Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Concerned about the church

Sunday's service at the local church was okay. The people there were generally quite nice, the focus seemed to be in the right place, and it was all handled quite well.


Once again, I found myself in a church consisting of a very small number of children, then a big gap, and then a whole load of older people. As far as I could tell, with the exception of the minister, there was no-one within ten years of my age, on either side.

This isn't some new revelation, and shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. However, it really doesn't bode well for the church in Scotland at all. Indeed, it suggests that within 20 years, the church is likely to lose 80% of its membership, simply as they die off (perhaps not, since people are living longer than they once did. However, add twenty years to the average age in most congregations, and the church is likely to become really quite moribund).

I don't know what the answer to this is. I'm not sure there even is an answer. But it seems rather unfortunate that there seems to be a new generation of younger and very capable ministers just coming into their own, but it looks like they might find themselves preaching to empty pews.

(Actually, I tell a lie; I do know the answer to this. The way to attract more younger people is to attract more younger people. In youth groups, and indeed groups in general, there's such a thing as 'critical mass'. If you get enough people together, the group will naturally expand as they pull in others. If you don't have enough people, the group will gradually shrink, as people naturally drift away to do other things. But going from the current one or two to the requisite twenty or twenty-five... that's the real trick.)

When twenty hours becomes two...

As we know, "Firefly" was cancelled after 11 episodes, performed extremely well on DVD, and so was revived in the form of the "Serenity" movie, which finished off the plot lines for the rest of the season in a severely abbreviated form. However, the movie suffers badly for this, as a whole lot of gaps necessarily exist and, perhaps most crucially, the film makes almost no sense to people who haven't seen the series.

For the past year or more, I have been watching my way through a friend's DVDs of "Stargate SG-1", which ran for 10 years, accumulating some 200+ episodes. Having finally reached the end of the 10th season, I find that this, too, was cancelled without being able to resolve the hanging plot threads. Still, not to worry, because they, too, had a TV movie, "Ark of Truth", which is designed to resolve things. And, fortunately, I happened to have recorded this on Sky when it was on in March.

I watched it last night, and it suffers from exactly the same problems as "Serenity". Firstly, it will make little or no sense to those who haven't seen the show, but that's a forgivable feature. However, it also compresses what should have been a story told over 20 hours of TV into around 2 hours of movie. And so, we have characters changing sides at the drop of a hat (the change was hinted at in the series, but really needed longer to play out), we have people making massively stupid mistakes (where, again, they could have arrived at that as a measure of last resort over the course of a year, but to just jump straight to it was jarring). And I'm pretty sure the climax isn't how they would have done things had they had a full season to work with.

On the other hand, it's an awful lot better than all but one of the "Babylon 5" TV movies, not that that's saying much. It's probably on a par with "Battlestar Galactica: Razor".

Anyway, next up is "Stargate: Continuum", which is their next TV movie. And I'm sure that at some point I'll be compelled to watch "Stargate: Atlantis", but I'm hoping to put that off until next year. I still have quite a lot to do this year, and only 92 days (after today) in which to do it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Social Etiquette

You know, I'm pretty sure that when someone excuses themselves from eating the buffet at a party on the grounds that they're on a diet, the socially correct response is something along the lines of "oh, how's it going?" I'm reasonably certain that the best thing to do is not to spend the next few minutes until you get distracted trying to persuade that person that they should eat the buffet anyway on the grounds that diets don't apply on days ending in a 'Y'.

In any case, the diet remains intact. The party itself was fine, although I left early. There was karaoke, and I decided not to give the other band members the opportunity to force me to sing again. You'd think they'd have learned their lesson after last time, but no.

The diet itself is proceeding apace. I finished the Sugar Puffs this week, and have brought the Shedded Wheat into play. This makes for a far less pleasant breakfast experience than was enjoyed before, but is also rather effective.

As of this morning, I have hit my second mini-goal, having lost 12 pounds to date. Also, the Korean Style Pepper Steak stir-fry I cooked yesterday was something of a success, although it was a little too sweet, and not quit savoury enough, for my taste.

This morning, I'm going to attend my local church, instead of travelling 20 minutes to my 'home' church, on the grounds that most of the people from my home church are away for the weekend, affording an ideal opportunity. Of course, if things there work out too well, this could create a controversy going forward...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Another coup foiled...

Tonight was the band's AGM, where I had planned on launching my stealthy takeover bid, throwing out all the troublemakers (mostly, me), and starting over in a new golden age.

