The Befouled Weakly News

Greg's Occasional News & Views

16 May 2010

Well, at last we have a government. As you will know, the Conservatives have finally been able to come to an agreement with the Liberal Democrats and we have a coalition government of the two parties which are probably furthest apart on the political spectrum. The “price” has been some modest toning down of some of the Conservatives’ more narrow-minded policies and a commitment to modify the electoral process, which is what the Liberals would have insisted upon. Unfortunately, there was no shifting the Conservatives on their policy towards Europe which must have been a bitter pill for the Liberals to swallow but one on which the Conservatives could never give way – there are just too many “Little Englanders” to countenance anything other than outright hostility towards all things European and foreign.

Interestingly, what we have, of course, is a government committed to introducing policies which no one voted for. Still, I think there’s little doubt that this was the right thing to do and one can only hope that the Liberals are treated as real partners in government with an influence on policies.

One thing for sure, ever since the new government was agreed, the weather has been miserable – cold, cold and then, just for a change, a bit more cold weather. I’ve had to put the central heating back on and wear several layers when walking the dog. Just goes to show what I’ve always said – you can’t trust the Conservatives, particularly when it comes to the weather!

I was struck at the weekend by yet another example of the hypocrisy of Rupert Murdoch and his News Corps empire which includes the Times and Sunday Times in the UK. Once respected as a reliable news outlet, the Times has increasingly become more and more like the other “rag” sheets which promote prejudice whilst masquerading as “news”. We were at lunch last Sunday with our friends Jo and Colin and their three delightful children and they happened to have a copy of the Sunday Times. I couldn’t help notice the headline – “Vast Majority Say Brown Must Go!” Glancing through the article I found the substance for the headline – the Times had conducted a poll on the Saturday after the election which found that 62% of those polled felt Brown should resign. Fair enough. There were, however, a couple of problems with the article. Firstly, as the Times knows, constitutionally, Brown was still Prime Minister until some other party (or coalition) could form a government. To resign would, technically, leave the country without any form of government. Not a great idea, surely. The other amusing aspect of the article was the “vast” majority who wanted Brown to resign. The Times described the Conservative’s 36% of the popular vote in the election as a “huge vote in favour of change.” Yet, this “huge” vote for the Conservatives was somewhat fewer than the 38% respondents to their own poll who would like Brown to stay on, yet that is described as a “vast” majority the other way. As they say, lies, damn lies and statistics. The real trouble, of course, is that a proportion of the British public actually believe the nonsense that Murdoch and Fox promote under the guise of “news”.

A more interesting and thoughtful analysis comes from Andrew Rawnsley’s column in this morning’s Guardian. To be fair, the Guardian endorsed the Liberal-Democrats in the election and it is certainly a centre-left newspaper. Still, they don’t generally go around claiming that 36% represents a huge vote in favour while, in the same breath suggest that 38% represents a massive failure. You can read his article here, if you are interested.

In spite of the cold, cold weather and the lack of sunshine (all of which, of course, I blame on the Conservatives), the garden continues to awaken from its winter slumbers. The wisteria is out and plentiful (and it smells gorgeously delicious) and Penelope’s borders are displaying their spring colour. A couple of photos will prove the point, perhaps.



We also ventured out yesterday to some bluebell woods at Everdon Stubbs, not far from Badby where we often go. You can find a couple of the least bad photos here.

Much love to you all,

Greg

9 May 2010

Polling StationSo, the nation has spoken and, ignoring all hanging chads, the results are in! No one won! It’s one of those elections where “None of the above” actually came first. Indeed, it might reasonably be argued that everyone lost.

Poor old Gordon certainly lost. Dumped into the thick of it when things began to go pear-shaped for Blair, he had to try and pick up the pieces and, in his particularly charmless manner, failed miserably. Poor old David Cameron, standing against the most unpopular Prime Minister since Thatcher and pushing on an open door still could not persuade two-thirds of the electorate to trust him, leaving him just short of an overall majority. And, poor old Nick Clegg and the Lib-Dems found themselves squeezed between the two major parties once again.

One thing is clear (again) – the “first past the post” electoral system employed in this country is a nonsense but neither of the two larger parties is remotely interested in altering it. The Conservatives gained 36% of the popular vote, Labour 29 and the Lib-Dems 23. Under the present scheme, that translates into 306 seats for the Conservatives, 258 for Labour and a miserly 57 for the Lib Dems. If one does the maths and allocates the seats according to the proportion of the vote they each secured, the Conservatives should have 235 seats (72 fewer than they won), Labour should have 188 seats (70 fewer) and the Lib Dems 149 (92 more seats than they have “won”). As I say, it’s not surprising that no one other than the Lib Dems wants to investigate alternatives; so far Cameron is promising Clegg a “commission” to investigate changes which is quite a way from the sort of price the Lib Dems would like to extract as their reward for supporting the Conservatives in government – a hard sell at the best of times given their very opposing views on Europe, taxation and social justice. It will be fun to watch what happens.

