Wednesday 30 December 2009

More food stuff...

As promised, photos of my cooking frenzy yesterday. I really enjoyed cooking these - especially the desserts as I don't often cook desserts.

Main course - casserole with a twist - it's oriental inspired. I'm definitely making this one again: here is the recipe.

Dessert 1 - an old favourite of mine, I collected the recipe from a pamphlet in store years ago and stuck it in my trusty recipe book (inherited from my great-grandmother!). Now I have found it online too! Here is the recipe.

This was another recipe I collected from a card in-store years ago... I found a version online but for mine I used both puréed and sliced strawberries. Here is the recipe.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Cooking up a storm

In true Christmas tradition my folks are coming for lunch today. Given that Rich and I don't have a turkey for just the two of us there are no left-overs so there is no turkey salad or turkey curry on the menu. I have opted instead for a casserole - I like these as they can be cooked in advance and left to their own devices whilst I sit and talk with my family. Not a traditional casserole though... it is a 'far-eastern' version with lots of ginger, garlic and spring onions... must remember to take the star-anise out before serving!

I also made a couple of chilled desserts. One which was quite simple was strawberries and meringues with whipped cream. This year I had no delusions about hand whipping the cream and went straight in with the electric whisk - which still took long enough. Slightly more complicated was the 'no-cook' lime cheescake. It promised a fifteen minute preparation time... ha! Not so much. Discounting the five minutes looking for something to zest the limes it still took well over forty minutes. Presumably the fifteen minutes is if you have someone who has prepared all the ingredients for you!

My biggest trauma was zesting the limes. I don't own a zester... this is the first occasion I've ever even needed one. My initial plan was to rub the limes against a fine grater. Not successful - the zest got stuck in amongst the grates and vanished. All I succeeded in doing was grating my knuckles. Next I tried a vegetable peeler. Not effective as I then had to finely slice the peel. I finally hit on the (if I say so myself) genius idea of running the blade of a serrated knife (I used a steak knife) over the lime. Finally... success - just keep your fingers away from the edge of the fruit!

I'll try and get round to publishing the recipes or links to them and some photos later. Having prepared the food I have to prepare me - I cook in a hair-net and pyjamas... very attractive!

Sunday 27 December 2009

Things not to do at Christmas...

There are things that you just don't do at Christmas... well, at least, you shouldn't.
  1. Travel anywhere by car on Christmas Eve
  2. Go out for 'one quick drink' on Christmas Eve and wake up with a hangover
  3. Go shopping for just about anything more than a pint of milk any time after the 23rd December
  4. Go shopping practically any time between Boxing Day and New Year's Day.
I managed to avoid all of these Christmas traumas except the last. My nearly-mother-in-law and I decided (goodness knows why) that it was a good idea to go to Bluewater today. For those who don't live in the South East corner of England, Bluewater is a massive shopping mall - one of the biggest in Europe. It is laid out over two levels in a triangle (I always wonder how the shops in the centre of the triangle are serviced?). One of the nicest things, compared to the very limited number of malls I have visited, is the architecture. Each mall has a 'theme' the most striking being the one with a representation of the Thames laid in the floor with villages marked out along it.

Today was not a good day to shop. We arrived, I thought, quite early just around quarter to eleven. We parked the car (eventually) and made our way into the Mall via Marks and Spencer's. This isn't just a queue... this is an M&S queue (to paraphrase their adverts)... good grief the queues for the tills were HUGE. That set the tone for the day really. The malls were packed and so were most of the stores. We didn't really buy much - and probably our favourite part was sitting down for a cup of coffee!

Happy Christmas

So... gifts have been opened, too much food has been eaten and rubbish TV has been watched. Now it is time to hit the sales, see friends and family... and not go to work until the New Year.

This is one of the coolest (and cutest) things I got for Christmas. Rich knows how much I miss our friendly garden toads when they hibernate for winter... so he got me a substitute to keep me company until Spring.

Despite the fact that our rubber duck collection in the bathroom has now reached saturation it doesn't stop the collection from growing. Meet Love Duck and Ducks Fizz.
My nearly-mother-in-law got me this trio. The two smaller ones are actually for salt and pepper... but I don't think that they will be used for such as they are far too cute.

Meanwhile our nativity scene-cum-advent calendar is finally complete. I bought this from the Lakeland catalogue last year... for half price. The problem was the reason it was half price was that it didn't arrive until nearly January, so this is the first year I've had a chance to use it.

This gorgeous little fellow came from the Cancer Research shop... despite the fact I had no idea where to put him I really couldn't resist.

I hope everyone had a truly lovely Christmas - Rich and I certainly did.

