7 March 2010

Good morning on what looks like it could be a moderately promising day. We’ve had a couple of positively grand days during the week – perhaps not quite as warm as one might like but the clear, blue skies and bright sunshine almost make up for the fact that the temperature is still only slightly on the right side of buggeringly cold. Still, a few photos will brighten things up.

Molly and Ms Playchute on the walk at Edgecote
Old stone bridge over the Cherwell at Edgecote
Fence at Edgecote
Old wall at Edgecote
Sluice gate on the mill pond at Edgecote House
Old door to the vegetable garden at Edgecote
Snowdrops at Edgecote House
Snowdrops and Celandine at Chipping Warden

Molly and Ms Playchute on the walk at Edgecote

Old stone bridge over the Cherwell at Edgecote

Fence at Edgecote

Old wall at Edgecote

Sluice gate on the mill pond at Edgecote House

Old door to the vegetable garden at Edgecote

Snowdrops at Edgecote House

Snowdrops and Celandine at Chipping Warden

Ms Playchute and I made our annual expedition to the Byfield Quiz Night yesterday evening and emerged relatively unscathed from the adventure. For some reason, a couple in the village (the woman from whom we borrowed the apartment in Prague a few years ago) seem to have come to the woefully mistaken conclusion that we are some sort of asset on a Quiz team and, in spite of our protestations that nothing could be further from the truth, as well as our pathetic performances year after year, they always give us a call in the middle of February to secure our services at the annual quiz night in early March. Naturally, it’s as much as either Ms Playchute or myself can do to remember our names for the entry form but yesterday evening we were on top form, finishing fourth overall. (And, before you speculate that there were four teams in the evening’s competition, let me assure you that there were considerably more than four. Well, there were sixteen so still not too bad).

And, even better, for the first time in as long as I can remember, we actually won one of the raffle prizes. I am now the proud owner of a set of “Lamborghini” eau de toilette and body spray which looks as if it has been passed around every raffle competition since the early 1970s. I can see a donation to another local charitable event in my future. Hmm, I wonder if whomever originally donated this all those years ago is still around to have a chance to win it back again?

Not sure what quality and quantity of coverage you’ve had of the Chilcott enquiry, if any. This is the enquiry into the decision to go to war in Iraq and an investigation into the way in which the war has been conducted. We’ve now had all the “big players” and it is very interesting to note the ways in which they were all 100% correct about the decisions taken, that no mistakes have been made and that they would do the same thing again.

Alistair Campbell testified some weeks ago. He was Tony Blair’s principal adviser during the period and he is widely credited with authoring the “dodgy dossier” which claimed that Iraq could launch its weapons of mass destruction threatening the UK in forty-five minutes. Much of the analysis in the dossier was plagiarised from a PhD student off the internet, it seems and all three statements have since been widely discredited. Yet he is still adamant that the dossier was accurate. What planet do these people live on? If you say something sufficiently often with sufficient purpose does it somehow become true?

Then we had the blessed St Tony himself who similarly had no regrets, made no mistakes and would do exactly the same thing again. He did get himself into a bit of a muddle having forgotten that the war, originally, was intended to get rid of all those pesky weapons of mass destruction. He was, it seems, OK with the concept of regime change right from the outset, even though that would clearly have been illegal under international law.

And on Friday we had Gordon Brown’s initial testimony. Again, you will no doubt be surprised to learn that no mistakes were made, that he would support the war again and that the service personnel have had all the resources and equipment that money can buy (which will come as a surprise to the military personnel who have been clamouring for more equipment, particularly helicopters, almost from day one). At least Gordon did have the sensitivity to express “regret” at all the lives which have been lost, something that Tony did not do even when handed the opportunity on a platter by the enquiry. I suppose, above all, it really is true that politicians learn nothing from either their own mistakes or the evidence of history.

I ran across the following on the Time web site a few days ago although it’s also been on the BBC web site and several others. Apologies for the length.

