Friday, 27 June 2008

Guerilla composting

I am not a litter lout and I do not like those that are.

It is clear to any right-thinking individual that littering is Bad. Who wouldn't be irritated by the cigarette packet - or chocolate wrapper - flung lazily from a car window? Or the ashtray, emptied onto the roadside whilst waiting at a redlight? Or the countless other petty acts of fly-tipping that are perpetuated on a daily basis by the small-minded?

There is a school of thought, however, that regards a particular variety of littering as both beneficial and desirable - specifically, the discarding of bio-degradable waste in hedgerows and other natural habitats, where it will naturally, and perhaps even productively, decompose. These are not acts of littering, the argument goes, but of guerilla composting - an act with positive consequences for the green environment.

So if you must discard waste of an organic, bio-degradable nature in the shared spaces and places of our environment, don't be a litter lout. Be a guerilla composter.

Update: Funky Iron Girl writes:

"Chucking a banana skin in an English hedgerow is bad; bananas don't grow in England. Surely the only composting should be of native biodegradables? So that'll be apples and pears me old china. And the odd plum..."

She's quite right, you know. So don't throw banana skins in English hedgerows (you might want to chuck them in the road, or use Welsh hedgerows).

If you're not a fan of littering, you may be interested in the Stop the Drop campaign, being run by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

All Day Breakfast

...served until 3pm.

Can anyone else see a problem with this statement?

(Seen outside a pub in Bedfordshire)

Friday, 20 June 2008

Terramundi come up trumps

After last week's smashing service, a quick 'phone call, a pleasant chat, and a few days later, my replacement Terramundi money pot has arrived!

It's a nicer shape, the lettering is bigger and bolder, and it's in one piece.

Great work guys, thank you.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

In favour of toe clips

Usually, when I am riding the London to Brighton Bike Ride, I make the effort to remove my clipless pedals (the sort that anchor the bike shoes to the bike, and make riding much more efficient and pleasant) and replace them with flat pedals with toe clips.

I do this because on the L2B the roads and hills in particular are often crowded with the sheer number of riders (around 27,000 every year), some of whom will be bobbing and weaving unsteadily up the hill, and some of whom will be pushing their bikes. In those circumstances, I find it a bit easier to get out of toe clips in a hurry, should I need to - if, for instance, I am bumped by the rider in front me and in danger of tumbling messily to the road.

This year, for the first time, I elected to ride with the clipless pedals I normally use, figuring that I would be just fine - either I would stay out of trouble, or I would unclip my feet at a safe distance, and ride up the hill without the benefit, but without the danger.

And so I did, for the first, oh fifty miles of the ride, until I came to the largest, steepest, longest hill climb of the Ride, from the village of Ditchling up to the Beacon on the very top of the South Downs. (I've geekily built a little Gmaps Pedometer route of the climb. Make sure you switch on the elevation display!)

As can be safely predicted, I quickly found myself accidentally touching the wheel in front of me, losing balance, and struggling to free my feet from my elegant machine.

I went down with an apologetic cry and a heavy thump onto my left knee.

Needless to say, I immediately remounted with gusto, dashed the tears from my brave and shining eyes, and continued with my ascent with increased fevour. And I did not hamper or hinder any other rider as a result of my tumble.

The picture below, taken at the top of the hill with my Blackberry, shows the regrettable, impressive (and somewhat sore) result.

A grazed knee covered in blood

The embarrassment is far greater a wound, however.

Alas, I do not have any pictures of the splendid view from the top of the hill - stretching over the rolling hills down to the sea, very well worth the climb. Nor any of the hundreds of cyclists and several ice creams vans plying their welcome and brisk trade atop the Downs themselves.

Nice white socks though, what?

