Monday, 31 December 2012

Remember chain letters?

I'm old enough to remember chain letters.  I don't remember the content very well but I remember being told by my parents that they were "bad" and to be ignored.

Often they were ostensibly innocuous requiring a small investment in time and money with the promise of a modest reward, but others were more demanding on time and money with the promise of much larger rewards.

The pernicious aspect of the chain letter was the threat that a failure to participate would lead to bad luck, ill-health or a disastrous love life.

With the advent of e-mail the chain letter morphed into the chain e-mail.  Often there was still a real world element requiring the use of post but the spreading mechanism was electronic.

Now it's Facebook that is awash with the chain letter disease.

This is the latest one that landed in my Newsfeed:

FB chain letter

The post had graphic details of the rape and murder and this post ended with the words

If her death Touches YOU & UR against RAPE
Write: "R.I.P"

If YOU Support RAPE
COMMENT & SHARE with atleast 10 of YOUR best FRIENDS! Tell them to LIKE COLLINS OKELLO so they can receive daily update from us on this story. The culprits MUST pay for this. I'M FOLLOWING THIS STORY TO THE END TILL DAMINI GETS FULL JUSTICE.

I don't know Collins Okello but they have used a tragic situation just to increase the likes on their Facebook page.  It's a behaviour that tugs on the emotions of the masses for selfish gain.

I ignored this post, not because I support rape, but because this type of Facebook post makes me sick.

I see the same kind of post for child abuse, animal cruelty etc. and they are all promoted by an individual who has the selfish motivation of self-promotion.  This is the latest instalment in the long history of chain letters.

My parents were right.  Chain letters are "bad" and to be ignored.


s post ended with the w

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Out on a limb

I think I might be in a minority on this one, or at least I disagree with most politicians.  I believe some prisoners should have the vote.

If someone is in prison they are "paying" for their crime.  Once their sentence is served the slate should be considered to be wiped clean, were this not the case then everyone would be given a life sentence.

I think there's a simple way to determine whether a prisoner should have the vote.

If someone has a release date that would fall during the term of the next parliament then they should get the vote because they would be living as a free person during the term of the person/government that won the election.

Sometimes people are released ahead of their initial release date.  If that is known ahead of the election then a vote should be granted.  Where an early release date is anticipated, but not agreed, then it would not be used to determine the right to vote.

This seems fair.  You vote if you will be living as a free person at some point during the term of the election winner.

It's a different approach to the ones that have been put before Parliament.  I understand that those with sentences of either less than four years of less than six months are being considered for voting eligibility and of course retaining the ban on voting is still being maintained as an option.

My solution treats everyone in the same way be they convicted murderers or shoplifters.  If they are due for release during the next term of office (for and MP or Government)), they get a say.

What do you think?

Monday, 12 November 2012

Stop it now

I am sick of people metaphorically falling on their swords.

So George Entwistle has resigned to make it easier for the BBC to get rid of him by sacking him, but either way he gets the same money he would have received had they sacked him.

Do I think his career is over?  Probably not.  He's had a very successful career at the BBC and is resigning because he's come under pressure to make a gesture because somebody made a mistake.  Either way he has a full year at full pay to find a new role and I doubt this will be a challenge.

I've lost track about how many people have "stepped aside" because of the Newsnight debacles.  Why have they stepped aside?

On the Savile issue the problem seems to be not explaining properly why the programme didn't air.  In my experience not everyone in an organisation is always in possession of al of the facts and writing a blog post and getting it a bit wrong is hardly a major misdemeanour.

On the Welsh child abuse issue as I understand it some journalists who didn't work for the BBC spoke to a man who was adamant that he knew who one of his abusers was, and could name him.  He knew this because police showed him a picture and told him that the person in the picture was a senior politician, and named him.  The police got it wrong.  Would you check this?  If you were under pressure to get a story out and you had someone in front of you who was adamant that an abuser was a senior Tory politician because the police had shown him a picture of the politician and you recognised him as an abuser; would you think "I doubt that and need to check that by showing this chap a recent picture of this politician"?

Would it surprise you if senior politicians were child abusers because it wouldn't surprise me at all.  They fiddle their expenses and I'm sure they have many skeletons in various cupboards.  If one or two were guilty of child abuse I would not be at all surprised.  I'd be angry, but not surprised.

Of course it's hideous that an innocent name has been dragged through the dirty internet mire.  This gentleman will, forever, have Google search results attached to his name that are libellous. That is difficult, if not impossible to undo.  Fortunately the story about the inaccuracy of those Google search results will also be there forever.

I do not think that all of this warrants paying a man £450,000 for not doing his job.  I'd like to see George Entwistle earn that money by doing his job and I'd like everyone who has stepped aside to step right up, back to where they were.

