Sunday, April 30, 2006

Modest Indulgence...

I realised this weekend that sometimes, it's possible to really enjoy yourself without being particularly extravagant.

Yesterday we celebrated Rob's 40th by re-enacting our latter day tradition of attending the Cleethorpes Beer Festival. I'm certain I won't be alone in thinking that the festival itself was quite a disappointment in terms of small choice of beer available and little variety amongst those on offer. Worse still, they were all served in plastic cups which I'm sure tainted the flavours.

That said, we had a table to ourselves, large enough to seat around 15 people at one point and we had a very enjoyable afternoon affording the chance for the birthday boy to catch up with family and friends old and new and for many of us to meet his lovely new wife Sharon for the first time.

Coincidentally, there was a European market on the seafront that afternoon which meant we could enjoy spicy sausages, garlic bread and a variety of stuffed olives for tea, rather than the usual fish & chips out of newspaper. Before catching the train back into town we called in at the local CAMRA pub of the year where aside from a decent glass of real ale, we tried some Penderyn malt whisky and Merlyn whisky liqueur, both rather unique in the fact that they hail from Wales.

To finish the day, we returned to the Tap (our unofficial pub of the year - and longer for that matter) where we met up with more old friends and enjoyed several pints of excellent real ale until the last of us wandered out of the door around 11:30pm.

Today by complete contrast I've done bugger all other than catch up on some sleep, watch the usual repeats on ABC1 and tuck into a few rounds of eggy bread for tea.

Overall an excellent weekend, offering something a little different from the norm and somehow, I managed to spend considerably less than normal...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Raising the steaks...

After another fun-packed 12 hour day playing at earning a living, I arrived home this evening uninspired to create anything too adventurous in the kitchen and too mean to pay out for fast food. I also discovered to my delight that it is almost a month since my last grocery shop and the easiest thing to rustle up for supper was steak, egg & chips.

If it makes it sound any healthier, I did the steak on the trusty George Foreman lean mean grilling machine, the chips were of the "Healthy Living Low Fat Oven" variety and if I'm really clutching at straws, the eggs were only fried in a little oil. Who cares anyway, the important thing was that I had amassed a good plate full in next to no time. Enough time to get me thinking though. Uh-oh...

I like to eat my steak somewhere between medium rare and rare and I've just about got the knack of how much defrosting & grilling is required to get it just how I like it. After the first check this evening, I decided it was a little too rare, or rather "not quite well enough done", or perhaps rather than "more well done", it should be "done better".

Oh dear. A few spare minutes and a drained mind are not a good combination. It didn't stop there either. Where the does the term "rare" come from anyway? Surely, the less you cook an 8oz steak, the less it shrinks, or rather, the more of it remains which means if there is more of it, then it is less rare than a well done steak would be.

That's the problem with weekdays - I don't get the opportunity to fill my mind with important issues such as "who's round is it?" or "is that a new brewery?" or "I wonder what that one tastes like"...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Cheeky bunch of *bleep*...

Today I've become a victim of censorship and quite frankly, I find it quite offensive. It's always been a topic close to my heart (if you don't want to read it, hear it, see it then you've been warned so don't buy the book, play the CD, watch the film) but today Big Brother finally got to me and by that I don't mean I'm about to start sharing my house with a bunch of attention hungry weirdos.

One of my good friends and regular readers returned to work today and when trying to read my blog was faced with this:

(Click on image to enlarge)

I've obviously removed any details that would disclose their identity but I still can't believe my eyes!

My initial shock was to be deemed "unsuitable" when I go to great lengths to keep the language and tone to a reasonable level during my occasional rants. Don't get me wrong, I'll band about 4-letter obscenities with the best of them but there are already so many sites out there already providing that sort of entertainment (check at least 2 of those listed to your left) that I think it better to leave the experts to it.

Closer inspection reveals that it isn't just me that's being singled out, but all of us cyber-folk who use blogger (blogspot) are nicely bundled together as "Kids Time Wasting".

