Hay: “Roast goose! What did you think it would be a recipe for - mushroom soup?”

We bought the last goose in the shop yesterday. Talking of which, I understand there’s concern that supermarkets are getting too powerful. In their defence, the supermarkets say they provide jobs. So what do independent retailers provide? Scotch mist? If the raison d’être of supermarkets is ‘benefits of scale’ and thus lower priced food, then it stands to reason that they must provide fewer jobs than independent retailers selling the equivalent volume of produce. Methinks they’re clutching at straws using this argument, but I haven’t heard anyone in the news media challenging it.

Talking of food; some of these celebrity chefs really are prostitutes and will sell their reputation for a farthing. The house we’re renting has some Anthony Worrall-Thompson pans - the handles heat up and burn you, as do the handles on the lids. Utter waste of money, if you ask me.

I think it’s restaurant review time again – The Black Rock in St Ives. For quality of food, this little gem is simply the best restaurant we have visited this year.

We noticed The Black Rock tucked up a side street in St Ives about a year ago (it was previously a kitchen utensil emporium), but never visited, preferring to stick with the tried and trusted Café Pasta or the Alba. We were finally tempted this week by the offer of two courses for £14.95, or three for £17.95 – a theme currently familiar across all the restaurants in St Ives, which I suspect are suffering not only from the recession, but also the fact that St Ives is devoid of visitors due to the inclement weather elsewhere (one revered establishment, the Pedn Olva Hotel, is serving Trubute beer for £1 per pint, which is an absolute steal).

The black and silver wallpaper unfortunately makes the place feel like a bordello, while the lighting is woefully inadequate, due mainly to the black wallpaper and the black slate floor sucking in what little light is available like a black hole. A few spotlights over the tables would make it less redolent of a crypt.

On being seated the waitress lit the tea light at our table, but not those at the other tables, which would have given the place a cosy glow and helped to alleviate the feeling that we were sat in a Birds Eye cold store. Yes, it was a little chilly.

There are four starters and four main courses as standard – all sounding exceptionally delicious and making a choice very difficult. The waitress was professional (for a pleasant change), letting us know what was off the menu (but replaced) and what the soup of the day was without being asked.

A good selection of wines are on offer; I went for my favourite tipple of a Malbec, being the cheapest red on the list at £14.95. It was so good we ended up having two bottles (I have yet to come across a bad Malbec). The cheapest wine on the list is invariably good in most restaurants and I object to paying shed-loads of money for indifferent, yet highly priced wines that come from estates with large marketing budgets that have to be recouped.

Hay chose a ham and beetroot terrine with a herb butter and home-made bread and chutney as her starter. I went for white bean coquettes with a garlic sauce. A complimentary board of the most delicious, warm and crispy home-baked bread was provided for us both. Both starters were what we could only describe as superb.

Hay’s main course was a fillet of pollock on bacon and celeriac risotto with shredded celeriac garnish, which she pronounced ecstatic. Mine was slow-cooked pork belly with bean stew and cavalo nero cabbage. Hadn’t heard of cavalo nero before, but it looks like a very dark savoy crossed with spinach. The pork fat was fully rendered down, the meat beautifully tender and the skin crisped to perfection. Again – absolutely fantastic food of exceptional quality. Neither of us could fault the food in any way whatsoever and it was easily one of the best restaurant meals we had ever tasted.

I was tempted by a trio of ice-creams for dessert, comprising vanilla, mixed spice and cardamom – an interesting combination of flavours which I found most pleasing to the taste.

All in all we paid £70 (including tip) and found the experience memorable – despite the lack of mood lighting and the place being a tad chilly. Highly recommended if you’re in the area.

Here’s a parting thought. Bomb! Nice word and accurately descriptive. So why have we started calling bombs ‘improvised explosive devices’ since the kerfuffle in Afghanistan and Iraq? Management jargon, that’s why. In Northern Ireland they were always called bombs – sometimes the journalists became a bit more descriptive by inserting the words ‘car’ or ‘nail’ in front, but they were still bombs.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Positively Tropical

Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has been caught articulating what every bugger in the country would like to do to Rupert Murdoch. The only thing he didn’t say, and which we would all like him to, was that he was going to kick Murdoch where it hurts.

At least the Royal Institution Christmas lectures have returned to the BBC – albeit on a channel called BBC 4 and at 8pm. I used to look forward to settling down with the kids at lunchtime every day over the holiday period and watching the lectures – one of the few programmes on TV that teaches kids anything useful.

Getting heartily fed up with the constant diet of insuperably inane reality TV programmes comprising some dullard doing his or her crushingly boring job, a bunch of B-list celebs competing at seeing who can make the biggest idiot of themselves or a load of fame-hungry psychopaths vying for a 3 month pop career. I’m firmly of the opinion that it won’t be long before prime time TV consists of live footage from a CCTV camera outside a pub somewhere in Ilford.

