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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  • 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 : https://twitter.com/a4ann/status/541942927015305216 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiZNi0X_Zvg

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
Ann
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.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Experiencing problems

I bank with RBS.  It might always have been RBS but when I took out my mortgage it was branded as the One Account.

It’s an offset account that sends statements every month that demonstrate the extent of my debt by displaying it as a huge overdraft.  There’s nothing like the constant reminder of the amount of money one owes to keep spending and saving at the forefront of one’s mind.

I don’t often use online banking for this account as most payments are automated.  When I do use it it’s because I want to transfer money to an individual, which is why I was logging on this evening.

I tried the url for the One Account and kept getting errors. 

Our Wifi can be unreliable, or my Mac can be unreliable, so I tried a few more times.  The One Account website is an antiquated piece of junk and has been known to have issues when site maintenance hasn’t gone to plan.

I gave up and called to hear the following “If you are experiencing issues when logging on to our online service when using Chrome or Firefox, please use Internet Explorer and the site will work."

Really, in 2014 you expect me to use a cruddy Microsoft browser and you can’t get your site working with Chrome which is the UK’s number one browser choice?

RBS has been criticised recently for insufficient expenditure on IT.  It seems I’m experiencing it first hand.

Cameron's bucket list

Never let it be said that a Tory was selfish, but...

Cameron isn’t happy that his mobile phone signal gets a bit off when he visits Cornwall.

But that’s OK, he can just announce he’ll spend £150 million on fixing mobile phone coverage.  Problem sorted.

I wonder if Cameron travels to Cornwall on the A303.  If he does then he’s bound to have experienced delays around Stonehenge.  We all have.  The difference is that we can’t all say that £15 billion will be spent on his Road Improvement Project (notice the acronym) part of which will mean a tunnel under Stonehenge.

It might be worth pointing out that Cameron’s plans for Stonehenge are the bare minimum.  Apparently the tunnel would need to be 2.8 miles long as a minimum if it isn’t going to breach the World Heritage Convention because of damage to surrounding countryside.  He’s promising just enough to fix the traffic issue.

I wonder what else frustrates our leader?

Maybe he’s not keen on library book fines.  Perhaps he objects to young children playing ball games in communal park areas.  Who knows what ridiculous scheme he’ll come up with next rather than addressing the basic services that are being hacked at by the Westminster bean counters on a daily basis.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like a better phone signal and I don’t like sitting in a queue on the A303, but if it were my money, and some of it is, I’d be choosing other priorities.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Controlled failure

The Child Genius programme conversation came up at home today prompted by a conversation I had yesterday with Victoria.

Ethan piped up that he’d like to watch it but he couldn’t.  So I explained to my child genius (I’m being ironic in case you hadn’t spotted it) that he could watch it on 4OD.

So we sat down and watched the first episode of the 2014 series as a family.

We watched a father who had a strict regime for his son that involved physical exercise, homework, domestic chores and managed recreation.

The next thing we saw was this child being entered into a badminton competition having little or no experience of playing badminton.  His father explained this as controlled failure.  The idea was to expose the child to failure to make success something more desirable, but to do this in a safe and controlled environment.

I said, jokingly, that I did this to Hannah and Ethan, and Ethan piped up that that must be what I’m doing by involving him in the football team that he plays for.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Gluten free Christmas pudding recipe

This was a first attempt at a Christmas pudding and, given that it was gluten free and my first attempt, I was quite impressed with the results, but we haven’t eaten it yet.
I used a pressure cooker to reduce the cooking time but I’ll tell you how long you’d need to steam it for if you go for a steamer or saucepan.
Ingredients
  • 500g dried fruit
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 4tbsp brandy
  • 125ml gluten-free dark beer
  • 120g softened unsalted butter
  • 225g dark soft brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • a random amount of grated nutmeg
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 Bramley apple - grated

Method
  • Firstly, looking at the ingredients… grating apple is a messy affair.  I can’t be bothered with grating the apple and if you have a rotary grater then messiness is reduced.  You may want to sprinkle diluted lemon juice on this to stop it from turning brown but given that then end product is brown, I didn’t bother.  I did leave the grating until the last minute but the apple still went brown ish.  The non-specific amount of nutmeg wasn’t overly helpful.  I aimed for about 1/2 tsp but it’s really difficult to judge this amount when you’re grating whole nutmeg.  I need a rotary nutmeg grater because I always come too close to grating my fingers.
  • And gluten-free dark beer.  This does exist but the only place I could find it would have meant ordering a crate of the stuff for over £30.  Instead I found a golden ale sold by the bottle in Sainsbury.  It’s not dark but it’s a better alternative than the pilsner that was the only other alternative.  There might be a non alcoholic alternative but frankly, what’s the point?
  • Right…on to prep.  Butter a bowl with a capacity of 1.2 litres is what the instructions say.  The bowl I had was exactly 1.2 litres in capacity and I ended up with more mixture than I had space in the bowl.  I carried on regardless and had a bit of a bulge (a bit like my tummy) but when cooking, this all got a bit messy.  It wasn’t a disaster but there was seepage. I have cleaned up the seepage and nobody will be any the wiser, unless they’ve read this, but next time a slightly bigger bowl would be better.  In the bottom of your bowl you need to place a circle of greaseproof paper.  I’m not entirely sure this is necessary as my mum never bothered with this type of frippery but hey ho.
  • OK, onward to the mixing.  Actually your fist step is to bung stuff in a saucepan and use the hob.  Not everything, just the dried fruit and yummy (or in my case supermarket own label) brandy and beer.  Heat for two minutes and cool.
  • In a bowl, or in my case Kenwood mixer, beat the butter and sugar.  It will start dark but with enough beating it becomes a light mink colour.  I stop the mixture quite a bit and use a spatula to scrape the bowl and mixer attachment.  This ensures everything gets properly beaten.
  • In another bowl mix almonds, spices and baking powder.
  • Gradually mix the eggs into the butter and sugar mixture and then stir in the citrus zests and apple followed by the dried fruit mixture.
  • At this point the mixture looked very unappetising.
  • Spoon the resultant mixture into the pudding basin and then cover with a pleated piece of greaseproof paper and foil (you can buy greaseproof paper with foil already combined in Wilkinsons).  Pleated means just add a fold about an inch and a half wide to allow for expansion.  Tie this paper/foil in place with string.  I found this a bit tricky and it would have been easier with an extra pair of hands.
  • If using a saucepan then put an old upturned saucer or jam jar lid in the bottom of a saucepan.  Put the bowl on top and opus boiling water in to come up to two thirds of the height of the bowl.  Cover the pan and simmer for 4 1/2 hours.  It’s important not to let the water boil off completely and you should be topping up the water every now and again.  Setting a timer to check every 20 minutes is a good idea.  You do not want this to boil dry.  When cooked you need to cool, and store for up to a year.  To serve you will need to boil like this again for about an hour and a half.
  • If using a pressure cooker then use a trivet, put the bowl in followed by a litre of water around the side.  Cover with the lid but not fully sealed and steam for 15 mins.  After this close the lid and steam at high pressure for 1 3/4 hours.  Release pressure slowly when cooked, cool and store for up to a year.  To serve you need to cook at high pressure for 15 minutes and release pressure slowly.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

How is this possible?

