Tuesday, 12 February 2013

BBC TV Pointless - game show or social comment

It has finally dawned on me, in a flash of inspiration, the purpose behind BBC TV's "Pointless" TV show...

Perhaps you think it's just a bit of fluff - a trivial entertainment to obviate the need for conversation when eating supper in the living room. I used to think that, but I now realise it's a very clever piece of social comment containing veiled criticism of our political leaders every bit as acerbic as the satire of Jonathan Swift.

It does this by exposing, on a daily basis, just how ineffectual the British education system has been in instilling into the general public even the most rudimentary knowledge of British history, the arts (especially literature), foreign languages or science.

Give the contestants questions about which celebrity is currently bonking whom, or about football or TV and, it seems, they have little problem but anything even remotely academic seems to throw them all into a blue funk.

Today, for example, it was revealed that only 6% of the British public know that Gladstone's political opponents included Disraeli. In the past, similarly low numbers have known that Carroll wrote "Through the Looking Glass" or been able to ascribe an author to the most common quotations from the likes of Wordsworth or Eliot.

Having exposed the politicians' failure as custodians of our education system, the programme goes on to demonstrate how politicians have also failed to promote themselves or generate any interest in their activities. We have seen contestants who believe Boris Johnson to be a member of the labour party and a general and pervasive ignorance of who is in the cabinet.

I should therefore like to congratulate the BBC on this perceptive and entertaining piece of social commentary. I only hope that politicians in general, and the Secretary of State for Education in particular (how many of the 100 people could name him, I wonder) are paying attention to Auntie's subtle use of what is, ostensibly, simply entertainment to highlight a worrying social problem.

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Monday, 11 June 2012

Moroccatoulle

I'm sometimes a bit stuck for side dishes to go with tagines (in addition to the mandatory cous-cous). This week, I think I've just invented moroccatouille. A perfect accompaniment for tagine, b'steeya or any spicy dish (I'm all in favour of multi-cultural cooking). I thought I'd have my first attempt at writing out a recipe to share. The recipe below serves four as a side dish and can be made in about 20 minutes.

Ingredients

I'm not really one for exact measurements so the following is for guidance only. Please adjust according to taste.

  • Oil - olive or, even better, some of the oil from your jar of sun dried tomatoes.
  • 1 small onion.
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic.
  • Ground cinnamon, cumin and coriander.
  • Optional: 1 medium chilli.
  • 1 Aubergine.
  • Half a dozen pieces of sun dried tomato - say about a third to half a jar.
  • 1 small red or yellow pepper, or an equivalent number of pieces from a jar of roasted peppers.
  • A handful of fresh coriander.

You will also need a deep sided frying pan, wok or tagine with a well fitting lid.

  1. Finely chop the onion, crush and finely chop the garlic. If using chilli, de-seed and finely chop.
  2. If using a fresh pepper, de-seed it then skin it either using a kitchen blow-torch or under the grill. The idea is to slightly cook it as well as taking the skin off so direct heat is preferable to other skinning methods.
  3. If you like to do all the preparation in advance, chop the pepper (whichever sort) and sun dried tomatoes into your interpretation of bite-sized pieces and dice the aubergine into about 1cm cubes. Alternatively you can do this while the onion and garlic are frying.
  4. Heat the oil in your chosen pan then add chopped onion and fry until softened. Add the garlic and cook for about another minute before adding the three spices - about ½ to 1 teaspoon of each, according to taste, and the fresh chilli is using. I like to go heavy on the cinnamon and coriander and a bit lighter on the cumin but experiment to find your favourite mix.
  5. Cook for a few seconds before adding the chopped pepper, diced aubergine then cook for a couple of minutes more. Meanwhile, boil a small quantity of water in your kettle and finely chop a handful of fresh coriander.
  6. Pour in just enough water to cover the bottom of your pan, add the fresh coriander, stir round and then check seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Cover with a lid and put it on the gentlest light available on your hob. Leave to cook out until the aubergine is soft - say about 10 minutes. It doesn't need any further attention other than to ensure it doesn't dry out (add a tad more boiling water if necessary).

