Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Greetings - in Legalese

I've published these legalese and politically correct Christmas greetings once or twice before, but that's no reason not to share them here as well.


1. I would like you to accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for:

a) An environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious or secular practices of your choice without prejudice to the religious and/or secular persuasions and/or traditions of others or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all;

b) A fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated passing of the calendar year 2010CE, without prejudice to the calendars of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our (or your) country great without implying that our (or your) country is greater than any other country or is the only great country, and without regard to race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith (or lack thereof) or sexual orientation.

2. The wishes expressed in Part 1 are granted on the following terms:

a) they are to be considered extended to all members of your family or other social unit, including but not limited to:
i) other persons directly or indirectly related to you by blood or otherwise and any such persons to whom you consider yourself to be related regardless of biological, legal, religious or other process,
ii) any person or persons not included in paragraph 2a)i) hereof with whom you enjoy regular (or otherwise) consensual sexual activities regardless of gender, race, age or sexual orientation with or without the possibility for procreation,
iii) other animal and/or vegetable organisms (or inanimate objects) you or anyone else may consider part of your family or other social unit;

b) they are freely transferable with no alteration to the original wishes to any person in your wider social circle not included in paragraph 2a hereof;

c) they are limited to a period of one terrestrial solar year or until the issue of subsequent holiday wishes, whichever occurs first;

d) they are subject to clarification or withdrawal and are revocable at my sole discretion at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all;

e) no promise to implement any of the wishes or responsibility for the consequences which may arise from the implementation or non-implementation of same is or may be implied.

3. These wishes are void where prohibited by law and are specifically not extended to any extra-terrestrial or other beings who bear ill-will towards any or all members of the species known as Homo sapiens or any other life-form on planet Earth.

4. In accordance with environmental policies, procedures and practices, no trees were directly harmed in the preparation or transmission of these wishes although a significant number of electrons was slightly inconvenienced.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto applied my signature, seal or other personally identifiable mark this 24th day of December 2010CE

Friday, 5 November 2010

France or England? French or English?

I received an interesting question on formspring yesterday (yes, it does happen, not every question is about sexual habits), a full answer to which required a bit more space than is reasonable on formspring, so here it is. I've left the question verbatim. 

To all intents and purposes, France is three different countries: there's Paris, there are other big cities, and there's rural France.

In that respect, England is not dissimilar, with London, other big cities and rural England presenting quite distinct characters.

I prefer  to live in London rather than Paris (I've done both), but I prefer Paris to visit rather than London (I've done both). Paris is quite horrifyingly expensive (especially now, given the poor £/€ exchange rate) and the stereotype about Parisians being rude and aloof towards foreigners is generally a deserved one. They also consider themselves better than most Frenchmen, though, so there's no need to feel TOO aggrieved.

As a place to visit as a tourist, Paris is quite exceptional: it's small and compact, and all the famous sights are relatively close to each other (except perhaps for Versailles which is still a lot closer to Paris than, say, Windsor is to London). Public transport is a damn sight cheaper and easier to use. And there are always a million interesting things to see in countless small museums and galleries.

In London, everything is spread around and hard to get to. And it's all far more commercial, with all the sights selling the same tat just with different logos.

Large cities in France have a different attitude to those in England: Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and a few other places are resentful of London and want to be London. French cities know they aren't Paris and delight in their own identity, and are much more easy-going for it. I've spent time in Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux and a couple of other places, and they're much better than their English counterparts.

I adore rural France with a passion. French farmers have an odd reputation on this side of the Channel as intransigent, money grabbing xenophobes but they're really just trying to make a living. Of course they're often not very highly educated and rarely speak a foreign language so you're better of speaking French with them.

If you do take the trouble to converse in their language, you'll get an honest opinion about most things and they'll point you in the right direction to get the best produce and wine at the best price. And one real advantage of rural/small-town France over village life in England is that you can be accepted very quickly, if you take the trouble to integrate  yourself and play a part in village life.

By contrast, small communities in England are famed for their reluctance to accept strangers. The owners of holiday homes in small villages who price the locals out of the property market and are hardly ever there are generally seeen as intruders and are not very welcome. Small-town French people feel honoured that people from outside their community pay an interest and are aware that thanks to new residents, local craftsmen and traders can earn an honest living. They are simply far more pragmatic.