Monday 21 December 2009

Snow Joke

My feet possibly have frostbite... OK so I'm prone to exaggeration... but they are very cold - my face is chapped beyond repair... OK, more exaggeration... but my skin is very dry. Traffic chaos ensues on the Greenwich Peninsula tonight... not exaggeration.

At around 4:15 Rich rang to warn me that it had just snowed heavily in Charlton and the snow storm was likely headed towards Central London. No, I said blithely, it's pouring with rain here. I looked out the window - at some point without me noticing the rain had turned to huge flakes of snow... and it was starting to settle.

I warned my colleagues and everyone began to don their winter togs with unseemly haste. I got outside the front door - yep, really snowing.

It was already settling on the (probably ungritted) side streets, and traffic (both pedestrian and vehicular) was all moving very gingerly. I was delighted to find when I arrived at Green Park station that the Jubilee Line was running normally... how little that was going to matter... as you will see.

I arrived without incident at North Greenwich. To hear the end of an announcement warning passengers to mind their step in the station as it might be slippery and wet due to 'adverse weather conditions' - oh, adverse indeed... as you will see. Delays to buses the announcer warns... one to two hours wait for a black cab the announcer warns. I get outside the station, there are no buses - not at the stand, not at the stops, not in view. The bus stops are mobbed. I make a decision to not wait but rather to walk home.

Off I set through the car park and off through the Peninsula. It has stopped snowing, at least.

This is looking back through the car parks towards the Dome. The roads are pretty impassable at this point - I've seen the gritter about but he hasn't been this way yet.

Moving along towards the roundabout near the tunnel approach interchange - the traffic doesn't appear to be moving much. It is harder to walk here as the snow is turning icy from the foot traffic.

I'm not the only one who has given up waiting for buses and decided to walk though!

Roundabout near the Tunnel - traffic isn't moving up on the A2 either. The roads look a little better here, probably from sheer weight of traffic.

Finally reached the Cinema and Sainsbury's. The earlier snow has now been replaced by rain. The pavements are beginning to get very slippery as snow turns to slush... or even worse ice.

Woolwich Road Flyover. Raining quite hard now... traffic still not moving in any direction. My feet are getting very wet by this point as slushy mushy snow-ice invaded my boots.

I actually had to take my glasses off. The rain and my breath meant that they got fogged up... I figured that seeing only a few feet in front of me was probably better than seeing nothing at all through the mist.

Ah, here are all the buses! Three 486s stopped at Charlton station, one seems quite literally to have gone backwards into the traffic islands.

And here's another 486 - given up halfway up Charlton Church Lane... and another bus got stuck coming in the other direction.

There is not traffic up in Charlton Village though. Although, look, at last - a bus!

At last! Nearly home. That is my bus stop... suddenly an amazing amount of traffic again.

But the mystery of what happened to all the buses is solved. Operation Stack (where they park lorries on the M20 when there is trouble at the Channel Ports) seems to be operating on Littleheath. I counted eight buses in this queue.

I took about an hour and a half and it was about 3 and a half miles... but I beat the weather and the traffic and get home! So - how much snow caused all this chaos... inches and inches surely.

Well... not quite.

Saturday 19 December 2009

Monday 7 December 2009

Climate in the spotlight

COP15 begins in Copenhagen today - so called as the fifteenth conference to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In the UK the beginning of the conference - which should turn the spotlight firmly to Climate Change - has been shadowed by an e-mail scandal... the focus of which (according to delighted climate sceptics) seems to be that some 'leaked' emails appear to suggest that the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia manipulated data; suggestions which they strenuously deny. The press and portions of society globally take any chance they come across to try and deny the actuality of Climate Change. This is despite the fact that reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that it is 90% probable that the activities of mankind are largely responsible for Climate Change.

Put this in perspective: 90% - that is around a 1 in 10 chance, it is better than your chances of winning a tenner on the Lotto (around 1 in 57).

So enough wondering if... time to focus on what to do now. That is what the conference in Copenhagen is all about. Twelve years ago a deal was forged in Kyoto - the now famous Kyoto Protocol. The problems with Kyoto are several - firstly the commitments signed up to did not come into force until 2005 (only five years ago); secondly many of the nations signing up to Kyoto did so as 'developing nations' and thus have no legal obligations; and thirdly (and most importantly) the Kyoto Protocol only sets out obligations until 2012 - which is only a couple of years away.

So the time for action is now - in June G8 Countries agreed that global temperature rises should be limited to 2 degrees centigrade since pre-industrial times. Many analyses predict that a 1.5 degree rise is already guaranteed (current levels are just under 1%). Drastic action is need and drastic action is need now. Carbon dioxide remain in the atmosphere for decades; so we cannot undo the damage that has already been done; but we can try our hardest not to do any more.

My eyes will be firmly on Copenhagen for the next couple of weeks - if you want to keep up with what is going on I strongly recommend the BBC's micro-site.

