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Monday, 6 December 2010

I've seen another van

Nearly crashed today staring at a "Cotswold Dog Spa" van. Yes, they do offer Canine Hydrotherapy which I've sneered at before. They even offer "canine sports massage".

What is wrong with the modern dog? If it needs a bath, sure it's a tussle but it can be achieved with simple equipment at home! And if it's ill, you take it to a vet who diagnoses Worms and prescribes dried rhubarb pills.

It'll be an Albatross Flying School or Hippopotamus Dieting next! 

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Scottish Power marketing = Hotel California

Your Question: Why are you contacting me for marketing purposes when I've opted out of marketing?

All our customers have the option to opt out of marketing. You can view and amend your preference at My Account and check the 'My details' section. Alternatively, you can telephone on 0845 270 6543 (Lines are open Monday to Friday 8:00am - 7:00pm, Saturday 9:00am - 1:00pm). If you opt out of marketing, we will be unable to send you details of offers and services that could save you money. But we will still contact you in relation to the service we provide you.


Thursday, 25 November 2010


Read an article recently about discrimination on the basis of "caste". In India (and presumably the Diaspora) there is an ancient system of social division, which I don't really understand but it's used to deny people jobs and other things.

So, understandably, there's a move towards outlawing discrimination on these grounds. In English law, this would be recognising caste as a "protected characteristic" like race, age, sex and the rest. You'll notice I haven't done an exhaustive list of "protected characteristics" for three reasons:

  • I'm too lazy to look it up
  • I'd probably leave one out
  • I wanted to make a point!

My point is that it will be years before caste is added to the list in the laws and that doesn't seem right. It should be on the statute book today. Transgender people only got on the list a few years back. It's nonsense.

I'm not a lawyer but it would seem better if unjustified discrimination were outlawed pure and simple and there was no ever growing "list".

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Polish Takeaway

I see we have one of these locally. History repeating itself as each wave of migrants tempts us with their cuisine - and that word itself I suspect is not native :-)

Anyway, there was a menu in the widow. A list of incomprehensible items with prices. I reflected on how more customer-friendly the equivalent menus were in 1970s Chinese and Indian takeaways. Sure, they had foreign words but each item also had a number for embarrassment-free ordering. And there were English descriptions too such as "rices with vegetable" which served to inform and amuse.

But history hasn't repeated itself exactly. The owners of Indian takeaways in 1970s Britain were often the only people of that ethnicity in town. Pioneers. Very few of them were nurses, engineers, doctors, etc.

With the Poles it's been different. The pioneers arrived a decade ago. The Polish takeaways, grocers, etc. came later and are not there for to provide the occasional exotic treat for the English natives. They're for Polish people.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A couple of dancing things

  •  Went to a traditional French dance and two girls start playing flute and harp. Lovely, but what IS it? Lot of people struggle for a bit but eventually we all settle down to a much slower Mazurka than normal. Great! I could feel and savour every step!
  • Several dance teachers have irritated me lately - mainly by talking too much. Nice people, good dancers but no idea how to teach. Some other teachers - who get a significant part of their income from dance teaching are much better.The paying public demand it. Some of them that have proper businesses and franchise systems have clearly been trained to teach. All that mucking about with money and accreditation is an anathema to some but it works!  

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Gardener Tax

Our Council is fed up with collecting garden refuse in reusable green bags free of charge. Instead, they are offering to rent us bins - a snip at £36/year. Or we can drive to the tip. They just don't get this environment lark do they?

Monday, 11 October 2010

Dancer Memory

Out dancing tonight, I saw a face I thought I recognised. Couldn't remember her name, or where I knew her from. Somewhere, a fleeting memory that she was good to dance with. It was enough :-)

After the dance she told me she hadn't danced for 3 years. It's often like this with dancers. There are people who can't remember my name but know they (don't) want to dance with me.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Men expressing feelings

It's supposed to be a good thing. We're told that women want men to do this and it really frustrates them when we won't. There's propaganda that it's what "real men" do and how happy it makes women.

Good news ladies, it can happen but we need your help! On those rare occasions when the man in your life does express his feelings - especially if it's about inadequacy, fear, grief etc - put your arms around him and whisper in his ear "That's so sexy darling, let's go upstairs….."