Mistakes should teach people to get it right next time.  These people won't make this mistake again, which makes them perfectly qualified for their jobs.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

I can help you Mr Cameron

David Cameron is on Twitter.  It's about time.  Frankly he should have made the jump a long time ago and, if he had, he wouldn't have received the reaction to his account that he has experienced.

His first meaningful tweet was about the NHS.

David Cameron  David Cameron  on Twitter

The problem with tweeting about this is that hospital wards are closing and staff are losing their jobs because of insufficient funding.  Additionally, the funding to which he referred was in the form of loans and not additional cash.  To quote Sky News:

"The money will initially be made available to hospitals in the form of loans, although they will only have to pay back a proportion of it, depending how well they perform according to feedback from the public."

Cameron received a torrent of abuse in his twitter stream which he must have expected.  I'm sure that there's never been a Prime Minister who has ever had 100% approval ratings and Twitter is well-known as a platform where people can vent their views and opinions without a thought to the hurt it can cause.

There are many celebrities who have found it difficult to cope with event the smallest criticism aimed at, or about them on Twitter.

David Cameron must, therefore, have a strong constitution, because only Mark Bridger (the man charged with the murder of April Jones) would be likely to see stronger, more vitriolic abuse on the micro-blogging platform.

One of my favourite intelligent responses was this:

Éoin Clarke  DrEoinClarke  on Twitter

And the link to the blog in the tweet is here.  Dr Clarke seems to have a great handle on exactly how the Conservatives are privatising our Health Service and benefitting financially in the process.

One of the better parody responses is here:

NumberTenPress  NumberTenPress  on Twitter

And then there were the thousands of abusive tweets and comical putdowns.  You can find them all here.  You may need to scroll a bit for some of the best ones.

I think the abusive tweets could serve Cameron well though and if I were on his PR/Soc Med team I would be advising a new type of analytics.  Daily there could be a count of the ratio in @ mentions of the words c*** and w***er to followers.  So if there were 50,000 mentions of the word c*** in @ replies to a total number of followers of 100,000 then you'd have a C Score for the day of 50%.  Similarly if there were 25,000 mentions of the word w***er in replies to @david_cameron you'd have a W Score of 25%.

A successful day, in the eyes of the Tory PR team, could be one in which the C and W scores are both below 25%.  For accurate measurement one would need to include those who use asterisks to avoid offence but this is all possible using a number of Twitter tools.  Once the C and W scores are being used one could extend the report to include the B score, the T score and the P score.

So @david_cameron - if you need a hand with your Social Media analytics then give me a call.  My services are expensive, but worth it, and, for a man of your means, I'm sure cost isn't even a consideration.  I won't be donating to your party though.  I am happy to tell you exactly what the country thinks of you, wrapped up in a nice little Social Media report, but wouldn't want to get my hands dirty by supporting your career financially.

Monday, 24 September 2012


Ethan retains so much information it's scary.

  • Ethan: "Mummy, you know you keep losing your keys?"
  • Me: "Yes…"
  • Ethan: "I know what you need."
  • Me: "What do I need Ethan?"
  • Ethan: "You need a Fiesta."
  • Me: "Why do I need a Fiesta."
  • Ethan: "Because it's got keyless entry and keyless start."
  • Me: "I'd still need to have my keys in my handbag or pocket.  And how do you know the Fiesta has keyless entry and keyless start?"
  • Ethan: "Adverts during Channel 4 news."

I happen to know that adults, grown ups, watch that Fiesta advert and don't realise it's for Fiesta and then don't get the message that the car is available with keyless entry and keyless start.  Strange child.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Today a terrible thing happened

Today two police officers in the Greater Manchester area were shot and killed; a shocking and hideous crime.

The officers were lured to an address by someone reporting a burglary.  They were unarmed.

And they were women.

I was horrified when I heard about the crime and then disappointed by the way it was reported.

The emotional statement by Greater Manchester police talked about the police officers, their contribution to policing and to society.  It didn't mention their gender specifically.  Almost all media I encountered online and on the radio and TV reported the news story as variations on "Female Police Officers shot."

Had the victims been nurses I doubt their gender would have been mentioned.

Had the victims been men, and nurses, I'm pretty sure the gender of the victims would have been mentioned.

Had the victims been men and police officers I'm pretty sure the audience would be left to assume the victims were men.

I want to be clear here.  The killing of police officers, regardless of gender, is abhorrent.  But, I don't like the inherant sexism that assumes gender roles for particular professions.  The officers' employer didn't refer overtly to their gender in their press statement and I struggle to see why the mass of media coverage for this story feels that one of the most important parts of this news is the gender of the victims.

