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Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Geeky Seed Catalogue

One of the joys of the "holiday season" is the first post after Christmas. This is when the Chiltern Seeds catalogue plops through the letterbox. Now, if you're a gardener, you'll be used to glossy catalogues with impossibly bright photographs of perfect flowers and vegetables. The Chiltern Seeds catalogue is 220 pages of plain text offering about 4000 different seeds. And what seeds!

Have you thought of growing a Silver Fir from seed? They have a mere half-dozen to choose from. For the ambitious, there is Abies Grandis that is not only very big, it has orange scented foliage. Then there is the hardy Fuchsia excorticaca which has blue pollen. They even offer seed for Cacti, Eucalyptus, Bananas and Tree Spinach. It's quite bizarre.

The brief descriptions are well written which makes it ideal for the armchair gardener as well. Here's just a sample:

Spinach, Tree 'Magentaspreen'

This is a vigorous plant, giving a colourful display, with smooth stems striped red and green, producing large leaves of a brilliant magenta colour, covered when young with a red crystalline powder, and bearing long spikes of tiny reddish flowers. The leaves, tastiest when young, are eaten raw or cooked as spinach. 6-8 ft.

They've got a website and for just £2.00 they'll send you a copy of the paper catalogue and a random packet of seeds post free. If you're a geeky gardener, it's the best value in town.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


I first started growing Rocket about 4 years ago. I thought that "wild rocket" sounded the most fun - and it was. It grew to a large bush about a metre in all directions. The leaves were if not hot, very warm and spicy. You're supposed to use them in salads but after buying some roast beef and rocket sandwiches in a shop, I decided to go for home made.

A bit later in the summer, there was another bonus. Small, sweetly scented yellow flowers. My garden is fairly enclosed so on a sunny day the smell met you on the path. The bees liked them too, which is another environmental box ticked.

This year, a bit of a set back. I'd bought in the beef, bread and butter before wandering down the garden for the Rocket. It just wasn't there. Not only the main bush - even the self-sown seedlings had vanished. Now, I was used to Rocket dying back in winter but by early summer, I just assumed it would be back. The very sharp frost we had last winter had taken it out.

Went down the garden centre for seed. This time, decided to try a variety called "Skyrocket" which claims "the speed of Salad Rocket and the flavour of Wild Rocket" Initial tasting is good - I know this sounds like posing but the flavour has both strength and complexity.

And, just in case of a cold winter, I'm keeping a pot under cover :-)

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Oca Harvest is in!

It wasn't raining for a change so I took a fork to the Oxalis tuberosa and dug it up. Underneath were the Oca tubers. A quick rinse got the soil off the waxy skin and I sunk my teeth in. Crunchy. Sharp. I know it's gardening/culinary cliché but they really are "nutty". Brazil nutty.

Above: The plant in summer

Growing and eating ocas
Plants For a Future page about Oca
Realseeds - suplier

Monday, 30 November 2009


Martin approached the convenience store counter with dread, He put the newspaper on the counter.
"Good Morning Sir!"
 Janet - for that was the name on her badge - swept up the paper and waved it at the barcode reader.
"That’s 50p"
Martin held out a coin.
"Any mobile top ups Sir?"
"No, I have a contract phone."
"Any stamps Sir?"
"No, I use email these days."
"Convenience Loyalty Plus card at all Sir?"
Martin shook his head and Janet took his 50p.
Fear crossed her face. Didn't he realise that the transaction was over?
"Why do you always ask me if I want a mobile top up and all the other rubbish?"
"Just doing my job, Sir"
" I wouldn't tell anyone"
Janet pointed silently to the CCTV camera.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Surviving in a Multi-Tasking World

I don't do multi-tasking. Well, I do - just incredibly badly. So if I'm trying to drive through Swindon's "Magic Roundabout" at the same time as a passenger wants me to discuss the 30 Years War, just be somewhere else Ok?

Yes, I know that I should calmly explain to the passenger that I "don't do multi-tasking and although their conversation about the 30 Year War is fascinating, I would prefer to defer the subject until Wootton Basset"

Of course, to be able to accomplish that, I'd have to be able to multi-task in the first place. Finally, I have an answer. I just say "Thursday". Works fairly well.

