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

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Apple bobbing for Halloween? Too dangerous

We all love a good story about the excesses of "elf and safety.

This Halloween, there's a warning from Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust that some of the ancient games associated with the pagan festival are dangerous.

Apple bobbing, for example, runs the risk of "a high velocity impact with an apple". Not to mention serious eye injury from unclean water. The recommendation is to wear goggles, disinfect water containers and remove apple debris before dunking your head into the water.

One eye expert even suggests children should remove the apples with their hands, not their mouths, but I can't see much fun in that as a game. I suppose you could play it all year round. "Johnny, please pick up some apples for Mummy," at Sainsbury's each week.

It's not only apple bobbing that is dangerous. Fancy-dress contact lenses come in for attack, as they can cause irritation, and as for lanterns, well, people occasionally hit their head on them.

Take care this Halloween and hopefully enjoy the pagan revels without too much damage!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Baby gorilla born at London Zoo

I know you all like a bit of good news, so here's a heart warming story about the first baby gorilla to be born at London Zoo for over twenty years.

Mother Mjukuu and baby, left, are both doing well. The  baby's aunties, Zaire and Effie, were at the birth and have remained with Mjukuu throughout.

Staff at the zoo are now figuring out the delicate operation of introducing the baby to his stepfather, Kesho.

The tiny baby will grow into a 25 stone silverback gorilla.

Feel free to send me your good news snippets!


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Guest blog: Carry On Embrocating. My second Amsterdam Marathon

I'm handing over the blog today to my spouse, the mysterious J, for his account of his second Amsterdam marathon (his 22nd marathon in total). J went with members of his running club, the Orion Harriers.
Take it away J.

This was my second trip to the Amsterdam marathon, scene of my 1st sub 4hr triumph in 2007.
Training for this run had been indifferent, so I had no real feel for my optimum pace for this race. Ideal conditions, cool with winter sunshine.

Good atmosphere at the start, Julie and I prepped together and got a good pen position quite close to the start line. Got off to a good start, let Julie go after a few minutes and settled down to an average 5mins per Km pace which was a pleasant surprise to me.

Kept close eye on HR (heart rate) but stayed with this pace, so again my performance on the day was well above expectations from training. Went through 1/2 in 1:46:37 well on pace for a pb (personal best), my aim was to keep in the low 5 to 5:30 Km's during the later stages and this was working well.

Around mile 24 got bad cramp in right calf and had to pull up couldn't keep going. Tried calf stretch and tried again -- no good, did some hamstring stretches which eased the problem and allowed me slowly get started again. After a few minutes gamely jogging back to pace the same thing happened to left calf - seized up, more stretches got me going again slowly. At this time I was convinced I'd blown any potential for a pb so settled in for a slow finish.

When I got to the 40km sign (only 2 km left) and saw the current time, I realised there was still a chance to get close to a pb. Legs were by now not doing well with cramps coming and going over the last 2k's, tried to raise pace all the way in, very emotional including talking to myself ovr the last k to keep the effort going. Once over the line not sure of eventual time, when I checked my Garmin it showed 4 secs outside a personal best -  very disappointing. So lost around 4 mins to cramps and stretches, overall got to be delighted with this run and the time - didn't look anywhere as good as this in training. my 3rd 3:43 marathon on the trot....

Saturday, October 23, 2010

John Barrowman - reviewed by Giz

My mum, known to us inexplicably as "Giz," is 77 but in possession of all her faculties plus a great deal of energy. She is social secretary to two or three widows' associations and her social life seems to be a merry blur of coach trips and lunches. She books speakers and is currently booking for 2012 (I am not joking).

Last week she went with three ladies I uncharitably call "the beige set" to see John Barrowman at the Plymouth Pavilions.

My mum always wears bright colours: she says she refuses to merge into the background and be ignored. The Beige Set, however, always wear beige (and not just because it's having a trendy moment.)

Anyway, Giz and I exchanged a flurry of texts after the show. I taught her how to text a few years ago. She has taught most of her friends, athough is very scathing of the one who still writes in capitals all the time. She has a package of 800 texts a month and most of them are to me.