I even started to wonder whether there was more coverage because the victims  were women.  Should I be more shocked and outraged because women have been shot?  Should I have been less shocked and outraged if the victims had been men?

When a male soldier dies in Afghanistan, he is just a soldier.  When a female soldier dies in Afghanistan, she is a female soldier.

When a male police officer loses his life, he is just a police officer.  When a female police officer loses her life, she is a female police officer.



If you would like to submit a message for a book of condolence for PC Fiona Bone and PC Nicola Hughes then click here.

If you would like to submit a message about everyday sexism, then click here. (Thanks Vic.)

Tuesday, 21 August 2012


I have fast Wifi at home because I live a short distance from the telephone exchange.

I benefit from good 3G and phone reception coverage because I live in a large town.

I couldn't live on the shores of Loch Achray because, as a location, it benefits from none of these things.

On much of the literature for local attractions there was the encouragement to "follow on Twitter", "like on Facebook" or "download our app."   The most ironic of these was the "Scotland" app: the app for tourists.  In the weak 3G signal available in the nearest town I found the app and clicked to install.  An error message told me I needed to download the app via Wifi.  I waited until I returned to base and the weak Wifi on site.  I tried again via Wifi which was laughable as the Wifi here is slower than the worst 3G signal.  I've been in Scotland for a fortnight and will only be able to download the app when I get back home, in Essex.

IMG 4849

Ironically even if I had been able to download the app at home before coming on holiday I might not have been able to use it.  I've seen a lot of Olympics coverage promoting the Olympics app which I was able to download over the pitifully slow local Wifi.  The trouble is that this app requires a 3G signal or Wifi in order to update with news.  Without 3G it is useless.


Sunday, 19 August 2012

Police vs Facebook

The weather was hotter than hot and Dave chose to go for a bike ride.  He overdid it and came home with legs of jelly and a couple of other things too: a passport and a pair of sunglasses.

He found these in woods near Shenfield Common and that's a strange place to find a passport.  He looked around for a body because you never know.  (He didn't find one.)

When he got home we discussed what to do with the passport.

In "the old days" you'd take it to the police station, but these days that's less of an option.  The police station isn't always open, in fact I don't know what the opening hours are so I don't bother to try and hand anything in anymore.  Even if I were to look up the opening times I can guarantee there won't be any parking space near the station so the incentive to "bother" is small.  The last thing that I found was a beautiful silver earring.  I drove round to the police station four times before I gave up.  The earring is now somewhere in Dagenham because I left it in my car and it was still in the car when it was returned to the Ford Car Conditioning Centre in Dagenham.  They called me to tell me I'd left an earring in the car and I said they could keep it.  Somebody, somewhere, has lost an earring.  My only consolation when I think about my inability to reunite her with the earring is that she will have experienced the same trouble I did trying to visit the police station so she will have probably given up too.

In a passport there are no contact details for the passport holder.  There is a space for emergency contact details but this isn't always completed.  In our discovered passport there were emergency contact details but just a first name and an address.  This could have been an ex-girlfriend so we decided it would be wrong to pop round an hand over the passport, especially as the passport holder was quite young and likely to have young friends who might change address regularly.

We looked for our passport holder in the phone book but this contains the billpayer's details and only BT customers who aren't ex-directory. It's a lot slimmer than the phone book I remember from childhood too.

I thought it might be worth checking Facebook.  We did a search and found someone with the same name and date of birth.  Bizarrely we had a mutual friend.  I sent a Facebook message and, as a result, he will be collecting his passport and sunglasses tomorrow.  Good job too as he goes on holiday in a fortnight.

Police 0, Facebook 1.


Are breasts a barrier?

We've just witnessed the spectacle that was the Olympics and we are soon to enjoy the Paralympics.

There's one thing I noticed about all female competitors; they don't have breasts of significance.

Can you think of any female Olympian with a cup size bigger than B?

If one is genetically endowed with the average British breast size of 36D then is the top of the sporting tree inaccessible?

Maybe women considering breast implants should be encouraged to consider taking up a sport instead.  Just a thought.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Scrummy fudge recipe

