Monday, 30 November 2015

30 days in November 30 and final...

Today is the last day of 30 days in November, which is just as well because today is the most facile day of them all. What airhead dreamed this one up I wonder? Today is:

Stay at home because you are well day

What an absolutely ridiculous idea to have a day promoting skiving, playing the wag, throwing a sicky, bunking off, wagging it, skipping work, dodging the boss. It’s okay to take time off work because you are genuinely unwell, but taking a day off when you are perfectly fine requires a holiday to be booked otherwise to my mind it’s fraud, taking money under false pretenses and should be punishable by death at the very least.

Excuses, excuses, excuses, I’ve heard them all over my thirty years managing people and some made me angry while others made me smile. You have to accept some of the everyday excuses like getting up late because the alarm clock broke, missing the bus, car break downs, the bus not arriving, my child/partner/other relative is ill or in the cells, I had to go to my granny’s funeral, and my all time favourite passing the buck excuse - being picked on at work. Now, these may sometimes be legitimate excuses for not going into work, however using the same excuse 3 or 4 times a month did tend to try my patience. Just how many grannies can one person have?

On top of that you have those excuses that it hardly seems credible that anyone would attempt to make:

“My son’s hamster got loose and I had to look for it.”

“I was asked by the police to be in an identification parade.”

“I had to do jury service and only got the letter when I got home last night.”

“I dyed my hair and didn’t like the colour.”

“I lost me memory, but it’s back now.”

“I lent my car to my brother and he hasn’t brought it back.”

“I can’t find my keys / shoes / wallet.”

“I had no clean underwear.”

One I particularly liked was made by an otherwise pretty reliable employee who told me she wouldn’t be in because it was too windy and she didn’t want to cross a high motorway bridge.

Oh well, happy days, thank God I no longer have to listen to excuses from employees who might as well told the truth in the first place. I'd have forgiven them - eventually.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

30 days in November 29...

Today is:

Electronic Greetings Day

I’ve been skipping most of the paper cards for years. In fact I wouldn’t bother if it weren’t expected, all they do is clutter up the place and gather dust. Besides my mother in law has this annoying habit of reading and counting them all and then saying things like: 'I see that you didn't get a card from cousin Gertrude this year, I did', or 'only thirty-seven cards this year, last year you had thirty-nine'.

So fluffing what, and just what have our card numbers got to do with her anyway? But then she picks up my personal mail if it is lying about and reads that too like some sort of cold war Stasi agent. What she thinks gives her the right to do this is inexplicable, but she does it anyway.

Fortunately she doesn’t use email or texts, so her future in surveillance (spying) is limited, as at some point I’m sure that I will turn away from paper altogether. Just think of the multi-level advantages if everyone just stopped sending cards to each other (some of whom are people I hardly ever see and sometimes don’t even really know or like). We’d be saving some trees, saving some money, saving the postman’s poor old legs, saving my mother in law from knowing too much (which can be dangerous even if you are Stasi) and saving ourselves a lot of time writing and addressing all those endless bloody cards to people who don't really care.

Sorry if I'm sounding like a Smith's greatest hits CD, but honestly what difference does it make?

And of course on the plus side electronic greetings can be so much more than a scribbled signature and a meaningless, almost illegible bon mot. Electronic greetings are multi dimensional and can be creative with text, photos, videos and music. Just think of how lovely it would be to receive a greeting of fluffy kittens singing silent night or to send a video of your dog destroying the Christmas tree and eating all the presents.

Best of all, those lovely electronic reminders means nobody need ever be forgotten. Not even my mother in law... Mores the pity.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

30 days in November 28...

Aujourd'hui c'est:

French toast day

French toast, yes or no? It's also known as gypsy toast, Spanish toast, German toast and good old eggy bread as we call it in Blighty. This delicacy of a snack is made from bread soaked in beaten eggs and then fried in butter or oil. There are loads of variations and you can eat it topped with fruit, bacon, beans, dripping in syrup or jam, thickly spread with chocolate spread or peanut butter, or you can just eat it au naturel. It’s best to use stale bread because the staler the bread the more it will soak up the eggy mixture without falling apart. Personally I’m not that keen on it, but that’s just me. No offence to the French, not that it’s really a French concoction.

It’s a very old dish, a Latin recipe book dating from the 4th or 5th century mentions bread soaked in milk and later eggs joined the milk mix. It had loads of fancy names in the various European courts: suppe dorate, soupys yn dorye, tostées dorées, payn purdyeu, and was widely eaten all over medieval Europe.

So it appears that French Toast isn’t French at all and predates the founding of France, which might explain why the Germans and Spanish lay claim to it too. According to legend it was dreamed up by an American and the modern French Toast was invented in Albany, New York, by an innkeeper named Joseph French. He created the dish in 1724, and advertised it as ‘French Toast’. But Joe French was grammatically challenged and didn’t use the required apostrophe, hence the whole world thinks that French Toast is a French delicacy and Joe doesn’t get the credit for his egged bread concoction.

It’s strange how these misconceptions come about. French fries were actually invented in Belgium where potatoes were being fried in the late1600s. Of course the French also lay claim to them, but what’s in a name? I was in America when the French refused to join in the Iraq war and suddenly French Fries became Freedom Fries overnight as many American restaurants and hotels refused to use that particular ‘F’ word. That all seems a bit silly now in the light of recent terrible events in Paris.

So there you have it, French toast in a nutshell. I wonder what it tastes like smothered in Nutella?

Friday, 27 November 2015

30 days in November 27...


As an antidote to Shopping Reminder Day, Black Friday and our consumption driven society today is:

Buy nothing day…

Strangely, it’s also Black Friday, and all across the buying world people are going mad trying to grab a bargain. It started out as an American thing, the day after Thanksgiving when stores slashed prices to the knuckle. Of course where America leads we follow and Black Friday is now firmly with us in the UK. The scenes in some stores last year were unbelievable, people running amok, knocking others down, snatching, grabbing and fighting, smashing the very things they wanted to purchase and all to save a few quid and the certainty of knowing that they won.

What is this compulsion to spend, often on things we don’t need or want? There was a time years ago when I might have been able to answer that. I used to love a bargain, but over the years I realised that those bargains I bought were often of little or no use to me. I once bought a hundred sets of oil paints because they were a bargain. I still have them, but most of the oils are now so dry I don’t think they’ll ever make it onto canvas. I’ve lost track of the numbers of pairs of shoes I’ve bought only to almost immediately find them uncomfortable. Even food bargains don’t appear to be the bargains you think they are at the time. We regularly clear our freezers of bargain items that we’ve forgotten to eat in time or simply didn’t fancy after all.

Can you remember the last time you spent a whole day without buying anything? I can, sometimes I can go days without buying anything at all. Of course that allows for their being food in the fridge and a well stocked wine rack, but I haven’t bought shoes for well over two years and I aim to use things until they break or completely wear away. The computer I’m typing this on is over twelve years old and kept together with sellotape and elastic bands and my phone is two years old, relatively new by my standards. I’d still be using my previous one but it literally fell to pieces in my hand one day after eight long years of service.