As mentioned in previous dispatches, we had a most enjoyable time with Ching Ryan last weekend. We strolled through the countryside, visited Oxford and ambled through the bluebell woods at Badby. Unfortunately, the cold winter we’ve had meant that the bluebells are about a week later than usual this year and so the display was not as fine as it can be.


Molly in the Bluebells

Bluebells Bluebells

Bluebells Bluebells

We also took advantage of Ching’s visit to make our way up to London on Thursday for an adventure before meeting up with her for dinner. We discovered that the Grand Designs exhibition was on in Docklands so we spent much of the day there. This is, as the name might suggest, a “design” show so there are lots of interesting products in various sections – kitchens, bathrooms, general house building, gardening, furniture, etc. Even though we’re not doing any designing or building in the near future, it’s still good fun to wander around looking at all the gorgeous and glorious stuff.

From there we went back into the centre of town and made our way to Trafalgar Square where we found a particularly comfortable patch of grass just in front of the National Gallery on which to recline in the sunshine for a modest moment or several. Nothing like tromping around an exhibition to tire you out! So, after a brief snooze we spent an hour or so browsing the National Gallery before it was time to meet up with Ching at Wahaca, one of our favourites (if not, indeed, our favourite) place to eat in London. I’ve written about Wahaca before but it does Mexican “street food” which is similar in many ways to tapas in Spain. We shared a mountain of snacks and emerged feeling comfortably bloated (well, I did anyway – the girls were undoubtedly much more restrained than I was).

And, if that wasn’t enough excitement for one year, on Friday evening we had to drag our tired backsides out again, this time for a wine-tasting dinner with friends Dave and Val. They are a couple who have featured in past dispatches – they lived and worked in Paris for many years and now, suitably retired, have returned to the Banbury area. They still go to France frequently and each time Dave comes back laden with a considerable quantity of half-decent wines. From time to time they will organise a wine-tasting meal where Dave will pair several bottles of wine and we indulge ourselves in a bit of blind tasting. He’ll prepare some basic notes about what we should be looking for and it’s good fun to try and taste the differences between very similar wines. Last night we had two white Chinon wines which were strikingly different; one was very young and fruity and another was older and hence smoother and fuller. We also compared red wines from both sides of the river in Bordeaux including a Margaux and a St Emilion (which Mom and Dad will remember from our outing in those environs all those years ago). Good fun in spite of the somewhat thick head the morning after.

And still, our social whirl is not yet finished – we are out to lunch this afternoon with the friends who looked after Molly when we did our west coast/east coast expedition last autumn. It seems the kids want to see Molly again and we got invited to make up the numbers and, of course, to provide transport for Molly. It’s all go!

And finally, finally – let’s wish all our respective Mothers a most marvellously memorable Mother’s Day. I certainly do love mine.

Love to you all,

Greg

 

 


2 May 2010

 

SwallowBig news this week – our swallows arrived back on Monday and one was so excited to see us again that he immediately shat all over our bed.

It had been a splendidly lovely day and Pen left the door open as she left for gym that evening so that Molly could lounge out on the driveway or in the garden if she so desired. Of course, the open door was an open invitation to the returning swallows. (Generally, we don’t have a “problem” with adult swallows flying into the house; it’s more often the babies when they are just learning to fly who occasionally make a wrong turn and find themselves on the inside trying to find a way out). So, I hadn’t really thought much about it and indeed, at that stage, I didn’t even know they were back, of course.

I certainly didn’t see the culprit fly in; all of a sudden I heard a peculiar flapping sound from upstairs. As I investigated I discovered that one of the swallows had flown into our bedroom and, in his anxiety, had proceeded to poop all over the place. I closed all the doors, opened the window and gently persuaded him to leave. Afterwards, I inspected the damage – our friend had left three deposits on the bed, two on the carpet and three more on a couch we have upstairs.

Still, it’s nice to see them back.

Wednesday early evening whilst I was putting the rubbish out for collection on Thursday morning, they were back. Three “scouts” were swooping in and out of the garage, chattering at each other in an aggressive manner and then chasing each other all over the neighbourhood. I am guessing that they were investigating the highly desirable accommodation we have available in the garage and there was some discussion about which swallow had claimed it first. I am sure they will settle their differences in a calm, quiet & dignified manner and whoever gets the month’s deposit in first can have it.

I did a bit of shopping in Banbury in the week. The weather was very pleasant which brought everyone out of their winter hibernation. As I meandered around the town there were countless young mums propelling push chairs (strollers) along the pavement whilst dragging two or three other toddlers along, providing encouragement with the occasional shout or bellow. Sometimes, they were accompanied by their young gentleman friends in shorts, t-shirts and acres of tattoos. It’s clear that I am becoming an “angry old man” as I was struck not only by the increasing number of “chavs” Banbury has acquired in recent years but also by the number of very, very, very large people. I think many have been stuck indoors all during the poor winter weather we’ve had and simply eaten continually.

I had another bout of cooking in the week, this time Chicken Cordon Bleu following a communication from Dad. My chicken breast flattening and rolling is significantly improved following a couple of excellent suggestions from Nick. He suggesting rolling the breasts in cling film in the first instance and then placing them in the refrigerator for a time prior to cooking. When you unroll them from the cling film they keep their shape and there’s no need for string or toothpicks. I can tell you, this week’s results presented an almost passable picture and the end result was tolerably tolerable.

