Sunday, September 11, 2016

The autumn of the world?

15 years today since 'terrorism' really reared its ugly head and all our lives were changed irrevocably and forever.

In terms of political happenings, I can't currently decide if the US or the UK is worse. Perhaps it's a symptom of the same thing.

I'm still reeling from the Vox revelation earlier this week that in the US bankers don't pay tax on their bonuses.

What can you do when you see children being abused?

And, apparently, the world can cope with 7 or even 10 billion people. But only if we stop eating meat. Erm... or stop producing quite so many children? Or stop people 'buying to let' and foreigners buying investment properties, which are both hugely and artificially restricting the housing market. We need to stop the population explosion or every corner of our countryside will be built upon. Most people are totally unaware of the Local Plan process (housing etc growth plans) in their area and what it will mean for them, and the infrastructure that supports their lives. Think it's hard to get a GP appointment or to cross town in the rush hour now? Just wait... (or, better still, search "Local Plan [your local council]" and get informed/involved).

The NHS needs to change. The education system needs to change (particularly with the 'education leaving age' now being 18 in England).

But how things are happening isn't the right way.

And, for probably the first time ever, I don't have (even a suggestion about) the answer.

I've concluded that it's not a symptom of me ageing (I have wondered about that; particularly as most of those I associate with are somewhat older than me and most don't seem to care about (perceive) such meta-issues). It's a symptom of things being beyond fathomable. There are so many 'systems' in place that are now working to limit the application of common sense. There are still lots of willing people, but many not-so-willing 'systems'.

Inequality increases and the abilty of the evolved 'systems' to do anything about it (irrespective of how much money is thrown at the perceived 'problems') declines.

How did it come to this? And don't say 'politics' because that is, I am increasingly convinced, just a symptom of a wider malaise.

In case you haven't clicked on any of the links, this one is especailly worthy of a perusal, if, in the current climate, you are in need of explanations (if not answers).


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sunset last night

But, today could be the last day of summer:

Since my last report (nods down to August 12th), we've had another few days that meet my definition of summer, and today is Day 15 above 26°C. Apologies to anyone in the north, or in the southern hemisphere.

It was so warm and golden yesterday that MrBW even got my paddling pool out.

Yes, I have a paddling pool. Actually, two, as Mr BW informs me that there is also a spare (and that there were originally three, but the previously deployed one had disintegrated). Must have been a good offer at some point in the past: I can't remember now, we have summer so rarely in this country.

In this heat, and with the golden light making the garden look fabulous at this time of year, at home, nothing beats sitting in a comfy seat, dangling your legs in a paddling pool, with a book and a pint of Pimm's (actually, Aldi's Austin's, a third of the price, and in tests ten out of ten Witch Testees preferred it, as I've undoubtedly mentioned before). I do try to not start the Pimm's until after noon, but it's quite hard sometimes...

How's the weather where you are?


Thursday, August 18, 2016

A guest post by Mr BW

Last Sunday, Mi1dred reached a mileage milestone.

It might only be 5000 miles, but, trust me, every mile driven in an Austin Seven is worth 50 in driving experience in a modern car. As you can also see, we were ‘cruising’ at 20mph at the time.

We had a lovely day out. Starting at a local gallery's private view of a modern sculptor's latest work, and moving on to one of our favourites, the Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden (where they currently have an exhibition of Edward Bawden's early watercolours: BW wants to know how he managed to get such clear colours with such a filthy watercolour paint box) . We finished up at Audley End for a quick visit.

On the way Mildred reached 5000 miles with us. That’s over 9 years, so we haven’t exactly been piling on the miles.

I once read an article saying that all learners should have a lesson in an Austin Seven, and I get the point.

Drivers today are isolated from the dangers out there. Most have never heard of aquaplaning and will happily drive 10m from the bumper of the car in front at 70 mph in torrential rain. They have little understanding of the fragility of life and the fact that they are trusting theirs to four small patches of rubber, the only thing attaching them to the road.

If they had to drive a car with limited brakes, low power, requiring planning to get up the slightest of hills, no air bags, power steering, air conditioning, ABS or seatbelts, then they might just be better and safer drivers.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

It can't last, but...

Day 10 of summer here yesterday (summer days, by my definition, are days of wonderful light and temperatures above 26°C (80°F). Mind you, there's a very autumnal nip in the air in the early morning and late evening of late).

Here's a sight that I suspect you won't see again (end of Day 9 of the Rio Olympics)... excellent work Team GB, keep it up.

Some interresting graphs here.

But, I can't help wondering why it's OK to select and coach sporty youngsters, but it's not OK to select and coach intelligent ones?

Why is it OK for parents to be allowed to send their children to a faith school that pushes their religion, but not OK for parents to want to send their children to a school that nurtures and stretches their academic abilities?

A new incarnation of grammar schools is now, I believe, the only way of ensuring social mobility in our country.

The question should not be, 'Should we have more grammar schools?' but rather, 'How can we devise a selection procedure that is fair to everyone, and has children appreciating their individual strengths, rather than any weaknesses?'


Sunday, August 14, 2016

A cat-nap

It amuses me that white cats think they are invisible.

It amazes me that they can sleep in the edges of the field in this position. Very Meryl Streep-ish.

A more useful white thing might be this spray of water and milk:

I'd not heard before that it is effective against powdery mildew, which attacks members of the cucumber and squash family at this time of year (when the foliage is dry and the weather is warm).

I heard it recommended on GQT on R4 on Friday afternoon (repeated this afternoon at 2pm), but they didn't say why it works.

A quick bit of online research discovered that it is based in science: in 1999, Brazilian scientist Wagner Bettiol reported excellent control of the fungus on greenhouse-grown zucchini using fresh cow’s milk diluted with water to a 10% solution.

Since then, practice has found that a 50:50 solution using skimmed milk has been found to be the most effective. As well as helping with the powdery mildew, it also acts as a foliar feed.