Final instruction - never stick to the recipe. Always experiment. The aubergine and sun dried tomatoes are the key ingredients but everything else is up for grabs. I have an idea that some toasted flaked almonds would make a good garnish before serving. If you want to be really Moroccan, roll the flaked almonds in icing sugar before putting them on.

I'd love to hear comments back from anyone who tries this, or has suggestions for improvements.

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Sunday, 15 April 2012

A poem for Titanic week

A slight deviation from my usual comic style for a more serious subject...

It was April the tenth in the year of our Lord
Nineteen hundred and twelve, that’s the day
That with over one thousand eight hundred on board
Titanic set off on her way.

Her first port of call was to Cherbourg, to park
For more passengers, dressed in their best
Then to Ireland where even more souls could embark
Before she set off for the west.

Four hedonist days passed without any care
Especially up in first class.
Man, woman and child, they were all unaware
Of events that would soon come to pass.

It was full steam ahead for the liner and crew
Despite many warnings of ice
For that’s what the owners had told them to do
And to take no one else’s advice.

Titanic sped on through the ice and the brine
Executives feeling the need
To show White Star Line was ahead of its time
When it came to both comfort and speed.

It was on that fourth night that the tragedy fell
Nearly midnight when most were asleep
A slow groaning shudder was all to foretell
Of the menace that struck from the deep.

Hardly anyone thought it a dangerous sign
For all had been told it unthinkable
That a liner that size and of modern design
Could ever be thought to be sinkable.

But they didn’t know of the damage below –
Metal plates torn apart just like cardboard
Compartments were breached by the long glancing blow
As the iceberg dragged past down the starboard.

Titanic’s design meant the ship could survive
If water filled four of these rooms
But the gash down her side let the water in five
For the liner, that fifth one spelled doom.

She started to list and to tilt to the bow
The flooding got faster and stronger
To the people on board it was obvious now
She would not stay afloat for much longer.

From that moment onward it must have been manic
Just try to imagine the scene
As those on Titanic were starting to panic
How frightening it must have been.

"Make for the lifeboats!" up went the cry.
"This way. Come on. Follow me."
"Please make haste everyone for we don’t want to die"
"In the depths of an icy cold sea."

But space in the lifeboats was less than a half
Of enough to save everyone’s necks.
Though it seems to us now most excessively daft
White Star felt that they cluttered the decks.

So lifeboat places a meagre resource
And women and children first
That meant for all of the men there of course
Their prospects could not have be worse.

Two thousand odd people, fare paying and staff
Sisters, daughters and mothers
And not enough room in Titanic’s life craft
For the husbands and lovers and brothers.

Meanwhile down below from the third class deck
Escape routes had been blocked
So many souls trying to flee from the wreck
Discovered that doors had been locked.

Over sixty percent was the count who survived
From the toffs and the rich and the peerage
While down below decks ‘twas a mere twenty five
The percentage escaping from steerage.

So fifteen hundred died that night
Though many more could have been saved
If shipping lines had been more bright
About safety on the waves.

Read full article...

A poem for Titanic week

A slight deviation from my usual comic style for a more serious subject...

It was April the tenth in the year of our Lord
Nineteen hundred and twelve, that’s the day
That with over one thousand eight hundred on board
Titanic set off on her way.

Her first port of call was to Cherbourg, to park
For more passengers, dressed in their best
Then to Ireland where even more souls could embark
Before she set off for the west.

Four hedonist days passed without any care
Especially up in first class.
Man, woman and child, they were all unaware
Of events that would soon come to pass.

It was full steam ahead for the liner and crew
Despite many warnings of ice
For that’s what the owners had told them to do
And to take no one else’s advice.