Other interesting sites are: 

Sunday 6 December 2009

Lighting up Christmas

There was a big dark spot in the middle of the living room with no lights - so I bought (another) set of new lights at B&Q. Colour changing glitter-balls!

Occasional Tourist

London by night one and two

Monday 30 November 2009

Traffic chaos on the Greenwich Peninsula

Ask anyone who travels (or indeed has ever travelled) by car on the Greenwich Peninsula what the major problem is and they will probably tell you that all roads lead to the same place; quite literally. There are two major 'A' roads going from east to west and a 'B' road in between; these all lead towards Central London either via Blackheath and Deptford or Greenwich town centre itself. Then there are two 'A' roads going north to south - on culminating in the Woolwich Ferry and the other in the Blackwall Tunnel. In amongst these major arteries are a variety of smaller roads which, or course either take you nowhere or back to one of these major routes. The choked access across the Heath or the equally choked access through the Tunnel are the only ways into London.

Imagine then, these routes which can barely cope at the best of times (which I think is about 3am from Sunday into Monday!), when some sort of traffic trouble hits. Yesterday evening there was a car fire a few hundred meters from the entrance to the northbound tunnel; this apparently affected the road surface, lighting and CCTV. End result - the tunnel had to be closed. Now that is fine on a Sunday night (it sometimes happens to allow maintenance) but that is not so good in the Monday rush-hour. The almost immediate knock on effect as traffic is diverted is heavy traffic towards Woolwich (to use the ferry) and towards New Cross and Deptford (to hook up with the roads that will take you over Tower Bridge etc.). Of course, there is also the traffic being diverted off the A2 causing chaos at every junction.

I didn't know this when I set out for the Doctor's surgery at twenty to nine this morning... although I did note the nearly stationary traffic building up through the Village. After the Doctor I went down through Charlton to the Peninsula for some shopping; traffic through the light-industrial area was jammed heading towards Greenwich and the 422 (with amazing foresight) had been diverted to follow the 486 route (thus avoiding the stationary traffic towards Greenwich.

The tunnel was expected to remain closed until Wednesday although reports on the evening news state that it is now re-opened although traffic views taken from local cameras still look extremely congested.

Lucky I didn't get stuck in any of it or I really would be fuming. On the basis of this chaos one can only hope that vehicle transport of any kind will be BANNED when the Olympics come town and that everyone (competitors and dignitaries included) will be obliged to use public transport. The Borough has no less than three venues; Greenwich Park, Artillery Barracks and the O2. All of these in delightfully well served and accessible areas which aren't affected by traffic problems  at all... wait a moment, I think I might have to write to my MP.

Friday 27 November 2009

Skywatch Friday (20)

Glowing chemtrail

The noise of modern life

Good morning, this is BBC Breakfast

486 to North Greenwich
Charlton Station, Charlton Church Lane
Please stand back from the yellow line
Mind the gap
8:57 to Cannon Street
Welcome to London Cannon Street,
Customers are advised to use any available exit at the gate line

Ground Floor, going up
Your call is number... three... in the queue
The fire alarm is about to be tested
Fire has been reported in the building,
Please leave by the nearest exit
The fire alarm test is now complete
First Floor, going down

A good service is operating on the Jubilee Line
This train terminates at North Greenwich
Mind the doors please
This train terminates here, all change please
A good service is operating on all London Underground Lines

486 to Bexleyheath Bus Garage
Cemetery Lane
You have... one... new message

Next on BBC1...

To appreciate the music of modern life you really need to have heard these announcements - nothing beats the lift lady and the way she says "going do-own"! At least they've replaced the existential crisis of the announcement at Cannon Street which sounded like it was asking customers to use "all available exits at the same time" - it turned out to be only slight less impossible when in fact it was "all available exits at the gate line".

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Another financial story

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the banks today in the case which has been rattling around the Courts for over two years. The investigation into unauthorised overdraft fees started with the launch of a test case in 2007; millions of claims were put on hold by the banks whilst the test case was decided; thousands of other claims weren't even submitted whilst the outcome of the case was awaited.

Commentators and observers prophesied that without these charges there would be an end to the current free banking system.

This ruling is unlikely to see the end of the controversy, however, as it is likely that the OFT will start looking into other routes (this case hinged on unfair contract terms) to see if money paid in charges can be recovered.

That's the press. What about the real story? I am perched firmly on the fence on this one. On the one hand, when you sign up to your bank account you agree to these terms and conditions (although you may not have actually bothered to read them!) so when the charges are incurred it really ought not to come as a surprise.

I've suffered from them myself (and indeed would have joined the queue for reclaiming them had my bank not refused to consider looking into it until this case was decided). The complaint is not so much with the charges but rather the scale of the charges.