Of course, any British tourist to small-town France will complain of the complete lack of any sense of  punctuality, that arranging for a tradesperson to call "on Tuesday" actually means "any time between Monday morning and Friday night". And most places (even large ones) close down for several hours at lunchtime and it can be a right pain.

But it's a more relaxed and convivial mode of life which it's actually easy to get used to.

Village and rural politics are a nightmare in both cultures but the thing to remember in small-town France is that the Maire (mayor) is a truly important person. They are the foot of the pyramid of French democracy and of the national political system, and they can make life very easy for you, or - if you get on their bad side - very hard. The Mairie is the first stop for pretty much any administrative matter or local dispute. But not only - it is also your first port of call for things like utilities, so you make a personal enemy of the Maire and his staff at your peril. And in most small towns and villages the Mairie is also the post office, telephone exchange, police station and local information centre so knowing when it's staffed is a Very Important Piece Of Information.

On the subject of language, every language has its strong and weak points, its advantages and disadvantages.

English spelling is infamously horrendous, French is slightly lesss idiosyncratic but still full of potholes; English is good with expressing most technical things while French is generally more comfortable with matters of the intellect such as philosophy and the arts. (People say French is the language of love but I tend to disagree; Italian is MUCH better at it.)

The main strength of English is that whilst English grammar is a minefield and most native speakers know very few of the rules which govern our language, it is very easy to be perfectly comprehensible and relatively clear by stringing simple sentences together, as long you stick to a Subject - verb - object structure. Grammatical correspondence, pronunciation and very often spelling and punctuation are largely irrelevant.

In the musical My Fair Lady, Professor Higgins exclaims that the French never care what they do, as long as they pronounce it properly; this isn't entirely true - what's important is that the sentence is  structured properly and the nouns and verbs correspond by gender and number, and the correct pronouns are used in the correct way to determine relationships. It's not fussiness or pedantry; the fact of the matter is that otherwise more than likely the sentence will literally make no sense.

So in short, I would say that the beauty of English (and probably one of the reasons for its popularity world-wide, it's not JUST because of the ubiquity of American culture and technology) is the fact that it is a very fluid language, in which it is extremely easy to make yourself understood. It is a very diffficult langauge to master because rules of correct syntax and grammar (if one wishes to be prescriptivist) are instinctive and intuitive rather than learnable by rote.

The beauty of French, on the other hand, lies in its precision and despite appearances, the sheer logic of it all. It is actually a fairly easy language to learn well out of a book of grammar, and speaking it idiomatically can be extremely difficult. Knowing which rules are relaxable and which are not takes much skill, experience and understanding.

I'd like to conclude by bringing together the language point and my love of rural France. It is almost impossible to understand a French farmer if you have learned your French at school from books.

There are so many regional variations where other influences from Spanish, Moorish, Italian, German, Flemish or various Old French varieties are so ingrained that you would need your interlocutor to speak slowly and repeat everything for you to understand him/her. Of course, they would understand you because the French media are Paris-centric and spoken in "proper French" to an even  greater extent than English media are concerned with London.

Over the years, it's become normal in British television, for instance, to hear voices and accents from all over our country and we can all think of significant television presenters with a strong regional identity. This remains almost unheard of in French television - even though many presenters are proudly associated with wherever they may come from, they MUST speak the French equivalent of Received Pronunciation or they will simply never get a serious job in broadcasting. Some of them are famous for havig the odd foible, in the way they might pronounce a certain word or phrase, but by and large Parisian French is Comprehensible French.

I'd like to hear anyone's views on these topics, however well or badly informed, either in comments here (which can be a pain) or by way of a new question on formspring, which can be a lot easier (I do allow anonymous questions so you don't need an account or anything):

Sunday, 17 October 2010

When can we get a Marmite 'n' anything stand?

For convoluted reasons I don't feel like explaining right now, Nutella and Marmite are closely associated in my psyche (suffice to say, their main roile is to be spread on bread and some people like them, and some don't).

I found this rather magnificent picture of a Nutelleria stand in Italy which sells all kinds of things spread with Nutella:


When can we get something similar but with Marmite, not a Nutelleria but a Marmitery?