Study: Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?
By John Cloud Friday, Feb. 26, 2010
The notion that liberals are smarter than conservatives is familiar to anyone who has spent time on a college campus. The College Democrats are said to be ugly, smug and intellectual; the College Republicans, pretty, belligerent and dumb. There’s enough truth in both stereotypes that the vast majority of college students opt not to join either club.

But are liberals actually smarter? A libertarian (and, as such, nonpartisan) researcher, Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science, has just written a paper that is set to be published in March by the journal Social Psychology Quarterly. The paper investigates not only whether conservatives are dumber than liberals but also why that might be so.

The short answer: Kanazawa’s paper shows that more-intelligent people are more likely to say they are liberal. They are also less likely to say they go to religious services. These aren’t entirely new findings; last year, for example, a British team found that kids with higher intelligence scores were more likely to grow into adults who vote for Liberal Democrats, even after the researchers controlled for socioeconomics. What’s new in Kanazawa’s paper is a provocative theory about why intelligence might correlate with liberalism. He argues that smarter people are more willing to espouse “evolutionarily novel” values — that is, values that did not exist in our ancestral environment, including weird ideas about, say, helping genetically unrelated strangers (liberalism, as Kanazawa defines it), which never would have occurred to us back when we had to hunt to feed our own clan and our only real technology was fire.

Kanazawa offers this view of how such novel values sprang up in our ancestors: Imagine you are a caveman (if it helps, you are wearing a loincloth and have never shaved). Lightning strikes a tree near your cave, and fire threatens. What do you do? Natural selection would have favored the smart specimen who could quickly conceive answers to such a problem (or other rare catastrophes like sudden drought or flood), even if — or maybe especially if — those answers were unusual ones that few others in your tribe could generate. So, the theory goes, genes for intelligence got wrapped up with genes for unnatural thinking.

It’s an elegant theory, but based on Kanazawa’s own evidence, I’m not sure he’s right. In his paper, Kanazawa begins by noting, accurately, that psychologists don’t have a good understanding of why people embrace the values they do. Many kids share their parents’ values, but at the same time many adolescents define themselves in opposition to what their parents believe. We know that most people firm up their values when they are in their 20s, but some people experience conversions to new religions, new political parties, new artistic tastes and even new cuisines after middle age. As Kanazawa notes, this multiplicity of views — a multiplicity you find within both cultures and individuals — is one reason economists have largely abandoned the study of values with a single Latin phrase, De gustibus non est disputandum: there’s no accounting for taste.

Kanazawa doesn’t disagree, but he believes scientists can account for whether people like new tastes or old, radical tastes or Establishment ones. He points out that there’s a strong correlation between liberalism and openness to new kinds of experiences. But openness to new experience isn’t necessarily intelligent (cocaine is fun; accidental cocaine overdose is not).

So are liberals smarter? Kanazawa quotes from two surveys that support the hypothesis that liberals are more intelligent. One is the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which is often called Add Health. The other is the General Social Survey (GSS). The Add Health study shows that the mean IQ of adolescents who identify themselves as “very liberal” is 106, compared with a mean IQ of 95 for those calling themselves “very conservative.” The Add Health study is huge — more than 20,000 kids — and this difference is highly statistically significant.

But self-identification is often misleading; do kids really know what it means to be liberal? The GSS data are instructive here: Kanazawa found that more-intelligent GSS respondents (as measured by a quick but highly reliable synonym test) were less likely to agree that the government has a responsibility to reduce income and wealth differences. In other words, intelligent people might like to portray themselves as liberal. But in the end, they know that it’s good to be the king.

The jury may be out on whether conservatives are less intelligent than liberals, but there’s evidence that they may be physically stronger. Last year, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a fascinating paper by Aaron Sell, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The authors measured the strength of 343 students using weight-lifting machines at a gym. The participating students completed questionnaires designed to measure, among other things, their proneness to anger, their history of fighting and their fondness for aggression as a way to solve both individual and geopolitical problems.