I’m guessing you’ve used self-checkout.  Most people have at least tried it.

The one I use most regularly is the one in my local Sainsbury.  I hate it.  It’s a useless and incompetent system.  How is it that it continues to be useless and incompetant years after its introduction?

I use my own bags, because obviously that completely saves the environment, and regardless of which type of bag I use the system doesn’t like my bags and I have to wait, like a naughty child for the assistant to come and save me from the flashing red light of doom.

Several times during the scanning and “placing things in the bagging area” process the system has a wobble and needs the reassurance of a qualified human.  I don’t qualify and never will.  The qualified humans stationed on idiot machine duty have to stand around trying to deal with flashing red light problems all day long.  They’re dashing from one rouge hue to another constantly.  These superior humans also have to listen to foul language being emitted through gritted teeth from the mouths of the customers whose souls are slowly being destroyed by the machines that could give Marvin a run for his money.

Then the machine needs to check with a human when a customer wants to buy alcohol.  Again this relies on the human to spot the flashing “Is this person over 18?” light.

It’s not liked my cards before and sometimes I think it has a camera and has decided it just doesn’t like the look of me.

On average for a basket of six items I need human intervention about six times.  It’s an obscene technology fail and yet it persists.  Is this because it’s better than the alternative or are we just a bunch of masochists going back for more?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Sharing economy

I saw an item on the new sharing economy this evening.

I don’t think there’s anything new about it at all.  People used to rent out their spare rooms and people used to share their hedge trimmer with neighbours or am I remembering a Nirvana that exists only in my rose-tinted and failing memory?

Airbnb makes sharing your spare room easier but I’m not sure it happens anymore than it ever used to.

And I don’t think there’s any more sharing of stuff than there ever was.  I’ve tried to encourage it with setting up a Street Club for our neighbourhood but at the moment the only people that have joined are me, Hannah and one neighbour.  

Street Club (www.streetclub.co.uk) is a really nice idea to try and get communities talking and sharing.  It was set up by B&Q but given that the last tweet from the @streetclub account happened quite a few months ago I’m guessing that particular budget has been cut.

The site is still usable though and I would still like it to work, but it needs more people engage for it to be successful.

But either way I don’t think the sharing economy is any bigger than it’s been in the past.  So there.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Creatively skinning felines

I’ve set up a food bank collection at work.

Tesco are lending me some crates, I’ve ordered and received the groceries to kick start the collection, I’ve printed off sample shopping lists, I’ve secured a room at work, I’ve got the appropriate approvals from HR and Facilities Management but I hadn’t got approval to send an email to everyone in the building using the bulk mail facility.

The bulk mail system at work is tightly controlled and there are strict rules applied when decided what can use the functionality and what can’t.  I understand that every Tom, Dick and Harry can’t use this system and it’s important to have appropriate controls in place.

As bulk mail wasn’t available to me I considered my other options.  

Posters around the building are tightly controlled too and whilst there is a system for distributing them I’ve never been sure that this is a perfect system.

I could talk to everyone in the building but that would take some time and distract me, and the people I’m talking to, from the day job.

I could do a desk drop but that would be costly in terms of resource and my time.

I could email everyone I know but that wouldn’t give me the exhaustive coverage I was looking for.

So I decided to ask the Chairman and Managing Director for help.  If he cascaded an email and all of those recipients cascaded the email and so on, then that should be fairly comprehensive coverage.

I sent the email.  He replied: he supported what I was doing and requested that a bulk mail be sent out.

I wore a grin from ear the ear, or ‘ere to ‘ere, for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Did I just do that?

So  I think I went onto Amazon and bought a couple of things. It's just too easy.

I wanted a lamp and there was one there that I'd added to my wish list a few days ago.

I think I might have bought something else too.

I think someone else should control our router settings.  Buying whilst tired does lead to excitement in ensuing days as I see what the postman delivers, but I'm not sure I make the best purchase decisions when sleepy.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Sorting stuff

I’ve been sorting stuff this evening.

Yes, I’ve ferried the children to various scouting activities and yes I’ve cooked for all of us.  Obviously the washing up had to be done and the packed lunch making and the drying up and putting away.  Work surfaces needed cleaning, the vac needed emptying, recycling boxes needed to be brought back to the side of the house...

A delivery from Amazon that was due on Saturday needed chasing.  Flowers needed ordering.  I had to try and find a replacement valve cover for Ethan’s Sigg water bottle - I realise why we live in a disposable society now.

The mail needed opening and sorting and filing, as far as my filing goes: pile of stuff Ann needs to file, Dave’s stuff, stuff for the recycling bin, stuff for shredding.

I had to tell Akele that Ethan was moving from his current cubs group to another, different scout group and then check that I was right with that assumption.  I needed to see if Ethan’s friend could also join the same scout group.

The grocery shopping needed doing and I had to remember to order extra for the food bank.  This reminded me the bread maker needed feeding with ingredients.

My old phone needed erasing.  I needed to check phone contract options for 4G but before that had to endure hours of trying to reset my bloody username and password for my T-Mobile account.  It’s written down now to prevent me swearing quite so much next time.

I needed to figure out exactly where to park at Bluewater to maximise efficiency and minimise time-wasting when I go there tomorrow.

I put books in a bag to share with someone tomorrow and they’re near the back door so that they won’t be forgotten.

I didn’t have to watch a snippet of Strictly - It Takes Two and Masterchef, but I did anyway.  

Facebook required response to a friend and Twitter had someone I know was asking a question about my availability in December.

Online payment was done so that Ethan could have school meals and that reminded me to check Hannah’s school balance which lead to me topping that up too and paying a further instalment towards her German trip.

E-mail needed checking in case I’d overlooked something important.

I blogged - but I recognise this didn’t need to happen.

The mud on the inside of the car needed shifting - I didn’t do that.

There is something else I haven’t done that’s also essential.  I need to sleep.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Doing it legally

Imagine you're in the office and people are raving about a series that's currently on Sky. You don't have Sky because you think they don't deserve your money - there's bad blood there and you've sworn off them for life.

Rather than eat humble pie and sign up with Sky you want to know where you can stream it legally.

You could browse Netflix and Amazon Prime etc or you could get someone else to do the hard work for you.

The first service you could use is http://wheretowatch.com which will search legal streaming sources to advise you on availability.

If it's not available on your platform of choice then you could use http://www.canistream.it.  This site also searches for you but will also notify you when the show you are interested in becomes available on a particular platform.

Useful.

It's my mum's fault

"Hannah - you know it's a non uniform day today?"

"Er no, I thought that was next week."

I knew I'd seen an email about a non uniform day for Children in Need and I knew Children in Need was today. I also knew Ethan was going to school in normal clothes today.

I checked the email.

It is next week.

"As you were. It's next week. That's stupid because it's on the wrong day."

Dave piped up "Hannah, Mum just tried to get you a detention."

Thanks Dave.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

An hour or so

This is a snapshot of an hour or so of my life.  It's not extraordinary and I'm sure other parents could cite similar hours.  Wednesday evenings require choreographing.  Planning is involved and punctuality is important.

I leave work at 16:45.  As I'm driving home I get a call from Hannah.  She's near home and wants to go home and not collect Ethan from the after school club. I say that that's OK providing she fills the kettle and puts it on.

