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50 something Londoner (UK) who is curious about everything. Expect a wide range of topics and a few wood pigeons.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Don't let the militant atheists take over

My blog is usually a place of insignificant ramblings about....er...rambling, gardening, cycling and the like. But one issue of recent days has stirred me into tackling a controversial subject.

I was pleased to see the religious leaders of the Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus in the UK defending David Cameron's statement that the UK is a Christian country (or group of countries for the pedantic). This came after a bunch of militant atheists decided to spout off in the Telegraph about undermining the rights of others, blah blah blah.

Enough of these politically incorrect buffoons, imposing their secular views on the nation.

The balance provided by religion is essential, in my view, to protect moral standards and ethics. I don't think anyone would disagree that the UK has become a more selfish, self absorbed and uncaring community in recent years. The decline in religious teaching at schools, the way it's become trendy to deride Christians (while enjoying their religious holidays, of course!) and the ways Christians are undermined, has led to a steep decline in moral standards.

Christians have been persecuted for wearing a tiny symbol of the faith, a cross on a chain, by the likes of British Airways. Christmas displays have been banned by over zealous councils and the Red Cross for fear of upsetting other religions.

And every time the other religions rally to say they are not offended. Hooray for common sense.

My rallying cry is for the militant atheists to back down. They are not the majority, despite dwindling church attendances. What we do need is for the The Church of England to put its house in order. Look at the resurgence of the Catholic Church, due entirely to the charisma and goodness of Pope Francis. He eschews all the trappings and engages with ordinary people.

The C of E leaders have largely been intellectuals, occasionally bearded and totally removed from the man in the street. Taking up battles like food banks is not the way to fill the pews. Changes in the tax-free status of the church would show it is putting its money where its mouth is. And the reactionary types in the Synod need to take a reality check. Do they really want to turn the UK into a truly secular state, because they are too blinkered to embrace change?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A cycling mini break in border country

Henry Eckford
We've just returned from a three day cycling break in Shropshire, on the border with North Wales. The weather was fantastic for two of the three days. The highlight was a 25 cycle from our base in Wem (famous for the Eckford sweetpea) to Ellesmere. This ride included miles of gentle, quiet country lanes, a canal bristling with narrowboats and, of course, a damn good lunch courtesy of the Red Lion in Ellesmere.

The third day saw us cycling from Wem to Hodnet, unfortunately getting there too early for lunch and on the wrong day for the Hodnet Hall Gardens. It got progressively colder as we came back.

The distances were all in a day's work for John, who had not only just run the London Marathon (see previous post) but is well used to cycling, occasionally cycling to work (10 miles) and taking part in events like the London to Paris bike ride. But for me it was quite tough. My thighs have still not recovered from the uphill sections on the last day!

We stayed in the Old Rectory Hotel. Highly recommended, as is Byways Breaks who organised the holiday.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

John's Marathon Battle

My husband John ran his 25th marathon last week in London. It was his toughest one to date, not because of the hot weather, which never helps, but because he's been battling injury for over a year.

He damaged his Achilles tendon and running even short distances became impossible. He started a rigorous regime of physiotherapy and would occasionally set off for a run, confident the problem was fixed, but would limp home not long after leaving.

It was with baited breath that he began his winter training for the 2014 London Marathon with a group of friends from the Orion Harriers.

Fortunately all went well and John sailed through the marathon last Sunday, using his new GoPro camera to film an up close and personal account of the event, which you can view here:

If the plug in doesn't work, here's the link:
I was a spectator on the course, lucky to get a great vantage point at one of the elite runners' drinks stations manned by the Orions. One of the drinks belonged to a VIP:

Friday, March 07, 2014

Matthew I'm Sorry!

I'm feeling guilty about a tweet.

I once tweeted that Matthew McConaughey ruined every film he was in.

At the time, I was probably watching Fool's Gold or Failure to Launch. His rom coms had become increasingly dire. Both films have very telling titles.

But, all credit to Mr McConaughey: he started choosing to appear in films that challenged him, where he didn't play on his good looks, and by Jove, the dude showed us he could act.

I'm talking about The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud, Magic Mike and Dallas Buyer's Club, where his portrayal of a man with AIDS won him an Oscar this week. He lost 3 stone for the role and gossip magazines were panicking about Matthew losing his looks.

Here's to many more years of success for the actor.
Wouldn't it be great to see Jennifer Aniston do the same?

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Lies and Collusion on the Dangers of Sugar

Finally the World Health Organisation admits there is a crisis with sugar and sugar is fuelling the obesity epidemic.

Now health bodies and governments are furiously back peddling after promoting low fat, low carb diets, low salt diets for years whilst turning a blind eye to sugar and the way it was creeping into "low fat" food and drinks in order to make up the taste deficit.

Sugar is not always clearly marked on processed foods and it's found in huge quantities in surprisingly "healthy" places.  Smoothies;  fruit juice;  cereals;  soups.

I find it hard to believe that nutritionists and scientists have only just arrived at this eureka moment.

It doesn't seem like rocket science to me to have in-depth tests comparing diets and results on metabolism and body composition.

But what's been happening is that successive governments have colluded with food manufacturers, and most of our most eminent scientists are actually "sponsored" by the very companies they should be castigating.

Who actually pays for the research? Not the likes of Tate & Lyle or Kelloggs or Coca Cola, because they would lose out.

