Saturday, August 30, 2008

Three Good Hiding Places

I love the Monty Python sketch "Hide And Seek Olympic Finals" where the hider can hide anywhere in the world and it takes years for the seeker to find him.

I mention this because I've been visiting some pretty obscure places in Northern England with Mrs Stan over the last few days and it occurs to me that these would make excellent hiding places. No-one would ever think of looking for you in any one of these hidden gems. Except if you opened a cafe that actually made a decent cup of coffee. Then you'd stick out a mile - each of these towns contains very attractive tea-rooms serving weak tea, instant coffee and plastic scones. Bring sandwiches.

(1) Bakewell, Derbyshire : this town is the inspiration for the Bakewell Tart; not a well known prostitute but a sort of cake. Like the cake, jam runs down the middle of the town, there is a thin layer of icing on all the roads and a glace cherry sits atop the church tower. Well, in a perfect world it would.

It's an attractive bustling place with all kinds of nice-smelling knick-knack shops and you must try the Bakewell Pudding which is unrecognisable from the muck that Mr Kipling puts into tin foil.

(2) Frodsham, Cheshire : an identikit Market Town, except one where the market has been taken over by Scousers selling forged brand-name sweets and CDs of uncertain provenance. On the bright side it has even more nice-smelling knick-knack shops than Bakewell, is the start of the "Sandstone Way" long distance path and has a name that I never tire of repeating in a variety of comedy voices.

I recommend the first section of the Sandstone Way - it takes you up to an amazing vantage point high above the Thelwall Viadiact where you can see Liverpool and even Mount Snowdon in the distance. If you squint you can pretend that Warrington and Runcorn aren't there.

(3) Whitchurch, Shropshire : the other end of the Sandstone Way After a few days of Market Towns it was all getting a bit same-y. We tried the last section of the Sandstone Way which goes along the canal to the three-level lock system at Grindley Brook. I wasn't well-disposed to the idea of a narrowboat holiday before, but after seeing a few families in action I'm even more anti now. It is basically caravaning (but without the glamour and style). It was amusing to watch as every single boat making their laborious way through the locks seemed to have a cross and bored teenaged boy on board who would get the honour of doing whatever the heck it is you do with the windy-thing.

Trivia : A native of Shropshire is traditionally called a Salopian. Their children are NOT called Salopettes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Smirking on Holiday

I was in Flamborough over the weekend. It's a tiny time-warped village on a massive chunk of Yorkshire sticking out into the North Sea. It's almost entirely populated by tourists, but there are some quirky shops, lively pubs and the best darned seafood around. If you've seen "Last of the Summer Wine" you'll know the kind of vibe. Although they were holding a scarecrow festival while I was there which made it more like "Last of the Summer Wine" meets "The Wicker Man".
One of the highlights of the drive up was smirking at the signs for the nearby village of Wetwang, and in fact it was also a highlight of the drive back. In fact the novelty still hasn't worn off - the word "Wetwang" still makes me snigger.

While in Flamborough, I definitely recommend a walk around the wind-blown Selwicks Bay & The Lighthouse - described on the town's website as follows, with typical Yorkshire understatement :-

"On the eastern tip of Flamborough Head and with something for
nearly everyone."
I love the reference to "nearly" everyone - you suspect they are worried about legal action from disappointed pedants with specialised leisure requirements.

Bridlington is nearby if you want a more traditional kiss-me-quick candy-floss kind of seaside experience, but since I was born in Blackpool that's not something with any appeal.

I'll finish with "Wetwang". According to wikipedia :-

It is recorded in the Domesday Book as Wetuuangha. There are two interpretations of this. One is that it probably comes from the Old Norse
vaett-vangr, 'field for the trial of a legal action'. Another theory is that it
was the "Wet Field" compared to the nearby Dry Field at

Friday, August 22, 2008


Another official letter arrived with the postmark of the small (but picturesque) county town of my small (but picturesque) county. The process of turning me into a Magistrate is proceeding and I am to report for I-know-not-what in the way of training over three days in November.

