Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Wireless rapture, or something, Oh yes, and That Cat!

For some time I've been looking for an excuse to buy an all in one printer, but until now I've felt it was just a way of disposing of unwanted surplus income. I had an old Sharp laser printer/copier that worked OK as a copier, and a slightly more recent colour bubblejet which was also not too bad. My old scanner didn't work with the new PC, so I'd given that away, but I rarely scan stuff anyway, so wasn't too bothered by its absence.

But then the Sharp died on me, and despite 2 attempts to repair it, it stayed dead. Around the same time, Jenny started talking about needing to print stuff from her new Mac laptop. She's been asked to do a second edition of her book (Gaining Ground, Indiana University Press - it's about the evolution of land vertebrates from fish) and she likes to sit downstairs while she's working on it.

Since the Mac has an airport card, I figured I could plug a wireless base station into my ethernet hub upstairs, and if I got a networked printer, she wouldn't need my PC to be switched on when she wanted to print anything.

Which? magazine said the Canon MP600R was the printer I wanted, and that arrived today, so I borrowed a wireless base station from work and plugged it all in.

Rather to my amazement, after fairly minimal fettling, the whole shebang works! I can print from my PC and she can do email, internet and printing from downstairs. Two unexpected bonuses were that the printer itself is wireless and that it does double-sided printing, neither of which I'd noticed in any of the reviews. Super whizzo!

So the colour printer can go on Royston Recycle and I can clear away some of the spaghetti that has taken up long-term residence under the desk.

And on a second topic, That Cat (as in "Here comes That Cat again") has started bringing in mice and then occasionally losing them. Being nocturnal, it does this in the dark, of course, so this morning at around 4 it came upstairs meowing. We always know when it has a victim, because it's otherwise largely silent, and only meows with its mouth full.

Then it let the unfortunate victim go in the bedroom and proceeded to chase it around until we were thoroughly awake, at which point it treated us to the faint crunching of small bones, leaving a gory mess to be trodden on by bare feet on the way to the loo. Well OK, I managed to avoid that last.

This evening it played with another mouse in the hall, but failed to keep it under control and lost interest when the mouse escaped under the settee and unsportingly refused to come out. TC last seen heading for the waste ground next door, presumably in search of another toy to play with. Thanks, cat. Now I have to get a mousetrap.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Lord Longford

Several weeks, possibly months ago, I recorded a Channel 4 docudrama about Lord Longford. This guy has never been one of my heroes, quite the reverse. I thought he was completely wrong in his support for Mary Whitehouse and his attacks on pornography.

Tonight we finally watched it, an with some provisos, it changed my view of him completely. It was the one about Myra Hindley.

I still think that in many ways he was a gullible fool, but on the Hindley issue, I'm convinced he was right. Brady was a psychopath who dragged a relatively innocent girl into his nightmare. Our legal system completely betrayed her, since if she'd been a man, she'd have been given parole, just as several (according to the programme) comparable male killers have been.

It was really just because she was a woman that she remained incarcerated until she died. Public opinion couldn't handle the fact that a woman could kill innocent children, so she could never be forgiven.

I'm not talking here about the revenge of the relatives. In terms of crime and punishment, you have to separate the perpetrator from the victims, otherwise you might as well just bury the criminals up to their necks in sand and stone them to death, which is simply barbarous.

Oh, I know it isn't that simple, but I've long felt that Hindley got a bad press, and this programme portrayed her and Longford in such a way that I could feel a lot of sympathy for both of them.

I have long felt I could easily say that about Hindley, but never before about Longford.

Edit: Hmmmm. I've googled for child killers this morning and I'm no longer convinced she was discriminated against simply because she was a woman. As ever, it's unlikely to be as simple as portrayed on the telly.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Mpangi Pebble Head


Well, I finally finished the third in my series of pebble heads, and here he is. He's not mounted on his wooden frame yet, but I'll do that in the next few days.

I've called him Mpangi. Although he does look rather cross, in fact he is quite benevolent towards the household and reserves the more ferocious side of his nature for driving away malevolent spirits.