Now I appreciate that I am never likely to win any literary awards but I thought their generalisation was a little harsh to say the least. Perhaps a greater waste of time (and money) is when companies employ these people to play demi-gods and set ridiculous restrictions on the subject matter that their employees choose to read on the net...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

By George...

Happy St. George's Day!

You did know it was today? The celebration of our patron saint? I appreciate that there has been no mention of it on the news, no parades organised, no red and white flags festooned from every building but surely you knew anyway? I guess it's just our way of being typically English and not wanting to make a fuss.

On the subject of things English, I was reading The English Guy's blog today which led me to an appalling story about National Lottery funding. For those who don't want to follow the link, Manchester United have been given a £30,000 lottery grant to fund exercise classes for their staff. I assume by "staff" we're not talking about the grossly overpaid primadonnas themselves, but all the same it's still a bloody disgrace.

I remember reading something about a year ago saying that they don't provide funding for organisations like RNLI or the Samaritans either because they can't guarantee that it will benefit disadvantaged people. Sorry, but if someone is on the brink of drowning or suicide then I'd say that's pretty damned disadvantaged.

Here's a thought for you: the first National Lottery was drawn 19th November 1994 which was a little over 596 weeks ago. I have played at least a single line every Saturday since it started and for most of the time have also been involved in a syndicate at work aswell. That means I've spent at least £1192 of which I doubt I've had a tenth back in prize money. I think it would make more sense to contribute to worthwhile causes directly and accept the fact that I'll probably never be a millionaire...

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Read all about it...

I think it was Eddie Izzard who said in one of his shows "Some people like to tell everybody they're widely read. Well I can't - I don't read a lot of books, in fact you could say that I'm very thinly read". Same goes for me I'm afraid.

I recent spotted a new Library Thing feature on Cherrypie's blog and thought I might "borrow" the idea as a nice little addition to this one. It's a great site where you can create a virtual library of all of your books, have a nose around to see who reads the same sort of things as you do, share reviews with people and so on.

So this morning, I ventured into the dreaded box room again and decided to dig out all of my books and set up my own on-line library. I have to say I was horrified by the small quantity of books I found in the house and to my complete shame, there are several listed in the library that I have never got round to reading. More to the point there are certain books which I'm certain I didn't sell in my e-Bay madness a couple of years ago such as the "Hitchhikers" four part trilogy, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and various other collections of humorous anecdotes and poems.

As I see it, there is only one solution - I obviously haven't quite finished moving house after all...

Friday, April 21, 2006

It had to happen...

I've been writing this blog for over 18 months and to date I'd managed quite happily to avoid being tagged. Well I've finally been caught and Cherrypie is the guilty party. I already have a link on here to a list of 30 things about me, but let's see if I can get through this without cheating.

The instructions are "First post your six random things about yourself, then you go to six other blogs and let them know they are tagged and to find the details on your blog."

1. As a child I wrote a letter to the BBC complaining that they took Top of the Pops to cover World Cup football. I'm still not much of a football fan but these days would prefer to watch that than the crap that seems to reside in the charts.

2. I was left in my pushchair on Southsea common as my mother turned and fled from an on-coming hovercraft.

3. I was also left in my pram outside Dingles department store when Mum actually lived out the sitcom sketch of getting home from the shops thinking "I'm sure I've forgotten something"

4. I didn't leave home until I was 27 - I suppose I should have got the hint from 2 & 3

5. I have a small birthmark that not many people know about and even fewer have seen

6. Despite my propensity for beer consumption, at home I've had a cupboard full of wines, spirits and beer since before Christmas - bring on barbie season!

So there you go. Fascinating eh? Many of my readers & commenters don't have blogs of their own (yet), but I'll pass the baton onto Declan, Richard, Woja, Jeremy, Phil and Little Sis...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hello Moto...

After yesterday's little game of "will they, won't they" I'm pleased to report that today I took delivery of mobile phone number six. Not that I run six mobile phones at once I hasten to add, but I finally decided to relegate my trusty old P800 to the back catalogue and venture into something new.

