A Pre-Election Sunday Salmagundi

As (I hope) all of my multitudes of followers in the United Kingdom will know we have a General Election on Thursday (7th May). My further flung readers may not. So in recognition of this fact my irregular Sunday round up of news and opinion will be mainly about the who, what and why of Thursday’s stramash.
Working out exactly what this election is about has been difficult.

Huge issues that will confront the next government, whatever form it takes, have been missing from the campaign. Britain’s role in the world has barely been discussed and in so much as it has been debated it has been narrowed to an argument about whether you need four submarines or just the three to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent. The environment has hardly got a word in edgeways. The economy has been talked about a lot, but usually in superficialities. I hear everyone assert that we need a high-skills, high-wage, high-productivity economy; I hear precious little about where all these wonderful jobs are going to come from. How is Britain going to earn a successful living in the future? That most fundamental of questions remains unanswered. We are in a fog of uncertainty about what sort of country we will be living in. We cannot even be sure that this country will exist in five years’ time. Labour is locked in a desperate struggle for survival north of the Tweed against the rampant Scottish nationalists and has not the breath to spare to describe how it would remake the United Kingdom. The so-called Conservative and Unionist party has responded by colluding with the nationalists in stoking the grievances that are pulling the UK apart.

English Conservatism needs a makeover reckons Will Hutton, otherwise,:

Detached from Scotland, the England over which it aims to preside, never-endingly, will be a poisonous, inward-looking and mean-spirited place. It will be welcome only to the super-rich and their insider networks, denying the mass of English citizens the structures and institutions through which they can live the good lives to which they aspire.

The Britain I love – an outward-looking country that is tolerant, good-humoured, fair-minded and generous, and which, with some reforms, could become one of the most dynamic places to live in Europe – will have been expunged.

Beware the siren call of nationalism – both Scottish and English. says Nick Cohen.

On 16 February 1886, Lord Randolph Churchill confided a plan to destroy his Liberal opponents to the Conservative lawyer Gerald FitzGibbon. It was a risk, he implied. But if William Gladstone’s Liberal administration proposed home rule for Ireland, “the Orange card would be the one to play. Please God it may turn out to be the ace of trumps and not the two”.

David Cameron thinks he is a firefighter. Jack Monroe, who knows a bit about the Fire Service, begs to differ.

Let’s vote for hope over fear.

In the end, it boils down to this: do we want the UK to be a hopeful country or one scared of what lies beyond? I land on this stark question because arguments about everything else have reached stalemate. But a lot of us seem unable to make that one final decision, who to vote for, because we don’t want to be let down one more time. We’ve had enough, they’re all as bad as each other, a plague on all their beautifully maintained houses. It’s a chorus of negativism that’s so easy to join. I urge you not to join it.

But some things never change.

As per the above we do have a new princess to distract us.

Songs I love: Kathryn Tickell – Favourite place

Kathryn Tickell is best known for being the finest Northumbrian piper around and arguably the best there ever has been. I first heard her play at the Rothbury folk festival about thirty-five years ago. I heard her before I saw her. It was the open pipes competition, and I had missed the start. As I was making my way into the hall, I could hear this wonderful lyrical pipe music being played. The style wasn’t quite right for any of the pipers I knew. On the stage was a twelve or thirteen year old girl.

“It can’t be her”

was my initial thought, but it was, and if I remember correctly she won the competition.

Having told you what a brilliant piper she is, this “Song I Love” doesn’t feature her pipes.

It is Kathryn’s reconstruction of her mother’s reminiscences of being a girl brought up on a Border farm. Lots of the things she says remind me of my upbringing on a Border farm, about ten or fifteen years later and on the Scottish side of the border.

It features Kathryn’s fiddle (she is almost as good a fiddle player as she is a piper) and her spoken voice.

There isn’t a YouTube video so I have embedded a Spotify track. I’m not quite sure how it works because I haven’t tried it before.You might have to register to listen.

Omloop Het Neuiwsblad – or Belgium thinks Spring is on the Way

Ian Stannard wins Het Neuiwsblad

I said in a previous post that in my opinion the road cycling season starts on the first Sunday in February with Le Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise (l’Ouverture), but if you are Belgian the season started today with Omloop Het Neuiwsblad. It is not the longest or the hilliest of the cobbled classics, but as it takes place at the end of February it often has the worst weather. Rain, sleet snow, wind and temperatures hovering either side of freezing are common. It is a race for hard men, and women. The women’s race runs on the same day, on a shorter slightly different course, but the same finish.

Last year’s Het Nueiwsblad was a classic it this respect. The British rider Ian Stannard won it. The phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” describes him well. The pundits reckoned that the conditions today might be a bit too easy for him. There was only light rain forecast and the temperature was a positively balmy 8°C.

The race followed its normal scenario, in that a break of eight riders went clear from the start and built up a maximum lead of about six or so minutes. The racing started for real on the climb of the Taaienberg where Tom Boonen made is now traditional lung opening attack, just to see how the legs are. A few kilometers later Boonen and his Etixx-QuickStep team mates attacked again and this time split the field, only former winners Sep Vanmarke and Ian Stannard could follow. Vanmarke had a puncture at an unfortunate time and although he tried he couldn’t get back on.

