Sunday, 8 February 2015


You may be aware that I live next to a building site.

You may not know that the police have knocked on the door in the past to ask about thefts from the site.  We hadn't seen anything but we have been keeping our eyes open in case there's a repeat performance.

Today was Sunday and the planning permission that has been granted prohibits work on the site on a Sunday and yet, as I was putting the rubbish out in the back garden I heard noises from the site.

I knew that both entrances to the site were locked.  I also knew that the Portakabin that the builders use for frequent tea-making wasn't open.

I hopped onto a bench and looked over what remains of our garden wall and the temporary barrier the builders have constructed.  I couldn't see anything, but I could definitely hear something.

What should to do?

I guessed that nobody was being murdered because I couldn't hear screaming.  I figured the noises were being caused by one of three things:

1.  Thieving scum
2.  Young people mucking around on a building site.  Dangerous.
3.  Builders.  Shouldn't be there but harmless.

I thought the third option was unlikely because whoever was there wasn't behaving like the Monday-Saturday builders: gates locked, Portakabin closed, no loud swearing.  The balance of probabilities indicated I needed to call the police.

I dialled 101 and, after waiting an age once I'd been put through to the control room, I explained things just as I have here.

About three minutes later two police cars turned up and there was a knock at the door.  A mountain of a police officer wanted to jump over our wall until he found it was a wobbly and unstable wall.  I helped him and a couple of his colleagues find the easy access for those with a slim frame.

As the occupants of the first two cars were tentatively making their way onto the site, two more cars turned up.  I think it might have been a slow crime day in Brentwood.

About ten minutes later I got the lowdown.  Three Romanian builders were a bit surprised to discovered by Brentwood's best blue line.

The police officers said I should call again if I see or hear anything suspicious. They said I did the right thing.

So next time there's activity on the site when there shouldn't be, I'll be calling 101.

Panasonic Breadmakers

I think I've blogged in praise of the Panasonic breadmaker in the past.  It's a brilliant piece of kit and we use ours almost daily.  In this case it's Panasonic we should thank for our daily bread.

But, our first Panasonic broke after about 18 months.  I think it was a mechanical failure.  So, because we are so dependent on our breadmaker I hot-footed it to Currys and bought another.  This time I paid for a "Care plan" which would last three years and provide a replacement should we experience another failure.

Today, exactly to the day, two years after I bought that second breadmaker it failed.  We tried three loaves and all were rubbish.  I couldn't remember the details of the Curry's Care plan so I phoned.  The nice customer sewrvice representative at the other end gave me a reference number and told me it expired on the 8th of January 2016.

We took the broken breadmaker which had cost £119.99 into the store and came away with the latest model which was on sale for £134.99.

I never buy product insurance but because we'd experienced one failure I thought I'd take the risk and this time it paid off.  As it's worked once for me I asked if I could do the same for this new breadmaker.  So I have paid another £30 to be covered for the next three years and, yes, I feel that Panasonic should probably design something that's a bit more robust, but I'm guessing that in two years time I'll be getting another upgrade because the current model will fail.

The unexpected bonus was that I will be getting a refund on the remaining year of unused Care Plan on the broken product.  I didn't expect that.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Amazing apple pie

Cooked an awesome apple pie today.  It was stacked with fruit and the pastry was fantastic.  The recipe made no sense.  It seemed completely illogical because the pastry didn’t need cold ingredients, but it worked so, hey ho, here’s an amazing apple pie recipe.  Taken from Angela Whatsit on

You’ll need a 20-22cm round and 4cm deep pie tin/dish, oh, and an oven, and ingredients.