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Once every 823 years?

One of my favourite topics of rants in the real world is how gullible the internet is making us all.

Until fairly recently, we'd not have believed what people say to us unless they had some kind of reputation for telling the truth and/or knowing a lot about the subject upon which they are expounding.

Yet nowadays millions of people repeat "stuff" as if it was a fact with all the authority of a national academy of sciences, just because they saw it online. 

I've been especially amazed over the last few days by a statement that keeps coming into my email inbox and has taken Twitter by storm:

The basic form  is:

This month has five Fridays, five Saturdays, and five Sundays, and this only happens once every 823 years!

Well yes, October 2010 does indeed have five "long weekends". But is this really such a rare occurrence?

Think about it for a moment:

In order for a month to have five Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, it must be a 31-day month (January, March, May, July, August, October, December)  and the first day of that month must be a Friday (so that it's Friday, Saturday and Sunday which are repeated rather than any other contiguous 3 days).

A 365-day year is 52 weeks and one day. As a result, successive years start on the day of the week after the year before (eg 1st October 2009 was on a Thursday, 1st October 2010 was a Friday and 1st October 2011 will be a Saturday). So in principle every seven years should be the same.

But we get leap years every 4 years (minus a few corrections) so the changes aren't all that regular. But on average every eight years we get the same days of the month on the same days of the week - nowhere CLOSE to 823 years!

Just so that you don't have to take my word for it, check any calendar (there are loads online), for how many Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays there were in October 2004 and 2010, and will be in 2021.

The basic numbers of days and months in a year (a 52 week year equals 13 4-week "months" rather 12 variable-length months) mean that, on average, every EIGHTH MONTH has five Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays which makes the event in general actually quite common. May 2009 and January 2010 were recent examples, and the next one after October 2010 is July 2011. Ask anyone who is paid every fourth Friday rather than calendar monthly for their experience.

Furthermore, the WHOLE of the 2010 calendar is exactly the same as 1999.

What has happened to the world and everyone's faculty for critical thinking if they accept this idiotic 823 years statement without a moment's hesitation?

Is it any wonder that the creationist/young earth movement is getting more and more adherents if people accept what's said to them without thinking about it?


I'm especially concerned by a variation on this meme which adds that years with a date which can written 10/10/10 only happen every 823 years.

How the FUCK can a decimal year (i.e. a year ending in 10) happen with a frequency other than 10 years apart? 10/10/10 happens every 100 years, the next time being in 2110. 

I can't be bothered to do the exact calculation, but the combination of 10/10/10 AND the five long weekends in October happens roughly every 400 years.

In any event, it's NOT going to be a frequency ending on 3!

823 years from now is going to be 10/10/2833

Surely nobody even has to THINK about this for more than a millisecond? Surely it is self-fucking-evident?

Why the hell do people think that retweeting/re-emailing this kind of complete BOLLOCKS makes them appear to be anything other than illiterate, innumerate and incapable of rational thought?

Comments welcome, because I am really curious why being given a network connection seems to make otherwise intelligent people into gibbering baboons?

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Cooking with Apples: Chunky Sweet Apple and Plum Chutney

The further adventures of the non-perfect apples from the trees in our and our neighbour's gardens.

This was the day after the applesauce which was the topic of my last blog. This is the first time I've ever tried making chutney myself and I'm very curious how it'll come out, but I won't find out until Christmas!

I adapted this from several different recipes I found online and got some advice from my sister who's been making chutney for years. I changed a few things based on stuff I like (plums, cinnamon, cumin), stuff I don't like (star anise), stuff I had a lot of in the larder (onions, prunes) and stuff I didn't have and forgot to buy (raisins/sultanas).

4kg apples
1kg ripe plums (3 different types)
500g prunes
1.5kg onions
350ml cider vinegar
350ml white wine vinegar
500g muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pickling spices
1 tablesoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 sticks cinnamon (which had been used in the applesauce the night before and reserved after cooking)

And in a separate photo because I forgot to pull them out of the fridge when I took the above:
juice and grated rind of two lemons


First, a trick I picked up from somewhere: when using unpitted prunes (i.e. with the stones intact): refresh them by simmering them for a short while in whatever liquid you'll be using, and then the stones will come out a lot more easily.