Not really. Actually, I had maintained the slight but fading hope that I might manage to get voted off the committee (unlikely), but the more realistic expectation that I might be asked to take over as Treasurer, due to the other guy wanting to stand down coupled with my facility with numbers.

Neither of these came to pass. Instead, when the voting came up for the very first position, that of Chairperson, my name was nominated, and no opposition was proferred. Apparently, they seem to think I'm "a sensible lad", and someone suited to taking the role. And since no-one else seemed willing, I accepted.

Frankly, though, I'm annoyed. I mean, where's the fun of building the empire if you don't even get to stab someone in the back?

You go six months without seeing a dentist...

Having found the details of the dentist I actually went to in March, I proceeded to phone and make an appointment. Said appointment occurred this morning, where it was found that my teeth remain basically okay, but that one of the fillings has sprung a leak, and must be replaced.

So, I'm back off to the dentist next week to have this done.

It's not terribly exciting, I know, but then I feel this blog sometimes gives a false impression: my life really isn't a continuous whirl of mad parties and other associated debauchery. At least, not all the time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It has been too long since we had a pun...

Under the influence of the dijon mustard I purchased a couple of weeks ago, my tomato ketchup, mayonnaisse, and similar relishes have formed an advisory council, whose purpose it is to guide me on all culinary matters.

According to my sauces, it is deemed acceptable to switch out the mustard in favour of mayo in my turkey sandwiches, but replacing it instead with chocolate spread would be going too far.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In which I am too cool

On Saturday, Grangemouth Sports Stadium was host to the "Relay for Life", a very worthy event which saw teams of people walking around the stadium in relay teams over a continuous 24-hour period. The band were asked to go and play to mark the start of this event, which we agreed to do so. It was a non-paying gig, but plays into our 'community focus' agenda, and also raises the profile of the band. And, as I noted above, it was a very worthy event in aid of cancer research. Jackie Bird was there.

Anyway, while this was being done, I arranged with my drinking buddies (see, I have drinking buddies now!) to meet with them in the evening for a quick drink. And so, that evening, on returning from my game, I made the final ever use of my old phone to find out the details of where and when we were meeting. Then I walked the two miles to said pub, and met up with the lads. Apparently, it is now our band's local, by virtue of them displaying the trophy we won in Callendar this season. And they have promised, when we do better next year, to put up a special shelf to display all our prizes.

Later in the evening, we went to a Falkirk nightclub (I think it's the only one, but there may be another), which these days is called "Storm". This is the same club I visited once before.

Yeah. It's rubbish.

For all that Saturday night is supposed to be their busiest night of the week, the place seemed really quite devoid of people. Perhaps most of Falkirk actually travel to Glasgow of a Saturday night, and the club is therefore busier on Thursdays and Sundays.

The other issue was that I rapidly came to the conclusion that I was just too cool for the place. And that's a fairly damning verdict right there: I've rarely been too cool for anything in my life. But there it is, and I don't think that was an inaccurate assessment.

Anyway, I eventually got to bed at 3:15 in the morning, and got up at 9:30. One of the advantages of 'nightclub measures' is that, while they cheat you horribly, there's so little actual alcohol in anything they serve that you wake up quite clear-headed. That said, with only six hours of sleep, I was always going to be suffering.

Still, I manfully made the effort to get up, eat breakfast, dress, shower, get changed into dry clothes, and head to church. Only to find them in the midst of a PC meltdown, with the resident expert nowhere in sight, and therefore to be called into immediate service. It seems God really can be quite mischievous at times.

Oh, and I'm never partying again. At least, not until Saturday, when I'm off to an eighteenth birthday party.

New phone

My phone died at the weekend. One minute it was happily charging away, making ready for renewed use, and then it just stopped charging. Given that a fully-charged battery lasts about three minutes these days, the time had come to retire it.

My new phone isn't the newest of phones, isn't the most full-featured of phones, but since I use my phone for occasional texting and even more occasional telephone calls, it will do. (Oh, the other feature I absolutely have to have is international roaming to America and France, but every phone has that now.)

Of course, since the controls on the new phone are just ever-so-slightly different from those on the phone I've been using for the last four years, I'm going to spend the next six months complaining about how I hate it and everything it stands for. You have been warned.

What I did on my holidays

I had a marvellous jape planned for my tales of Lisbon, but alas I have decided that it's just too much work, and that if I wait any longer then even fewer people would still care about the trip than is already the case. So, that's that.

