Saturday, 26 February 2011

"I find Cambridge an asylum, in every sense of the word"

A.E. Housman’s words, not mine.

Personally, I found it to be a lovely place, following a short break to Cambridge recently; very pretty and pedestrianised cobbled streets, beautiful architecture, young scholars cycling just about everywhere (even though some of them looked a little too self-important!) and, more importantly, M also gave the city her seal of approval.

(Apparently it is a city, not a town, cathedral or not, and frankly, who am I to argue??)

We spent a drizzly day romping around National Trust’s wetland at Wicken Fen – we like this type of day out – it makes the hot chocolates and flapjacks all the more delicious!

We spent an entire day at the Imperial War museum at Duxford – this is one museum you have to visit! You don’t have to have a particular interest in war and conflict to enjoy this trip, although the fact that Joseph has been covering the war in class helped enormously.

There are several Imperial War museums (IWM), including the one in Lambeth, London. I have long been a fan of the London based museum but it pales in comparison compared to the one in Duxford; it is ENORMOUS!

Two hangars of British aircraft and vehicles, several ‘outhouses’ containing various exhibitions and displays and finally, the biggest and flashiest hangar of all, was (wait for it), the American funded hangar at the far end of the airfield.

Q: what’s bigger than enormous?

A: gi-normous?

Ok, let’s go with gi-normous; the US hangar is gi-normous. To be absolutely fair, it needs to be the size it is, due to the fact that it houses a B-52 bomber. Have you ever seen a B-52 bomber up close? This is another reason to make the trip. I have flown in enough planes over the last 40 years to understand about ‘lift’ and how aircraft get off the ground. Regardless of this however, it must be one heck of a sight watching one of these beasts lumbering down the runway and leaving the tarmac! In fact, I reckon it’s all a con, there’s no way these things can fly, it’s all a nonsense!

Regardless of this trickery, GO AND VISIT THIS MUSEUM, it is sick.

(I am reliably informed by one of my Year 6 pupils, that ‘sick’ in fact means cool, terrific, really good! When I rolled my eyes at the ceiling, he and his peers suggested that I didn’t like using slang words “because you’re old”).

Fine, I said. Fab, groovy, far out, whatev’.

Anyway, standing up close and personal with fighter jets was wonderful (did I mention the Lockheed SR-71B Blackbird, also housed at the museum? My entire Top Trumps collection was based around that plane so I got to see one of those too!).

As a teenager growing up in the 1980’s, I was a big fan of the film Top Gun, and wanted more than anything to be able to go up in a jet one day. Standing next to them was a poor substitute but it’d do, I s’pose.

Never fear however, because on our last day, we headed to Brandon (a tiny village about 15 miles from Bury St. Edmunds), to see my brother’s Godparents. They live approximately 3 miles past Mildenhall air force base and on our rare visits to see them, I have often wondered if jets are ever seen flying overhead.

Well, wonder no more, because the answer to that question is ‘yes’, they definitely do. Driving along, and wondering why there were dozens of cars lined up in front of a chain link fence, binoculars at the ready, I saw a sight which made me pull over immediately, the board which read “Viewing Area” suddenly making sense. Not one, not two but eight, count ‘em, EIGHT, U.S. jets lined up, waiting to take off!

Screech to a halt, turn off car, jump out of car leaving door open, run to fence and press nose up against it. Joseph joined me and picked up on my excitement immediately. After a lengthy wait (it was freeeezing cold), we watched them all take off, the last two jets shooting down the runway together and lifting off at the exact same time, almost drowned out by me whooping and cheering like a madman!!




Very interesting.


Bloody fantastic.

"I feel the need ... the need, for speed ..."

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

He makes a good point!

I must admit to being a bit of a questionnaire fan - not the ones that drop through your letterbox mind (although I do fill those out, I invariably talk myself out of posting them - utter waste of time!).

No, the one's I enjoy are online questionnaire's; I fill out several a week from my former employer, the BBC, as well as several foodie sites, most notably Waitrose, all of which land in my inbox awaiting my attention.
Although it feels terribly important, I know full well that it's just an automated email that gets fired out to thousands of others like me, who probably also feel terribly important, and my views just go a little way to shaping certain things as required by these large corporations.