Of course there are things we all buy that are an ongoing cost, particularly in these technological times: wifi, phone contracts, TV licences, car transport and increasingly these things seem difficult to live without. But it wasn’t so long ago that I didn’t have any of them apart from the BBC TV licence and, as the old adage goes, I didn’t miss what I never had.

Sometimes I long for more simplicity in my life, the 'less of stuff’ life that I knew as a child. But I know that it’s far too late for me for that to ever happen. I am consumed by consumerism as most of us are, not as much as some, but enough for it to over complicate my life and make me miserable sometimes. But it's all so easy, everything is available at the click of a mouse from films and books, to groceries and gadgets. The pursuit of things doesn’t drive my life, but I still buy things I don’t need simply because I can. I know that I’m in a fortunate position to be able to do that, but maybe a bit of austerity is good for the soul.

Maybe buying nothing, or just less, is the answer.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

30 days in November 26

Here’s a day in November you may like, today is:

Cake day

Let them eat cake? Well, why not, cake is such a comforting food although I’ve never been a huge fan of the Victoria sponge and I detest chocolate cake. In all honesty I really prefer pastries and biscuits, but I will have a slice or two of cake occasionally. I’m partial to coffee and walnut, love a morsel of lemon drizzle, would never turn down a really good ginger and have been known to partake in a slab of rich fruit cake at Christmas.

Some people though would dine on cake morning, noon and night given half the chance. But be careful, cake has its dangers. Take what happened to my old friend Katie Cake for instance…





The Tale of Katie Cake
(or the eruption of Cakeatoa)

Katie Cake, oh Katie Cake,
All she ever did was bake.
Up with dawn all wide awake,
Setting to with no mistake,
As though her very life at stake,
Nor any rest did she ever take,
Although her hands did pain and ache,
Of other food, she’d not partake,
And water too, she did forsake,
She baked until her legs would shake,
Her tiny eyes turned red opaque,
Her mouth would bleed and knees did quake,
The tips of her fingers began to flake,
She mixed so hard her arm did break!
Eating everything that she did make,
Far, far more than she should intake,
Sponge, chocolate, soft cheesecake,
Jam and icing and cream so fake,
Coffee, lemon and cherry fruitcake,
Her baking was a big mistake,
Consumed too much to tolerate,
It gave her such a bellyache,
Her tummy groaned like an earthquake…

And then poor Kate exploded!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

30 days in November 25...

Today is:

Shopping Reminder Day

Oh the joys of Christmas shopping. The crowds, the hustle and bustle, the wandering from shop to shop without a clue what to buy and then finally, the grabbing of stuff in a frenzy of panic buying. How very apt that today is Shopping Reminder Day because as yet I haven’t bought a single thing. Of course it doesn’t help that my wife’s birthday is just twelve days before Christmas, so I have double whammy panic.

Shopping Reminder Day, not that any of us need reminding with just one month left until Christmas and so much left to do, so many presents to buy. This day is a stark reminder of all the shopping I haven’t done, and how little time I have to do it. Less of a celebration, more of a horrifying epiphany, a wake up call to do what I always promise myself I will do and shop early. 

Of course with just a month left I’ve failed again, but this year we are definitely not going to buy too many gifts and spend all of Christmas morning unwrapping presents we don’t need/want/like. This year I’d like to spend half an hour present opening and then hit the fizz. But then we say that every year.

Of course Christmas never quite works out the way you expect. Something usually comes along to blot the snow white landscape, a culinary malfunction, a forgotten important something or other, a raging madman in your kitchen. Well at least that last one is pretty unlikely this year and I’m determined not to let anything else get to me. Let’s face it; although it’s an important day, it isn’t important at all. It’s just a day like any other and it’s us that gives it some deeper significance based around whatever you think it should be.

Of course this doesn’t mean I don’t want a great day and a very merry Christmas; I do. But if it isn’t quite as great as my unrealistic expectations expect then so be it. I’m sure I can deal with it just as long as I get that gift buying sorted out.

I guess it’s time to start shopping.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

30 days in November 24

Today is:

Celebrate your unique talent day

Now there’s the rub. Just what is a unique talent and even if you have talent is it unique? Look I don’t juggle, I only wish I did. I’ve always been okay at drawing, but that doesn’t make me Rembrandt. I can string a few words together, but Shakespeare or Bradbury I’m not. I can cook a little, but I’m never going to be awarded a Michelin star. I like to sing, but I will never attain a number one record. I have green fingers compared to most, but I doubt that I would win any prizes for my marrow.

I think it fair to say I have some talent in a number of areas (some might claim a Jack of all trades and master of none) it gets me by, but do I have a unique talent? Just how may people can claim that? 

Of course we are all unique, made up of our interests, skills and experience and these days you don’t seem to need much of any of them to be admired by the public. There are plenty of people in the spotlight who seem to have no talents at all but who are paid fortunes for their celebrity alone. Does having a large well-publicised bum or being married to a footballer count as a talent? Well, it seems so given the accolades that are strewn on people with no talent other than a smile and the ability to eat bugs and worms.

What about liars? Some people are very talented at lying and pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Their talent isn’t a good thing and it definitely isn’t unique, there are plenty of lying cheats around, but should they throw a party each time they get their own way from screwing somebody over?

Not all talents are good and maybe shouldn’t be celebrated. I’m sure that the Tyburn hangman was very good at tying knots and the keeper of the dungeon in the Tower of London was a very talented torturer. The brains who worked on the Manhattan project were obviously talented physicists and the terrorists who shoot passenger aircraft out of the air are very talented marksmen. Which brings me to serial killers; if your unique talent is that you are very good at murdering people and not getting caught is that really a reason for applause?

Maybe you have to be first to do something well before you can claim to have a unique talent. Of course the problem with that is that it’s only unique until somebody else starts doing it and you know how these things snowball; just look at hula-hooping and yo-yoers.

So maybe rather than celebrating our ‘not at all likely’ unique talent today we should simply be taking stock of who we are and trying to get a bit better at what we are good at.

Maybe I should try juggling.

Monday, 23 November 2015

30 days in November 23...

Today is:

Fibonacci Day

Numbers, numbers, numbers, numbers. At school, I was never very good with them, times-tables and all that shit. At senior school I hated maths lessons, couldn’t do calculus and never passed my O level maths. I’m better these days, after a lifetime of dealing with them, I even passed my GCSE equivalent with top marks. I ‘get’ numbers now and I can see how the universe is just a string of numbers put together by numerical sequences.

Today we celebrate the Fibonacci sequence - a sequence of numbers where each number is the sum of the previous two. It might sound like the title to a Dan Brown novel but the sequence is hidden in the most common things around us: in plants, animals, the stars, computer language, even the human body.

It was first identified by Italian mathematician Leonardo Bonacci, aka Leonardo of Pisa, popularly known as Leonardo Fibonacci - hence the Fibonacci connection (which could be Dan Brown’s follow up to the Fibonacci sequence).

Fibonacci was a clever guy; in his book Liber acaci, Fibonacci posed this puzzle: if there are a pair of newly born rabbits - male and female - in a field and if they are able to produce another pair of rabbits in their second month of life, how many pairs of rabbits will be there after a year? Well you do the maths, but my guess is an awful lot.