And I was not alone in my injury. My riding companion, the ever-sprightly Bearded One, was the victim of a wheel-clipping-induced-tumble rather earlier in the ride, resulting in a flat tyre, a hole in his cycling leggings, and an increasingly-claret-coloured leg. With satisfying symmetry, it was the opposing, some would say complementary, patella that was lesioned. Let the record show that - with customary resolve - he stiffened his hirsute upper lip, replaced his inner tube, and ventured bravely on for the remainder of the ride.

Friday, 13 June 2008

T-Bone Steak for a Friday 13th Dinner

This evening, faced with the rare prospect of a night on my own, I pondered my options for the twilight hours. There was, I knew with heady certainty, a decent bottle of red wine at home, awaiting the attention of my eager senses, and I resolved to find a suitable companion to perform the role of dinner for me that evening.

So it was that I found myself in the local butchers, asking for a "nice steak for my supper". When asked what sort I required, I replied briskly, "a t-bone".

Surely a prince among meats, the t-bone is a cut that features, as one might guess, a T-shaped bone to one side of which lies the cut usually known as sirloin - well-marbled and flavoursome, and to the other, fillet - lean and delicious. It's two steaks in one (Take 2 steaks into the kitchen? With T-Bone I just cook and go!).

Alas, there were none to be seen within the bowyer of delights that was the butcher's counter, but quick as a flash he replied, "I'll cut you one."

In a moment, he had fetched from his larder a huge side of meat, which he laid upon the block and adjusted carefully ready for the impending procedure. Meeting my eye with a raised eyebrow, he placed his thumb on the meat to indicate the size of the cut he was intending to make, and I confirmed with a short nod.

A few moments later I was skipping from the establishment, clutching fully 22 ounces (some 600g) of prime beef. Although it's not that clear, the picture below shows the fine, thick slab of meat, atop a 8.5 inch (21.5 cm) plate. The fillet is to the left in this picture; the sirloin to the right, with the wide strip of fat attached.

I cooked it as simply as possible; 2 minutes on a high flame, 10 minutes over a medium flame, in a cast iron griddle. The result was gratifyingly delicious; the fillet buttery and meltingly tender, and the sirloin tasty and rich although perhaps a touch over-cooked for my usually-sanguinary tastes.

I served it with some saute mushrooms and a crisp salad. Perfection.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Great father's day ideas

Stuck for a gift for father's day? Try our new fruit hats. Free delivery for Father's Day!

Right now, I'm getting getting a lot of email like this, all desperate to offer me great gifts for Father's Day, or "solve" my Father's Day "dilemmas" - whatever they might be.

And everyone is getting in on the action, from cigar vendors (possible) to indoor wind tunnels (unlikely) to domain hosting companies ("for your Dad to start his own website" - as if!).

All of which falls on deaf ears: unbeknownst to all of the marketeers, despite this age of ever-present consumer profiling, I ceased to require father's day gift ideas 5 years ago.

The Royal Mail provides a smashing service

Terramundi make rather elegant hand-thrown money pots, with a splendid business model: the pots contain no money-retrieval hole, thus allowing for a one-way deposit-only transaction (they're write-only, if you will). In order to retrieve the savings therein, the pot must be smashed - necessitating the need to buy another pot with (hopefully only some of) the saved money. The website describes this process of fill-smash-replace as "customary". The geek in me sees it as a kind of recursion.

Anyhoo, they're quite lovely, and I recently ordered one for my godson in order to save towards his Misspent Youth Fund, and perhaps provide some kind of fiscal lesson about long-term planning and the psychology of anticipation. Or a nice shelf ornament. At the very least he'll be able to enjoy bludgeoning it to smithereens, perhaps even intentionally.

Here's how it arrived.

A box marked FRAGILE

An open box with a Terramundi card

A box containing a smashed money pot

Broken pieces of a money pot

Pre-enjoyed, one might say, no? Except without the fortune in small change.

I suppose I had a feeling this might be the case when I picked up the box and it rattled in that mocking tinkly-chinkly broken pottery sort of way (you know; the noise that packages make as soon as you've signed to say that they've arrived safely).

