Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Quantum of Cats

Overheard while watching Quantum of Solace:

Bond (Daniel Craig) has just diced with death in his Aston Martin and is now standing in front of M looking a tad disheveled.

M to Bond: "You look like Hell."

Hay: "Oh, I don't know - must be designer Hell."

For months now we've had a couple of the neighbouring cats coming into our house and taking over. One is ginger and we've nicknamed him Orange; his brother is black and nicknamed BlackBerry. We were going to rename our cat (a.k.a. Kitty) Kit-Kat or Android in the interests of nomenclature harmonisation.

There's not much we can do about their presence as we have to leave our cat-flap open for our cat. The downside is that our cat food bill has tripled. Anyway, we finally hit on a solution - having Kitty chipped by the vet and investing in an electronic cat-flap, which is now on order.

Getting any cat into a cat cage for transport to the vet is a nightmare, more so for Kitty. Hay left the cat cage out in the kitchen on Sunday evening, only to discover on Monday morning that Orange had actually slept in the damned thing overnight. Talk about cheek!

Monday, 30 December 2013

Another Long Walk

9.4 mile walk yesterday! We really do have some gorgeous countryside in South Gloucestershire.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Solar Energy

Since the 6th of March we've generated £1,156 worth of electricity with the solar PV array.

Since the 6th of March we've used £1,110 of electricity.

In effect, I'll be paying for only one calendar quarter of my electricity (unfortunately the most demanding quarter - January to March), which will be quarter I have been saving £70 a month for since March.

On the up side, I should receive the £0.43 feed-in tariff for another 20 odd years (although future governments could easily renege on this commitment). On the down side, the price of electricity is guaranteed to rise over that period, so the benefit will decline over time.

There will come a point when I may consider storing my excess generated power in batteries, rather than sell it to the Grid.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Overheard on a Long Walk

Hay and the Chairman are on a 6 mile country walk (at Hay's behest). They have gone off-piste to take a shortcut over a field (at the Chariman's request).

Hay: "You can't go that way - there are horses in the field and they've churned it up into a mud soup."

Chairman: "Just watch me."

2 minutes later the Chairman is flat on his back in a large, deep patch of mud.

About a mile further.

Chairman: "Of course you know you only have so many strides in your life before you need a hip replacement, so you need to conserve them."

Hay: "You've no need to worry. With the small amount of walking you do, most of your strides are still in the bank."

About 3 miles further on.

Chairman: "What's aerobic exercise?"

Hay: "It's when you exercise your aerobes."

Friday, 27 December 2013

The Nativity

Consider this during the festive season: 

The Gospel of Luke mentions a stable and manger (no room at the inn). Matthew states the holy family was ensconced in a house.

Luke mentions only shepherds and no star, while Matthew mentions no shepherds but introduces the star and the magi. 

 Our familiar nativity story is an ensemble of various incompatible narratives cobbled together.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Overheard on Christmas Day

Hay: "You know your Sinterklaas? Well, where does his Moor come from?"

Chairman: "Saddleworth."

Yesterday Hay's dad surpassed even the hideously wrapped parcel I exhibited earlier in the week, as you can see below. Two entirely different colours of wrapping paper, with no attempt whatsoever to make it at least look arty.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Inept Wrapping

Hay had to ask her dad whether he was drunk and wearing a blindfold when he wrapped his Christmas presents.

Alan Turing has been given a posthumous pardon. Why?

It's rather stupid and pointless to judge the values of yesteryear by the values of today. Should the authorities go back and pardon every historical crime that is no longer a crime today? Would that open up a can of worms for compensation claims from living relatives? Was this done purely because he was Alan Turing? What about all the other people who were convicted of exactly the same 'crime' as Turing?

Gesture politics?

Monday, 23 December 2013

Cooking News on Radio 2

Hay is a fan of TV cooking programmes. The other day we were watching Gordon Ramsay doing something culinary in his kitchen for Christmas and even Hay said she felt worn out watching him bounce about. The man's a bag of nerves and needs something to bring him off his high.