Anyway, the trip to Lisbon was pretty cool, although I did find I enjoyed it a bit less than I thought I would, a little less than Barcelona, and certainly quite a lot less than Rome. I'm not sure why this was; perhaps I am just that bit more stressed this year and so less able to relax. Perhaps I'm just bored with my holiday scheme of "fly into a city and spend a few days getting lost therein". I'm certainly thinking of doing something different next year: possibly riding in Corsica, or perhaps a cookery course in Italy.

The flights to Lisbon itself were mostly fine. My initial fears of losing my bagage in Heathrow's new Terminal Five proved to be unfounded, as it survived the trip both ways! Somewhat surprisingly, the tacky souvenir shops in Terminal Five hadn't cottoned on to the commercial opportunities offered by this; they weren't selling "I Survived Terminal 5" t-shirts.

Terminal Five itself is a big, new shiny building that was quite obviously designed by an architect with thoughts more for winning awards than building a functional building. When we left the plane from Edinburgh, we were ushered down a corridor to a big board showing where all connections were, then to get to the connections we had to walk back down this corridor and onto shuttle buses. However, due to the crowds, they only allowed one-way traffic along the corridor at a time, so we had to wait while the entire plane (and any other planes that arrived near the same time) disembarked, and gathered in this small area, before we could move on. There was a certain amount of sarcastic commentary offered at this point.

The flight from Heathrow to Lisbon was notable for three things. On arrival, we were treated to piped in music that included a version of "Wonderwall" even cheesier than the infamous Mike Flowers version. Then, during the flight, we were offered some top-quality in-flight TV... but no sound. Apparently, that is reserved for first class passengers. They did show "The Office" (US version) with subtites, but they were in Portugese. Finally, the flight allowed the use of cell phones on board. Somehow, we managed not to crash into the ocean and wind up on a semi-mobile deserted island on American TV. I considered availing myself of the opportunity to text from the clouds, but couldn't be bothered.

On arrival, having endured the brief terror of wondering if my luggage would actually arrive, I enjoyed a long (and correspondingly expensive) taxi ride along the coast to Carcavelos, and to my hotel. I marvelled at the weather being bright and sunny, enjoying a heat provided by a glowing yellow ball in the sky that is quite unfamiliar to we Scots.

The hotel, sad to say, was a little underwhelming. Although, that said, it was not quite as good as the five-star hotel in Barcelona, but was a bit better than the three-star hotel in Rome, which suggests that its four-star rating might be about right. On arrival, I sought to set up internet access, this being a matter of great import. However, the book of hotel services that I expected to find (you know, the one giving restaurant and bar details, useful telephone numbers, and the internet access details) was slightly less useful than is normally the case, mostly by virtue of it not existing.

So, I went and asked at the front desk, where after some problems with language barriers (uh oh...) I was informed that there was free internet available from "those PCs over there". Said PCs proved to be busy for the entire duration of my stay, except for two occasions when I found them not in use... because the network was down. Huzzah! Oh, and worse still, I found that "those PCs" were connected to the network wirelessly, so if they'd just have given me the WEP key and password, I could have used the internet in my room at my leisure. Huzzah again!

Still, my room was bright and comfortable, and generally nice. The advice to request a room with a sea view was good, and I spent quite some time on the balcony just chilling (in the heat... hmm, maybe I didn't quite think that one through). However, one thing that is increasingly annoying me about hotel rooms: there was no big central light. This made reading at night extremely difficult - in fact, the best place to read was in the bathroom, which was hardly ideal.

After unpacking, I went out for a walk, and also in search of food. I found much evidence of the existence of a local McDonalds and Pizza Hut, but not the actual restaurants themselves, and neither did I find the fajitas bar that I had had recommended to me by my guide book. At length, after picking up a few items from a local supermarket (not an easy task without any knowledge of the language), I returned to the hotel and availed myself of the restaurant there. This proved to be a mistake, as the food wasn't terribly nice, and proved doubly so on the Friday when I got the bill (let me just say: ouch!).

Tuesday saw me leaving the hotel and hopping on a train into Lisbon proper. I then proceeded to wander around the town aimlessly. It's a lovely town, full of narrow winding streets, and lots of steep hills. Oh boy, are the hills steep! On the plus side, once you've climbed these hills, there are some wonderful places to find a good view of the city.

Somehow, despite not having any particular destination in mind, nor any fixed agenda, I managed to get completely lost. This proved a tad worrisome, until I found myself within five minutes walk of the zoo. This being one of the places I most wanted to see, I dashed inside and looked at the animals. They had lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), rhinos and elephants, and even such imaginary creatures as the triceratops and giraffe. The tour was finished off with a viewing of the sea lion and dolphin show, which was quite impressive.