Why has TV sunk this low? TV executives obviously have a very low opinion of their viewing audiences’ level of intelligence; well, either that or the vast majority of the viewing audience indeed has the intellectual capacity of a piece of toast.

Still can’t understand the furore over the weather. It’s positively tropical here in St Ives – and here are the photos from yesterday to prove it:

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Xmas Bird

I don’t know what all the fuss is about with the weather. Drove down here to St Ives on Saturday without any problems – in fact there was hardly a soul on the road – and it’s been gorgeous weather here since; chilly, but totally snow-free.

Using the phone for internet access - painfully slow.

Anyone know where I can get a flamingo for the Christmas table?

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Trout Mask Replica - But is it Art?

Off to the internet wilderness at about nine o'clock. Hope we make it. M5 seems pretty clear and the A30 has only a few incidents.

Captain Beefheart is no more.

It's strange how in the art of making music there are limits to which one can go and still call it music. Not so in the art of drawing, where it seems anything goes and the limits are boundless.

Why do you think that is?

See you in about 10 days - unless I find an internet connection in St Ives.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Peoples' Front of Judea & Drugs

Should Cage’s 4:33 get airplay, what will happen? If radio stations play more than 30 seconds of silence an automated system cuts in to fill in with muzak.

I was doing a bit of reading yesterday on Afghanistan. Some of the political factions fighting the Taliban include the following:

• Islamic Party of Afghanistan
• Islamic Movement of Afghanistan
• Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan
• National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan
• Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan

Shades of the Peoples' Front of Judea, the Judean People's Front and the Judean Popular Peoples Front?

Bob Ainsworth, an ex minister, has come out advocating the decriminalisation of drugs. Why is it that politicians and policemen only speak sense on this matter when they have left any position of power and authority? Could it be because they succumbed to illegal substances while in positions having anything to do with drugs and are now having withdrawal symptoms and want a quick fix?

Our drugs policy is not formulated by common sense or evidence, but by the ideological bigotry of a right wing press purporting to reflect the views of its readership, but actually spoon feeding ill-informed opinion to a readership lacking any semblance of critical thought processes. Phew!

Two feet of snow have been forecast – take a look.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Let's Reorganise - Just For the Hell of it

Back to Julian Assange (just for a change); how the hell does one have sex, protected or otherwise, with someone who is asleep – unless they are blind drunk or dead? Mrs Chairman becomes fully alert if I merely grunt in the night, let alone try to surreptitiously have my evil way of her.

The US Air Force has blocked employees from visiting media websites carrying leaked WikiLeaks documents, including the New York Times and the Guardian. The Chinese must be laughing their socks off. Is this not an example of what we experts call hypocrisy?

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, is to press on with massive Health Service reforms, and as usual it is unsurprisingly against the advice of experts and the odds. Lansley himself has no experience of reforming anything whatsoever, and no experience of anything outside politics. He’s had to publicly apologise for a number of gaffes and was guilty of flipping his home in the expenses scandal – but operating ‘within the rules’, which we now all know were designed by MPs for MPs to hide their avarice from those of us who pay their wages.

Cameron rejected claims by Labour that this is a reorganisation and instead called it a reform; however, in my lexicon a massive reform is a reorganisation. There again, he is a politician and well versed in changing the established meaning of words to suit his purpose.

With regard to reorganisation I am reminded of the observation: “We trained hard ... but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralisation.”

Why don’t they just tinker with the bits that don’t work, leaving alone the vast majority that works extremely well, despite the constant interference from politicians keen to leave a lasting legacy but ending up leaving a devastating trail of destruction? Central government is intrinsically incapable of organising anything – be it a legal war or a transparent expenses system.

You know all these public consultations that the government is supposed to do? Anyone know what form they take, as you only seem to hear about them after they’ve taken place? Seems pointless really, as no matter what the public say, the government just blithely goes ahead and does whatever it wants.

Belay that! Just done a modicum on research and discovered a list of consultation sites.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The 4th Estate

Apparently the only newspaper Julian Assange has access to while in custody is the Daily Express. Now that alone is degrading and inhuman treatment and tantamount to torture. For those not familiar with this august organ of the 4th estate, the old saying is that Daily Express readers think the country should be run the way it used to be run 70 years ago and the country has gone to the dogs in the meantime.

Over a hundred years ago Oscar Wilde said: “At the present moment there is only one estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism.”

