Wednesday, 30 September 2009


We are all used to seeing cheap music CDs selling at low prices. These tend to feature lesser artists such as say.......Rolf Harris. (Sorry Rolf, but I've never forgiven you for treading on my foot that time you were crossing the road in Bristol and anyway, 'Two little Boys' just doesn't do it for me).

However, I was saddened recently when I was in my local news-agents and spotted a bin labelled 'Manager's Specials'. There, sitting forlornly on the top, was a CD by one of my all-time favourite singers. It was called simply 'Nat King Cole' and featured 20 tracks including classics like 'Nature Boy', 'Embraceable You', 'Paper Moon' and plenty of others. The price of this collection of music masterpieces was just 75 pence (about $1.20). Best of all, I just found the same CD for sale on the internet for £4-00 so I'm celebrating my bargain. However, I can't help but think of the phrase 'How the mighty have fallen'.

It puts me in mind of a lovely poem called 'On the vanity of earthly greatness' by the American poet Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943). I hope you enjoy it:

“The tusks that clashed in mighty brawls
Of mastodons, are billiard balls.

The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is ferric oxide, known as rust.

The grizzly bear, whose potent hug
Was feared by all, is now a rug.

Great Caesar's bust is on the shelf,
And I don't feel so well myself.”

Sunday, 27 September 2009


In recent weeks, there have been a couple of sad news items related to bullying.

One concerned an 18 year old girl with learning difficulties and her mother. Evidently, a local gang of bullies numbering sixteen youths, some as young as 10, used to harass them whenever they could, including 'terrorising' them in their home by throwing stones at the building and so on. The mother reported these incidents and kept a written record of them but sadly, the attacks continued until the mother became driven to distraction by the stress she was under. She duly took her daughter into the car and set fire to it killing them both.

The other incident was in Gloucester, where I live, and involved a 15 year old schoolgirl who was persistently bullied in school and on Facebook. Things got to be so bad that the girl was transferred to another school. Disappointed at losing their target, the bullies then contacted friends at the new school and persuaded them to continue the campaign of bullying. The girl became so depressed over this that she took her own life by jumping from a road bridge.

The common factor is these events, is that they took place over a prolonged period of time - ample time in fact, for the authorities to stop the bullying from happening. More should have been done in these cases to take direct action to stop the taunts, the name-calling and the physical attacks before they could escalate. I doubt that anyone would disagree with this.

Consider then the case of the school meals assistant who was recently dismissed for telling some parents that their daughter had been bullied. She came upon a group of four boys who had tied a 7 year old girl up and were then proceeding to whip the helpless girl's legs with a skipping rope. Chasing them off and freeing the girl, she duly reported the incident.

That evening, she chanced to encounter the girl's father at a social event and told him how sorry she was about what had happened. It quickly became clear that the father had not been told the full facts and had reportedly been given the story by the school that his daughter had been injured during a skipping game. The woman explained the true circumstances. In doing this she was judged to have breached the school's rules on confidentiality and was later dismissed by the governing body of the school. As it happens, one of the four bullies, is the son of one of the school governors!

School staff are responsible for the safety of the children in their care and are deemed to be acting 'in loco parentis'. In my view, the woman should be praised for her actions. Bully for her! As one person has commented - there are a number of people involved in this incident who could justifiably lose their jobs, but the dinner lady isn't one of them.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009


I'm a bit peeved, no I'm cross, no I'm annoyed, no let's face it I'm furious! This tired government of ours is now openly displaying signs of utter senility. The issue is cyclists.

Although I am a motorist, I have nothing but admiration for cyclists. It is a great way of keeping fit. It is also a very green form of transport. I have no problem with cyclists jumping the lights when there is nothing coming - even though motorists can't. However, I do have a problem with new proposals by the government to 'improve' things for cyclists.

Firstly, they are thinking of making it legal for cyclists to cycle against the flow of traffic - to go in the wrong direction in one-way streets for instance. It's not hard to imagine myself happily driving my car down a one-way street when suddenly, a cyclist swings round the corner directly into my path.