Another programme featured The Fabulous Baker Brothers. OK, so they have a shop on our local high street in Chipping Sodbury (which sells stuff at twice the price of anywhere else and is frequented by the Waitrose Yummy Mummy set), but I found them to be more The Intensely Irritating Baker Brothers. 

Is it me, or has Radio 2 on Sunday mornings become overtly Bath and Wellsish? The 8am show used to give the occasional nod in the general direction of religion (specifically Christianity), but of late it seems to have become radically holier-than-thou, being filled by interviews with sad individuals whose lives seem to be totally devoid of meaning without their imaginary friend. May switch to Planet Rock.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Entertainment News

Interviewed on Desert Island Discs, Miranda Hart says she struggled with fame. If you ask me, she has an ongoing tussle with humour too. Could be a generational thing, I suppose., but back in the day, comedians actually made you laugh - it was the definition of comedy.

By all accounts, Abbey Clancy has won Strictly Come Dancing 2013, beating Natalie Gumede, Susanna Reid and Sophie Ellis-Bextor in the final. I only know who the last of those people is, and that's only because she became a minor pop star a few decades ago - as the the rest, not a clue. I gave up watching the programme when the contestants' names became as familiar to me as the names of the Azerbaijan national water polo squad.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Lucky Heather Christmas Tip

Just a thought; if gypsy heather is meant to be so lucky, why the hell don't they keep it all for themselves, as they are generally among the most unlucky people on earth?

Let me leave you with a tip for Christmas - Lidl Gressingham duck breasts from the their chilled section - not the Luxury ones (they're a quid more expensive). 2 breasts for under a fiver. Really succulent and delicious - we had some last night.

Friday, 20 December 2013

The iPhone 5 Works Hamper

I'm becoming a dab hand at this sourdough baking thing. I'm no longer using recipes and timings, just the look and feel of the dough and final product. I sense a possible post-retirement career coming on.

Talking of being a loaf short of a bakery, as far as I'm concerned, anyone who says God (or Allah) told them to do it,or claims to know the mind of God, is a certified, class A nutter, or a schizophrenic. The two Lee Rigby killers were also disaffected black youths who were easy prey for a new 'family' who could bend them to their perverted will. We've seen it time and time again, especially in a cult context.

Hay took delivery of her new work phone yesterday - an iPhone 5s. She couldn't be bothered to set it up! Obviously there's not a male gene in her body...

At the last possible minute I received instruction from Head Office in Israel that we have been allocated £1,400 for Christmas gifts for all the staff. Well, Christmas ain't their thing, after all, so how were they to know you have to put your orders in during October.

Now last year we gave the staff M&S hampers, but if you have a look at them you'll discover that the goods in the £150 hamper can be bought in-store for about 50 quid, making the hamper itself worth about a Ton, which is extortionate in anyone's Excel spread sheet. Seems all the upper end supermarkets pull the same stunt at Christmas. Caveat emptor!

Thought about gift vouchers, but my money man told me that's the equivalent of cash and hence subject to being taxed, which ain't really nice of HMG.

Did some quick research on t'internet and found a relative newcomer to the Christmas Hamper market called All The Best Hampers. Got some 22 items (compared to M&S' 15) for just over £150, plus £5.95 next day delivery. Excellent value, especially when you consider it contains 4 bottles of legal highs as opposed to just 2 with M&S.

The last day for Christmas delivery is today (they only deliver Tuesday to Friday), so it was touch and go as to whether we'd get the order in on time, but we succeeded.

I'm expecting mine to be delivered later today. They even do corporate hampers in your company colours - may give that a shot next year.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Nearly That Time for Damaging Kids

Overheard while driving:

Hay: "There's evidence that public school damages kids."

Chairman: "Yes, but me and my mates were damaged in a good way."

Well, nearly Christmas (although you wouldn't know it from the lack of shopping activity or TV adverts).

I swear that in a few millennia, archaeologists taking core samples of our compost heap will be able to date the various deposits by identifying the annual clementine peel and walnut shell layers.