It's been a difficult phone to replace as it was full of plenty of gadgets and gizmos that set it well ahead of it's time when it was first introduced. In fact, it proved a most effective means of shaking off telesales calls as nobody was interested in upgrading it to a higher spec model for the same monthly contract rate. The time had come for a change though as it was starting to fail more frequently as it hobbled into it's senior years and quite frankly, I was getting fed up of the huge block in my pocket that raised my voice three octaves whenever I sat down.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I present the new kid in town, the Motorola RAZR V3x:

I've lost a couple of features that the last phone had, but this has some features that the last one didn't so on balance, I'm happy that it's a better and more appropriate phone for me.

Much of this afternoon has been spent wading through the contacts on the old phone, doing a bit of selective editing out of people I've not heard from for years, transferring the "survivors" to the new one and synchronising everything with my Outlook contacts on the laptop.

The next exciting task is to get in touch with all of these people and let them know the new number. Good job there's plenty of free texts included with the new contract...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Think of a number...

On a bored Sunday afternoon three years ago, I took an on-line IQ test on the BBC website as part of their Test the Nation campaign and surprised myself with a score of 140. I know that because I've just found the e-mail I sent to Little Sis inviting her to have a go.

Some of us were discussing IQ results in the pub over the weekend, (I seem to recall after accusing somebody of possibly achieving double figures) and I thought it was about time for an update.

So, in the early caffeine-induced-insomniac hours of this morning, I found this site and was horrified to see my score had dropped to 131. Where did my nine points go? Are the increasing number of grey hairs I'm spotting on my scalp replacing grey cells? Or was it just because it was so early in the day? Perhaps it's distorted by the fact that I can't re-enact the same test from the BBC. I had to find some more.

10:00am I completed this one but I've no idea how I've got on as they haven't bothered to reply.

Went outside & mowed the front lawn to see if fresh air and exercise would make a difference.

11:00am I completed this one with an even worse score of 129, based on my answering all questions, well within the allotted timescale and getting only 4 wrong. A bit harsh I think.

Now you would expect that by carrying on, the scores should improve as your mind gets used to the nature of questions answered. Well I can't leave the house as I'm waiting for a parcel, so let's give this one a go. Wow! 152, including two interruptions!

Only one place left to try - I've got to have a go at the MENSA workout seeing as you can't do the official test online. Well at 27 out of 30, apparently I have a high chance of passing the test, but as I'm not sure whether I can be bothered now.

In the meantime on the subject of numbers, the parcel I've been waiting in for is a new mobile phone which hasn't arrived in the post as stated on their internet tracking service. The chap on the "help" line told me it will arrive by courier tomorrow, but I've just received an e-mail from them saying it's not coming at all!

Luckily for me, a good friend of mine happens to run one of their high street stores but I thought I'd give their helpline another chance. Would you believe, it is coming some time tomorrow after all.

All of this mental strain has worn me down so I think I'll nip to the Tap and enjoy a nice pint. Something I know I can always count on...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Home at last...

After only four months and 20 days, I finally finished moving out of Mum & Dad's place and into the bungalow today.

Strictly speaking, I still have to pick up some shelving units for the garage but I'm leaving that until the last possible moment due to the domino effect of jobs that will appear on the "to do" list once I get the garage organised.

Looking around at today's load, I'm not entirely sure why I didn't just stop off at the tip first:

~ My fishing rod - bought around 30 years ago and probably not been near water for the last 29
~ My Nodor bristle dartboard - in need of a clean but otherwise in good condition.Oh, and in need of my darts wherever they are.
~ My crash helmet - although I haven't owned a motorbike for over 20 years
~ Several boxes full of household cleaning products courtesy of several years worth of shop sales at work
~ Two armfuls of clothes that are far too old or small to see the light of day on me any more.

Quite honestly, the way the bread machine is churning out baked goods right now, the "too small" criteria above is looking highly unlikely to change either...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Good intentions...

