Saturday, 28 February 2009

Scrambled Eggs

Turns out that I have been doing all the wrong things when cooking scrambled eggs over the years; whisking before adding to the pan, seasoning before applying heat and keeping them on the heat all the time.

What can I say, it is the way my mother always made them so I did not know any better; I came across Gordon Ramsay's take on scrambled eggs last year and have since tried it out and am now a convert. I like some smoked salmon or grated strong cheddar added to them rather than chives and a good thick slice of granary bread for the toast.

Not down with the vine tomatoes or mushrooms either – breakfast is a time for some fine pork products, like some Gloucester Old Spot bacon and sausages for example.

Beer 118 – Theakston's – Old Peculier

The bottom line on the label says it all “The Legend” - when I first had some on draught back in the seventies it appeared as a guest beer for a few weeks in one of our favourite pubs. There are some legendary tales from my friends of their experiences after a night on the Old Peculier – the classic being 2 guys walking home after a session and falling into hedges (note plural) before eventually reaching their destination.

Very dark in colour the most pronounced taste is of malt, but despite it's respectable 5.6% abv it is wonderfully easy to drink – which explains a lot of those tales.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Elizabethan Naval Warfare

Watched an interesting documentary last night about the recovery of two cannon from an Elizabethan warship off the coast of Alderney, archaeology at sea is much trickier and much more dangerous than when done on land – a diver died in the course of this dig. In her father's reign (Henry VIII) a warship would have had cannon of different sizes which could make reloading a problem as you would have to find the correct sized cannon ball to be able to load it.

The point of the dig was to demonstrate that this ship was carrying cannon of a uniform size by raising two to compare with one recovered earlier from the sands below, all of the shot recovered from the site had been of a single size.

This was achieved and marks the start of using a naval ship as a gun platform much earlier than historian believed previously and led to a change in tactics away from boarding towards coordinated firing of cannon in a broadside.

They also recovered a musket and a steel breastplate while excavating the cannon and carried out an interesting experiment using a replica of the musket and a piece of steel of the same thickness as the breastplate. They fired a round from a modern 1911 pistol at the steel which made a noticeable dent but did not penetrate, the musket ball on the other hand went straight through.

Even having watched this I think that I would prefer the ease of use of the 1911 to the complicated reloading of the musket if I ever found myself in a gun fight - not that we have many of these round here.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Arithmetic 101

This post is about the laziness of journalists and how basic arithmetic skills have gone AWOL in the 21st Century – it is brought to you by the ever informative site Bad Science where the ability to perform some simple sums remains in place.

Some of you may have read this story which was splashed all over our meejah outlets this week, with the headline “British forces in Afghanistan seize £50m of heroin and kill 20 Taliban”.

So far so good, but let us take a look at the MOD press release where the figure of £50 million heroin is first used and read on more carefully than all of the UK press. The army seized 1,260 Kg of opium which if processed could make around 130 Kg of pure heroin which (if sold in Afghanistan) would fetch around $250,000.

Not quite £50 million is it? Ben then goes on to calculate that if you took the street price in the UK and were cutting the heroin down to 30% of pure you might end up with a figure of £20 million – but Johnny Taliban is not running a major retail operation across the UK.

All pretty simple straightforward calculations that you would like to think our journalists would have performed after reading all of the press release. Alas this was not the case, the £50 million figure crops up in the 2nd paragraph of the press release and everyone ran with that.

It all goes to prove that you cannot believe the figures that you read in the media when their source is a government press release; and that you cannot rely on the media to read the press release and then carry out some basic calculations to verify any figures claimed in there.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Half Term

This week has been half term in these parts when all the school children get a week off and there are ups and downs. For a start the roads are quieter in the mornings and afternoons as no school runs are being done – according to my driving friends.

For me there have been ups and downs, on the plus side my second favourite train to catch in the morning to local big city has not had to carry it's usual infestation of school kids. Well if you count the 15 to 20 who get on at my station and get off at the next one to be replaced by a similar number heading for the next and last stop as an infestation.

This makes the train much less noisy and crowded and lets me get into a zen like trance to prepare myself for the rigours of the working day.

The down side is that the streets of local big city are much more crowded with children of a lunch time and the late afternoon trains have been busier as well. It would appear that the “attractions” of local big city attract the kids like a candle attracts moths.

