My Life in Song

I stole this from Maggi Dawn’s blog, but she stole it from someone else so I guess it’s OK, she is an Anglican priest after all and if she can steal ideas so can I, I hope.

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST OR BAND, answer these questions; be as clever as you can. You can’t use the artist I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It’s harder than you think…”

This is my attempt

Pick your Artist:  Bruce Cockburn

Describe yourself:    Child of the Wind

How do you feel: Open

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:    Tokyo

Your favourite form of transportation:   Mighty Trucks of Midnight

Your best friend is a:   Life’s Mistress

You and your best friends are: Beautiful Creatures

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called: Pacing the Cage

What is life to you:   World of Wonders

Your current relationship:   Great Big Love

Your fear:   The trouble with Normal

What is the best advice you have to give:    Don’t forget about delight

I would like to die… When the Sun Goes Nova

Time of day:  Last Night of the world

My motto:   Listen for the Laugh

I’ve included links to the tracks on Spotify so you can listen to them if you feel so inclined.

Share and enjoy and copy your lists into a comment.


 As London grinds to a halt under the effects of a major 10cm snowfall,  thoughts turn to the fact that corn flakes are not quite what is required for breakfast. I should add that I appreciate that other parts of the UK may have had considerably more snow than we have had in London, but what you don’t appreciate is the fact that if it hasn’t happened in London then it hasn’t really happened.

This is the season for porridge for breakfast. Besides all the well touted benefits of eating porridge for breakfast  there is something satisfying about making and eating a bowl of porridge for breakfast. It does take slightly longer that pouring out a bowl of Rice Krispies, but believe me you will be a better person, or at least feel like one, for making the effort.

The first piece of advice I will give you is do not make your porridge in the microwave.

Shortly after I was diagnosed as  diabetic I had a session with a dietician, during the discussion about what were good food choices from the point of blood glucose control, she mentioned that porridge was probably one of the best things I could eat for breakfast. She also mentioned that it could be made in the microwave, but forgot to tell me the most important thing about making porridge in a microwave. My immediate thought was ‘that will save a bit of washing up’. The next morning I proceeded to make my porridge in the microwave.

I measured out my usual recipe,

For 1

  • ½ a cup of rolled oats
  • 1¾ cups of water
  • a generous pinch of salt

put it all into my porridge bowl, stuck it into the microwave, pushed start and went back to drinking my coffee and reading the newspaper. About five minutes later the microwave went ping and I wandered across the kitchen to retrieve my no effort, no washing up porridge, to discover that the bowl was empty and the microwave was generously coated with porridge. I also discovered that it is much harder to remove porridge from the walls of a microwave than it is to remove it from a pan.

What my dietician forgot to mention is that porridge made in a microwave foams up and boils over. So unless you use a bowl that is at least five times the volume of the liquid to allow for this fact, do not make your porridge in the microwave.

I now always make mine in a saucepan. It is just as quick and I think tastes better. So using the recipe above put all the ingredients into a pan bring to the boil, then turn it down to a low heat and allow it to ‘plop’ away happily for about five minutes. Give it a stir now and then. Traditionally you should use a tapered stick, usually with a thistle as a handle, because that is the way we made them in woodwork class when I was at school, called a spurtle and stir it clockwise. I find that stirring it with a wooden spoon anti-clockwise also works. I tend to put the salt in at the start, but some people like to cook the porridge the add salt to taste, all I will say is do not neglect the salt, it doesn’t need much but porridge does need some salt.

For Saturday mornings, or if you are a traditionalist, porridge made with oatmeal  does have a certain quality that porridge made with rolled oats does not quite possess.

The recipe is fairly similar but here are a couple of variations.

For 2

  • 600ml/1 pint of water
  • 100g/4 oz medium oatmeal
  • salt

Bring the water to the boil, add the oatmeal slowly, stirring all the time. Reduce the heat and allow to cook slowly, just giving the occasional ‘plop’, for up to 30 minutes, depending on how solid you like you porridge. Give it a stir every now and again, add salt to taste and serve.

Again traditionally, you should eat your porridge by dipping a spoon of hot porridge into a bowl of cold milk. This is to keep your porridge hot, as adding cold milk to the bowl of porridge will cool it down. Nice though that is I think there are more interesting things to add to porridge.

Here are some of my favourites.

  • Honey
  • Thick natural plain yoghurt
  • Fruit compote
  • A tot of whisky and honey
  • Cinnamon and chopped and toasted nuts
  • Cream

Or of course any combination of them.