Apart from asking deep meaningful questions about rabbits Fibonacci, born in 1170 in Pisa, was also responsible for making the Hindu-Arabic numerals the norm in Europe, explained the use of zero, provided ways to convert between currencies and different measurements, and described how to calculate interest - a bit of a know-it-all banker then.

Looking at the sequence in nature you could be forgiven for erroneously seeing the hand of God in the orderly way it progresses. Many people like to see God in nature and use this as a reason to prove his existence.

Personally I can’t understand why, out of the chaos came order and nature makes things orderly in order to make them work; and when I say nature I simply mean the natural order of things not some imagined supernatural being. It’s a cellular arrangement thing, a numerical sequence, a pattern and I think that we should leave the hand of God firmly where it belongs: on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

30 days in November 22...

Today is:

International aura awareness day

I don’t know where I stand on auras having never seen anyone with a rainbow, or even a halo, surrounding them. Of course if the people who make Ready Brek are to be believed it’s easy to achieve. A bowl or two of gooey instant porridge and we are all set to glow like a resident of Chernobyl.

These days Chernobyl is more theme park than nuclear disaster zone. You can take tours of the area which includes a visit to the Nuclear Power Station, a little sightseeing of Reactor 4, a visit to Pripyat (the highlight of the trip apparently) and sightseeing of  ‘The Dead (Ghost) Town’ with its swimming pool area, Ferris wheel, amusement park, river boats, abandoned buildings and school. Unfortunately, due to the hazardous radiation levels around it the village of Rossokha, a cemetery of military machineries, is currently unavailable, which is encouraging.

Of course, it’s all perfectly safe or so they say. At the end of the tour you pass through the Dytyatky check-point where your radiation is checked and you are deactivated. Of course, along with your camera to take pictures you are allowed a personal dosimeter to measure exposure to your very own personal ionizing radiation.

Chernobyl  was over 25 years ago now and since then ‘Disaster Tourism’ has become quite the thing. You can get tours of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina or visit Eyjafjallajökul which erupted in Iceland in 2010, and there’s still plenty of destruction to see at Bikini Atoll, the site of the first nuclear bomb test, if you can get a diving permit. Belsen draws almost half a million visitors each year, the 9/11 Memorial Museum has had four million visitors since it opened in May 2014 and of course tourists have been visiting Pompeii to see the ashes since the volcanic eruption happened in 79 AD.

Now I don’t know how you feel about disaster tourism, but as far as I can see it isn’t so very different to slowing down on the motorway to stare at the crash on the opposite carriageway. I’m sure that there’s an argument to say that it’s all very worthy, that it’s history, that people go to show respect rather than out of idle curiosity, but if I’m honest I think that is mainly nonsense and I have to question what it does for your aura.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

30 days in November 21...


Hello, today is:

World hello day

Hello day kicked off in 1973 as a direct response to the Yom Kippur War, another kick off. Since then it’s been celebrated in over 180 countries as a way to spread world peace. Its effectiveness has been vouched for by 31 Nobel Peace Prize winners, but just how they can claim that saying a ‘hello’ could be effective against a terrorist with a gun in his hands is hard to understand.

I can’t imagine that screaming ‘bonjour, bonjour, bonjour, bonjour’ would have made much of a difference in Paris when those Isis animals  started spraying innocent people with bullets and I’m certain that screaming ‘bonjour’ would not have saved the 15 passengers of a Cameroon bus when Boko Haram murdered them back in January.

Hello, bonjour, hola, shalom, marhaba, hujambo, hej, are all going to be pretty useless as a defence against a madman dressed in black intent on hacking off your head in the desert with a scimitar. And offering even the loudest guten tag, gia’sou, namast, dai dhuit, jambo, selam, xin chao, or hylo to radicalised fundamentalist morons wearing vests packed full of explosives isn’t going to stop them pressing their detonation buttons and going to whatever paradise they are foolishly expecting.

We have to start somewhere with world peace, but somehow I don't think saying 'hello' is going to be enough to stop this mess. If saying 'hello' is a metaphor for sitting down, talking and trying to sort things out through discussion, then yes it might work given time. After all there hasn't been a war for centuries that wasn't ended over a conference table. But on its own 'hello' is such a tiny word in a world where there are madmen who are not prepared to listen. Maybe it’s time to stop saying ‘hello’ and say ‘goodbye’ to this scum, no matter what it takes. Maybe the time for talking is over.

Friday, 20 November 2015

30 days in November 20...

This is getting silly, today is:

Name your PC day

Now I’m not one for naming inanimate objects, I don’t give my car a name, or my phone, or the freezer, so why I should wish to name my computer? Well, frankly it doesn’t compute. I can understand why you would name that cat that comes around to visit twice a week or your teddy, but something is stopping me from showing the same respect to my computer even though I spend most of my time with it. Besides, if I were to pick a name for my machine and take our relationship to a new level, it probably would be a bit sweary given the way my tired old computer performs.

I guess that I might consider it if my computer interacted with me more. Spoke, expressed an opinion, complemented me on my hair; and I'm sure in the future when all devices have an inbuilt personality and voice then I will probably start naming household items. Freddy the fridge: "Can I make you some ice for that gin Andrew?" Clarice the cooker: "Do you want fries with that gorgeous?" Veronica the vacuum cleaner: "Let me clean up around here. You just down while I suck." But until that day comes my white goods and digital devices will go unbaptised.

Lots of people do name their computers though, geeks and techies and the like. Personally I blame ‘2001 a Space Odyssey’ and that bloody Hal, since then just about every computer in the movies and on TV has a name. No wonder it’s caught on in the real world.

Computer naming schemes are commonplace in the office environment. At the studio I used to run we had a series of printers named Harpo, Zeppo, Chico, Groucho, Gummo and Karl. Karl was a latecomer and printed mainly in red. I know someone who has named his servers after Simpson’s characters and someone else who has named his electronic devices after Star Trek characters; what a wag, beam me up Scotty.

If I were to name a series of computers I would probably name them after cheeses. I like cheese and Camembert, Stilton, Gouda and Stinking Bishop seem like particularly good names for computers just as long as they don’t get eaten by their mice.

So what would I name my computer if I were to do so? That’s easy I would name it Dave after my dear father, right Hal?

Thursday, 19 November 2015

30 days in November 19...

Today is:

Have a bad day day

As many of you will know, I’m not one of those irritatingly positive at all costs people who try to turn sow’s ears into soft, shiny, depositories for their perfectly flat ten pound notes. Sometimes there are bad days and to celebrate them today is ‘Have a bad day day’. God knows who or why someone thought this one up, but it’s okay to recognise that we all have a bad day every now and then, despite what the impossibly positive vibe people say.

I’ve had my share of bad days, but increasingly I realise that it is better to feel ‘up’ than ‘down’ if for no other reason than to stop that bloody black dog barking in the distance. So what can we do about bad days? We all have them, and when they happen try to remain calm and develop a coping strategy; they can have a positive purpose.