  • Some people just talk for the mouth exercise and don't even notice that my reply doesn't make sense
  •  Others actually listen and are confused by my irrelevant answer. Most of them work out that I am not listening even if they don't know why and give up
  •  A few friends know about the "Thursday" system and understand.
Actually, it surprises me that people who talk at drivers trying to drive through the "Magic Roundabout" aren't dead yet. Charlie Darwin needs to make fewer films and get on with the day job

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Went dancing in London and thereabouts (Ran Tan Band and Boka Halat) last weekend with Martin from Vienna, Angela and Ian from Norfolk which was good but here are some other highlights:

  • Seeing a sign "Strawberry Hill Train Care Depot". How cuddly can you get? Does the fat controller have a soft side?
  • The Komodo Dragons at London Zoo. Not as awesome as expected. More sad and intelligent.

  • They also had Asiatic Otters. Rather gregarious, noisy and love posing
  • Postcard Teas  are at the geeky/quality end of the tea market. The system is that you go in and select a tea from the list and get to sample it for £1.50 a cup (more for really rare stuff). You can buy bags of leaves too. I enjoyed "Dark Mountain Oolong"
  • Went to the  Cabinet War Rooms which is the bunker from which the Second World War was fought in Britain. It's well known that Hitler had a bunker but so did Churchill. Lots of old telephones and scramblers the size of a 1990s PC. A good detail was the audio guide system - you held this stick to your ear and it said stuff like "to your left you will see X" and you did see X. It's actually quite hard to get stuff like that right.
  • Went to Trafalgar Square to see the "Ghost Forest". Didn't work for me so a I wandered over to St Martins in the Fields (which lacks fields in a big way and may face prosecution under the Trade Descriptions Act) and sat at the back while a choir and small orchestra practised some Purcell.
  • Smashing Lebanese snack place near Baker Street tube.
  • Breakfast with Tink featuring Tesco's "Value" smoked bacon. Forget the "delicately smoked over  organic applewood chips" stuff you see at a premium, This is not delicate. You know it's bacon and you are in little doubt that it was smoked. Smashing as was the company.
  • Solving the mystery of how to find the train you want at Waterloo (Wait until 4 minutes before scheduled departure, stare at the electronic boards as they briefly indicate which of 19 platforms to go to. Do not blink or the information will be gone and the train shortly afterwards)
  • Breakfast with Martin at a Garden Centre that seemed to sell almost everything except plants, seeds, spades, etc. Martin swears that sort of stuff is there, you just have to look hard.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Will bookshops become extinct?

I used to have a bookshop addiction. Then I discovered online bookshops such as Amazon. Not only is Amazon cheaper - even with the postage - they rarely seem to be out of stock. And they do secondhand too. Amazon is cheaper for music as well. I got a CD I wanted for £6 including postage. The HMV shop wanted £18.

I can't see how High Street bookshops can survive :-(

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Cheltenham LitFest

I've been going to this event for decades but I seem to becoming addicted.

You know how on BBC Radio 4, talk programmes, the guest always uses the phrase "in my book" from time to time? Well, Cheltenham Literature Festival is just the same except less technology is involved. The audience feedback mechanism is faster though - you just wave at the guy with the roving microphone and there you are asking Michael Mansfield, Oleg Gordievsky, John Irving or some other luminary a question in real time. None of that tedious modern emailing nonsense!

So, yeah, they talk about their books but the other stuff is fun too. A guy called Peter Millar told us about being in East Berlin when the Wall fell in 1989. Matthew D’Ancona talked about "Being British" and Stella Rimmington gave us her ideas on what the real security threats are today. Still to come, we have Susie Orbach, Tony Benn and Kate Adie. And many more!

I'm sure there must be at least one who will not say "in my book"

Friday, 9 October 2009

Worlds finest apple!

My 'Ashmead's Kernel' apple tree is a proper adult now and set about 300 large fruit. The local wildlife nibbled over half of them but there's still been a lot to eat and share. About 60 look perfect enough to store.