  • 1kg ish Bramley apples
  • 140g golden caster sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 225g butter, room temperature
  • 50g golden caster sugar, plus extra
  • 2 eggs
  • 350g plain flour
  • For the pastry, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until just mixed.
  • Break in a whole egg and a yolk (keep the white for glazing later).
  • Beat together for just under 1 min – it will look a bit like scrambled egg.
  • Now work in the flour with a wooden spoon, a third at a time, until it’s beginning to clump up, then finish gathering it together with your hands.
  • Gently work the dough into a ball, wrap in cling film or plastic bag, and chill for a minimum of 45 mins.
  • While the pastry is chilling, prepare the apples.
  • Put a layer of paper towels on a large baking sheet.
  • Quarter, core, peel and slice the apples about 5mm thick.  Because I hate apples that turn brown I put the cut apple in water with a dash of lemon juice.  Before the next step the apples need to be drained.
  • Lay sliced apples evenly on the paper towel covered baking sheet.
  • Put paper towels on top and set aside.
  • Now mix the 140g/5oz sugar, the cinnamon and flour for the filling in a bowl that is large enough to take the apples
  • After the pastry has chilled, heat the oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5.
  • Lightly beat the egg white with a fork.
  • Grease your pie tin/dish with butter.
  • Cut off a third of the pastry and keep it wrapped while you roll out the rest, and use this to line a pie tin – 20-22cm round and 4cm deep – leaving a slight overhang.
  • Roll the remaining third to a circle about 28cm in diameter.
  • Pat the apples dry with kitchen paper, and tip them into the bowl with the cinnamon-sugar mix. Having dry apples in the pie prevent a soggy bottom.
  • Give a quick mix with your hands and immediately pile high into the pastry-lined tin/dish.
  • Brush a little water around the pastry rim and lay the pastry lid over the apples pressing the edges together to seal.
  • Trim the edge with a sharp knife and make 5 little slashes on top of the lid for the steam to escape. (Can be frozen at this stage.)
  • Brush it all with the egg white and sprinkle with caster sugar.
  • Bake for 40-45 mins, until golden, then remove and let it sit for 5-10 mins before serving with vanilla ice cream, cream or custard.
  • 1kg Bramley apples
  • 140g golden caster sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp flour

Sunday, 18 January 2015

If I were a successful theatre director

We went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last night.
It was good.
Wonka was played to perfection.  The set was amazing. Some of the costumes were very clever and I would rather like a Wonka jacket.
But there was something missing.
The children and I agreed that all audience members should have a chocolate bar and inside one, per performance, there should be a golden ticket. That golden ticket should win the holder a prize. It could be a show T-shirt our a trip backstage or the book signed by the cast our something.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Being nice

At school today Hannah saw the result of generosity of spirit.
Someone had used post-it notes on locker doors and in a few other places around the school.
The messages on the post-it notes were all positive. "Smile" "Have a great day." "Your hair looks great." "I like your bag."
I think everyone who saw one of these notes would have had at least five minutes of feeling good.
What a lovely, kind thing to do.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The war effort

I have war stock.

What’s war stock?

War stock is when the Government sell bonds to finance a war effort.

Cool, which war?

Well I didn’t know until yesterday, but the First World War.

How come you have war stock for the First World War?

It’s called inheritance.  I could have cashed it in but it is a small amount and I liked the reminder that my family had supported the war effort when the country needed it.  I had thought it was Second World War stock but this appears to have made it through two generations.

Great.  And…?

Well the Government don’t want this piece of history to exist anymore. 


They want to pay back the debt.


Well debt is cheaper at the moment so they can pay this back and get cheaper debt.  I think this is a bit of a shame.

Ok, where can I go to find out more?


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Cheeseboard and Onion Tart

You know those times when you’re being posh and sophisticated, serving a well chosen selection of cheeses on a proper cheeseboard with the correct cheese knives?


Me neither, but there might be times when you have cheese in the fridge that could be used in a tart.  Most cheeses could probably be used in this recipe but I’d recommend cheese that packs a punch.  I’ve made it with mature cheddar, brie and stilton as a combination and also a smoked cheese, stilton, brie and cheddar as a combo.

I don’t own a cheeseboard and I have just one knife that is allegedly for cheese.

You’ll need a tart tin.  This recipe is notionally for a 23cm tin but both times i’ve made it I’ve kept the pastry quantity the same and just upped the filling amount.