The most recent Waitrose questionnaire that required me to read page after page of similar sounding questions (allowing responses ranging between "Extremely satisfied" and "Don't Know") had several points that I actually felt quite strongly about. With this in mind, I hovered my cursor immediately over the "Extremely Dissatisfied" option, my mind set on getting my point across, hah haahaah!!

The topic was the supermarket's 'Weekend Magazine', available to anyone who strolls into one of their store's; it's completely free, gratis, and totally for nothing!


Or at least it would be if it wasn't getting all up it's own posterior, if you know what I mean?

It's supposed to be a 'food' publication, with Mr Blumenthal and Mrs Smith telling us what we should be eating, why we should be eating it and, recently, when we should be eating it.

Forced rhubard?


Anyways, nice recipes I like. Nice photographs of various foods, I also like. The occasional celebrity (A-list, dahling, none of yer Take A Break wannabee's here) talking about his or her relationship with food, especially growing up on family estate, being called in from the pheasant shoot, to be greeted with the warm smell of fresh apple pie, cooling on the side of the AGA, yeah, yeah, believe it or not, I like all that too!!

What I do not want from my food magazine, is the TV listings for the weekend (the mag' comes out each Thursday) and, on the back page, a round of all the current sport. Now this has nothing to do with the fact that I am not in the slightest bit interested in 90% of all sports; if I want news, TV news and a sports round up, there are many, many magazines and newspapers in the newsagents next door, with far greater coverage of the above topics than could possibly fit into 2 pages of my food magazine!

Eff ... oh ... oh ...deee ....


After clicking on the dissatisfied option, a blank box invited me to add any other thoughts on this particular question, ha haah, so I rolled up my sleeves, got a fresh drink for the task ahead, and typed pretty much all of the above into the small box.

When I had finished, I clicked on the Submit Questionnaire button and sat smugly back in my chair.

It just so happened, that we went to Waitrose the day after and I collected my free weekly magazine (as well as my not-to-be-missed monthly Waitrose Kitchen magazine) and, in order to justify my answers in my qiestionnaire, I made a point of reading the sports pages on the back. I read the first few lines, admitted to myself that it sounded interesting, read a few more, rubbed away a few beads of perspiration that had popped up on my forehead, decided to finish the main article on the sports page that I hate and did just that.

Although I still maintain that I am not a sports fan, I must say that Jonathan Agnew (whoever he is), made a lot of sense.

Thanks to my having a heart of pure gold, I have saved you the trouble of traipsing down to your local Waitrose to collect your own copy of the magazine and have scanned it for your reading and viewing pleasure.

(click to enlarge)

Not a single good recipe inside though!


Monday, 14 February 2011

"Unaccustomed as I am ..."

Another day, another meal time conversation which ended with me laughing out loud. (I seem to be laughing a lot lately – not sure why this is but it can only be a good thing!)

“Why do we have words for things?” Annabel enquired, which is a reasonable enough question. Often, however, a reasonable question from one child produces a less than kind response form the other.

“What?” laughed Joseph. “Of course we need words for things!”

“Yeah, we do, but why do we?” I asked, trying to deflect the slight ‘mean-ness’ in his voice.

He didn’t make a terrific job of explaining why, although he was on the right track. By this time, Annabel had turned to me for an answer.

“Well, if we didn’t have words for things, we would spend all our time describing the thing, rather than discussing more interesting and fun stuff. You know, such as ….. when I went to the shops, I opened the … erm …. you know, the big square hard thing at the end of the corridor with a smaller, rectangular hole in …..”

(waiting for Annabel to guess at what it was)

“The front door?”

“That’s it, the front door, then I walked along the hard grey thing with lines on, sometimes with dog mess on it ……”

“The pavement?”

Yep, the pavement. Then I got to the shop and bought some of that runny white stuff, from an animal? Some of it is green on top, some of it blue? We pour it on our food in the morning?”


That’s right. You see how boring it would be to have to do that all the time?”

