Monday, September 19, 2011

Stephen is going off on his holidays.

Hello loyal readers of natural yogurt, Stephen is off on his holidays to the Resta Grand Resort hotel at Marsa Alam along the Red Sea in Egypt. I have not been to Egypt before, so this is a first. Gail and I are going with 4 friends who we mix with every week and have been on holiday with before.

I view holidays as a break away from normal workaday life and shall not be accessing the internet whilst I am away. Therefore I will be off-line until Thursday 6th October 2011 when I will resume blogging on whatever is getting on my goat that day.

I am looking forward to this holiday very much as I have not been abroad since June 2010 when we went to Tunisia.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne.

The rear cover of this book reads...

When family tragedy strikes, Alice Fonseka, a dreamy, artistic child with a Singhalese mother and Tamil father, leaves the beautiful island of Sri Lanka. Unable to bear the injustice of what has happened, her family heads for England.

...That sounds promising I thought, a tale of an immigrant in London. Sadly Brixton Beach does not live up to it's promise. This novel is set half in Sri Lanka and half in London. This book was written in 2009 and has 408 pages. It is not until page 226 when Alice actually arrives in England. This story is a slow and poor read. There is nothing gripping about this tale, it lacks a core and has no bite. This book is very easy to put down and there is no mystery or conspiracy going on.

Brixton Beach is obsessed with art, colour and light. It is very shallow on immigrant culture. This story is rather sad and once Alice comes to London, this increasing sadness dominates this book. It just gets sadder and sadder. This is not a book to enjoy and is not really entertaining. It is simply a tale of increasing sadness and despair.

This novel has a bad structure. The book starts at the end and then develops from the beginning when Alice is 9 years old. So straight away you will guess the ending, which spoils the actual ending on Page 403 from being rather dramatic.

I will vote this novel the minimum of one star on Good Reads as I feel this book is one to AVOID. I think this book FAILS which is a shame as I have had a good run lately with the last 6 books being PASSES. One surprise is that in the P.S. at the back of the book, the question is asked "Which living writer do you most admire?" Roma's answer is Orhan Pamuk, which is strange as I really liked his The Museum of Innocence and he writes in a completely different league to Roma Tearne.

So, in the style of the popular television programme Big Brother, here are the best bits of Brixton Beach.

Page 53: 'You must know the difference between hating one person and hating a whole race. Don't make that mistake. The doctor was a man, a pariah man. Not even a dog can be that bad. Chance made him Singhalese, remember that, Alice. He would have been bad anyway.'

Page 94: 'No Singhala,' she repeated, grimly. 'No Tamil either. Only English. The language of the Just.'

Page 95: 'Crazy bloody Singhalese cow!'

Page 118: The old woman finished her rice and tucked her plantain leaf between the sides of the seats. Some uneaten rice fell to the floor. She stared at it fixedly, then she licked her lips and wiped her nose on the corner of her sari. Everyone in the carriage looked away politely.
'Look, Mama,' Alice said excitedly. 'Police!'
Two police cars had driven up and stopped beside the level crossing, their lights revolving pointlessly. The group around the ticket collector and the guard had grown by now and there was a lot of excited talk.
'What the hell is happening, men?'
The suited man returned to his seat.
'Body on the line,' he said shortly, mopping his brow.
It was getting hot. The carriage gave a collective, weary sigh and resigned itself for the inevitable delay.
'What the devil, men!' There's a body on the line every day. Why can't they find a more convenient place to do away with themselves? Stop inconveniencing others!'
'Some Tamil, I expect,' the man in the suit said, opening the window a little more. 'Ambulance on its way. Won't be long now before we move. The guard said they'd make up time.'
'Don't believe a word these guards say.They're all liars.'

Page 211: On their very first night on the boat, the passengers were given strange things to eat. Italian food, long slimy strings of a substance Alice had never seen before. Sita did not want food, all she wanted was to stay in the cabin and write a letter to Kunal. She wanted it to be ready for when the purser made the collection.
'You go,' she told Alice. 'You know where the dining room is, go and eat with the other children.'
But the food was inedible. Like worms, Alice announced at the children's table, making everyone snigger, and the Swiss girl sitting next to her, vomit.
'Why can't we have some rice?' Alice demanded of the steward.
'There's no rice where you're going,' he sneered. 'Better get used to proper food, you little savage!'