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Bus rental

Saw a sign on the back of a bus "Drive this bus for £7.25 an hour" with a phone number. Just for a minute or two, I pondered this. Would I pay £7.25 to drive a bus round for an hour? Would it be fun? Brm Brm! Then my brain tapped me on the shoulder and explained the scheme was that I would get paid £7.25 if I drove the bus around for an hour. Strangely, that didn't seem to be such a fun idea.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Spiders like my Rosemary

Picture says it all, really

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A few apples

Just three apples  from my Ashmead's Kernel  tree this year. Had over 100 good ones last season which is  possibly the reason. It's tired out poor thing although the scientists call it "biennial bearing" and further damn the variety as "erratic".

I think it's building itself up for next year, it's got about twice the normal number of leaves (see pic) so it should have made a whole lot of sugar.  It'll need a good cold winter though to make sure of a good crop. The cold tells the tree that it's really had a winter and now it's spring and kicks off the springy things like blossom. If trees had evolved wearing digital watches, it would have been simpler and, err, more digital. If you see an apple tree that does have a watch strapped to the trunk, let me know….

More about the Ashmead's Kernal

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Local Hypericum

This is a bush we have in most of the gardens along my street. One of the less civilised Hypericums (aka St John's Wort), it's scruffy and self seeds fairly easily. No one has grubbed it out and replaced it with an "official" plant from a Garden Centre and if I ever upgrade this blog to scratch'n'sniff you'll understand why.
When it's sunny, the whole plant (not just the flowers) has a gorgeous and powerful scent. Think warm treacle, tobacco and rubber.

You'll sometimes see me leaning over garden walls and sniffing furtively at other people's tidy Hypericums. I'm just checking they haven't caught up with our variety :-)

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Can I multitask? Perhaps…

Regular readers - and I think there's at least two of you :-) will know that I don't do multitasking. Talk to me (or worse still, witter) when I'm dancing and it all goes to pot and I probably won't ask you to dance again.  

But wait, at the Sidmouth Festival recently, I danced and talked with A all at the same time and it worked! And thinking about it, I've done that with her before. 

So what's going on?

Well, she's a very fine dancer. So perhaps she makes it so easy for me that my brain has the capacity for conversation? Could be. 

Another possibility is that she has the sensitivity to know when I've got the capacity to talk and listen and when I haven't.

Pretty good either way. Unfortunately, I think she has a boyfriend. Not surprising really...

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The People's Republic of Hulme

BBC Radio 4 recently did a documentary on Hulme, part of Manchester. If you're quick, you can Listen Again  

It's a fascinating story of Tamil refugees, deck-access flats, squatting, demolition, a no-go area for the police and a rich alternative culture.

My connection? A few years ago, I got a day's work delivering some training to an organisation based there. In preparation, I used Multimap to plan a route. Having got a small-scale map of my approach, I zoomed in for more detail. Something went horribly wrong - the layout of the streets on the large-scale map was almost completely different. When I finally arrived, it was clear that a large part of the area had only just been rebuilt. Multimap must have used some mapping from before and after.

Here's links to some less geeky stuff:

Wikipedia on Hulme

Photos of the old Hulme

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Café Sarnie

It's a café in Cheltenham town centre between Tesco and the taxi office. It's old fashioned - a throwback to the 1960s. Not quite authentic - the ketchup is not in a tomato-shaped container and the wartime posters are reproductions. They don't talk about cholesterol, they just DO it. Popped in there at lunchtime today and realised I hadn't had a proper breakfast so I ordered one. They didn't bat an eyelid. The kitchen is in the basement so the girl leaned out of the back window and shouted the order down. All the puddings are served with the option of custard or ice-cream. They do coffee but don't get clever and try ordering cappuccino. It's probably the last of it's kind - I'm sure there are others in less sophisticated towns like Gloucester but we are Cheltenham Spa.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Jury - The End

Our ancient and venerable legal system sent me a text. They've made me redundant - it's over. Quick reflections:

  • It's interesting in parts
  • But take a book for the boring bits

It's been a quiet week on the jury

They gave us Monday off. Tuesday and today, we didn't even get into Court, sill less do any Deliberating because all the defendants decided to plead guilty at the last moment.