I can't imagine the current government will make any changes because it will make them too unpopular with the food and drink manufacturers. The good health of the nation is clearly a low priority for this government, having repeatedly wasted opportunities to force the retailers to put up the price of alcohol, sold more cheaply than bottled water, and to follow other countries in the justified demonization of tobacco. My father died horribly of a smoking related disease, so I have no patience with those who drone on about freedom and liberty.

It will take years for the low sugar message to hit home and in the meantime more and more obese people are sucking the NHS dry. Sugar is believed to be as addictive as cocaine, so there seems to be some merit in the argument that they can't help it. But I can't be the only person who thinks it's so sad that today's children will die before their parents.

The political party which dares to make significant changes will win my vote in the next General Election. And we should all put pressure on the parties to make this a key part of their manifesto.

Further reading: today's Daily Mail (7 March): leading cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra confirms that the UK govt is in cohoots with food industry and has had many meetings with the likes of Nando's,  Pepsi, Mars and Tesco.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The drama of cakes!

Who would have thought that a gentle little TV programme about baking would have become such a hot-house of gossip, speculation and vitriol?

I'm talking of course about The Great British Bake Off, the final of which is next Tuesday.

Before this series started judge Paul Hollywood had scandalised Twitter by apparently having a romance with his co-host of the US version, a Mexican named Marcela Valladolid.

Hollywood's wife added to the low simmer of angst by giving tearful interviews where she claimed it had all come out of the blue, etc etc, and then sued him for divorce citing adultery.

The series started and, phew, it was still the same. Mary Berry was still rocking colourful jackets;  Sue and Mel were still like a couple of mates from the pub, and Hollywood was still flashing his blue eyes and going on about soggy bottoms.

But the contestants were different this year. Either that or the way they filmed them was different.  I noticed a lot more competition between them;  when one was being judged favourably, another would purse her lips.

Even worse, the front runners were very arrogant about their ability quite early on in the series. Whenever Jennifer, Kimberley or Beca were given any sort of criticism they would put on a questioning "really?" look.

Jen would say nearly every time that she "made it at home several times and it was perfect" so she didn't understand why it had gone wrong.

Then there was the Ruby factor.  Ruby Tandoh is a 21 year old student who tells us she only started baking six months ago. That might explain why she is forever decrying her bakes and telling the judges what's wrong with them before they start tasting. This week she added an overlay of tears.  Psychologically, it makes it very difficult for the judges to be tough on her. Especially as Hollywood is supposedly smitten by her.

I'm not sure I've seen that. They flirt a little, but I suspect it's his reputation going before him.  Ruby acts like millions of attractive young women have acted for centuries. She's coy; she cries; she giggles. She simpers. If he falls for that, well, we all know there's no fool like an old fool.

Apparently Hollywood gave an interview to the Times yesterday and he's still proclaiming his innocence over the adultery and divorce business. He hints darkly there is more to it than people know.  Perhaps he and his wife weren't sleeping together. Frankly, do we even care?

He was pretty unchivalrous about Valladolid, suggesting she was wrong for the US version. Let's hope she doesn't retaliate.

The show moves to BBC1 next year and I hope it stays exactly the same.

Meanwhile for Tuesday's final I would love to see wacky Frances win. I love her creativity, and I liked  the way she snapped back at Beca "who wants to be boring?" when Beca said that Frances was on some planet all of her own. It is perhaps telling though that on the BBC GBBO website, the photo of Frances is smaller than the others.

Kimberley is far too smug and Ruby, well, it's too soon. She may be prodigiously talented but I fear it would do her no good at all to win at such a young age and be thrust into the spotlight of cookery books and TV appearances.

Who are you tipping to win?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Unexpected item in the bagging area"

Self service checkouts were in the news today. Apparently the retailers are introducing more of them because they reduce their costs. But consumers are less keen.

I didn't like the way that the reports implied that consumers have problems using the check outs, and are entirely responsible for delays.

I nearly always use the self service check outs, except if I have a lot of shopping.  I like to save time. I'm pretty fast at scanning the items and looking up prices for loose vegetables or fruit.

But let's go through one of my recent transactions, in Sainsbury's.

First.  "We need to verify your bags."  I always take my own bags, but with a self service checkout, this is actually a bad thing. Why the bags need to be verified I do not know, because if you're paying at a normal check out, someone doesn't peer into your bag to see if you have stolen something. Anyway, have to wait for the assistant.

Second.  The type of baked good I had selected was a loose item, with no bar code, and wasn't listed on the look up guide.  You either have to take the risk of selecting something similar, or wait for the assistant.

Third. A bottle of wine. Have to wait for the assistant.

Four. I'd picked up one of those multi-pack magazine offers. It was obviously heavier than the machinery was expecting because it became an "Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area" and, yes, I had to wait for the assistant.

Finally, I had a Brand Match coupon for six pounds. The check out refused to take it. The assistant explained they have to code them through if they are over a certain amount.

By now I had given up the will to live. I'm not surprised that one in three of us walks out of a store, abandoning their purchases, because of a bad experience.

As you can see, none of these problems were "my" fault.  I suggest to the retailers that if they intend to bulldoze these systems into the stores, they need to improve the technology.  Cameras and recognition systems and more real-time updating of stock.

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