I've also read that powdery mildew spores can’t germinate or grow when foliage is wet, so overhead watering is also recommended as a preventative on highly susceptible crops.

So, that's don't water potatoes tomatoes overhead (as it encourages blight), but do water cucumber and squash leaves.

How did I not know this?

Posted at 10:30 AM | Comments (4)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

New Banks

There used to be readers interested in my "beyond most people's money saving" tips. The comments box below the last post shows that some of them are still be around, so with interest rates dropping like stones - any excuse for banks, Brexit was the perfect one - I thought I'd share some of my recent findings.

The three day marathon of "re-sorting to cope with new demands to get the best rates from the banks in the current financial climate" I described in the last post led me to research the new banks to the market.

That's because I'm very fussy about where I will invest... I won't touch Santander, T£Sco, Yorkshire Bank or Post Office (Bank of Ireland). The first two because of their dirty tricks and appalling customer regard and customer service, the latter two because of appalling service in the past (so appalling that it is unforgiveable forever).

I also won't put money into anything Indian, anything Middle Eastern, anything that pays interest but pretends it doesn't so that it complies with Sharia Law (even if the banks have UK banking licences), and anything where the money invested is largely used to fund things I disapprove of (don't start me on Buy-to-Let mortgages, which have led to a much bigger negative effect on the housing market than anyone official is currently acknowledging).

As many of the best rates are with the 'new banks', I was interested to see what they did with money they are lent by savers (and never forget, if you are a saver, that is exactly what you are doing, lending the banks money to enable them to lend it to other people at a much higher rate than they are giving you): this article and this one gave me the answers I was seeking.

Posted at 11:31 AM | Comments (0)

Friday, August 12, 2016

It's the ninth day of summer today

There were 7.5 consecutive days in mid July, half a day last Saturday, and, today. So far, that's been it.

Summer, by my definition, is not a day which is cloudy and grey, or below 26°C (80°F).

As friends who came to lunch last weekend said to me, I clearly live in the wrong country.

The field of wheat behind us this year is more than ready to harvest, as this 180° panorama (taken at lunch-time today) shows, but the shared local combines are working elsewhere (we can hear them droning in the distance: Mr BW says the sound reminds him of Saving Private Ryan; I thought I remembered that film, but it turned out I was remembering Private Benjamin. Films and me have a very poor relationship).

The light in the Mediterranean Garden was perfect this afternoon.

In fact, the light everywhere in the garden was perfect:

This is our new-this-year bean and squash tunnel (b1acksmithed by Mr BW following an idea gleaned from a South African vineyard garden):

And this is Mr BW's b1acksmithing vice. It doubles as a plant stand:

I've spent the last three days engaging in higher order finance and financial negotiations. Not an activity I like, but one essential to us, as, both retired by 50, we're currently living mostly on my small ill-health pension, and interest on the savings from our low-cost and as self-sufficient and sustainable as possible living practices over the years.

With a new round of quantative easing just announced by the Bank of England, and more government money available to banks at ridiculously low interest, financial institutions don't need the attract in the public's money, so interest rates for investments are lower than ever.

I refuse to accept less than 2% interest from anyone (basically because we would then be eating into capital for day-to-day expenses, which will create problems for us in the longer-term), and it's getting harder and harder to find homes for maturing funds that have been in 5 year fixed rate bonds earning nearly 5%, but now need re-investing.

As I've mentioned before, I'm currently using 18 current accounts, and their linked regular savings accounts, to get between 3% and 6% interest.

Unfortunately, Bank of Scotland, who allow three current accounts per person, each giving 3% on amounts between £3K and £5K, have just added a new condition requiring two direct debits to be paid out of each account in each calendar month, from September. Hence I've had to find 12 direct debits to relocate.

We don't have many things on direct debit as we don't have subscriptions to things like Sky or Netflix, or mobile phones on expensive contracts (I've recommended giffgaff, which runs on the O2 network, before - get a free sim-card sent to you from this link and you'll get £5 credit, and so will I):
Get a free giffgaff Sim

Finding 12 direct debits has taken some doing: moving direct debits that were going out of our main bank account, finding things that could be paid in instalments without incurring huge fees (I've discovered that car tax can now be paid in 12 instalments, for a 38p a month premium, which grieved me, but is a reasonable trade-off for a £12.76 interest gain per month). After much fiddling, I was still one short, so had to apply for a new credit card, on which I will make one small transaction every month, so ensuring the twelfth direct debit.

In moving the direct debits that pay off our cashback credit cards in full every month, I discovered that Barclaycard now offer a free 'Experian what is your credit score?' service, via their online portal. I've never been able to check this before (I get free updates on my credit file with my Capital One credit card, but not a free credit scoring service, and there is no need to pay for it as there is no need to know - not least because each lender uses their own acceptance criteria anyway). I was very surprised that, despite having limited income, both Mr BW and I have absolutely prefect credit ratings:

From what I've read in the financial media, I didn't believe this was possible. Particularly considering the amount of stoozing I did to pay off our mortgage ten years ago. But, I think this should provide encouragement to everyone - manage whatever money you have really carefully and you will be rewarded.

Unfortunately, August is the month where our house buildings and house contents insurances, and two car insurances fall due, requiring much online research and then hard negotiating, as I have a deep aversion to being ripped off. 23 minutes on the phone to the car insurance company and the two premiums dropped from a total of £443 (a huge increase on last year when I moved us both back to a new multi-car policy), to a total of £303. Both fully comprehensive, with business use, and just a £60 excess. If they can rip you off at renewal, they will.

Looking at the renewal documents, I realised that we were paying over £80 a year in motor legal protection on our three car policies. Given the stories I've heard from friends recently about the very limited use of these policies (they will only take on a case if they think it has at least a 51% chance of success, and will give up at any opportunity and either give no, or very spurious, reasons for their opting out), I had become quite cynical about them. We always take out free-standing damage excess cover when we hire cars abroad (and save huge amounts of money), and I idly wondered if similar free-standing policies were available for motor legal cover.