While we were waiting for this to actually happen, we were let out into the car park for cigarettes and fresh air - an optimistic combination.

Anyway, In one corner, near the public loos, I noticed an umbrella, a pile of bedraggled possessions and a man sat with them smoking. I recognised him as the guy who on the first day told me quietly "You're trespassing, pal". I would have tried talking to him again but the usher sternly told us not to talk to anyone. She did consent to convey a fag to him from one of the smokers.

I popped into the office later and Mel knew about the chap. She thinks he's been living there for about twenty years! I tried Googling for information and found nothing. Maybe after this all over, I'll go back and talk to him.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Jury - The Verdict

Any of you could have sat in the public gallery and seen more of this interesting and unusual case than we did. You'd have got the lawyers arguments and all the fun stuff denied to us.

The defendant was accused of committing some sexual offences last year. Unfortunately, over subsequent months his health had declined to the point that the judge said he was "unfit to plead" - we would not be hearing from the man at all. He wasn't allowed to tell us if he was guilty or not. He just sat there silently in the dock throughout.

The question put to us was not the usual one of guilt - just whether he did the alleged acts with no account of what the judge called the "mental element". 

The poor defence barrister pointed out that he was unable to present us with an alternative version of events - all he could do was pick holes in the prosecution case.

So, after a couple of days, our foreman was asked if it was proved that the defendant had done the act. And all four times, the foreman said "No"

The judge told the defendant he was free to leave. I watched as he got to his feet, turned and walked out and closed the door behind him - still a complete stranger.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Jury day 3

Starting to get to know some of the people on the jury with me today. Quite a mix. There are a couple of students, a barmaid, an engineer and a woman who complains about everything. We didn't get started until after lunch today because one of the barristers is trying to run another case in Swansea simultaneously. Once in Court, I'm still in creaky seat number 10 and will be until we finish this case.

At a quiet point I look up at the public gallery and try to work out who might be friends and family of the people involved and who has just come in out of the rain. If you have the time, it's worth spending some time in the public gallery of your local court. There certainly are interesting and dramatic cases but under the rules, I can't say much more than that.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Jury Service - Days 1&2

It started with a heart-warming attempt by a member of one of our migrant communities to do his citizen duty by turning up as summoned despite having no knowledge of English. Helpfully, he'd brought his wife and daughter along to interpret but the usher would have none of it and told him to go away.

Our Courts are run on a basis of a lot of false starts and hanging around. As a trial is about to start, the usher gets his computer to produce a list of 16 names out of the 28 or so of us hanging around. Then he asks who is willing to swear on the bible, who wants to "affirm" and (anxiously) are there any requests for other holy books? Then he prints 16 cards with our names on. Then, it's quite likely word will come that the defendant has pleaded guilty at which point Mr. Usher tears up all the paperwork and throws it in the bin.

A little later the whole process repeats from scratch! As a result, I didn't get to do a trial at all on the first day but such was the excitement that when I got home I went to sleep on the sofa and missed going out dancing.

Today was better. Sixteen of us got led into court but then they shuffle the name cards and call out 12 names to form the jury. Smiling, the usher shows me to seat number 10. I mention this detail because if you are ever a juror at Gloucester Crown Court, you would do best to avoid seat 10 in court 1 because it creaks loudly at the slightest movement resulting in intense embarrassment.

For various reasons, I can't say much about the actual case and anyway, we kept on getting thrown out so we wouldn't see the ugly spectacle of "legal arguments" by the lawyers. Why can't they just get along?

Saturday, 3 July 2010


Was at a small presentation recently and this woman started by handing out some papers while she chattered away. Most people started reading but I put the papers to one side and listened. Someone noticed and I explained that I couldn't read and listen properly at the same time. This provoked some unfortunate comments about men and multi-tasking.

Anyway, introduction over, here's my tips for doing and surviving presentations:
  • If the presenter gives out documents and doesn't stop talking, put the papers to one side and listen. You can read stuff later but you can't usually "listen again"

  • Presenters: Give out documents at the end if you want to be listened to. Tell them you're going to do that and that there's no need to take notes.

  • Presenters, consider not using technical equipment at all. I was at a day-long meeting recently and everyone (except me) had their stuff on Powerpoint. Nothing actually went wrong but there was loads of fumbling.