Wasps!

Like Ziggy, we have wasps, though so far, we haven't had any problems with them. This is the second time in the past few years that we've hosted a wasp nest, and I'm not that bothered by it. I'm pretty sure they'll be the common Vespula vulgaris but when I looked them up in our insect book, the whole page of true wasps all looked so similar, I couldn't tell the difference between them in the picture, never mind flying about.

The front of our house has tiles covering the wall between the windows of one of the bedrooms upstairs and the front room downstairs, and the last time, the queen had found her way in behind these tiles. After a while, we noticed a stream of wasps coming and going, so I put up a sign in the front window, warning people to keep away. Worked fine and I think I was the only one to get stung, when I was working close by and managed to trap one in the crook of my arm. I swore, but let it go.

This time they're going in through the hole where the overflow pipes from the tanks in the loft exit. I've checked in the cupboard housing the tanks, but can't see or hear the wasps, so assume they're living in the space between the upstairs floor and the downstairs ceiling. As long as they stay there, I can't see them doing any harm. The entrance is a good 5 metres above the ground, so we don't go anywhere near it.

Actually, they do quite a lot of good in the garden. All through the early part of the year they feed their larvae meat, in the form of small insects and bits of carrion, so they're performing quite an effective pest control function for me. It's only after the larvae pupate that the workers are freed from this child-care role and start looking for sweet stuff which they eat themselves. This is why, in August, they become such a pest, attracted to jam jars and fruit.

So I shan't be doing anything about our temporary guests, unless, of course, they break through into our part of the house. Then I'd get the pest control people in, of course.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Vlad the Imbiber

We get most of our wine, unsurprisingly, from Tesco, but quite a bit also from the Wine Society, and some from our friend Vlad, affectionately known as Vlad the Imbiber. He's an independent importer, originally Hungarian, I think Czech, who lives in London. He buys directly from the producers and supplies quite a wide area of south-east England.

From time to time we invite him to our house for a tasting. We'll have 8 or 10 friends around and Vlad will introduce us to half a dozen wines, maybe more. Around 9, when that's all done, Jenny and I retire and finalise the food arrangements - usually pasta or a casserole that's been prepared earlier and just needs to be finished. Vlad takes orders at this point, and then we serve the food, drinking the dregs of the tasting bottles. A week or two later, Vlad delivers the wine.

His wines tend to be in the £8 to £20 bracket, so we don't regard them as everyday drinking wines, but still they're not special enough for some occasions. For instance, it's Jenny's 60th soon, and in 2010 we'll have been married for 30 years. We'll need something pretty special for then, and we regard champagne as overrated.

However, I have some very good white Burgundy lurking, as well as a top-notch claret, so I don't think we need to worry too much about the wine. I bought the 1988 Chateau Gruaud Larose in about 1990 and it's just drinking well now. Yum!

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Adult ballet

Just had an email from Jen to say she's had the result of her ballet exam. She did ballet as a kid, but gave it up to concentrate on 11+ preparation. Yes, it was that long ago! A few years ago now, she discovered a ballet class in Cambridge that caters for adults as well as children, so joined up and really loves it. 5.30 to 6.30 is perfect for her as the class is really close to the Department, so she doesn't even have to leave work early.

A year or more ago she upped her attendance from one evening a week to 2, then last year took and passed Grade III. A few weeks ago, with much trepidation, she took Grade IV ... and passed with DISTINCTION!!! I'm getting quite moist around the orbits just typing this.

So I guess it'll have to be something involving Méthod Champenoise tonight. It's a tough life.

Harry Potter

Last night we saw the Harry Potter movie in Letchworth with Lorna and Richard. It started late enough that we could have an Indian beforehand, so we went to the Sagar Tandoori first, where we enjoyed the food and got turned around in plenty of time for the cinema. The house dry white was very disappointing. Poor value even had it been free, which of course, it wasn't.

Usually when we go to the cinema, we wait until the last week the movie is on, and the Letchworth cinema is generally empty mid-week, but I think we were a week ahead of ourselves, so the place was much fuller than usual. We'd bought our tickets before dinner, but then had to sit almost at the front to find 4 seats together.

