Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

John's best ever marathon

We're just back from a short stay in Toronto, Canada, where J competed in his 20th marathon, the Toronto Waterside (not to be confused with their other one.)

He has been euphoric ever since having improved on his previous time by a staggering 10 minutes, and recording a new PB (personal best)of 3:43.09. To put this in context, he finished in the top 25% of the field.

What is particularly inspiring about it is that J continues to improve and get better times as he gets older. So there is hope for all of us!

He puts it down to diet (he lost a stone some weeks ago), training and conditions at the marathon. This one was flat and the weather was fairly cool.

His running club, the Orion Harriers, had been behind him all the way and there were numerous excited texts as the jungle drums got beating back home in Chingford.

For me the spectator, juggling cow bell and two cameras, it was not the easiest marathon to navigate. I don't think they were expecting many international visitors because the charmingly hand-drawn spectators' map didn't show any public transport links or even all the roads, so it was hard to work out a route. And on the day, many of the street cars or trams were diverted.

Fortunately I met up with Duncan, an old school friend of mine who has lived in Toronto for over 20 years. We managed to see John three times, at 10km, at 35km and at the finish. It was ironic that at 35km, we were outside Toronto's biggest scrapbooking store, miles from the centre, and it wasn't yet open so I had to leave it behind.

We rushed back to the finish as fast as the subway and a bus would allow, and J was already waiting for us in the H's, hopping around clutching his medal and talking to anyone in sight.

There were quite a few Brits in the hotel, many of whom had run the companion half marathon. All in all, an up-and-coming marathon according to J, that will grow in popularity.

Tomorrow: Disaster at Niagara as I recall the most mortifying moment of my life.

Monday, September 21, 2009

BBC should swallow its pride and reinstate Arlene

Now I am a great believer in moving on once a decision has been made. At work we call it "disagree and commit". But not so with the Strictly Come Dancing judging fiasco. I had sore misgivings about Alesha Dixon replacing Arlene Phillips on Strictly Come Dancing, and it turns out Alesha was even worse than I expected.

Today the papers report on uproar in the chat rooms as SCD fans call for the removal of Alesha.

And what does the BBC say? The pompous Tristrams say that web bulletins are not indicative of public opinion, and they have no plans to replace Alesha with Arlene.

Well, why not? It would be a terrific PR coup if they did. It would show the BBC listens to its licence payers, and that it acknowledges that Muttley (sorry, Alesha) is not bringing anything to the judging. And reinstating Arlene would show the BBC isn't ageist, as it keeps saying.

Louis Walsh was reinstated on the X Factor when no-one was that bothered he had gone. And Kelly Brook, who is very similar to Alesha in that she looks great but is an empty vessel, was dismissed from Britain's Got Talent after a couple of hours when the producers realised she couldn't cut it.

If the BBC doesn't get rid of Alesha, perhaps someone could start feeding her witty one-liners via an ear piece so that we don't have to keep hearing her repeating herself?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

No advantage for Hengis

Tennis player Martina Hengis was the first to be evicted from last night's Strictly Come Dancing.

The first couple of shows are a voyage of discovery to see who shows promise and who will continue in the hallowed footsteps of Quentin Wilson and John Sergeant.

Hengis wasn't the worse by any means but I expected an early exit because she has no collateral with the British public (there was a small matter of no charisma either.)

Ricky Groves from EastEnders is looking very promising as a) it seems like he is genuinely acting on EE and not a complete buffoon at all times, and b) cheekie chappie appeal. His second dance was a complete joy as he won the audience and threw himself into it with the most amazing gurning and goldfish impressions.

Joe Cazalghe is a likely contender for the Quentin Wilson Award. He was highly fancied by the bookies before it all began but it seems not all boxers are as light on their toes as Muhammad Ali was.

Of the women, Lynda Bellingham struggled gamely with the "token old bird" responsibility and some great corsetry. But I fear a fairly early exit.

The dancers showing the most promise so far are Ali Bastian (from The Bill apparently) and Chris Hollins from BBC Breakfast News - although I am exercising caution on him because he could be a flash in the pan.
Alesha Dixon, as expected, brought nothing to the judging panel which seemed unbalanced without Arlene's stern jurisdiction. Len keeps glaring at the others as if he's the only one who knows what he's talking about. In the case of Alesha that's right. All she could say really was "you were very nervous, you did well for the first time. It's very tough having two dances in the first week". Which she did. Ad nauseum. And there were a couple of Muttley sniggers.

Next week we see the other 8 entrants and I hear that Phil Tufnell is another John Sergeant, but we'll see. Looking forward to seeing Natalie Cassidy and expecting Jo Wood to get the boot.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Which TV chef are you?

I was planning a blog post in my head last night about TV chefs, and then today came the sad news that eccentric TV chef Keith Floyd has died at 65.

