Sunday, 26 June 2011

A new use for Twitter

Today I took several of Hannah's friends off to Diggerland.

I understand that when someone else is taking your child somewhere there's some nervousness on the part of the parent.  You want to know your child is safe and having fun.

I could have texted parents regularly.  I could have tweeted our progress using my usual Twitter account but the tweets would have been meaningless and overly numerous for people who follow that account.  So I decided to set up an event Twitter account.

The Twitter account @260611 was created for today.  To follow it parents didn't need to set up a Twitter account they could just go straight to

This provided, almost, real time reporting of activity, except where I needed my hands for driving or eating or whatever.

As well as reassurance for parents it provides the children with a record of the day.

The only issue was relying on the 3G network to upload images.  This was suboptimal but not a project killer.  And the next time I need a similar facility I just need to change the account name.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Root canal myth buster

Scary isn't it?  You're recoiling at the thought.  You're perhaps imagining pain travelling like electricity along nerves, causing the worst pain imaginable.

Well I've been there, and I have a few myths to bust.

This morning I went to the dentist with a dental abscess.  I'd obviously googled the condition and after reading the words "can be fatal" and "should see dentist as soon as possible" I was outside the dental surgery at 8:00am this morning to obtain an emergency appointment at 8:50am.

The dentist had a quick look, took three x-rays (that's what the bill said but I swear he only took one), and told me I needed a root canal treatment.

I broke out into a cold sweat and adrenalin coursed through my veins.  The flight response was stronger than the fight response but my body was definitely responding to a threat.

I asked the dentist lots of questions and he told me he was going to drill a hole in the back of the tooth, put some antibiotics in the drilled hole (despite the fact I'd already started a course of antibiotics) and then apply a temporary filling.

I asked if he was going to give me an anaesthetic injection (because those can really hurt) and he said "No" which worried me.  He explained the nerve was dead and I wouldn't feel a thing.

I was unbelievably nervous. Root canal treatment has a bad reputation, but today I discovered that, if the nerve has died, then root canal treatment is painless and really quick.

Granted my body was full of adrenalin and that natural inbuilt pain relief wore off after about an hour, but a dose of Nurofen was all it took to put me back into a pain-free state.

I was at work by 9:20am.  I certainly didn't expect that.

So if your dentist uses the words root canal treatment, don't panic.  It'll be OK*.


*providing the nerve is dead

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The NHS is sick

On Thursday I needed a doctor's appointment.  I thought I was suffering from Bruxism and was controlling the resultant pain with painkillers which was proving to be a moderately successful strategy.  When I was told my doctor wasn't available until Tuesday I thought I could wait and manage with painkillers until the appointment.

On Saturday I reached a point where the painkillers were no longer working, the pain was intense and I needed help.

It wasn't an emergency because I hadn't broken anything and I wasn't going to die so A&E was out of the question.  I didn't want to trouble an out of hours doctor who might be on call so, in tears, I drove to the local Community Hospital.  There was a sign pointing to the side of the building for the Out of Hours service.  I went though the doors and was met with advice to use antibac gel to keep germs at bay.  There was no gel dispenser to be seen.

The Out of Hours service seemed to be through doors that were locked.  There was a sign on the door stating that it was a wheelchair and ambulance access only and all others were to use the main entrance.  I walked, in tears and in the rain, round to the main entrance to find that was also locked.  A security chap poked his head through a window and when I explained what I was looking for he pointed me in the direction of the doors I'd tried initially.  I walked, frustrated, in tears and in the rain, back to the first set of doors and used the intercom.

I was asked what I wanted and I explained.  I was asked whether I had an appointment and when I said "No." I was told I needed to call my doctor to get an appointment.  He offered to come out and explain.

In tears and very frustrated and called my doctor and handed over my details for an appointment at the Out of Hours doctor based at the Community Hospital.  I was told I'd get a call.

The chap at the hospital came to find me mid call to the Out of Hours service and let me in.  He explained my details needed to come through on the system before I could see the doctor.  I could tell he thought I was a case deserving pity and I heard him talking to someone in an office who needed to know I was already there and in a lot of pain.  He was right, by the way, I was pitiful.