Titanic sped on through the ice and the brine
Executives feeling the need
To show White Star Line was ahead of its time
When it came to both comfort and speed.

It was on that fourth night that the tragedy fell
Nearly midnight when most were asleep
A slow groaning shudder was all to foretell
Of the menace that struck from the deep.

Hardly anyone thought it a dangerous sign
For all had been told it unthinkable
That a liner that size and of modern design
Could ever be thought to be sinkable.

But they didn’t know of the damage below –
Metal plates torn apart just like cardboard
Compartments were breached by the long glancing blow
As the iceberg dragged past down the starboard.

Titanic’s design meant the ship could survive
If water filled four of these rooms
But the gash down her side let the water in five
For the liner, that fifth one spelled doom.

She started to list and to tilt to the bow
The flooding got faster and stronger
To the people on board it was obvious now
She would not stay afloat for much longer.

From that moment onward it must have been manic
Just try to imagine the scene
As those on Titanic were starting to panic
How frightening it must have been.

“Make for the lifeboats!” up went the cry.
“This way. Come on. Follow me.”
“Please make haste everyone for we don’t want to die”
“In the depths of an icy cold sea.”

But space in the lifeboats was less than a half
Of enough to save everyone’s necks.
Though it seems to us now most excessively daft
White Star felt that they cluttered the decks.

So lifeboat places a meagre resource
And women and children first
That meant for all of the men there of course
Their prospects could not have be worse.

Two thousand odd people, fare paying and staff
Sisters, daughters and mothers
And not enough room in Titanic’s life craft
For the husbands and lovers and brothers.

Meanwhile down below from the third class deck
Escape routes had been blocked
So many souls trying to flee from the wreck
Discovered that doors had been locked.

Over sixty percent was the count who survived
From the toffs and the rich and the peerage
While down below decks ‘twas a mere twenty five
The percentage escaping from steerage.

So fifteen hundred died that night
Though many more could have been saved
If shipping lines had been more bright
About safety on the waves.

Read full article...

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

A message for cold callers

Here is my suggested voice-mail welcome message to deter cold callers.

Beep. This is a recording.

I have not bought, nor would I ever buy, payment protection insurance so I am not interested in compensation for the alleged mis-selling of same.

I have not had any accidents recently but, if I had, I would not be seeking compensation. An accident is, by definition, nobody’s fault and the modern trend of immediately seeking compensation after any minor misfortune is an insidious one that serves only to push up all my insurance premiums.

I am not interested in participating in any market survey on any topic, even if you insist that you won’t follow it up by trying to sell me something, because I know you will.

My computer is working fine. I fully understand that if you get me to look in the system event log I will find arcane error messages in it. That is what the event log is for. I would be seriously surprised if it did not contain at least some error messages. I do not, therefore, require any assistance in fixing my computer and I certainly don’t want to install the remote control software you are offering.

My house is already fully double glazed and well insulated. I am not interested in solar panels as the sun rarely shines here and, in any case, the government has recently made dramatic cuts in the benefits on offer to those who fit them.

I am completely happy with my current energy supplier and will decide, on my own terms, if and when I wish to change. The same thing goes for my broadband service.

Please do not tell me this is not a cold call. You phoned me and I did not ask you to do it. To me, that is a cold call. I am on the telephone preference service list so you should not be calling me at all but I fully understand that you are probably calling from outside the UK in order to circumvent the regulations. No doubt this suspicion could be confirmed from your heavy accent were anyone actually listening.

My first inclination would have been to hang up the phone immediately you called, but I have decided to keep you on the line as long as possible to maximise your company’s phone bill. This is my rather pathetic attempt to punish your organisation for interrupting my otherwise peaceful afternoon.

I thank you for your attention. If you would like to hear this message again, please press zero. If you would like to speak to a representative, please hold and someone will be with you, but it may not be until a week next Tuesday.

Read full article...