Page 212: 'I'm going to take you to an Indian restaurant, men. It's very cheap and I want you to meet some of the people there.'
'Indian?' Stanley had asked, startled.
This was a new idea. Rajah had given him a peculiar look.
'We've all got brown skins so far as the English are concerned.' he explained patiently. 'Forget about the rules at home. They don't apply here.'
He had laughed at the look on Stanley's face.
'You've got a lot to learn, Putha!' he had cried. 'And you've got to learn fast, before that Singhalese wife of yours arrives'

Friday, September 16, 2011

Don't be so hard on yourself.

I remember in June when this story broke and how Johann Hari explained his reasons for reporting an interview by using content from other sources. Johann gave a full explanation of why he filed his copy in the way that he did. I accepted Johann's explanation and felt that his apology should satisfy everyone.

Well it did not satisfy everyone and Johann Hari has faced some severe disciplinary actionWhittam Smith recommended that Hari should be allowed to return to working for The Independent subject to certain conditions. The writer, who has apologised for his actions, is to take four months' unpaid leave to undertake a programme of journalism training at his own expense. He will also return the Orwell Prize which was awarded to him in 2008.

Johann has again apologised and I think he is being a little hard on himself. Okay, so his article included bits that were not from his interview but he explains exactly why he reported his piece in that fashion. I understand his reasoning for this departure from established and professional journalism. Johann may have made an error of judgement in the reporting of the interview but I believe he did it with the best of intentions and not to rip off the work of other journalists. A strong word from his editor, a slap on the wrist, a black mark on his record and the original apology he published should have been enough to please everyone. But to be ordered to take four months' unpaid leave to undertake a programme of journalism training at his own expense is a huge punishment for this slip up. As regards his fiddling about on wikipedia, this should not come into the equation as he did it in his own free time. What people do in their private lives, including free speech and freedom of expression and association should not be judged in the workplace.

I do feel that Johann has been a little hard on himself with his latest apology. It may have been worth the gamble for Johann to tell the Independent where to stick their job for being so out of proportion with their disciplinary action. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Preaching to the converted.

Over on The Writers Guide to E-Publishing there is a very interesting post written by Mark called Don’t Be A Dinosaur. The Future Is Digital. As a fan of the Amazon Kindle this article is like preaching to the converted but Mark has written a very good post and I feel that he really has his finger on the pulse. The forecast for the traditional bookshop and the paperback is very bad. Their days are numbered and not helped by the way publishers work and the price they charge.

I support this independent self publishing e-book model where the author gets 70% of the sale price rather than 15% of a traditional publishers deal with a printed paperback. Also the copy can get to the reader within 5 days of the author finishing their work rather than up to 2 years for a paperback copy. If you are interested in this debate then it will be worth your while reading the whole article which also has 66 user comments.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hospital staff banned from wearing Crocs.

NHS staff have been told they cannot wear Croc-style clogs while at work because of health and safety concerns.  But some nurses have criticised the policy, claiming the popular shoes, with their distinctive hole design, are a source of comfort during a 12-hour shift. A nurse working in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan said: “We work 12-and-a-half-hour shifts and for those of us who do wear them find they help get us through the day.
“Crocs have been used and worn for years by thousands of staff and have complied with the uniform policy. 
“Crocs are very comfortable to wear as we’re on our feet all day.
“I’m sure no-one really cares what’s on our feet as we don’t look at other members of the multidisciplinary team or patients and their families and judge them.
“As for a needle stick injury, I’m sure the risk is no different whatever you’re wearing.”
“Crocs can be cleaned if a blood spillage occurred – you’d still be expected to wear blood-stained trainers.
The all-Wales NHS dress code, which also introduced a standard nurse uniform, states all staff must wear “footwear that complies with the relevant health and safety requirements, for example, soft soled for reduced noise, low heeled for manual handling and ease of movement, and closed toes for protection.”
...Well, I think this is rather sad and this newspaper article has so far generated 18 reader comments. There is a place for health and safety in the workplace and I respect that. But we should be concerned about managing harm and everybody is at risk from the moment they get out of bed. I think it should be totally up to the nurses what footwear they choose to wear. The nurses are the people doing the work, not some pen pusher in a human resources office. Whatever happened to freedom of choice? I believe that the person doing the job should be able to balance the risk and do what is right for them. The nurses do their level best in difficult working conditions and a way forward would be for management to drop this silly ban on Crocs and let staff wear whatever they want at their own risk. A duty of care is one thing but nurses should be able to choose. I believe the hospitals would be in the clear about duty of care on footwear because of the nagging nanny state documentation they have published. Wear Crocs at your own risk and it is a win-win situation for everyone.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Something not available on the website.