I pull up at the after school club at about 16:55 and collect Ethan who had seen me pull up and had gathered his coat and bag so he could be ready.

We park at home at 17:03.

I tell Ethan to get ready for football while I cook.

I smell fresh bread and check the bread maker. It has three minutes left on the timer.

I check mail - two items, both junk.

I start to prepare a stir fry having prepared cooked chicken yesterday evening and cut vegetables this morning.  Sauce is shop bought.

I take the bread out of the bread maker.

Hannah and I sit down to eat at 17:12 and Ethan joins at 17:14 when he's finished getting changed.

I finish eating at 17:24 and the children take a little longer.  We're using chopsticks and none of us has mastered this.

I go upstairs and get changed into jeans whilst reading the junk mail from Amazon.  Who would have anticipated Amazon using direct mail? (They shouldn't have bothered.)

I come downstairs at 17:28 and plonk myself on the sofa.  I check Facebook, Twitter, email and then indulge in a  few minutes of the 2048 app.

I ask Hannah if she has homework and encourage her to stop reading and do her homework.  I also remind her that her room needs tidying.

Ethan asks me to sign his homework diary.  He's read 1984 (twice and now finished the book), Guinness Book of World Records (twice) and Amazing Brain Teasers.  He's done some maths homework - he tells me some of the set homework was optional so I make sure I let the teacher know which bit he's done.

Dave phones.  He has been to Swindon and, whilst he said he wouldn't be back late, he has decided to pop into the office.  He won't be home until probably eight o'clock.

I don coat and boots and Ethan and I leave for football practice.  We walk there arriving at 17:58.

I walk back arriving home at 18:07.  Hannah's homework is done, the tidying isn't.

I type a blog post…

 

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Spoilsport

Ethan came home yesterday with some voting papers.

I must have missed the letter that explained they were looking for candidates; maybe that was deliberate.

The school has a school governor vacancy and ballot papers with two candidates were delivered with two envelopes to ensure the anonymity of votes cast.

I chose quickly between the two candidates and when Dave came home I pointed him in the direction of his ballot paper.

He grumbled and complained and then said he was going to "do a Russell Brand" and spoil his ballot paper.

My vote has made it back to school, Dave's blank paper is sat on the kitchen work surface.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Know when to "twist"

Hannah was treated to a nice new school bag when she started at secondary school.  It was a present from her grandparents.

After about seven months the magnet clasps fell off the bag.  I got in touch with Cath Kidston, returned the bag and they sent a replacement and refunded my postage.

About six months later the replacement bag had also lost its magnetic clasps but the handle also came away from the bag rendering it an un-bag.

I got in touch and returned the bag to Cath Kidston following their advice.

They didn't reply so I followed up.  The deal was that they'd provide goods to the value of £30 which was the last price that this bag was sold for.

I questioned this as a very similar bag was available on the site for £41, reduced from £68.

I was told there were minor changes between the bag we'd returned and the one that was currently available.  The deal was £30 worth of goods or, if I produced proof of purchase for the original bag, then whatever was paid originally.

I checked and said we were happy to accept goods to the value of the similar bag currently for sale at £41.  We had used the bag for over a year and this seemed fair.

The answer came back.  Goods to the value of £30 or the value on the receipt.  No more.

I checked with Hannah's grandparents and they produced the receipt for £68.

The customer services team could have got away with a spend of £41 plus postage costs.  They're now committed to £68 plus postage costs.

Is this good customer service?  

Well all I wanted was the £41 value.  I've ended up with £68 and I should be a satisfied customer.

I know they were gambling on me accepting £30.  In the game of pontoon the decision to stick and not twist has meant they've gone bust.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Technology versus efficiency

I decided to clear leaves from the garden today.

I could wait a few more weeks until they've all fallen but today was sunny and there were plenty enough leaves on the ground already.

We have a garden vac/blower and I always imagine that this should make light work of leaf clearance.  In my head I imagine some ridiculous advert where a garden vac makes leaf clearing the sort of task one could complete before breakfast.  So, because that's how this garden tool should work, I decided to use it.  

It was slow going.  The leaves were wet and therefore heavy and rather like Greater Anglia I felt like crying "They're the wrong sort of leaves" before cancelling the service entirely.

I persisted, because that's what I do.  It was still taking forever.  A brief chat to a passing neighbour didn't aid my progress.

I gave up and resorted to good old fashioned manual labour when my muscles and patience ran out.

Leaf grabbers like these are a brilliant invention.  Many leaves moved quickly.

NewImage

Progress slowed several times, three to be precise.  I met James from across the way and we had a good long chat.  Margaret and her daughter stopped for a chinwag as they passed and Barbara came by so we spent some time catching up, which comprised mainly of moaning about the builders and the  council.

I'm thinking of ditching the garden vacuum.  It promises so much and delivers so little.

Getting hands dirty and getting stuck in is far more satisfying.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Really?!


I read today that Paramount are hoping to build the World's third biggest theme park and indoor water park just south of Lakeside.
The article implied it would be built just south of the river and I assume that means Dartford.
Really?
I recall plans for something similar just inside the M25 on the north side of the Thames in Essex. That didn't happen presumably because a nature reserve was involved.
I'm just a bit sceptical about Paramount's designs for north Kent.
If it goes ahead I look forward to the inevitable traffic chaos and the end of shopping at Bluewater (for me). But I'll also probably, and very hypocritically, be in the market for a season ticket.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Gogglebox

Dave and I have decided that we'd be good TV if we were part of Gogglebox.

But we're not. So you'll just have to use your imaginations.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Homework detention

Ethan attended homework detention today.

Had he done his homework? 

Well he tells me the only requirement due today was that he should have read three times.

He reads all the time. So why the detention?

Because his loser parents didn't sign his homework diary attesting to his reading.

But before you crack open the violin case to play Hearts and Flowers, bear in mind that homework detention comprises of half an hour of doing the missing homework which, for Ethan, was reading, his favourite thing to do.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Don't ask your children

"Hannah, how much do you think Daddy should spend on my birthday present?"

"About the same as you'd spend on me or Ethan."

"Ah, but he's known me longer."

"But mum, when you and Dad spend money on me or Ethan that's money from the joint account.  Dad'll be spending money from his own account which won't have as much in it as the joint account so actually Dad should be spending less on you than you spend on Ethan and me."

"Ah, but what am I worth?"  

It is at this point I realise I'm clutching at straws.  I consider explaining that the joint account is actually a massive overdraft but decide against it and abandon the conversation and open a beer.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

NHS cutbacks

I received a letter today advising that Ethan's height and weight will be measured by the school nurse soon.

It reminded me we were supposed to have an appointment with the school nurse in August.

I called the number on the letter, which was a mobile number.

The nurse who picked up said I needed to speak to someone else.  She gave me another name and mobile number.

When I got through I asked a few questions.

When were patients of the school nurse service going to be advised that the service provider had changed at the beginning of October.  I had been told all patients were to receive a letter.

I was told that the person I was speaking to had only been in role for a couple of weeks, the service was stretched and her priority had been children at risk and domestic violence cases.  She was aware that communication was overdue and would be "phoning parents as soon as she found some time".