So I halved about half of my plums and added them to a saucepan with the prunes and the white wine vinegar to cook for a few minutes

In the meantime, wash, clean, core and roughly chop the apples (I didn't peel them, the skins add texture and flavour) and finely chop the onions (I suspect I didn't chop the onions finely enough):

Put the apples and onions into a large thick-bottomed pot with the cider vinegar and start to cook on a high heat

In the time it takes to boil, remove the stones from the prunes

Pit and roughly chop the remaining plums, and add them, the prunes (with their vinegar) and all remaining ingredients to the apples and onions:

I think I should have left the apples and onions to cook and soften a little more before adding the sugar (as learned when making goooseberry jam a couple of months ago, the fruit isn't going to disintegrate a lot more once the sugar is added) . I therefore helped the apples to soften while I stirred (I wanted a fairly chunky consistency anyway so I'm not complaining).

As pointed out when making the applesauce, the cooking pot should never be more than about two-thirds full, and this was pretty much brimming over, so I poured part of the contents into a second pan until it reduced enough to be re-integrated:

Leave simmering on a very low heat, uncovered, stirring very often with a wooden spoon. Beware: this is VERY hot and VERY thick and when it bubbles, it spits like molten tar, so make sure your hands and arms are covered when stirring!

There will come a point about an hour later (it might take longer), when the contents quite suddenly start caramelising and turn dramatically darker.

(The greyness is just steam coming off the chutney, this indicates how hot it is, considering the stove is barely burning.)

Leave to cook for another half hour after that point, stirring frequently all the way to the bottom, to stop the contents sticking to the pan.

I did it by feel, but apparently the way to know the chutney is done is if you run the spoon across the deepest contents of the pan to leave a trail, it doesn't immediately spill over (of course I couldn't see the bottom of the pan)!

While it's cooking, prepare and clean jars and lids (this is a 7-litre pot so I prepared jars for seven litres) - see the gooseberry jam blog for instructions. The one difference here is that because this recipe includes vinegar and onions, there's a lot of acid around so you'll need vinegar-proof seals or inlays to prevent the lids rusting to pieces before the chutney gets a chance to mature!

Empty the chutney into the clean jars, insert a piece of vinegar-proof sheeting, and tighten the lids. In the absence of a proper jamming boiling bath, half-fill the deepest metal saucepans you have with clean boiling water, fully immerse the filled jars and boil on a high heat for five minutes (you'll note that most of my jars are too tall and aren't fully immersed). If using modern jar lids (I have no proper preserving jar lids, these are just from various jarred products we buy) you'll hear the little lid buttons click one by one as the pressure inside the jars drops to seal the contents.

Use jarring tongs (one of my many nicknames at school was asbestos-hands for a reason) take the EXTREMELY HOT jars out of the pans of water and set aside to cool.

The next day they'll be cold, so trim the vinegar-proof sheets, label with contents and date.

Put into a a cool dark place for three months to mature and then enjoy. Don't even think about eating sooner! In theory, if made properly and properly sealed, this chutney should be perfectly safe for a couple of years at least. (My sister's chutney made in a similar way has been known to last three years - not that it usually lasts that long without being eaten.)

I made this batch on 23rd September, in full knowedge that it'll be Christmas in three months, and what we don't eat will be given away as gifts. Clever me!

I have six large jars and three smaller ones, and all it cost me apart from gas and stock ingredients, was the sugar (about 70p), the vinegar (about £1.30) and the prunes (£1.60, though they came from our larder where they'd sat for six months), so all inclusive that's about 50p a HUGE jar. You'd be lucky to get chutney like this for less than £2.50 a SMALL jar.

Monday, 27 September 2010

New food blog/recipe/idea: Applesauce

I've been tweeting about the glut of apples from our tree and that of our neighbours this autumn (their house has been empty for the last 8 months and I had permission to help myself), and this is one of the things I did with them: Apple sauce. There'll be another blog along shortly regarding apple and plum chutney.

I had a previous applesauce session using about 4kg of windfalls from our tree which involved loganberries and not a lot of sugar and I think I learned a couple of lessons.