Deborah mentioned the other day about a new range of filled doughnuts available from Greggs. This was news to me so we stopped on the Grand Avenue to investigate. I believe that Greggs offer rather good value for money and have a wonderful range of products to choose from.

There in the window tempting me was a stack of lovely looking plump doughnuts with a little sign "maple and pecan". That sounds gorgeous I thought and bought a pack of 4 to take home and try.

These maple and pecan filled doughnuts are delicious and I vote them a HIT. Gail was not so impressed and it was not really her thing. So Gail ate 1 doughnut and "not so fat boy" Stephen ate the other 3. Yum! Yum!

So I thought I would pass this tasty treat onto other readers of this blog. But looking at the Greggs website I can find no mention of a filled maple and pecan doughnut. What I can find is the beautiful picture above and a description of the other filled doughnuts in the range...

Jaffa Cake, Strawberry Milkshake, Coconut Snowball and Triple Chocolate Vanilla.

...From this range Gail and I would have chosen the Jaffa Cake. Had I known about the maple and pecan before I went to the shop, I would have chosen them in preference to the Jaffa Cake. Oh, and Matthew, the website rates these doughnuts at 320 kcal or over each!

I wonder why these delicious maple and pecan filled doughnuts did not feature on the website? Maybe they are a trial line or only available in Cardiff. Greggs do some regional lines and that might be the answer as we can not get Devon Slices in Cardiff. So if you are passing Greggs, why not try one, two or three?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mr Caddy Man comes to Cardiff.

Mr Caddy Man begins sitting along kerbsides from today in Cardiff. Mr Caddy Man is short, fat and brown. When he is happy his handle is erect and you can't see what treasures lurk below his lid. When Mr Caddy Man is sad his handle droops down and you can flip his lid and feast your delights on his innards.

Click this link to learn all about Mr Caddy Man.

Recycling and waste collection in Cardiff is changing from today. The big idea is to increase the volume of recycling by moving the general waste collection from weekly to fortnightly. The council thinks that if the weekly general waste collection is reduced from weekly to fortnightly that residents will be encouraged to recycle more of their household waste. What is new is the kerbside food caddy - which has the promotional name of Mr Caddy Man. This is a new plastic container given free to residents by our council and my mate over on Grumpy Dragon in deepest Norfolk will be delighted to learn that it has the Welsh Dragon icon printed on the lid.

Under the new system from today, every week there will be a collection of kitchen food waste (Mr Caddy Man) and green recycling bags. On alternate weeks there will be a collection of either the black general household or the green garden waste wheelie bin. This means that there will be 3 separate lorry teams passing my home every week.

Under the old system both the black general household and the green garden waste wheelie bins were collected. The kitchen food waste was deposited into the garden bin. There was a fortnightly collection of recycling bags. This meant that there were 5 separate lorry teams passing my home every fortnight.

Now let's look at the maths. The old system saw 5 lorries a fortnight and the new system 6 lorries a fortnight. That is a 20% increase in collection costs for the same volume of rubbish. This seems very expensive to encourage some muppets to recycle more of their household waste. Then add in the cost of all those kerbside food caddies. This seems like madness to me that the council thinks they will encourage residents to recycle more because the black general waste bins will have their collections halved. They must think that the muppets would rather dump their waste into green recycling bags rather than wait a extra week half the time for it to disappear from the black wheelie bin.