Much of the traditional press has given up on investigative journalism, preferring instead to, understandably, promote the partisan views of the owner – who himself may have political ambitions or want concessions from government. Today digital journalism, such as that practised by Michael Moore and Julian Assange, is the only real bastion against state abuse of democracy – without it we are powerless.

Well. I’ve done my bit in striking out against the world’s most powerful man – Simon Cowell. Bought my copy of Cage Against the Machine on Monday.

On Saturday we’re off to spend the Christmas period in St Ives, Cornwall. The place we’ve rented has no Internet connection. Wish I’d known before we committed, else I’d have asked for another cottage. By way of excuse the rental company said that there was an internet-enabled café nearby, but that’s as useful as a Royal Protection Officer is to Prince Charles when I want to watch BBC iPlayer and my laptop battery has the lifespan of a Nick Clegg promise.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Plea Bargaining & Torture

Got my first multiple-recycled e-card yesterday; an e-card received by someone, forwarded to someone else and subsequently forwarded to a distribution list. Priceless! Also one from someone who has sent his e-card to his entire Outlook address book and had forgotten I was in it.

There’s a competition to determine what to do with the branches from the Holy Thorn Tree in Glastonbury, which was cut down last week by vandals. Hay suggested they should be shoved up the arses of the vandals, if ever they are caught.

Been thinking some more about the fact of Americans trying to do a plea bargain with Bradley Manning – the WikiLeaks leaker. It is alleged that in return for implicating Julian Assange, Manning will be offered a reduced sentence.

Plea bargaining is nothing more than a fix for a judicial system that is creaking at the seams; it avoids the need for a jury trial (something which is guaranteed in the American constitution) speeds up the entire process and reduces cost in the process. Well over 90% of American legal cases are settled by plea bargaining – which inadvertently skews conviction statistics, as people are usually convicted of a lesser crime than the one for which they were arrested.

A similar expedient to plea bargaining was instituted by the European legal systems in the middle ages for the same reasons – it was called torture to obtain a confession. It was introduced due to the system not being able to cope with the number of full jury trials that were needed and the problems associated with collecting evidence.

As a form of coercion, plea bargaining is, in all but name, the same as torture. The degree may be different, but the kind is identical – the use of state-sanctioned coercion to obtain a confession. When it is used to implicate possibly innocent individuals its use is a blatant abuse of judicial power by the state and morally reprehensible.

It is interesting to note that trials by combat and ordeal were introduced as a means of making God the judge of legal cases, for it was argued that God was not only infallible, but would not allow an innocent person to be found guilty. Obviously those who developed this innovative method of legal arbitration had never read their Roman history and the story of the lions and the Christians – or indeed the biblical story of Jesus himself, who set a bit of a precedent.

Monday, 13 December 2010


It is alleged that the Duchess of Cornwall ‘had contact’ with a protester during the recent university fees demonstration in London. One hears that the limb which came into ‘contact’ with the serf will be removed by the Queen’s personal surgeon. Can’t have aristos coming into contact with plebs – where would it end? Revolution? Total anarchy?

It is alleged that The Evil Empire is trying to do a plea bargain with the bloke who originally stole the embarrassing American ‘secrets’; if he implicates Assange he’ll get a lesser sentence. Looks like they’ll use any old pretext to get Assange – even bribery. What hideous reactionaries these people are.

Have a read of an interview with John Pilger about WikiLeaks.

Terry Jones – the American Quran-burning, Christian fundamentalist pastor and not our very own loveable Python – hopes to come to the UK to preach against fundamentalist Islam. I guess he doesn’t do irony. It's a bit like Hitler doing a lecture tour on the dangers of fascism.

Will a 1st edition of a Kindle book become worth as much the paper 1st edition?

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Educating Rita - As a Volunteer

Overheard in the caravan:

Hay: “You’re changing that sweater today – you’ve had it on for a week.”

Chairman: “No I’ve not!”

Hay: “Well how long have you had it on then?”

Chairman: “Oh, only about 7 days.”

On the burning issue of the day in the UK (the proposed £6k-£9k university tuition fees); there was a time when a university education was free – for anyone, regardless of social class. Why then was it that students from working class backgrounds were under-represented? It certainly couldn’t have been because they couldn’t afford it – it was free, for God’s sake.

Yes, the number of places was limited by the fact that the number of universities was fewer, but that ensured that only the most academically qualified were admitted and had no bearing on the class from which the intake was harvested. The feed system - the grammar schools - was not elitist and took anyone who passed the 11 plus (or the 12 plus for the late starters).

I would suggest that it was more peer and parental pressure that dissuaded academically minded working class students from entering university. Shades of Educating Rita? Any thoughts?

The government is allowing he hoi polloi to buy ‘significant’ buildings and run services on a voluntary basis. I’m considering getting a kitty together to buy the local hospital and volunteering as a brain surgeon. What happens when the volunteers get fed up of doing what we’re paying taxes for the government to do on our behalf?