You might think that three days sounds like not very much to turn an IT Consultant into a Beak. I guess I'll know whether it's enough in December. In fact, I'll probably not know for sure until January when I actually start helping to dispense justice.

One criticism I'd have of the process is that it's been far from clear what the timetable of events was going to be. For those who apply in future years - this is the way it has worked out for me:-
  • Closing date - end November
  • February - 1st Interview
  • April - 2nd Interview
  • June - Pencilled-in
  • November - Trainin'
  • December - Swearing-in
  • January - Thrown in (at the deep end)
Meanwhile, I'm trying to remedy my total ignorance of webservers that was exposed in Oslo by building my own (Linux/Apache/Tomcat) on a broken-screened laptop.

42, and still looking to learn - that has to be a good thing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


On the morning of your birthday do not, I repeat do not, put your age into a search engine.

In return for the search term "aged-42" I found the following on Page 1 :-

Elvis Presley dies in hospital, aged 42

Tributes as solicitor aged 42 dies in Spain

"Saw" movie producer dies aged 42

Too Old to Emigrate ?? Aged 42.

Trying for a baby aged 42

I have a perimenopausal lady aged 42. She doesn't want to take HRT ...

"For women aged 42 years with epilepsy, is there any evidence that having an intrauterine device inserted increases the risk of epileptic seizure?"

Co-inventor of Alta Vista dies aged 42

In fact the only good news on the search is a link to Cindy Crawford looking good for her advanced age of 42 on a yacht with George Clooney

The message is very much that 42 is an age for dying, being too old to do stuff and your body disintegrating. It's not really a message you want to hear.

Today I plan to take my aged body out for a curry with The Girls. Hopefully I will not be too enfeebled and befuddled to snap my own poppadums.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Camus Soul Top

It's not every day that I meet someone who's a bigger nerd than I am. Today I nearly did.

I was running laps at the gym and on the track in front of me was a man in his fifties with a football goalkeeper's green shirt, sporting the number "1" on his back and the name "Camus".

Just in case you're not as big a nerd as I am, this is a reference to the French writer and philosopher Albert Camus who also happened to play in goal for the best team in Algeria in the 1930s.

My first instinct was to laugh knowingly, but my second was to body-slam him into the wall and ask him (in the light of Camus' book "The Stranger") whether I could be legally or consciously guilty if I had no conscious intent. Then I was going to run off, explaining that (as Camus indicated in "The Fall") that everyone is guilty and nobody has the moral right to pass judgement on someone.

You'll be glad to hear that I did resist the temptation and ran on in silence.

Actually, I preferred the t-shirt I saw the other week :"My other body is a temple".

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Britain's Got Talent Shows and That's Not Good

Here I am again. Hiding in my home office while the girls get their Reality TV fix. This time they're looking for the last choir standing, but in the past they've sat through the casting for whole West End dance musicals on ice. Or something like that. What next ?

I have some suggestions :-

* A nationwide talent-search for a small dog to star in the new Bond film ? ("Dachshund With the Stars")

* Search for a female British plumber to compete in the Plumbing Olympiad in Warsaw ("How Do You Solve A Plumber Like Maria"?)

I shouldn't complain - the football season began today, and it can't be a bundle of laughs living with a football fan. Especially not a Bolton fan. Except today when they sit top of the Premier League (had to mention that).

But really, I wouldn't mind the occasional singing/dancing contest. As long as it were over in 90 minutes like a football game. But instead there's an tediously slow elimination process involving some combination of premium-rate lines and judges who do sub-Forsythe puns. And then the results programme. And behind-the-scenes footage on BBC3. And Claudia Winkelman usually, which is never a good thing.

Ok - I think it's time to come out, be a man, reclaim the TV and watch "Match of the Day" while scratching myself.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Too Much Food and a Random Song Generator

I did want to comment on the swimmer Michael Phelps' 12,000 calorie per day diet, but Jon Henley in The Guardian by videoing himself trying to eat it said all that needs to be said.

I had fun doing the "Four Things" blog the other day. I fancied doing another so I went to the memes list on where there are a lifetimes' worth of daft ideas for blogs.