Must get myself off to the supermarket shortly and stock up on some Blood of Christ with which to overindulge myself during the festive TV repeat season. I generally find that, just like a serious actor preparing for a role, I have to add a few pounds weight to see me through the festivities.

We were in a local cafe on Sunday and on the table was an advert for a crib festival. The advert was fostering the concept of a Christian Christmas and stated quite boldly that the nativity is supported by historical fact, quoting Luke; "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to their own town to register."

Now, obviously this oft-trotted 'fact' of history was never checked by the church in question, for the version Luke recounts has little basis in recorded historical fact, never mind about the discrepancies with Matthew of 10 years in Jesus' birth (Matthew places Jesus' birth at the time of Herod the Great, who was long dead by the time Quirinius was governor of Syria).

  1. There is no record of a universal census under Augustus,
  2. Provinces were taxed through their local satrap, and
  3. The point of a tax census is local and there would have been no reason whatsoever for Joseph, resident in the province of Galilee which was ruled by Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great), to travel to Jerusalem in Judaea, a totally different province administered directly by Rome and the home of a long dead (supposed) ancestor.
The whole story is a fabrication to shoehorn the nativity into Old Testament prophecy, as any Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and be of the house of David (various OT references).

Let's get back to basics and take the Christ out of Christmas, which was invented by the Christians in order to subvert the pagan winter solstice festival.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Warning: Do Not Try This at Home

As promised yesterday, a photo of the up-cycled, crystal chandelier, Christmas tree ornaments:

Having been extremely pleased with my sourdough bread last week, at the weekend I attempted a sourdough rye bread - kind of Eastern European style.

I certainly wasn't prepared for what looked like a sticky mud pie. The dough is nothing like normal bread dough and sticks to everything like Bostick. It was so sticky that using the breadmaker simply to knead the dough was out of the question.

Nevertheless I persevered, not really expecting much to develop from the baking and treating the whole process as a learning exercise; however, the result was spectacularly good.

A firm, dense crumb (as a rye bread should be) with a sweet-sour taste. The sweetness was obtained with 3 tablespoons of honey, the sourness from the sourdough. However, next time I'm going to try scalding the rye flour, which apparently is the authentic method of releasing the sugars from the starch to obtain the sweetness. I'm also going to add some fennel seeds to the carraway.

Eminently suitable for smoked salmon or Parma ham canapes. Keeps for weeks, allegedly.

A word of advice; never, ever use a breakmaker for sourdough - the automatic timings are way out. Rather than rely on timings, it's far better to use the look of the dough - it just needs to double in size (except when you're using rye, which doesn't rise as much as wheat). This can take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours or more, depending on the dough.

If you're thinking of making your own artisan bread at home, try this link - I found it invaluable. I'm now keeping a few sourdough starters of varying cereals in the fridge.

Next on the list is a loaf made of spelt, some pittas and a few naan.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Xmas Up-cycling Address

Hay has come up with a good bit of up-cycling: we have a rather nasty looking 1950s chandelier (one of those tinny brass jobbies that goes over a naked light bulb) and she thought it would be good to dismantle it and turn the crystal droplets into Christmas tree icicle decorations.

Will post a photo of the finished effect when they are hung.

Had to laugh at the address on a Christmas card to Hay's dad. Must have been a computer error, although someone must have fed the data to a computer in the first place.

The 4th line is completely wrong.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Lost Irony, or Deliberate Irony

Over the weekend we visited a charity shop in the Stroud Valley. Behind the guy on the till was a print of a Banksy - the following one.

I somehow think the guy behind the counter had lost the irony of the image behind him........ or had he?

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Migration Watch

The Conservative government is looking at ways to stem a potential flood of Eastern European migrants into the UK.

I wonder if I can persuade our Town Council to look at ways of stopping chavs coming into the area.

Same issue, different scale.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The New Rome

It's all going a bit Roman Empire in North Korea, isn't it, what with the leader topping his relatives.

"Men should be either treated generously or destroyed, because they take revenge for slight injuries - for heavy ones they cannot." Niccolo Machiavelli...