Today was supposed to be my busy day; time to work my way through the list of outstanding chores and catch up on the inevitable sleep required after a day on the beer yesterday.

However, despite the quantity of alcohol consumed yesterday I was up with the larks this morning and had managed to get out to the local Tesco and back before 7:30.

By 12:30, I'd just about cleared the list. Laundry done, house hoovered, hot cross buns made, spicy fruit loaf whirring round the bread machine as I write, bought some garden furniture, renewed my car insurance and the conditions outside are still too wet to consider mowing the lawn of trimming the hedges.

I thought I'd take a bit of time out to catch up on the blogs, but on the first one I've read I see that Delcatto is out for a few beers this afternoon so I may have to re-evaluate my plans...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Happy Easter...

My Easter post last year was a collection of links to a number of pictures, some more appropriate than others, but all meant to be entertaining on some level or other. That same post linked to a picture of some bunny girls and to this day, the Google Image search for "bunnies" remains the top reason people arrive here from search engines.

They must be very disappointed and not to mention persistent - I looked for it today and even with safe search off, I couldn't find it amongst 40 pages.

Anyway, here's this year's cute bunny picture discovered on my travels around the web this morning

As a more typical gesture from me, I ask you all again to check out the bunnies on the Angry Alien website. Jennifer Shiman has created a load of animated film parodies, 20 at the last count, each re-enacted in 30 seconds by bunnies and all both very clever and very funny. I've linked to them from this blog pretty much since day one, but another shameless plug won't go amiss. I should also thank Wayne who told me about them in the first place.

So take a look, have a laugh and have a very Happy Easter...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Today's witterings...

Just a couple of things that happened today that aren't worthy of a full blown rant but were irritating all the same.

A couple of weeks before I was due to move into the bungalow, I signed up for a deal for my phone, tv and broadband which at the time I considered quite reasonable. I ignored the fact that just after Christmas they reduced the package price to "new" customers (which clearly didn't include me by this time) and I let that go.

I accept that it's my own fault for not scrutinising my bill more closely before, but I spotted tonight that they've been charging me extra each month for a "Non DD Handling Charge" despite the fact that I have paid by direct debit since day one. I highlighted their error with a quick call this evening, (or rather a quick conversation after 15 minutes alledgedly on hold listening to their adverts) and they agreed to credit my account for the 5 months worth of charges. Except they couldn't adjust this month's payment as it has already been taken - 7 days before it was due. What the hell, we're only talking about a tenner and at least I am going to get it back.

In a completely unrelated incident, I was sat this evening enjoying a caffeine & fresh bread free supper and I thought I'd catch up with some local news seeing as I was home in time to watch it for a change. I've posted before about the diminishing quality of news reporting on the BBC and I'm afraid it doesn't appear to be showing signs of any improvement.

Our local media "hero" often struggles along quite embarassingly and often fails to recognise the difference between Paxman-esque direct questioning and just being downright rude. On a good day, he can very nearly win a battle of wits with the 7 year old child he's interviewing in such a patronising manner. However, this evening's poll result displayed a complete new depth of poor quality journalism. The question was whether the merger of regional police forces was likely to improve their performance. Apparently,

"26% thought yes, 74% thought no and rather surprisingly, nobody said they were not interested"

Fancy that, not one of the local viewers was so lacking in interest that they felt compelled to pick up the phone to formally register their complete apathy...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What have I started...

I was convinced that yesterdays post brought the church bingo card up to date, assuming of course that I skip the suggestion from Cherrypie to take an overly scenic route home to find some more. (Although one of the churches mentioned is pictured in the original post.)

Anyway, driving home tonight, the same way as I've travelled for the best part of 10 years, I glanced across to look at the looming black cloud (even blacker than the one that usually shadows the town), when I spotted this on the horizon:

Now I always thought they took years to build, but I'm starting to believe that somebody somewhere is having a laugh at my expense...

Monday, April 10, 2006

Bingo update...

Believe it or not, I have actually been working on the Church Bingo post for quite a while. Although it originally started with casual observations from the car, I ended up tracing my route to work on the map, identifying the church towers, collecting photos and reducing them to appropriate thumbnail size.