As if this weren't crazy enough, the second idea they've come up with is that in any traffic accident, regardless of who is actually at fault, to assume that the most powerful vehicle involved is legally responsible for costs. A few examples... a pedestrian steps out in front of a cyclist who doesn't have a chance to avoid the collision - the cyclist pays. A cyclist swerves in front of me giving me no time to miss him - I pay.

This is utter lunacy! The law normally blames the person who is at fault but is now expected to ignore the issue of who is at fault and blame the most powerful vehicle involved. How would this translate to other areas of the law? Let's see.... diminutive wife stabs beefy husband to death for his money - his fault because he's the bigger person!

So cyclists, if your bike is a bit old and rusty, just swerve into my car and I'll have to buy you a new one!

Is it me?

Sunday, 20 September 2009


Let me state at the outset that I am well aware that this feeble attempt at a restaurant review is no threat whatsoever to A A Gill who I regard as supreme in this field. (He refers to one of his dining partner's as 'The Blonde'. Since my wife is blonde, I shall do the same without fear of plagiarism!) In case you either don't know him or have not fully appreciated him before let me cite an example of his work.

Describing a visit with friends to restaurant where his group were sitting round a selection of delicious dishes he wrote this:
"The plates came, the forks hung over the table like metal herons in a linen pond...". Poetry!

So the blonde and I found ourselves in The Juniper Restaurant, Bristol. The blonde loves the place for its decor alone which is an amalgam of her favourite colours, purples, mauves and lilacs. It feels intimate with its minimal homely lighting and furnishing and you just feel welcomed and comfortable as soon as you enter.

The waiting staff were naturally friendly and chatty as opposed to forced politeness which led to a pleasant level of banter. For instance having asked for time to rest a while while we finished our wine, the waitress asked me to attract her attention when we were ready. I said I'd stick my leg out as she passed and she laughed and retorted that she would prefer it if I ensured she was empty-handed as I did so.

So foodies, if you're starter consisted of oak-smoked salmon served with welsh rarebit, beetroot pickle, drizzles of mustard sauce and something delicious which I shall name chive & cheese terrine having forgotten how it was described on the menu. This was the best of the three courses by a nose and was truly scrumptious since it achieved what a good starter should by offering the diner the chance to create several different taste combinations. This means that the palate is titivated seductively but without filling you up, leaving you totally ready for the main course.

I chose a bottle of 2008 French Merlot which went very well with our selections, together with a large bottle of sparkling mineral water.

In my case the main dish was duo of organic pork (tenderloin & crispy belly), black pudding, bubble & squeak cake, warm apple & shallot purée and creamy rosemary jus. The tenderloin came as medallions and the belly as a satisfying crispy-topped chunk. This was served with a selection of steamed vegetables which included leeks, carrots, sprouts and cabbage. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish but was pleased to discover that I just about had room for one of the delicious sounding desserts.

My choice was the 'Trio of peaches and cream'. Not that I am greedy or anything, but the more discerning of you will have spotted that my eyes had been drawn to the 'Duo of' and 'Trio of' options! So how do they manage a trio of peaches? The answer is firstly a large ramekin of hot peach crumble (which was to die for). Secondly a scoop of peach and vanilla ice-cream which was just perfect with the crumble. Having consumed those, I still had the delight of the peach trifle which was served in a tall glass topped with whipped cream and mint leaves.

We rounded things off with coffee feeling totally replete and wondering how soon we could justify a return visit.

The prices are not cheap but we regard them as commensurate with the high quality of the food. Our bill including service came to £82 for the two of us. There are various schemes which Juniper is party to which can give you a discount. In our case our dining card took £20 off that bill so we paid £62.

You will gather that I strongly recommend Juniper but as always, I'd advise you to book well ahead because it is very popular.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


It was Saturday morning and I needed to post a letter. The problem was that it was for Australia so I would have to go to the Post Office for a stamp. I probably don't need to tell you what it's like in a Post Office on a Saturday morning! There's usually at least a 10-minute queue and often a lot more than that. So I arranged to meet my wife in the coffee bar and asked her to have my usual Americano ready. Then I trudged into the Post Office with a sense of foreboding.