Saturday, 11 December 2010


Ha - fooled you about not blogging over the weekend!

We’ve been having a mobile phone re-evaluation within our household. Hay took the opportunity of digging out all her old phones, one of which was a very tiny Samsung from around the year 2000.

It would seem that prior to the advent of the touch-phone and imaging applications, the holy grail of mobile telephony was smallness, limited only by the size of the Mk I digit. Since then they have become inexorably larger to accommodate all manner of multimedia applications that rely on the Mk I eyeball. It won’t be long before we’re toting gigantic screens around with us. Having gnarled sausages for fingers, I have enormous problems with touch-screen technology.

What I’m looking forward to is a pair of varifocals that function as a total multimedia experience, complete with thought controls.

Talking of technology, No. 1 son has a school project on the Industrial Revolution. Never at a loss to include some modern reference, has he entitled his project “IR, The Rise of the Machines - Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job”.

Talking of being a Luddite – we visited a local hostelry the other evening (which shall be nameless) and neither of the two girls behind the bar were capable of using a waiters’ friend to extract the cork from a bottle of Malbec. The waiters’ friend is a device that even a child of 6 could master within 30 seconds – but not the girls behind the bar. Hay had to show them how to do it.

The Waitresses’ Confuser

If ever we were to have infinite data storage, how the hell would we be able to find the location of a virus? Infinity is a rather large place for a virus to hide. We’ll also need infinite processing speed – but even that won’t be a solution as ∞/∞ does not necessarily = 1, or so I am told.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Christmas Cards - Huh?

I was looking at Kitty yesterday and wondering why people keep cats (or rather, why cats keep humans). Dogs I can understand; we have a long symbiotic relationship with them as hunting aids – but cats? A handy set of spare guitar strings, perhaps? A potential pair of fur slippers?

Had one of those awfully twee, grossly sentimental, animated, emailed Christmas cards by the likes of Jacquie Lawson yet? Hate the bloody things – they’re as personal as a call from an Indian call centre. They were a novelty when first introduced, but now are the preserve of camp, gay males (Richard, my friend who died the other week, was an inveterate e-carder) and those who forgot to send you a card with their usual batch to their really close friends.

Obviously the inconvenience of holding a pen in your paw and actually writing something is too much for some – or perhaps they just can’t spell well. Even faxing your cards en mass is superior to an e-card - at least the recipient has something to put on the mantelpiece. On receiving one of these animated monstrosities you somehow feel you were an afterthought.

Getting one of these in between the hoax virus messages, the ones selling you some priapic aid, the ones telling you that while your cv was of interest you can piss off and the advert emails telling you you’ll never find a more comfortable bra than the one they are hawking, is not conducive to starting the day off on a positive note.

Not only that, but they put the lives of our boys in Afghanistan, Iraq and Huddersfield in danger.

I’m not too enamoured of the horribly self-indulgent family cards delineating what the entire family has been doing for the last 12 months either. You know the ones – listing the holidays in Barbados and St Moritz, along with how well Titus and Jocasta are performing at boarding school and the latest purchase from the AGA shop – all topped off with a sickeningly smug family photo of them all grinning at you from the shores of Lake Como.

You’ll be pleased to know I’m taking a rest and not blogging over the weekend.

Thursday, 9 December 2010


It’s the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. What a nasty, conceited, self-absorbed man he was.

Back to Wikileaks. Amazon recently ended its agreement to host Wikileaks, citing that it failed to adhere to its terms of service as Wikileaks was unable to ensure that it "wasn't putting innocent people in jeopardy". That means Wikileaks has to prove a negative – which is logically impossible and an argument which is the refuge of the intellectually bankrupt - or those being heavily leant upon by the irresistible might of the American government.

In order for a statement to be logical, it must be falsifiable. A statement is not logical if it cannot be tested in this manner. If Amazon is assuming that lives are at risk (which it is by demanding proof to the contrary), then it is incumbent on Amazon – as the accuser – to validate the assumption; something that even the US government is demonstrably unable to accomplish, much to its chagrin.

I’d boycott Amazon if it wasn’t so damned useful. Same with PayPal. However, were I to boycott them I’d have to go back to the Bronze Age system of visiting some hideous cathedral to the god Retail, spending half an hour trying to find a parking place a mile from the emporium I want to visit (and possibly having a fist fight with some arsehole over a parking space in the process) and jostling with huge crowds of ghastly faithful intent on filling up their credit cards. I’d rather stick pins in Sarah Palin’s eyes – actually I’d rather do that than anything.