Should you make too much porridge, let it go cold and set solid. It is absolutely delicious sliced, fried in a little butter and served with runny honey.

As for washing up the pan, don’t, fill it with cold water and let it soak for a few hours. The porridge sticking to the pan will have come off as a sort of skin which can be scooped up and discarded, leaving a clean and shiny pan behind.

Telling white lies to children

While I was working in a dental surgery yesterday I noticed that on the walls there were numerous posters encouraging children to brush their teeth and to eat non-sugary snacks. Three in particular caught my attention.

The first one was of Pippin the Dog, from the children’s TV programme ‘Come Outside’. Beneath the drawing of Pippin it said

Pippin the dog eats fruit and vegetables to keep his teeth healthy.

I don’t really know what kind of dog Pippin is, but from the drawing I would say some kind of mongrel. So he may be a very unusual dog, but I have never come across a dog that eats fruit and veg.

The second one was of Winnie the Pooh and some of his friends. Beneath the drawing it said

Pooh Bear and his friends only* eat fruit and vegetables between meals. (* my emphasis)

My knowledge of Winnie the Pooh is about fifty years old and my memory may be faulty, but my recollection is that Pooh’s favourite between meals snack was a honey (or Hunny)  sandwich, not fruit and veg.

The third one was of Snow White and beneath that drawing it said

Snow White only eats apples

I don’t know if Snow White only ate apples, but she definitely ate one, and a lot of good that did her.

I fully understand that the purpose of these posters is to encourage young children to eat healthier snacks rather than sweets, but is telling lies to children justified in the greater cause of healthy teeth?

Should we tell children that Father Christmas doesn’t exist, even though the fantasy doesn’t seem to do any harm, and most kids do not seem to be too traumatized when they find out for themselves?

Are any lies justified?  The current Wikileaks data dump seems to show that governments in general think that certain lies, or obfuscations of the truth are justified. I am in two minds about the disclosure, because I do think that there are certain things that it is legitimate for governments, private  organisations, or even families and individuals to keep secret. On the other hand a lot of the material that has been released is embarrassing , The Duke of Pork’s foul-mouthed rant for example, rather than threatening national or international security. And how secret can the data be when it is posted to an Intranet that about three million people, including a Private First Class, have access to?

Ultimately, I do believe that in private life, and government and corporate life, there are things that should only be shared within a small circle, kept secret in fact. However, the bias should always be to openness  and transparency, especially where the information is merely embarrassing. Strangely enough I feel that in the end concealment of embarrassing material ultimately leads to  more embarrassment than transparency. I think that last year’s M.P.’s expenses scandal is a case in point. A fully open and transparent system of expense claims would have never allowed the scandal to occur in the first place, but we did not have that in place and probably still don’t.  The thing that made the release of the documents worse, for the M.P.s involved, was the long and hard rearguard action that they put up in the attempt to prevent the release of material they knew was going to show them in a bad light.

Keep secret only what really needs to be kept secret, and make sure that if it has to be kept secret only the people who need to know have access, otherwise release it all into the public domain, most of it is probably pretty banal anyway. I don’t think that I have read anything on the Wikileaks release that either surprised or shocked me. Sorry I was mildly surprised at the extent of the Duke of York’s vocabulary, but then his father has previous.

Alternative Vote +


Alternative Vote Plus as the name suggests works in a similar manner to The Alternative Vote system with a top up of members chosen at a regional level from open Party Lists. The system was the one proposed by the Jenkins Commission, set up by the last Labour Government. Roy Jenkins took his brief seriously. Tony Blair’s purpose for the commission was  to kick voting reform into the long grass. He was very successful in doing this.

Basically for elections to the House of Commons the system would involve reducing the number of seats to about 500 with the members elected by the Alternative Vote method , i.e. you rank your candidates in order of preference and as the votes are counted the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and his or her second preference votes are allocated to the candidates indicated. This process carries on until one candidate has over 50% of the votes.

You would also have a second vote on a regional (possibly county) level where you can vote for a party or if you prefer a specified member of that party on the party list. This is the plus part of AV+.  About 120-140 additional members would be elected this way.

Like it’s parent, I can’t get ultra enthused about AV+. It is an improvement on first past the post (almost anything bar a suspension of elections would be) and should give a more proportional outcome to an election.

In its favour:

  • it keeps the tie of the M.P. to a geographical  constituency, albeit a slightly larger one than at the moment, unless of course we want to have more M.P.s.
  • it does produce a more proportional representation than straight AV
  • people other than me would argue that it should keep minority extremist parties out of parliament.