Then I hopped onto the subway by the zoo, and travelled back into the centre of town. Lisbon's subway system is roughly on a par with that in Barcelona, and therefore more elaborate than that in both Rome and Glasgow, and less elaborate but considerably more pleasant than the London equivalent.

I spent a couple more hours in the centre of Lisbon before finding a local outdoors eatery to have dinner (that well known local favourite: pizza), where I also pretended to be a hobbit by ordering one of their giant beers, which comes in litres. (The local beer, Super Bock, was quite nice, but poses no threat to Estrella Damm.)

By this time, it was rapidly going dark. After a time, I returned to the hotel, to my book, and then to my bed.

On Wednesday I woke up unreasonably angry. I therefore climbed the Eiffel Tower and menaced Paris for a while. Biplanes were sent to shoot me down. It was all rather exciting.

Meanwhile, in reality, I instead decided to venture down to the beach to work on my tan. Sadly, the weather chose this day to be somewhat overcast, which amused me to no end, I can assure you. However, the army of English tourists I had been advised I would find seemed to by mythical, which was nice (not because of an anti-English sentiment, but rather a pro-empty-beach one). After a while, book finished, I made my way to a local cafe for lunch where I had another genuine local speciality: a burger.

In the afternoon, the clouds cleared and the day warmed, and so I returned to the beach. Somehow, in all the excitement, I forgot to take my sunglasses with me, which was a bit less ideal (I must have swapped them out when I returned to the hotel to collect another book). And the afternoon passed in much the same vein. Oddly, by the end of the day I was completely untanned, despite having applied subblock in the morning but not thereafter. Since a tan is actually a sign of skin damage, though, I'm not too dismayed.

In the evening, being determined to find it, I sought out the local Pizza Hut. There, I fumbled my way through the Portugese menu, and was thus left with a feeling of some accomplishment (the Portugese for chicken is 'frango'. The Portugese for bacon is 'bacon'). As my meal was being delivered, I noticed that the second menu on my table was, in fact, written entirely in English (the English for chicken is 'chicken'. The English for bacon is 'bacon').

And that was Wednesday.

On Thursday, I set about finishing off the trip in style. I therefore set out to see some of the key museums in Lisbon. However, I decided to eschew art on this trip (having done art in Paris, Rome and Barcelona; frankly, once you've seen one painting...). I therefore hopped on a train to Belem, where I visited the Museu da Electricidade, which is a converted coal-burning power plant. It's very much a museum for engineers, and I rather enjoyed it. By the time I left, I had a fair idea of how the whole thing had once worked.

Then I went in to Lisbon proper, where I went to the Museu Militar, where they had lots of cannon and other relics of the Peninsula War (of Sharpe fame). On arrival, I was handed a leaflet about the museum, written entirely in German. When I asked for an English version, I was told they had run out: I had to make do with German. Useful, that. (I mean, really. If it had been French, I would have been doing great. Italian or Spanish, I could probably have managed. Heck, even Portugese isn't too dissimilar. But instead, I had to carry around an utterly useless leaflet in a language I can't read at all. Fantastic!) Still, useless leaflet notwithstanding, the museum was quite interesting, as far as such things go.

And then, it was on to the third and final museum of the day, the Museu da Agua, which was a water-lifting plant back in days of yore. This had also been recommended as a museum for engineers, but alas was somewhat underwhelming, especially after the Museu da Electricidade. Still, a good excuse for a few miles walk, I guess.

Lunch on Thursday was in an open-air Italian restaurant, where I had a very nice, but very expensive, lasagne. Oh, and a giant beer. And coffee - actually, the coffee in Lisbon was a thus-far unmentioned highlight of my week. (One more thing about the expensive restaurant: before I left, I withdrew my holiday cash from my bank account. I then considered that money 'already spent', such that as long as I was paying cash for everything, I could have no concerns about how much things were costing. There was very definately something quite liberating about doing that.)

A bit more wandering took me to one of the city's Irish pubs, where I had a quick beer, noted that the had live music later that night, and then left. I returned to the hotel but, determined not to end the trip without sampling some of Lisbon's nightlife, I changed, deposited most of my stuff, and then returned to Lisbon.

Initially, my plan had been to return to the Irish pub to hear a little of the live music, before moving on to Lux, which is allegedly Lisbon's best nightclub. However, things took a slight detour when the live music was delayed a great deal. When it did begin, it was actually surprisingly good. I therefore remained there for some time, at which point I decided I couldn't be bothered clubbing, so I just went home. (And yet, somehow, this proved to be an altogether more satisfying venture than my foray into Barcelona's nightlife.)