Sell, Tooby and Cosmides found that men (but not women) with the most physical strength were the most likely to feel entitled to good treatment, anger easily, view themselves as successful in winning conflicts and believe in physical force as a tool for resolving interpersonal and international conflicts. Women who thought of themselves as pretty showed the same pattern of greater aggression. All of which means that if you are a liberal who believes you’re smarter than conservatives, you probably shouldn’t bring that up around them. You might not like them when they’re angry.

I guess I must be very, very smart!

Love to you all,


28 February 2010

Well, you will no doubt be pleased to hear that we’ve had no more snow this week apart from the odd, occasional flurry at the beginning of the week. Now, instead, we have fields of mud and overflowing rivers. The dog particularly enjoys the “hosing down” ritual which now follows both our morning and afternoon walks and is especially delighted that she is not allowed into either lounge until she dries off. Sleeping in a damp coat on a cold, hardwood floor must be doggie heaven.

It’s been a somewhat busy week – I’ve actually done some work and earned a bit of money! I also attended a course in Northampton on Sales & Marketing on Wednesday run by a local organisation called Business Link. They are very supportive of new businesses and run a variety of workshops and seminars on various aspects of running your own business. Unfortunately, this particular course was not very inspiring or informative. It felt rather as if I were sitting in on a Grade 6 Business Studies lesson, i.e., did you know that when you work out what to charge for your goods or services you really ought to include your overheads? Also, you mustn’t forget to include an element of profit. Duh!

The other aspect of the course which was less than outstanding was the interminable “role playing” and “games” the tutor employed to get his message across. One such exercise involved coming up with a few descriptive terms to fit particular industries. The idea was to encourage us budding entrepreneurs to think of the “benefits” and “value” of the goods or services we were selling. When selling to potential customers you describe the benefits but you “sell” the value. Our group was given the task of coming up with some terms to describe the insurance industry so naturally, in a heartbeat, I offered “crooks”, “liars” and “cheats.” Not surprisingly this raised a few eyebrows – apparently the others were thinking of terms such as “security” and “peace of mind.” So, when questioned I explained our recent experiences with the insurance industry and said that our dealings with them left us feeling that their initial reaction to any claim is to reject it. Unfortunately, there was no one at the session who was intending to start their own insurance business so I succeeded in insulting no one. However, at the next break one of the course delegates came up to me to express his support of my position. He explained that he used to work for a well-known UK insurance company and confirmed to me what I had often felt – the company employs a fleet of people whose specific task is to work out ways of denying any claims which are submitted. Rather like the charming young lady who explained to me that our insurance policy does not cover damage caused by leaking pipes in spite of the policy saying it would cover damage caused by leaking pipes. Certainly, the lesson I’ve learned through all this is that one needs to be very hard-nosed and not take “No” for an answer.

A couple of amusing titbits this week. (Well, I found them amusing and/or interesting at any rate). Firstly, I was struck by the irony of the following from the Grand Rapids Press:

In February, the Board of Trustees of Saugatuck Township, Mich., scheduled a May referendum asking voters for an increase in the property tax in order to cover unanticipated new expenses. The budget overrun was due to the mounting costs of defending lawsuits by people and companies complaining that the Township’s property taxes are too high.

The following is from the BBC web site and, I have to confess, sounds somewhat familiar. If we’ve had it before, I apologise:

‘Most unfortunate names’ revealed

Imagine growing up as Annette Curtain or Tim Burr
What do you call some of the most unlucky people in Britain?

Justin Case, Barb Dwyer and Stan Still.

It sounds like a bad joke, but a study has revealed that there really are unfortunate people with those names in the UK.

Joining them on the list are Terry Bull, Paige Turner, Mary Christmas and Anna Sasin.