Note: Our tree is a child of the one next door. It grew from a windfall about 15 years ago and was nurtured by my dad, and transplanted about 10 feet to be out of its parent's shade. The apples are something like a cross between a Cox's Pippin and a Braeburn. The flesh is very white and very juicy, but really quite tart and barely edible raw. (Certainly eating more than one a day is guaranteed tummy upset, or worse!)

The word "recipe" for this apple sauce really is overstating the case!

1. Core, peel and roughly chop up 4KG raw apples (I left the peels on about half of them to add more textrue to the sauce) and put in large heavy-bottomed cooking pot.

2. Add about a cupful of water (these apples are very juicy and the water's only there to stop sticking/burning during the early cooking), 500g of sugar (I used about half that in my previous batch and it wasn't enough) - I'd've preferred all brown but I only had a little so I made it up with white - and a few cinnamon sticks to taste (in my case, 1 large stick per kilo of apples plus another couple). Note that my large cooking pot was too small to start with so I had some cooking in a second smaller pot. When cooking this kind of thing, NEVER fill the pot more than 2/3 to 3/4 full because the sauce is going to spit and bubble while stirring!

3. Turn on heat and as soon as it starts to boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened (about 15 minutes). (About halfway through, the volume had reduced enough to pour the contents of the smaller pan into the large one)

4. Leave to cool, remove cinnamon sticks and pour into plastic containers with lids. Freeze. It should keep for up to 3 months in a domestic freezer. Use for cakes, desserts or whatever takes your fancy! My 4kg of raw apples yielded 2x 1litre ice-cream containers plus 1.2litre ready-made soup containers (880ml + 4ooml).

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Gooseberry Jam!

I've been going on on Twitter about our gooseberry harvest this year and my attempts at making jam. Some people have asked for instructions, so this is how I did it! These pictures are from my second attempt - the first had been the day before and I learned a few lessons from it.

Step 1: Gather your gooseberries

Step 2: top and tail the fruit - it's easiest to use scissors!

Step 3: wash well under running water

Step 4: weigh. In my case, remove and eat excess so there's an even 1kg left!

Step 5: The normal rules of jam-making with soft fruit is to use at least the same weight of sugar as fruit (1kg - 1.2kg sugar to 1kg of fruit). I discovered the night before that these gooseberries are sweet and ripe enough, and the jam came out too sweet and sickly, so I reduced the amount of sugar to 800g. Also, I like the smokey flavour of unrefined sugar so I used 50/50 white and demarara.

Step 5: Measure 80% in litres of cold water of the weight in kilos of fruit - in this case 800ml.

Step 6: Put fruit and cold water into a heavy saucepan, and bring to boil. Also turn on your oven, on its hottest setting.

Step 7. While that's happening (about 2 mins) start washing enough jars with lids to take 150% of the weight of raw fruit (in my case, 1.5kg) in the hottest soapy water you can muster, in a clean bowl. Leave to soak.

Step 8. As soon as mixture starts boiling, bring down to a slow simmer and keep stirring until the fruit starts falling apart (another couple of minutes)

Step 9. Check all fruit has softened, and then add sugar while slowly stirring - preferably with a wooden spoon (and it's still barely simmering)....

... Continue stirring until you can feel absolutely absolutely all the sugar has dissolved (a minute or so).

Step 10. When all the sugar has dissolved (and not a moment sooner) bring the mixture to a rapid full boil, as hot as possible. When it starts boiling, set a timer for fifteen minutes.

Step 11. While the mixture is boiling, complete washing the jars and lids as scrupulously as possible and rinse out in the hottest water you can manage (in my case, straight from the kettle)

Step 12. Do not wipe the jars, but shake off excess water, switch off your (hot) oven (you DID switch it on earlier, didn't you?) and put your jars and lids inside upside down to dry out and keep warm.

Step 13. Cookery books and jam-making recipes make a big deal about temperature. And it's true, the mixture should boil at over 100-110°C but you should be OK by keeping it rolling for 15 minutes. Also, there are things like the wrinkle test to ensure it's ready, but I've not bothered during my past jam-making experiments and I've been OK.