I took a bag into the office and got some rave reviews. This is only right and proper - the variety is very sweet and very sharp. I bough a Cox's Orange Pippin for comparison porposes and it was bland.

The tree itself still looks weighed down even though the crop is all picked

Previous post about Ashmeads Kernel

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Time to harvest the fuchsia berries

Fuchsias are popular garden plants grown mainly for their many flowers. You can get food from them too. Around this time of year, you may see small berries hanging where there was previously a flower. They look like a very small almost black cherry. They are edible.

Not a lot of people know that!

Mine are Ok. See here for a general introduction to Fuchsia as a food plant with suggested varieties.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Grow Onions and Shallots in winter

The kitchen garden can start to look a bit bare this time of the If like me, you get the urge to plant something, try overwintering onions or shallots. Every time you wander down the garden this winter, something will be happening! On a more practical note, you'll get a harvest earlier next year than with the normal spring planting.

Look in Garden Centres for "sets" which are actually small onion bulbs (or in the case of shallots, full sized bulbs) Check the packet to make sure the variety is suitable for winter use. Push then into soft soil about 6" (15cm) apart with the tops just poking out. Well before Christmas, green shoots emerge and by June, they're ready to harvest.

Some birds think it a fine game to pull them out of the soil so chuck on some netting for the first few months. The books suggest fertilising in March. Apart from that, there's not a lot to it. They are unlikely to dry out and they're out of the ground before most of the serious weeds get going in summer.

Sow and forget? I suppose so but that's not as much fun.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

A Good Story

I was on a bus. Not a Clapham Omnibus - that would have been too easy. No, this was the festival bus at Sidmouth. It was about midnight and the bus wasn't going anywhere. I looked out the window and saw the reason why….

Beth, the lady in the rainbow coat had captured our bus driver. She's a storyteller and was in full flow. Our bus driver (middle) was hopelessly enthralled. On the left was some random member of the public similarly engrossed. As such, a standard hazard to traffic at folk festivals along with Morris dancers and buskers.

We did get back to the camp site eventually but that, as they say, is another story…

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Red Duke Of York

It's a potato I tried growing in a pot this year. It's a "first early" which I though meant the same as a "new" potato. So I boiled them and they fell apart! Then I looked them up properly and found that they're best for baking - indeed, Waitrose sell them as "summer bakers". According to Alan Romans, William Sim of Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, bred the original "Duke of York". Then in a field somewhere in Holland, it spontaneously mutated into the red form....

Alan Romans, seed potato expert extraordinaire

Monday, 29 June 2009

If you think your job is the pits…..

…it could be worse. You could stand at the entrance to Asda with a badge saying "I am your greeter today!" you can tell it's the worst job in the place because all these greeters look so miserable. And isn't the whole concept of someone paid to greet you at the entrance to a supermarket just completely awful?

And the worst part? "Word" doesn't query the spelling of "greeter". It thinks it's a real word. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Charlie Darwin has been at it again

I grow Brassicas which you may know as a fancy name for cabbages, cauliflowers, turnips, radishes etc. Enter, the Cabbage White Butterfly which probably has a Latin name but who cares? These beasties used to lay neat yellow clumps of eggs on the leaves of my crops that hatched out into caterpillars and decimated the foliage. 

So I got a system. Once or twice a week, I'd check the kitchen garden for said neat yellow clumps of eggs and squash them. Result! No caterpillars. Woot!

Until this year when Charlie upped the ante. I found a load of fully-grown caterpillars munching away at the kohlrabi leaves. On the Sea Kale too. No eggs anywhere!

I'm still trying to work out how he's done it. Maybe there are eggs but they're so small or well camouflaged that I haven't spotted them. Or maybe the eggs are just as big as they ever were but were laid on some other plant and the caterpillars marched across the lawn?

Answers, as they say, on a postcard.

Saturday, 6 June 2009


The office has some square holes in the wall. A lot are filled with network connectors, phone jacks or 13 amp power sockets. Someone put in more than we needed so some are just empty, yawning holes. Not a problem! Somewhere in deepest Milton Keynes, a marketing guy spotted an opportunity! Blanking plates! A simple square of plastic with holes for fixing screws. And, realising the importance of offering lifestyle choices he decreed that for a few pence more, the consumer could have stylish rounded corners on their blanking plates as well as the plain economy model.