And of course, the sound was too loud. Why do all cinemas have the volume cranked right up these days? Everyone we've spoken to agrees it's too loud. Small mercies, the aircon wasn't blasting freezing air at us as well.

The movie was good, and we all enjoyed it. Jenny thought it was the best yet, though I didn't entirely agree. Partly it's that the movies are too far behind the books, so I've forgotten quite a lot, partly because as the books have got thicker, the scriptwriters have had to omit more. Better characterisation than previously and some good special effects, but I didn't notice anything particularly novel. Imelda Staunton was brilliant as Dolores Umbridge - deliciously malevolent! Lorna and Richard, being teachers, saw an Ofsted connection, of course.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

The traveller returns

Well Air Canada was super-prompt in both directions, though I gather the food was less impressive. Then the overhead power lines (train) were down between Hitchin and Letchworth, so the passengers were taxied onward. Jenny got home at midday.

She'd had two really good days collecting, and returned with a number of slabs bearing small foot-prints, but sadly no bones. The price she paid was sunburnt neck and ears and numerous insect bites, including one on her left eye-lid, causing much localised swelling and slight discoloration. Looked as though she'd been smacked in the eye. I had a plaintive phone call at work asking me to pick up some antihistamine cream, which seems to have helped a little. Overall, she was delighted with the trip and hopes to go back next year. In which case I plan to go with her. Only I'll take sun block and Deet!

Choir practice was fun. It's become a tradition over the years to hold the last one before the cathedral week at Dick's house. We just run quickly through some of the stuff for the first day, then slide into party mode.

The actual week doesn't start until nearly the end of August, but the school hols start next week, I think, so we don't tend to rehearse between now and then. It was very pleasant to stand around nattering, and then when Jane dropped us off, Jenny and I finally had some time to actually chat about her trip and I could tell her everything I'd been getting up to.

World's First IT Support person

I love this movie clip!

Monday, 16 July 2007

And today's piece of stupidity...

Dinner went well last night, amazingly. I was sitting rather idly at the computer around 5 in the afternoon when it occurred to me to start preparing things so it wasn't too much of a rush at the last minute.

That was when panic set in. When I got the fennel out of the fridge, I found one of the bulbs was rotten, and the one remaining one would not go far when divied up amongst four of us. And the shops were closed by then, of course. Panic phone calls to Lorna and Jane didn't locate more fennel, but did activate a few brain cells, and I came up with an idea.

I braised the fennel as originally planned, then roasted the vegetables I did have - half a manky courgette, a red and a green pepper, an onion and a dozen or so largish cherry tomatoes, plus garlic and mixed herbs. With simple boiled potatoes and steamed carrots with tarragon butter, it was OK. And the vultures finished it all off apart from a few spuds. I think they liked it! I was knackered of course, having barely had time for a bath between starting at 5 and people arriving soon after 7.30. Good job I got going when I did.

They didn't stay late, having early starts this morning, so I put on the Earth Story DVD and settled back to unwind before going to bed myself. And woke up at 1.30am. Sod it! How did that happen? Yeah, felt terrific this morning, you can just imagine.

So today's stupidity is this. Jen's back from Canada and we have a choir practice tonight, but I forgot to get the microwave meals out of the freezer, so just had to go to Tesco to buy something. At the DIY checkouts, I scanned my purchases, then stuck my clubcard in and had it accepted, but then, for the life of me, could not get the bloody thing to accept payment using the clubcard. It just kept saying "Clubcard accepted. Please insert cash or select payment method."

After 3 or 4 attempts, I called for assistance, only to discover that there, right in front of me, was an option to pay by credit or debit card. I had been pressing the stupid clubcard button, so of course it didn't realise I meant "I want to pay with my clubcard." I should have pressed the credit/debit card button and then swiped the clubcard. Yep, red face you could warm your hands by!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

My mum

Saturday morning I drove to Bristol to visit my mum whom I've not seen since just after Christmas. A couple of months ago, while on holiday in Scotland with her brother, she was involved in a nasty car crash which left her with a broken sternum. At 85, it's hardly surprising she's been feeling really knocked about, and it's taken a long time for her to start to live normally again. I'd have gone sooner, but things have been pretty hectic here, and I do know that my younger brother has visited, as has one of my older brother's step-sons and my cousin Pat.