We are currently enjoying the delightful company of Ching Ryan for a couple of days. She is in the UK for a couple of weeks on work and we were delighted to be able to invite her to come up for the weekend. As it happens, this is the May Day holiday weekend – tomorrow is a holiday – so, we’ve got her ‘til then. An absolute treat although typically the weather has decided to be anything other than cooperative. We’ve had a very pleasant week with temperatures in the mid 60s and a bundle of sunshine. Yesterday was a bit on the cool side but still dry and reasonably pleasant and then, last night, it started to bucket down; this morning is cold with a stiff, blistering northeast wind and, potentially, several more buckets of rain. Not quite the ideal day for exploring Oxford or Kenilworth or Stratford or Edge Hill or anywhere else outdoors for that matter!




She was, in fact, due to fly into the UK a couple of weeks ago but was delayed by the Icelandic volcano for a week. She’s only in the country until next Friday so we thought we’d also take advantage of her presence by making an outing up to the big city next Thursday. We’ll take in a gallery and/or museum or two and then meet up with her to take her to dinner at one of our favourite places in London. We don’t need much of an excuse.

Love to you all,

Greg

 

25 April 2010

Good morning to you all and, in response to numerous enquiries, “Yes, thank you. We had a marvellous weekend on the south coast.” The weather was glorious – bright and sunny and moderately warm. But, for those of us who wanted to take some photographs of our walk along the Downs (think of the white cliffs of Dover), it was frustratingly hazy. Must have been the fallout from the Icelandic volcano.


Walking towards Beachey Head

Walking towards Beachey Head

Looking back along the Downs

Looking back along the Downs


Beachey Head Lighthouse

Beachey Head Lighthouse

A precarious picnic point

A precarious picnic point


I cooked dinner on Wednesday evening and I wish I could have shared it with you all, if only for it’s amusement value. I appreciate that it will come as a surprise to most of you that I even know where the kitchen is, let alone how to put anything together. However, I do cook occasionally (once in a millennium, or so) and, as I now have a bit more time on my hands, I have become somewhat more adventurous. (Well, just about anything is a step upwards from a boiled egg).

I decided to have a go at Pesto and Goat Cheese-Filled Chicken Breasts (a) because it sounded really tasty and (b) because we had most of the requisite ingredients. Creamed spinach and tagliatelle with a pesto sauce completed the main course.

Penelope was out at the gym so I was essentially on my own as I began to work my way through the recipes. (And by the way, why do recipes say that the preparation time is, say, 20 minutes when, in fact, for someone with my skill set it’s closer to two hours). I flattened the chicken breasts quite convincingly, mixed the pesto and goat’s cheese, spread it all over each chicken breast and then set about attempting to roll the breasts into a neat little parcel. Ha, ha, ha!

What I had not appreciated was that the chicken breasts, in spite of being flattened to within a quarter inch of their lives, gradually begin to un-flatten themselves if you don’t keep a very close eye on them. I wish I had thought of taking a photo of my first attempts at rolling them up but by that time my hands and most of the rest of my body was covered with the filling. The pesto and cheese squidged out everywhere and soon covered every surface and utensil in the kitchen, including some which just happened to be in the neighbourhood on a temporary visit.  I discovered that I needed three pairs of hands and several spatulas and even that was only partially successful. My first attempt produced a pathetic-looking collection of misshapen parcels secured with several dozen toothpicks from which pesto and cheese was oozing from a dozen orifices. The second attempt was marginally better and, by the third effort, I had something slightly better than dismally wretched which, given the hour and the approaching arrival home of Ms Playchute, would have to do.

Having said that, the result was tolerably tasty in spite of the somewhat disconcerting appearance and the creamed spinach was a definite success.

Speaking of cooking, you all might want to give some thought to the dishes you would like to prepare for this year’s Stragapalooza. I would love to do Pesto and Goat Cheese Chicken Breasts and I’ve no doubt you would find it tasty and wonderfully amusing but I don’t think I could possibly deal with rolling twenty or thirty chicken breasts. Back to the drawing board.

And, still speaking of cooking, I was amused by this article on the BBC web site. It seems that an Australian cookbook has had to be pulped because of one, tiny, inconsequential misprint. The recipe for tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto called for “salt and freshly ground black people” instead of pepper. Oops!

As well as an epicurean delight of staggering proportions and a delightful trip to the south coast, this was also the week, it seems, when Spring finally did “burst” as has been predicted by the weather forecasters for the past three or four weeks. On Wednesday afternoon I had a very pleasant stroll across the countryside with Molly, camera in hand to catch the first of the blossoms. I also nipped into a lovely garden owned by one of our new best friends, an elderly widow in Chipping Warden whom we meet from time to time walking her dog. Some time ago she invited us to have a look at the garden and it is lovely. So, with most things beginning to bloom I sneaked in for another look.