Friday was the day of returning home. So, I packed, bade farewell to my hotel, and headed back to the airport. However, this time I decided to avoid the long and expensive taxi, and instead hopped on the train to Lisbon centre, and then a much shorter taxi trip to the airport. This meant that the total cost of the trip was less than a third of what I'd paid the first day, and due to some fortunate timing it didn't take any longer.

Then I waited in Lisbon airport (which is definately preferable to Barcelona airport), hopped a plane to Heathrow (where the in-flight TV started off as a horror movie, and then turned out not to be "Parade of the Skeletons", but rather a retrospective on the dubious talents of serial-torturer Donatella Versace), then a long wait in Terminal Five (where, I noted, there is neither a McDonalds or a Burger King - I thought they were everywhere), then a flight back to Edinburgh, and then home.

And that is what I did on my holidays.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Like "I could care less" and "I couldn't care less", I guess

I happened across this article as I went though my day.

While I generally agree with the sentiments expressed in the article, there were two things that provoked my Bemused Face Syndrome.

The first was this lovely paragraph:

"Ofsted, which based its findings on a study of 192 schools, said 11 percent of maths lessons were outstanding, 44 percent good and 40 percent satisfactory, a level which commentators said implied they were not up to scratch."

Now, my understanding was that "not up to scratch" meant "not meeting an acceptable standard". Another word for this, if we were aiming to express the concept succinctly, might be 'unsatisfactory'.

So, apparently, the thinking is that schools that meet the 'satisfactory' level are, in fact, unsatisfactory. Got it.

But there's more. The gist of the article is that schools are teaching too much 'to the test'. This makes sense, and is something I've complained about before. The article therefore ends with this message of hope:

"Earlier this year the government announced a 140 million pound strategy to increase the number of maths and science teachers, make lessons more exciting and improve exam results."

Good to know that rational thinking is still at work in education.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Details of the Diet

Since Molly asked for it, here are the details of the diet.

At the start of the diet (last Monday), my weight was a whopping 236 pounds. My target weight is 184 pounds, representing a reduction of 52 pounds. My initial hope had been to drop about a pound a week over the course of the year, and thus reach the target. However, as of ten minutes ago, my current weight is 229 pounds, representing a drop of 7 pounds in ten days.

The plan itself is a modification of the Belly Off! plan found here. Specifically:

  • 2 Shredded Wheat with semi-skimmed milk (actually, at the moment, I'm still on the Sugar Puffs)
  • 1 small (150 ml) glass fruit juice - was apple until this morning, will be orange from tomorrow

Snacks (10:30 and 3:00):

  • 1 pot fat free yoghurt (Muller Light fruit yoghurts to be precise - I prefer the layered ones, but am trying various options at around 100 calories)


  • 1 sandwich. Options are meat (3 slices of sandwich meat (was turkey, currently chicken, may try others) on 2 slices of Medium brown bread, thinly spread with about 1 teaspoon's worth of Dijon mustard (might try low fat mayo instead), with lettuce and tomato), tuna (unlikely, since I'm suspicious of all things fishy), or peanut butter (bit of a surprise this one - anyway, it's peanut butter on 2 slices of Medium brown bread). I have the sandwiches triangle-cut so they look bigger; unfortunately, and ironically, this also makes them quicker to eat.
  • 26 almonds. Yes, that is an awfully exact number.
  • 1 apple, currently Braeburn. Might try bananas instead next week.


  • 1 main course, of whatever takes my fancy. Monday was a pizza, Tuesday fajitas, today was Waffle Wednesday, tomorrow is fajitas again, Friday may be chilli.
  • 1 can Irn Bru, chilled and transferred into a glass before drinking.

At any time when a drink is not listed, I'm allowed water only. However, I also take one bottle of beer on alternate days (Estrella Damm comes in 4-packs, which makes this the most natural frequency). Additionally, if I'm really hungry of an evening, I may grudgingly be allowed a snack of a further 12 almonds.

Weekends are a little odd, since apples, tomatoes, yoghurts and other things seem to most naturally come in packs of six. At the moment, my thinking is to treat Sunday as any other day, but to adjust Saturday, removing the snacks, but instead having a slightly larger and more variable lunch (though I may go for one of Subway's lightest sandwiches instead), and a takeaway in the evening.