  • In contrast, I stood up with 18 sheets of paper - about a dozen prompt words on each. The delegates all watched me because there was noting else to watch and I think I got the biggest round of applause of the day.

  • Actually, I'm not totally against Powerpoint. If you run a presentation on screen as you say the same words, people can choose which to focus on according to what works for them. It's essential that you are slick with the technology though - to be precise, best to use your own familiar system, preferably on home ground.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


I was organising a little gathering for the first afternoon of the Chippenham Folk Festival. I asked a fairly new dancer to come along. She asked what it involved

I explained that it involves drinking beer
She said she is teetotal
Then I told her we also plan to eat fine cheese
She is "dairy free"
So I pointed out that she could eat some crackers
She is "wheat free"

I've told her to come and watch :-)

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

This Election Lark

One of my former neighbours had a nice line in political posters in his window. Lines I can remember include:

  • "Don't vote - it only encourages them"
  • "Guy Fawkes - The only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions"

Don't know what happened to the neighbour....

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Health and Safety

Ray told me a funny joke the other day. I laughed so much I fell off my chair. As he fancies himself as a bit of a Health and Safety expert, he was suitably embarrassed :-)

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A Riddle

Q: What do chickens and visually impaired people have in common?

A: Fear of boy scouts who insist on helping them cross the road.

They don't want to cross the road but modern scouts know better and anyway have a target to meet for "being helpful".

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Disturbing Films

I've read a few reviews of "How to Train Your Dragon" that have picked up on some of the "messages" in the film. None of them noticed an alarming messages that makes this "PG" film entirely unsuitable for children. The heroine hits the hero - but wait, she kisses him afterwards so that's Ok.

Then there was "Fantastic Mr. Fox" where Mrs Fox hits Mr Fox and draws blood. It's just "PG" as well.

So, the message (young) girls is that it's OK to hit your man.

Can you imagine the uproar if a film promoted men hitting women?

Actually, there are such films but they tend to be called "horror", rated 18 and it isn't the hero hitting the woman.

Caraway Thyme

I've been growing this for years. Or more accurately, of the dozen or so thymes I've tried, this is the one that's survived and flourished. 

Useful in the kitchen - does what it says on the tin - you can tell it's thyme but it's also got a Caraway taste. Unlike some of the other fancy thymes, it's got some wallop and the flavour is still there when you get the chicken out of the oven. To be fair, if you incinerate your chicken rather than gently roast it that won't apply.

The botanists amongst you will of course know that it isn't a cultivar of Thymus Vulgaris but a separate species, Thymus herba-barona. For the gardener/cook who wants to try it, you won't find it in every Garden Centre but it's not rare either. The garden designers will want to know that forms evergreen mounds of grey-green leaves with light mauve flowers in summer.

Monday, 8 March 2010

In the North East

Went dancing in Durham. It's a dance festival run by, and mainly for  students but they let anyone in. On the first night, later on, they had what they called a "Disco Ceilidh". The idea was that you dance what some would call "English Country Dances" to modern pop. It's not quite as bad as it sounds although the music doesn't fit the dances particularly well. After watching this for a while I had an idea. I grabbed Ruth - who is never knowingly conventional - and we jived - right in the centre of the room while several hundred people did some Sicilian circle dance around us. Magic!

I like Durham. The town has lots of old and interesting bits - including a number of pedestrian bridges crossing the river and up on into the town. However, it's not a "tourist trap" it feels like a town that's got more important if mundane things to get on with, - like working, making excellent chips and drinking!

So, Saturday tea time was spent in the back of the 'Shakespeare' drinking real beer. Claire sang several songs and Ruth played whistle along with the other musicians. Jon, Phil and I sipped our beer and nodded wisely.