I had to collect my motorcycling jacket from the shop in Stevenage, where it had been altered, so went by car instead of on the bike. Rather wished I'd thought harder about how to accommodate 2 jackets on the bike, as the M25 was ghastly, and then, having crept around to the M4 there was solid traffic jam all the way to the Windsor exit, which was clearly the cause of the jam. No idea what was happening in Windsor that half the world wanted to visit. Anyhow, the rest of the trip was fine.

Before dinner she showed me a DVD Pat had lent her, about the situation in Somalia, but although it was really interesting, I wondered how relevant it was, since much was about the elections in 2005, which has presumably all been dismantled by the restraint and quiet diplomacy of our special friend over the pond. I think he didn't like the result of the fair and democratic elections, so bombed the hell out of the place.

Over and after dinner we nattered about many things, but a lot about her parents and how they met. (Summary: he was in Europe as part of South African forces during WWI and they met while he was on leave. After the war, she got on a boat to Cape Town where they met up and married. They stayed together until she died in about 1985.) It's a really romantic story and I'm planning to write something about it offline.

This morning I left rather earlier than I'd planned. It was raining heavily and I knew I had several things to do this afternoon, including making sure I was ready to feed Lorna and Richard this evening. That meant being home by 3 in case I had to do any last-minute shopping. The rain meant I would want to drive more slowly, which required an earlier departure. Of course, within about 25 miles, the rain had cleared and I drove the rest of the way on dry roads. Home in 2 hours. Not bad for 140 miles.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Dinner

Now I know there are a few of you out there that read my blog, and I'm really delighted that that's the case, so even though no-one's actually responded to anything I posted today, I'm going to tell you about dinner. (Listen, I'm addicted, OK? I spend far too long at work reading blogs, then I come home and spend all evening doing the same. Well I am tonight, what with Jenny being in Canada. Normally it's verboten.)

So at lunchtime, though I'd not planned what to cook, I decided to buy a nice piece of tuna, but after waiting for FIVE MINUTES at the wet fish counter being ignored by TWO members of staff, I loudly pronounced "F*CK IT!" and stormed off. Of course, that meant I had to get something else, and in my pique I grabbed a couple of free range chicken breasts. It's a sad fact that I find it awfully easy to just LOATHE Tesco. The centre of our town is largely shop-free as a result of the arrival..er..10 years ago of an out-of-town Tesco. OK, no proof, but since the big T arrived, shops have been closing faster than the congregation's eyes when the sermon starts.

The other objective of the trip to Tesco was to see if they'd got any oxtail, since my favourite butcher had none, and to my astonishment, Tesco came good with this one. OK, one all. The oxtail is for Sunday when I come home from my mum's, so the plan was to cook it tonight and freeze it.

Looking at the contents of the fridge this evening, I decided to do Delia's Chicken Basque from her Summer Cooking book. It's a favourite of ours, and although it wasn't in any way exploratory (not quite the right word), I was still in a rage at Tesco, so didn't have enough spare brain cells to dedicate to finding something interesting we'd not already done.

Now Delia's recipes are generally 'follow the instructions; serve; receive praise' and I was disappointed when I took the first mouthful of Chicken Basque. It was rather dry, which I really wasn't expecting. The rice was properly cooked, there had been plenty of liquid when I put it in the oven, which instruction had I not followed?

Answer: I'd used chicken breasts, not legs. That's the only difference, and that was only brought about by my fury at the arseholes in Tesco. I think the legs must be simply thicker than the breasts, so cook more slowly, added to which they have the bones in, which must have some effect. Anyway, I won't do that again.