All comes to an end on Monday so I think that I will prepare by catching my most favourite train tomorrow morning, means that I have to leave the house 20 minutes earlier but it has the double advantage of no kids in term time and it tends to arrive on time or earlier. The second favourite has only arrived on time once in all the times that I have used it.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Well who would have thought it, grizzly bears do not like getting their ears wet and will play “football” with dead fish in rivers to kick them into the shallows to keep them dry.

Our galaxy has “billions of Earths” - hope that they are not all fecked up as our one appears to be these days.

Gerry Rafferty is not missing – not sure that this strictly qualifies as news but at least it puts the rumours to rest.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Beer 117 – Fuller's – ESB

This is another old favourite of mine and was my bitter of choice for a number of years when I was younger. It has won the World champion bitter award twice and numerous other awards for the reason that it is a very fine beer.

The taste is a balance between the strong malt flavour offset by the bitterness of the hops and it slides easily over the tongue, comes in at a brain damaging 5.9% abv and is dangerously deceptive. It does not taste like a strong beer and if you are not careful with the pace of the first 2 or 3 pints then you can find your evening coming to an early end due to “user incapacity”.

Oh, and ESB is Extra Special Bitter – a name that this one certainly deserves.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Observations On City Life

It has to be 13 years since I last worked in the centre of Local
Big City and while some things are unchanged there are a fair few
noticeable differences to be observed while feeding my nicotine habit

  • The numbers of police on the streets appears to have
    increased dramatically – hang on, they are not “real
    police”* - they are PCSOs; a “great” government
    invention to allay public fears on crime by putting more bodies on
    the street to create the illusion of greater police numbers.

  • Every second person now seems to be talking on their mobile
    phone while walking around, I am amazed that I do not see more
    pedestrian collisions on a daily basis.

  • If not on a phone then a large number of them have an mp3
    player plugged into their ears.

  • People talking in foreign languages (Eastern European,
    African, Far Eastern, Middle Eastern etc) to others or on phones are
    much more prevalent than before – nowhere close to being a
    sizeable proportion, just more than I remember overhearing in the

  • There are greater numbers of mobility/disability buggies
    roaming the streets – are more people disabled now than 12
    years ago?

  • Greater use is being made of the city bus services, on some
    stretches of narrow pavements walking past a bus stop is now a major
    obstacle course.

  • Urban cyclists are a law unto themselves and I have witnessed
    several near misses with pedestrians in the last few weeks.

  • A number of banks have closed premises and nearly every one
    has been turned into a bar/pub.

  • Smokers are now no longer allowed to indulge their habit
    indoors and can be seen huddling together for warmth outside almost
    every office/pub/shop – looking a wee bit like emperor

    * As used on The Wire
  • Friday, 13 February 2009

    Mike Bones

    Saw this guy on tv a couple of weeks ago and really liked the sound, turns out he is a well respected session guitarist called Mike Strallow. Found out they were playing a pub in local Big City on a Saturday night not long after and I had planned to go but as I had not shaken off a cold decided against it – and have regretted it ever since.

    Introduced as a hot guitarist and they played this number which I really enjoyed – but there is not much guitar soloing going on in What I Have Left:

    They then played Give Up On Guitars, which does have a neat guitar break in it – and the more I listen the more I regret not taking the chance to see him/them in a small venue up close and personal.

    Thursday, 12 February 2009


    Was talking to a relative who moved back to my home town a couple of years ago and they had some real snow last week. 18" fell overnight last Thursday, then another 18" on Friday night followed by a few more inches on Saturday, now that is what I call proper winter weather.

    The "icing" on the cake came on Sunday night when the temperature dropped to -17C overnight and then on Tuesday it struggled to get past -10C during the day.

    I did ask for some photos of what real snow looks like to post here but my relative is digitally challenged to put it mildly, so unless Big Sis (who was visiting on Saturday) comes through with some we will just have to use our imaginations.

    UPDATED I was wrong to criticise, these photos were taken today and were waiting for me on my return from work.

    Sunday, 8 February 2009

    Jodrell Bank

    I have had an interest in science and space exploration since I was a wee loon growing up in the Highlands, one of the thinks which sparked this was seeing images of the then largest moveable radio telescope on the planet at Jodrell Bank. At 250 feet in diameter it is a most impressive piece of kit and has been helping to increase our knowledge of the universe since it opened in 1957.

    Was dismayed to learn that in March last year the government body responsible for it's funding were going to slash it's budget putting the site at risk. This was deeply frustrating as the scientists were within a year of completing the upgrade to the network which connects it to 6 other radio telescopes across England. This work, replacing microwave transmission links between the sites with fibre optic links will increase the sensitivity of the array by 30 times and is due to finish later on this year.