Firstly, bad days are nothing personal. Life works in mysterious ways. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down and it seems that Ronan was right after all - Life really is roller coaster and you’re just got to ride it. You may be able to choose which roller coaster to get on, but you can’t decide who the other passengers are or what their moods, attitudes, or beliefs will be. They’re along for the ride to and you can’t let it, or them, get to you, otherwise it will become personal and it’s not.

Just make the best of a bad job and recognise the shit day you’re having and then get out of it. Throw a fainting fit, invent an emergency, or just go to the loos and stay there. If you can’t do that, then isolate yourself as much as you can and think happy thoughts. I find dinner is a good happy thought to have, or wine or beer, etc. If you are having a bad day try to make it better, it won’t last forever and tomorrow is another day, an opportunity to start over again.

Secondly, bad days need not be a bad thing. Recognise that this particular day has gone tits up and act upon it, change your direction and attitude. Try for ‘No Bad Days’ however unattainable it may seem. When doctors or firemen have a ‘bad day’ people have a tendency to die, so don’t let emotions get the better of you. Be in control of your attitude and own your own thoughts and emotions.

Thirdly, see the opportunity to start over again. Try to work out why you’re feeling the way you are and come up with ways to prevent feeling that way in the future. Develop mechanisms to reduce the impact of the bad day and soon the bad day will go away.

Fourthly, roll with the ‘Good Days’. If you’re self-aware enough to spot a bad day then you can sure as hell spot a good day. So go with it and keep the momentum going. Just as a bad day can ruin your mood for days and even lead to the black dog biting, a good day can lead to a run of positive days. Visualise how your day is going to be, decide how it’s going to go positively and make it happen. It’s as easy to get lost in the good as it is get lost in the bad, but lost in the good is better.

Finally, always remember that there are plenty of people who would love to have your bad days. For them your bad days would be a very good day indeed and you should never forget that. ‘Count your blessings’ as my gran used to say.

You can’t own the roller coaster you are on or totally control its ups-and-downs. You can’t even fully escape except by taking extreme measures like jumping, but you’re strapped in remember so try to accept the bad days and roll with the good. After all, who wants to be miserable and angry when the alternative feels so much better?

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

30 days in November 18...

Today is:

Occult Day

This is a day of mystery; it’s dedicated to warlocks, faeries, demons and all things other worldly. A day to indulge in things outside the realm of the normal and natural world; you could look into a crystal ball or read the tarot, perhaps join a clandestine society, or even get out Auntie Elsie’s old Ouija board and see if anybody is there. Personally though, I will stick to casting the runes.

Let’s forget Harry Potter and Gandalf for a moment, I’m more of an Aleistair Crowley sort of occultist.

Aleister Crowley was an English necromancer, ceremonial magician, poet, painter, novelist, and mountaineer. He even founded the religion and philosophy of Thelema, identifying himself as the prophet entrusted with guiding humanity into the Æon of Horus in the early 20th century. As well as being a very busy man he was probably a little bonkers, but he’s captured the imaginations of a certain kind of Englishman since then despite being hated and pilloried by just about everyone in his own time.

A BBC poll ranked him as the seventy-third greatest Briton of all time (well it was the BBC and they love an outsider). Jimmy Page was obsessed with him, amassing a huge collection of memorabilia including buying his house in Scotland which Page claimed was haunted. Crowley even appears on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – apparently the Beatles were fans of his backwards chanting.

Crowley gained total notoriety during his lifetime for experimenting with recreational drugs, being bisexual and for his criticism of just about everything loved by the establishment; a bit like a pop star really. As a result, he was denounced in the popular press as ‘the wickedest man in the world’ and labelled a Satanist even though he didn’t worship the biblical devil.

He was so well known for his badness that in 1957 one of the best films of the era included him as a character. Night of the Demon is loosely based on M.R. James’ story ‘Casting the Runes’, but so loosely that hardly any of the original tale remains other than the plot is about runes. Dr. Julian Karswell is an occultist who kills people by setting a demon on them. To do this he passes them a parchment covered with runes and, unless they can pass the parchment on to some other poor soul, the demon comes and gets them. The Karswell character was loosely based on Aleister Crowley it is claimed, although it was probably just hype for the film.

Now here’s the worrying bit for me on this the occultist day of occult days. We have a movie loosely based on one of the greatest ghost stories even written with the main character loosely based on one of the most well know occultists of all time. I love the work of M.R. James including ‘Casting the Runes’ and the film ‘Night of the Demon’ is one of my all time favourite films. Kate Bush sampled a line from the film for her track ‘The Hounds of Love – ‘It’s in the trees’ – and I’m a huge Kate Bush fan and love that track. I was also born the year the film was made. Finally my best friend was called Julian and we once drove up to Bledlow Ridge at night looking for the demon that’s said to live there.

Coincidence? I hope so because although we didn’t find the demon that night I might have been passed the runes.

I’d better check my pockets.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

30 days in November 17...

Friends today is:

Unfriend Day

Don’t worry, if you are reading this you are not on the list. Not that I have a list, and I’m guessing that a lot of my friends wouldn’t even notice if I did unfriend them because the have discreetly switched me off. I don’t blame them, I do have a tendency to say the wrong things, but I really can’t rely on pictures of kittens and unicorns to get me through the day.

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel launched Unfriend Day in 2014 to put a check on the rising trend to collect more and more ‘friends’ on social media, especially Facebook. Some people have thousands of friends, a small city’s worth. I manage mine at below 250, but if they are actually tuned in, switched on or have dropped out I have no idea as I’ve already said. Nor do I want to, it would be too disillusioning and hurtful.

So today you are supposed to sit down at your computer and delete as many people as you want to from your friends list. We all know who they are. They are the one’s sending too many (and one is too many) Candy Crush requests, or inviting you to ‘like’ pages you wouldn’t like in a million years, or jamming your news feed with selfies, food photos, babies, pictures of them stood by the pool on holiday and their bloody dogs. I can take kittens and even unicorns, but I draw the line at a drooling dog.

Now you’ve read that you may decide to unfriend me, after all we all have the right to post what we want. But I’m hoping that you won’t. It’s interesting to see what people are up to, even if it is just a picture of them holding a glass of beer, just the beer come to that. I’m guilty of posting pictures of beer, and gin, and cocktails, and cider, and wine. And yes, I’m guilty of the odd post showing my dinner or my cat and lots and lots pictures of my backyard. Generally though I’m hoping that my friends find my posts interesting, or funny, or thought provoking and I try (I really do) not to be too negative or offensive.

There’s a view that social media is taking over our real-life relationships. I can see why people might think this, but in reality (at least my reality) there’s no chance of me seeing all of my friends in one place at the same time to chat about what’s happening in their world. In theory Facebook allows me to do just that, although it doesn’t work that way really. Sometimes I randomly drop in on a friend’s timeline, one I haven’t heard from for ages, and see how they are doing. I rarely comment, but it’s nice to know they are still out there in the ether.

After all, what are friends for?

I know, I’m a sentimental fool aren’t I. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

30 days in November 16...