And just imagine having to introduce yourself to a crowd as Doug Hole or Hazel Nutt.

The names were uncovered by researchers from parenting group TheBabyWebsite.com after trawling through online telephone records.

Retired airman Stan Still, 76, from Cirencester, Gloucestershire, said his name had been “a blooming millstone around my neck my entire life”.

“When I was in the RAF my commanding officer used to shout, ‘Stan Still, get a move on’ and roll about laughing,” he said.

“It got hugely boring after a while.”

Pearl Button
Jo King
Barry Cade
Carrie Oakey
Priti Manek
Tim Burr

But 51-year-old Rose Bush, from Coventry, West Midlands, said she loved her name.

“I always get comments about it but they are always very positive,” she said.

Researchers also scoured phone records in the US and found some unlikely names there too.

Spare a thought for Anna Prentice, Annette Curtain and Bill Board the next time you sign your name.

A string of Americans also have very job-specific names, including Dr Leslie Doctor, Dr Thoulton Surgeon and Les Plack – a dentist in San Francisco.

A spokesman for TheBabyWebsite.com said: “When the parents of some of those people mentioned named their children, many probably didn’t even realise the implications at the time.

“Parents really do need to think carefully though when choosing names for their children.

“Their name will be with them for life and what may be quirky and fun for a toddler might be regretted terribly when that person becomes older or even a grandparent perhaps.”

And finally, finally, how about the Ryanair passenger who ate his winning lottery ticket because the cabin crew did not have 10,000 Euros in cash. Huh?

Angry Ryanair passenger eats his winning scratchcard
A Ryanair passenger who became enraged when he was told he could not claim a scratchcard prize on his flight ate his winning ticket.

The man was flying from Poland to the East Midlands on a Ryanair flight when he won 10,000 euros (£8,765) on a scratchcard he had purchased on board.

Ryanair confirmed he ate his ticket on 26 February after cabin staff refused to pay him the winnings immediately.

The airline said it could not reveal the winner’s identity.

Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara said the cabin crew and some passengers urged the man not to eat the ticket, but he stood up and ate it anyway.

Charity windfall
He said it appears the passenger acted out of frustration and anger.

Mr McNamara explained that all winners must be verified before the cash prizes are handed out.

He said the airline crew did not have the cash “kicking around the aircraft” and in any case the prize had to be collected directly from the scratchcard company.

“In the last two years Ryanair’s scratchcards have given away 10 cars, more than €300,000 in cash prizes and more than 100,000 flight vouchers,” he said.

Since the prize will now go unclaimed, the money will be donated to charity, he added.

The winning charity will be chosen from a list of five charities in a web vote.

Love to you all,



21 February 2010

Google Stop the Snow SearchSeriously now. Those of you in the arctic northeast need to help us out here – who do we need to contact to stop the snow? Just when we thought we could see the first glimpses of Spring beginning to emerge, it starts again.

I had imagined there might be a web site somewhere which handles these sorts of requests. However, of the “approximately” 109,000,000 sites Google presented in response to the query “how to stop snow”, none look particularly promising.

Google Results - Stop the Snow Search


Ms Playchute and I were just talking the other day about the tips of the daffodils beginning to show themselves and how walking the dog at 5.00 in the evening was no longer conducted in pitch darkness and naturally concluded that we were ready to turn the corner into Spring. Then, on Wednesday we had some intermittent showers of sleet and snow, which fortunately never amounted to much. On Thursday, however, after a similar start to the day we watched in mounting despair as the weather deteriorated and the snow attacked again. So, if someone could please forward the relevant web site or contact details we would be very appreciative.

It seems a long time ago now but if your Valentine’s Day was a fraction as good as mine we both had a fantastic time. My sweetheart pulled out all the stops and prepared a fantastic and romantic meal – small recompense for the “amusing” e-mail I dispatched to my loved one. Pork medallions wrapped in pâté in a pastry case and a delicious Jerusalem artichoke au gratin followed by a lemon tarte with ice cream, cherries and blueberries. All washed down with a half decent bottle of Graves. Absolutely fantastic.