Guess what? There was no queue at all. Not one person. Had I hit lucky? had everyone become invisible or abducted by aliens? Had they just closed and forgotten to shut the door? - None of the fore-mentioned.

I was met by a lady greeter. 'Good morning - what is your business here today?' I showed her my letter to Oz. 'That can be done at one of our new machines' she said, waving her hand towards some rather daunting hi-tech machines with a screen and buttons and stuff. She saw my look of anxiety and led me over to one of them.

'Pop your letter on the scale' she said pointing to the scale which I hadn't even noticed. 'OK its under 20gm. so it will be the cheapest category - she then pressed a space on the screen marked under 20gm. and there was a notice which popped up saying the cost was 90p. 'If you are happy with that press 'Print Stamp'.' I did and my stamp was printed and dropped down into the slot. I stuck in on the envelope. 'Now post it in the slot here' she pointed again. Once again I had failed to notice that each machine had its own post slot attached. Job done and in all it must have taken less than a minute!

I thanked her and she resumed her position as a new customer came in. I watched for a while and realised that there were four possible places for customers to go. There were the usual service counters, a business pay-in desk, a parcels desk and the long rank of new machines which I had used. The lady greeter directed each new customer to one of these four. Then I realised that I was now competent in using the machines so wouldn't need her help next time so part of her function was to 'train' customers for future visits.

So I must give credit where credit is due. The Post Office has got its act together and we can reap the benefit. The only downside was that I had to buy the coffees because i got there before my wife did!

Sunday, 13 September 2009


For several months now my wife and I have been filled with abject fear and terror a degree of slight trepidation. All was well in our quiet little corner of the world. Flowers bloomed their way through their life cycles in our garden. Birds visited us and twittered, pecked, nested. The seasons came and went. Then one day that dreaded thing happened. Our lovely, quiet, single, lady neighbour put up a 'For Sale' sign.

Now I'm not saying that our small street is home to landed gentry who can no longer afford their stately homes or indeed to any other offshoots of High Society - how could it be with us living there? But they are a reasonably pleasant bunch. OK we have the little drummer boy who mercifully lives at the furthest reach of the close. Then there's the music fan who thinks it his purpose in life to act as DJ to the street but he too lives at a muted distance. 'Better the devil you know' seems very appropriate here.

Visions of several removal vans arriving next door and disgorging the possessions of The Simpson family filled our heads. Or maybe a Hell's Angels coven would tarmac the front flower beds to provide parking for their four dream machines with additional space for their biker friends. The possibilities were endless.

Sometimes I think that we should be able to have some input into the advertising when the house next door goes on the market. Just a sentence or two along the lines of 'Desirable residence - would suit silent, single, elderly, female, indoor, immobile person who enjoys lengthy sessions of macramé'.

Anyway, time moved on and recently the 'For Sale' sign was replaced with the death knell 'SOLD'. Then yesterday, my wife alerted me to the fact that the lady next door had visitors who were overheard asking which fixtures and fittings would be left. After much curtain twitching, we had spotted a charming looking couple of mature years who looked perfect to fill the vacancy of being our new neighbours.

As they drove away, we both heaved a huge sigh of relief. Then the thought came to me. What are they saying to each other as they drive off? Please don't let it be 'That house should suit our three lads fine when they finish their sentences for violent affray next week'.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


Now I wouldn't call myself a geek (who would?) but I flatter myself that I have a reasonable grasp of technology. I can find my way round 3G and Bluetooth. On the frequent occasions when Windows needs cleaning or repairing on my own or friends PCs, I'm your man. I'm always very quick (too quick in the case of Windows Millennium) to embrace new technology. However, it was not always so.

I well remember when mobile phones started to appear and both my wife and I were having none of it. What a ridiculous idea! Why on Earth would we want to be pestered by phone calls if we'd gone off to enjoy ourselves somewhere or were busy shopping or whatever? So for a while, we refused to turn the page of history.

Well I suppose we held out for a couple of years and then the clever sales gimmick about safety kicked in. Imagine your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. No sign of a phone box. No other traffic about. I'm toast right? Someday, my skeleton will be found in my rusting Ford and people will mutter about how stupid I was to set out without a mobile phone. Worse still, what if it were your dear wife or darling daughter? How would I feel if they became isolated on a dark night in a small country lane in deepest darkest rural England and were ravaged by molesting hordes? All because I hadn't bought them mobile phones for Christmas.