As if that wasn't sad enough, I even double checked the map to see if there were any more likely candidates within viewing range and when I was confident that my collection was complete, I published the post.

Lo and behold, on my Billy-Whizz return journey home along the M180 this evening, I spotted this one:

It can only be seen on the way home and I suspect, only on a particularly clear day and I began to wonder whether there is some deeply theological or spiritual lesson to be taken from this exercise.

Or perhaps I'm simply not as observant or skilled at bingo as I thought I was...

Man can not live by bread alone...

Not even with lots of fresh coffee.

I suspect that had I still been a little boy at home and yesterdays gadgets had been presents they would have been put away "until you learn how to play with them properly".

Rather like a spoilt child, I have consumed more fresh coffee and bread in the last 24 hours than I have for some considerable time. What's more, I've discovered this evening that apparently, the two packs of ground coffee I bought are meant to be consumed within two weeks of opening and I still have 99 breadmaker recipes to go at, so perhaps it's as well that I finish work for ten days on Thursday evening. Although I suspect that even by then I'll be too fat to move and too wired to sleep...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Flour Power...

Following yesterday's disastrous foray into the art of baking, I was determined not to give up without a fight. Casting aside all memories of my very moist (i.e. soggy) choc-mint sponge, I thought I'd try something even more ambitious and attempt a loaf of bread. After all, if it's harder to bake bread than cake (so I'm told) then I will have compensated for yesterday's mis-hap and the weekend will have been an overall success.

However, just to stack the odds a little more in my favour, I went out this afternoon to treat myself to one of these:

Cheating? Maybe, but if the blurb is to be believed then it is the equivalent of a magic box. You just throw all of the ingredients in, hit the button, leave it for a few hours and hey presto, one loaf of bread. Or a cake. Or pizza dough. Or a multitude of other delights for that matter.

While I was catching up on things I've been meaning to buy, I also picked up one of these today:

You can imagine the wonderful aroma around the house all afternoon.

So while the bread was baking, I've been experimenting with espressos, lattes, cappuccinos and regular filter coffee. How did my loaf of bread turn out? Excellent - take a look here. Which is just as well as I'll probably eating it for the next 72 hours wondering why I can't get to sleep...

Update: 8:25pm
Oh dear, it looks like I could be in trouble here. It's finally cooled enough to slice and it was all could do to not devour it all in one go. I knew I should have started with a bigger loaf...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Let them eat cake...

Hot on the heels of some of my recent culinary successes, it occurred to me last week that I ought to have a go at baking a cake. I seem to recall making Ginger Parkin from a packet mix many years ago, but that doesn't really count.

Having unexpectedly found myself at home tonight, I consulted a few websites and armed with laptop, I went forth into the kitchen and set to with making a chocolate mint sponge (one of my personal favourites).

It's fairly safe to say it didn't quite go to plan and I would have taken a photo to share the unveiling with you all except I couldn't hold the camera steady for laughing...


I have a confession - over the last couple of years I've developed an obsession with church bingo. I don't mean that I have an urge to disappear down to the village hall every Thursday evening, but rather it's a way I've found of passing the time during my daily commute.

There are actually 11 churches that can be seen on my route into work

Aside from mentally checking them all off as I drive past them each morning, I've since found out which towns or villages they are in and the names of them all. In fact, if I take an alternative route home, there are another five

(Thanks to Paul Fenwick who is responsible for the original versions of most of the above photos)

In fact, with all of this gazing around, I suppose it's a wonder I've never driven into anybody...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fish tales...

I tried sushi for the first time this evening.
Nigiri sushi to be exact.
Caringly prepared and pre-packed in the sandwich cabinet at Tesco.
(Well, probably not prepared in the sandwich cabinet)
Caringly consumed by me with chopsticks
(Well, I didn't eat the chopsticks).
Very tasty.
Very fishy.
Very likely I will eat it again.
Very unlikely any of this will make the news tonight...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Things on my mind...