I've never seen this mentioned anywhere, including on money-saving websites. But... a quick bit of Googling and we found that DriverGuardian offer a year's motor legal cover for a driver driving any car, for £15 for one person, £20 for two, or £25 for four. We compared the cover side-by-sde with our existing policies, and the cover is slightly better, and gives wider coverage. Another saving of £60. They seem to have good feedback too.

Yeah, it's hard work beating financial institutions at their own games, and you need a good diary system, and to be absolutely forensic about checking the T&Cs, and printing everything out and filing it away carefully for future reference, but it's amazingly satisfying. Beats going to work anyway.

We are thoroughly enjoying the Rio Olympics, although I am a little sad about all the empty seats at many events. As someone of very short attention span, the flitting about of the coverage suits me - and aren't the BBC presenters working hard? Very impressive. It's great to see our sportspeople doing so well (currently 4th in the medal table): amazing what can be achieved in sports once they receive proper funding.

I really don't understand all the whipped-up by social media hoo-ha about sexist commentary. Celebrate the differences people, celebrate the differences. Men and women are not the same, and it's time we stopped pretending. Although, I do think the women athletes should be allowed to wear rather more clothing - and I don't like the design on the GB kit this time - it took me 3 days to work out what the dark silhouette was. To add my own little bit to this debate - it amazes me how much make-up the girlies wear. Most of them look like they're going to a party! In my county-level athletics days we wouldn't have dreamed of wearing make-up.

I've never managed to see the Perseids. It's clear here, so tonight could be the night...


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

21 today

On this day in 1995, we moved here.

Since then, stranger and stranger things have happened, day by day, month by month, and year by year. But, this summer, the strangest things ever:

Blue fields (not borage) have appeared in the distance:

A bit closer up:

The colour of pollen these flowers yield (and have the b33s learnt to read what we write about them?):

An empty hive, left out overnight after one of Mr BW's b33 talks to Nice Ladies, magically filled with a stray swarm (not from our ap1ary):

A leaf-cutter b33 mistook a folded newspaper in a basket in the utility for a place to build a nest:

The nest, contained within a surrounding folded rectangle of newspaper, had to be cut out, and relocated to a teapot hanging in a tree (I'm calling the offspring, when she emerges, Alice).

The Debster lily (which must now be eight or nine?) has been more amazing than ever, for weeks:

Mi1dred did a wedding:

And a hen is laying green eggs:

It's strange to think that we'd only been here seven and a half years when I started writing this blog.

Oh, and Johnnie Walker, having ignored all previous requests from me for a request when Mr BW was 50, and again when he retired (16 months ago now), finally played one for us, at Mr BW's behest, this week. But not for being 21. As Mr BW said, "Punk still rules, even if now accompanied by a glass of sherry."


Monday, July 25, 2016

Thing I've learnt in the last week

1. Make shop-bought cucumbers last much longer by removing the polythene wrapper immediately you get them home.

2. Make hands made rough by gardening soft enough to work with silk (or anything else that would stick to the rough bits) by putting half a teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of olive oil in one palm then vigorously rubbing them together.

What have you learnt in the past week?


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Galloping On

So, Non-Mother Theresa is enthroned, and moved in to Number 10, but she's already upset her neighbour at Number 11, and he's moved out.

Smart move, to make sure the new next door neighbour has the same first name as your husband.

And very very smart move to appoint David Davis to the new cabinet position of Secretary of State for Brexit. A veteran Eurosceptic, and one-time wannabe PM, he has previously held the positions of Conservative Party Chairman and Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, as well as Shadow Home Secretary under both Michael Howard and David Cameron. Lots of relevant experience, and the mellow wisdom of age. Smart move. Mr BW reckons that Chris Patten should also be drafted in pronto to the exit process - he has lots of experience negotiating over Hong Kong with China, after all.

It all happened rather faster than They'd planned though. *Nods down* Good spell BW, good spell (although I obviously omitted some vital titbit, as Boris was due to be left on the back benches, if not shown the back door, by my reckoning).

I'm intrigued by what Queenie may have said to Mrs May, in her rather waspish (yellow and black) outfit, this afternoon, though.


- "Make sure you don't wear the same colours as One at events you and One are both attending!"

- "You can always use One's Throne Room to shoot-up should it become necessary."

- "It's so nice to have someone of the age of One's children's generation rather One's grandchildren's in charge again. Those young bucks have been so needy and so tiresome."

I guess the tax-payers' contribution to Clothing the Leader has just increased significantly though... let's hope she only buys British (or, given how the Scots are acting, only buys English).

I do hope the Staff at Number 10 have removed all those kiddy hand-prints from the walls and checked down the backs of all the sofas for lost soft toys.

And I'm looking forward to Dead Ringers on R4 on Friday evening. From what I heard earlier, they've perfected her voice already.

Things appear to be looking up. They'd look up further if Parliament's summer recess were to be cancelled, in the exceptional circumstances... there's lots to do, after all.


Monday, July 11, 2016

No joke

Man goes into an empty bar.

There are bartenders behind the bar.

Man says to one bartender, "I'd like a beer please."

Bartender gestures to a bank of iPads positioned along the bar.

Man says to bartender, "I'd like a beer please."

Bartender says gruffly, gesturing pointedly at the iPads, "You have to order on there sir!"

Man says, "But I only want a beer served!"

Bartender says, "You have to enter your order, pay with your card, then I can get you your beer!"

Man attempts to use the terminal. Is disgusted that he has to add a 20% tip in order to get his order taken by the self-service machine so that the bartender can get a beer out of the fridge and plonk it in front of him.

True story.

Just happened to the Old Friends BW in Newark airport.

Still, what do you expect in the country where they cling fervently to their 'constitutional right' to have guns, where there is unaddressed institutional racism in the police, and where this will continue to happen as no US government will ever be brave enough to try to change the status quo.