He was a classic example of a celebrity chef who polarised opinion. You either loved him or hated him. I never bought any of his books, but he was very watchable.

TV chefs come under three categories: firstly, watchable and entertaining but not "proper chefs" (Nigella, Floyd, Worral-Thompson, Ainsley, James Martin etc). Then there are those who are proper chefs, but not always very entertaining - Heston Blumenthal. And then the very rare hybrid, both entertaining and a seriously good chef (Marco Pierre-White.)

I love watching cookery shows and J finds it strange that with all the knowledge I must surely have acquired, I can still turn out tough roast beef on Sundays. It's the meat, I try to tell him.

I adore Nigella Lawson and I do have most of her books, although I haven't tried many of the recipes. I just like looking at the pictures. I think we all wish we could be Nigella: rich, famous, elegant.

I've never understood the appeal of Jamie Oliver. He seems too young and inexperienced to me to be held up as a food expert. I remember him throwing stuff into a pan and that characterises his approach to me. I can't take it seriously.

It's the same with Gordon Ramsay. I'm afraid I never got over the fact he was a footballer. I used to like his Kitchen Nightmares programmes - the first time - but he's too shouty and profane for me.

James Martin is a tubby twit without a neck who specialises in spun sugar baskets (yawn). Delia Smith is the one who's taught most of us how to cook. I don't enjoy her shows very much but her books are indispensable in terms of know-how. I also have an old Marguerite Patten book - she's now over 90 and used to advise housewives on how to cook in the war years.

I admire Marco Pierre White very much but I wonder about his taste buds. He uses a lot of ketchup and Knorr cubes, both containing vast amounts of salt. I always want to shout at the TV when chefs criticise food for not having enough salt. They should be weaning us off it and using herbs instead.

Heston Blumenthal doesn't do it for me, either personality or food wise. I've been to his Fat Duck restaurant on a couple of occasions. The first time it's a thrilling experience. The second time, oh not smoky bacon ice-cream again.

I would like to see Michel Roux Jnr given his own show. I could imagine that with his high degree of expertise and his stern, no nonsense approach, we could learn quite a lot, although it wouldn't be as entertaining as when Floyd was cooking and pouring himself generous measures of wine.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Different modes of transport

I've been trying out different modes of transport. The Wroughton Science Museum had a Festival of Innovation and we had various gaming and historical attractions in the D4 hangar and a "tent of technology".

The museum specialises in transportation. One of the highlights for me was driving a Sinclair C5. Now around 30 years old and derided in its day, we realised that this electric car was ahead of its time.

I also stepped into the basket of a hot air balloon but we weren't taking off - it was too windy - and I was quite relieved. I look a bit nervous and we were on the ground! I've been up in a glider and a microlight but I'm not keen on heights so I never know how it's going to affect me. I can't bear going over the QEII bridge (I drive in the middle lane so I can't look down) and I won't go on a chair lift, although a cable car is fine.

Also at the show was the Bloodhound SSC model. This remarkable car will eventually go at 1,000 miles an hour. It will soon built and I will be writing more about it in future. Watch this space!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

TOGS get a life : hurrah for Chris Evans!

A lot of coverage in the papers today about Chris Evans taking over from Sir Terry Wogan in the New Year to present the breakfast show on Radio 2. With eight million listeners, it's the most popular radio show on the island.

Most of the coverage centred on the negative reaction of the "TOGs" which I thought stood for "Terry's Old Gits" but actually it means "Terry's Old Geezers or Old Gals". These are his doughty listeners, mostly of a certain age and in Tunbridge Wells. Ms Esther Rantzen for example, former TV presenter and would-be MP, was quoted as saying that the TOGS need a gentle start to the day and nothing raucous from Chris Evans. Someone else said "spiteful".

Get a grip for goodness' sake!

Those who whine on about Chris being sacked from Radio 1 for being unreliable need to remember that was about nine years ago. He's a changed man since he remarried and had a baby son he dotes on.

I love his drive time show; he really makes me laugh and he is NEVER spiteful or raucous, except when he occasionally sings along to that Elvis song. When you're nose-to-tail on the M25 you need cheering up, and I can always rely on Chris and his team for that.

When he interviews people - and he has the most marvellously funny experts on, like the recorder lady I wrote about, or the recent lady who specialises in moths - he always sounds really interested, not just reading the questions a researcher has given him. The other day, when he was tasting Gentlemen's Relish (which I've always wanted to try), I went mad with frustration when my car went down the Holmesdale Tunnel and I missed his verdict.

I turn off the radio in the morning when Terry comes on. And so does Anonymous. Sir Terry used to be OK but I get bored now with the cosy chat and strange records. Besides, the Radio 2 demographic is me, without putting too fine a point on it. The more mature listener gets the 7pm slot and that awful Elaine Paige show on Sundays.