I chose this one :

This week is word associations. The drill. Tell me the first song, artist, album, instrument or other musical thing that comes to mind when you see these words.

Cat: "Moon Shadow" - Cat Stevens
Fish: "Kaileigh" - Marillion
Dog: "Drop it like it's Hot" - Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell Williams
Comical: "Vatican Rag" - Tom Lehrer
Pretentious: Bob Dylan
Intelligent: Elvis Costello
Park: "Park Life" - Blur
Make-up: "Lipstick on your Collar" - Connie Francis
Box: "Glory Box" - Portishead
Toy: "Like Toy Soldiers" - Eminem

And if you can find a common feature between that lot ...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

English Clearances

Tim Leunig (pronounced "Looney") works for the shadowy organisation Policy Exchange (motto : "Death to the North") who are said to be David Cameron's favoured Think Tankers. He has on their behalf excreted a policy document "Cities Unlimited - making urban regeneration work".

If you feel like reading the full excretion, click here, although on second thoughts, please don't - you'll just encourage them.

In summary, what they suggest is that Northern English (mainly coastal) cities like Liverpool, Blackpool and Sunderland have had it and the inhabitants should quit moaning and move to Oxford and Cambridge so they can live on an overpopulated flood plain and be less of a strain on the country.

I'm sure the inhabitants of Oxford and Cambridge wouldn't relish a sudden influx of a million Scousers, Mackems and Blackpudlians and I'm damn sure the above would already have decamped south were they so inclined.

To David Cameron's credit, he is treating the document like a dead plague rat - after all this isn't the sort of stuff you bring up BEFORE you get elected.

The North is not all bad and the South is not all good (hint: Croydon). People are not relocatable economic units and there is definitely such a thing as Society. You do however suspect there are some undercover Thatcherites who still believe otherwise.

They got it spot-on for Blackpool though - the sooner they move everyone out, demolish the place and start again, the better.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Four Things

When a blogger can't think of anything to write there are a number of standard set-pieces (called 'memes') that are an interesting way to pass the time and maybe start a conversation.

This one is called 'Four Things' - you are welcome to add your own answers either in comments below, on your own blog or just in your head

  • Four jobs I’ve had
  1. Temporary Clerical Assistant, Joint Matriculation Board, Manchester
  2. Temporary Clerical Assistant, Department of Social Security, Preston
  3. Graduate Finance Trainee, Trafalgar House Group, London
  4. Billing Systems Consultant, Seoul, South Korea
  • Four movies I can watch over and over
  1. The Maltese Falcon
  2. The Godfather
  3. This is Spinal Tap
  4. Citizen Kane
  • Four places I’ve lived
  1. Blackpool, Lancashire
  2. Darlington, County Durham
  3. Bearsden, Scotland
  4. Stockholm, Sweden
  • Four TV shows I love
  1. Doctor Who
  2. Deadwood
  3. Spaced
  4. Lost
  • Four places I’ve vacationed
  1. Reykjavik, Iceland
  2. Torrevieja, Spain
  3. Dunvegan, Isle of Skye
  4. Vienna, Austria
  • Four of my favorite dishes
  1. Sausage Pie at Home (Mrs Stan's recipe)
  2. Chocolate Cake at Nanan Stan's, Yorkshire
  3. Chicken Chilli at Lal Qila, Rusholme, Manchester
  4. Diavolo Pizza, Pizza Express (various)
  • Four sites I visit daily
  1. Kenny
  2. Fifteensquared
  3. Bystander
  4. The Onion
  • Four places I would rather be right now
  1. If you thought I was going to say anything other than
  2. Home, with Mrs Stan and Stanetta
  3. You would be quite
  4. Wrong and Deluded

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympus Moans

As per usual, I'm in total agreement with that fine American publication, The Onion.

Specifically, the article "Nation to leave Olympics on in the Background" sums up my personal mood of apathy towards the whole $40 billion boondoggle. Do I care about rowing ? No. Does anything exciting happen in swimming, apart from one winning and seven losing ? No. Is there any difference between Archery and Lawn Darts? No. Do I want to spend all day watching toned young boys in speedos jumping into the water together? Strangely, I don't. Personally my favourite event of the Olympics so far was the torch relay through London, and no medals were presented for that. The Beach Volleyball can't come soon enough I say.