Happily, a quick telephone call to the lovely people at Terramundi London, and a replacement is being arranged free of charge. One supposes that this is not the first time the Royal Mail has meddled with the saving process.

I will confess: there is a tiny part of me that kind of hopes it happens again.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Preparing to swim, bike, run

Tomorrow is the Blenheim Triathlon, an event I have long-awaited - as long as last year, when I completed the Team Sprint and enjoyed it so much that I resolved to do the whole event on my lonesome.

Laid out on and around my bed is (almost!) everything that I will need for the day, and I am struck by what a tremendous faff it is to do a triathlon; unlike a run, where one can practically turn up and go, a triathlon needs a certain level of preparation - equipment, tools, stuff, thought, packing, gear, contingency, stuffstuffSTUFF.

This fact has been recurrent throughout my training; the number of towels I've got through would swamp a decent sized hotel, I suspect. And that's before the bike and associated faffery of tools, puncture repair kits, inner tubes and the like.

I mean, I can see why people would go for the longer distance events; if you're going to go to all this effort, you might as well make a bit of a day of it. As it is, I expect to be in the event (somehow I can't bring myself to write "competing") for somewhere up to an hour and a quarter. Hardly seems worth all the bother does it?

But it will be.

Anyone for a glass of juice?

From a carton of Waitrose Pressed Apple & Mango Juice:

"The fruit is pressed at source, pasteurised, then aseptically packed or frozen before transportation to its destination where it is pasteurised or defrosted and pasteurised, packed ready for the consumer."

Mmmm. Doesn't that sound delicious? And so personal.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

With some reservations

After yesterday's excitement:

Today, when I picked up the telephone, I spent 50 minutes dialling and re-dialling before getting through, but only 5 minutes on hold. At which point, I clearly stated my reservation request, and the helpful lady at the other end of the 'phone told me she didn't have a table for 2 available on the day I wanted to book.

So I took the table for 4 that was available.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Of ducks and hooks

One of those days.

A well-known restaurant takes reservations "as far as two calendar months in advance", which is another way of saying that one needs to make a reservation exactly 2 months before the date one wants to dine there.

This fact is the chief (nay, sole) reason I spent 40 minutes this morning dialling and re-dialling (and re-dialling again) the number for the reservations line before I managed to get through, followed by another 6 minutes listening to hold music. At which point, I was connected to a lovely, helpful human being.

The connection to which I have just alluded occurred approximately 1 minute after I realised that I was telephoning a day early, as my birthday is 2 months tomorrow, not 2 months today. Consequently they were, alas, unable to take my reservation.

But I do get to enjoy the process again tomorrow :-)

Later on, I finally got 'round to raising the saddle on Flora, a simple task long overdue. I even took her for a little spin, which turned out longer than anticipated (due to lack of supplies at the first place I visited), and a good deal wetter (due to an unexpected rain shower). Neither of which, I should note, spoiled my enjoyment of the outing.

So it was that I arrived back at McSnaffle Base with a cheery smile on my damp face, and began to return Flora to her special hook - high up on the wall out of weather and harms way but ready for a fixedwheel adventure at a moment's notice.

It was at precisely this point that I realised that the new height of the saddle bumped into the ceiling, and prevented the frame from being secured on the aforementioned hook. A hook which is secured to the wall with anti-theft screws, the kind that can be screwed but not unscrewed.

I believe I allowed myself a chuckle at this point, before putting Flora into the shed - a good deal less accessible, but also a good deal warmer. Lucky girl.

In other McSnaffle News, if you can handle the excitement, I went shopping for jeans today, and discovered that I have gone down a trouser size (measured by waist rather than inside leg). Indeed, I have practically gone down two sizes, being able to wear jeans fully 4 inches smaller than I have been accustomed to for the past ten years. In short, I am now apparently more svelte than I have been in well over a decade.