Much love to you all,

Greg

18 April 2010

Good morning on a Surprise Saturday for the Befouled Weakly News. As I mentioned last week, we are off to the south coast for the weekend and wanted, at the very least, to wish a particularly lovely couple a splendid anniversary. We’re sorry to be missing the annual Restaurant Ramble to Hemingway’s in celebration but, instead, we are putting our minds to good use in thinking of all the fabulous feasts we shall enjoy together this summer.

A gentle reminder to those of you who have not yet booked your place at the festivities to come – space is running out fast! And so far, we’ve had confirmed confirmations from Karin and Zac, Sarah and, er, me and Penny! I am hoping that the final numbers might be a bit higher than that.

Icelandic volcanoI guess you will have seen that northern Europe has essentially been shut down by the ash emanating from the Icelandic volcano.  Firstly, they lose all our money in the collapse of the Bank of Iceland and now they try to shut us all down by dumping copious quantities of ash on us all.

Of course, we’ve noticed nothing but I guess at the altitude at which airplanes fly it must be pretty grim. And, who knows how long it will go on for?

(If the collapse of the Bank of Iceland is an obscure reference for most of you, my apologies. In brief, many UK and other European governments and local authorities had invested considerable sums of money in the Bank of Iceland who, at the time, were offering very, very generous interest rates. Unfortunately, in the banking crisis they essentially lost everything and now are not sure if they will ever be able to pay it back. Oxfordshire, my former employer, lost £5 million – small change in the grand scale of things.)

The election grinds on – only three more weeks to go. Adam forwarded an interesting link to a site called Vote for Policies, not Personalities. What an interesting concept!

What is Vote for Policies?
Vote for Policies makes it easy to compare what the political parties are promising to do. It helps you make an informed, unbiased decision about who to vote for. Find out which party you really support…

So, how does it work?
Compare policies from six UK political parties on a range of key issues (just select at least four). After you have chosen the policies you agree with we’ll show you which parties they belong to. But be ready – the results can be surprising!

Have a go yourself here. So far, the Green Party is in the lead with nearly 28%. My results were reassuringly split between Labour and the Green Party. I suppose it’s nice to know that I can still spot a smelly policy a mile away even without knowing which party is behind it. Having said that, it’s pretty clear I am not going to support a party whose policies include sending all the immigrants home and withdrawing from the European Union.

As I guess most of you know, I quite enjoy watching and listening to sports. Each day I download a number of sports related podcasts and listen while I walk the dog or do the hovering or whatever.

One particular podcast is sponsored by Head and Shoulders and I was mightily amused by the introduction yesterday:

“Make the most out of the hair you have. New Hair Endurance for men from Head and Shoulders, cleans to give you fuller, thicker looking hair in just one week. To learn more log on to Head and Shoulders dot com. Head and Shoulders – Respect the Scalp, Get the Hair!”

That’s certainly what I need – someway (anyway) to make the most out of the hair I have which is, as you know, not much. I wonder what I would look like with fuller, thicker looking hair – would the few stray follicles clinging desperately to the bald pate on top of my head come to resemble coils of rope? In just one week? I’ll let you know.

I was sent the following link by John Dey, one of my classmates at Webb. It relates to a clip highlighting “The Farmer and the Cook” which is owned and run by another Webb classmate, Steve Sprinkle. It’s a clip from CNN which is on You Tube and you can catch it here. If anyone is passing through Ojai drop by and say hello!

Finally, I found the following amusing and reminiscent of what Ms Molly might have felt on recent occasions when a visit to the vet has been required:

Molly threatens to sue

Off to the seaside – let’s hope the weather is friendly and that we’re not inundated with too much ash.

Love to you all,

Greg

11 April 2010

I sat down on Thursday afternoon to watch the recording of the Wednesday night baseball game between the Yankees and the Red Sox. As I settled into my chair, I was astounded to hear Dave O’Brien describe the day’s weather in Boston – sunny with temperatures reaching 91 degrees.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME!

We’ve just seen the sun for the first time since early October 2006 and still need gloves, hats, sweaters, jackets and our Bronco Nagurski long underwear!

Actually, although you will know that it is a rare occurrence, I am exaggerating just a bit. In fact, the weather for the latter part of the week has been glorious. The temperature reached nearly 60 degrees on Thursday and has been in the same vicinity since then. And, while the sunshine has not been blindingly blinding, we have at least seen the sun for much of the time. It turns out they were right after all – Spring is bursting.


Aubretia Daffodils

I guess you will have picked up that the tediousness of our election campaign has begun. We are exceedingly fortunate that our campaigns only last four weeks (apart from the constant name-calling that goes on all the time). The election itself will be on 6 May, but even that four week period seems like an eternity when there is nothing but negativity spewing forth from either side.

There was a 61% turnout at the last election, almost exactly the same as in the last Presidential election, I’ve just discovered. I’m impressed that even that number of people can be bothered – they’re all as bad as each other and it is increasingly difficult to find any differences between the various manifestos. In any event, given the bizarre democratic process we employ in this country, the election is actually decided in a handful of marginal constituencies and, in our case, it doesn’t matter who we vote for: this area has had a Conservative MP since the time of Simon de Montfort.