I asked when we might expect the August appointment we had been promised.

I was taken through a consultation over the phone and offered an appointment.  I was told that the school nurse service no longer had a physical base.  Whereas previous appointments had been at a hospital this was no longer the case.  Would it be possible for the nurse to come to us?

This explained the mobile phone numbers rather than a desk phone.

I wonder whether it's efficient for a school nurse to be travelling to visit all patients or whether it's more efficient to have patients visiting the school nurse.  Is it better to have the NHS paying for travel time and associated expenses or better to use space in a hospital?  

I also wondered whether this is what happens when the NHS loses a contract.  Do NHS facilities become a chargeable item to non NHS providers?  Is this new provider avoiding using a hospital room because it costs too much.

I also wondered whether visiting a "child at risk" or victim of domestic abuse in their own home is always a good idea.  I can see that Social Services might need to see the home environment but wonder whether this is always the right thing for a school nurse.

The nurse then asked me for Ethan's details so she could find his record, and she found nothing.

Has the database been systematically wiped or is a nurse operating away from an office struggling to find a record because of a lack of infrastructure?

I'm not convinced this outsourcing is a good thing.  I'll see how we go when we have the appointment but so far it's not demonstrating an improvement over the prior caring and organised provider.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Establishment or not?


What to do? Imagine you're a Home Secretary. You're looking for someone to chair a committee into child sex abuse. You need to find someone who's eminently qualified to chair such an important inquiry but also someone who isn't part of the establishment. 

Now if you imagine for a minute what you think an establishment figure looks like. I'm guessing you're picturing a rather stuffy, overweight man. To avoid recruiting someone in this image, the simple solution seems to be to recruit a woman. 

You choose Lady Butler Sloss. Whoops. Her brother was the Attorney General who could have made decisions about cases that form part the inquiry. Survivors didn't believe she could remain objective. 

You try again, desperately trying to come up with a woman who wasn't part of the establishment. You pick Fiona Woolf. Whoops. Leon Brittan was her neighbour and they used to attend the same dinner parties.  He was Home Secretary and could have taken decisions that would be under the committee's magnifying glass. 

Who's left? Anyone?

Friday, 31 October 2014

Socially irresponsible


We're doing the tourist thing for a few days in the heart of England. 

Yesterday was torture at Alton Towers and today we're halfway through a day of industrial heritage. 

If I owned Alton Towers I'd want to maximise the social sharing being done by guests. It's a theme park where experience is what it's all about.  I'd want pictures of people pumped with adrenaline and videos of people trying to walk in a straight line after their inner ear balance control had become confused by a disorienting ride. I'd want Twitter and Facebook to be stuffed with images of people winning things, eating candy floss and conquering terrifying rides. 

People obviously need access to the internet to make this possible. We found that the 3G signal was very poor, perhaps due to the sheer volume of people. Alton Towers think they've overcome this by providing WiFi via The Cloud. What they don't realise is how shockingly bad this WiFi provision is. I'm an oversharer and I spent most of my day frustrated with lack of internet connection. I'd be flipping between a failure to connect via 3G and a failure to connect to the WiFi. 

I struggle to understand why the Alton Towers team haven't fixed this connection issue because social sharing is fantastic low cost advertising. 

The picture service they offer delivers your purchased image to a website. There is promotional material everywhere for this feature. It's just a shame they didn't think to invest in the infrastructure to support this functionality.

Today, by contrast, we've been in a museum which has zero 3G signal but free, good WiFi with no sign in required.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

BYCTWD14

Today was Bring Your Child To Work Day.

I imagine that there are some companies where that could be quite a dull affair.  This is where working for an automotive giant has it's advantages.

Now if Hannah had shadowed Dave or me I'm pretty sure she would have found it rather boring but fortunately the Educational Outreach team organised a brilliant day.

Hannah's day included clay modelling vehicles in the Design showroom; a tour of the anechoic chamber (I'll let you look that up); checking out the NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) labs; the hot and cold testing rooms (including consumption of an ice lolly); something to do with one of the largest 3D printers in the world (who knew); a plastic moulding thingamabob; a canteen lunch including spotted dick and custard; a hot chocolate in Costa (my treat); checking out cobbles on the test track in a Transit; and what Hannah assures me was the best bit - zooming around the track in a Focus RS.

Hannah has now seen more of Ford Motor Company than I have.  I'm officially jealous.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Tesco troubles

Tonight I was doing an online shop to arrive for later in the week.

The Tesco website kept crashing and throwing error pages at me left, right and centre.

I always, foolishly, assume that problems like that are my fault.  I mean how can a major operator like Tesco who rely so heavily on the online shopper possibly have website issues?

I was blaming the Wifi, Apple, user error, in fact anything except Tesco.  It took so much longer to do the shop than normal and was incredibly frustrating.

A conversation later with hubby meant I needed to change the time of the delivery.

Back onto the hideous website and I must have tried 50 times before quitting.  The page I needed just would not load.

I cracked and called Tesco who took far longer than normal to answer the phone.  I explained what I needed help with and they coughed to "systems problems" which were so bad that they couldn't help me and they suggested I try fixing things later.  The IT team were "on it" and a resolution in an hour was likely.

I suggested that to avoid frustrating customers it might be a nice touch to for their IT team to pop a message on the website letting people know there are issues and recommending people come back later.

I got told that it wasn't the IT team that "put stuff on the website".  So I told my obstreperous Tesco employee that I understood how web authoring worked and perhaps it would be an idea to get someone from the authoring team on the case.

I then said my goodbyes and noticed that the Grocer had awarded Tesco "Onine Supermarket of the Year".  I took to Twitter and tweeted the Grocer's editor, Julia Glotz, and The Grocer's main account suggesting the award be rescinded.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Cutting the cost of motoring

So the Government wanted to cut the cost of motoring for the young.  It's a noble aim and one that I should be behind 100% because it helps to keep me in a job.
There are many ways that this could have been tackled:
  • Scrap VAT on cars
  • Remove VAT from fuel.
  • Reduce fuel duty.
  • Waive the VAT for driving lessons.
All of these would have a significant impact but none of these were the chosen policy.  The Tories have chosen to reduce the cost of a provisional licence from £50 to £34, a whole £16 back in the pockets of young people who are learning to drive.
This saving is less than the cost of a driving lesson, estimated by the www.moneysupermarket.com in 2013 to be £24.
It's less than the cost of a tank of fuel.
I'm not convinced the Government was that serious about helping young people with the cost of motoring.  If they were, they'd have tried a bit harder.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Christmas present idea

I have a suggestion if you are stuck for a present idea for your little, or even your big, darling.
NewImage
The Sphero is a unique toy that children and adults will enjoy.  It costs about £80 and you'll probably want to buy a "nubby" to protect it costing (an over-priced) £16 ish.
NewImage
The recipient will need access to an iPod, smartphone or tablet to be able to operate it.
I'll leave you to Google it and find out more (try goshero.com).  Purchases can be made in many places, but Amazon and Firebox probably deserve a mention.
You'd get more of a sales pitch if I was on commission.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Always read the small print