About a minute later my details popped through onto the hospital system and I was in seeing the doctor with the bad body odour.  The BO is immaterial but when you're in pain and want to get better being overpowered by BO isn't great.

He told me he didn't think it was an abscess (which was the result of my own self-diagnosis) but he wrote me a prescription for antibiotics anyway.  He told me I needed to see a dentist.  You see if it was an abscess then I would need to see a dentist but bruxism is caused by mental health factors which can't be fixed by a dentist.  It probably can't be fixed by a doctor either but he has more of a chance of knowing what needs doing.

I asked if there was an out of hours dental service and he laughed and said getting to see a dentist was a nightmare.  He told me that if I turned up at A&E they might have a dentist on duty.  This wasn't overly reassuring.

I left, having had no sight of any antibac gel, with a useless prescription and a growing sense of despair.

I still have pain.  The painkillers are barely touching the surface.

I'm off to see Derren Brown tonight.  You might think I'm mad but distraction is a good cure for pain.  Additionally there is just a tiny bit of me that is hoping that Derren might somehow hypnotise me and make the pain go away.  This may seem like clutching at straws and you'd be right, but sometime straws are the only things left.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Orange and date muffins and indignant rage

I made these the other day because I needed to make something and happened to have both oranges and dates in the house.
Orange and date muffins
I was feeling guilty about not having baked anything for the School Sports Day cake sale so, in the small window of time I have on Thursdays between leaving work and doing the school run, I got baking.
I took these, fresh from the oven to the school office.  I went to the Infant School office first and was met with a blank look.  They weren't expecting any bakes but wanted a quick peek to see what I'd made.  Freshly baked orange and date muffin aroma filled the office and was quickly followed by the request for a sample.  We agreed I ought to check the Junior School office.
As I handed over my wares to the Junior School office they said "Thanks.  If it's rained off can we have these in the staff room?"
What would you have said?  I used a small window of time in a busy week to bake muffins for a cake sale to raise funds for the school and the office staff fancied diverting them to the staffroom.  What I thought and what I said differed.  What I said, through gritted teeth, was "Only if you give some money to charity."
Anyway, Sports Day was rained off but the cake sale went ahead. My indignant rage wasn't required.
But we digress.  Easy peasy orange and date muffins.
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 baking powder
  • 1/2 soda bicarbonate
  • pinch of salt
  • 110g sugar (caster or granulated)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tsps of orange rind, roughly what you'd get from two large oranges
  • 180ml orange juice (from the grated oranges and topped up with stuff from a carton)
  • 90ml corn oil
  • 85g chopped dates (I used posh medjool dates but only because they were in the fridge taking up space and needed eating/cooking.  I'm sure any dates would be just fine.)
Optional, but oh so sticky and gooey, glaze
  • 85g icing sugar
  • 4 tsps orange juice
  • 1/4 tsp grated orange rind
  • This recipe makes about 11 muffins so pop your muffin cases in your muffin tin and crank the oven up to 160°C.
  • In a large bowl stir flour, baking powder soda bicarb, salt and sugar.
  • In another bowl, beat egg and add grated rind, juice and oil.
  • Pour wet mixture into dry and stir until no dry flour remains.  Add dates in final few strokes.
  • Spoon into muffin cases and bake for 20 minutes ish, until they are a lovely golden brown.
  • Wile the muffins are baking combine the glaze ingredients and then drizzle over hot muffins when they come out of the oven.
  • These muffins freeze well (as I told the lady in the school office.)

Monday, 13 June 2011

Ginger loaf (with butter icing)

I made this for the first time the other week and it worked first time.  I didn't do the butter icing because it seemed messy and overly complicated for an office bake.  For home consumption where there's time, crockery, cutlery etc and not just cake tins and napkins, then the butter icing might be a nice add.

I have to say it was on a table next to the cherry and pecan muffins and nobody chose the ginger loaf except me.  Their loss.  I thought it was yummy.