Fortunately, some people have got the right approach to the whole charade. Have a look at this clip from the BBC site – I think it’s a great strategy.

Those of you following David’s blog in Japan will know that he needs to acquire an Alien Registration Card and carry it with him all the time. When I first came to the UK in 1973, I too needed to acquire a similar certification to prove my dispensation to live and work here. Of course, I didn’t need it to acquire a mobile phone – there weren’t any! (Indeed, I don’t think we had a landline until Adam was born).

In those days a woman married to a British citizen was automatically allowed to settle in the UK. A man married to a British woman, however, had no such rights, hence the need for me to acquire a Work Permit and an Alien Registration Card. I was also obliged to register with the local police station – clearly it was essential that the local constabulary knew who and where these dangerous aliens were. One time we even had a visit from a policeman from Stratford when we moved from Bracknell to Edge Hill or Radway who was anxious to inspect me (and my card, I guess). Fortunately, he found everything in order and it wasn’t for another two or three years before the EuropeanVisaVIPPCourt decreed that the British position was discriminatory and men were granted the same rights as women married to UK subjects. After that judgement, I had to send my passport off to the Home Office to be adorned with a stamp/visa stating that I was “Given leave to enter the United Kingdom for an indefinite period”. Since then I’ve been through three or four passports and nowadays when I pass through immigration they very kindly endorse my passport with “VIPP” which I would love to think stands for “Very Important Person Possibly” but, in fact, means “Visa in Previous Passport” which I can only acquire each time I come through by continuing to carry the original albeit now expired passport with the all-important original visa.

Since the weather has been fine for three days now, Ms Penelope has suggested that it’s time for the first lawn mowing of the season. Naturally, I disagree but fortuitously I ran across an Andy Capp cartoon providing the perfect opportunity to turn this into a romantic gesture.

A Romantic Gesture

We’re away next weekend so you may be lucky and escape the dross of the Befouled Weakly News clogging up your inbox. Well, you can always hope for the best.

Much love to you all,

Greg

PS – She won. The lawn received its first trim of the season yesterday.

4 April 2010

So, we lost an hour’s sleep last weekend but not only that, as soon as British Summer Time kicks in the weather takes a dramatic and exceedingly unhelpful turn for the worse! It turned freezing with sleet and snow almost immediately “summer time” began. If there was ever a reason for stopping this nonsense, surely that was a sign! We’ve had the cold temperatures, gales and sheets of rain while Scotland and Northern Ireland have had the bulk of the snowfall.

SnowScores trapped on snowbound train

Passengers endure six-hour wait in darkness for rescue train after Edinburgh to Inverness service is stranded in snowdrift.

More than 100 rail passengers were trapped for six hours overnight after their train got stuck in a snowdrift in Scotland.

The Edinburgh to Inverness service ground to a halt at 8.20pm near Aviemore as the country was hit by blizzards, high winds and heavy rain, leaving one girl dead.

A snow plough had to clear the track before a rescue train with food and blankets could travel down to Blackmount, between Carrbridge and Slochd and around 20 miles from Inverness, at 1.30am this morning.

The 107 passengers, described as “tired and fed up”, had to battle through snow and driving winds as they clambered between the trains in the darkness.

Flowers in the Snow“The weather is bad, but we wouldn’t be transferring people if we thought the conditions were dangerous,” said a spokesman for First ScotRail. “It will be done in a safe and orderly fashion.

“People have been on board for about six hours. They are tired and fed up, but the driver has said no-one is in distress.”

The stranded train “is set-in and would require digging out”, the train operator added.
First ScotRail said the passengers were due to reach Inverness at around 3.30am, where taxis were being laid on to get people home.

Police in the Highlands said attempts to rescue the travellers had proved difficult because of the remote location and snowy conditions.

A train service between Inverurie and Keith was also suspended because of bad weather, with 200 people being accommodated in Aberdeen overnight.

So much for Spring “bursting” forth!

We had an intriguing and, at the time, somewhat bizarre experience during the week. It was about 7.30 or so and Penny was just in the process of dishing up some dinner when the doorbell rang. Standing on our door step was a fellow from the village whom we know on a casual basis; we’ll nod and say “hello” to each other as we pass or should we see one another at a village social event such as the recent Quiz. But, he is certainly not what one would call a “friend” and his arrival on our door step in the early evening was somewhat puzzling.

Naturally, we invited him in with greetings such as “How nice to see you?” and “What a pleasant surprise!” and so on. In he comes and we slowly make our way to the kitchen, continuing the exchange of pleasantries initiated at the door. “So, are you keeping well?” and “What about this crazy weather?” and the like.

This small talk continued for about five minutes. “So, are you still working?” and “Still making those parachute things, are you?” and “How about you – have you retired yet?” Every so often Penny and my eyes would meet amidst two quizzical expressions – “What on earth is he doing here?” we both silently mouthed.

In the end, after about ten minutes, I can’t remember whether one of us eventually asked what we could do for him but I have the feeling that he finally suggested that we might be wondering why he had come by?

Indeed, we were wondering.