Here is the conversation in verbatim. Remember we were texting, hence the spelling:

Me: How was JB?
Giz: Wonderful. Wot a performer. Audience went mad 4 him. Jodi Prenger 2.
Me: Any screaming?
Giz: Yes loads. Shouting we luv u Jetc. Few stoic men. Kept saying he was gay. Nice being 4 of us cos they r nice ladies.

So there you have it. I've always wondered why it is that older ladies swarm to see John Barrowman and scream, even though it's well known he's gay. Answers on a postcard please.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Weston-Super-Mare's Pier reopens

Today's good news concerns the pier at Weston-Super-Mare. Two years the pavilion was destroyed by fire, but now it's been rebuilt and will reopen tomorrow.
I've written before about my love of the pier. They are so iconic, so quintissentially British. And usually when they are destroyed by fire or fall into disrepair, they aren't replaced.

Just recently, Hastings Pier was in the news after it was burnt down by arsonists. What is it with these people?
Anyway, back top Weston-Super-Mare, where people are expected to queue overnight to get to be the first to visit the refurbished pier. 
First opened in 1907, the pier is a grade II listed building. More than £39 million has been spent on it.
My earlier story in 2008 about piers, following the destruction of Fleetwood Pier by fire, is here. Join the National Piers Society here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pink Floyd: the Good News

I'm feeling like Cyril Fletcher in That's Life. Today I am indebted to......Nicky in Belgium for today's good news snippet.

Nicky discovered that Pink Floyd were reuniting, which, depending on your view of the band, may be good or bad news.

But what's good is that they're doing it for charity, unlike a lot of greedy oldsters (yes Spandau Ballet, Status Quo and Genesis, I mean you.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Best lunch ever at Gidleigh Park

One of my hobbies is eating my way around Britain and I have been to quite a few notable nosheries including Le Gavroche, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's, Maze and The Fat Duck.

But these all paled into insignificance against Michael Caines' two Michelin starred Gidleigh Park restaurant  near Chagford in Devon.

Giz and I went there for Sunday lunch and it was just exquisite!

The hotel is in beautiful grounds in a very peaceful location. It is relaxed and elegant, with the superb, unotrusive service that you expect in a place like this.

After canapes in the lounge as we chose from the menu, we were shown to our table and first to arrive was a complimentary artichoke soup in a tiny glass accompanied by superb artisan bread, crusty on the outside and soft and melting inside as so many bread rolls aren't.

My first course was salmon confit and my main was Devonshire sirloin which came with a cep shaped ravioli filled with delicious braised shin. I would like to tell you all the different components but unfortunately the particular menu we had isn't shown on the website.

We both had an apple plate to finish, which had three apple desserts lined up: tarte tatin, lemon mousse and a lemon biscuit with ice cream, plus a tiny jug with warm apple jus. To die for!

I've added photos of what I ate. Not great quality but I had to take them with my BlackBerry. The camera was with J, who at this time was running the Amsterdam Marathon and finishing at 3 hour 43, which is very good.
We opted for coffee and petit fours in the lounge. I was expecting a couple of hand-made chocolates but it was like another course: three tiny perfectly made desserts on a wooden tray. An apple doughnut, a blackcurrant posset and a chocolate, hand tempered. We couldn't have eaten another thing, so just as well we didn't go for the tasting menu.

The only drawback to this wonderful place was the very windy and narrow country lane leading to the hotel. Unsuitable for heavy vehicles, it had hardly any passing places and for a townie driving a new car was a bit of a white knuckle ride. But well worth it for the experience that followed.

Three decades ago, the otter population was at risk of extinction because of chemicals and poor quality waterways. Now the riverbanks are filled to bursting with otters. Good news indeed!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Plymouth gets Christmas makeover

As you read this, dear reader, I will be gallivanting in my ancestral home - Devon - and relaiming my Four Square mayorship of the power station next door to my mum's house.

So it is apt that today's good news story features my former home city of Plymouth.

Plymouth is to get its Winter Festival complete with ice rink.

The Winter Festival will start with the Christmas lights switch-on on Thursday, November 18. It will feature the Christmas Ice Rink on the Piazza, festive shows at the Pavilions, Christmas markets, Sleeping Beauty at the Theatre Royal, the Christmas Carnival, late-night shopping, festive street entertainment and a special 'Santa fun run'.