  • 250g plain flour
  • 125g cold cubed unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt (I forgot this)
  • 2 onions (I love onion so used more), sliced into rings or half rings
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 284ml double cream
  • 250g cheese, any cheese but the tastier the better
  1. Put some ice cubes in some water.  Pastry making requires coldness.  I have only learned this through watching endless baking shows.  I avoided pastry for years because it scared me and crappy mince pie making scarred me.
  2. Put the flour, butter and salt in a food processor and pulse until your mixture looks like fine crumbs.
  3. Carefully add about 60ml of the cold water.  Add it slowly whilst pulsing until the mixture starts to come together as a dough.
  4. Shape it into a fat, smooth disc and pop in a plastic bag in the fridge for at least 20 mins.
  5. This can be done a few days in advance.  You can also freeze dough as well.
  6. While your pastry is in the fridge, butter your tart tin.
  7. Also while your pastry is in the fridge soften the onion slices in oil on the hob, medium heat, until the onions are translucent and turning golden - this should take at least ten minutes.
  8. Heat oven to 180C (fan oven).
  9. Roll out pastry on a floured surface until it’s big enough to line your tart tin.  My recipe says line the tin with baking parchment but I didn’t bother.
  10. Line your tin with the pastry.  Use your knuckles to gently push the pastry into place.
  11. You need to choose what to do with the pastry hanging over the edge.  Pastry shrinks which is why many people advise leaving the excess pastry just hanging. Personally I find it easier to remove the pastry at this stage.  Trying to remove the cooked pastry is a faff but you might want to experiment.  Or you might have your own preference.
  12. Prick the pastry with a fork - this stops the pastry puffing up.
  13. Line the pastry with baking paper - cake liners work well here - and fill with baking beans or whatever you would normally use (beans or rice - obviously not baked beans, baking beans).
  14. Bake on a baking sheet for 15 mins.
  15. Remove from oven and carefully remove baking parchment and baking beans.
  16. Put back in the oven for about 10 minutes, or longer until the case is a pale golden colour.
  17. Turn the oven down to 160C (fan)
  18. While the case is cooking beat eggs and cream adding salt and pepper as required.  For bigger tart tins add an egg and use about 440ml cream.
  19. Crumble, chop or pull cheese into smallish (penny-sized) bits and scatter in case.
  20. Scatter softened onion.
  21. Pour in egg/cream mix.  The baking shows recommend doing this with tart on an oven shelf. I’ve tried this and get myself in a muddle because as the oven shelf is pulled out of the oven partially it is no longer properly horizontal.  I take an oven shelf out of the oven and with the baking tray and tart tin on the oven shelf I pour the mix in.  I find it easier to manoeuvre an oven shelf and keep it level than I do just a tart tin on a baking tray.
  22. Bake for 40 minutes.
  23. Can be eaten warm or cold.
  24. Keeps for a few days in the fridge.




Monday, 5 January 2015


So I’m going to fly in the face of public opinion and suggest Ched Evans should be hired by a football club, or at least the football clubs considering hiring him shouldn’t be swayed by vocal public opinion.

I know he protests his innocence, but for the purposes of this argument, let’s assume he’s guilty.

I understand he’s been found guilty of rape and he served half of a five year sentence.

Let me also clear up any misunderstanding about my views on rape.  I think it’s a vile crime and my view on Ched Evan’s employability does not mean I condone the crime.

I consider that Mr Evans has paid the price for his crime and his slate has, as far as society should be concerned, been wiped clean.

You and I may consider the sentence served to be inadequate for the crime, but it is our justice system that decided the original sentence and the decision to release after time served.  We might not like it but those are the rules.

Generally there is a view that people who have served time at Her Majesty’s pleasure should be rehabilitated into society.  Having employment is an ideal part of this jigsaw.

Personally I would much rather see this ex-con employed doing something where he has some skill rather than living on the money that can probably be made from selling exclusive stories to different tabloid rags or checkout gossip mags.

I understand that footballers are role models (in theory).  Boxers are too.  Anyone remember Mike Tyson’s rape conviction?  

I don’t think Ched Evans is seeking the easy route.  The prosecution was very public.  Everyone knows what he did.  He’s choosing to be in the public eye and under the scrutiny of the media, something he could avoid if he disappeared into obscurity.  I think that he could be a role model if he behaved appropriately now.  A reformed character can be inspirational.

I also wonder what society would think if the crime was GBH, or theft, or tax evasion, or fraud, or manslaughter, or possession, or…you get the idea.  The time served could have been the same for tax evasion (or possession of a class B drug).  Would the view be that tax evasion is OK?  I’m not sure it provides a great role model.  We wouldn’t want children thinking it was OK to avoid paying tax.

But if someone who happened to be a good footballer, evaded tax, served their time and then behaved responsibly and within the law then I think there’s no reason why they shouldn’t play football again.  

Did you know Wesley Snipes did three years jail time for tax offences and yet nobody seems to have objected to him appearing in Expendables 3 following his release?

It’s not as though Evans is commanding a price that matches his football skill.  From what I understand his fee is much cheaper than it would be for someone else who wasn’t an ex-con.

There is an opportunity for a mutually beneficial relationship here.  Oldham Athletic need a change of fortune and so does Ched Evans.  

I understand the commercial decision being made by sponsors.  The public reaction to Oldham’s tentative steps towards signing Ched Evans is something you wouldn’t want associated with your brand.

Oldham need to balance potential sponsorship loss with the potential of improved team performance, but I think the guy has been given his punishment and shouldn’t be further penalised.

I don’t envy the people making the decision though.

Friday, 2 January 2015

It's all about me

We booked a train journey from Shenfield to Sheringham.