I'm looking forward to some lively company in the New Year...and while we're at it, how about pensioning off Sarah Kennedy too? I used to enjoy her show but she dominates it with her occasionally strange views. I'd like Simon Mayo to replace Chris; I love the way he engages with the listener using Twitter. To which the TOGs would say, "what's Twitter?" and I think that sums it up.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Bin that BlackBerry

It amuses me how much waffle there is around "work life balance", flexible working and so on, and then those who claim to have the most stress whip out their BlackBerry (other smartphones are available) at any opportunity.


Are they so important that every single email must be read and responded to the minute it arrives? Is it a statement of how fashionable (and important) they are to the rest of society?

I regard myself as an early adopter in most respects when it comes to technology. I've tried smartphones, including brand new models, but now I have two residing in the bottom of a drawer somewhere, and I use an old-fashioned mobile phone that doesn't do email. I don't need email 24/7. If I'm delayed at an airport, or in a hotel, I'd rather use the wi-fi network and my laptop. Goodness knows why anyone would prefer a tiny keypad and screen, and costly GPRS, to The Full Monty.

The only benefit of smartphones is when you're constantly on the road, driving from meeting to meeting, and you need to quickly catch up on mail.

I won't even use one on short train journeys because that time, to me, is better spent reading a newspaper or marketing magazine. A few gems learnt and dropped into a presentation or converation are more valuable than responding to a non-urgent email.

You wouldn't believe how many of my colleagues surreptitiously tap away on their smartphones during meetings, having been asked to put down the lids of their laptops. They've lost sight of the fact that the face-to-face contact is far more important. I was appalled when a senior exec from the US once spent the whole of a dinner in a charming Parisian restaurant doing email. He should have taken the opportunity to chat to, and learn from, European colleagues he hardly ever had the chance to see.

My advice is: don't become a slave to your smartphone. Bin that BlackBerry. Human contact and learning is more important.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Epping Forest Festival

It was a lovely day for the annual Epping Forest Festival. It's an old-fashioned family fun day that celebrates the life of the forest. Straw bales are thrown around the beer tent and the show ring for seating, and people munched on organic hog roast rolls and ice creams as the spectacles of jousting and archery with flaming arrows were performed.

There were donkey rides and numerous stalls and tents selling tea and cakes. And J's beloved Orion Harriers were there with a splendid gazebo and a handicap race for children.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Cup of tea and a sit down

I can't think of one single topic on which to expatiate, dear reader, but I need to warble about something or my ratings will plummet.

Here is one of my pot pourris where I share with you my profound thoughts as I make the tortuous journey to work.

Today I drove to our office in Winnersh Triangle ("makes people disappear") which should only take an hour or so on a good day, but of course there are those nasty M25 roadworks ("delays until 2012") to contend with. So plenty of time in which to ruminate, and wonder where all the equine horse feed lorries have gone.

1) Paul don't do it! I am gutted, as is my mother Giz, to learn that Paul O'Grady is rumoured to be leaving Channel 4 for Sky for a lucrative contract. Channel 4, the old skin flints, have apparently offered him 50% less. They are no doubt projecting a reduction in their coffers with the demise (thank God) of Big Brother. Please don't go Paul! Giz doesn't have Sky and neither of us like Graham Norton very much (rumoured to be leaving BBC for Channel 4, and Paul's teatime show).

On that matter, if the presenters are all playing musical chairs and Mr Norton is off to Channel 4, I would like to make an early bid at this point for Jonathan Ross to present the Eurovision Song Contest. He likes the show, would give it the sensitive yet ironic treatment it needs, and is the logical successor to Sir Terry Wogan.

2) I am always thrilled to find an author I like, and one that has a good back catalogue for me to discover. I chanced across "The Senator's Wife" by Sue Miller and am enjoying it greatly. It's beautifully written and from the point of view of an elderly woman which is refreshing, because as I'm increasingly finding, you may look more dilapidated on the outside but you're still the same inside.

3) Today's useless health advice: four out of 10 women get breast cancer because they are unfit with a poor diet. So the majority of women with breast cancer have a healthy diet? Wouldn't that be a warning NOT to have a healthy diet?

4) Finally I must share this little titbit (or tidbit if you're in the US). It's very rare that Curious Girl receives a compliment these days. I was buying diesel today when a man came up to me and said "I just wanted to let you know -" (and I was thinking glumly "flat tyre? Lights left on?") but no, he added - "you have a lovely figure." A great tonic indeed, particularly as J is always dropping hints about the "skinny birds" at his running club and how I would do well to join them. He was somewhat taken aback when I told him and blustered about lorry drivers needing glasses.
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