Fudge is, I think, an expensive thing.  It always seems to cost an amount out of proportion to the humble ingredients of milk, condensed milk, sugar and butter.
The last time I made fudge I think I was about 16 years old.  I was in Rachel Thomas's kitchen and I think it was the summer holidays after 'O' Levels.  I know that recipe used skimmed milk powder and I would love to find that recipe but I fear it might be lost forever.  It seemed so easy.
I promised Hannah that we would make some fudge and found a random recipe on the web.  Most recipes recommended using a sugar thermometer so I bought this.
It's a thermospatula (rubbish name but does what it says on the tin) and you can buy from Lakeland.
You can make fudge without a thermometer but if you get it wrong there's a lot of wasted time, effort and ingredients.
  • 400g tin of condensed milk (we used Carnation Light)
  • 450g brown sugar (we used light brown sugar)
  • 150ml milk (we used skimmed)
  • 115g butter (we used unsalted)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence (optional and can be substituted with other flavours)
  • Grease and line something roughly 20cm square.
  • Heat together the milk, butter and sugar over a low heat in a non stick saucepan for 10-15 minutes.  After this time your bubbling mixture should have reached 115°C and, as the thermometer will show, it is scaldingly hot and needs to be treated with great care.
  • If you don't have a thermometer then you will have to test your mixture to see if it has been cooked enough.  This is done by spooning a small amount of the mixture into a cup of cold water.  If it retains its shape then it is ready.  If it just sinks and becomes a blob in the bottom of the cup then it isn't ready.
  • Add the vanilla or your choice of flavour and beat for ten minutes until it becomes thick and grainy.  I cheated and put the fudge in the Kenwood and let it take the strain.  If you are going to use a mixer then just be sure you aren't going to spray the scolding mixture anywhere near anyone.
  • Ten minutes in the Kenwood is far more effective than ten minutes of beating by hand and by the time I went back to my fudge it was quite thick and stiff but scrapable.  Whether your fudge is scrapable or pourable, transfer it to the prepared container to cool.
  • Cool it at room temperature and not in the fridge.
  • Once cooled cut or break ready to scoff or share.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Did you know?

We were watching the Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics as a family.

Dave asked Hannah and Ethan what the motto of the Olympics was.

I didn't know the answer but the answer Dave was looking for was Faster, Higher, Stronger.

Ethan replied "Sittius, Altius, Fortius." He's eight.  How does he know this?

He also happened to know about Bob Beamon's long jump record which had been held for 23 years and a whole host of other records which I can't remember.

I'm starting to think my primary school was rubbish.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Chucking rocks

This morning we went for a bike ride around Loch Katrine.  Well I say around, but we have different fitness abilities in our family group so we hired bikes for a couple of hours, cycled for an hour, around part of the Loch, then turned around and headed back.

The Loch was beautiful and I'm pretty sure we'll be going back for a two hour trip on the Sir Walter Scott steamer boat.

At one of the points on our route we stopped.  It was a small beach at the side of the Loch and Ethan and Dave couldn't resist chucking stones in the water tempting Hannah to join them.  I, meanwhile, tried to take arty shots with my phone.

IMG 4655

I've never really understood the need to throw stones into any mass of water.  I can understand the skill involved in skimming flat pebbles on water and I can appreciate the sport of aiming stones at a target in water but just mindlessly chucking rocks in water leaves me cold.

IMG 4649

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Monopoly and the Eurozone crisis

As the children entered our holiday apartment they ran from room to room deciding who would have which bed and sussing out where the entertainment was.

In the lounge there was a game of Monopoly and, before bags were unpacked, Monopoly was unpacked and a game commenced.

Four days later and the game is still being played.  Houses have been bought which makes the game a little more interesting.  Normally the purchase of houses means the game is close to its end but not here.

Hannah landed on a property with a couple of houses and she had already mortgaged some of her properties.  The rent demand was high and would have taken her close to bankruptcy.  If Hannah was bankrupt then the game would be over.  This is something that was playing on Ethan's mind because I heard him say "Because of the recent Eurozone crisis the rent is reduced to M720."

Ethan's generosity meant Hannah wasn't bankrupt and the game could continue.

Since this first Eurozone crisis moment I've heard the same phrase quite a lot with Ethan and Hannah both offering a discount to the other, although Hannah was generally in need more then Ethan.  But there's been a change and they've both agreed that come August 1st the Eurozone crisis will be over.  Clearly I'm delighted.




Saturday, 11 August 2012

Boys will be boys

Arthur, resident expert on the local area, took Hannah and Ethan (and their hanger-on parents) out to the Lochside for a lesson in bushcraft.

We found sorrel, wood sorrel and tasted them; sorrel has a lemony taste and wood sorrel tastes like Bramley apple.  We learned how to grasp a nettle without it stinging (although we have yet to do this successfully) and learned that they can be eaten too.  We were taught how to use a rush to make a wick for a lamp as well as how to make a simple shelter and start a fire.  We used a fire steel and beech bark but also saw the method that relies on friction generated between two pieces of wood.

Once the lesson was over we made our way back to Tigh Mor, our temporary home.

Ethan had been behaving for a whole hour and, once the lesson was over, he decided to go a little mad.  He ran through some tall grass that, in places, was taller than him.