It turns out that he had come to the wrong door. He was actually looking for Sally next door who was after him to give her a quote for some landscape gardening in their back yard. After conceding this important fact, he shuffled out the door again and we were left thoroughly bemused.

Such an exciting life we lead!

I hope everyone is following David’s blog while he is in Japan – if not, you can find it here. He did concede that he was a little bit worried that it wasn’t terribly “interesting” at the moment. Heck, if there was a requirement for this stuff to be “interesting” 99% of it would never see the light of day including, of course, the Befouled Weakly News.

Finally, loved the following:

Dog Facebook

Love to you all,

Greg

 

 

28 March 2010

Good morning to you all on a somewhat dull day in beautiful, downtown Byfield although it’s difficult to judge at this early stage what sort of day it will develop into. It could be nice and sunny; it could stay grey and dreary. For all the discussion last weekend about Spring being ready to “burst” upon us like an atomic explosion, we are still waiting. While it’s not reverted to freezing temperatures, snow and gales (yet), we’re certainly not baking in delightfully warm or sunny temperatures; cool, overcast and decidedly dull. One can see that everything is aching to burst forth but so far most of nature seems to be keeping its head down waiting to see if the forecasters really have got something right this time. We’ll let you know but the outlook for the next week is not particularly promising; I was informed by Ms Playchute that the coming week is indeed going to revert to its formerly frigid status and the woolly jumpers, long underwear, overcoats and gloves will not get consigned to the winter storage facilities (i.e., the hooks underneath all the other stuff) for some time to come, it seems.

How do you face life’s little dilemmas, such as the one which confronted me recently? Yesterday evening Ms Playchute produced a feast of outstanding quality (and before I get myself into trouble, her feasts are always of outstanding quality). The dilemma? Which part of the banquet to eat first and which to save and savour until the end? Naturally, the carrots were dispatched first; one clearly has to get rid of such less than delightful plate-fillers before tackling the main course. Pork, roast potatoes, spinach & parmesan cakes, sausage meat stuffing, gravy and mushrooms and crisp crackling. Now, you tell me, which would you eat first and which would you save ‘til the end? And, what would be the last mouthful? Are you like me? Once you dispatch the carrots and other less desirable root crops (apart from potatoes, of course), divide the rest up into more or less equal portions deciding, as you work your way through the masterpiece, which combination to savour for the last mouthful? Or, do you work your way through each ingredient until the only remaining mouthful is your favourite?

Just for the record, my last mouthful consisted of a mixture of stuffing, potato, gravy, mushroom; the last morsel of pork had been dispatched in the previous mouthful.

The great excitement this week (for me, at least; Penny would just as soon watch paint dry) was the arrival of a new desktop computer. I can certainly sympathise with Pam’s message in the week about waiting three days for the computer to get to a state where one can actually do something. The one I have been using I’ve had for about eight years, I think, and although it is still going strong (luckily) I need to be able to do the sort of work I do for schools now a days, considerably more quickly. Actually, having said that, I don’t know why. If the computer is slow I get more opportunities to lean back in my chair and spend a happy few moments in an idle day dream. What was I thinking??!!

Having eight years of “stuff” on the old computer means that I’ve probably got about eight years worth of wading through everything before I determine what needs transferring to the new computer and what can happily be discarded. It’s so easy just to copy everything across but I am determined to resist that temptation and keep the new computer relatively clean. So, the old one is still chuntering away on the corner of the desk and every so often I realise that it has something I need and, at that point, we copy it across the network. This one is sweet, I have to say, and I am grateful to the boys for providing excellent technical advice in helping me to decide which one I should purchase. So far, so good and not too much wailing, tearing of hair or gnashing of teeth.

The following caught my eye on the BBC web site.

Teacher presents ‘competitive’, says union 

Apple

The days of apples for presents are gone

Giving presents to teachers is becoming increasingly commercialised and competitive, a teachers’ union warns.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) says pupils and parents should not feel pressurised into buying end-of-term gifts for their teachers.

In a survey of 1,000 of its members, the ATL found 93% had received gifts.

The most popular present was chocolate (85% of gifts), but one teacher was given opera tickets, another Test match tickets and another champagne.

The survey revealed some particularly lavish gifts, which included:

  • A Tiffany bracelet
  • A Mulberry handbag
  • A brace of pheasants

But not every teacher was so fortunate. One received a half-eaten chocolate bar, while another was given a ripped book with pages missing.

And one teacher reportedly received “a second-hand photo album with dog hair all over it”.

After chocolates, flowers or plants were the most popular gift (53%), followed by alcohol (49%) and toiletries (48%).

The most common time of year to receive a gift was at the end of the academic year (70%), followed by religious festivals such as Christmas, Hanukah or Eid (63%).

Most schools and colleges (59%) did not have a policy on gifts from pupils, the ATL survey found.

On Monday, ATL members will debate a motion at their annual conference in Manchester on whether the practice of giving gifts has become too competitive.

Primary school teacher Chris Clarke said: “Although I am very grateful that pupils and their parents appreciate what I do for them, I do feel that in our school there is a culture of present-giving that can become almost unhealthy.

“I make a point of especially praising those pupils who make gifts or cards rather than buy them.”