Example: several years ago I had an agreed overdraft on my account (which I used on a monthly basis); at this time I was receiving monthly (?) statements - or rather not receiving them, as although the bank claimed that they were posted they rarely arrived with me. I don't use Internet banking (I can never remember the huge amount of security information required to log onto my account) - this meant that I rarely had any idea of how much money was in my account; or rather how far into my overdraft it was. Towards the end of the month I exceeded my overdraft by a few pounds (maybe even pence) - charges ensued; further into my unauthorised overdraft and direct debit payments are bounced - further charges ensue. The cost of lack of a few pounds - well over £60. This means that the next month I am £60 nearer reaching the unauthorised limit; and the next month even nearer, etc. etc. etc. This went on for several months. The bank refused to extend my overdraft limit; even though I pointed out the situation (and the fact that they were exacerbating the situation).

Now I admit in the above that I was at fault, and so I remedied the situation by changing the date of direct debits so that they came out at the start of the month; the bank solved their problems getting my statements to me.

What annoyed me (apart from the fact that it cannot possibly cost them £30 to not pay a direct debit) was that they will not try and work with you. Recently I got a print out from the cashpoint and discovered that my account was overdrawn (something that has not happened for a very long time). Being a responsible account holder I rang my bank, knowing that they had reduced my overdraft three times in six months - to make sure that I wasn't going to exceed my limit. I probably was, it transpired, by the time that pending payments were made. Could I increase the limit (even temporarily) to ensure that this didn't happen. No. I didn't ignore the situation, I asked for help - and the bank effectively stuck two fingers up at me. The biggest insult of all - my account isn't even a free account! I pay £15 a month for my account!

Sunday 15 November 2009

Lord Mayor's Show

The annual show of pageantry in the heart of the City of London took place yesterday. The parade which consisted of floats, bands a carriages and was more than three miles long (longer than the route that it follows!) celebrates the investiture of the new Lord Mayor.

This year we had grandstand seats just in front of St Paul's Cathedral (a little further along the route than we normally stand).

When we arrived it looked like the forecasts of bad weather were far off the mark with bright sunshine and a blue cloudless sky; although the stiff wind prevented it from being warm, even in the sun.

The parade started, and we could hear the drums of the first marching band coming along Cheapside and New Change long before we saw the start of the parade. This float was The Aldersgate Ward Club - a fantastic construction. There are 25 wards in the City (rather like electoral districts) and each of them have a Ward Club.

This float was from Cheapside and was the costumes and much of the float was made up from recycled materials!

This large side of meat which must have been fighting the winds all morning represents the Worshipful Company of Butchers of whom the Lord Mayor is a Liveryman.

London Buses and Black Cabs (taxis) feature prominently in the parade - open top buses holding participants from Livery Companies etc. and Cabs specially decked up for the occasion as the one on the right representing the RAF.

Branches of the military also play a large part in the parade, on the left the RAF and on the right the band of the Royal Marines. The army were also there (complete, at one point, with a tank!).

This veritable zoo drew much admiration from the crowd, and also some worry when a particularly strong gust of wind almost lifted the Chinese Dragon off the ground!

Animals featured several times in the parade with the beautiful bird (left) and the city dragon (right) being two more fantastic examples.
Here's another Chinese Dragon, surviving the wind and the rain!

By this point in the proceedings it was really beginning to rain seriously, having had a few showers on and off for the previous half hour or so. The people in front of me thoughtfully decided to put up their umbrella up; tipping it backwards, thus blocking my view and tipping water into my lap. I pulled up the hood on my waterproof mac and put up with me legs getting wet!

This is the Plaisterers' float; of whom the Lord Mayor is an honorary Liveryman and also the mother company of one of the two Sheriffs Mr Peter Cook.

The rain continued to pour down, but the tail end of the show continued to pass, wet horses, wet riders and all.

At last, the bit we have all been waiting for - the Lord Mayor himself; Alderman Nick Anstee. Sadly he was waving out of the wrong side of the carriage as he passed us!

That isn't the end of the day though. The Corporation of the City of London has a massive clean-up job to do before the City workers flood back into the Square Mile on Monday morning... and of course the parade itself is still on the return journey from the Royal Courts of Justice back to Mansion house where dignitaries are entertained by the new Lord Mayor for lunch. We headed back to the Livery Hall where we were having lunch - thankful at last to be warm and dry (well, drying out).
The evening is usually characterised by a fireworks display from barges on the Thames, this was cancelled yesterday by the Port of London Authority due to the high winds.

By the time I made my way home the weather was clearing (left) - although walking through some of the narrow City streets (right) it was easy to appreciate the long history of the day.

Did you know: the word 'floats' originates from the barges used in the procession back when it used to take place on the Thames.