We were all heading back to the house and we had lost Ethan; we simply couldn't see him in the grass.  As I called to him to tell him we would head back without him, he emerged from the grass.  He didn't look good.

His arms had been scratched and stung and, in all of these places, his arm had local swelling that looked like an allergic reaction.  I looked at his eyes and they were watering and he was sneezing profusely.

Ethan suffers from hay fever and had just done the most stupid thing a hay fever sufferer could do, deliberately agitate grass and get as close to it as possible.

We gave him a hay fever tablet, a good talking to, a shower and tucked him up in bed.  When he woke up the next morning he couldn't open his eyes and his face was still swollen.  I think he might have learned his lesson but maybe not.  He is a boy after all.


Friday, 10 August 2012

Toe in the … mud

Whenever a walk starts you will find the walkers avoiding puddles and mud.
As the terrain increases in puddles and mud that are unavoidable you will find the hiker accepts that footwear will be getting wet and muddy.
As the walker's footwear becomes soaked and caked in mud the walker will only avoid terrain that is likely to worsen the muddy or wet state of the boots or shoes.
This is of course unless the person concerned is a child, for they are completely oblivious and simply don't care about the state of clothing or footwear.  As witness Ethan, waiting on a rock after discovering that the mud he was stepping on, was as deep as his knee, and he was more stepping into, rather than onto, the mud.
IMG 4563

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Being out of touch

There is an upside to being out of touch.  Without texts, calls and regular requests to the 3G network for data, when the evening arrives I still have over 50% of the iPhone battery charge intact.

As to the plan to overcome the isolation, there wasn't one unless you count "trying to come to terms with it."

I didn't go to the pathetic Wifi area every night but I did check in sometimes.  I also took advantage of any drives/walks that took me into a 3G area.  But other than driving to try and find a poorly secured private Wifi network that I could access from the street or driving to a decent 3G signal there wasn't anything I could do, was there?

Coming to terms with my situation seemed to be the healthiest approach.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

It's summer!

The last time I checked it was August.

I'm wearing leggings and a long sleeved top and I'm cold.  I could put something on my feet and get a jacket/cardigan/jumper/blanket/sleeping bag but I want to pop the heating on, AND I CAN'T.

We've just had our roof replaced.  While the scaffolding was up, and since I discovered how expensive scaffolding is (very), we decided we'd get the outside of the house decorated and fit new, improved guttering at the same time.

When I say we'd fit new guttering clearly I mean we'd ask the roofer to do it.  And the roofer did fit the guttering, or all the bits the guttering place managed to supply in time.  Going into this week we were four downpipes down out of a total of ten.  This might not seem to be a problem but you are discounting the fact that this is not a good year for us and luck.

One of the hoppers that should have had a downpipe attached happened to be located directly above the flue for the boiler.  For those who don't know what a hopper is (and I confess that dealing with builders and the like is teaching me more than I ever wanted to know about such terminology) then here's a picture.


Clearly it's a thing that collects water as a funnel for the water to be channeled into a downpipe.  There is a fair quantity of water collected by this hopper and apparently it "chucked it down" over the weekend; the period between hopper being fitted and the last four downpipes arriving in stock.

This means a large quantity of water fell from the hopper onto the boiler flue.  A significant  amount of this water made its way into our boiler which has now decided it won't work (and yes, naturally boilers are sentient beings).

The fan at the top of the boiler is soaked and sprays water around before it goes bang and blows a fuse.  I screamed like a girl when this happened today.  The builder who was demolishing our conservatory at the time had to check I was OK.

Apparently we need a new fan, and maybe a valve thingy and a valve lead thingy.  And despite our British Gas Home Cover (or whatever it's called, in old money it was 3 Star Cover) we need to foot the £373 parts bill because the water ingress was our fault.  Fortunately our roofer is contrite and has offered to fund this (without us asking).

The irony is that we plan to replace this boiler in October.  The disappointments about this are threefold: I am clearly too old and too ugly for the British Gas guy to consider trying to "sort it out" so that we don't have to pay for parts (this despite the two cups of tea supplied), I had to endure the sight of large British Gas bum crack for over two hours and will probably have to endure the same tomorrow once the ordered parts are available for fitting AND I'm cold and can't turn the heating on.  I could whine about cold showers but I think you get the gist.

Did I mention it's summer?


We left a Stockton Heath morning that promised to be sunny and warm and headed into heavy and persistent rain.  The further north we drove, the further south the temperature measurement on the instrument cluster sank.

Eventually we arrived at our mini Hogwarts "home for a fortnight".


I know a holiday should be a break from the routine.  One should leave the shackles of work and home and relax.  Sometimes this can be difficult, but not here.  I couldn't check Facebook, Twitter, Google+, e-mail, Instagram; I was in a 3G dead zone.