So now, having finished my second glass of Costière de Nîmes, I guess I'd better finish off the oxtail. Another Delia - Oxtail with haricot beans. I can't find the recipe on line, but there's a similar one half way down this page.

I'd better not post anything more tonight, since I really can't cook without a glass by my side, and the effects remind me most of Keith Floyd.

Sigh. Yes, I've prostituted myself. I've eviscerated a bad word in the hope Google ads will pay me some silver.

Advertising

I notice that a few blogs carry ads, but most seem not to. Today I followed a link (subsequently lost, of course!) which
claimed to value my blog at over $500, which I have to admit, is tempting. Are they frowned on or is there some etiquette involved that I'm not aware of? How do you get the ads and how do you stop them cluttering up your blog with junk. And do you really get more than pin money from them?

Anybody know?

On my own for a bit

This morning Jenny flies to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she will look at some recently discovered fossil material and hopefully come up with enough for a PhD project. One of her 2 current students has just submitted her thesis, and the other is just about to, so something for a new student to work on would be good.

She flies out of Heathrow in the late morning. I've never liked Heathrow, but with the current security arrangements, it's just the pits. I don't envy her that bit at all, though I'd have liked to go to Canada with her.

Still, I don't expect to have too bad a time while she's away. We usually eat out with friends on Wednesdays, so I'll be doing that, and at the weekend I'm visiting my mum for a night.

And something I've started doing relatively recently when she's away is to plan and cook myself something really nice. I like choosing a recipe, shopping for the ingredients and then cooking it as well as I can. Quite the opposite of a microwave meal. Choose a bottle of something decent to go with it, set the table properly and then take the time to savour food and wine. If I organise it properly I can load the dishwasher while I'm cooking, so afterwards it's just stick in the last few bits, start the wash cycle, light a fire and cosy up in the settee. I might watch a DVD or just put on some music and read. Pretty self-indulgent, but hey!

Monday, 9 July 2007

2 posts in a day - woohoo!

Monday night is choir practice night and we're building up to our cathedral week. Since 1996 we've spent a week in late August singing all the evening and Sunday services in an English cathedral, standing in for the resident choir school.

For the non-Anglican amongst you, that means an evensong (3/4 hour choral service) each evening at 5.30, of which most is singing, and on Sunday a mass with a bit of singing and an evensong on Sunday. Some cathedrals we also do a Mattins (very similar to evensong) on Sunday morning.

You might think it odd, reading the title of my blog, that I should do this kind of thing, but actually the music is just fabulous (if you like that kind of thing) and evensong combines the maximum music with the minimum god. It's not for those who like audience participation. Evensong is a contemplative service in which the clergy and choir do almost everything for the audience congregation. And it gives the lie to those who claim the devil has all the best tunes. Once you get to like this stuff, you realise that's simply not true. My own favourites are 17th century(ish) English sacred music. Purcell, Byrd, Tomkins, Weelkes, Blowe, etc.

OK, so this year we're singing in Ripon Cathedral, Yorkshire, 27th August - 2nd September. If you happen to be passing, please drop by. You can hear us and still avoid the service if you stroll into the cathedral between 4 and 5 in the afternoon, when we'll be warming up for Evensong. In the mornings we rehearse in the choir school, so are inaccessible. Or you could risk the service at 5.30. Sunday Eucharist is probably 11am (check the website), evensong 3.30.

There. Self-publicising over!

Losing my virginity

Did that get your attention?

Actually, it was my eBay virginity that I lost last week. Yayyyyy! The saga is that for years I used a Psion organiser, and loved it, and came to really depend on it, but then a couple of years ago I dropped it, and it died.

Not long before, I'd seen a friend's iPAQ thing and been impressed by the handwriting recognition, so when one came up secondhand at work, I bought it. It was USELESS! First, it's really tedious entering text one letter at a time through the HR interface. Yes it's impressive, yes it's accurate, yes it's mindnumbingly SLOW! And then the alarm on the calendar is a waste of time. One little ping-pong and if you happen not to be at your desk, that's tough, you missed it.