I was at the gym the other day and was mightily impressed by the work ethics of one particular pair of chaps. I suspect these two have been shamed by their wives into joining the gym due to the excesses of the Christmas holiday period (and many other protracted periods of excess, to look at them). So, off they go to the gym to return home an hour or so later wearing the warm glow of a decently strenuous workout to the undoubted satisfaction of the two wives. What the wives don’t realise is that the “workout” these two put themselves through consists of (a) enter the changing rooms and get changed into shorts/swim trunks; (b) climb into the Jacuzzi; (c) simmer gently for twenty minutes or until the flesh is beet red; (d) emerge from the Jacuzzi; (e) get dressed and (f) arrive home telling the wife what a vigorous workout they’ve just been through. Now why didn’t I think of that?

I guess I am getting to be a “grumpy old man” but I was struck by the following nonsense:

The Kirklees (West Yorkshire, England) Environmental Health department cited farmer Ronald Norcliffe, 65, in 2008 for inadequate lighting in his barn, which inspectors said failed to meet the “psychological needs” of his one cow and her calf. In his formal appeal, heard in October 2009, Norcliffe noted (unsuccessfully) that he has had a clean record as a farmer for 30 years and that in fact, he still lives fine without electricity in his own house. After his defeat, Norcliffe’s lawyer sighed. “I still have no idea how much lighting is appropriate for a cow.”

I’m all for high quality animal welfare but what next? Will farmer’s soon be obliged to provide satellite television or broadband internet access for their livestock? How about a Jacuzzi to help reduce stress and anxiety?

The following also caught my eye this week. Hardly surprising being, as it is, about French wine.

France wine producers guilty of US scandal
A dozen French winemakers and traders have been found guilty of a massive scam to sell 18 million bottles of fake Pinot Noir to a leading US buyer.

The judge in Carcassonne, south-west France, said the producers and traders had severely damaged the reputation of the Languedoc region.

The 12 more than doubled profits passing off the wine to E and J Gallo under its Red Bicyclette brand.

E and J Gallo was not involved in the court case.

In a statement on its website it said it was “deeply disappointed” to learn its supplier, Sieur d’Arques, had been found guilty of selling falsely labelled French Pinot Noir.

‘No complaints’
The court ruled the 12 had deliberately and repeatedly mislabelled the wine as one of the more expensive varieties of grape in order to get a better price from E and J Gallo.

The Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir single grape wine is hugely popular in the United States.

French Customs officers spotted the swindle and called in investigators.

They found the amount of Pinot Noir being sold to Gallo was far more than the region produced. Some of those in the scandal were not even Pinot Noir producers.

The judge handed out suspended jail sentences ranging from one month to six months for the most prominent wine trader and ordered all the defendants to pay fines.

The fines ranged from 1,500 euros ($2,050; £1,300) to the top figure of 180,000 euros ($247,050; £156,500) for Sieur d’Arques. The judge said that the accused together made seven million euros in profits from the scam.

The judge said: “The scale of the fraud caused severe damage for the wines of the Languedoc for which the United States is an important outlet.”

A lawyer for Sieur d’Arques, Jean-Marie Bourland, told Agence France-Presse: “There is no prejudice. Not a single American consumer complained.”

A lawyer for three other defendants argued his clients had delivered a wine that had Pinot Noir characteristics.

E and J Gallo said it was no longer selling any of the wine to its customers.

So, the perpetrators were fined something like $2000 up to the largest fine of almost $250,000. Not a bad price to pay for a scam which made a profit of $9.5 million. Unless I’m missing something here, haven’t they come out on top (apart from the obvious damage to their reputation, of course)? I was particularly impressed by the claim by one of the lawyers for three of the defendants that they “had delivered a wine that had Pinot Noir characteristics.” Yep, that part is certainly true. It was red.