I knew the holiday complex had Wifi so I resolved to "catch up" later.

After the children went to bed I disappeared off in search of Wifi and found it near reception.  It was painfully slow.  Twitter and Facebook were timing out.  I gave up.

This should have been relaxing but it wasn't.  I didn't have phone reception either.  I was, literally, out of touch.  I needed a plan.



Monday, 6 August 2012

Home again, home again

Home today from holiday and we have a broken boiler.  I've had better welcomes.

We think we know what the problem is.  Something is blowing the fuse so either the pump is having to work too hard or there's a short circuit somewhere.  There's a small amount of water dripping from boiler so my money is on water causing a short circuit.

British Gas have been called and we have an appointment for tomorrow morning which sort of stuffs up a smooth transition back to work, but not a lot seems to be going right this year so I'm just going to shrug it off as a minor inconvenience (even though I hate cold showers and having to boil a kettle to do the washing up).  We've had to dismantle half the kitchen to give the Gas people decent access to the boiler so it had better get fixed tomorrow!

At least I have decent Wifi and that has been lacking for the last fortnight.  So I have a tonne (well a few) blogs that are stored in a drafts folder.  I thought about pretending I was just starting my holiday tomorrow and posting one a night.  Stupid?  Daft?  Irrelevant?  You just don't care?

I'll probably do it anyway because I hate to see effort wasted, but it would be nice to have your views (and sympathy).

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Who are you?

How many of you have friend requests on Facebook, look at the mutual friends and end up thinking "They must have gone to school with me."

The trouble is when you look at their profile they don't look like they used to; they have wrinkles and bags under their eyes, grey hair or hair that's dyed to cover grey hair.  I genuinely struggle to recognise these people.

The other things that make it tricky to identify who they were is whether they've changed their name or whether you even remember their name from your list of fellow pupils.

There were 180 people in my year at secondary school (I think) and there's no way I can remember all of their names and further, remembering whether I liked them, or they liked me.

I think all friend requests from that far back should be accompanied by a picture of the requestor, as they were then.  Then at least the visual memory gets a chance to try and facilitate the remembering.

I've made a start and I've uploaded a few pictures from my school years; some are flattering, some not, but all are definitely me.  So if anyone wants to know if they knew me, they can have a look and see.  The Facebook album is here.  But for those who aren't Facebook-enabled, here they are:

Ann at school 1

First year at Primary School

Ann school 2

Later Primary School years

Ann school 4

Secondary school

Ann school 5

6th form/Technical college

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Carbon offset

Along with my Olympic tickets, for mountain biking in Hadleigh in Essex, I received Travelcards.  Yay!  Except "I'M TRAVELLING OUTSIDE LONDON TRAVELCARD ZONES" so can't use them.  Muppets.

Also included in my ticket package was a weird thing from BP.  There were six QR coded tickets that talked about carbon offset.  I scanned a code and followed the instructions.

Apparently BP was kindly offering to carbon offset my journey to the Olympics.  Well offsetting my journey to London because that seems to be where the Olympics is happening, apart from all of the events that aren't happening in London (LIKE MOUNTAIN BIKING!).

As I meandered my way through the carbon offset process thinking "Why am I bothering offsetting a journey from Brentwood to London when I'm actually travelling to Hadleigh" I noticed that the QR code didn't know where I lived.  In fact, its default assumed location for me was America.  It appeared I could choose the journey I wanted BP to offset.  It also appeared I could choose the number of people in my party and BP would offset all their journeys.

The words Deepwater Horizon seeped from my subconscious into my conscious mind and started to control me.

Believe it or not there are four in our party and they are all travelling from Australia.

I have five more QR codes to play with.  I plan to get BP carbon offsetting a heck of a lot of carbon.  I figure the environment is owed.

If you've just received your tickets then why not do the same.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Facebook - more or less

Have Facebook friends you don't see enough of? Or are there people whose updates bore you rigid?

Change your News feed content using your phone. In the Facebook app menu select Friends and select the friend you want to see more/less of.

If you select them as a close friend you will see all of their activity.

If you deselect "See in News Feed" you won't see any of their posts.