Guns have no place in a civilised society. And nor do self-service, but still need to pay 20% tip, bars.

As supermarkets in this country continue to increase the numbers of self-service checkouts, it's coming to somewhere near you soon, for sure.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Out Soon

The Chilcot Report.
7 years.
2,600,000 words.
Precis in 3: "It was wrong."

With journalists now, but due out sometime around 11am. 11:11 would be appropriate, I think.

Despite all the current media-fuelled disquiet about more 1.3M more Britons choosing to Leave Europe than to Remain, the effect of that decision, on the world, over time, will, I am sure, be much less than that of one Prime Minister's (war criminal's) decision, on the flimsiest of evidence, to follow America into an illegal war.


Friday, July 1, 2016


History tells us that in times of political unrest, new parties form.

In 1981 it was the Social Democratic Party.

In 1988 it was the Liberal Democrats.

Reading those links (other sources are available) shows just how history constantly repeats itself. The lessons are just never learnt.

Who will be the new Gang of Four in 2016? (other numbers of founder members are allowed)

And what will the new Party call themselves (I nearly put 'be called' there, but that would be too tempting...)


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Seven Days On

Theresa May and Angela Eagle in charge of their respective parties? You'd get two heads for the price of one with the Eagles, after all (but let's hope they don't Do A Miliband).

Now there's a thought.

Now, all we need is to get loose cannon Nicola Sturgeon on side, and accepting that her own personal agenda isn't what should be occupying her mind/obvious talents right now, and there may be hope. Three women mopping up after the men, just for a change.

We're hearing very little about what happens if our new PM refuses to trade single market access for free movement of people.

The average tax imposed would be 3% I heard from an informed source on R4 yesterday (CBATG for links - well, OK, I did, but it's complicated). Given that we'd get 3% back on similar import duties (tit for tat), and accepting a few extra documents might need completing, what's the problem? The rest of the world is a much bigger (and faster-growing) market than those markets currently in the EU anyway. Yeah, I know a lot of bankers will miss their BMWs, and wide boys their Audi TTs, but, hey ho, perhaps we could even resurrect our automotive industry (we have the skills, even if they are currently being directed by non-British based companies). Mi1dred can be the BW's Party representative in charge of that. She's a proud product of The Midlands and still going strong 83 years on.

Let's face it, if the EU hadn't prevented the UK from imposing tariffs on the Chinese dumping cheap/subsidised steel on us, then South Wales would be a happier place right now.

Already our stock market is back above its levels of 8 days ago, and looking strong:

"Markets recap: FTSE 100 erases post-Brexit losses as buying bonanza fuels rebound

A buying bonanza fuelled the FTSE 100’s remarkable rebound, erasing all of its post-Brexit losses in just two days.

London’s benchmark index enjoyed its best day in almost five years, soaring 219.67 points, or 3.58pc, to a two-month high of 6,360.06.

The rebound follows an 8.7pc plunge in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote. The blue chip index now trading up 0.5pc since the referendum outcome was announced."

We don't need the single market. Call the men in Brussels bluff say I.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Thought for the day

Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

- Howard Thurman


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

State of The Nation

This morning the other half of the country who weren't already despairing are in despair (the 1970s Cod Wars come to mind for some reason).

Oh no, wait, it's a Venn diagram, isn't it? As ever, I find myself outside the circles.

It's good to finally see some informed and sensible debate on TV around the real issues that now need sorting out. As I said yesterday, I think that current events have fast-forwarded us to a place that would otherwise have taken 50 years. History will tell, but I'm hopeful it will make for a better future.

We have a long and proud history in creative-based industries, manufacturing and engineering. It's not too late to get it back. No-one wants to have to work in a call centre. There can be little more soul-destroying than having no hope, nothing to do that has a tangible product at the end of the day, being unappreciated, and on a zero hours contract. And that was what was on offer, ad infinitum, to a large proportion of the population.

The next person who says, "Oh but look at the stock exchange, look at the pound!" within my hearing will be incisively questioned about their knowledge and understanding of both.


Monday, June 27, 2016

When all is uncertain...

... ask those who have concerns what they are.

Often the concerns stem from misinformation, or lack of information, or a feeling of powerlessness.

There is always something different that can be done in any situation.

If you don't like what's happening - then get involved, in the real world. Shouting at people on the internet is like pissing in the wind (probably worse, actually, as at least with pissing in the wind you get wet trousers for your efforts).

Posted at 12:20 PM | Comments (0)

Thought for the day

"One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country."

- Ian Leslie

Posted at 12:10 PM | Comments (1)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brave New World?

Who else thinks Jeremy Corbyn secretly voted Leave?

Posted at 12:27 PM | Comments (42)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

On absence

It seems that I have fallen out of love with the internet.

I could write a thousand (maybe ten thousand) words on why, but I won't; the 'Boaty McBoatface' saga, and surrounding coverage / attendant publicity, goes some way towards illustrating the point.

One thing niggles at my mind though - I know that that name is not original - something about it (or maybe it's something quite similar, or similar in the [Name McNameface] construction) rings a bell... not sure if it is from a (probably children's) book, or TV or film, or somewhere else entirely. I've searched and searched, and talked to people, face-to-face, about my suspicions, but nowhere and no-one has been able to shed any light on the subject.

No, it's not important, it's just my innate curiosity, that isn't satisfied by the internet.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Thought for the day

Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want.

- Anna Lappé

(see also "You can buy a cheap chicken today, but we all pay for it in the long run.")


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Thought for our times

Extremism can flourish only in an environment where basic governmental social responsibility for the welfare of the people is neglected. Political dictatorship and social hopelessness create the desperation that fuels religious extremism.

- Benazir Bhutto


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Thought for our times

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.

- Carl Sandburg


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Truth is about to be Out There

While we were away...