Apparently the EU wants quite a bit of money from us, and they wan't it quite soon.
It's our fault.  It was in the terms and conditions, we just didn't realise.  Well we did have a clue and never questioned the situation when it was advantageous for us, but now it's less advantageous we're having second thoughts.
Many of us get ourselves into financial arrangements and we all know it's important to check the terms and conditions.
I struggle a little with the fact that this situation has come as a big surprise to David Cameron. But it's OK because he got angry and said he wasn't going to pay by the December 1st deadline.
So, given that the Prime Minister can see fit to renege on an agreement and pretend he didn't understand the terms and conditions he was signing up to, does that mean we can all do that?
Can I turn around to my mortgage company and say "Naff off"?
No, I can't.
Cameron should set a good example.  I'm appalled by his childish strop.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Early onset stupidity

So the Government have set aside £5million to spend on rewarding doctors for diagnosing dementia patients.  For the next six months doctors will receive £55 for every dementia patient they diagnose.
Why?
Well the Government believe this incentive will increase the number of dementia patients who get a diagnosis.
Really?  Does that mean that doctors aren't very good at their jobs?
That's a good question.  I think it means the Government don't think doctors do a good job which isn't exactly the same thing as saying that doctors aren't very good at their jobs.
So, does the Government think that doctors don't know how to diagnose dementia?
Well if the Government thought that then one imagines the £5million budget reserved for this would be spent on training.
Good point.  So does the Government think that doctors are just lazy and can't be bothered to diagnose dementia?
Difficult to say really what the Government thinks because this policy make no sense at all unless one assumes that doctors are so lazy that they need a £55 incentive to do their job.
OK, do we think doctors will fiddle the books and diagnose dementia amongst patients who don't have dementia?
Well I have a better opinion of doctors than that and I think they will just continue to do their jobs in the same way as the were in the last six months but with more money in their pay packets.
So you think this is just a waste of money?
Yes.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Daily Fail

This appeared in the Daily Mail in 1969 (credit to The Media Blog on Twitter).









Some things don't seem to change.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Anarchy in the UK


I was listening to the radio, I think it was the Museum of Curiosities or something equally middle class and from the  Radio 4 stable. 

I recall hating the radio that my parents chose and yet I have fallen into half of their listening, the Radio 4 half. I console myself with the thought that at least I don't listen to Radio 3. 

As I listened to the programme I thought I heard the name of a history professor: Anna Key. I thought that was the perfect name for a history professor in the UK. If my surname was Key and I needed a name for a daughter then Anna would be that name. No middle name required.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Scientific madness


Looking around schools to choose the perfect school for one's child leads one to conjure tricky questions for the poor teachers having to be salespeople for the day/evening.

I don't think it's a stretch to ask teachers to sell.  I think that's effectively their job; they need to sell children an education and more than a passing interest in the subject they are being taught. 

But on open days I've taken to asking questions about science, and what I've learned is frankly shocking. Excuse me while I launch into "In my day...", but, when I was a lass if you had an aptitude for science then you chose which of the science subjects that appealed and those were the exams you took. 

I was a geek and choose Physics, Chemistry and Biology.  If I had been interested in just Biology then I could take just Biology. If I was more of a humanities or languages specialist then I could choose to study General Science which was one subject studied at a low level but providing a taste of Science. 

By the time children are choosing their subjects they will have tasted the sciences as separate subjects and they will know what they like and what they're good at. Most schools today offer compulsory Double Science. This is rather like the old-fashioned General Science subject but to a higher level and is counted as two GCSEs. Some schools may make an option for a less involved exam that is slightly less involved, just core Science, and counts as one exam. If a child shows an aptitude for science then most schools will force then into choosing Triple Science comprising Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Whist this is studied as one exam choice it actually provides three grades in the individual sciences. The bizarre thing is though that it seems that the sub-subjects are joined and cannot be split. 

Triple Science is the subjects bundled together. At many schools it seems impossible to choose just Physics or just Biology and Chemistry. This seems to me to be madness. 

I have a daughter who loves Physics, likes Chemistry but hates Biology. Most schools would force her to take Triple Science but she would want to study Physics and Chemistry.

Why are we forcing our more able students to be generalists? Why are we forcing children to take subjects they don't want to study? If someone has an aptitude for Geography and History we don't force them to study Religious Studies. It's madness.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Free e-magazines

It's taken me a while to figure this out, which is why I'm sharing with you.

If you are a member of Essex libraries (and probably other library services) you can get free access to tons of magazines.

The first thing to do is go to the library website.  For Essex it's here: http://www.essex.gov.uk/Libraries-Archives/Libraries/Pages/Essex-Libraries.aspx

Click on the magazines link, browse and log in - this is the bit where you need a library account.  If your forgotten your password it's usually set as your six digit birthdate.

You then need a Zinio account which you create by clicking the Create Account button.

To read your magazines you'll need the Zinio app or you can read in the browser.  Getting the app is easy on iPad and Android tablet but takes a bit more effort on a Kindle.  You can view in browser on a laptop or desktop but a tablet is more magaziney.

On the Kindle you need to visit this url: http://imgs.zinio.com/faq/kindlefire.html#installation

Click to download and then you'll need to install it.  To find the file you've downloaded you need to open a browser.  On the left at the top of the screen there will be three horizontal bars.  If you click on this you'll have the option to view downloads.  Choose the zinio download and click it and choose install.  Once installed you'll see it in the choices from your apps menu.

Once you have the app installed you can log in and access hundreds of magazines.

It's brilliant and it's free. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Sloe gin

Made a bit of sloe gin today. Here's how.

You'll need sloes. This is what they look like. Rather like blueberries but on trees. They do not taste like blueberries!


Wash, dry and use or wash, dry and freeze to use later. Before using the sloes they need defrosting. It's important the skin of the sloes is broken. Freezing and defrosting can help this but you can also use a needle to puncture the skin.

My defrosting sloes:



You'll need gin, any gin is fine.

You'll need sterilized jars or bottles. I used gin bottles and Kilner type jars. I discovered that putting Kilner jars in the oven can cause them to crack so I recommended the dishwasher sterilisation method. Top shelf without any detergent should sterilise jars and seals. 

I use jars or bottles with a 1.5 liter capacity. In these jars put:

1 litre of gin
450g sloes
350g sugar

Put the lid on and turn it a few times.

Put in a dark place and turn every day for the first week. For each following week just turn once a week.

After eight weeks strain the gin through a muslin into sterilized bottles. Screw top or flip top bottles are fine.

Then leave it. The longer you leave it the better.

I'm at the jar in dark cupboard stage.