$40 billion is a whole load of money. I mean, China's health budget is only about $10 billion. London 2012 is going to look pretty weedy and low-budget by comparison. And I'm paying for that. It looks increasingly like the cost will be something of the order of £10 billion, and a chunk of that is my tax money. I'm also losing out on £10 billion worth of stuff the government won't be able to do because they're building a sports pitch for London. All for something that will look like an inferior copy of the Beijing event.

And just like the Onion suggests, all that money will be spent, and the World will be almost but not quite watching.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Endangered Species

I brought some delicious Bamsemums back from the Oslo Duty Free Shop - lovely Norwegian marshmallow bears covered in rather classy chocolate. According to wikipedia, it's also Norwegian slang for tourists who are eaten by polar bears, but I'm not convinced. Don't be put off by seeing "Skum" on the packet - it's Norwegian for "marshmallow".

I never knew that Norway even had a confectionery industry. It reminded me of an article I read a number of years ago describing how European countries were going to become more specialized. For example, all cars would come from France, Germany or Italy - all chocolate from Belgium - all mobile phones from Finland etc. All cannabis from Holland probably. The point is that in future, competitive forces would mean that not every country would be able to support all types of industry; I believe the article was predicting the demise of the British car industry.

I think that's a shame - it'd be a much duller world without quirky products from unexpected countries.

In addition to Norwegian chocolate, I'd propose the following should be given special protection :-

* Dutch airplanes - Fokker went bankrupt in 1996; I think the "little Fokkers" were really fine aircraft

* Slovak beer - dwarfed by their Czech neighbours but if there's a better lager than Zlaty Bazant (Golden Pheasant) out there, I have yet to taste it

* Spanish cinema - Almadovar, Bunuel etc. The French and Germans aren't the only Europeans who know how to point a camera.

* German bacon - the Danes do it so well, but sometimes you crave German "Speck".

* Spanish cars - OK so the oily bits on a Seat come from VW, but their designs aren't the BMW/Audi/Merc wie gewohnlich. Look at their Bocanegra concept car

Any more endangered species you can suggest ? And what does Britain do well exactly ?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Slouching Towards Oslo

Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote in 1881
"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour."
He was either using travel as a metaphor for love and life, or else he was a wide-eyed masochist.

I spent five hours this afternoon sleeping off a journey yesterday that certainly wasn't a joyful experience.

I awoke (in the loosest possible sense of the word) at 04:00 to drive to the airport to catch the 06:00 to Amsterdam. Did I want to go to Holland? No. Did I want to go South East? No, I wanted to go North East to Norway, but air travel doesn't work like that.

There was a 30 minute delay getting to Schiphol and I ended up having to run around, over and through large slow-moving families to get to me and my sweaty shirt to the connecting flight on time. Had an uninspiring combo of cheese and raspberry jam sandwiches on the first flight and exactly the same on the second.

Once in Oslo I had to catch a train and a connecting bus to get to my meeting. The intention was to sell my mind and body to a major telecom company for a period of time. By the time I got to their office, my body was sweaty and tired and my mind was totally shot thanks to the early start. I waffled, umm'ed, ah'ed and generally proved I knew nothing about web servers in a meeting room overlooking a fjord.

Then I turned straight around and made the reverse journey. Except this time I had an absurd amount of time between connections and did the Duty-Free-Zombie-Shuffle. As a respite from insipid sandwiches I had a marvellous hot-dog in Oslo and a much-needed Starbucks Frappuccino in Amsterdam.

This is the modern travelogue - you pass through places you didn't want to go and hardly notice them. To update Stevenson's quotation for the present-day :-
"Are we nearly there yet ?"
There is no contemporary translation for the rest of the quote because "success" and "Labour" have become strangers these days.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Whatever would Gene Hunt say

I know it's a serious issue, but I couldn't help being amused (if slightly alarmed) by the article in The Times ("Police told to take deep breaths and eat healthily").