The only major extravagance in all of this is the Irn Bru, but I steadfastly refuse to give it up (and, as we know, Diet Irn Bru is pure evil in a can). It might also be worth noting that virtually nothing on the list is deliberately low fat, low carb, or a diet version (except the mayo, which I'm currently not having anyway, and the yoghurts, where the fat-free ones come in bigger pots, so I can eat more). However, the whole thing pretty much is a low-fat low-carb diet.

This diet works for me, mostly for three reasons: 1) It's showing results - how it fares when the going gets a bit tougher remains to be seen, 2) I thrive on routine, which means I don't really mind eating essentially the same lunch every day (besides, dinner remains varied), and 3) I've always been good at having the discipline to set patterns and stick to them (hence the very specific snack times listed).

And that's it. The thing that's missing at the moment is a formalised exercise routine, but I'm working on that.

A matter of trust...

Behold, I have finally escaped the Post Office!

Actually, it went reasonably well, except when I tried to explain what I wanted to do:

Me: "I would like to use one of these 'Moneygram' transfers, please."
Assistant: "Okay."
Me: "The recipient should get $3,000, whatever that works out to. And if there are any fees, I want to pay them at this end."
Assistant: *blinks* "So, how much do you want to send in money... er, pounds?"

At this point, I explained the concept of exchange rates, and how different places sometimes apply different rates, so they would have to work that out for me.

It was slightly amusing when she asked how I intended to pay the eventual bill (of just over £1,800), to which I replied, "cash".

To be honest, I was more than a little relieved to complete this task - it has not been fun carrying around that sort of money. On the other hand, it was quite cool walking around with that sort of money. And also, I hadn't actually handled a £100 note in the flesh before. That was quite cool.

I'm also not sure whether to be flattered or intimidated by the notion that my friend was willing to trust me with that sort of money.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Where's Postman Pat when you need him?

(Technically, I suppose it should be Mrs Goggins, but I thought that reference might be too subtle.)

Every so often, the news have a feature on the Royal Mail closing some number of Post Offices. This is invariably presented as a bad thing: how can they take our post office away from us? Oh, the humanity!

Here's the thing: the post office is rubbish.

Until the DVLA went online, I had to visit the post office once a year, in order to get a new tax disc for my car. And every year it was the same: they were only open a certain times, which they advertised poorly, many branches didn't have the service I actually wanted (and tax discs are hardly an unusual request, are they?), there were long queues moving very slowly, and the assistants were bored, uninterested, and moved very slowly themselves.

Fortunately, the DVLA went online, and I now get my tax disc without venturing to the post office.

A couple of years ago, I also had to go to the post office to get a new passport. In this case, the process was actually pretty good (credit where it's due, and all that). I knew I had to go to a major branch, so I did, I wasn't currently working, so I was able to go at a time I was sure they'd be open, and the queue actually moved! Plus, they actually did manage to deal with my request in under an eon, and on the first visit. (I can only assume that bad service is the penalty you pay for having the temerity to actually work for a living - I've found that many things in this country just work much better if you don't.)

Anyway, this week I find myself having to go to the post office to run a rather important errand for a friend. One I am uniquely suited to running by virtue of actually having photo ID (he doesn't, as he doesn't drive, and didn't want to risk dying of old age in the attempt to get a passport).

So, first, I went to the local post office yesterday, between the opening and closing times listed on the web-site... and found that it was closed due to an unannounced holiday. Good, that.

So, today, I went back, between the opening and closing times listed on the web-site... and found that that branch doesn't actually offer the service I wanted to use, despite this service being available "at any post office". Apparently, I have to go to one of the main branches.

And so, for my next trick I'm going to cut short my lunch, and go mid-afternoon to this alleged main branch. I'm wondering what outrageous circumstance will lead to my downfall this time?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sandwich Disaster!

After church last night, several of the youth contingent were complaining that there was nothing set up for them to do. I suggested that they could retire to my abode, where they could, em, watch me put together my turkey sandwich for tomorrow (actually, today). They respectfully declined.

This proved to be the wrong decision, as the sandwich making process took a sudden turn for the unexpected, when I found that the turkey had gone off, and become inedible!

This led to a conundrum: what to do? Do I head out to Tesco (at 10 o'clock - nearly bed time) to get new turkey? Do I make a substitute sandwich? Or do I forget the whole thing and just buy lunch (which turned out to be haggis, neeps and tatties)?

Well, I didn't go to Tesco until this evening. And the substitute sandwich I am allowed is peanut butter, of which I had none. Plus, I'd already applied the mustard to my only two slices of bread, so that option was right out.