Friday, 17 October 2014

Cracking school day

Hannah had something called an enrichment day today at school.  This, for the uninitiated, seems to be a jolly good excuse for larking around doing something other than a regular school day.
Today was all about cryptography and required Pringles tubes.  Pringles tubes we can do.  Cryptography content was provided by the educational outreach chap from Bletchley Park, Tom, and an "old girl" in more than one sense.  Mary used to go to Hannah's school but was also one of the amazing Bletchley Park team during the war.
My school days were never this exciting.  Hannah says that not all of her school friends were as enthusiastic as she was but Hannah had a great time.
Hannah started by cracking codes but she also made an Enigma machine using paper and a Pringles tube, and she got to use a real Enigma machine.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the day though was listening to Mary talking about her recruitment from Oxford and the way she signed up to take part without having a clue what she was agreeing to.  She even signed the Official Secrets Act before the nature of the work was disclosed to her.
I'd have liked school to be like this every day.  It certainly beats cross country running across  footpaths of Devon clay and History lessons with the bearded teacher with rancid body odour.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Privacy policy

I have a Flickr account.  I use it as a backup in case the Mac, external drive and NAS drive fail, basically in case the house burns down.  I've uploaded historical family photos and more recent holiday photos - over 7,000 images.
I've previously set the privacy settings on these photos to be public.  There's nothing I've uploaded that I'm not happy with anyone seeing.
Dave has recently started scanning photos from our pre-digital albums and I've been storing these on Flickr too.
There was some pictures of us at the beach from 20 years ago so I just checked with Dave that he was happy with the public privacy setting.  He wasn't.  In fact he wasn't happy with any photos I'd uploaded being publicly available.
I checked this statement.  Even landscapes and pictures of buildings?  Yes, even those.
These are our photos, they aren't mine or his.  So I've felt that I've had to change the access to these photos; all of them.
I'm not happy.  I think it's an overreaction. But I can't think of a way around it that keeps us both happy.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Sometimes

Sometimes everything works and I appear beautifully organised.

Today at 4:00pm Sainsbury called asking if they could deliver earlier than the booked 7-8pm slot.

My answer was that that was fine but I wouldn't be getting in until 5:15pm.  Just as my caller was explaining that was OK, I stopped him to explain I'd be going out again at 5:45pm.  He said he'd be outside at 5:15pm.

I got home at 5:00pm.  Jacket potatoes were perfectly cooked having been put in the oven in the morning with the oven timer set to turn the oven off at 5:00pm.  I heated up a filling, served it up on plates just as Hannah and Ethan walked in through the door at about 5:08pm.

The Sainsbury delivery driver rang the doorbell at 5:10pm.  He said he was impressed at my organisation.  He'd seen the children arrive two minutes earlier and now he could see them eating their dinner.

I put the shopping away, said goodbye to the delivery driver, got changed and walked Ethan to football practice which starts at 6:00pm.

I then walked home, cooked dinner, ate with Dave who arrived just before I served up.

I then left the house again to collect Ethan from football and brought him home so that he could shower and do his homework, due in tomorrow.

Next Wednesday though is a different story.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Unlikely bedfellows

I like the Channel 4 series Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners.  It teams people who tend towards Obsessive Compulsive Disorder behaviours with hoarders and people who either don't know how to, or can't be bothered to, clean their home.

These people are polar opposites and the premise for the show is that these two different people can enjoy a brief symbiotic relationship; the obsessive learns that letting go a little isn't disastrous and the hoarder learns that it is possible to de-clutter and clean house.

The pairings aren't always successful but often they are with both participants gaining from the experience.

It made me wonder whether there are other unusual bedfellows that might benefit from exposure to an opposite.  The only one I could conjure was the mixture of an agoraphobic and claustrophobic.  I wonder if there are others.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Genius plan


Vic and I came up with a plan today. 

To be fair it was Vic's idea but I ran with it and semi-claimed it. If there was any money in it I'd already have taken a solo trip to the patent office. 

The idea is a Lego lending library. 

The pleasure of Lego, for some, is the build. The more complicated the better. The problem with this is that complicated Lego sets aren't cheap and they take up space. 

A lending library with perhaps a borrowing fee overcomes the need to purchase and store but still provides the borrower with the build pleasure. 

Being the sort of person who likes to strike while the iron is hot I got onto the interweb and found a nice chap called Steve doing "chat" on the Essex library website. No, not that sort of chat. 

Steve was a bit rubbish. He told me some libraries already do this and shared a link to prove it. The link he shared was about American libraries. I wasted no time pointing out this faux pas. 

Anyway, Steve reckoned I needed to discuss my "genius" idea with Sarah. (I coined the "genius" tag.) So Sarah, Head of Children's Services, has my idea in her inbox awaiting deliberation.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Wine aficionado

Stuart recommended an app to help when choosing wine.  I tested it over the weekend and am a fan. 

The app is Vivano. It allows you to scan a wine bottle label and if it has details of the wine in its database then it'll tell you more than the label will. 

You'll find out what should expect to pay for a bottle, whether it's deemed to be a good wine for that vineyard, region, country our indeed globally. You can add your own notes so that you remember where you bought the wine and you can see reviews by other people. 

On Friday I scanned loads of bottles and came away with one white and one red bottle that were rated well at all levels. We've had the opportunity to try both bottles and, whilst I'm no expert, they were both excellent. So I recommend trying the app.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

For your little darlings

Hannah's school recommends a website quizlet.com and I'm sure other schools recommend it too. I'd never heard of it before but it sounded interesting.

If your little darling has vocabulary that needs memorising or spellings that need learning then you can pre-load the website with the information and it will create tests. Hannah's teachers use it to create tests for the class and Hannah uses it to create her own learning tools.

If only this had been available when I was at school I wouldn't have flunked German.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Posh bread and butter pudding


This month saw my first ever bread and butter pudding. I chose Nigella's posh version. 

Ingredients
  • A loaf of brioche (400g) 
  • 3 eggs 
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar 
  • 1 cup milk (I used skimmed) 
  • 1 cup cream (I've used double and whipping but I'm sure single is fine too) 
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract 
  • Large handful of raisins (or sultanas) 
  • Marsala wine (or sherry or port or whisky or brandy) 


Method 
  • Preheat oven to 180ºC fan oven. 
  • Soak raisins in your chosen booze. 
  • Slice and butter the brioche (you don't need to use butter, olive or sunflower spread is fine)
  • Grease a large baking dish using butter or margarine or spread suitable for baking 
  • Pop the buttered brioche into the baking dish starting at one end overlapping the pieces so that the tops of the slices stand a little proud. 
  • In a bowl mix eggs, cream, milk, sugar and vanilla. 
  • Scatter the raisins over the brioche slices and any excess booze can be tipped over the top too. 
  • Pour the egg and cream mixture over your brioche. 
  • Bake for 30 mins. 

Best served with custard.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Imperfections


I'm the first to admit I'm not perfect but why don't you tell me? 

I made another savoury cake this evening using the recipe I blogged about a while ago. As I was reading the method for the recipe I noticed a typo. Instead of the word whisked a spellchecker had assumed I meant whacked. 

I didn't mean whacked. Whacking an egg mixture makes no sense at all. I've been in and edited it but I know some of you read it and just glossed over the error. Please don't. 

I type my blog either on a Mac using Mars Edit software, on a Kindle using a notes app which then allows me to send the post by email to the blog as a draft, or using the Blogger app on my iPhone. Sometimes I'll use Blogger natively in a browser but rarely. 

Often I'm blogging when tired and I don't do any proof reading or checking. Sometimes my eye will catch a mistake but it'll be by luck, not judgement. I don't like typos though. I would much rather present something that doesn't contain mistakes. 

I live with the formatting inconsistency because I don't know how to fix that over the many platforms I use. I only live with the typos because I don't know about them, which is where I'd like your help. 

If you spot a mistake then please leave a comment, or text me, or email me, or phone me, or tap me on the shoulder and talk to me. 