The husband of the bride recently murdered in South Africa has been arrested on suspicion of incitement to murder. The alleged murderer has done a plea bargaining deal – i.e. say what we want you to say and we’ll reduce your sentence. Who wouldn’t perjure themselves in the same position? May as well reintroduce trial by fire and trial by combat; it certainly has no place in any civilized system of justice, having more to do with cost saving than the search for truth.

The British government, in its infinite wisdom, is threatening to withdraw benefits from drug addicts who don’t co-operate with rehab programmes. What they are doing is to create the seed of a crime explosion, as drug addicts who cannot fund their habit from benefits will definitely turn to crime – or increase their existing levels of crime. Since the government also wants the police to reduce their costs (and hence number), I cannot see this as evidence of joined up thinking – or even adult thinking for that matter. To quote an expert: “I have never seen a drugs problem. I have seen people with problems and using drugs to deal with them."

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has been arrested on a trumped up charge of wilfully impersonating an armchair, raping a bar stool and making inappropriate sexual advances to a stoat. He is expected to have accidentally committed suicide by 5:15 on Friday by throwing himself beneath a passing train in the cells under the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court.

What I can’t understand is why the ubiquitous Shami Chakrabati of Liberty isn’t jumping up and down in protest over his arrest – she’s more than happy to have a go at the UK government for the slightest legal encroachment on the people’s right to eat fish and chips on a Sunday, wear pointy shoes in public places or be a Brazilian student. I can’t find a single Google reference to her uttering anything whatsoever on the issue, nor anything on the Liberty website. It’s probably because Assange isn’t an ethnic minority.

I’m now going to create a bit of a stir:

  • Centre Parcs – Longleat
  • Robert Dyas – Bishopsgate, London
  • Barclay’s Bank – Yate
  • Tesco – Easton, Bristol
  • Londis – Pucklechurch
  • M&S - Southport

All of these locations are critical to the UK’s national security, but to avoid putting the lives of our boys in Afghanistan, Iraq and Blackpool at risk I have refrained from giving actual addresses. I am, however, fully expecting my Nectar Points card and Tesco Club Card to be frozen by dark forces in Whitehall and for Theresa May and William Jefferson Hague to hunt me down with an M16 assault rifle, like an Al Qaeda terrorist.

Those paragons of human rights activism and support, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran, each led by enlightened, liberal ideologues, are refusing to attend the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize (in absentia) to human rights activist, Liu Xiaobo. Reasons given range from ‘too busy torturing’ to ‘too busy establishing an intolerant theocracy’. It is fully expected that the USA, Britain and Sweden will follow suit once they have locked Julian Assange away for good – or assassinated him (which will be blamed on N Korea and used as an excuse to mount an invasion in search of WMD – Weimeraners of Mass Dining).

I was listening on the radio to some guy who had been stuck in the snow in his car on a motorway in Scotland for about 18 hours. He was moaning that the police hadn’t come down the hard shoulder to help rescue people. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if he and several hundred other drivers are stuck and no-one is actually using the hard shoulder to escape, then the police would have as much of a problem as him. Why is it people seem to think that police cars have some magical ability to go where other vehicles can’t?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Bell at Old Sodbury

WikiLeaks has allegedly exposed critical infrastructure in Britain that is essential to the US. As soon as I heard that one was a satellite station in the Southwest and another was the terminus for transatlantic cables I said to Hayley: “Goonhilly Down and Porth Kernow.” Not exactly secret information if I know about them. Goonhilly isn’t even operational anymore – check for yourself.

Other ‘assets’ are BAE factories, which are identified on BAE’s website and have big signs outside saying BAE. Something about all this inter-government chasing of Julian Assange stinks.

I haven’t done a restaurant review of late, so I thought I’d regale you of The Bell at Old Sodbury, which is literally just up the road and where we went for dinner one evening last week.

The Bell has recently changed hands – again. It was one of those pubs that time forgot, as well as decorative taste, limping along and surviving only by the skin of its teeth – and sometimes not even surviving. Some say the place is cursed – The Curse of The Bell.

A couple of years ago it was taken over by a Greek chap and his wife who gave it a lick of paint and converted it into a pub cum Greek restaurant – not a marriage that comes immediately to mind. I referred to the couple as Joan and Vangelis…... Jon and Vangelis…… get it? Oh never mind. They finally gave up on the place earlier this year.

After standing derelict for a while it was then taken over in late summer by the licensee of both the Squire in Chipping Sodbury and The Swan at Nibley (the latter having been reviewed by me previously), becoming part of a burgeoning pub empire.

Rather than just tarting the place up a bit (as previous licensees have done), it was given a major and lengthy structural make-over – all for the better, it being a vast improvement on the original. Décor is contemporary, with period architectural features having been retained – like the beautiful leaded sash windows and oak parquet flooring. Lots of deep, Georgian red, light grey and wood.