Alarmed mostly by the comment about that they should "step away from stressful situations". Personally I think that it's almost a definition of a Police Officer - someone who steps into stressful situations. The very best it seems to me almost relish the prospect - and I think eating fried food is a part of their culture that isn't going away soon. In fact it's good for them to spend time in kebab houses and chip shops - there is more violence there than in vegan sandwich shops and the opening hours are more convenient.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


We decided the Stan Clan regular monthly household planning meeting meal would have a 1970s theme this time. No good reason, we just thought it would be a giggle

I decided not to go all out for authenticity and confiscate Stanetta's i-pod, Nintendo etc. and restrict the TV to three channels. That would have been too cruel - it would also have meant that she might not have let me listen to her rather excellent Rihanna CD "Good Girl Gone Bad" while I was was doing the ironing.

Mind you, as the Man of the House in the 1970s, I would probably be banned from ironing and would have had to spend Sunday afternoon at the pub drinking and smoking.

The 1970s were a very different age. Not just with the gender roles and technology. Olive oil was poured into your ears rather than on your lunch. It was also only available in pharmacists. Music was made with real instruments - if you wanted a bass-line you needed a bass guitar or a string bass.

We did try to make an authentic 1970s meal.

Starter - Cheese and Pineapple on Sticks. Centrepiece created by Mrs Stan from an orange wrapped in tinfoil.

Main Course - Chicken Kiev with "Smash" instant mashed potato and authentically overcooked carrots

The trick with Chicken Kiev is to smash the chicken fillet as flat as you can so that it will easily wrap round the stick of garlic butter and will also be thin enough to cook through before the deep-fat-frying chars the breadcrumbs. Actually quite tricky to make, so no surprise it was more popular in Ready Meal format - in fact it was Marks & Spencers' first attempt in 1976.

I found it way too greasy for my taste and the garlic repeats on you something rotten.

The "Smash" didn't go down too well - I had introduced Stanetta to the adverts thanks to YouTube and she did enjoy doing the hot-water magic. Unfortunately she described the final product as "like potato-flavoured cotton wool".

Fortunately she had ginger beer and we had some 21st century premium Dutch lager to take the taste away - plus :-

Desert - Black Forest Gateau (held proudly aloft by Mrs Stan - note the 1970s headscarf)

This started from a chocolate cake made by Nanan Stan (Mrs Stan's Mum) with some cream and glace cherries.

Music for the meal came from the Soundtrack album to the first series of "Life on Mars?". Stanetta didn't like any of it - but I enjoyed being reminded of how wonderful "Whisky in the Jar" by Thin Lizzy was. Stands up to modern scrutiny, sounds like edgy, dangerous fun and the guitar-work is a total joy.

All in all, it was a good change to the usual Sunday routine, but I don't think any of us are pining for the past. The present is great (and much less greasy), and hopefully the future will be even better.

I wonder what people will choose to celebrate when they throw a retro-party in thirty years time ?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Satisfied Taxpayer

Stanetta has had a sore tummy that wasn't going away and seemed to be getting worse, so it being the weekend, we had to get on to NHS Direct.

Here's how it worked for us :-

1) Called 08 45 46 47 - within a couple of minutes we were talking symptoms and answering questions posed by the first-line support woman. Slightly awkward to be asked if our 12 year-old could be pregnant, but it does happen.

We were told that a nurse would call us back within an hour - and that no-one today had waited longer than 20 minutes

2) Five minutes later, before I had even finished filling Mrs Stan in on the last call, I got the call-back. Similar questions, but the nurse decided she'd like a GP to take a look at her so we were given an appointment to see someone within 40 minutes in the next town over.

3) Within an hour of the process started, Stanetta had seen a doctor. Thanks to that, she had also stopped panicking and was feeling much better. Ditto for the frantic parents.

The NHS works. The NHS is an amazing thing that we should continue to support and should never compromise. I don't care how much it costs - if we can't afford to keep our people healthy, we should cut something else or raise taxes until we damn well can afford it.