Thank you.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Appearances count

We are doing the rounds of school open evenings and went to one recently that didn't make the best impression, unfortunately.

We arrived early and nipped into the IT department to kill time before the head teacher's speech.

There was no teacher around and when I started to look at a particular screen I was told by a pupil that it was the work of someone in Year 9.

The pupil left us to browse and Ethan and I started to critique the website that was on display.  

Capital letters were not used where they should have been.  Spelling was poor.  Formatting was inconsistent.  Grammar was incorrect.  The overall look of the site was passable though.  Although we were looking at the site together, I said what I was thinking, and I said it made me wonder about the school if they were presenting work of this standard.

Ethan has rejected this school based on this tiny insight into the school ethos.  If they can't be bothered to correct these things on work that is being showcased during an open evening then can they really be bothered by anything?

It's a shame.  We had a great experience in some of the other classrooms and there was some "newness" in the head teacher's speech that was interesting and innovative.

I have explained to Ethan that that particular piece of work being on display could be indicative of an inclusive environment, where everyone's contributions are valued and it isn't just the top percentage of students who get to see their work on display.

But appearances count.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Bakewell tart that isn't


This can't possibly be a tart because it has no pastry, but for me this is its appeal. 

Pastry just adds time and complicates a recipe and there are some diners who detest the stuff, happily cutting it off and leaving it at the side of the plate. 

I can understand this behaviour in the gluten intolerant crowd but there are those who see pastry as an unnecessary barrier to dessert. If I've bothered to make that pastry then I find this behaviour a little rude. 

I'm not sure about the baking time for this recipe. It requires  45 minutes but kept failing the skewer test so had closer to an hour in the oven. I think that 45 minutes may have resulted in a more marzipan-like texture in the middle. More experimentation may be required. 

You need a flan tin or cake tin of roughly 20cm diameter. This must be well greased. 

Ingredients 
  • 150g unsalted butter 
  • 150g granulated sugar (golden granulated our caster is also fine) 
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 1tsp vanilla extract (don't use that plastic essence stuff) 
  • 150g self raising flour (am sure gluten free works here) 
  • 150g ground almonds 
  • 6 tsp raspberry jam (may be easier to use a conserve that is less set) 
  • 150g fresh raspberries (I used frozen and think this was a mistake - see cooking time comment above) 
  • 50g flaked almonds (or fewer if you have fussy children) 


Method 
  • Preheat oven to 160ºC. 
  • Cream butter and sugar. 
  • Beat eggs and vanilla together then whisk into creamed mixture adding a bit of flour to prevent curdling. 
  • Fold in rest of flour and ground almonds (using a metal spoon). The mixture is diabolical at this stage and you will think you've made a mistake. Have faith, stick with it and when it finally combines as a cake mass then stop. 
  • Put just under half of the mixture in the cake/flan dish/tin. 
  • Add the jam trying to distribute evenly ish. 
  • Scatter a few raspberries. 
  • Try and put the remaining mixture on top. This isn't very easy. Do little bits at a time. 
  • Push the rest of the raspberries into the top and scatter with flaked almonds. 
  • Bake for 45 mins or until golden.


Serve with whatever takes your fancy. I like custard.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Anti-nostalgia


In the office this week we were discussing mobile phone contracts and bemoaning the cost of calls. But calls are cheap. 

My dad worked for BT, and before that the GPO and before that the Post Office. 

I never had that childhood experience of getting in from school and then spending hours on the phone with the friends I'd been with all day. 

Phone use in our house was rare because dad knew the cost of calls. 

I distinctly remember that when we made a long distance call to my uncle we drove to dad's office in Torquay to make the call. 

It's one of those things where I can say I know how lucky I am.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Mountain

My sister-in-law, Shona, got in touch a couple of days ago asking for help with my neice Olivia's homework; could we supply some names of ancestors?

Fortunately we have a family tree on the Cardus side that goes back to 1676, so I could.

The required names were from a couple of generations ago but I emailed across the ridiculously large pdf anyway.

My brother looked at it and found an unusual name: John Mountain Cardus.

I know nothing about John Mountain Cardus but that middle name brings with it expectations of great things. Or perhaps it smacks of unduly ambitious parental expectation.

Either way, Ian Michael Cardus fancies a name change to become Ian Mountain Cardus. I think it might just suit him.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

How to run the perfect school open day.


I've become a bit of an expert, so here goes. Headteachers - are you paying attention? 

Firstly, find advocates. Find school leavers, pupils, teachers, governors and parents who will speak well about the school.  Now these should not be the volunteers our the people that did it last year, they should be passionate about the school, eloquent and comfortable with public speaking. 

The school leavers should be polished individuals who are happily placed at university or in a good job, ideally both. The parents of children who won't go to university want to know the school can achieve academic results. The parents of the academically inclined child want to know that the school offers a rounded education. 

The pupils should be immaculately presented (we like uniform here in the UK) and should be articulate. They should talk about what the school has done for them and how they've grown as individuals. They should talk about enjoying lessons and about the breadth of extra curricular activities. 

Only the best and most inspiring teachers should be allowed to speak. They should be engaging, caring and funny. 

The governors should address the topic of school performance and facilities, briefly and in a positive light. 

Supportive parents should share the pastoral aspects of the school in a way that makes parents believe the school is like an extension of family. 

The head should be inspirational. He or she should talk about achievements with pride but also talk about lofty ambition for further great strides that are being planned. 

Ok, that's the speech done, now the tour when school isn't operating. 

Getting around the school needs to be easy. Ideally parents should be allocated a role model pupil as a flexible tour guide. This special pupil will know every inch of the school and have key highlights already in mind but will adapt the tour to the specific interests of the parents and children they're guiding. 

All classrooms will have interactive areas with staff and pupils who will behave as though they have been on a sales  training course. They'll actively engage parents and children in conversation. They'll have prepared a sales pitch which they will modify based on the questions and reactions of the parents and children touring the school. 

The approach required for tours when school is operating is somewhat different and may be covered at another time. 

(Typos are the result of attending to many open days.)

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Clash

Tomorrow evening we were all set to go and look around a local secondary school.  I say we, but actually I mean Ethan and I were.

This evening I reminded Dave about this, which meant he too became all set to visit the same local school.

Then Hannah announces that the tutor evening she mentioned a while ago is actually happening tomorrow, in the evening, at the same time as the open evening at the secondary school.

Well not quite at the same time, but there's a significant overlap.

So we had two places to be, at the same time.

We started to try and choose which activity had the highest priority.  Then Dave decided that we both ought to look around the school.

The problem is that the school open evening started at 5:00 but Dave wouldn't get there until 5:45.  The tutor evening started at 7:00 but was half an hour's drive from the open evening.

The final solution is a game of tag.  I get to the open evening at 5:00 do the tour and then Dave and I will overlap for about 30 minutes and then I'll go to the tutor evening.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Stupid sales strategy


I wanted to buy something on Amazon and needed three of them.
At the checkout I needed to adjust my quantity down because I was being restricted to just one item.
I have an Amazon Prime account so bought one item anyway. I tried to go through the buying process immediately to buy another and the site stopped me.
The next day I went back to Amazon and purchased a second item without any problem. 
The day after that I tried to buy another but they were on to me. They wouldn't let me go through checkout. So I used another Amazon account.
This means that instead of paying for one delivery service, Amazon are paying for three deliveries. This makes no sense to me at all.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Mild Panic

Having dealt with solicitors and wills I know that getting my affairs in order would be a really useful thing to do for my children.