Terry Wogan died, Stephen Fry left Twitter (again) "...let us grieve at what twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended - worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know."

All this could, of course, get worse if rumours about Twitter raising its character limit prove to be true.

But, it's worse than that.

One-fifth of the world’s adult population already has its thoughts controlled.

"Every time you open Facebook, one of the world’s most influential, controversial, and misunderstood algorithms springs into action. It scans and collects everything posted in the past week by each of your friends, everyone you follow, each group you belong to, and every Facebook page you’ve liked. For the average Facebook user, that’s more than 1,500 posts. If you have several hundred friends, it could be as many as 10,000. Then, according to a closely guarded and constantly shifting formula, Facebook’s news feed algorithm ranks them all, in what it believes to be the precise order of how likely you are to find each post worthwhile. Most users will only ever see the top few hundred.

No one outside Facebook knows for sure how it does this, and no one inside the company will tell you. And yet the results of this automated ranking process shape the social lives and reading habits of more than 1 billion daily active users - one-fifth of the world’s adult population. The algorithm’s viral power has turned the media industry upside down, propelling startups like BuzzFeed and Vox to national prominence while 100-year-old newspapers wither and die. It fueled the stratospheric rise of billion-dollar companies like Zynga and LivingSocial—only to suck the helium from them a year or two later with a few adjustments to its code, leaving behind empty-pocketed investors and laid-off workers. Facebook’s news feed algorithm can be tweaked to make us happy or sad; it can expose us to new and challenging ideas or insulate us in ideological bubbles."

But, all that is as nothing compared to what is about to happen (has already started happening in Somerset, West Hampshire, Blackburn, and Leeds) to your NHS medical records.

You may remember a couple of years ago there was a lot of publicity about the 'Summary Care Record' database. There were many concerns about its use and the potential for abuse, and many people chose to write to their GP surgery to opt out.

Perhaps because of this, there has been much less publicity about the new '' database (AFAIK - but then I've just spent a month out of the country, so do please correct me if I'm wrong). We certainly haven't had a leaflet about it, as we did when Summary Care was about to be introduced.

'' is not about sharing your medical information with doctors, nurses and other health professionals outside of your GP surgery. It's not about enabling the sharing of patient medical records between hospitals and GP surgeries. It's not about the ways in which your GP shares information about you as part of providing essential medical care. It's not about ensuring that hospital specialists have the information that they need when you are referred to see them. It's not about creating a single electronic record that can be viewed by healthcare professionals in any clinical setting. And it's not about submitting information so that GP surgeries and hospitals are paid appropriately for the care that they provide.

It is about data extraction, linkage and analysis: in other words, data mining. Once your personal medical data is uploaded you can never get it removed from the HSCIC databases.

Once your personal medical data is uploaded, it will be released or sold for commercial purposes. Some of it will identify you personally. Who knows where the data will end up?

Add to it the data about you that is already freely available (some of it because you choose to put it out there), and...

It will happen.

Perhaps it doesn't bother you.

But, if you're already frustrated by the 'relevance' of the Amazon ads that pop up after you've been researching something online, just imagine where this could lead.

You can write to your GP surgery requesting that they add certain codes (eg 9Nu4) to your medical record to prevent the HSCIC from releasing or selling any information that it holds, and that clearly identifies you. There is lots of information (perhaps too much - it's very complicated, and the project keeps being delayed) on a website put together by a GP. Of particular interest are links from it: this, this, this.

But, if you act quickly, and write to your GP, you can opt out. There are suggested letters within the information here (none of which, I think, are great, so I'm not directly linking). There are also a lot of links to other sources of information right at the bottom.

One thing I do not understand is how doctors have gone along with this. Surely it is in direct contravention of the Hippocratic Oath that they all take?

On a related note, isn't the new series of the X-Files great?


Sunday, February 14, 2016

From a prickly pear/pair

Happy Valentine's Day.

The fruits are in season currently and are delicious, if a little seedy.

Posted at 11:16 AM | Comments (1)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Storm clouds gather over The Cape

But sadly, it's not for us - this rain is bound, we are told, for the area around Pretoria. This is our fourth visit here, and it is much, much drier than we have ever seen. Almost every stream and river is currently arid.

The moody clouds make for some fabulous pictures though.

Your Fact For The Day: Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent in the world and was formerly known as Ifriqiya or sunny place. It covers 20.4% of total land area and 6% of earth's total surface area. The African continent comprises 54 fully recognized countries and Western Sahara, whose statehood is disputed by Morocco. South Sudan is the continent's newest country.

We found another gorgeous garden, with an amazing history, at the Vergeleden Estate and vineyard:

Almost the only place that still has agapanthus in flower, as the season is so dry:

I've been feeling quite droopy and so have gone off winetasing a bit (unheard of for me):

So instead we found olive oil tasting:

And for those of you who are dog lovers - this resident of the place we are currently staying will be (or maybe already is) starring in TV adverts in the US and Europe, recently filmed on beaches near here:


Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Other Side

Today we went into Cape Town to find out all about the Square Kilometre Array.

Unfortunately we failed as a man was stabbed just in front of us in the museum foyer, and everywhere was rapidly closing. Museum staff told us to get out of the city fast, and while we still could, as there were three marches, several strikes and likely violence, due to this.

Our car was parked a mile away.

We had no idea what was going on when we arrived shorty after mid-day: we saw lots of suspended parking bays, closed roads, and lots of police, but we'd asked three separate groups of police what was happening (including a senior officer in a police car) and were reassured that it was just routine and nothing to worry about.

The kindly retired ex-director of the museum (who happened to be there delivering something, and who also hadn't expected what was happeing to be happening) saw how white I'd gone as I cowered behind the large pillar behind the entrance desk, to keep away from knives and sticks, and those wielding them, and took us in his small car (that was safely tucked up in the secured compound right next to the museum) back to our car, and then we headed for the local wine valley for some wine tastings to make ourselves feel better.