Pressure from shops
Kathy White, a head of department in a further education college, said: “I think the pressure to give gifts to teachers has been increased by the card shops as at the end of year there are a wide range of gifts.

“The best ‘gift’ I have ever received is a card made by a group of learners where each contributed, adding how I had changed their lives and how my belief in them had motivated them.”

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Although most staff like getting presents from their pupils to show their hard work is appreciated, they don’t expect them.

“Staff certainly don’t want their pupils to feel they have to give presents and feel humiliated if they can’t afford to do so.

“Staff are just as delighted by a handmade gift or card – the thought really does count.”

The ATL surveyed 1,016 primary, secondary and further education staff in February and March.

Well, I certainly never received a Tiffany bracelet when I was teaching and, indeed, I am struggling to remember ever having received a gift at all. (Perhaps it’s mainly primary aged pupils who tend to give presents, he says hopefully).

And finally, this was also on the BBC site sometime this week:

ButterA butter sculptor from Leicestershire is hoping his minutely detailed works of art will win the world cup at a competition in Luxembourg.

Vipula Athukorale is aiming to claim the top prize at the Salon International de la Gastronomie in November against other food artists.

The level of detail in his work is so fine that he cannot even breathe on the butter before cutting figures.

He explains to Nina Warhurst how he gets the level of detail into his work.

And, if you want to see some of these masterpieces and to know what he says to Nina Warhurst, you can find the clip here.

And finally, finally, the bastards have done it again. I woke up this morning to discover that the idiots have taken another hour from me without my consent. I looked out the window at the sheep in the neighbouring field and they couldn’t care less what time the clock said; they were happily grazing. The wood pigeon on the pergola similarly didn’t give a toss for the time of day: the sun was up and so was he/she. Why do we put up with it??!!

Love to you all,

Greg

 

21 March 2010

Man, is my NCAA basketball bracket in a mess after yesterday’s upsets. How is everyone else’s? At least my overall pick for the championship is still in the mix.

According to an article on the Guardian web site, Spring is getting ready to EXPLODE in the UK. “Get on with it,” is what we say!

Apparently, this has been the longest and hardest winter in the UK for thirty years with twice as many frosty nights as usual. Well, at least that’s what the Met Office (those pesky weather forecasters) say and, while they may not be so hot at predicting the weather, I guess they do know what they’re talking abut when they are reflecting on the weather gone by. So, I think we’ll have to take their word for it and, I have to say, this is also our perception.

Snowdrops at Chipping WardenAccording to the article, swathes of the countryside which should be green by now are still dull and grey and many spring flowers could be delayed by up to a month! But it’s not all bad news: amongst those celebrating the late arrival of spring are galanthophiles or lovers of Snowdrops (no, I didn’t know what it meant either). Indeed, our personal observations would suggest that there certainly are an abundance of snowdrops this year, great swathes of white brushed across the river banks and under the trees. Others who are delighted with the news of a record-breaking cold winter are those who enjoy the company of bats; the hard, cold winter provides an opportunity for a deep, refreshing hibernation, especially amongst the baby bats. So, that’s good news.

On the other hand, small birds traditionally suffer through a cold winter as do herons and kingfishers if the water is frozen for any significant period of time. Thank goodness Penelope’s Pantry provided some welcome sustenance during the really cold and snowy days.

Still, today is the vernal equinox so at least we are headed in the right direction. And, according to the same article, the swallows, swifts, willow warblers, ring ouzel and housemartins are well on their migratory way back to the UK. We’ll let you know when ours arrive.

Now for the bad news: the Met Office is “predicting” that Spring is set to explode. However, based on previous experiences, their powers of prediction are somewhat limited (witness last summer’s prediction of a “barbeque” summer and the repeated warnings of Himalayan snow-drifts). Since they’ve now predicted it, does this mean that Spring will never arrive?

I commented a few weeks ago about the 40 something males who participate in a vigorous workout in the Jacuzzi at the gym each week. I have another observation which I hope someone can explain. Why are adolescent young men under the impression that spraying litres of aerosol deodorant all over themselves is a substitute for soap and water?

VI see these lads in the changing rooms who have just returned from a strenuous bit of exercise; they might have been lifting weights in the gym or, more probably, played in a football/soccer match in the sports hall. They come to the changing room dripping with perspiration yet the concept of a shower after exercise is clearly absurd. So, instead they wipe themselves off with a towel, get dressed and then proceed to spray enough aerosol deodorant to suffocate a small village all over themselves and, get this, their clothes!

Notice that the preferred sequence is to get at least partially dressed before utilising the deodorant – I am not kidding nor making this up. After getting more or less dressed, they open their shirt and spray their underarms, chest and stomach. I’ve not yet observed anyone stretching the band of their Jockey shorts to spray their nether regions but I am guessing that this is not beyond the realm of possibility. Then, having ensured that the top half of their torso is sufficiently deodorised, they then spray all over their shirt and/or sweater as well!