The place has a Facebook Page, as well as its own website.

We walked in relatively early and took a seat by the open wood fire, being presented with a bowl of complimentary marshmallows and skewers. Now I have never had toasted marshmallows before, imagining them to be somewhat flaccid and hideous confections best left to Americans and children. I was delightfully surprised when my 12 year-old No.1 son presented me with beautifully crunchy caramelised delicacies on a stick. Couldn’t get enough of them – nor could he.

There was a good selection of wines on offer, as well as Hay’s favourite beers from Bath Ales, which in itself endears the place to her. The Malbec is to die for, however I was disappointed by the Shiraz, which is somewhat insipid. Hay was not overly impressed with a glass of white she ordered and joined me in my red following a half of Bath Ales’ Gem.

My only complaint about the lounge room is that it sports the ubiquitous, large, flat-screen TV with silent Sky football news showing. I hate these devices as the eye is drawn to them and they interfere with convivial conversation. I understand it is on trial – I hope it’s found guilty and dragged off to the dungeons.

The open log fire was smouldering by this time as the wood being used was obviously damp. Having a wood burner as our prime heat source in the caravan, we are intimately familiar with the problems of burning wood that has not had time to season or been kiln dried. Having opened only 3 weeks ago, damp wood is something that possibly couldn’t be avoided – but should. One customer had a go at trying to get the fire going again, but failed. Sadly none of the staff seemed interested in tending the fire – which is actually a key focal point - being more interested in congregating at the bar and chatting.

The general manager who the licensee has installed looks suspiciously like Al Murray - and a bit scary.

On being seated in the dining area, which has a charming and eclectic mix of differing table and chair styles, one of the staff ran around the tables and lit all the candles – an attention to detail lacking in many restaurants. The menu is limited, but able to satisfy most tastes and seemed at first glance identical to that at The Swan at Nibley.

My son inspected the specials board and rubbed the e from the word ‘tomatoe’. He didn’t have any chalk and thus couldn’t correct the grammatical mistake in ‘a orange’. He's incorrigible and a chip off the old block!

When the waitress came to take our order I enquired as to the nature of the soup-of-the-day. Sadly she had to go back to the kitchen to find out. Hay and I exchanged glances – on coming on duty, waitresses should be fully aware of what is on offer without having to shuttle to and fro between the customer and the kitchen. It’s called professionalism. The soup was not to my taste, so I mischievously enquired as to what the risotto-of-the-day was. Predictably, the girl again traipsed back to the kitchen to find out.

Hay chose a salmon steak while I selected breast of duck. I had chosen the same dish at The Swan at Nibley, where it suffered from being far too much in terms of portion size and tough as old boots. The first piece of breast I tackled was indeed overcooked and I had to request a steak knife in order to cut it. The second breast displayed a healthy pinkness and was cooked to perfection – which is more than could be said for the sauté potatoes, which were still half raw.

The duck was accompanied by what was called a hedgerow jus. Basically it was warmed, crushed blackberries and currants and was far too acidic – added to which I kept crunching on blackberry seeds, which was not at all pleasant. A jus should include the cooking juices, but I couldn’t detect any duck juices in this concoction at all – it was more like something you’d pour over ice cream.

Had the duck been presented ready-sliced, half the amount would have been more than enough to satisfy me (as well as enabling the chef to see whether it is overcooked or not). The vegetables came on a side plate – which always seems an unnecessary frippery to me – and were just as I like them; still retaining a slight crunch.

Hay pronounced the salmon ‘disappointing’, with the sauté potatoes having the same rawness as mine.

Couldn’t fault the puddings – they were presented on a plate from which one makes a selection. A nice touch that enables you to see what you’re about to order.

Toward the end we asked for two coffees – unfortunately they never arrived.

The number of customers increased steadily during the evening and it was good to see the place bustling in these times of economic belt-tightening.

Our meal, comprising two main courses, two puddings and several assorted drinks (including a bottle of Shiraz) came to just over £50, which was reasonable. Given the place has only just opened and the staff are still finding their feet, I have no doubt that any teething problems with the food will be sorted out.

I hope the place survives and prospers and that The Curse of the Bell has finally been lifted. My only comment from a marketing perspective is that, not having changed its name, it may suffer from adverse old and out-of-date reviews in the pub / restaurant review sites.

20 Feb 2011 - Update

Called in for lunch. Unfortunately the General Manager couldn't find us a table; however, the Assistant General Manager managed to find us one with no trouble.

I am pleased to report that things have improved overall. Did have one solid roast potato, but given the price of the Sunday Lunch (£8.95), it was very good.