The rest is history. Mobile phones are now attached to the ears of 70% of people in the street and the other 30% are listening to their ipods.

So it is with some trepidation that I make my pronouncement on e-books. You know the things. Electronic tablets which can download every book known to man. One book for all. Carry the world's library in your handbag. Even if they bring out a new feature so that you can electronically turn down the corner of the page so you can virtually dog-ear your e-book to mark your place, I won't get one. Even if they bring out cubicles where you can wear a helmet which tricks your brain into believing you are browsing in a book shop. Even if they get e-books to emit puffs of book-smelling scent.

No, my head is firmly buried in the sand. It's no good trying to persuade me. Na na na na na - I'm not listening - can't hear you....

Sunday, 6 September 2009


It's 30th August and back in July one of our local stores had Christmas decorations for sale. Presumably the thinking is that people had stopped buying for Summer so are thinking ahead to Autumn and Winter. Since there are always some who like to be well prepared, Christmas items will sell. Also, charity Christmas cards are a much needed source of revenue for good causes and to maximise this they need as long a sales period as possible. Maybe.

I remember that last January we had a cold snap and I wanted to buy a pair of leather gloves which Father Christmas had forgotten to put in my stocking. No chance. The shops were full of beachwear. It is Summer now and of course the racks are heaving under the weight of chunky sweaters and the shelves are packed with boots. Did I miss the memo? Is August the new November? Should I post now in time for Christmas?

As I said, it is the end of August so how come that the October edition of 'What Hi-Fi' magazine is on sale now? My wife is forever complaining quite rightly that her magazines are full of Autumn and Winter articles when she reads them in Summer.

We can only hope that as the time warp continues, it will eventually come full circle and we will be able to buy Summer clothes in Summer even if they are next Summer's styles. We might get to read the September magazines in September a year ahead of time. Or maybe we could buy Easter eggs at Easter - or is that too radical a notion?

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


It's Bank Holiday Friday 28th August 2009 and holiday makers are setting off for a couple of days well earned rest in the South West. Obviously, there will be heavy traffic which may well add an hour or so to the journey but evidently it's worth it for the chance to relax on a beach and forget the daily grind. The cars and caravans are laden with children, wind breaks, children, buckets & spades, even more children, beach towels and - you've guessed it, children. 'Are we nearly there yet Daddy?'

Except it didn't go like that. A man decided that life had become too much for him and had clambered onto a pillar above the river with the intent of jumping to his death. The police closed the Avonmouth bridge northbound while they tried to persuade the man to change his mind. Southbound traffic slowed to a crawl as the rubber-neckers strained for a sight of the action.

As the drama played out, the heat was rising in cars full of holiday makers as children became first petulant then impossible to placate as their holidays became less and less of an enjoyable experience. The occupants of the cars got to hear the reason for their delay via word of mouth or radio reports as their ordeal continued.

The hours passed and for many, lack of water became an issue. In some vehicles, babies needed their feeds and parents needed hot water to prepare them but none was available. Elderly people and indeed the not so elderly suffered discomfort as toilet needs became more and more of a problem. In total, the delay lasted for over 6 hours. This was 6 hours of misery for many thousands of people who had only wanted to enjoy a couple of days break. Some of the people had the added trauma of being able to see the man as the professionals quietly talked to him and attempted to change his mind.

In the end he jumped. It seems that it was his failed marriage which had led him to the brink. There have been hundreds of posts about the incident. Some say he was selfish. Others are full of empathy for him. Many blamed the police for over-reacting by closing the bridge and causing traffic mayhem.

I do feel sorry for him that his trauma should cause him to end his life that way. But I'm also very sorry for the thousands of people who suffered 6 hours of misery because of the way in which he decided to finish it. Most of all though, I feel tremendous sympathy for the poor people who tried to talk him out of it. Imagine their feelings as they saw him jump after so many hours during which they must have come to know him.