Clearly their objective here is to mask the stench of their exercise with the “perfume” provided by the deodorant, rather similar to the way in which the Elizabethan aristocracy would indeed use perfume to mask their smells in the 16th century. Still, this is the 21st century and we have ready access to plentiful, warm water and soap. I appreciate that the advertising industry has convinced generations that the only way a young woman/girl will be remotely interested in you is because of the scent provided by a particular brand of deodorant but I am not buying it.

Perhaps it’s just a matter of saving time or perhaps it’s because they’re hoping that any young women who venture sufficiently close to these lads will be overcome by the fumes and faint at their feet. Any thoughts?

Yours smelling lovely without the use of gallons of deodorant,

Love to you all,

Greg

14 March 2010

Good morning to you all on what hopefully looks as if it could turn in to a fairly reasonable and tolerable day. The sky is clear (at the moment), the temperature, while not excessively comfortable is, at least not flesh-freezingly frigid and the forecast is not half bad. If it doesn’t deteriorate we could be looking at the first real bike ride of the new decade! We’ll see.

While I didn’t get to physically meet her, I recently had the opportunity of accompanying Ms Playchute to the home of her New Best Friend. She was walking Molly across the fields the other day and came across a woman who was similarly walking two golden retrievers. They got to chatting as fellow dog-walkers often do and, during the course of the discussion Penny was asked whether she was a gardener. When the answer was in the affirmative, Penny’s NBF revealed that she has an enormous mountain of fabulously, well-rotted horse manure and that if Ms Playchute wanted any she was more than welcome to come round and remove any amount.

We’ve had previous descriptions In the Befouled Weakly News of the affection with which Ms Playchute adores well-rotted manure. So, as you can imagine, when Penelope arrived home after the walk she was ecstatic with delight and, a few days later at the first available opportunity, she scoured the garage and back garden collecting every conceivable container so that she could go along and collect a car-full of manure. Naturally, I was anxious and keen to be of assistance, hence my opportunity of visiting the home of Penelope’s NBF. It seems that the NBF was off to their holiday home in France for a week or so but we were able to clamber all over a smouldering pile of poo and transport several car-loads back which have now been dispersed around the raised vegetable beds and the back borders. She still needs several more loads so perhaps I’ll get to meet the NBF after all.

We’ve had a couple of great days this week in the sense of being bright and sunny but it has remained stubbornly cold. Still, Spring cannot be too far away: the snow drops are up, the daffodils are just about ready to pop open, yesterday Leamington was awash with the lovely colours of swathes of crocuses and some of the trees are just beginning to show the faintest tinge of colour at the tips of the branches. Surely, it won’t be too much longer, please!

Our expedition to Leamington yesterday was to provide some modest assistance to Nick and Lucy who were moving from one side of the town to the other. The new place is in Cubbington very near where they lived for a number of years on Roxburgh Crescent. The new place – 111 Stirling Avenue, Cubbington, Leamington Spa, CV32 7HW – is very nice and, most importantly, has more room and a nice garden. In particular, it has more space in one of the three bedrooms so that Nick can have a bit more space in his study for all the stuff he needs. Once they get settled it will be very nice indeed.

Finally, here’s something that we never knew before!

Absent-mindedness is a middle-aged male problem, research shows
Women come out best in listening and recollection tests in study by University of London’s Institute of Education

It’s been an endless source of aggravation between the sexes; how can men so easily forget birthdays, anniversaries, and even friends’ names?

Not, it seems, because they cannot be bothered to remember. Research suggests that, in middle age at least, absent-minded-ness is a particularly male problem.

At the age of 50, women’s verbal memory outperforms their male counterparts by a significant margin, a report by the Institute of Education, University of London suggests.

A survey of more than 9,600 middle-aged British men and women showed that women outscored men in two listening and recollection tests.

“Men performed significantly more poorly in the verbal memory tests: particularly on the delayed memory test,” the authors, Matthew Brown and Brian Dodgeon, said.

“This was quite a surprising result, since women turning 50 tend to do worse: another study has shown that during the menopause women do not do so well.”

Participants in the first test listened to 10 common words being read out and were then given two minutes to recall as many as possible. The second test required them to list the same 10 words about five minutes later. Women scored almost 5% more than men, on average, in the first test, and nearly 8% more in the second.

Women were less accurate in a third test requiring them to cross out as many “Ps” and “Ws” as possible in a page filled with rows of random letters. They had, however, scanned letters faster than men.

In a fourth test, naming as many animals as they could in a minute, men and women had identical scores. Each could name 22 animals, on average. The study did not test whether men are better than women at recalling numbers; previous studies have shown that women tend to do better on word recognition tests.

Those tested were members of the National Child Development Study who have been tracked since their birth in 1958. They were tested at age 16, and the latest tests will help estimate the impact that exercise, diet, smoking, alcohol and depression have had on mental abilities. Initial analysis shows those who exercised at least once a month did better on all tests, on average, than those who did not. Non-smokers, including ex-smokers, also outscored smokers in the first of the “word recall” tests, even after social background was taken into consideration.

“Although measuring gender differences was not the central purpose of tests, the differences between men and women were interesting,” the authors said.

Well, thank goodness for that. I thought I was beginning to lose my mind!

Love to you all,

Greg

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