Against it:

  • it is not fully proportional.
  • the ballot paper is more complicated than at present.
  • it would still be likely to produce a single party government.

My objection to it is basically that it adds a lot of the complexity to the ballot paper and counting of the Single Transferable Vote or Additional Member System, without giving the proportionality that they do.

Voting Reform

Voting Reform has been in the news of late.

Various Labour and Conservative ‘Big Beasts’ have united to oppose any change in our current system of electing the House of Commons. I find it interesting to note that the Senior Politicians who have come out against electoral reform are all, well, senior in years, Margaret Beckett, Ken Clarke, David Blunkett, John Prescott to name some of the more prominent members of the group. They hardly represent the coming generation of politicians.

This has raised a few questions that I need to try to answer for myself

So these are my questions to answer.

  • Is the AV system worth fighting for?
  • Should we be looking at other – more radical systems
  • Are the Tory proposals to cut the number of MPs by 50 anti-democratic?
  • Shouldn’t we be doing something about the House of Lords as well?

I’ll make a series of posts trying to answer these questions.

Let us take them one at a time – AV first.

It is an improvement on the current system, in that it allows the voter the opportunity to cast their primary vote positively for their party of choice rather than negatively, voting against a particular party. As such it may help a few Green and UKIP candidates keep their deposits. It also means thy by the time an M.P. is actually elected, at least 50% of the people who actually cast their votes will have expressed some sort of preference for him or her. This compares with the current parliament where I believe only 3 M.P.s even managed 40% of the vote in their constituencies.

We can see from the Electoral Reform Society that had AV been in use at the last election it would have resulted in a few more LibDems a few less Tories and about the same number of Labour. Essentially It would have made no real difference.

Whilst can’t get all that enthusiastic about AV, it would for the first time allow me to cast my vote positively for the party I actually support rather than negatively, to prevent a Tory being elected. (I have somehow or other contrived to live my entire life in areas that are LibDem/Tory marginals.) It is also the only thing on offer so I will be voting for it come the referendum in May.

There are other and I think better systems that I think we should consider which I will get round to discussing in another post.

To list the ones that I think are worth considering :

Art in public spaces

I am a great proponent of art in public spaces. While not every work achieves the iconic status of “The Angel of the North”, I think that public art serves to increase the happiness and well-being of the people who come into contact with it and as such is generally worth the outlay.

It is easy to criticise public art as a waste of money, and is a reliable space filler for certain newspapers. While I do agree that there are a few works that should never have been allowed to escape the artists subconscious, let alone their studio, but they tend to be far fewer than the Daily Mail would have you believe.

During the past few days I have been doing some work in The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital , which has quite a lot of art in its public spaces. The art works at the Chelsea and Westminster tend in the main to be abstract sculptures and paintings. Although it is the sculpture that catches the eye first. They are brightly coloured and essentially serve to make the main atrium and hence the hospital itself a place a place that welcomes you. They perform that function very well. I don’t think anyone would claim that they individually or collectively are great art, but I would argue that as an ensemble they work. It is good art.

On piece of work that I didn’t see is thisBarbara Hepworth Sun Opus 418 piece by Barbara Hepworth whose work I love. But she probably needs another post(at the minimum).

Royal Weddings

Or Why can’t they just disappear of to Vegas and get married by an Elvis impersonator?

I’m sure that the Daily Mail would give me thirty thousand reasons as to why this is not a good idea, but I can’t think of one.

For the next six to nine months this is what we are in for people so brace yourselves:

  • We will really need to know that they are 23rd cousins twice removed, because some past royal had a one night stand with Kate Middleton’s 6xgreat grand-mother. I haven’t actually seen this as yet, but believe me every newspaper, with the possible exceptions of the Guardian and the Independent, is doing the research.
  • We will need to see endless photos of Kate Middleton in various stages of undress taken in an earlier more carefree life.
  • Likewise we will need to hear the remembrances of someone who was her third best friend in nursery class?
  • We need an avalanche of Kate’n’Wills© tat – it is probably the only boost the economy is going to get this year

I think it is mainly the prurience that I am objecting to, but it may be my republican sympathies coming out.

I don’t have a problem with two people who are in love getting married, but outside of family and friends should anyone really be concerned about a wedding? Unless of course you make the argument, which I reject completely, that we, as citizens of the United Kingdom, are, in some magical way, the children of Elizabeth Windsor.