    It was saved by a public campaign that was so heated it forced the government body to change their minds in July, and rightly so as when e-Merlin comes on line the array will be able to process in one day what it currently takes 3 years to collect!

    This is very important, for as the late Douglas Adams wrote:

    "Space is big - really big - you just won't believe how vastly, hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. You may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space."

    Saturday, 7 February 2009

    Beer 116 – Hook Norton's – Old Hooky

    Now this was a real treat to find on the shelf in the supermarket today, it has to be around 30 years since I last tasted this fine ale; although I did drink a lot of that week in Oxfordshire. We were on holiday on a canal boat heading from Oxford to Banbury and Hook Norton owned most of the pubs by the canal.

    Cannot recommend such trips highly enough, you potter along at 2mph until lunchtime when you stop at a pub for a few before carrying on until late afternoon when you tie up at a pub for the night!

    What I did not know was that the brewery are still using a 25hp steam engine purchased in 1899 as part of the brewing process – purchased for the sum of £175 that makes it a really great investment in the company's future by the family that started and still owns the business.

    Old Hooky is a classic English ale and tastes just as fine out of the bottle as it did from the tap, slightly sweet tasting with a wonderful balance between the taste of the malt and hops used to produce it. It comes in at a healthy 4.6% abv and having finished this one I was left wanting more, an excellent beer from a fine family owned brewery and well worth your support if you can find it.

    I am amazed that we managed to down 3 or 4 of a lunchtime and never once crashed the barge – still we were a lot younger then and drinking a lot more on a daily basis than nowadays.

    Wednesday, 4 February 2009

    Terry Pratchett - Living with Alzheimer's

    There is a documentary on BBC2 tonight at 21:00 (part 1 of 2) where the great Discworld author talks about talks of his experience of a rare form of Alzheimer's. "I was enraged," he says about being diagnosed. "I wanted to make Alzheimer's sorry it had caught me." The programme follows him living with the variant of the disease called Posterior Cortical Atrophy and his efforts to help find a cure by donating a chunk of his wealth.

    I am sure that it will be informative and amusing at the same time, this is a subject close to my heart and it will be good to hear his thoughts on the disease.

    Should be available to watch for one week on the BBC web site (UK readers only) and might event make it to BBC Worldwide.

    Monday, 2 February 2009


    Woke up this morning to find that just over 2” of the white stuff had fallen overnight to provide a seasonal blanket for everything. Now in the Highlands at this time of year such a fall would pass without comment and the roads would have been cleared before most people had to go out in the morning.

    However down in the deep South of England this is being described as the heaviest fall for 18 years and it has caused chaos on the roads, at airports (all BA flights out of Heathrow cancelled until 17:00) and to train services. I decided that catching the 08:44 train to local big city might get me around the problem but I was dead wrong.

    After trudging to the station (a pleasant 1 mile walk) I arrived to be told that there would be no trains going my way for at least an hour so I tramped back to DBA cottages, made another cafetiere of coffee and hunkered down in front of the gas fire.

    Within 10 mins the train information web site had returned from it's early morning crash and I could see that the 09:44 service was running but 28 minutes late. According to the site it turned up 40 mins late, rather than face the hordes on the 10:44 one I decided to monitor it's progress and if it was running on time go for the one an hour later – only problem with this plan was the web site crashing again.

    When it returned after a 15 minute delay that train had gone from the listings so I was good to go on the 11:44 – which turned up 20 minutes late, but at least it turned up.

    No snow forecast for tonight but what remains is due to freeze overnight so the pavements should be good and slippy tomorrow morning

    Sunday, 1 February 2009

    Locusts and Other News

    Scientists in the UK and Australia have discovered the reason for locusts swarming, it turns out that locusts are by nature solitary creatures but if food runs short they start to gather together. This causes an increase in their Serotonin levels which in addition to causing physical changes turns them into aggressive swarm mode.

    The scientists are hoping that now they understand the cause they may be able to stop swarms if they can find some way of depressing the Serotonin levels in the future.

    Amazon's profits rose by 9% in the last 3 months of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007 - if like me you are no fan of the crowded shopping experience then this will come as no surprise. Good prices and the most stress free shopping I have ever performed make them the first stop retailer for a lot of people – also great to read some cheering economic news for a change.