I found out this morning that following the recent video interview at work, they've given the job to the other guy and why not - he's a decent kind of bloke who'll give it a good go. The problem I have is that despite people's kind comments today, I'm genuinely not that bothered but it's difficult to portray that without it sounding like sour grapes.

Yes, the interview was a shambles (not on my part I hasten to add), there was no extra money involved and more to the point, I got the impression today that they don't actually want him to do the job as advertised. No matter how I try, if I tell anyone that, it's going to sound as though I'm bitter despite the fact that I've still got a good job that I enjoy (most of the time), with great prospects.

Secondly, on a more serious note, after a long day I took a leisurely drive home this evening along the newly refurbished (and still incomplete) section of the M180 where I spotted a sign at the side of the road saying "Sign not in use". So that got me wondering how anyone is supposed to find out...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

AVin' a larf...

They say the devil makes work for idle hands to do and this morning was my opportunity to put it to the test.

Today is water meter installation day, which as described in an earlier post, entails my having to take an entire day off work as they can't guarantee to be finished (or even here) in time for me to get to work for the afternoon. So what to do?

Firstly, because I knew I didn't have work today, it meant I could be a bit more relaxed at Lisa's leaving party last night. She leaves today to start a new life in Spain so it seemed only fitting that she got a really good send off. To put things in perspective, even I was found doing the timewarp, the conga, the Saturday Night Fever thing and some poorly timed random movements to Wham. Not bad for a bloke who "doesn't do dancing". Just in case you do get chance to look in Lisa, good luck and thanks again for a great night out.

Today's first task was to take full advantage of my last helping of un-metered water supply. I got up as though it was a normal morning, shaved, showered, made a cuppa, ate breakfast, washed up, cleaned my teeth, all before 7:30 am. There was no way they would arrive before 8:00 so I put a load of washing on aswell, but aside from topping the kettle up, that was about as far as my abuse of water consumption went bearing in mind it was far too cold to risk an expedition into the garden or wash the car.

I still had to find something to occupy a few hours without leaving the house and top of the list was to sort out the DVD recorder I bought before Christmas. Basically, I went out to buy a cheap DVD player to play films for the family while they were staying over at Christmas and ended up spending considerably more on a DVD recorder with hard drive. It played DVDs just fine, but I could never seem to tune it into the TV channels, which is kind of critical if you're wanting to record something. So today, after having wrestled with more SCART leads than you can poke a stick at, spent several minutes in complete panic when I thought I'd completely screwed up my new TV, I found to my subsequent amusement that all this time I only needed to press the AV button a couple of times on the remote.

Now I've actually ventured into the instruction manuals, I've discovered it does loads of things I didn't even realise. Why didn't I think of studying them before? Probably for the same reason as we never stop the car and ask for directions...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

What goes around...

We had a great night last night at a surprise party for Rich to celebrate his turning 40 last week - hello mate if you're looking in! After months of preparation by Annita, everything appeared to go according to plan and he had absolutely no idea that a myriad of faces from past and present were waiting to celebrate with him.

I'm fairly certain that a mutual friend of mine and Rich, a Mr Pete Frenzy (currently residing in the US of A under the shadow of an enormous stainless steel arch) also passes the same milestone during April. I really ought to know the actual date, although we've only known each other for 23 years - sorry Pete!

The end of this month sees my old schoolmate Rob turn 40 and we'll be reviving an old tradition of celebrating his birthday with a session at the Cleethorpes beer festival - the first time for too many years.

So I have to wonder that as 2006 goes on and more of my old school and college mates turn the big four-oh, whether they'll find it as funny as it seemed to them all in January...

Balls to the Beatles...

I stumbled across this video a few days ago, but I've only just managed to find it in a format to share on here. It's a guy called Chris Bliss who's juggling in time to the Golden Slumbers medley by the Beatles. Sounds lame? Take a look - it's actually very impressive.

Sorry about the title Em, you know I love the Beatles really but it was too good an opportunity to miss...