Step 14. If desired, seive the boiling mixture into another clean saucepan if you want clear jam/jelly with no "bits". I'm going to make one 300g of clear jam and leave the rest with the bits...

... Return the seived clear liquid to the boil for another minute or two. Remove any scum that forms from the top of both saucepans before...

Step 15. ... pouring it into jars. Fill jars to the very brim so that there is no air in there to create condensation - condensation causes mould!

The clear/bitless jar is at the back on the left. I couldn't take any pictures of the bottling process as I only have two hands and it needs to be done quickly! Do not be surprised if the jam isn't very thick straight away, it might even need several hours after it's completely cold!

If I had any expectation that my jam would be standing around for any length of time I'd do the right thing and seal them with a waxed circle and a cellophane membrane before putting on the lids, but I fully expect none of my jam to be standing around for more than a couple of months - it will be fine in a fridge for that long! (I have now found homes for all but one of the jars!)

Last but not least, I didn't take a picture, but put a label on your jars listing the contents and date of production (for stock rotation purposes).

I hope this has been helpful - please let me know if you've tried this recipe and whether or not it worked!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010


I love the word chrzan - it's Polish for horseradish. I leave you, dear reader, to take a guess at pronunciation!

We have loads of horseradish growing wild in our garden so while cleaning up today I dug up a small fraction of the mature roots to make some horesradish sauce/paste. Here's some photos from the process!

freshly dug-up roots in the middle of the lawn.

Discarded leaves

1.1kg of roots after they'd been cleaned of soil and given a scrub

Looking better: washed, peeled and roughly diced

First blitzing in small doses. Only additions: 1 glass boiling water, half glass white malt vinegar and half glass white wine vinegar, one tablespoon salt, one tablespoon sugar

The effect of the fumes on my poor eyes!

1.4kg of finished paste after second blitzing (Yes, I DID recalibrate the scales!)

Shops sell horseradish in little 50g jars like the one in front. How long will my 2 x 600g gherkin jars last, I wonder? (the two smaller ones are going to my sisters) Honest proposition: would anyone within travelling distance like some for free? Otherwise it's likely to go to waste, and I'm guaranteed at least a similar harvest in November, and again in the spring!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The sadness of infirmity in old age

I've never written about this is public before because.... it's complicated.

My life for the last few years has revolved around catering for the needs of my elderly parents, and over the last year or so, especially those of my dad.

He was 95 a couple of months ago and after an active, virile life of the usual masculine achievements for someone of his generation, his health and appearance have taken a series of major blows over last couple of years.

This has been most visible in our garden: it's not really something I'm into or very good at, but for all my life planting things to eat, look at or smell has been a passion of my dad's, with varying degrees of success, but nevertheless with unbridled passion. The spring of 2009 was the last time he was able to get involved in it in any way, preparing seedlings and giving me instructions what to do. I am reminded of this now, looking out of my bedroom window and seeing the wreck of our vegetable plots which I haven't even cleaned up or dug over since last year's harvest.

Creepy-looking dead runner bean plants haven't been uprooted, potato plants lay where they they grew, dead flowers have been unpruned, the apple tree needs attention, etc, etc. Until last year, these are all things my dad would have done either himself or organised me to see to doing. And yet now, he's not even been in the garden since September (the practicalities of getting his wheelchair out there and back in have caused him to lose interest) and for the last few months he's rarely even looked out the back window.

He last left the house about a month ago to see his doctor and for the last two weeks he's been permanently bedridden. He has had a bad knee for as long as I remember, he developed a hernia a couple of years ago (which is the immediate cause of much of his current distress) on which doctors refuse to operate given his age and his history of a couple of strokes about 20 years ago, he was recently diagnosed with a cataract in his left eye and he has a burn wound on his right ankle which has refused to heal properly since last October. And he's borderline Type II Diabetic.

He's also suffered from chronic constipation since before his strokes (which the strokes just made worse) and ever since Christmas we've searched for foods he is able to eat, digest and evacuate without TOO much pain. He's currently managing mushy rice in milk with stewed prunes and lots of fruit juice.

It is incredibly sad to watch a man who in his prime could eat a whole loaf of bread over the course of a single day along with a mound of fresh fruit and vegetables and manage a whole chicken or half a cow if he had it available, but was so active that he'd burn it all off.