In the end, I cut three very thin slices of cheese, and had those in place of the turkey, leading to a cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwich, with hint of mustard. It proved to be a triumph, even if a slight cheat. I have since invested in some emergency peanut butter.

The diet itself is going rather well. In fact, I'm a little concerned that it might be going a bit too well, given that it's a bad idea to lose weight too quickly. For the moment, I'm going to assume that I was 'naturally' quite close to the balance point, and that the weight loss is just a consequence of shifting things around quite a bit. However, I'm going to have to keep an eye on it, just in case.

And I've not even brought the Shredded Wheat into play yet.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Get out and vote!

And while I'm at it, what's with the whole, "get out and vote" thing?

If people are so apathetic that they weren't going to vote, then they're clearly not interested enough to do any real research into the options available. This means they'll either select a candidate because they've always voted that way, because of the lies they've most recently heard on a biased media, or simply at random. In short, they're not going to be making an actual informed choice, after sober reflection on the issues of the day and the qualities of the various candidates.

Of course, the effect of large numbers of such uninformed voters is to swamp the ballto box, effectively drowing out the votes of those people who have gone to the effort of informing themselves, and so are actually in a position to be making a sane and rational choice.

Frankly, if there were any way to actually enforce it fairly, I would suggest that a minimum requirement for voting should be that one would be required to articulate just why you were voting for your candidate of choice.

Alternately, they should just appoint public representatives randomly. Either that, or just go to a true plutocrat scheme, where public positions go to the highest bidder - to a large extent campaign finance means things are going that way anyway, so why not cut out the middle man, and instead divert the wasted funds into the public coffers, where they might actually do some good?

And in case you're wondering, no, I'm not entirely serious.

... will say in a speech...

More and more often, I find myself reading news stories about what some politician, businessman, police chief, or other public figure will say in a speech to be given later in the day, the next day, or even in the next week in extreme cases.

This raises the question: if they've already published the speech, and made it available to the media, why not just put it up on the internet for everyone to see, and not bother saying it at all?

After all, most of the ideas put forward in these speeches are really bad ones, and they're far easier to pick apart when delivered in written rather than verbal form, which means that by the time you actually get around to delivering the speech, it has already been picked apart, ridiculed, and discarded anyway, so why bother?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The report card

Following the disappointment that was Cowal, our Pipe Major has elected to enter us into one more minor competition to finish off the season. That competition occurs this Sunday. However, ultimately, that competition will have relatively little bearing on our overall success, or lack thereof, over the course of the year.

Being a very goals-focussed person, late last year I outlined to the band what I thought our goals for the coming season should have been: I felt that we should be aiming to win one of the minor competitions that we entered in the year, and also that we should be aiming to at least qualify for the contest proper at all the major competitions in the year (of which there are five).

Things took something of a blow in Janurary, when four of our pipers, including two of the best, suddenly quit. They took a second blow a couple of months ago when the then Pipe Major stepped aside. As a consequence of these upheavals, we moved first from entering all five majors down to three, then to two, and then to only one, being the Cowal Gathering.

And, as we know, at the Cowal Gathering we failed to qualify for the contest proper. So, out of the majors we attended, not only did we fail to qualify at all of them, we failed to qualify at any of them.

On the other hand, although we only won one prize at any of the minor competitions, that was a first place at Callendar. So, that goal was achieved.

There is, perhaps, one other consideration. At our second contest of the year, and the last one before our Pipe Major stepped down, the band actually embarrassed ourselves. We were really bad. That hasn't been repeated. Indeed, the band is now significantly better than it was at the start of the season, and probably even than we were at the end of last season.

So, the final verdict? I think it has to go down as: must do better. However, I also think there are genuine signs of improvement, and reasons for optimism for next year.


There really is a report on my holiday coming, I promise. However, it may be a few more days before I get around to writing it.

However, I will note that this trip to Portugal marks the completion of the fifth of the six items on the to-do list I posted in January. All that remains is to move house, and I will have completed all of the tasks on my public list of things to do this year. There is, of course, a second secret list, but I can't tell you how many items are on it, how many are complete, nor what they are - it's a secret, see.


So, the time has come for me to once again visit the dentist. Consequently, I accessed the number stored in my mobile phone, to make a repeat appointment. Simple, no?

Well, no.

It turns out that I didn't take a note of the phone number, and consequently don't have it. And, of course, I would never do something so obvious as remember which dentist I actually visited.

As I said, "Oops."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


No, it's not the name of a new game show I'm hosting, nor even some divinely-appointed task to renew hope in the land. Instead, the title refers to my epic task while returning home on Sunday evening, the purpose of which will shortly become clear.