But I digress. We had these holes in the office wall and the office was so quiet, I had time to deal with them. As I fitted the blanking plates, I noticed that they all had a sticky label, "Tested". 

I fell to wondering just how they test blanking plates? Maybe someone stares hard at them, daring them to laugh? Or puts 1000 volts across them to see if they burst into flame? 

I suppose it's designed to make me feel reassured. I'm not that sort of guy. I'm just not going to trust "Tested" stickers any more.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Overlapped Seed Sowing

Warning - seriously geeky gardening post!

There are a number of techniques for getting the maximum crop out of a kitchen garden. In "Catch Cropping" as soon as a crop has finished, you clear the ground and plant something else. 

I take it one step further. I don't wait for crop A to finish, I sow seeds for crop B during the last few weeks of crop A's life. Here's an example:

Mid February: Sow Broad Beans
Early July: Sow Dwarf Beans seed under the still growing Broad Beans. For the first half of July, the Dwarf Beans stay underground doing whatever Dwarf Beans do when they only just been sown.
Mid July: Broad Bean harvest finished, cut them down. Dwarf Beans start to show
Autumn: Harvest Dwarf Beans.

Disadvantages? Yeah, there's a few:

  • Those of an organic bent will know that you are supposed to dig in Broad Bean plants after harvest. With this system you can't do that directly. You'd have to dig them in on some other part of the garden or just put them on the compost heap.

  • The books tell you that the main harvesting period for Broad Beans is July and August. If that's when yours area ready, this system won't work. I've found that mid-June to mid-July is the season here. I've tried to move it without much success.

  • You "should" sow Dwarf Beans much earlier. My system gives a somewhat smaller and later crop. Consider using cloches towards the end of their life.

Another crop that lends itself to this technique is overwintering onions. Here's the system:

Previous autumn: Plant overwintering onion sets
May/June: Sow/Plant Crop B seeds under the still growing onions
June/July: Harvest onions. Crop B starts to show
Whenever: Harvest Crop B

"Crop B" can be any of the many crops that you put in the ground in May or June - check your seed packets and gardening books. I've used tomato plants and plan to use Radicchio this year.

Monday, 27 April 2009

It was the beavers

The place used to be called South Cerney Gravel Pits but the marketing guys changed it to Cotswold Water Park. It's a fair name though - if you scoop a load of gravel out of the ground, water seeps into the void and pretty soon, you've got a lake. Or, in the case of Cotswold Water Park, 133 lakes.

If was the beavers that made me go and have a look. There's a place called Lower Mill Estate where they've reintroduced Castor fiber. I didn't get to see them though because Lower Mill Estate turns out to be an exclusive "gated community" and I had to stick to public footpaths nearby. Took some photos….

Rebellious duckRebellious duck.

One of the houses on the Lower Mill Estate. Odd!

More upmarket houses? Or a student campus?


Friday, 24 April 2009

Economic Models Explained

So I found this on the Net somewhere:

You have 2 cows.
You give one to your neighbour.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and gives you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and shoots you.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away.

...but the one I really love:

You have two giraffes.
The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.


Tuesday, 24 March 2009


Jeff was having a good day. He'd finally got the Counselling Centre a "partnership agreement". These things were so fashionable nowadays. True, the partner was only the tatty Catholic Church round the corner but they were friendly. Even given him their old confessional box with the suggestion he use it for "supervision" sessions with the counsellors he managed.

Damien, one of the younger counsellors had been sceptical but entered into the spirit of it…

"Bless me Supervisor for I have sinned!" he intoned
"And what sin would that be? Have you been Insensitive?"
"Made Assumptions?"
"No, worse than that. Oh, I can't say it!"
Jeff had a lot of experience so his next question seemed quite casual. 
"Oh dear! Which client did you shag?"
"NO, it's WORSE than even that!!!!"
Jeff was bewildered
"Wow! What have you done? C'mon, spit it out!"
Tears filled Damien's eyes. Hesitantly he admitted his guilt
"I have been INCONSISTENT"
"Now I am shocked!" said Jeff firmly "Five hundred Hail Marys!