And as for the suggestion that “Not a single American consumer complained.” Come on, people! Even for an amateur like me, it’s not that difficult to tell the difference between Pinot Noir and Merlot.

And finally, finally, finally, I was delighted to read of the excellent security arrangements at a recent criminal trial in London.

There were no gunshots, kidnaps or car chases through London, it was instead a very understated escape. In the midst of a fourth criminal trial for a £1.75m armed robbery, Peter Blake walked unnoticed out of the door of the Royal Courts of Justice and failed to return.

Police and prosecuting sources privately voiced anger and frustration at the ease with which a man facing the first major criminal trial to take place without a jury in more than 400 years had gone on the run. Blake was one of four defendants charged over a robbery at Heathrow airport in 2004.

The sources pointed out that Blake’s bail application had been opposed by the prosecution on the grounds that he might abscond and because of the serious nature of the offences.

Suspicions were first raised when Blake did not appear in the dock after the lunch break on Wednesday. When he failed to show up again yesterday morning it became clear he might not be returning.

Yes, failing to turn up for the second day in a row might be a clue.

Love to you all,



14 February 2010

So, the snow started to fall as I began to watch the Superbowl and continued throughout the duration. I guess it really is true – hell has frozen over and the New Orleans Saints are Superbowl champions. Who would have thought it? The snow stayed until Friday when the temperature finally crawled above freezing and the sun shone at least long enough to get rid of most of the remaining evidence. Still, nowhere near the quantity those of you in the East seem to have enjoyed (although it seems that whenever I speak with Mom and Dad all the snow seems to have fallen elsewhere). Well, wherever it has fallen, they are welcome to it – we’ve had enough to keep us more than satisfied.

We had the opportunity on Tuesday evening of attending another free preview screening courtesy of our satellite provider. This time the film was Everybody’s Fine with Robert De Niro, Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore and Sam Rockwell. It’s about a man (De Niro) who has recently lost his wife and tries to reconnect with his children. They are scattered all over the continental US and so, when they come up with a range of excuses to avoid coming to see him, he sets off on a road trip across America by train and bus intending to surprise each of them in turn. Each of the children has their own set of problems and circumstances but they are anxious not to “worry” their father, particularly since their mother passed away as it was she in whom they always confided. Eventually, they recognise that their father is reaching out to them and they realise that he can handle the imperfections in their lives. Good film with a strong cast and excellent acting, particularly De Niro, unsurprisingly.

I have to say that there was almost carnage in the cinema when Ms Playchute spotted the e-ticket I had printed to enable us to secure free entry to the film. The ticket read “Everybodys Fine”, i.e., no apostrophe! This precipitated a rant which might have resulted in violence directed at the cinema staff had I not spotted that the poster advertising the film did possess the missing apostrophe. It was clearly our satellite provider who was incapable of using correct English. Whew!

Learning from last time, we avoided the “all you can eat” establishments and instead patronised the local branch of Frankie & Benny’s, an allegedly “New York Italian 50s style” chain which was fine. Speaking, as we were, of missing apostrophes, whilst dining we enjoyed another such moment although this one did not precipitate a rant. A gentleman walked past our table wearing a T-shirt on which was printed: “I’m drunk but your still ugly!” One glance at the man and the T-shirt he was wearing was enough to confirm, in our minds anyway, that he probably would not be aware of the error he was broadcasting to the world.

The other excitement of the week was Molly’s visit to the vets. A few weeks ago we noticed that she was limping quite significantly and, upon investigation we could see that she had a very swollen left front foot which seemed inflamed as if it was infected. Penny took her to the vets and they squeezed the sore spot and managed to expel some foreign matter which probably had originally been a thorn or similar. They gave her some antibiotics and told us that they “hoped” that would be the end of it.