I will hopefully get to see some of this when I go down to Plymouth later this year to deliver the presents.

John Barrowman
 And if my mum wasn't excited enough about enjoying the delights of Gidleigh Park, our lunch destination today, she will be beside herself next Thursday when she and one of her widows' associations go to see John Barrowman at the Plymouth Pavilions. A full report to follow. Gird your loins.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Heifer rescue went well

A heifer, not necessarily the one
that was rescued
 Continuing the theme of good news stories, I am indebted to Fran of South Cerney for this heart warmer about a heifer rescue that went well.

The Wilts & Gloucs Standard reports how the heifer was hauled to safety by firefighters after falling down a well at Crudwell. The 12-month-old animal plunged through the cover of a 10ft deep well at Hayleaze Farm, but landed upright in the water and mud.

A crew from Malmesbury was on the scene first and made it safe before a specialist animal rescue team from Stratton arrived. Rural safety officer Adam Martin explained: "The cow was in an extremely confined space and would have been very frightened by what had happened, so the challenge was to get her sedated and then lifted free.

"The water was drained from the well, which allowed the vet access to carry out sedation. It was then safe for us to get down to her and put strops around her."

All's well that ends well.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Today's good news

I can tell you that I have bitten off more than I can chew with my pledge to find some good news every day.
A trawl of BBC news and local paper websites revealed a litany of bad, bad news.  Eventually I found a heart warming titbit at the Croydon Advertiser.

For 70 years, the South Norwood and Woodside branch of the Women's Section of the Royal British Legion have been meeting up once a month to socialise and organise fundraisers.

The ladies are celebrating their 70th anniversary and preparing for Poppy Day. But they desperately need new members. "We've not had any young people join us for a good 20 years," said Secretary Ann Sparshott. "We need some young people in to help us with the fundraising and the lifting and carrying which comes with putting on our events.

"The support the Legion provides is going to go through the generations. It's rewarding to hear when people get the help they need. It brings tears to your eyes. I think it's a brilliant cause."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

And now the good news

The triumphant rescue of the Chilean miners yesterday was a wonderfully uplifting story that had people all around the world sobbing as we shared in their joy.

It got me thinking about how rare it is that we rejoice in a good news story.

The media happily feeds us stories of hoodies with knives, drunken promiscuous teenagers, men killing their own children and so on without putting them into perspective. The impression is that society is out of control and nothing good ever happens.

Any good news stories are buried away or become "fillers" if they're used at all.

So I'm going to try to find a good news story every day. It won't be good news as in Tom Daley wins two gold medals, or interest rates come down. That's the sort of good news that is shared by the media. I'm talking about stories of human interest and kindness. Here's hoping I can find some! And please share any of your own stories.

One story that has stayed with me over the years was an item about an Albanian refugee ship. No countries would accept the refugees, who were on an unseaworthy vessel out in the ocean. They had been turned away by an Italian port. But when they landed at a Greek island, instead of turning them away, the locals rushed down to greet them with blankets and sandwiches.

In a similar vein, last winter's heavy snow brought out the goodness in people who offered rooms to strangers who were trapped in their cars.

That's the sort of stories we need folks!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Today's award for being out-of-touch and slightly preposterous: Andrew Marr

BBC political correspondent Andrew Marr is in the news himself today for describing bloggers as 'socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy young men' who give journalism a bad name.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, Marr said: "A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people.".

Er, hello?

I'm not sure what sites Marr has been visiting, but Mashable, noted authority on social media, tells us the majority of bloggers are women.

There are a few "angry" sites: for example, http://ihateryanair.co.uk/ is also in the news today, which is a good example, but sites like these are usually doing a good job. Power to the people! Companies, utilities and politicians can't get away with anything lilke they used to, because of the vigilance of pesky spotty people on the web.

Of course Marr is approaching this from a defensive stand point. Does blogging present a challenge to newspapers and TV news over the next few years?