Sunday, 17 June 2012

The easiest gooey chocolate cake

This cake is covered in ganache, but don't let this put you off.  It also has a weird method and some strange ingredients, again, don't let this put you off.  My daughter (aged nine) made this with very little help from me, and my help was probably more along the "interfering mother" lines than help that was actually required.
If you are looking at the recipe and thinking "I haven't got this" or "I haven't got that" then let me help you out.
Firstly, if you're like me, you never have fresh buttermilk in the fridge.  You may have once thought "I'll buy some buttermilk because I need it for a recipe" and then never got round to making the recipe so the buttermilk is sitting in your freezer.  If, like me, once you've decided to make something you need to make it immediately, then you won't want to wait for the buttermilk to defrost.  Fear not because you can make your own buttermilk (sort of).  Take half a cup of milk (skimmed or semi-skimmed) and add a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice.  Leave for a couple of minutes and the disgusting resultant gloop will serve as a replacement for buttermilk.
Ganache requires double cream.  I usually have cream stored in my freezer as a result of over-estimating the family's desire for heart-attack inducing food.  If you take the cream out of the freezer when you start making the recipe, it should be usable by the time you get to the ganache bit.  It won't look usable (it'll look like a solid lump of lard) but when scooped out into a bowl and given a jolly good stir then it will resemble something usable.  This is what I did when I made the cake.
Lastly, the cake tin needed for this is a deep (and I mean deep, sort of 10cm deep) loose bottomed or springform tin.  Whilst I do have such a tin, I don't like having to buy a new tin for every new recipe I want to try.  Other people have made this cake by splitting the mixture into two shallower Victoria sponge tins and cooking for less time.  I would guess the cooking time should be 50mins to an hour but the skewer test is your friend here.  The two cake tin method also eliminates the tricky slicing the cake in two (or three) part of the recipe.  Alternatively you can cook in a slightly bigger, deep tin if you have one, you will just need to watch the cooking time.
This is an easy cake, but not a quick cake, to make.  Don't start making it at 10pm as a treat for the next day.  The resultant lack of sleep will reduce its appeal.
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee granules
  • 85g self-raising flour
  • 85g plain flour
  • 1⁄4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 200g golden caster sugar (I used white granulated and other people have reduced this to 100g successfully)
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 3 medium eggs (I used large)
  • 5 tbsp buttermilk (see hint above if you don't have any)
and for the ganache:
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 284ml carton double cream
  • 2 tbsp golden caster sugar (I forgot to add this and didn't notice the difference)
  • Butter a 20cm round cake tin (at least 7.5cm deep unless you're going to use two tins) and line and butter the base.
  • Preheat the oven to 140C (fan oven).
  • Break 200g dark chocolate in pieces into a medium, heavy-based pan. Cut 200g butter into pieces and tip in with the chocolate, then mix 1 tbsp instant coffee granules into 125ml cold water and pour into the pan. Warm through over a low heat just until everything is melted - don't overheat.
  • While the chocolate is melting, mix 85g self-raising flour, 85g plain flour, ¼ bicarbonate of soda, 200g light muscovado sugar, 200g golden caster sugar and 25g cocoa powder in a big bowl to get rid of any lumps. To save time you could sieve ingredients as you add them to the bowl, or you could try a low speed in a mixer to eliminate lumps.  I just bashed the lumps with a spoon.
  • Beat 3 medium eggs in a bowl and stir in 5 tbsp buttermilk or 5 tbsp of the lemon juice and milk concoction.
  • Now pour the melted chocolate mixture and the egg mixture into the flour mixture, stirring just until everything is well blended and you have a smooth, quite runny consistency. Pour this into the tin and bake for 1 hour 25- 1 hour 30 minutes - if you push a skewer in the centre it should come out clean and the top should feel firm (don't worry if it cracks a bit). Leave to cool in the tin (don't worry if it dips slightly), then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • I would recommend making the ganache while the cake is cooking and you'll still have time to do the washing up and have a cup of tea.
  • To make the ganache: chop 200g dark chocolate into small pieces and tip into a bowl. Pour a 284ml of double cream into a pan, add 2 tbsp golden caster sugar, and heat until it is about to boil.  Don't let it boil.  Take off the heat and pour it over the chocolate.  Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.  Leave, uncovered, on the side.
  • Ganache is easier to work if it isn't very runny and allowing it to cool will make life easier.  If the ganache is too stiff when you need it then quick ten second microwave blasts can get it to the right consistency.
  • When the cake is cool, and hopefully the ganache is workable, then slice your cake.  I turned my cake upside-down so that it had a nice flat top and I used a very sharp long-bladed knife to gingerly slice my cake in two.  If you are feeling brave then slice into three.
  • Using a palette knife use the ganache to sandwich your slices together.
  • Pour the remaining ganache onto the top of the cake trying to get even coverage and allow it to cascade down the sides.  If the ganache isn't too runny it should be possible to spread it carefully over the top and around the sides.  If the ganache ends up dribbling down to the plate then use the palette knife to scoop it up and onto the sides.  Once you've finished this it should look a bit like this.
I've read that a good ganache is shiny.  Well this was shiny before it went into the fridge.  The plate looks remarkably clear of dribbly chocolate.  You know that trick that chefs do when they wipe plates with a tea towel?  I used kitchen towel to achieve a neat effect but if I hadn't scooped the ganache up back onto the cake I might have left it au naturel.
If you plan to decorate with grated chocolate curls or something that needs a sticky base then add it now.  If you want to add writing then read on.
Mix icing sugar and milk until you have a gloopy, smooth consistency; not entirely liquid but not stiff and solid.  Pop into icing bag with very thin round nozzle.  (The best icing bags are plastic bags with the corner cut off.)
Practise writing on a chopping board and then get creative.  I should have made my icing less liquid and could have used a finer nozzle, although a significant increase in artistic ability would probably have made the biggest improvement.
This is my finished result:

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Lemon drizzle traybake with pictures

The best bit of a lemon drizzle cake is the lemon drizzle.  Frankly, the cake is nothing without the drizzle.
I've often felt that there is not enough drizzle for the average lemon drizzle cake, but happily I have found a solution.
This is Andrea's recipe but she freely admits she stole it from the wonderful Mary Berry.
If you have struggled, as I have, to find a suitable tray bake tin, then I recommend you invest in a Silverwood tin which gives you all sorts of cake size options and is also good for those strapped for storage space.

  • 225g margarine (I use olive spread)
  • 225g sugar (granulated or caster)
  • 275g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsps. baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tbsps. milk
  • Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
  • For the crunchy topping: 175g granulated sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Line 30cm x 23cm traybake tin with baking parchment
Lined Silverwood tin
  • Heat oven to 160’ C/325’ F/ Gas Mark 3
  • Beat margarine and sugar until light and fluffy
Light and fluffy
  • Add the eggs 2 at a time with a spoonful of the SR flour to stop the mixture curdling. Continue adding the flour and baking powder, mixing well after each addition

  • Add the milk and the lemon zest, mixing in well so it is evenly distributed
Lemon zest
  • Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top gently with the back of a spatula
Ready for the oven
  • Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 – 40 minutes until the traybake springs back when pressed lightly with a finger in the centre and is beginning to shrink away from the sides of the tin
Fresh from the oven
  • To make the crunchy topping, mix the granulated sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl to give a runny consistency
  • Spoon this mixture evenly over the traybake while it is still just warm
After the drizzle is added
  • Cut into squares when cold
Cooled drizzle
  • Eat
If you have struggled, as I have, to find a suitable tray bake tin, then I recommend you invest in a Silverwood tin which gives you all sorts of cake size options and is also good for those strapped for storage space.

Killer brownies recipe with pictures

Killer because they are capable of inducing heart attacks.  Brownies because they’re brownies.  Recipe because…

  • 250g unsalted butter (I use organic but you don’t have to)
  • 200g dark chocolate (recipe actually says Fairtrade 70% cocoa solids and in handwritten capitals it says Green and Blacks but I didn’t use Green and Blacks)
  • 50g chopped pecans
  • 80g cocoa powder (don’t know why recipe doesn’t say Fairtrade for this)
  • 65g plain flour (I use organic)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 360g sugar (recipe says caster sugar but I used golden granulated sugar, whatever that is)
  • 4 large free range eggs (recipe says free range or organic whereas I didn’t think they were mutually exclusive)
  • Recipe states 25cm square tin and I’ve bought a lovely one from Lakeland which has a removable base.  
  • Line your tin with greaseproof paper and grease tin and greaseproof paper (I know this is a faff) and turn the oven on to 180 degrees (or 160 degrees for fan oven)

Lined tin
  • In a bain marie (large bowl over a saucepan of simmering water) melt chocolate and butter then stir in your nuts (the chopped ones).
Butter, chocolate and pecans in bain marie
  • In a separate bowl mix cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and sugar.
  • Sieve flour and cocoa mix onto melted chocolate and butter. (I tip melted stuff into Kenwood Chef bowl and then add flour and cocoa mix).  Mix until combined.
Chocolate mixture with flour, cocoa, baking powder and sugar
  • Beat eggs then add and mix well until silky consistency (I don’t really know what a silky consistency looks like so I just mix for a bit until I get bored - I have a low boredom threshold).
Silky consistency?
  • Pour and scoop and scrape your mixture into the baking tin and chuck in the oven and cook for 25 minutes.  There is no point in guessing whether it’s “done” because with brownies it’s a dark art so just stick to the 25 mins.
Fresh from the oven (will sink/sag after about 10 mins)
  • When the killer brownies emerge from the oven, allow to cool before cutting into heart attack inducing chunks and serve to your murder victims.  The brownies can be difficult to cut.  The brownies are much easier to cut (with pizza cutter) when frozen.
  • The brownies freeze very well.