Friday, 20 March 2009

New phrase: Reputation Management

Shortly after I blogged about the TV Licensing people, someone from Fishburn Hedges surfed by. I looked them up and they say they are "one of the leading reputation management firms in Europe" and their clients include "BBC TV Licensing"

They say: "we’re here to make a difference - to the reputation of their brand, organisation or campaign. To make them better. Not just look better, but be better. And always with a clear purpose: to change the behaviours and opinions of those who matter to them."

Sounds quite ethical although I'm twitchy about them trying to change my behaviours and opinions. Mind you, I suspect that TV refusniks like me are not " those who matter to them".

Respect, guys! You have the client from Hell!


Fishburn Hedges
Me v TV Licensing

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Less is more

Just this week the doctor sent me to see his vampires. They call themselves Phlebotomists nowadays which is more cuddly but only marginally.

When I got to "Phlebotomy" (that's cuddly too, right?) about 20 other patients were already parked in various nooks and crannies. No sign of a queue or anything British. Lots of signs about the dangers of ultra violent ("What skin type are you?), the dangers of Osteoporosis (£35 for a test), the benefits of counselling (A fee is charged for this service), No smoking, wear a condom, keep fit…..

As I stood there looking bewildered, another patient took pity and directed me down a narrow corridor on the left and told me to take a numbered card from the board on the right. I got the card, sat down feeling pretty stupid and wondered if the compulsory 14 hour pre-test fast had damaged my brain.

Then another patient came in, looked bewildered at all the signage and had to be helped into the system. Every new patient went through the same procedure. Except for the lady who was there for Chemotherapy. There was a prominent red sign telling her not to take a number. So she didn't.

Now, somewhere in that room, there was a clear, unambiguous set of instructions but none of us could see them.

I wondered about having a word with the staff. Then I remembered what happened last time I gave similar feedback. It was in a small office where I worked. Wrote a memo!

Dear Boss

I just counted the notices on the walls. There are 241


Boss took action! She put a load of cubes onto the desks and transferred some of the notices to them. You can get 6 notices on a cube. Clever.


Monday, 16 March 2009

Practical Pest Control #37 - TV Licensing Enforcement Officer

As with all our articles on pest control, we start with a little biology. Contrary to statements on some websites, TV Licensing Enforcement Officers are not in fact reptiles. Surprisingly, they are actually mammals quite closely related to man!
The exact date of the introduction of this pest into the UK is unknown but it was probably after World War II. Like another recently arrived pest, Mink (Neovison vison) they were originally introduced for a practical reason.
In the case of Mink this was for fur farms but the animals escaped and kill many small wild and domestic creatures.
TV Licensing Enforcement Officer is used to hunt down people who use a TV without paying the licence fee. Unfortunately, they also harass people who don't have a TV.
Normal pest control methods such as trapping or shooting are not legal for TV Licensing Enforcement Officer. For many years there seemed to be no way of dealing with infestations but I've recently discovered a promising new method - and I'm going to share it with you free of charge.

Here's a little about their habits:

  • Any address without a license is sent an intimidating letter demanding that a licence is bought on pain of prosecution and a £1000 fine.

  • Novices who don't have a TV believe that all they need do is explain the situation and that will be the end of the matter.

  • They couldn't be more wrong. TV Licensing Enforcement Officer replies that since over a third of the people who claim not to need a licence are lying, they intend to come and search your house!

  • They do actually turn up sometimes. You don't have to let them in or even talk to them. (Unless they have a Search Warrant which is unusual)

  • The whole dreary cycle repeats. In my case, it's been going on for 30 years.

  • I was clear in my mind that I wanted to achieve:
  • Stop the visits
  • Stop the letters
  • Now, under common law, anyone has the right to walk up to your front door and knock unless you've told them not to. Legally, this is called withdrawing the implied right of access to your property - and it goes in the letter you send to their nest. That should stop the visits.
    Next, you are not obliged to answer their threatening letters. So, you tell them you are introducing charges for dealing with them!
    So here's the letter:

    The British Broadcasting Corporation
    Broadcasting House
    Portland Place
    W1A 1AA


    Dear Sirs
    As you know, there has been no TV licence at this address for over 29 years. You also know that is because I don't have a TV. During the last 29 years, you have repeatedly harassed me with your letters, threats and enquiry officers.