We got back to where we are staying and two more people were stabbed, and several shot, right in front of our eyes.

The last part was on TV (Silent Witness: downloaded before we left the UK, I hasten to add).

But only the last part.

I've never liked Cape Town.

It's very interesting to talk to people we meet on our travels. There seems to be a huge amount of ignorance of what is currently going on here politically, culturally, and economically, and the best quality information seems to be coming from expats, or people who have come, lived, and returned home and now return to holiday here, with the occasional SA white businessman telling us that the 'bubble' in this area is about to burst and that he's got an exit plan (which has already involved selling a lot of his property in highly-affluent white-dominated towns). After four visits we're beginning to understand a bit...

Nelson Mandela must be turning in his grave. 26 years today from his release, I don't think that what is happenning is at all what he had in mind; at least in his latter years.

Interesting words in the SONA, though.

Some random shots from the past couple of days

Chapman's Peak, from a moving car (coastal/blasted from the rock road that runs up from Noordhoek to Cape Town):

Scarborough Beach (a nature conservation area) - down near Cape Point:

Sunbird on agapanthus at Kirstenbosch (botanical gardens in Cape Town, my favouritest place):

Almost too late for protea this year (the weather has been so hot and so dry the season is two or three weeks ahead of normal), but there are still a few to be found by those who love them:

The new(ish) tree canopy walk at Kirstenbosch:

I cannot describe just how hot it was on there:

One of the six courses (for £16pp) of last night's delicious dinner:

And, from the chapel in the SA Naval Museum in Simon's Town (a most surreal place, with random models of ships, mock-ups of submarines and liferafts, and random facts about historic battles), a brief history of time:

Jesus, St George and the Dragon, Nelson, and then a few sailors from their navy.

Nice to see a 1982 made in Yeovil helicopter preserved:

And a 1935 Leyland Cub, made in the Midlands, fire engine in excellent condition:

There was a whole room of annual photographs of various ships' companies. We spent a good twenty minutes amusing ourselves looking at the ageing process on board, the paucity of women sailors, their placement in the photos, and the shortness of their skirts. We spotted a 1957 example of the early use of Photoshop (RHS):


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Henrietta arrives at her final destination

Well OK, she's not actually going to live on the beach, but near it.

From Kiln to Kathy, via an Olive Farm, an Ostrich Farm, a Vineyard, and the beach.

Over 1,000 miles by road since we got here 13 days ago now, plus however far it is from UK to SA (cbatg), plus however far it is from where they make the glass in the US to the UK.

Grief, that chicken has one hell of a lot of airmiles under her wing.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Vineyard gardens

The larger vineyards have impressive old Cape Dutch houses at their centre, and wonderful surrounding gardens.

"How quaint," I thought," an English-style post box; they must have known I was visiting!"

I looked a little closer and sighed:

Luckily, they were saved by their cushions in the facilities. Always judge a place by its facilties, I say.

We sent our postcards last week.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Don't mention the war

"Hullo, we are de Germans who stay over there... [indicating the other cottage on this vineyard, in the distance] yesterday there was four pool chairs and today there is two. Where is de others, do you know?"

"Well, it's like this," I said, smiling engagingly, "in England we know that Germans always get up early and put their towels on the sun loungers so that no-one else can use them. We decided to get ahead of the game and so we took the sun loungers."

They looked at each other and didn't laugh. We didn't see them again, and the've gone home now.

[actually, the real story about the disappearance is rather different - having had the old wooden sun lounger by our cottage collapse with him in it - the fabric lacing strap had frayed and snapped - the lady who runs the place suggested that we take the poolside sun loungers for our cottage, but I wasn't going to tell the Germans, who clearly thought that we were breaking the rules, that]


Friday, February 5, 2016

In wine country

Perhaps surprisingly, this air-cooling ice-filled suspended balloon structure was not a feature of the fun, wine-filled Abba- and Gloria Gaynor-fest that we attended last night (first time I've ever seen five grand's worth of 'product' in a 'bathroom', and, had I known that they ran a hugely successful hairdressing and spa business in Switzerland, I might have been less confident in my rub-and-go hairstyle and minimal blue mascara look), but a cooling device in the 8 acre garden of Babylonstoren, a delightful organic and biodynamic principled garden in a vineyard that we visited (again) today.

We had an interesting and informative garden tour (with nibbly samples of things growing all the way around) with a stand-in guide as the usual bra-less wonder (having now experienced temperatures in the mid-30s or above for the past 10 days, I can understand exactly why she does it) was unfortunately sick. I won't tell you that Mr BW was disappointed, because he'll probably deny it.

This year, though, we knew about it, and Mr BW booked a table in the award-winning restaurant the requisite two months ahead.

Fabulous meal (I've never seen Mr BW defeated before the dessert course before, but he ordered the chicken and got a whole, full-sized dissection), with all fruit and vegetable ingredients grown in the garden.

The Red Starter (more than a meal in itself, but no-one told us, and we'd ordered mains too and didn't like to disappoint):

The Green Starter:

The two courses, with appetisers, cocktails and delightful refreshing natural iced 'teas' we had were so large that we had to go home and sleep for two hours afterwards. In the UK you'd get a bill for at least a hundred pounds for food and drink of a similar quality at a similar establishment. The damage here? £35 including a generous tip.

Tomorrow we're off early to an excellent craft and food market, and then to the summer wine festival here. We've been given free tickets. No, I don't know how we manage it either. Everyone is so friendly here.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Keep up, keep up, we're two days ahead of you...

(The other posts are still in draft awaiting the pictures. Sorry.)

We went here for a wine tasting, and we got a personal tour, because, although it is a big vineyard, they weren't busy.

It's peak grape-picking season here and it was utterly fascinating watching the grapes come in by tractor in crates, being crushed, passed through pipes into huge stainless steel tanks, and then (a variable amount of time later) into barrels.

We also went in the museum and admired the art, and the sculpture, but particularly the lino prints.