It takes slightly longer than driving because two changes are involved but it does allow us to sit at a table and read books and play games and it should be less tiring.

There's only one stretch of the journey that affords us the luxury of reserved seating but it's the longest stretch between Chelmsford and Norwich.

We were travelling on a quiet day.  As we parked in Shenfield train station car park at 8:00 we were one of four cars in what is normally a nearly full car park.

At Chelmsford we hopped onto the carriage with our reserved seats and 90% off the seats weren't reserved making it easy to spot our reserved seats. The carriage was barely occupied so we headed to the seats with reserved tickets.

At our reserved table was a woman who had clearly made herself at home.

Hannah and Ethan sat down opposite her and when she finished her phone call she shuffled a couple of belongings and said "I could move."

We moved and sat at a different table because there was plenty of space and it wasn't a problem.

But what kind of person sees an empty carriage with barely any reservations and actively chooses to sit in reserved seats?

Is it arrogance,  stupidity or just an absence of awareness?

It's just something that wouldn't occur to me and I don't understand it.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

A fine mess

I watch baking/cooking shows.  Sometimes I might make something I’ve seen.  This happened most recently with Tom Kerridge’s spiced orange cake and yes, I will put this recipe online because it worked well, and was gluten free.

The thing that annoys me about these programmes is that my experience is generally nothing like the one portrayed on screen.  The finished result never looks as professional and the my process of cooking whatever it is always lacks the finesse and skill of the chef on the TV.

But my main bugbear is mess.  Nobody ever seems to tidy up mess.

Paul Hollywood is always shaking flour and icing sugar all over work surfaces but I don’t think i’ve ever seen that mess cleaned up.  When I clean up flour I end up with wallpaper paste because that’s what happens when I mix water and flour.

My floor also gets covered in flour and sugar and that is not fun to tidy up.  Do the professionals have a particular tidy up technique that I could learn?

Then there’s dough whether it’s bread or pastry that gets stuck to the work surface.  If that’s not cleaned up quickly it sticks hard and needs chipping off.

Egg whites spilled by My Hollywood’s one-handed egg cracking technique also have glue-like properties.  This is why royal icing sets rock hard - it’s because of the egg whites.  He never cleans this up.

I would like a programme where the presenter prepares ingredients, makes everything, tidies up and does the washing up.  I want to see how messy their kitchen is because I can’t believe I’m the only one to create such a disaster zone every time I venture towards the hob or oven.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Cranberry muffins

I had left over cranberries after making cranberry sauce so I made some cranberry muffins.  They are lactose free too which is a bonus.


  • 280g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt (optional)
  • 85g granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 240 ml orange juice
  • 110g fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated orange or lemon zest
  • 90 ml corn oil


  • Put muffin papers in muffin tin.
  • Turn oven on to 170C (fan oven)
  • In large bowl sift flour, salt, baking powder and then stir in sugar.
  • In separate bowl mix egg with orange juice, cranberries, rind and oil.
  • Mix wet and dry ingredients with gentle stirring.
  • When combined spoon into muffin cases and bake for about 25 mins and tops are browned lightly and spring back when pressed lightly.

Job done.  Eat.

(Can be frozen.)



Sunday, 14 December 2014

How do they do it?

Yesterday evening I ordered something from Next online.

I got an email saying it’d be ready after 2pm the next day from my local store.  I was amazed.  How do they achieve this?

This morning I got a text just before 11am saying that the item I’d ordered was ready for collection.  How is this possible?

The item I’d ordered isn’t normally stocked by our local store so it would have travelled from a distribution centre.  

Surely one item can’t have been worth the logistical cost.  Let’s assume that a few items were delivered and let’s assume one van or truck delivers to a few stores, can the cost of the vehicle, fuel and the cost of the driver really justify this, on a Sunday?

Or are deliveries happening seven days a week to all stores and my item was just chucked on the van before it left this morning?  This seems fairly logical but I am surprised all stores receive deliveries that frequently, and that all deliveries happen by 2pm.

Anyone out there know how they do it?

Monday, 8 December 2014

Unintended consequences

I wasn’t meant to be at home today but a dose of heavy cold/flu meant that for the first time in eight years I needed to work from home because Hannah was poorly.  

I had to nip to work to collect my laptop and shortly after I arrived back home there was a knock at the door.  A workman wanted to know if I used my drive.  I explained that I didn’t, but others do and, in turn, he explained that there was going to be work happening for five days digging up the pavement area in front of our house.

This was new news to me and he told me that the Council should have got in touch to warn me.  He also realised that, because the drive does get used, he needed to order a plate to continue to provide me with vehicle access.