Some residents might worry that they will not be able to remember whether it is a black or green wheelie bin week. The answer is simple, the forgetful can sign up to the "Tidy Text" service by texting "Tidy" and your house number and postcode to 60066. You will receive a weekly text reminding you whether to present garden or general waste. Who thought of this text number? 60066 is very close to 666 - the number of the devil, not the dragon!

This whole change to recycling and waste collections has been heavily promoted. There are billboards everywhere advertising the change. Every household has had a detailed information booklet. What makes me laugh is the radio advertising. There are 2 separate adverts, not played together. One is in English but the other is in Welsh. I can't speak Welsh and very few people in Cardiff actually can. But you take language in subliminally and hearing the Welsh language advert I can guess it is about Mr Caddy Man and his little box!

So we have had our first collection under the new system today and I can spot one problem. Today the wind is howling and Mr Caddy Man is okay sat on the kerbside when he is full. Trouble is when he is emptied because Mr Caddy Man is a rather light plastic fellow with very little weight on his belly. The wind howls and Mr Caddy Man is blown down the road like sheets of newspaper down on the farm.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What's in your lunch box?

I had a change yesterday for my meal at work. Rather than my usual big pot of yogurt I had some of Morrisons blueberry and cinnamon muffins. They are something different to take to work and when you try something new, it is always a bit of a gamble.

These blueberry and cinnamon muffins were delicious though. They were a real treat and I shall buy them again. For years I had become bored with sandwiches and to find something that brightens up your day is a real discovery.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Twenty years.

Twenty years, that is two decades, where has the time gone? The past twenty years have flown past really quickly but today I had to present a card. Not just any card but a 20th Wedding Anniversary day card to my wife Gail.

We have come a long way in the past 20 years but in other ways it seems as though we have always been together. I think of my mates John and Tim in the West Country who have never married and it seems as though they live in another world. Living the single life in Bristol was very different to becoming a married man living in Cardiff with a ready made family. The dynamics of family life were quite a shock to me in the beginning but over time things developed and looking back now, it seems that Gail and I have always lived together.

Things changed when Gail's boys left home and we moved from Canton up to Ely. Gail's empty nest syndrome was lessened by our new pet dog Barney. Barney became our little boy who had a history that we both shared from when we bought him in Weston-super-Mare at 6 weeks old. Gail is in practice Barney's mum and she feeds him. I am Barney's dad and I take him for walks. The 3 of us live very happily in our own little world in Ely. Gail and I never had any children together but Barney is our little treasure who will never leave home to start a life of his own.

Many marriages fail for many different reasons and Gail and I feel very lucky. What is our secret? I simply do not know, I think it is just the way we live so happily together. We share a happy relaxed household and I feel that the change we both undertook when we married was not radical. I think we were both living similar lifestyles and upholding similar values, although we lived on different sides of the bridge.

We saw off David and Faye this evening as our next door neighbour Linda was walking past. I boasted to Linda that today was our 20th wedding anniversary. She laughed and declared that was nothing as she and Richard have been married for 43 years!

We never know what is around the corner but looking back over the last 20 years, it has been great.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Golliwog in the window .

My memories of childhood include a harmless toy called a Golliwog . They are a harmless child's toy and should not be hidden away. Later memories of childhood revealed popular figures of speech such a "having a chip on your shoulder". This figure of speech was often directed at people of black skin.

Roll on many decades and what do I read in today's newspaper...

A woman has been charged with racially aggravated harassment after a neighbour complained about a golliwog displayed in her window. This alleged offence carries a maximum penalty of a fine of £2,500

...Well, I think that bringing this case to court is stupid and a waste of Police time and public money. Rosemarie O'Donnell must have one big chip on her shoulder to be offended by a Golliwog looking out of a window. Grow up woman and get a life. We should all have the freedom to display in our windows whatever we like - this is a child's toy and not an incitement to racial hatred. Rosemarie is wrong to take offence at someone's home, the window display is doing no harm to anyone.

Gail used to collect pigs and at one time she had a rather large collection with many on the window sill. What could have happened if one of our neighbours was a Muslim or a Jew and complained to the Police alleging religious hatred? Could the display of these pigs have been considered as offensive to vegetarians? Where do you draw the line between aggravated harassment and the rights of the individual to furnish their home? Simple, just apply common sense and understand that some people have a chip on their shoulder that they do not grow out of.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Billie the saggy bottom .