Friday, 13 December 2013

Flat Pack Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree has been bought and it sitting outside in a bin of water. The intention is to place it under the minstrel gallery so that the full 9 feet can be enjoyed from the living room - the problem being it has to go in front of one of the sets of double patio doors, severely compromising easy access to the back of the house for the purpose of emptying the wood burner (which we occasionally flash up on really cold evenings, of which there haven't been too many yet).

My solution is to hang the tree from the cargo block I have suspended from the upper eaves in way of the minstrel gallery, which solves two problems in one go - firstly, stabilisation of a large Christmas tree, and secondly, being able to hoick it out of the way to gain access to outside with the wood ash from the fire (as well as being able to have the tree upstairs when we go to bed).

While on the subject of the wood burner; it's rated at 12kW, which I wasn't sure was enough to heat the entire barn-like structure of the house (the only non-open-plan room in the house is No.1 son's bedroom, and of course the bathrooms). As it transpires, it's more than enough - in fact too much, which is why we only light it when the outside temperature of forecast to go sub-zero.

It's also worthy of note that lighting the wood burner in the evening reduces our electricity consumption by some 10kWh a day (depending on the outside temperature, we're using anywhere between 35 and 50kWh a day, and not generating much from the solar PV, although we still have plenty in hand from the summer). You can see the effect over the last week or two on the red line in the chart below (click to enlarge):

For the uninitiated, red is per diem £ consumed, green is £ per diem generated, yellow is £ per diem net gain or loss (all on the left hand scale). Solid blue is the net cumulative spend on the right hand scale.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Expensive Electrical Fakes

Seems the Cameron who was present at Mandela's obituary fest was a fake Cameron, or so we're told.

It also seems our electricity prices are not as high as they could be if we were German.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

To Decorate, or Not to Decorate, That is the Question

When do you bring in the Christmas tree and decorate it?

When I was a kid in the 50s and 60s, it would be unthinkable to put up your tree before Christmas Eve, or possibly a day or two earlier.

These days you see many people putting them up in November, which I think is an American influence, as Americans increasingly seem to put them up for Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Monday, 9 December 2013

Artfully Disheveled Sourdough

Had my usual Saturday breakfast with No.1 Son on Saturday. The bloke who served me looked as if he'd spent at least 30 minutes in front of a mirror combing his hair in such a manner as it looked as it he hadn't combed his hair that morning. Why bother?

I have become an artisan baker. We've been baking our own bread for years now, but using commercially bought yeast and a bread maker. Lately I've become interested in being able to bake a sourdough and making my own sourdough starter with wild yeast.

I started the process about a week ago, using one of the web recipes to make a starter. The secret to a good starter is equal weights of flour and water, not equal volumes.

Here's my recipe:
  • 300 gm sourdough starter,
  • 500 gm strong white flour,
  • 200/300 ml water (use the lesser quantity and increase if the dough is too tight),
  • Table spoon sugar,
  • Pinch of salt.
Now for the preparation and baking:
  • Mix in the bread maker using the dough setting, adding a half eggcup of caraway seeds (if you like them) about 5 minutes before completion.
  • Remove from the bread maker, place in a lightly greased bowl and allow to rise for a couple of hours, or as long as it takes to double in size.
  • Knock back the dough (gently) to remove the air.
  • Place in a 1 kg baking tin and once more allow to rise to double its size (could take from anywhere between 2 hours to 6 hours).

Bake for 30/35 minutes at 220 degrees C.

Paul Hollywood would be proud of me!

My Christmas present list for Hayley includes a sack of wheat for planting in the field in spring, and a windmill to grind my flour.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Technical Note

Yesterday I bought an el-cheapo charger off eBay for my new laptop - I always like to keep one in my briefcase for instant travel so I don't have to dismantle the rat's nest of wires under my desk (I have a spare laptop charger, phone charger, electronic ciggy battery charger and extension cable, along with sox, jox and a couple of shirts).

Plugged it in to test it and for some reason I couldn't get on the Net. Phoned BT Broadband, as I naturally assumed there was something wrong with the service, especially as it affected every wi-fi device attached to my home network.