This 30 days in November thing is throwing me a couple of curveballs. Today, believe it or not, is:

Have a party with your bear day

Well make of that what you will, but if you do have a bear friend then I hope that you have a great party. I’m going to try to get through this post without asking where a bear does its business, but if you have a real bear be very careful, they aren’t the cuddly creatures that we like to pretend they are; they are vicious killers. Even those cute Koalas can give you a pretty nasty nip and Polar Bears and Grizzlies are the most dangerous creatures (excluding killer donkeys) on earth killing more people each year than sharks or any of the big cats.

Despite the tendency to attack and rip you to shreds, bears are very popular with children. Literature, television, films, video games, even confectionary are full of them as are most kid’s beds. There seem to be more fictional bears than any other creature. I can only think of a few tigers, a couple of sharks, and hardly any centipedes. Monkeys and mice do pretty well, but I think that bears have the edge.

From Paddington to Rupert, Baloo to Shardik and not forgetting Winnie-the-Pooh, bears are scattered across the page like furry confetti. I grew up singing about a group of Teddy Bears having a picnic and watching with mother at lunchtime with Teddy, an imaginatively named Teddy Bear who was a good friend of Andy Pandy and Louby Lou. I always though Louby Lou looked a little dazed, perhaps it was because she shared the same basket with Andy Pandy and Teddy.

Although I have no recollection of ever owning a Teddy Bear I suppose I must have. Didn’t everyone have a Teddy to cuddle as they cried themselves to sleep at night? I remember an elephant on wheels, and I’m sure that I once put my hand inside a Sooty glove puppet, but memories of a Teddy Bear? No, not really.

As a child my favourite bear was Biffo from the Beano even though he didn’t look much like a bear at all, he was kind of dog/rabbit like. Sooty (watch what you are doing with that wand Sue) kept me amused on a Sunday afternoon, and I never missed the adventures of Yogi and Boo Boo in Jellystone Park on Children’s Hour – and yes, he certainly was smarter than the average bear Boo Boo.

Baby Bear, Bungle, Barney, Fozzie, Ted, Super Ted and all those bloody Care Bears passed me by because by the time they showed up I had pretty much had my fill of bears and moved on. Mind you, I do love a Gummy Bear or two (teeth allowing); it’s kind of satisfying to eat a bear rather than the bear eating you.

Anyway, I’m off down the words for a picnic or something.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

30 days in November 15...

Today is:

 I love to write day

Started in 2002 by author John Riddle, the day is for everyone to express their thoughts and feelings with the help of the pen. Many famous authors have agreed that the first step to creating a good book is to simply pick up the pen. Well, they could be right as the world is full of authors and even fuller of books.

I don’t really trust anyone who says that they love to write. People do it for any number of reasons and, whilst I am sure that the love of the activity itself is partly why they do it, there has to more to it than that for many of them.

Most of the reasons why I write have nothing to do with love. I do it to have a voice, to let people know what I am thinking, to amuse, as an academic exercise sometimes, but mostly because I have to.

Each day I must write a couple of hundred words at least. They usually end up here in one form or another, moving down from my head, into my fingers, onto my screen, then eventually they travel out into the big wide world to have their own lives and end up wherever they may.

Some end up nowhere, unread by anyone but me. Others end up in the mind of others, sparking a thought, anger, sometimes a gasp, occasionally a tear. It doesn’t really bother me either way (well almost), this blog has always been about me. It’s partly record, partly autobiography, partly fiction, some poetry, some ranting, but most of all a release.

In the years I’ve been writing, the millions of words I’ve written, I have learnt more about myself than in all the time that went before. The act of asking myself questions, forcing myself to answer them honestly, putting them somewhere other than simply allowing them to mill around in my mind for my small life’s eternity has been cathartic (a word I used to scoff at but now understand).

Or course it has led me to some bad places, a lot of dead ends, and has sometimes resulted in trouble; people on the doorstep shouting at me, a call or two from the police, negative feedback and a couple of trolls, but I can’t stop doing it despite all of this.

I may not love writing, but I certainly need it. It is so ingrained in my psyche that if I stopped I’m not even sure that I would know who I am. I am this blog and this blog is me. I give it life and in return it gives me life and allows my life to reside within it for ever, it makes me immortal. 

To me that seems like a fair trade.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

30 days in November 14...

Today is:

Loosen up, lighten up day.

This day is a day for relaxation, for letting go of all that angst and anger and calming down which is hard given the terrible events in Paris last night. 

Unfortunately there are people in this world of ours, both real and fictitious, who simply can’t or won’t do that and spend their lives angry, shouting and making everyone’s life a misery.

And now a message from our sponsor…

WHAT DID YOU SAY? LOOSEN UP? ARE YOU JOKING? LIGHTEN UP? HOW CAN I LIGHTEN UP WHEN I AM SURROUNDED BY IDIOTS AND PRATS. I’M NOT PUTTING UP WITH IT  TELL YOU. I WASN’T BORN YESTERDAY. I DIDN’T SAIL IN ON THE LAST IMMIGRANT BANANA BOAT. I’M NOT GREEN BEHIND THE EARS. I’VE NEVER BEEN SO INSULTED IN ALL MY LIFE. I’M GOING TO CALL THE POLICE. THE BOYS IN BLUE WILL SORT YOU OUT. YOU CAN’T GO TELLING ME TO CALM DOWN, TAKE A CHILL PILL, CHILLAX. IF I WANT TO BE ANGRY ABOUT EVERYTHING AND SHOUT ALL THE TIME THEN I WILL AND THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. NOTHING YOU HEAR. NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING. I HAVE THE POLICE ON MY SIDE AND I’LL HAVE YOU ARRESTED FOR TELLING ME TO CALM DOWN AND STOP ALIENATING PEOPLE, YOU SEE IF I DON’T. YOU HAVEN’T HEARD THE LAST OF THIS. POLICE! POLICE! POLICE!

Sadly, despite Mr Shouty being a wholly fictitious character bearing no resemblance to anyone living or dead this day would be wasted on him if he lived in the real world. He could no more loosen and lighten up than say something nice or be polite in a shop or bank. Mr Shouty is a bitter, sad, foolish, fictitious old man, but he does have the police on his side.

He's just another type of fucking terrorist.

Friday, 13 November 2015

30 days in November 13...

Along with being Friday 13th (don’t panic) and Children In Need day (again, don’t panic) today is:

World Kindness Day

Back in 1997, several humanitarian groups got together and made a 'Declaration of Kindness,' everyone is encouraged to do the same on this day. Every single thing you do counts apparently: donating clothes or food, volunteering at the old people’s home, helping an old lady across the road (whether she wants it or not), or simply making a few gestures toward strangers.

Now I’m used to making gestures at strangers, particularly when I’m driving, but today I think I’ll make kind gestures, a smile or a wave or maybe I could blow them a kiss, ‘cos that’s lucky too.

Kindness, what a big thing it is. Apparently there's a cup of it and you can kill someone with kindness, although I don’t know how unless you have a kind of knife. You also have to be cruel to be kind. Now this I know about. When I was a child there was a lot of cruelty masquerading as kindness around. Punishing a naughty child was the daily norm; a slap here, an insult there, hours of endless bellowing and name calling. It was all for my own good you understand, to knock some sense into me; a great example of kindness at its very best of being cruel to be kind.