Undoubtedly millions of pounds worth, because that's what rich people here buy, but we didn't know the artists and so smiled knowingly while being underwhelmed, and thinking, "I could do that!"

We went somewhere else just down the road from where we are now staying for a wine tasting (small vineyard that we think produces some of the best wines in SA, the lady owner recognised us from our previous visits - wellllll - she said that she recognised me as I looked like the midwife who delivered her two children, which may or may not be a compliment) and then we went for a wine tasting at the tiny vineyard where we are staying.

It must be said that the amount of wine that one can consume at a wine tasing is more than enough to put you over the driving limit, so Mr BW, who does most of the driving, tips most of his wine into mine and I end up utterly pissed amusing.

And so it was that two Swiss gays, a bit younger than us, came into the tasting rooms. They were after 24 bottles for their party tonight.

After I'd guided them in their choice (remember I had had 3 times the legal driving limit by now, and I am at my most amusing when pissed, and am quite gay-friendly), they let slip that they know the previous but one owner of this vineyard, and that they bought the house where the party is from the ex-CEO of Eur0tunne1, and that they'd visited this house for a "short break" 5 times in the last year.

Chief Gay (the one with the platinum credit charge cards and the most neatly trimmed beard) then scribbled something in red pen on the back of a tasting sheet, thrust it in our direction, with a, "You seem fun people, come to our party!" and left, clinking.

We have two hours to sober up, see if we have something suitable to wear, get dressed, and turn up to be amusing (note, SA time is 2 hours ahead of UK time).

Now, do we go, or do we stay?

If we go, I'll have to shave my legs, because gays will notice that it's nearly two weeks since I last did, right?



Friday, January 29, 2016

Hot hot hot

We're up in the Klein Karoo, in the hot pointy bits. As ever with us, in the middle of nowhere. 25kms from the nearest village, plus 3kms down a gravel track. Very very dry and dusty.

I finally found how hot was too hot yesterday: 47°C. About 3 degrees above my bearable maximum, I think. Mind you, even the farmer on the vegetable seed and ostrich farm where we are staying said it was too hot, and his seventeen workers are moving at snails' pace. And let's not mention the field of rams and goats just across the track from our front stoep (veranda), because looking at them trying to keep themselves cool is making me feel quite ill. Southern hemisphere Orion has nothing on them.

We have the whole of a colonial farmhouse, built in 1907, but abandoned 50 years ago in favour of a new homestead on the other side of the land. It has recently been renovated, keeping all of its original charm, but with modern luxury bathrooms and kitchen. 4 beds, and just over £30 a night for both of us. And the blacksmith's stamp 'Ambrose' is on every piece of original ironmongery (such as the shutter clips). We suspect he was a slave.

The farmhouse was originally built in the shelter of a mountain so that the breezes kept it cool. But, the weather has changed since then, and when it gets very hot the breeze disappears. As there are no fans, for the past three nights we have just had cold showers every time we woke up too hot. But, I have now discovered some hot water bottles in a drawer in one of the old dressers, so they are in the freezer and tonight we will have cold water bottles. Nothing like a bit of lateral thinking.

Today we have travelled up the Swartberg Pass again: just as spectacular as last time, but less scary as this time we had a full tank of fuel and 26 litres of water, just in case (well, OK, we'd just been shopping), whereas last time we had a quarter tank and a couple of litres. As a couple we met in Montagu (on their first visit here) said, "You run out of words to describe this country, don't you?"

We're now sitting in an antiquey collectables shop in Price Albert, sipping home-made lemonade and availing ourselves of the free wifi. It's still 36°C here. Can't see the screen properly, so will have to post the pics next time we grab some bandwidth from somewhere.

Hope it's not wet wet wet where you are.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

I love the Southern Hemisphere

Orion is always upside down.

That always makes me laugh.

You may need to know something about constellations to appreciate that one, because I don't think the picture, even from these dark skies up in the Montagu mountains, will allow you to see my point...

Caption competition:

"What you looking at, eh?"

"Shut up or I'll get Mr BW to eat you!"

We're back at our usual first stop: 360° views like this and utterly peaceful (apart from the farm worker on a 1950s tractor spraying the olive trees at 8am). Just as lovely, although the people who created this idyllic place from a derelict colonial farm, 13 years ago, have unexpectedly moved on last autumn. The new 'chief of hospitality' (my title for him, not his boss's) is delightfully camp, and the place where we had a superb dinner tonight has a delightfully Aspergers owner.

Luckily, we had been warned, and it took me all of 3 seconds to make the diagnosis: no, you can't order your dinner until you have selected your wine (which was fabulous), because that's the correct order of service here; no you can't order your dessert until you have finished your wine, because it won't go; and no, don't tell me you've had a wonderful evening and then go and write something different on Trip Advisor.

We took the piss somewhat mercilessly, and we almost got the upper hand. Although, had we not been warned, we too might have thought him rude. Must remember to tell our camp CoH that he's harmless and socially challenged, rather than odd and unpredictable, as we were informed.

Did I ever tell you how much I love mountains?


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Things that Go A-Round

It finally went from September temperatures and colded down to around 2 degrees°C during the day and minus two by night, for the week from Wednesday 13th to Thursday 20th. The full moon has been fabulous in the early mornings too (here with a few clouds across it):

Mr BW decided to repaint the hall, stairs and landing during that time. They hadn't been done since we had the extension back 2006, so they needed doing, as, despite being regularly touched-up, the oil from the satinwood on the stairs and panelling had risen to the surface (as it does in old paint) and was making them look grubby.

We looked at a colour chart, shuddered, and decided to use exactly the same colours we had before: Dulux Ivory Lace matt emulsion for the walls and (new low-odour formulation - and it really was - the smell went away in 4 days, rather than the 6 weeks the old fornulation took, and it was dry well within two hours rather than still being sticky after 48) Dulux Trade water-based satinwood Natural Wicker, which now only exists as a 'special mix' colour (and is hideously expensive - £75 for 5 litres) for the stairs and panelling. (Just writing the names down there for my future benefit).