After much mucking about and resetting of the router, the Indian gentleman from BT suggested I try a wired connection, so I unplugged the laptop from the charger and took it over to the router to connect a cable. Worked perfectly. That narrowed the problem down to the wi-fi.

BT man then made an adjustment to the wi-fi channel remotely; I unhooked the wired connection and it still worked perfectly. I gave BT man my thanks and rung off, took the laptop back to my desk, plugged in the charger and - the wi-fi had collapsed again.

Being in the microwave business myself, I suspected something was causing Radio Frequency Interference (RFI). It could only have been the laptop charger, which contains a transformer. I guessed the suppressor had failed.

Subsequent tests proved my theory - don't be tempted to buy cheap laptop chargers. Not only can they interfere with your wi-fi, they can also go up in smoke. Additionally, no amount of tin foil will create a Faraday Cage (I tried).

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Mandela's Legacy

It's a real shame that Mandela's legacy is a corrupt ANC leadership, intent on raiding the public purse for its own benefit.

People like Mandela are the exception, not the rule.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Architectural Lexicon for Test Card Pensions

After watching George Clarke's Amazing Spaces, I have a new lexicon:

  • Cupboard = Storage Solution,
  • Window = Solar Gain,
  • Classroom = Learning Environment (although 'a couple of old containers welded together' would have been my preferred description).
Mind you, I've always favoured using ten words where one will suffice, especially when I'm inebriated by my own personal verbosity....

"The plan is working," says the Chancellor, the next headline is; "Born today, work till 77." Another politician who must have had my son's English teacher advising him on the meaning of words...

We're watching a rerun of 'Life on Mars' on NetFlix and Sam Tyler wakes to the test card showing on his TV - the one with the little girl holding a soft toy in front of a blackboard:

Hay: "Remember the test card?"

Chairman: "Remember it? It's still the test card, isn't it?"

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Murderous Teacher Hubris

British children are apparently lagging well behind their foreign peers.

My son returned from school last week saying he had had to show the use of a new word; the word he chose was hubristic, and provided a perfectly acceptable example of its use.

The English teacher then proceeded to ridicule him by telling the class that there was no such word. When he assured he it was, and proved it using the dictionary, she accused him of using it incorrectly.

How on earth could she know that when she wasn't even aware of the word before my son uttered it?

Is it any wonder British kids are lagging their peers when the teachers don't even have degrees in (or rudimentary knowledge of) their subjects? And the buggers want a pay rise to boot!

The killers of Lee Rigby are pleading not guilty to murder. If what they did wasn't murder, then what the hell was it? Perhaps they were taught English by my son's English teacher...

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Pension Day in the Post Office

Got caught in the local sub Post Office yesterday - I only went in for 10 x 2nd class stamps and was there half an hour. The queue was out of the door.

The usual story from half a dozen old ladies organising their Christmas cards to far-flung relatives while collecting their pensions; "This one's for Malta.........and this one's for New Zealand........and this one's for Australia.......and...." Bloody interminable.

Now there's an idea - an automatic stamp dispenser; plug in your debit card and it spits out as many stamps as you need with no queuing on pension day. 

I saw a headline yesterday that said; "Energy firms start to announce plans to pass on savings to customers as the government unveils a package of measures aimed at reducing bills." Given it's the Conservatives in power, they must be thinking of culling old people.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Yes Dear, Lovely

Went to the annual Bath Christmas Market yesterday.

Ladies' underwear - why all the different colours and patterns? No-one but them and their husbands are ever likely to see it, for God's sake! Why not either just black or white - or just black (doesn't show the stains as much - just going from my personal experience with my own underwear).

And why do women have to paw everything in the damned shop? I can buy an item of apparel without ever touching it till I get home; women though can't progress though a department store without touching the goods, even if they're not buying.

Yesterday I was very close to just going on autopilot as saying; "Yes, dear, lovely," just to get her to move along, or to buy something so I can get out of the place.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Went to Thorbury for the weekly shopping yesterday. OK, Christmas decorations festooning the streets in late November has become acceptable, but Santa's Ghetto is taking it a bit far.