World kindness Day is about being reminded that, despite what the past has been, there really are kind people in the world. You hear about them all the time, they are the ones who don’t walk past that guy sitting in the street on the pavement, they’re the ones who stop and talk to him, the ones that applaud the busker doing his best and slip a fiver into his hat. Sometimes I wonder why kindness can be so hard for us to manage. If human beings are capable of tremendous kindness, why don’t more people act with tremendous kindness more often? We are naturally inclined that way, see most very young children playing in a group when one falls over, but it’s almost as if, as we get older, we start to lose the impulse to be kind and get wrapped up in our own world, too busy and too angry to help anybody else. After all, doesn't charity, and the kindness required to give it, begin at home?

Kindness has been the subject of a philosophical debate for centuries. On the one hand you have those who advocate that people are inherently kind, even if they don’t always manifest it. On the other are those who believe that people are inherently selfish, and show kindness for self-serving reasons. A kind of, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. Maybe that is why lonely and often ill people are befriended and nursed by ‘friends’ who go on to inherit their wealth. Yes there is kindness involved, but if you do it for a reason is it really genuine kindness?

We live in a competitive society, sometimes kindness is mistaken for weakness, and as we all know dogs eat dogs. Nobody wants to be that ‘sucker that’s born every minute.’ As we grow older we grow tougher out of self-protection, fear of losing, and slowly our natural childhood kindness is eroded. It’s as if we lose the need to be kind, forget that there are other people to consider other than ourselves in the tiny enclosed world we have created and inhabit. We lose our natural ability to be kind, but what we really lose is our humanity.


Thursday, 12 November 2015

30 days in November 12...

You know the old joke about the Dalai Lama in a pizza shop asking if the pizza guy can make him one with everything? Well today is:

Pizza with the works except anchovies day

I wonder why no anchovies? Personally I sometimes enjoy a pizza, but at other times I don’t. I always think that it's just cheese and tomato on toast and if you order it in it's very expensive cheese on toast.

We’ve made our own pizza from dough through to sauce a few times and cooked it in our wood fired chimenea. It’s a lot of effort what with kneading the dough, making the sauce, grating the cheese, and carefully arranging all those toppings on the top, but it tastes really good.

Pizza has been around a long time. The first mention of it is in a 10th century Latin manuscript from Gaeta in Central Italy. Maybe the monks had anchovies on theirs but the modern pizza first showed an appearance in Naples in the late 18th or early 19th century. The first pizzeria opened in the States in 1905 and really took off; so much so that today thirteen percent of the US population eats a few slices on any given day.

I have had my best pizzas in the states. We often had them for lunch straight out of a huge clay oven in the King of Prussia Mall. There's no doubt that the American do a great pizza, but it's not the sort of thing I'd order at an Italian restaurant for dinner.

My favourite is pepperoni, although I am partial to few sliced jalapenos on the top. It’s a very versatile food and you can put just about anything on as a topping. Personally I don’t like seafood pizzas, perhaps that’s why they held the anchovies.


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

30 days in November 11...

Today is:

Origami Day

Origami, the ancient art of Japanese paper folding, something I’ve tried on numerous occasions but which I’ve never really got the hang of. I’ve never been able to make a paper boat properly, or one of those fortune teller things that all the girls made at school to find out who they would marry, I can’t even manage a simple snapping beak; the ones that you put your fingers and thumbs in. I can only just about manage a paper aeroplane, but even they don’t fly very well.

Origami - ori meaning ‘folding’, and kami meaning ‘paper’ - is often associated with Japanese culture, but I guess children everywhere have paper, and as they are creative, it’s probably a universal thing. The goal is to transform a flat sheet square of paper into a finished sculpture through folding and sculpting techniques. I on the other hand will always end up with a plane no matter what I am trying to make.

I once tried an origami crane, it ended up as a plane. Then I tried a lotus flower, it ended up as a plane. I even tried a frog and guess what? Well, I told everybody it was a flying frog, but actually it was a plane.

I had friends who could do some pretty neat paper folding. I even knew a farmer who started an origami business, but he was arrested for rustling and it folded (I bet that one had you in creases). As I said I really never got the hang of it and my origami remains very basic. I can’t even fold a piece of A4 paper to make it fit a third A4 envelope without having to re-crease it three or four times. Oh well we can’t all be black belts can we.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

30 days in November 10...


Today is

Sesame Street Day

When fans decided to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its original broadcast as Sesame Street Day in 2009, thousands of followers worldwide followed suit. I could relive my childhood by watching old episodes, but as I'm more of a Wooden Tops guy I really can't. I never watched a single episode and all I know about Sesame Street is that it something to do with The Muppets; which I never watched either.

There you go. Blog over.

Monday, 9 November 2015

30 days in November 9...

And today is

World Freedom Day

We usually take our freedom to live our lives the way that we want for granted, but this day is designed for us to think about those who aren’t even allowed to voice their opinions publicly.

We think that all this is happening somewhere else. Somewhere where a dictatorship is in charge, a place where people are oppressed by the state and mindnumbed into submission. Not here, not in this England of ours; after all we are a civilised country.

But think carefully on this day, think about what freedom means to you. Think about your freedom of speech, and thought, and law abiding action, because increasingly in Britain these rights, along with may others, are being eroded.

Once it was believed that freedom of speech was a right given by God (or some other such figure) to the British. Men and women would stand on soapboxes at Speaker’s Corner and talk, preach and blather about anything they liked without fear of prosecution, unless of course the police considered they were being treasonous or profane. In reality Speaker’s Corner was no more immune from the law of the land than any other place, but the police allowed a degree of outspokenness.

You’ll notice that I’m speaking in the past tense here. Over the last twenty years or so our civil liberties, including freedom of speech, have been eroded and continue to be closed down. Recent decades have seen a dramatic decline in our hard won civil liberties which include freedom of speech, but there is much, much more at stake.

We are now more observed and monitored than at any other time in our history. Every word we write, every word we speak on our phones can be monitored. It started back in Thatcher’s time with the Interception of Communications Act which gave permission for phone tapping. But it was Blair who oversaw a massive roll out in surveillance under the pretense that it was the only way to win his fictitious ‘war on terror’.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act allows the government full surveillance powers over all communications and the bugging of phones, spying, and the interception of communications. It allows the police, intelligence services, HM Revenue and Customs and hundreds of other public bodies (including local authorities) to demand the handing over of telephone, internet and postal information including name and address, phone calls made and received, source and destination of emails, internet browsing information and mobile phone positioning data that records user’s location. It’s very open to abuse; some local authorities have used it to check that people aren’t cheating their school place allocation system.

We are constantly watched by cameras, they are on every corner and often hidden or disguised. How can they be to protect us if the authorities don’t want us to know they are there? They are simply watching and monitoring. There were no cameras when I was growing up and Britain has gone from zero to over 4 million CCTV cameras in just a few decades. We have a higher number of cameras than China but despite all this surveillance there is less than one arrest per day as a result of CCTV footage. I know it’s a cliché but Big Brother is here, albeit a little later than predicted. 