Was upset to see a few of the girls and the General Manager scraping the empty plates at the customers' tables, but the Assistant GM had the right idea and did it away from the table.

The Assitant GM really knows his stuff and impressed us both with his professionalism and commitment to customer service. I can see him going far in the business and I hope it won't be long before he's running his own place.

Shared starter (duck liver pate), 2 Sunday roasts, shared dessert (deliocious crumble), 2 coffees and various assorted drinks came to £50 including the tip. Very reasonable.

I can recommend the Aspall's cider. Very light colour and 5.5%. Far superior to the Stowford Press, which tastes much like the heavily processed stuff in supermarkets. Still think Pheasant Plucker cider is the bee's knees in cider though, but unfortunately the Bell doesn't do it and you''d need to go to the Neeld Arms in Grittleton.

18th March Update

Had dinner here again this evening. Lamb rump - perfect; slow roast belly pork - hideous. Flacid, jelly-like and riddled with soft, floppy fat - lacking any crispness whatsoever. As far as I'm concerned, belly pork should be crisp on top (like crackling) and the fat layers inside should be well rendered down so as to be almost gone.

Hay thought it was just a bad choice on my part, but based on the belly pork at the Black Rock in St Ives and the Live & Let Live in Frampton Cotterel, I suspect not (Hay is English, after all, and doesn't complain when something is not right). It was more like boiled pork belly, although the accompanying roast veggies and sauce were delicious.

Hay and I swapped main courses as I couldn't face eating the pork.

Desserts brilliant, as always.

Was not impressed with the sticky table, despite me asking for it to be wiped again. Wiping with a beer-soaked rag is not recommended, no matter what spray is used.

Again, a bit hit and miss, but the specials board is increasing in variety.

15th April Update

Have to say it's getting better with time. Still the odd niggle (this time I was asked whether Disarono is an Amaretto), but on the whole a fine place and a vast improvement on the original - in fact there's no comparison.

The Dog still can't be beaten on price, but it's usual pub fare there and thus the comparison is not apples with apples.

For an inexpensive evening with good food, but nothing special, then it's The Dog.

For something a tad more special, say a birthday or anniversary, then I'd recommend The Bell.

7th May 2011 Update

Visited with the whole family to celebrate getting a new job.

Food, excellent all round. Duck cooked to perfection and the portion size ideal.

Service, much improved - the staff now volunteer the soup of the day without having to go to the kitchen and ask.

Only one slight niggle remaining - coffee comes with those hideous little tubs of UHT milk and sachets of sugar. I would much prefer to have a jug of hot milk and cubed sugar, but I suppose the wastage needs to be considered as part of the overall cost. The manager assured me this would be considered.

Highly recommended and the best restaurant within say 5 miles. The only better place locally is the Live & Let Live, a Bath Ales pub in Frampton Cotterell - but the Bell is a close second. Discount the Live & Let Live and the Bell is easily the best restaurant within 10 miles.

Monday, 6 December 2010

From Russia With Love

Overheard in the caravan:

Newscaster: “A Liberal Democrat MP’s Russian assistant is to be deported for alleged espionage.”

Chairman’s son: “Dad – what’s espionage?”

Chairman: “Spying.”

Chairman’s son: “Oh, I though it meant not being able to spell very well.”

Chairman: "No - that's called graduating from university."

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Nanny McPhee

Overheard in the caravan:

Jamie Oliver: “…and then you add some chunky lardons.”

Chairman (not really paying attention): “Chunky what?”

Hay: “Lardons, Badger, lardons.”

Yesterday we were listening to an item on Womans’ Hour about nannies and how necessary they apparently are.

It would seem that, for many middle class women, having a child and looking after it is of secondary importance to having a career and / or money with which to sustain a particular lifestyle. Why else have a child and then hand over its welfare to a slip-of-a-girl who is not a family member, risking damaging the child’s psychological development in the process?

Answers to the usual address.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Bah, Humbug

The WikiLeaks website has been suffering Denial of Service attacks. Now who is most likely to have a vested interest in wiping out WikiLeaks? In the United States of Paranoia, DoS attacks are a serious federal crime under the National Information Infrastructure Protection Act of 1996, with penalties that include imprisonment. Surely then it can’t be the US government, as governments are renowned for operating within ethical and legal boundaries – are they not?

I sometimes seriously wonder whether governments are truly the servants of the public, as we are led to believe.

Here’s a thought - if the past is always a better place, why have we made technical and social progress? Having said that, I do think it’s high time we got back to the real meaning of Christmas – a mid-winter holiday to rejuvenate one’s spirits by feasting and drinking, a chance to renew and reinforce one’s clan loyalties through the exchange of small gifts and to celebrate the fact that the the hours of daylight are finally increasing. All this over commercialisation and over religiousification detracts from Christmas’ true pagan roots.