As I am ever-increasingly disturbed by paint fumes, that meant turning off the boiler, keeping the windows open all the time, night and day, for 5 days. During this time one of our h0ney customers rang the bell and asked me if I realised that all our windows were open. I had to work really hard not to say what came into my head. We did have two little oases, kept warm and smell-free with closed doors - the kitchen/dining room, which is heated by the Aga, and our bedroom, which is never very warm, and has the window open year-round, as that's how we like it.

Mr BW has done a fabulous job. And, as one of my Patchy Ladies said, saved us £800 in decorator's bills.

We've also been making lots and lots and lots of marmalade (adding Value to h0ney). The Seville (marmalade) oranges were very early this year - I bought the first on 6th January, whereas I usually reckon to buy them in the 3rd week of January - large, but dry - a friend whose brother lives in Spain told us that this is an indication of the successive summers of drought, which is now so bad that whole areas of olive and almond trees have died in the last year.

We have now, for the first time ever, totally run out of jars. I've even been eyeing up ones used to store things in the Studio, thinking that I might requisition and repurpose them. People are much less good at returning jars, or passing-on unwanted jars these days, we've found. Probably because glass is now collected in the mixed-recycling, from the kerb-side, so it's easier to just throw it 'away'.

Talking of refuse collection - one of our wheelie bins had its lid and lid mechanism clips ripped off during collection a couple of weeks ago. Not only did the refuse collectors not bother to tell us, but (I have discovered) the only way to get a new one is to find the correct place to ring, and then to wait "6 to 8 weeks". I have been advising the Director in charge of that service how to run her Department rather better (including adequate replacement stock planning and timely requisition, and putting a sticker on bins that have been broken, apologising and explaining the replacement process) and ensuring that she does by involving elected members.

But, it all takes time.

We've also been making lots of crafty things, and the glass kiln has been on again. This time full of hens, b33s and beads.

Turned out rather well.

These ones told me they want to go and live with one of our friends in South Africa, so we're off to take them (just as the weather is back up to 10 to 12 degrees C by day and night again, and the b33s, lacewings and ladybirds are all flying about).

Here a real bee (RHS, just below centre) is 'inspecting' her glass representation. I'm not sure that she was too impressed by the lack of anatomical correctness.

And we won't mention This Little Madam (never the tamest of creatures), who chose yesterday to fall out of a tree, or off the roof (or something similar), and require an emergency trip to the vet's. Luckily leg not broken, but the house-sitter could have done without having to catch her and force anti-inflammatories down her neck every day for the next week.

Updates as and when internet connectivity allows.

Posted at 11:26 AM | Comments (3)

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Truth is Out There

Back on American TV last night and tonight (snow permitting), The X-Files.

Looking it up, I can't believe that it is 14 years since new episodes were last on our screens (for 201 episodes between 1993 and 2002).

It's unclear when it will be back with us in the UK - "sometime in February 2016" seems to be the current best guess, as far as I can see, although there are currently 20 key past episodes being shown on 5* (which, hitherto, I had no idea even existed) at 1am (I had no idea that existed either).

I think that it was probably watching The X-Files back in the early 90s that finally made the penny drop for me: nothing was what it seemed. That and working in a senior position in various Local Education Authorities.

The Daily Telegraph's Jonathan Bernstein perfectly captures my thoughts on this:

"What has changed is the internet. In The X-Files’ Nineties heyday, when network TV was dominated by cops, doctors and lawyers, a weekly show that baldly stated we were being lied to by our elected officials was a lone voice, and a unique one. The series took the paranoid ravings previously only shared by a shadowy minority and shoved them under a national spotlight.

But today, the comments section of any website no matter how monstrous or obscure, is it’s own X-Files. Everyone’s got insane theories they need to share. Everyone believes the worst about what we eat, what we watch, what we read, and who we vote for. (my bold; their mis-placed apostrophe)

This 14-years-later version of the series uses a professional fear-monger, a TV conspiracist (played by Joel McHale) to bring estranged ex-FBI agents Mulder and Scully back into each others orbits. McHale’s prophet of doom, who swans around in a bulletproof limousine guzzling champagne, informs the pair he needs them to help “…blow open maybe the most evil conspiracy the world has ever known.”

Characteristically, Scully is having none of it and Mulder is ablaze with a fervour—or as close to a fervour as David Duchovny can summon — to uncover the truth.

The truth he’s chasing in this mini-series isn’t the same truth he pursued in the Nineties.

This time, he’s convinced there is no alien conspiracy. Aliens, he now believes, were friendly emissaries worried about our warlike tendencies. The real conspirators are in the industrial-military complex which has been using stolen extra-terrestrial technology to stage fake alien abductions — “Roswell was a smokescreen!” seethes Mulder — harvest human foetuses and keep us in a state of passive, over-fed consumerism while they plot to take over America and, ultimately, the world.

You know who else believes that? EVERYBODY! At least everybody online.

Reputable sources claim the series grows a pulse and a sense of humour after the second episode. I want to believe - see what I did there? - that’s the case, but we’re in for a welter of similar TV revivals over the next few years. I don’t want to be in constant state of feeling old, disappointed and mistrustful of my own taste.

Unless, it’s all a conspiracy designed to make me feel that way."

From my point of view, the best thing about seeing revived series from the past, with their original characters, is that the once-glossy stars all look much older too! Ah, we can all grow older together.

Or not, as the case may be...

The party at the entrance to the next life is definitely the place to be right now, isn't it?

Lemmy, Ed Stewart, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Dale Griffin, all taken from us in the last month already.

The fact that many were only in their 60s makes us more glad than ever that we eased into retirement 17 years before the governmint will pay us out. Fewer than 14 years to go for me now. At least until the rules are changed again...