It is with some regret, and a deep sense of shame, that for the second time ever I have elected to go on a diet (the irony of this, given my previous anti-diet rants, is not lost on me). A key part of this diet has involved re-arranging my day, so that 10:30 is no longer apple time, but rather a time for sober reflection, and the consumption of yoghurt, a further yoghurt has been added at 3:00, and lunch has been downsized to a turkey sandwich (plus dozens of almonds and an apple - let's not go crazy here).

Anyway, last weekend, having returned from Lisbon, I went to Tesco and purchased the turkey required for the sandwich (I already had the bread). I also purchased a jar of dijon mustard, a step that was inherently risky - I've had disputes with the checkout assistants over the manliness of purchases before, and am on thin ice following the low fat mayonnaisse incident (my defence, then as now, was that it comes in jars, and is therefore inherently manly). Frankly, if I ever have recourse to a recipe involving feta cheese, I have no idea what I'm going to do.

So, having purchased the required components, I downloaded the recipe for the turkey sandwich (my sandwiches have never quite seemed right before - it turns out the bread is supposed to go on the outside. Who knew?), only to find that it required also lettuce and tomato. Naturally, neither of these were available to hand.

And so was born TomatoQuest.

Anyway, I'm now three days into the process of phasing in the diet. It's not an instantaneous step, you see - I have a box of Sugar Puffs to finish before I can switch to Shredded Wheat for breakfast (it's not as much fun, but has the advantage of taking longer to digest), and I have some ice cream and crisps that need eaten up (not together, you understand). That should be done by the end of tomorrow, and then it's on with a month's trial of the scheme.


In all the excitement of being back at work, and what with the universe not ending, I completely forgot that Monday was the third birthday of this blog.

I have decided to celebrate by providing links to all of the best bits of the blog over these past three years:


Did you enjoy them? I know I did.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


I have decided not to bother posting my thoughts on Sarah Palin. Frankly, I can't be bothered.

However, here's a question to ponder: if she wasn't a former beauty queen, but rather was a much more average mother of five (but otherwise had exactly the same views, qualifications and experience), would she still have been selected as McCain's running mate?

For that matter, if Obama had a nasty (and obvious) scar from a childhood accident, would he be in serious contention for the position of President? If McCain were in a wheelchair (but otherwise in as good health as he currently enjoys), would he be in serious contention?

Indeed, in the UK, if Gordon Brown had lost one eye, rather than losing the sight in the eye, would he have any chance of being elected as Prime Minister? Indeed, does he stand are real chance of being re-elected, when faced off against the more attractive, smiling Mister Cameron?

I suspect that in all cases the answer is "no".

Saturday, September 06, 2008

How are Americans supposed to vote?

(Since I'm about to rant about biases in American politics, I suppose I should show my hand early: given the choice, I would vote Democrat in the upcoming election. However, it is worth noting, I think, that I find even the most left-leaning of mainstream US politicians far too right-wing for my tastes. Anyway...)

With no internet access in Lisbon (despite the claims of the hotel), and only BBC World and CNN available as English language TV, I found myself watching the Nadal/Murray tennis match on Eurosport. After all, that doesn't require knowing the language.

I also spent a fair amount of time in the evenings watching the coverage of the Republican Convention on CNN, which was quite interesting. I was horrified, however, by the blatant bias of the channel, in their presenters, their choice of pundits and commentators, and the relative time they allowed to each.

This leads to the following sequence: the candidates make some claims about their record, their aspirations, or those of their opponents. Naturally, them being politicians, you can't believe a word that they say. The media then 'fact-check' these. However, since they have such obvious biases (with some channels leaning one way, and others the other), you can't believe a word that they say. Then the opposite side hits back, and so on and so forth.

So, since you can't believe anyone, and since they don't have to "show their working" by citing references and sources, you're left with not a single source you can actually rely on. And, since it's too much work to actually dig deep enough to get to the truth about these things (seriously, it is), this means you have no valid basis on which to base a vote.

No wonder it all comes down to a question of which candidate is taller, and which has the better hair.

Thank goodness the UK at least have the BBC, who are (mostly) independent and (mostly) reputable. Doesn't help Americans, but it does mean that our own elections are a little less degraded.

400th Post

So, this blog is 400 posts old as of now!

Naturally, this means I must find a suitable celebrity to comment about, before moving on to more meaningful fare. And so, I'm going to nominate... John Collins.

He was on my flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh last night.

Good, eh?