At the "Survivors Ceilidh" on Sunday we had the World Première of a dance I'd written. Based on the idea that you often need a dance for crowded places I adapted an almost-traditional dance named after Clopton Bridge in Stratford upon Avon. Wondering what to call the new dance, I looked on a map for a nearby place. I happened on "Avon Industrial Estate". I don't think that name will be taken already…. :-)

Below: Pictures of informal late night dancing and one of Durham's many bridges

Late night informal dancing

One of Durhams many bridges

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Maltese Drinking Clubs (And other cultural discoveries)

Had a go at this "winter sun" malarkey and went to Malta. It was sunny and unlike Birmingham Airport, it didn't have the "wrong sort of snow". It was a partly escorted tour and while the other half of the group were having their turn down an archaeological hole in the ground, the local guide casually pointed out what he called a "Band Club". The official story is that the Band Club provides a band to accompany a saint's statue in procession on the saint's day. So they erect a large building with glass case to store the statue in. And while they're at it, they build a bar. So, for the other 364 days of the year when there's no procession, they smoke, drink and don't let women in. It's a bit like a Morris side in the UK. Top picture is taken in Nadur, Gozo while one with some of the many small dogs is from Paola in the mainland. The inside of this one is quite ornate

Actually, there's a lot of small dogs in Malta which is perhaps appropriate for one of the smaller European countries - but I digress - another institution is the Malta Labour Party. They seem to have an "office" in every village and - yes, you guessed it - it's also a bar. The picture with the huge flag is on the waterfront in Marsaxlokk

 There's scenery too. The picture of open countryside is near Nadur. The yellow flowers (Paleocyanus crasifoleus) were introduced during the "British Period" from South Africa and just spread. Went to the orange sand Ramla Bay. It's got a rocky end too. Went for a paddle. No one else did. Clearly I was the only English on the beach...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Weather, Women and Dancing

As I approached the dance place last night, I met one of the other blokes. He said that given the ice and snow, he expected a shortage of women. I thought he was probably right.

We were both wrong.

Sure, overall dancer numbers were way down but there were more women than men. Thinking about it, I realised I'd made this false assumption about women's attitude to difficult travel conditions before. However, when I look at other activities such as getting in to work, the image of men being bold risk-takers stacks up pretty well.

So, is it possible that some women make a special effort to go dancing when the weather is dreadful and risky? And why? Here are a few ideas:

  • Women who dance are special and are less worried about risk than average?
  • Women expect fewer other women to turn up and want to go where they think they are unlikely to be wallflowers?
  • Men expect fewer other women to turn up and don't want to go where they think they are going to have to compete for partners?
  • Women prefer to dance with bold, risk-taking men?

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Facebook slow or crashing?

Most people access Facebook via the main site and that's the all singing, all dancing version. As well as seeing what your friends are up to, the silly games and adverts work just fine.

At the other end of the scale, there's  a very simple site that's really intended for mobile phone users. You can use it from your PC as well and it's very fast and doesn't hang up or crash like the main site. There's no "chat", games or adverts.

Then there's a happy medium which they call Facebook Lite. It does have chat and adverts. Not made it crash yet.

Finally, I discovered what they call the Touch Site which is another medium weight version. I'm not sure what its intended mission is. I suggest you just try it and see if you like it!

Friday, 8 January 2010

Asian Recycling

Our local Asian grocer is into recycling in a unique way. He is unfashionably keen to offer customers a bag to take stuff home in. And the bags are not the flimsy Tesco "split under the weight of a jumbo pack of feathers" style. These are sturdy, heavy-duty items that rival the supermarket's "bag for life"

So, how is this recycling? Well, for a start, they're such decent bags, it wouldn't feel right to throw them away. Then when you look at them, you see that they are "surplus" or "bankrupt stock" from other businesses.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Fragment of a novel I'm writing

In a corner of Martin's room, Meg noticed an old-fashioned draftsman's board with built in sliding rulers. She wandered over and looked at the drawing on it.

"This looks like some sort of shoe?"
"Yes, it's my design for a Chesil Boot" said Martin..
"What's one of those?"
Did you ever hear of Chesil Beach?
"Yeah, I remember going there on a geography field trip."
"Quite pebbly and difficult to walk on?"
"Yes, I remember now, Kelly Simpkins fell off her stupid high heels and broke her ankle"
"I'm going to walk that beach. All 18 miles of it - and not break anything!"
Meg pointed to the drawing and looked at Martin questioningly.
He smiled and explained how the design supported and cushioned the foot.
"So that's what you engineers do?"
"Some of us"
Meg smiled.
"How many pairs are you going to make?"