Alas, it was not to be. On Tuesday she was limping again and the foot was similarly inflamed so, on Wednesday, they had her in to open it up and see if there was anything left. It seems, in the end, that there wasn’t anything left and so, presumably, the antibiotics had not quite got rid of the infection. So, she’s now on more antibiotics and, of course, had to be dissuaded from licking the wound necessitating the application of the famous satellite collar which is so beloved of small animals everywhere. If it weren’t so sad it could have been quite amusing to watch as she wandered around the house continually bumping into furniture and door frames. After a day of that we resorted to the black sock over the affected foot which seems to have worked well. The wound is much improved and she seems not to have much inclination to lick it.

Finally, here is wishing you all a very happy Valentine’s day. There is a short history of Valentine’s day here and, if you are so inclined, you can have a go at a Dating through the Ages game here. Alternatively, enjoy a little Valentine’s trivia:

Valentine’s Trivia about Flowers and Chocolates

  • Be My Valentine110 million roses, the majority colour red, will be sold and delivered within a three-day time period.
  • The red rose was the favourite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Red stands for strong feelings
  • California produces 60 percent of American roses, but the vast number sold on Valentine’s Day in the United States are imported, mostly from South America.
  • 15% of U.S. women send themselves flowers on Valentine’s Day.
  • 73% of people who buy flowers for Valentine’s Day are men, while only 27 percent are women.
  • More than 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold for Valentine’s Day.
  • While 75% of chocolate purchases are made by women all year long, during the days and minutes before Valentine’s Day, 75% of the chocolate purchases are made by men.
  • Over $1billion USD worth of chocolate is purchased for Valentine’s Day.
  • One-third of all Valentine cards are accompanied by gifts.
  • An estimated 25% of Valentine’s Day cards are humorous.
  • 70% of those celebrating the holiday give a card, followed by a telephone call [49%], gift [48%], special dinner [37%], candy [33%] restaurant meal [30%], and flowers [19%].
  • The Italian city of Verona, where Shakespeare’s lovers Romeo and Juliet lived, receives about 1,000 letters addressed to Juliet every Valentine’s Day.
  • About 3% of pet owners will give Valentine’s Day gifts to their pets. (Probably chocolate.)
  • The most fantastic gift of love is the Taj Mahal in India. It was built by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan as a memorial to his wife.

Well, I’ve not built her the Taj Mahal but I was thinking, in the Spring, that I would make her a compost bin – do you think that will work?

Love to you all,


7 February 2010

Oh my goodness – what a weekend to work my way through! Not only did the Six Nations Rugby Union competition begin this weekend but so too does the cycling Tour of Qatar, not to mention the small matter of that American football game which kicks off sometime tonight. So much sport to watch on the television and so little time. Even Ms Playchute recognised the futility of her position and volunteered to take the dog for its afternoon promenade yesterday leaving me on the sofa to watch the Italy v Ireland match followed shortly thereafter by the England v Wales game. This afternoon we have the Scotland v France match to enjoy, Stage One of the Tour of Qatar and then about a five hour gap until the Superbowl tonight. Fortunately, I have a couple of college basketball games queued up on the recorder to help pass the time.

You will be pleased to hear that we are on the home stretch of having the shower damage in the Annexe repaired. The tiler eventually arrived to fix the tiles in the shower, the plumber has reconnected the pipes and on Friday we had the arrival of the plasterer to repair the damaged plaster in the bedroom. The painter/decorator arrives next week and seemingly needs two days to paint the bathroom and bedroom although Ms Playchute has insisted that she is going to paint the bedroom, clearly not trusting any of these jokers to do a half competent job.

I imagine you will share our amazement at the bold-faced, brass neck nerve of members of Parliament throughout the ongoing expenses scandal which I have mentioned in the past. It seems that after a nine month investigation, MPs have been ordered to repay something in the region of £1 million and three MPs and one member of the House of Lords exceeded the exploits of their colleagues and will actually face criminal charges. Today’s news is that the three MPs might try to invoke Parliamentary privilege and claim that they are immune from prosecution, a strategy which is sure to win them considerable sympathy from the voting public.