But the final straw was when I went to Australia at Easter. I forgot to take the charger, so naturally the battery went flat and it forgot everything it'd ever been told. "No problem" I thought "when I get home I'll restore from the backup I took rather too long ago." "Oh no you f*cking won't." says Windoze. "This backup was taken using different hardware" or some such. Which it wasn't, of course. Screaming at it and banging the desk, astonishingly, did not persuade it to do my bidding.

So last week I plucked up my courage and bid for a Psion on eBay, and to my great delight, won. Much easier than I'd feared, of course. Then I had to spend nearly as much on a cable to connect it to my PC, but finally, this weekend, I restored some stuff from the old Psion onto the new. I have my (now rather out of date!) address book back! Ahhhhhh, I can relax!

And the iPAQ rubbish will be given away for nothing (which is precisely what it's worth!) on Freecycle.

Later: edited this to correct some rather poor English and tidy up some punctuation.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital

I've been giving a small amount to this charity for quite a while now. In case you don't know, if a woman goes into labour and the baby won't come out (breech, eg), without medical intervention, the strain of pushing can rupture her womb, vagina, rectum, bladder. Young girls giving birth in remote African villages are pretty vulnerable. Usually the child dies, often the mother does too.

Update: I have heard it said that female circumcision can increase the likelihood of these complications. The UK gummint, for once doing something I approve of, is making moves to at least stop English girls being mutilated in this barbaric fashion.

Those women who survive this horrific experience usually leak urine and/or faeces permanently. If the tissue between your bladder and vagina is torn, there is no valve to control the flow of your urine, so you slowly pee, all the time. Down your legs. Is that enough detail? They are usually rejected by their husbands and families because they stink.

When they hear about this hospital, they may walk hundreds of miles for treatment. Although I don't hold with the Christian emphasis that pervades the hospital, I think what they're doing is magnificent. They train nurses and surgeons in the treatment and are involved in setting up other fistula centres around the world.

I urge you to visit their website, read about what they're doing and make a donation.

The UK charity that supports them is the Hamlin Churchill Childbirth Injuries Fund. Although I can't find a website for the charity, I did come across this which is as good a testimonial as I can imagine.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Anonymity

After reading some of the horrors that Wife in the North has endured, I begin to wonder whether a little anonymity might not be a good thing. I figure I can start a new blog, point the few people who actually read my ramblings at it, then delete the old one a couple of weeks hence.

Or am I being paranoid? What do you think?

Ah, except the blog points to the website and the website to the blog, so I wouldn't stay anonymous for long.

Maybe I'll just change the name. That won't break any links, will it?

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Fun up the smoke

We'd arranged to go up to London to meet Steve, a former boss of mine from way back, and visit the Goldsmiths' Hall near St Paul's Cathedral, to see an exhibition that was on there. Steve met us at Kings Cross train station and we caught a bus from there to St Paul's. This was novel, since we normally travel by underground in London, but the advantage of a bus is that you see all sorts of other stuff as you go. Using the tube means you just get to see isolated spots of the city with no real idea how they relate to each other. The bus helps you join up the dots. Good shout.

The exhibition was small but included some brilliant stuff, all in gold and silver, much set with precious stones. Very inspirational, but didn't take as long as we'd imagined to see it all. As usual, I didn't like everything on show, but really liked some.

Bus back up to Islington and we walked along Camden Passage peering into jewellery and antique stores, slowly making our way to the Duke of Cambridge pub, where we were to have dinner. On the way we passed the war memorial in Islington Green, where there's a huge, granite Moebius strip standing up on edge. Impressive piece of carving, and a nice memorial.

At the pub we had a relaxing drink, waiting for the restaurant to open, then moved in there for a very pleasant dinner. The Duke of Cambridge was the first organic pub in the world and I like their overall attitude - locally sourced food and drink wherever possible, organic, top quality, well prepared. Dinner was good! They obviously think about what they're doing, because on their website they say that they used to source all their wine from Europe, to save food miles, but then discovered that European wines are all shipped by road, while New World wines come by ship, so are possibly less damaging to the environment than European ones!

Overall, a great afternoon and evening!