    1. I withdraw from the BBC, TV Licensing, your employees, agents and other associates the implied right of access to my property at (address)

    2. You may acknowledge this letter.

    3. You will not attempt to contact me or anyone at this address further except as set out below:

    Fees that apply should you wish to continue contact with me:

    3.1.1 Receiving communications from you by any media, £25 per occasion. I reserve the right to decide whether or not to respond to your communications.

    3.1.2 Receiving visits in connection with TV Licenses, £50 per occasion, which must be sent at least 7 days before the visit. I will then telephone you to arrange a convenient time.

    3.1.3 If you attempt a visit outside the terms of section 3.1.2 above, the fee rises to £75 payable in cash on the doorstep. Should your representative fail to pay the £75, not only will they not be admitted, you will be liable to a further invoicing charge of £25 making a total of £100.

    I am entitled to use force to remove trespassers on my land.

    I reserve the right to record any of your activities.

    No communication from you purporting to vary any of the above has any validity unless explicitly agreed by me in writing.

    If you are concerned that I'm an evader, use detection equipment from the street. Just leave me alone!

    This should result in them writing back to you

    Dear X
    Thank you for you recent letter….
    I am sorry…not our intention to harass….
    Having received your letter, I have noted your effective withdrawal of the common law right for a TV Licensing Officer to approach your property. Your instructions will of course be adhered to….
    …our standard renewal notices and unlicensed mailings have been stopped…
    Thank you again for writing to us…..

    1. My thanks to Ian K for suggesting the use of green ink.
    2. Point 2 in my letter is vital. You need their acknowledgement of seeing your letter
    3. Of course, they might not actually leave me alone but it will cost them money and embarrassment
    4. I'm not a lawyer. Do not rely on this as legal advice
    Lots more information on this fascinating pest animal

    Thursday, 12 February 2009

    On the kindness of railway ticket office staff

    Glasgow where the guy pointed out that a return ticket to Mallaig was cheaper than the single I'd asked for.

    Dublin where the clerk asked if the two of us were married? Anxiously, we told him "No" (this was 1980's Ireland), He said, "Look, say you are married and I can sell you a 'Family Ticket', it's cheaper". He sold us a "Dog, Bicycle or Pram" ticket for the tandem too.

    Just today, in Cheltenham, I went to buy a ticket for a trip to Exeter. The guy cheerfully offered me a ticket to Exmouth via Exeter for £6.50 less.

    Wednesday, 11 February 2009

    Another seasonal tale

    Lucy finished changing out of her dancing clothes into her warm tracksuit and wandered back into the main hall. She looked around hoping to see the tall man who was a newcomer to the class. After all it was only polite to be welcoming to a stranger!

    She found him buttoning himself into a very substantial winter coat. "Good coat" she said, "especially with all the snow that's fallen this evening"

    "Thanks!" he replied, "I did come prepared - very prepared"
    And with that, he took her hand and walked her out into the car park to his car and opened the boot.

    Lying there was large sledge. "Help me lift it out!" he said and the next thing she knew they were trudging up the slope at the back of the hall dragging the sledge behind them.

    At the top of the slope, they both got on the sledge and rode it down the hill in great style finally hitting a large snowdrift. Lucy allowed him to brush the loose snow off her before helping him put the sledge back in the car. 

    "Right" he said, "I must dash! Thanks for helping!"
    Lucy was caught off guard, "See you next week?"
    "Expect so! Bye" he said closing the car door.

    They never met again.
    Maybe they didn't need to.

    Saturday, 7 February 2009

    Bob's Breakfast

    It wasn't really light when Bob awoke. He rolled over and was relieved to find the airbed had stayed up. Peering out of his sleeping bag at all the other sleeping bodies in the church hall he decided it was much too early to get up. Besides, he'd done a lot of drinking in the student bar last night. Then his knees reminded him about the dancing. It was his first time at any sort of festival and he'd had a lot of fun.