Thatcher’s Public Order Act of 1986 (as a result on the miner’s strikes) made it law that, in order to be lawful, protest organisers give police six days advance notice of their action.  Since then successive governments have quietly upgraded the Act to dumb down our right to protest peacefully. This move to stop us protesting, striking, or even complaining continues under David Cameron’s new reign of terror and increasingly protesters are subjected to stop and search, kettling, and snatch and grab arrests by an increasingly armed and militarised police force, with the emphasis being on force.

Before 1984, you could not be held by police for longer than 24 hours without a criminal charge being made against you. Thatcher extended this to four days, Blair to seven, then to 14 days, and then finally sought the power to detain citizens without charge for up to 90 days. Blair was defeated on 90 days, but did manage to increase the time without charge to 28 days. 

Any of us can be electronically tagged at any time under Control Orders passed in the Terrorism Act of 2006. This means that anybody suspected of terrorist related activities by the Home Secretary can be electronically tagged, monitored, restricted from making phone calls and using the internet, banned from some kinds of work, restricted in their movement, have their passport revoked and be ordered to report to the police - and all of this without any type of trial.

We are increasing trapped into towing the party line regardless of who the party is. As a result of all of this, more and more people are being arrested and taken to court for simply saying what they think or showing their dissent. Recent incidents include the convictions of Critical Mass protest riders for cycling on the evening of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, and Bethan Tichbourne who was arrested and convicted for shouting ‘Cameron has blood on his hands’ (which of course he has) when he turned on the Christmas lights in her hometown. 

It seems we could be now living in a police state where every thought and opinion we have is monitored and measured against any number of yardsticks including racism, religion, terrorism and of course all the ‘isms’ associated with this ridiculous PC world we have created. There is no room for dissent, no room for questions, and no room for difference. We are just a few steps away from the enforced groupthink of North Korea, and the Ministry of Truth and the reality of thoughtcrime is with us in all but name.

We ignore the erosion of our rights at our peril. With the current government wanting to abolish the Human Rights Act and ongoing moves to obtain access to yet more ‘private’ communications (such as browser histories) we could soon be facing the final destruction of what few civil liberties we have left. It is time to pay attention.

Perhaps World Freedom Day is the day to start doing just that.


Sunday, 8 November 2015

30 days in November 8

So today is:

International Tongue Twister Day

I like tongue twisters and used to spend hours as a boy repeating as many tongue twisters as I could think of. Sometimes I got frustrated, but I think it helped a country from boy from Oxfordshire to get his head around pronunciation and enunciation. I’m still a bit of a stickler and hate the way the spoken language is going. Perhaps all those ‘youfs’ need to try out a few tongue twisters - that should sort out their lazy diction.

Anyway it must have done something to me because just the words alliteration and onomatopoeia always make me smile. Around the ragged rock the ragged rascal ran from the jingling and the tinkling of the bells, bells, bells.

I think that my first tongue twister was one my gran taught it to me on one of those dark wet afternoons before I went to school. It’s probably the best known of all tongue twisters, but it’s still pretty hard to get your lips around.

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

When I was about six I learnt this one about woodchucks at school. I don’t think I knew what a woodchuck was but I still say it sometimes when I can’t sleep.

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
As much wood as a woodchuck could chuck
If a woodchuck could chuck wood.

They don’t have to be very long to make them very hard. Note that you have to say it perfectly five times in a row for it to count.

Red leather, yellow leather.
Red leather, yellow leather.
Red leather, yellow leather.
Red leather, yellow leather.
Red leather, yellow leather.

Or

Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry.


Here’s a really hard one I’ve never really mastered.

Something in a thirty-acre thermal thicket of thorns and thistles thumped and thundered threatening the three-D thoughts of Matthew the thug - although, theatrically, it was only the thirteen-thousand thistles and thorns through the underneath of his thigh that the thirty year old thug thought of that morning.

And of course everone's favourite:

I am not the pheasant plucker,
I'm the pheasant plucker's mate.
I am only plucking pheasants
Because the pheasant plucker's late.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

30 days in November 7...


Today is:

Bittersweet Chocolate With Almonds Day

But enough of that. A day to celebrate this particular combination of flavours: bittersweet chocolate with crunchy toasted almonds? I don’t bloody think so. Just what is the point of celebrating such a specific item of confectionary? Instead I’m going to write about the new John Lewis Christmas ad because, like the chocolate, it’s dark, bittersweet and you’d be nuts to like it in any shape or form.

Yes, it’s time for the annual John Lewis rant and this year their nine million pound (including advert slots) Christmas TV ad tells the story of a young girl who is being spied on by an old man who lives in a wooden shed on the moon. Don’t we all just love a weird peeping tom paedophile who lives on the moon and dresses like an eighties pop video. Very Christmassy. But shouldn’t we really be calling the police?

Of course in this age of government surveillance he could well work for MI6 as I’m sure there must be an agency or two spying on children; and I do wonder why this agent has been exiled to the moon in the first place. Maybe he isn’t an old man at all, perhaps he’s an alien and all John Lewis stores are alien bases. They might as well be as this ad has nothing to do with reality. Still, he does look pretty lonely and bored; but then the moon doesn’t have much atmosphere does it?

Meanwhile, back on earth another John Lewis fake Christmas is taking place with fake smiles, fake parents (who should be investigated by social services for allowing their young daughter to climb on the roof - seriously dangerous to suggest this John Lewis), and all sorts of other fake festive jollities. Everyone is wonderfully happy in a fake John Lewis kind of way. There's even a fake single tear of something or other from the poor old man's poor old eye at the end.

I have to admit to being a little confused by this year’s ad. It's not very Christmas, and it is a little bit odd to its very core and uses some quite dangerous imagery. It's okay to befriend strange old men, it's okay to climb builder's ladders, It's okay to fire arrows into the dark and ride your scooter on the pavement at speed. Of course I understand that the underlying message is that there an awful lot of lonely old people at Christmas and that the moon is symbolic of their isolation, but why does it need to be so creepy? Because it is as creepy as it is sad.

Even the fact that John Lewis have teamed up with Age UK to drive us to donate as a result of the ad doesn't do it for me. They are going to make millions out of one old man's misery; except of course he isn't miserable at all, he's an actor, another john Lewis fake. How about they donate 10% of the December profit to Age UK? That might help. No, I thought not.

Still if it makes a few people knock on the door of that lonely old man or woman across the road and invite them to Christmas dinner then the advert is admirable. But I don’t believe that it will and the cynic in me is left with this question. What are John Lewis selling off the back of old age loneliness with this year’s sentimental sob campaign? Will it be moons or telescopes, pyjamas, bedding and sweaters, or will it be our souls yet again?

Friday, 6 November 2015

30 days in November 6...

Nachos Day

Two Mexican corn snacks meet in a bar and one says to the other: ‘Why you no wanna tacho about it?’ And the other replies: ‘Because I nacho friend anymore.’

Sorry.

Today is Nachos Day, but then isn't every day potentially Nachos Day? Don’t get me wrong I’ve nothing against Mexican crisps but I have to say that whilst I do like the occasional dish of nachos I’m not at all sure that they are worthy of an entire day to themselves.