I read of Lynda Bellingham's news that she has terminal cancer and has chosen to die naturally by stopping chemotherapy.  

I experience mild panic when I hear things like that because if that were to happen to me then I haven't got things sorted.  My life isn't organised enough for me to die.

When I sort through things I'm keeping in the loft, for example, I try to have rules:

  1. Will I need it again in my lifetime?
  2. Is it sensible to store this or would I be better to buy another when I need it?
  3. If my children were sorting through my affairs would they choose to keep it or ditch it?

I'm not very good at sticking to my own rules and I know that my children won't choose to keep the majority of my belongings.

I'd quite like to ask their advice so I can be more efficient at sorting things but what they say now won't be the same answer I'd get from beyond the grave.

One thing my husband is taking control of is large, bulky photo albums.  We are sorting our photographic life before the digital camera and after the digital camera.  We are getting books printed that contain our memories.  They take up less space and are pre-sorted.

At least we don't have a three piece suite in the loft anymore, although there is a bed there.

I'm not "the hoarder next door" but I would quite like someone else to go through the loft and ditch stuff for me.

I have a horrible feeling though my legacy will be a mess requiring several skips and trips to the tip.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Great Expectations

This is school choice time.  The time of year when pupils and parents visit schools to decide which is best for their little darlings.

We're considering grammar schools for Ethan because he's bright.  That isn't just my opinion  and I am aware parents are prone to over-estimating their offspring's abilities.

Other people tell me Ethan is bright: teachers tell me (as well as telling me his handwriting and presentation is dire), parents tell me because their children sit in the same class as Ethan and that is their view of him, and relatives tell me because Ethan memorises books full of facts and can appear knowledgable through the reciting of these facts.  I am well aware that others at Ethan's school are brighter; they just might exhibit more modesty.

People know Ethan's doing the 11+ exam.  I know how competitive the 11+ is and I am most definitely not sure whether Ethan will do well enough in the exam to gain a place at his school of choice.

Everyone else seems absolutely sure Ethan will do well and will "pass".

The problem with everyone else's expectations is that it piles on the pressure.  The "Oh, he'll be fine!" just increases the stress.  

Nobody wants to fail.  If there are no expectations then there is no failure.  If there are great expectations then there is the opportunity for great failure.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Chocolate fondant pudding

Ethan had been drooling after an episode of The Great British Bake Off and was bemoaning his lack of culinary skill.

I told him to pick something he wanted to cook from my recipe book shelves and we'd give it a try.  If it was something I'd not made before then we'd both learn.  He chose Tana Ramsey's Hot Chocolate Puddings which are chocolate fondants in all but name.

I'd never made these before and I left Ethan to it.  Hannah joined in when she arrived in from school.  They were just the way they should be: cooked on the outside and gooey in the middle.

I needed small pudding moulds.  Posh Silverwood pudding basins are £3.29 each in Steamer Trading Company

NewImage

Sainsbury, on the other hand, have four non stick pudding moulds for £4.50.

You need six pudding moulds for this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 250g plain chocolate (if you'd like it a little sweeter I'm sure milk chic is fine)
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 heaped tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp plain flour (I'm sure gluten free would work)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

I'm sure you can add orange zest and that would make them very tasty.

 

Method

  • Grease your pudding moulds with butter.  I'm sure ramekins would work but turning them out might be trickier.
  • Pop butter and choc in a bain marie (bowl over a pan of simmering water and don't let the bowl touch the water)
  • In a mixer whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract until frothy.  (You can do by hand if you're a sucker for punishment.)
  • Sieve the flour onto egg mixture and fold in.
  • When the bain marie has done its job and the butter and chocolate have melted, add it gradually to the egg mixture folding gently with a metal spoon.
  • Pour the resultant mixture into the greased pots.
  • Rest for a couple of hours.  The puddings, not the cook.  Now we put our puds in the fridge which I think means we could have increased the cooking time by 30 seconds.
  • Preheat oven to 180°C (for fan oven) and cook for no more than ten minutes (unless you rested them in the fridge in which case ten minutes and 30 seconds should still be fine.

They are just as they should be with a gooey middle and, whilst we served with ice cream, I think clotted cream would be perfect.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Smart marketing

I'm on too many mailing lists.

I don't mind a lot of the stuff that comes through the letterbox but I do get irritated when it's clear that the company sending me stuff hasn't put any thought into the mailing.

The Great Little Trading Company is a case in point.

I have bought from them when my children were younger but my children are now of an age where the GLTC products aren't suitable. My family has outgrown that retailer.

Surely there is a profile that would indicate that I'm no longer worth the investment.  I probably haven't bought anything for over five years.

Why are they wasting their money on me? Why aren't they applying a data-based approach to their CRM strategy.

Just doing the same old thing just because you always have isn't a good enough reason.

Use analysis and data to drive your strategy. Mailing everyone on your list is lazy and wasteful.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Savoury cake recipe

Ian made this and brought it in to the office yesterday.  At my request he brought the recipe in today.  The recipe used cup measurements, Fahrenheit oven temperatures and imperial loaf tin size.  So I've taken all of this and made it look like a normal recipe.
The concept is a cake like texture in a loaf tin but with savoury elements providing the flavour instead of sugar.  It's a very healthy option, I think.
Savoury cake
Ingredients
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1tbsp baking powder
  • 4 eggs (I used large eggs)
  • 60ml milk
  • 60ml plain yoghurt - I didn't have this in the fridge so I made my own buttermilk with milk and a dash of lemon juice and used that instead
  • 160ml olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Savoury filling - I used 150g cooked chopped chorizo, half a cooked chopped pepper, half a cooked chopped onion and chopped double Gloucester to the same volume as chorizo.  The recipe calls for 140g French sausage or salami (finely chopped), a handful of pistachios  (roughly chopped) and a handful of prunes.  The idea is to use up leftover bits and bobs that happen to be in the fridge.  

Method
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C (for fan oven) and line a 400g loaf tin (loaf tins are sold in two sizes - this is the smaller of the two sizes).
  • Put the flour, baking powder and savoury bits into a bowl and mix.  This coats the filling in flour and helps individual bits to stay suspended in the mixture when baked.
  • Put the eggs in a separate bowl and whisk until thick and pale in colour.  Gradually add the milk, yoghurt, oil and seasoning, whisking all the time.
  • Fold in savoury flour mixture.  Scrape/pour/tip into loaf tin and bake for 40 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out without any cake mixture clinging to it.
I'll be slicing this and freezing it.  For packed lunches I'll be grabbing a slice from the freezer in the morning which will defrost by lunchtime.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Planning

Planning food isn't really my thing.  

I generally buy ingredients and then invent ways to combine them.  Recipes are for cakes, bread and pastries not for a pasta dish, risotto or jacket spud.  My home cooking really isn't very inspired.

But I found this, which I quite like.  Tesco Meal Planner.

I haven't used it, but I think I might.  I know Tesco has been in the news today because they don't seem to be very good at counting (massive profit overstatement) but they can get some things right.