Something else occurs to me, mainly about the timing of this. Our ConDem government is going to be attracting a lot of negative attention in the coming months as tax increases and spending cuts start to bite. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but might just make an exception in this case. This is going to soak up front page headlines for the next six to nine months, and probably a fair while after that. A good year to bury bad news?

Jaffna House Café Tooting High Street

I’ve been eating fairly regularly at the Jaffna House in Tooting since being introduced to it by Mrs Johnm55’s Sri Lankan friend. We have just had lunch there (with the aforementioned Sri Lankan friend) an I feel that it is time to announce what a fine and wallet friendly place it is.

I am talking about the café / takeaway part on Tooting High Street rather than the licensed restaurant, the entrance to which is round the corner on Coverton Road. The restaurant I am sure also serves excellent food and will also be very good value for money, but I have never eaten in it so I can’t comment. The café however is in my opinion brilliant.

My starter was quite simple, just two Masala Vadai, served with red and green coconut chutneys, they were nicely crisp on the outside, but the spiced potato filling was moist and soft. The chutneys had, for me, just the right amount of chilli kick, the red being a bit more fiery than the green. I pinched a bit of Mrs johnm55’s Chana Chundal (chick peas) and they were excellent as well. The SL friend originally wasn’t going to have a starter, but changed her mind and came back with a couple of what looked like miniature deep-fried Cornish Pasties, she did say what they were, but as you get older the short-term memory goes a bit.

My main was Oothappam which is probably best described as a thick pancake with peppers, tomatoes, chillies and other veggies mixed into the batter and served with a vegetable curry and a coconut sambar. The softness, almost but not quite stodginess of the pancake batter was sharpened by the heat of the chillies. The vegetable curry added more flavour and lubrication (after I had picked out the okra – I don’t like the texture) and the sambar gave a bit more heat, if needed. I was just what was needed on a grey rainy November day.

Mrs johnm55 had a Masala Dosai as she normally does, and pronounced it as being up to the normal standard. The SL friend had three Idaly. I’m not quite sure what they are, but as she often orders them, I’ll take it on trust that they are good. I might even try them the next time I eat there. The fourth member of the party, a Canadian, had the Sunday special, Jaffna House Special Noodles, which are noodles with mixed veg, mutton, egg and prawns, which she said were rather good, just don’t turn up on Tuesday expecting them to be on the menu

If you decide to eat there remember it is a café, Sometimes all the plates do not arrive at the same time, but they do arrive within a few minutes of each other. The café is also unlicensed so no Cobra.

There were four of us, we each had starters, main courses and (soft) drinks. We all enjoyed our meal.The total bill was just under £16.00. I consider that pretty good value for money.

The Release of Aung San Suu Kyi

The release of Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the more welcome developments of the past few weeks. unfortunately I don’t think that it is as significant in the process of change in Burma as Nelson Mandela’s release was in South Africa’s.

When Mandela was released everyone knew that this showed that the apartheid regime in South Africa had bowed to the inevitable and that this was the start of a process that would lead to full democracy in South Africa. What Aung San Su Kyi’s release signifies in the process of Burma’s progress on the path to democracy and freedom I am so sure.

The military are still in (apparent) full control. The retain their capacity to suppress any form of protest violently and presumably would be able to re-arrest her at a moments notice. Perhaps the Generals are more mindful of international opinion than they used to be, placing her back in detention would inevitably provoke an international outcry, but I fear beyond that there would be no significant action taken. In fact I’m not all that sure that there is any significant action that the West could take. China, of course will take no action what so ever.

“I am so glad to see so many people here and so happy to be free,”
“There is a time to be quiet and a time to talk. People must work in unison. Only then can we achieve our goal.”

These were her words to her supporters who greeted her outside the gates of what is now her house which was until yesterday he prison. She is not going to be leading a violent revolution, she is going to follow the non-violent principles of Gahndi and Martin Luther King and help the people of Burma chip away at the foundations of the whole rotten edifice, then let it collapse under its own weight.

Hello world!

Well this is my first post on this blog.

There is a bit about who I am on my about page.

The blog will feature my random ramblings, but you will probably find that there are three main topics.

  1. Politics – you will find that my views are generally left of centre
  2. Cycling – I enjoy riding my bike, but I am also a fan of cycle sport in general and road racing in particular.
  3. Art – I paint, not very well, but I enjoy it, I also have views on other artists work.

There are other bloggers out there, as you probably already know, but this guy Fred Clark, who goes by the name Slacktivist is worth following.

Random thoughts, ramblings and rants

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