MPs do, indeed, enjoy Parliamentary privilege (dating from 1689, apparently) which is intended to protect freedom of speech in the chamber and so prevent their being charged with slander. Now these three are contemplating invoking the privilege as, of course, they’ve done “nothing wrong.” Now, see if you can work out where they might have gone wrong:

One MP claimed £30,000 on mortgage interest relief over a number of years when, in fact, the mortgage had already been paid off. I don’t know about you, but when I finally pay our mortgage off I am guessing that I will probably notice. I hope (even if I were an MP) I would be intelligent enough to recognise that if one is not making any mortgage payments, one won’t therefore be paying any interest. To claim the non-existent interest back surely must strike most right-thinking people as dishonest, at best and probably a criminal offence.

Another claimed just over £20,000 for “dishonest” IT services and rent on properties which he and his mother owned outright. Again, if I own a property can I really justify claiming that I have to pay some rent? Hmmm. I am guessing that most folks might think that just a tad dishonest?

And the third MP to be charged is responsible for claiming, apparently, the relatively paltry sum of £10,000 for “cleaning services” and “stationery”. Unfortunately, the invoices he submitted to “justify” his expenses were entirely bogus.

Now, help me out here – an MP claims that he spent a sum of money on business-related expenses and submits completely fabricated invoices and then says, when discovered, that he’s done nothing wrong.

Yes, I guess they do need to invoke their Parliamentary privilege as I don’t think many juries are going to let them off.

A couple of stories caught my eye this week. Firstly, there is a short video clip of the incredible ice sculptures from the Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan from the Guardian which you can see here, if you are so minded. And secondly, the Guardian also had an article about the recovery of crates of whiskey which were long suspected to have been entombed by ice outside Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic hut. Whew! That’s a relief.

Here are a couple of the snow sculptures from Sapporo to whet your appetite.

Sapporo Snow Festival Sapporo Snow Festival

Love to you all,


31 January 2010

Some of you will appreciate and understand that as one “matures” it seems that occasionally one’s memory can become a little bit less reliable than it once was. How many of us have entered a room and then paused, trying to recollect what mission had led us to that particular room at that particular time? How many of you, like me, find yourselves halfway up the stairs, completely unable to remember whether you were going up the stairs or down? Me? I regularly forget my name, the name of my wife and children as well as the name of our favourite canine companion. Continue reading “31 January 2010”

24 January 2010

I swear I was not going to relate the continuing saga of our struggles with our insurance company and their agents regarding the damage to the Annexe shower. Continuing incompetence requires full disclosure, I am afraid.

We all know, I guess, that insurance companies are liars, frauds and cheats. They take your money every month quite happily and assure you of their best intentions and continuing love and affection, when in fact they are out to screw you at the first opportunity. So, what follows will come as no surprise to anyone. (By the way, is there anyone on this mailing list who works in the insurance industry? If so, apologies to you the individual but no apologies, I’m afraid to the industry). Continue reading “24 January 2010”

17 January 2010

More snow this week – just about everyone reckons that we’ve probably had enough now so if it could please be switched off that would be great. Do those of you who live in the great frozen Northeast know who we need to contact about that?

[To be fair, it started raining yesterday and this morning we are almost snowless again, so “thank you” to whomever arranged that]. Continue reading “17 January 2010”

10 January 2010

So, we awoke on Wednesday morning to the most significant snow fall we’ve seen in these parts for many years. And here we are at the weekend and it’s still here, with more expected today and tomorrow! Unheard of. Much to my chagrin, the weather forecasters were just about completely accurate in their predictions (although the usual cataclysmic language they use to describe the potential consequences was somewhat excessive, at least for our neighbourhood). Continue reading “10 January 2010”