After all what do nachos do except sit on the plate covered in toppings wanting to be eaten? I suppose that you could crumble them and fill maracas to make that crazy Mexican maracas noise of a Mariachi band or place a few outside your hotel room door to warn of any approaching Mexican bandits. But apart from that… Well, they are pretty dull aren’t they? It’s not even as if they are a traditional Mexican food, they were invented by the U.S. army - almost.

In 1943, the wives of some U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan were in Piedras Negras shopping for sombreros and donkeys. When they arrived at the town’s only restaurant desperate as housewives are for tequila and nibbles it had already closed for the day. But U.S. army wives can be very persuasive so the maître d'hôtel, Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Anaya, invented a new snack for them with just the ingredients he had available in his kitchen: tortillas and cheese. Nacho cut the tortillas into triangles and deep fried them, he then liberally sprinkled with shredded cheddar cheese, reheated the corn triangles, added sliced pickled jalapeño peppers and served.

Viva! A new taste sensation was born along with the foundation of every Tex-Mex restaurant in the world and a great starter offering for every cheap pub in the UK.

Good old Nacho never even tried to claim ownership of his dish. But in 1960 his son contacted a lawyer to explore the possibility. Unfortunately, too much time had passed, like a long siesta on a hot Mexican afternoon, and the recipe passed for free into de dominio publico.

Ay, caramba!!!!

To end, here are a few slightly interesting facts about nachos, and I do mean slightly interesting and a few.

In 1972 a nacho bearing the face of Jesus was found in a dish of nachos in a bar in Guadalajara. The holy nacho is now enshrined in a golden casket at the Catedral Basilica de la Asuncion de Maria Santisima and is visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims a year.

A university in Kansas (follow the yellow nacho road) holds the record for the largest plate of nachos in the world. The huge bar snack weighed in at 4,689 pounds, with 2,200 of those pounds being nacho cheese. Portions of the 80-foot long, 2-foot wide, 10-inch deep pile of chips were sold for charity at a dollar each.

Apparently Nachos is the food most craved by pregnant women, although I assume this is US pregnant women as the food most British women crave is obviously lard.

There you go. Nachos felices amigos del dia.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

30 days in November 5...

Come on chaps, stiff upper lip and all that and if you can’t beat ‘em, well…

After all, today is:

Men Make dinner Day

Apparently this day (November 5th, Bonfire Night, Treason and Plot as it used to be called before The Investigatory Powers Bill) is dedicated to all men who can’t really cook but need to try, a day that comes with a whole list of dos and don’ts. Some of the rules include no interference (help) by the women in the kitchen, no TV (even football) during cooking, and definitely no beer until the meal is in the oven.

But are you a reluctant cooker or are you one of those men that cook for the ladies not, as many women do to get through to your heart via your stomach, but more as a way to gain entry into her more intimate affections?  One of the new generation of men who see cooking more as a hobby than a household chore and hone their kitchen prowess to impress friends and prospective partners?

In short: Are you a ‘Gastrosexual’?

Women love a man that can cook. Gone are the days where the man brought home the mammoth and the woman roasted it on the fire. These days the man catches the mammoth, fillets it, soaks it overnight in a marinade and then tosses it with lemongrass and wild mushrooms before adding crème fraiche and serving in warm bowls with a little pasta.

Yes, things are hotting up in the kitchen as men turn to cooking as a way to attract women. According to one study, 48 per cent of women say being able to cook makes a man more attractive to them, with 23 per cent of 18-34 year old men saying they cook only as an attempt to seduce a partner.

Now I thought that was what the wine was for. But the report also shows that 60 per cent of British men now regularly cook for friends and family, favouring complicated foreign dishes (curries and the like) over traditional British food with over half of those men preparing meals from separate ingredients (not ping-and-ding ready meals) every day, spending an average of 41 minutes whipping up some culinary delight daily.

Of course men have always made the Sunday gravy and no self-respecting male hands over the tongs of the barbecue to his missus. But the number of families where men help in the kitchen has risen from almost 0 per cent before the war (carving the joint excluded) to 27.5 per cent in the post war period to 66.5 per cent back in 2008. Now, in 2015, there's hardly a man alive who doesn't have his own egg separator and who can't whip up a pretty good five course meal in a jiffy.

Of course I blame all those celebrity chefs for this situation. These days the likes of Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver have made making a bit of dinner into some sort of male tribal war ritual. All of them, from Gino D'Acampo to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Rick Stein, not only cook their food in buckets and piles of bricks in the rain outside, but often breed, forage for, and sometimes kill the animals and vegetables they are cooking themselves. And of course they do all this whilst wielding large knives in exotic far-flung corners of the world - like Italy.

Maybe it’s a Mafia thing - 'I'm gonna make you some offal you can't refuse'.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

30 days in November 4...

November 4th already and today is...

Use Your Common Sense day

Wouldn’t it be great if you could take a tablet to improve your common sense? Even better, wouldn’t it be good to push them down the throats all those other idiots who don’t have any at all? If we could take a common sense pill then it might just stop us from getting into those shitty messes we sometimes end up in.

Today is ‘Use Your Common Sense Day’. Of course I am choc full of common sense; but then isn’t everyone?  We may all think that we have a lot of it, even without the pills, but as Voltaire once said “Common sense is not so common.” So just where is my common sense, where’s yours, and what is it come to that?

Albert Einstein was a genius, far cleverer than most of us. But he made two holes in his cat cage - one big hole and the other small - so that his two cats, one big and other very small (a mother and a young kitten), could come out of those two respective holes. Did Einstein, the genius, lack common sense? From that tale it would appear that he did. Perhaps common sense has no correlation with intelligence, and maybe that’s why common sense is looked upon by many as a very mysterious gift.

How often have you been told to ‘use your common sense’, or heard somebody say ‘he’s very clever but has no common sense at all’? Just what is this common sense thing? Is it real, or is it based upon perception at the time of perceiving?

For a long time it was obvious to people that the world was flat. You could see the horizon in the distance and common sense told the sailors of the time not to get too close to it or they would fall off the edge of the world. Similarly the moon in the sky must have been made, as the Egyptians thought, from papyrus. Common sense decreed that nothing heavy could hold up in the sky without falling, so common sense told them it was papyrus held in place by a celestial wind.

Of course practitioners of common sense believe that they have a much better grip of things than the statisticians who build spreadsheets to prove common sense wrong. I spent half a lifetime listening to people arguing against what I was sure was common sense and knowing that I would lose the argument; and that they would then fail. Satisfyingly they usually did, underlining the premise that someone who thinks logically provides a nice contrast to the real world and that if  I had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved (and never will achieve) its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’

It seems that common sense isn’t just uncommon; it’s very hard to tie down. It’s probably common sense to say that artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity and that you don’t need to worry about what people think, they don't do it very often. But common sense also tells you that a person who’s nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person at all. But sometimes we simply don’t see it and those nasty bastards still remain our friends.
Yes, common sense is a wonderful thing. It enables you to recognise a mistake when you make it again, that there’s a very fine line between ‘a blogging hobby’ and ‘mental illness’, to never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she's pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that exact moment, and (going back to common sense pills) never take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night before going to bed, no matter what the circumstances are.

Yes, keeping out of the shit is really just a matter of common sense.