The situation was three Etixx-QuickStep riders against Ian Stannard. It should have been no contest. what followed was depending on your point of view, either a textbook example of how to win against the odds or a textbook example of how to lose a race that you should have won. The video below is of the final ten or so kilometers, the commentary is in Dutch.

Ian Stannard plays his cards absolutely right, down to conning Niki Tepstra into leading out the sprint.

Etixx-QuickStep can redeem themselves tomorrow in the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne race where Mark Cavendish should be one of the favourites

After winning this race last year, a crash at Gent-Wevelgem, where he fractured a vertebra wrecked the rest of his season. If he can avoid that sort of bad luck this year we could see the first British winner of De Ronde van Vlaanderen since Tommy Simpson.


Anna Van Der Breggen won the women’s race, which unfortunately I can’t find a video for,  Eleonora Van Dijk was second and Lizzie Armitstead third.

The Women’s Podium

Edit 02/03/15 I have found a video of the women’s race, the commentary is again in Dutch.
http://www.focus-wtv.be/video/west-vlaamse-vrouwen-ontgoochelen-omloop

I thought I already had a Tory MP

I found this pre-election flyer from my local (Lib-Dem) MP Tom Brake stuffed through my letter box today. In it he asks me one question.
ToryMP
“Would you be happy with a Tory MP?”

The answer is obviously no.

However I decided to check Mr Brake’s voting record on They Work For You, and as far as I can see we might as well have had a Tory MP for the past five years.
I’m sorry Tom but I’m through with holding my nose and voting Liberal Democrat to keep the Tories out. My vote is going to the only party that has even quarter of an idea about how to get the United Kingdom back on the right tracks and that is the Labour Party. Though as Billy Bragg said recently on Facebook;

It’s a mark of how constipated our political discourse has become when the ideas put forward by the bishops of the Church of England are more attractive than current Labour Party policy

It has been brought to my attention…… Valentine’s Day edition

Swiss bank accounts are back in fashion. In Ireland, with criminals, former Conservative party treasurers, and their donors but not apparently with Her Majesties Revenue and Customs, the proprietors of “Le Monde” or the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation formerly known as “the Worlds best run bank”

The revelations about Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sex life seem to have shocked the French to the core. That normally takes some doing

Harking back to the HSBC Swiss bank accounts tax avoidance scandal. There appears to be one law for the rich and a different one for the poor. David Cameron proposes one more law for the poor.

Marina Hyde went searching for answers about why the UK Tax Code at 17000 plus pages is the longest in the world.

.. the tax code can only be that long and obfuscatory because the authorities want people like them to play it.

We all need to check our bodies for “racist bones” even, especially, if we are sure that we don’t have one.

Having listened to Mark Kermode’s review of “Fifty Shades of Grey” 

Also a friend’s opinion, having read a few chapters of the book she described Mr Grey as “boring” and besides we’re not really into whips and chains.

We have decided on the ultimate Valentine’s Day date movie:……

This is Mark Kermode’s review – spot the difference

IKEA and “The Law of Shoe Racks”

Our old IKEA shoe rack had seen better days.
image

It also proved the “Law of Shoe Racks” .
Where:

srack= pairs of shoes that a shoe rack is designed to hold;

sf= the pairs of shoes owned by the female (hopefully sf < 100);
sm= the pairs of shoes owned by the male (must be > 0);
y = the number of years that the shoe rack has been installed;
tm = the tidiness factor of the male;
tf = the tidiness factor of the female;
sactual = pairs of shoes in the hallway on or near the shoe rack
Then:
sactual = srack + (sy / tf) + (sy / tm)

Off we toddled to IKEA to get a new shoe rack, and a new table to put in the porch so we could put a plant on it. The table goes in the porch and has the plant on it, not the shoe rack. At this point I suppose I should mention that we had gone to IKEA the weekend before to get a shoe rack and a table for the porch and came back with a bathrobe, two sets of battery operated fairy lights and a bread basket. Hopefully we wouldn’t get quite so distracted this week.

We did manage to buy a shoe rack called “Tjusig” and a table called “Grennen”. We actually bought two shoe racks in the hope of at least temporarily overcoming the “Law of Shoe Racks”. By the way does anyone know how IKEA thinks up their product names? Are they just random letters thrown together to sound vaguely Scandinavian or do they actually mean something?

Assembly

I took some photos of the assembly process. Unfortunately I can’t bring you hilarious tales of ineptitude. I am actually fairly good at assembling flat packs and the like. I am an engineer so, I can interpret drawings and normally see how something fits together.

 

Trusty Multi-Tool also Swedish
Trusty Multi-Tool also Swedish
First make sure it is the correct colour - White.
First make sure it is the correct colour White

Read the instructions and make all the components aka “bits” are present and correct.

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First step; assemble the legs using the correct cross-bars; the threaded ones.

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Using the trusty IKEA Allen Key fix the cross-bars.

Fit the locating dowels to one set of legs and assemble the cross braces

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Insert the wood screws and tighten using a cross-headed screwdriver (or trusty multi-tool device)

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Fit the second set of legs – remembering to fit the location dowels first.