    Then he noticed a girl of about his own age holding a coffee-pot. Seeing him she shook it and mouthed "Do you want a cup?" He nodded and she gestured to an older guy who added an extra scoop of coffee beans into a grinder. Then Bob noticed the two camping stoves - one with a kettle and one with a frying pan. A little later he was breakfasting on bacon, eggs and fresh coffee with his new friends.

    Suddenly, a nearby heap of blankets disgorged a white haired lady "I've got the strawberries somewhere" she announced, "and the bubbly". Soon a punnet of strawberries was being handed round and Bob found himself volunteered to open the champagne. The "pop" of the cork sounded deafening and was followed by the sort of silence you only get when everyone stops snoring.

    After several paper cups of champagne, Bob went back to sleep. For the rest of the weekend, he kept an eye open for his breakfast companions and although he thought he caught a glimpse of them now and again, he wasn't sure and started thinking it must have been a dream.

    A few weeks later, his flatmates took him on one side and told him they were fed up with the stink of his rucksack that was parked in the hall. So he took it into the garden to unpack. Out walked three very sweaty T-shirts. The third one handed him a champagne cork.



    Tuesday, 3 February 2009


    Quite pleased with this picture of snow on the lawn taken with my mobile phone.

    Tuesday, 20 January 2009


    A woman I dance with quite lot said to me last night that one of the great things about dancing with me was that I was unpredictable. Quite a relief really because I sometimes worry that I don't use a big enough variety of moves.

    Years ago, I had a boss who complained I was unpredictable. Can't please everyone!

    Monday, 19 January 2009

    Dancing in Stroud

    Stroud is not a place that does "smart". Steep streets remind me of the hill towns of Provence yet the place is where five Cotswold valleys meet. The Town Council is run by the Green Party and every Thursday, the Mayor sits on bench in the town centre and talks with anyone who happens by. This is not some centuries old tradition or even compliance with a European policy on "Open Government" - the current Mayor just thought it was a good idea.

    Political parties need money and the Green way is to put on a dance and by luck or good judgement they booked the Horsley Band from the nearby village of the same name. That choice is why I passed up the opportunity of a dance nearer home because this band play the finest, the most exciting and most beautiful dance music. Their tunes for English Ceilidh dances are joyous with a raw edge but are never coarse. Dark tunes for French traditional dances are silky smooth…

    There is a pause and Caroline has transformed herself into a Spanish lady. She is Flamenco!

    Then we take our partners again and I find a lady from Japan who quickly learns the traditional English "rant" step.

    Another success for Multiculturalism? Nowhere near that organised - it's not the Stroud way. Just random people sharing their enthusiasms.


    The Horsley Band
    Green Party

    Tuesday, 13 January 2009

    People Care System

    "I'm sorry," said Bruce into the phone, "could you speak up, please? There's a lot of noise in here today!" 
    The client hung up. Bruce cursed and turned to glare at Damien who was standing by a new machine. 
    "What the hell's that noisy monstrosity and what is it doing in the Counselling Centre???" 
    Damien smiled. 
    "It's the new card printer and it wouldn't fit anywhere else" 
    "What do we want a card printer for?" 
    "It's a vital part of the new "People Care System" - and you've already benefited from it yourself!" 
    "I have?" 
    "You got a Christmas card signed by the Chair of Trustees" 
    "It came from that machine?" 
    "Yes, it even did the personal signature!" 
    Damien, missing the sarcasm, ploughed on. 
    "It does birthdays too and when a Counsellor or Client is sick, it automatically sends out a 'Get Well Soon' card!" 
    "Let me guess, it's automatically personally signed by all the Trustees?" 
    "You're getting the idea! - It's so important that people feel that the whole Board is with them!" 
    "I prefer the old method!" 
    Damien's heart sunk, the man was such a dinosoar. "What would that be?" 
    "When I had the 'flu, Wendy called round with a bottle of my favourite Whisky!" 
    "Not allowed anymore!" 
    "Progress? Health and Safety? Financial constraints?" 
    "Sort of. It was felt it might endanger our funding from the local Alcohol Partnership"