My abiding memory of his first stroke is not the circumstances of the stroke itself, but the fact that two days after being discharged from hospital, he was 25 feet in the air at the top of a ladder fixing a leaky roof, having been ordered to take it easy for a minimum of a month.

It's sad and frustrating to watch someone who has spent his entire life not having to count on anyone's help or assistance, and indeed refusing it when it was necessary, to be dependant on my 86 year-old mother and me for absolutely every need, and the pain in his eyes is obvious.

A baby requires constant care and attention, needs to have its bottom cleaned and can do very little for itself. But it knows no better. An adult in the same situation, with all mental faculties present but a complete inability to express them, is a different matter entirely. A baby doesn't feel shame or embarrassment, an elderly adult does.

I don't know how long my dad has left. There's every chance that when I wake up in the morning, I'll discover that he never will again. Or he might last another week. The chances he'll survive until Easter are remote. As a religious man that is probably the only hope he has left, of meeting his Maker in the glory of resurrection rather than the dark gloom of Lent.

I've lost all vestiges of my catholic religious upbringing myself but it's got to the point where leaving this life is really his best option. I don't believe that anything awaits him on the other side, but his own over-riding conviction that he is going on to something better and without pain is all that sustains him, and I'm not going to take that away.

I don't really know why I'm writing all this and I doubt it'll be of interest to anyone, but I just needed to get something down and empty these thoughts out of my head before the inevitable happens.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Internet fads

One of the banes of my existence are the latest amusing emails doing the rounds in big offices being sent to me by friends. Let's get this clear, I don't have a problem with being amused. What I have a problem with is someone trying to amuse me with something that wasn't especially funny when I read it for the hundredth time ten years ago.

Since the dawning of the internet age I've worked in a big company only once (and that was a 3-month fixed contract) and was astonished by the amount of shit constantly flowing into my inbox to the extent that it actually stopped me being able to do my job properly. I am often quite grateful that I don't work in that kind of environment now.

Today I got two emails from completely unrelated directions with the same text (though formatted very differently). This got me wondering what caused this text to become trendy again, given that I've seen it several times in the last few years already?

A Google search on an extract unlikely to have beeen used in any other c0ntext resulted in 164,000 hits , a lot of them recent blogs reposting the same thing over and over again.

This also makes me wonder, not for the first time, how many bloggers ever consider, when repeating material they've read elsewhere, whether it's been reported before? After all, if it's doing the rounds as a "funny email", it's got history, doesn't it? And is NOBODY interested in what that history might be before repeating it, YET AGAIN?

Thanks to a tip from @fueledbyregret I discovered just now that you can sort Google results by date, which saved me the trouble trying to find earlier versions, and it got me to 31st January 2001 on So this has been going on for nine years, is repeated on over a hundred thousand pages on the internet, and people are STILL repeeating it as if it's fresh news?

Is it any wonder that urban myths get spread around so quickly and easily nowadays when people don't seem to have the mental capacity to question what they read from some anonymous source and accept it as the truth and or/original? There are sites out there which specialise in debunking this shit, so use them, folks!

I understand that we all find stuff for the first time and want to share our enthusiasm for it. But links to previous iterations work just as well as presuming that nobody else has seen it before!

Friday, 1 January 2010

Review of the Year in Questions and Answers

Happy New Year!

I stole this from someone else's blog. Sorry, I'm not sure whose it was but some of the questions had American spelling so I doubt it was any of my close friends!

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?
This is naughty, but it meant a lot to me at the time: I fulfilled a sexual fantasy by having a mutual sounding session!

2. Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I've not made resolutions since I was kid cos I know I'd never keep them, so there were no resolutions to keep. However, I did manage to keep free of smoking and maintain my attempts at losing weight!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Two friends of friends, but nobody closer.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
The father of a schoolfriend - he was also my first boss after leaving university so although I'd not seen him for over 15 years his death hit me fairly hard.