It’s time for us to go wassailing, as we do every year around this time. I find it important that you collect your wassails just as soon as they look about to fall from the bush, ensuring you blanch them before storing them in the freezer.

Friday, 3 December 2010

FIFA or Fifa?

Following England’s failure to secure the hosting of the World Cup in 2018, there have been calls for the judicial assassination of David Cameron and the entire World Cup bid team – with the exception of David Beckham, who seems a decent enough cove and maintained it should have been decided by a penalty shoot-out.

Those few remaining loyal to Cameron point out that a failure to delver on promises is simply what politicians do and should in no way reflect on Cameron’s abilities; after all, one cannot be a politician without frequently having to rise above one’s principles and endangering the lives of our boys in Afghanistan and Iraq. They added that it was Nick Clegg’s fault anyway.

David Cameron

Others believe the bribe of 25% of the UK’s public purse simply wasn’t enough and Cameron should have followed the lead of international mafia boss, Vlad Putin, in making an offer that FIFA couldn’t refuse – well, not without the voting members going into hiding for the rest of their lives and avoiding hollow-tipped umbrellas like the plague.

Mafia Godfather, Vladimir Putin

Cameron will now deflect any criticism by blaming the Panorama TV programme for having the temerity to point out that FIFA is riddled with corruption and that the Panorama-leaks endangered the lives of our boys in Man Utd., Chelski, Liverpool, Aston Villa, etc.

Why is it that FIFA themselves use capitalisation of FIFA, whereas the UK press uses Fifa, as if it was an actual word? Could that have pissed them off?

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Own Goal

David Beckham has insisted he has "trust" in FIFA to judge England's 2018 World Cup bid on its merits. I wonder which ‘trust’ this is – an off-shore one aligned to a Swiss bank account perhaps?

He can’t very well say FIFA is a bunch of bloody thieves and should be put against the wall and shot. It wouldn’t exactly curry favour with said bunch of bloody thieves. If you ask me, common decency says that the whole vote thing should be postponed until after an investigation – it’s not as if 2018 is just around the corner.

What’s the betting that, should England win the vote, the government pulls a stunt like the ‘BAE Systems Saudi weapons deal’ cover-up and prevents an investigation citing ‘national security’ and a risk to our boys in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Talking of football, Iran has executed an Iranian footballer’s girlfriend. If only….. if only…….. The mere threat could be used as encouragement to the England squad to actually produce some results.

When all is said and done, one can’t really condemn highly paid footballers for their unjustifiably large salaries – they’re not exactly exploiting anyone who has no wish to be exploited. The same cannot be said of some over-paid company bosses.

Fourteen people were treated in hospital yesterday after violence at the end of Birmingham City's Carling Cup game at home to local rivals Aston Villa. That should send a good signal to FIFA that England means business and should host the World Cup! A bit of an own goal.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Football's Coming Home - If the Bribe is Right

Well, it’s the 1st of December. I suppose we’ll see all kinds of Christmas things appearing in the shops from now – like chocolate Easter eggs.

The England footballing legend, Dave ‘Boots’ Cameron, arrived in Zurich yesterday to lobby a bunch of corrupt FIFA executive committee members ahead of Thursday's crucial vote. It is rumoured that he has £25m with which to influence the voting.

"I have got one focus here and that is to try to bring the World Cup home for England," he told the world’s press. "I am going to be pressing on them the brilliance of my dribbling and that is going to be the concern, nothing else."

Cameron is part of a 30-strong England 2018 team that also includes Prince William at full back and veteran England captain David Beckham, who will be looking after the Adidas Zimmer frames and sponsored designer hair bands.

Cameron then went on to display his gross ignorance of percentages and basic economics by saying: “We are going to give this 110% over the next couple of days."

Dr. Vivian Stanshall, visiting professor of sums at the University of Slough, said: “There is no such thing as 110% where effort is concerned – 100% is the maximum allowed by classical physics. Unless Cameron is tapping into a quantum field in a parallel universe, which is actually allowed by the Many Worlds interpretation, what he actually means is that he’s currently giving it 90.90909% but could go as far as 100% if he felt like it. Of course, he could also mean that he may manage find another £2.5m from additional council job cuts with which to bribe minor officials to ensure that the referee for the England matches is Scottish, and thus susceptible to the odd bung.”

Some burning questions of the day:

Is calling someone a Vandal racist?

Should being able to text someone be fundamental human right?

If TV is anything to go by, does competition result in an increase in standards?

Is global warming best corroborated by looking out of your window – especially in a cold snap?