Later in the day I called the Council who told me that UK Power Networks should have told me about the work and that I didn’t get a letter from the Council because they had determined that there would be no traffic impact.

I tweeted UK Power Networks : and responded with the information they requested.

The Council called back later to explain the work was to happen around the school runs.  This made no sense as, whether work was happening or not, the pavement was closed to pedestrians, on their way to school or not.

I spoke to the contractors, Morrisons, who were effectively doing what the contract said.  I clearly needed to get UK Power Networks to take this seriously.

UK Power Networks called me and I explained that the situation with a closed pavement, and no alternative for pedestrians, was unsafe.  I had just video’d the situation and sent that to Debbie in the Romford UK Power Networks office.  Here it is:

Lots of to-ing and fro-ing later and there was a promise of traffic lights and a walkway for pedestrians.  I was happy that everything had been done to make things safe.  I felt responsible because this was outside my house and if anything happened to anyone crossing the road because of the work, I would feel terrible if I hadn’t done what I could to make it as safe as possible.  It’s bad enough that there’s construction traffic next door without adding to the danger.

But then came the kick.  The site manager, who had told me about the traffic lights and walkway, then told me he thought the two workmen who had been on site all day would probably lose their jobs as a result of my intervention.

This shouldn’t be how this situation ends.  I had been clear all the way through that it was the planning that was lacking, not the execution.  The improvement opportunities were with the interaction between UK Power Networks and Essex County Council and not the contractor Morrisons who were just carrying out the instructions on a contract.

I wrote an email to UK Power Networks to try and mitigate things:

Hi Debbie

Thank you for your intervention.  I have just been advised that traffic lights will be installed tomorrow morning.  I feel a lot happier about the situation.
I am concerned that there should not be any blame apportioned to the young gentlemen who have been working on site today.  They have been at all times courteous and helpful within the constraints over which they had no control.  They should be commended for their concern and for doing everything within their power and authority.
In the future, for such work, I would like to see much better collaboration between Essex County Council and UK Power Networks.  Better decisions should be made earlier on to enable contractors such as Morrisons to work for the safety of all concerned.
If you are confused by the multiple addressees, I apologise, but I thought it would be good to share the good news with local residents and Councillors.
Thank you again
Kind regards
I was left balancing the potential accident that the dangerous closed pavement might cause and two people needlessly losing their jobs.  It was no choice and it seemed wrong that in trying to do the right thing and achieving a result, I was also responsible for potential job losses.
I gave the workmen a copy of the email and hoped that this physical evidence, and the fact I had copied about 30 people, might prevent any corporate blaming of the lowest common denominator rather than addressing the fundamental flaws in the process.
I don’t know whether to be pleased that children (and others) will be safer walking along our road this week, or whether to regret getting involved.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

It's not difficult

All I want is a nice sparkly top to wear with jeans. Why can't I find something that works?

I want something with a v-neck  and yet most retailers seem to think high neck or round neck is de rigueur.

I want sleeves but they don't have to be full length.  They can be short sleeves or 3/4 length but don't give me sleeveless or cap sleeves.

I want a diaphonous fabric,  perhaps and perhaps preferably with an opaque layer beneath.

Don't make it black.  Black does not suit me.  A muted  silvery blue would be nice or maybe a soft raspberry colour.

I'm not averse to a few sequins but let's not go sequin crazy.

And a semi-fitted top is fine but completely clingy is not appropriate. So a wrap style top could work or maybe empire line.

This top should work with a bra.  Don't design something that is so low cut that breasts and bra are exposed. It would be acceptable to design bra functionality into the top.

Oh and this should ideally be machine washable.

This top should not have cutouts at the front of the back that would expose bra or pasty winter skin.

So .... It really isn't difficult so why can't I find it.?

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Don't ask, don't get

My pressure cooker broke during my inaugural Christmas pudding cooking.

I'm not sure exactly when the breakage occurred but when I took it apart to wash it (yes I know it's unfair that I do the cooking and the washing up) I noticed a bit of plastic had snapped.

I knew the pressure cooker had a warranty so I sent Kuhn Rikon an email. I asked how I could get a replacement item.

They responded with details of their spare parts service.

I asked about a replacement under warranty as my pressure cooker was less than a couple of years old.

I was advised that whilst the pressure cooker has a ten year warranty some bits of it were only covered by a one year warranty.

I explained that this was disappointing as my pressure cooker is used infrequently, and I asked whether they had a goodwill policy.

An offer to replace the part at no cost "just this once" arrived in my inbox this morning.

If you don't ask, you don't get.