Undoubtedly yes, in terms of speed of breaking news. No TV station or news agency can respond as fast as Twitter, as we have seen with recent major stories. Nearly everyone has a camera phone, therefore we can all make and share news as it happens.

But blogs and online media present news in small chunks, and I believe that paper copies of newspapers will still thrive because people want their analysis and comment.

In the meantime, I suggest Mr Marr visits some of the blogs in my blog roll to see that some of the content is written by entirely sane people with perfectly good complexions, and none of us living with our mothers.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

We go to Buckingham Palace

J's picture of the Queen Victoria memorial, Pall Mall
That's stretching the truth slightly, but we did go to the Queen's Gallery which is within the palace. We had a day off for J's birthday and I booked the visit to the  Victoria & Albert Love & Art exhibition a few months ago, after we saw the film Young Victoria.

I don't know about you but I've always thought of   Queen Victoria as a dumpy, sour faced woman in black. But it turns out, that was in the second part of her reign after her husband Albert died, aged just 42. In the years they were married they were very happy and the exhibition shows the works of art, sculpture and jewellery that they commissioned for each other.

Was the Queen at home?
 Victoria more or less lost interest in art after Albert's death. She commissioned some wonderful works to commemorate his life, including the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, but the rest of her life was spent in mourning, with the room in which Albert died lovingly kept as it was.

I loved the picture of Victoria that was given to Albert as a birthday presen (left). Her shoulders are bare, her hair cascades over her shoulder and she looks sensuous and wanton.

Very few examples of her costumes survive but the exhibition had a sumptuous dress which showed Victoria had a tiny waist when she was slim.

I loved seeing the watercolours and drawings that she did. She was a talented artist but being Queen it was difficult for her to paint so she mainly indulged in her hobby when she was with her family.

The exhibition has been extended until early December. Check it out here

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Who talks about sad men?

Reading a few biographies lately, I was struck by a recurrent theme. Fathers are nearly always described as remote, cold, unhappy, shouty.

In Lynn Barber's much trumpeted read, her father gets little compassion but is berated for drinking, shouting and rudeness. Barber doesn't attempt to analyse why this was the case and is equally scatching about her "sour, bitter" mother.

TV presenter Fiona Phillips talks of a happy childhood but her relationship with her father was also challenging. He was detached and remote.

Then recently, Liz Hodginson asked why are men over 60 so boring, with nothing to talk about?

I wonder what would have happened if a man had dared write that about women over 60. There is a lot of reverse discrimination nowadays which seems perfectly acceptable. TV ads can happily poke fun at men for being inept round the house. Feminists write endlessly about the lot of women, and it's a "lot" which has changed beyond recognition in the last 100 years.

Looking back, I wonder if the unhappy fathers of biographies were tired of being the breadwinner; of having to perform routinely dull 9 to 5 jobs to ensure their families were fed? There was little opportunity in the 60s for breaking out of the mould. Generally only the priveleged were well educated.

Did the grind of a dull job and the retirement with little to offer except a nagging wife and a shed lead to the "boring men" that Hodginson talks about?

My own father fizzed and enthralled as a younger man, a Royal Marine with the charisma to host events and chair local community meetings. But after leaving the services at 37, he gradually lost his joie de vivre as he took on a succession of jobs he didn't enjoy. His health began to deteriorate and he became a classically grumpy old man.  We knew so little about him. He rarely talked about himself or his past.

Younger men today, we read, don't have it any easier. Their role has been changed, probably against their will, as women were liberated from being housewives or typists. They have to compete for the best jobs against women as well as men, and some companies impose numbers on how many men can be hired in order to hire more women, regardless of who's best for the job.

From a young age boys constantly hear how inferior they are to girls. It was apparent in the TV programme "Gareth Malone's extraordinary school for boys" where the boys could scarcely concentrate and were largely incapable of reading, let alone debating with girls of the same age.

Allowing boys to hide behind Wiis and other gadgets clearly doesn't help their interpersonal skills. The nanny state of compensation culture doesn't allow them to burn off energy and parents get castigated for letting their children walk or cycle to school on their own, even if it's only a short distance.

If all this was happening to women, and women were so unhappy, there would be a huge inquest. But who feels sad about the men?
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