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And that’s it. If you want to stack them two high (like me) there are a couple of fish plates to fix the racks together so you can’t knock the top one off.

Using a proper screwdriver instead of a Trusty Multi-Tool would have made the job slightly easier, but it was raining and I couldn’t be bothered to go out to the shed to get my tool-box.

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As you can see the “Law of Shoe Racks” is already coming into play.


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“Grennen” the table – minus plants.

Only 12 sex parties in three years

Wouldn’t that have been about 12 more than one would have expected the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund to have attended.
BBC News – Strauss-Kahn: Only 12 sex parties in three years.

It has been brought to my attention….

My weekly round-up of links and miscellany.

Whatever they said their intentions were when they decided to “reform” the NHS the Tories didn’t improve it and they didn’t save money, quite the opposite in fact

Watch how the measles outbreak spreads when kids get vaccinated – and when they don’t

“When you immunize your child, you’re not only immunizing your child. That child’s immunization is contributing to the control of the disease in the population,”.

A bunch of protesters trapped Nigel Farage in the UKIP office in Rotherham. Apparently he was forced to stay inside by a breastfeeding mother who refused to sit in the corner.

In the internet age it isn’t quite so easy to keep your stumbles under wraps as Robert Mugabe has discovered. He obviously hasn’t’ heard of The Streisand Effect.

What exactly are Mike Ashley’s plans for Rangers?


Sign Mugabe?

Does the  Green Party  unerringly prefer grandstanding and protest to the serious business of Government?  Neil Schofield seems to think so.

Over 200,000 young people have gone missing from the Electoral register. It’s National Voter Registration Day today and time for the young people hit by the system changes to sign up. If you aren’t already registered you need to be. This upcoming General Election is crucial and if you don’t vote you are saying you don’t care.
Click on the link to register – you will need your National Insurance Number – and it will take about five minutes.

Vegan Peanut Butter & Banana Superpower Muffins (that happen to be flourless and delicious), 10p each

A Scotsman in Suburbia:

I borrowed this from Jack Monroe’s blog – I actually meant to save it to my food blog so I had it easily available, but put it on the main blog by mistake – but it is good enough to share with the world. If you are interested in eating healthily and economically her blog is worth a follow.

Originally posted on JACK MONROE: COOK, CAMPAIGNER, GUARDIAN COLUMNIST, MOTHER, AUTHOR, ETC.:

These are my sad black bananas. I wanted to make them happy again, by making them into supercake. These are my sad black bananas. I wanted to make them happy again, by making them into supercake.

What do you do when you have a pile of black bananas sitting in the fruit bowl? I don’t even know how this happens – I generally work from home, bananas are my go-to snack because I can reach them and don’t have to do anything except peel them and shove them in, yet all too often my darling other half leaves a small pile of them on the chopping board with a hint to Do Something About Them. Sometimes they get sliced and flung in the oven to make dried bananas for the kids, sometimes I whizz them with yoghurt, milk and oats for a breakfast smoothie, but today I fancied neither of those things. It’s freezing. And raining a bit. And I’m a bit tired and gloomy. What I wanted…

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It’s the 1st of February

Well actually it’s the 2nd, but I thought up the concept for this post on the 1st. The first Sunday in February* is a special day in the world of cycling. It is the day that the World Cyclocross Championships are held and it is also the day of the Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise (l’Ouverture), which for me marks the beginning of the Road Race season. I know there have been races going on in the Southern Hemisphere for weeks now, but in some things I am a traditionalist, and since at least 1980 this has been the first European race of the year, so for me it still marks the opening of the season and the promise that spring is on the way.

A distinctly un-spring like Tabor in The Czech Republic hosted this years Cyclocross championships. There were four races; Junior men, Under-23 men, Elite men and Elite women.

They were all pretty good races, but the Elite Women’s race was a classic. With half a lap to go any one of five riders could have won, in fact it was only right toward the end that the eventual winner Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Sanne Cant pulled away to fight out the final sprint to the line. The video below shows the highlights;

Click here to watch the full race it is worth it.

From the woman who finished 7th;

After that the Elite Men’s race was, well not a let down, but didn’t quite equal the women’s race for excitement. The highlights are below;

Again if you want to watch the full race click here.

Mathieu van der Poel who won the race is the youngest ever winner. He is a few days past his twentieth birthday. He is also the first person to follow in his fathers tyre tracks. His father Adri van der Poel won the World championships in 1996. His cycling pedigree is impressive. His maternal grandfather is the great French cyclist of the 60’s and 70’s Raymond Poulidor.

The average age of the podium for the Elite men’s race was lower than that of the Under 23 race. The silver medal winner Wout Van Aert isn’t much older than the winner. The bronze medal winner Lars van der Haar at 23 was the old man of the set.

Videos of all the races plus a few more can be seen on YouTube at the UCI Channel

Pim Lighart, who rides for Lotto-Soudal, won the GP Cycliste la Marseillaise  The video below (sort of) shows the final sprint.


*Sometimes it can be the last Sunday in January.

Random thoughts, ramblings and rants

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