  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 fat knobs of stem ginger in syrup, roughly chopped
  • 220g soft brown sugar
  • 170g unsalted butter
  • 350g golden syrup
  • 280ml milk
  • 1 egg
  • (150g unsalted butter at room temperature and 200g icing sugar for butter icing)


  • Grease and line two 900g (large) loaf tins.  This means buttering the tins, lining with baking parchment and buttering the baking parchment.  I hate this part of baking but it is worth the effort.
  • Preheat fan oven to 160°C.
  • Stir flour, ground ginger, baking powder, bicarb and salt.  Add chopped ginger and stir again.
  • Tip butter, sugar and golden syrup into a saucepan and warm through.  It helps to chop the butter and you are warming everything through, not cooking it.  You just need to get it to the point where the syrup is running.
  • Remove from heat and stir in milk and then lightly beat in the egg.
  • Tip this wet mixture into the dry ingredients and beat until well mixed.
  • Pour mixture into the two tins and bake for 60-70 minutes until a skewer can be inserted and removed and remain clean.  If, during cooking, you are concerned that the top is getting too brown, then loosely cover with foil.
  • If you fancy making butter icing as an accompaniment then beat the butter at room temperature until light and fluffy and then beat in the icing sugar.



Cherry and Pecan Muffins

Makes 10-12 muffins


  • 250g plain flour
  • 3 tsps baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 85g sugar (caster or granulated)
  • 1 egg
  • 240ml milk
  • 90ml corn oil
  • 110g chopped glacĂ© cherries
  • 60g chopped pecans (you can use walnuts if you want to)


  • Put muffin cases in muffin tin
  • Preheat oven to 160°C if fan oven.
  • In a large bowl stir flour, salt, baking powder and sugar.  You can sift the flour if you really want to (I don't think it makes much of a difference).
  • In a separate bowl beat egg with a fork.  Stir in milk, oil and cherries.
  • Pour liquid ingredients into dry and stir until just combined.  Add the chopped walnuts during the last few strokes.
  • Spoon into muffin cases and pop in the oven for 20 minutes.  Our oven doesn't cook evenly so at 17 minutes I turn the muffin tin through 180 degrees.  At 20 minutes if they look like they need a couple of extra minutes then leave the muffins in for a little longer.
  • These muffins freeze well and a 30 second blast of a frozen muffin in the microwave makes it the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Windows scam


I received a telephone call from a scam artist yesterday and I thought I'd share the experience because, although I figured out what was going on, I think it would be useful to let you know what to avoid.

The call is from 24seven PC Care who are (NOT) a Microsoft partner.  It's an Indian accent you'll hear and the person who calls you is based in Manchester (NOT).

If you have caller id then the number may show as 0123456789 but when you ask your caller they'll explain that's because they're using VOIP, except they don't call it VOIP because they assume you're an idiot.  I have no idea whether they used VOIP.

Normally with this type of call I string them along for a bit and then end the call.  I did start by doing that but we had just recently bought some Windows software.  Whilst I started as an extreme sceptic I did start to wonder if the call was valid.

My caller had an Indian accent, and because so many companies have call centres in India I wasn't surprised by the accent.  I was surprised when he said he was based in Manchester, and gave me a Manchester telephone number 0161 408 4448.   Clearly an Indian accent in Manchester isn't impossible but this individual was so difficult to understand I was amazed he'd passed any interview for a job in a call centre.  And he said his name was Michael Davies.  Again this isn't impossible for someone in Manchester with a heavy Indian accent, but it is unlikely.

As the call was just a conversation I decided to give the caller the benefit of the doubt to the point of switching on the PC and following some simple instructions.  I knew that nothing I was doing was changing anything on my machine.  I can't recall what I was looking at, it's in a convoluted menu area that you wouldn't normally access.  The point of this exercise was to persuade me that my PC was infected by a virus.

Once I was wondering whether my machine really was infected I was told to go to the following web address:  I didn't, and neither should you.  At this point I said I was going to leave the call and check the credentials of the company and my caller.

The caller then became quite agitated and insisted he was trying to help me.  He told me it was clear I didn't know anything about computers and my computer was dangerously infected.  I told him he was rude and aggressive and that, if the call was legitimate he'd have no problem with me ending the call, checking credentials and calling back.  And then I put the phone down.

And then I googled "24sevenpccare scam" and found a plethora of information.  You can find it too, here.