I think I wear my trousers just right but some blokes wear their trousers a little low. I have no problem with this and think it is their business how they dress. I would never refuse a passenger travel because of how they dress. It is no big deal to me if the passenger has low fitting trousers or jeans that reveal underwear or bottom cleavage.

Some staff however claim to be upset by passengers with sagging jeans. Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead singer of the band Green Day, was ejected from a plane at Oakland airport after a stewardess became upset that his jeans were “sagging” to reveal his underpants. The incident took place on a taxi-ing flight bound for Burbank, in Southern California. It prompted Armstrong to vent his frustration via Twitter. “Just got kicked-off a Southwest flight because my pants sagged too low,” he told 170,000 followers. “What the f**k? No joke!”An eye-witness, Cindy Qiu, yesterday told TV news teams that the incident, which took place last Thursday, occurred after the extravagantly-attired performer boarded the flight late. As he walked to his seat, a hostess primly asked him to pull his trousers up. “Don’t you have better things to do than worry about that?” came Armstrong’s response. Shortly afterwards, he was escorted from the aeroplane. When Southwest had become aware of exactly who Mr Armstrong is – Green Day has sold over 65 million records, and their album American Idiot swept the Grammys – they offered to re-seat him on a later flight.

Generally it is young people who wear their jeans low, a fashion I have never adopted. Billie Joe Armstrong is not a teenager trying to find a style of his own but an established 39 year old rock musician. Were Billie's underpants green? If they were then he could change his groups name to Green Pants.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Muammar forms a men only club in Libya .

Men around the world treat women differently, some men treat women as equals while others treat them as second class citizens. It can be fun to poke fun at women for the way they are and also to joke about some men being girly. But some men hold their heads up high and proudly declare themselves to be misogynists . Years ago in South Wales there were rooms in Public Houses were women were not allowed!

Some misogynists keep their thoughts quiet and some are hen-pecked husbands. But there are a few misogynists who will stand up to be counted.

"We won't surrender again; we are not women. We will keep fighting," Muammar Gaddafi said in a blustery tone in the audio statement, broadcast by Syrian-based Al-Rai TV. His voice was recognisable, and Al-Rai has previously broadcast statements by Gaddafi and his sons.

So, no cross dressing if you want to party with Muammar!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

How to get the Muppets to sit down quickly.

When you are loading your coach, sometimes there is a delay and passengers can't quickly get to a seat because other passengers are queued up in the aisle. This happens when there is very little luggage for the driver to stow away. You think to yourself, what is the problem and why can't the Muppets sit down? This happens quite often on a 48 seater coach.

This problem of getting the Muppets to sit down is far greater on aircraft. The knock on effect of these Muppets fiddling about is increased operating costs that must be paid for by all the passengers, regardless of how efficiently they board the aircraft. But there is a mathematical answer to the slow Muppet problem. Dr Jason Steffen, a scientist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, applied mathematical modelling to the problem of boarding a Boeing efficiently. His solution requires passengers to board from the back of the plane, by alternate rows, filling window seats on one side of the cabin first. The pattern is repeated for the other side of the cabin, then applied to middle, and then aisle, seats. In a test for an American TV science programme, the Steffen Method halved the time spent boarding using conventional systems.

On airlines that use assigned seating, the standard means of boarding is to call passengers by block: row 21-30 in a narrow-bodied jet, followed by rows 11-20 and 1-10. But tests conducted in a mock-up of a section of a Boeing 757 showed this method took 414 seconds – almost seven minutes – and was the least efficient of those tested.

The Steffen method enabled all passengers to be boarded and seated in just 216 seconds, a rate of three seconds per person. Applied to a typical 180-seat no-frills aircraft, this radical approach could slice nine minutes off the time each aircraft spends on the ground. Over a year, this could save two weeks – worth £1m – per plane.

Have a look at how this works in the diagrams below...

Yes, it makes sense and once you see the answer, having watched many a Muppet fiddle about, it is a wonder nobody thought of this solution before!

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