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.
  • 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

  • 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 ( 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 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  This site also searches for you but will also notify you when the show you are interested in becomes available on a particular platform.


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


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.


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


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.
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


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?