Annabel was extremely pleased with this explanation and went back to her food happy. And when she’s happy, I’m happy.

My ever-so-slightly random mind wandered to ever-so-slightly random thoughts which revolved around the conversation we’d just had. It settled on an episode of Blackadder (not for the first time in my life, it has to be said!), in particular, Ink and Incapability.

Thinking of another example of having to describe a word rather than just say what the word itself, I said, ““big blue wobbly thing that mermaids live in”, mimicking Baldrick (watch it for yourself, here).

I thought this was just about as random as it could get, given the context but, quick as a flash, Joseph answered (between mouthfuls), “The sea?”

It was a combination of the speed with which he answered and the fact that he’d instantly figured out the answer to a piece of comedy history that made me helpless with laughter.

What made me laugh even harder, was seeing his completely impassive face, still looking directly at me but continuing to munch on his dinner, oblivious to what he had said that I’d found so mirth-some.

But like I said, laughter?

It’s a good thing.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Sticky the stick insect got stuck on a sticky bun!

I don’t need to tell you that 'words' are wonderful?

You’re reading the words on these pages and it’s highly likely that you read lots of other words too. Hey, you might even write lots of your own words too!

Depending on the tone of those words, you can influence someone’s mood, brighten (or darken) their day, enrage them, make them smile, or better still, make them roar with laughter.

I have alluded to mis-pronounced words in the past and recently, Annabel made me chuckle with a small slip of the tongue. Annabel is unfortunate enough to possess a rather delicate digestive system and requires careful avoidance of certain food and drink, as well as a regular intake of certain other food and drink.

To prevent any likelihood of, as she puts it, a “traffic jam” (I think you know what I mean!), several times a week she has a small glass of prune juice. The magical effects of these modest little fruits are unsurpassable in the “anti-traffic jam” department. But today, she didn’t ask for prune juice, she asked for “prawn” juice. When I thought I’d mis-heard her, the conversation that followed revealed that she’d often wondered how her ‘tummy juice’ was so ‘purple and dark, considering prawns were so ‘light and pink’.


So sweet, so innocent.

Actually, while we’re on the slightly tricky topic of digestive systems, a comment by Joseph caught me off guard recently, reducing me to giggles. I wanted to tell you about it but just wasn’t sure how to broach the subject. No such trouble now!

It was my turn to … erm … y’know … ahhh … lose a few pounds quickly, if you know what I mean??!?

Well, I was sat there, as you do, but in our house, we have an open door policy. Well, not so much an open door policy as a ‘can’t be bothered to close the door’ policy. Of course, although any given part of the house can be quiet and child free one minute, it can quickly turn into noisy and crowded when you least expect it!

This was one of those times.

“Dad, can I tell you a knock-knock joke?”

“Erm …. Can it wait for a bit please? I’m a bit busy right now”.

“No you’re not. You’re just reading a book”.

“Yeah, that’s not quite what I meant. I’d rather you waited until I came out of the bathroom. Then you can tell me your joke”.

I could tell by his face that he was struggling to see the problem. He did, however, leave the room.

For about a minute and a half!

Then, joined by his sister, they sat right outside the bathroom – door still open – and started playing a game together, all the while shouting out for me to “watch this Dad”, or “Dad, look, he’s cheating”.

“Look, could you go and play in one of your bedrooms please, you can see I’m otherwise engaged”.

Again, they both left, but returned with various questions, evoking various responses from my good self, and this was the pattern for a good five minutes.

(I know what you’re thinking – how long do I need to spend in there, right? Hey, the way I look at it, I may as well finish the chapter I’m on!).

Anyhoo, with the end of aforementioned chapter well in sight but repeatedly and agonisingly out of reach, Joseph once more strolled nonchalantly into the bathroom with his mouth opening, ready to make another statement of some sort, as if I hadn’t asked him to stay out half a dozen times already.

“Look, can I just have a poo in peace, PLEASE!”

This was said with some volume and he ran out of the bathroom, pausing only briefly to look straight back at me and announcing, “that was alliteration Dad!”

My laughter forced me to abandon the chapter altogether.

Joseph: 1 – Dad: nil