5. What countries did you visit?
I was very badly travelled by own standards this year. France, a couple of times.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
A sex life with a steady partner rather than random one-night stands which makes me feel just a little squalid.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
11th January: I met the Stigs for the first time (having known them online for almost 3 years)
8th May: release of the new Star Trek movie
15th December: spent a very pleasant day with @squawkbox. He might not thank me in the long run for introducing him to Pączki :-p

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I'm not big on achievements (or setting goals, hence lack of resolutions). I'm proudest of having not only signed up for introductory German lessons, but doing the whole course without missing a single lesson, and even arriving late (10 mins) for only one. (I got 100% in the exam!) I'm also pleased about losing more flab (dropped two trouser sizes) and not smoking a single cigarette (not even a single drag), despite being tempted very hard in three moments of crisis.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not getting ANYWHERE with the closest thing I ever make to a resolution every Christmas and every birthday, to finally get a driving licence.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I had a very bad year for dental problems and as I write this, my jaw is in agony from having a tooth pulled yesterday morning (it cracked in half on Christmas day). I also had two bouts of tonsilitis, which was extremely painful! (The first bout wasn't even diagnosed at the time, I just thought I had a particularly sore throat)

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I'm not big on material possessions, but I finally got around to getting a modern mobile phone which includes internet capabilities, and a phone contract to go with it. I lost the handset, three months into an 18 month contract. I since bought an even more up-to-date one!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Hmmm... not sure. Off the top of my head I can't think of any person or organisation which led a blameless existence throughout the year.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Alan Davies on Twitter.

14. Where did most of your money go?
I made two significant loans to people; in one case with the expectation that it will end up being a gift (I'm fine with that), in the other I hope it will be repaid over the course of 2010.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Lots of movies, but apart from Star Trek none of them lived up to the hype I'd built up in my head. More than that, meeting several online friends either for the first time, or for the first time after a long break.

16. What song will always remind you of this year?
Lady Gaga: Pokerface. I don't listen to music radio and my main exposure to current/chart music is at the gym and stuff my online friends talk about. Gaga was absolutely EVERYWHERE!

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? The same
b) thinner or fatter? Thinner (YAY!)
c) richer or poorer? in terms of my current account, the same! In terms of my "life savings", significantly poorer, for the time being (see Q. 14)

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Very quietly. Apart from phone calls from family, most of the days over the holidays were just like normal ordinary days. And on Christmas Day I broke a tooth which meant I spent much of it in agony!

21. What was your favourite TV programme?
Nothing really stands out without thinking about it very hard, but I was impressed as usual with Doctor Who, and FastForward started well. I had high hopes for True Blood but it was much to soapy for my tastes and I lost patience.

22. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
I don't hate anyone; I find it a wasted emotion. Alan Davies has gone down in my estimation quite significantly.

23. What was the best book you read?
I've not read much this year and of what I did, nothing really stands out.

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Nothing stands out.

25. What did you want and get?
Thinner and fitter, but not quite to the degree I'd hoped.

26. What did you want and not get?
A proper long-term relationship.

27. What was your favourite film of this year?
I think I'd have to say Let The Right One In, AKA Låt den rätte komma in. Creepy, heartbreaking and beautiful. I bet Hollywood remakes it before too long, and I bet they'll royally fuck it up.

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
It was a day just like any other. I got two cards, both from close family members. Which leaves a lot of close family members who forgot. This has made me sad in the past and so I don't celebrate birthdays at all any more.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Someone to wake up alongside, just once, without a shadow of a doubt.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Clean clothes that don't have more holes in them than they are meant to have.

31. What kept you sane?
That question makes an assumption I feel is unwarranted. :-p

32. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I've never had any celebrity crushes but I can only answer the same way I answered a similar question once before: every time Eric Szmanda comes on in CSI I can't help but smile ;-)

33. What political issue stirred you the most?
Too many to mention, but prevarication over climate change issues (including establishing whether or not it actually is our fault) angers me.

34. Who did you miss?
Nobody in particular. Just the lack of Somebody to miss!

35. Who was the best new person you met?
Lots. Most of the people I follow on Twitter, if "met" includes virtual meetings. If not, then I shall have to remain coy. ;-)

36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.
"People" as a nameless crowd are generally far more easily led than I ever thought it possible.

37. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
"Talking 'bout my generation"

Please feel free to ask any other questions and I'll be happy to answer!