Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Finding cash on the street

I'm on holiday. It is now the morning of day 3 or day 5 if you count the first weekend as part of my holiday. Yesterday we visited the big town near us and spent a lot of money. The 1st item on our shopping list was a new bed for my son. The bed he's got now was a godsend, it was given to us by friends but is one of those with a ladder and a desk. Making the bed takes a real effort because there is one corner that is really difficult to get to, against the wall with not much ceiling clearance. The 2nd item was a replacement fridge. Our current fridge was inherited when we moved into this house in 2011. Although it still works, there is a problem with the thermostat. We've had to cycle blue plastic picnic chiller box  blocks between the freezer section and the fridge for over a year now. The glass shelves have pools of water we have to wipe because of the thin layer of ice melting on the surface of the blocks. We have to regularly throw food away that hasn't lasted in the fridge. Milk goes off quickly. The trouble with a fridge replacement for us was that the choice was limited to one make and model. It has to fit into a cupboard that's integrated with the rest of the kitchen. So we had to spend a lot of money. I think it will be worth it though. It has the highest energy efficiency rating and it is a frost free model, so we won't ever need to defrost it. It was a lot of money though, however, we need a fridge that works and we have the money because we didn't book a summer holiday this year. A fridge is more vital than a holiday.
Anyway, now I'm on to the main subject of this post, what would you do if you found some money on the street? My wife and I went to the big town in the morning but had to go back in the afternoon with some measurements of the doors of the cupboard the fridge lives in. On our first visit we parked easily, another car was just leaving as we arrived and I could drive into the space. It was in the cheaper parking zone. Now, on our second visit I could not find a space in the cheaper zone, so I carried on round to the higher rate zone and parked close to one of the parking meters. We were exchanging some DVDs and videogames as well, so the shorter distance to the shopping centre actually was a good thing. As I walked to the parking meter I spotted a folded 20 pound note on the floor. The area near the meter had only 2 or 3 cars nearby and they looked like they were there some time. Without any idea of whose money it was and no way to find out, my wife and I decided to pick it up and keep it. I think our behaviour was dictated by the ridiculously slim chances of finding the person who lost it and also the value being small enough to be welcome but nowhere near life changing. If we'd found a whole wad of cash I'm not sure what we'd have done. I think I would have felt the need to take it to the shopping centre information desk. Maybe they could make an announcement but how would they know that the person making a claim for it was the rightful owner? How would the police know, if we took it there? Apparently, if you find cash on the street and hand it in to the police, you have 6 weeks before you can claim it as finders keepers.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rest In Peace - JJ Cale

One of my heroes passed away from a heart condition today, JJ Cale. I first came across the artist when I heard the song Shanghaied in the early 1990s, I think it was. I haven't collected a lot of music by this guy but I have two or three albums and they're fantastic records. The thing about JJ Cale was that he wasn't a typical frontman but he had a lovely voice, very soft, very musical. I have Really and Okie on CD and at my parents house on vinyl I have Travel Log.  He also recorded an album with Eric Clapton that I have. JJ Cale was a great blues singer songwriter, I thought he wrote some awesome songs and so must a lot of the top artists because you might be more familiar with his songs as covered by other artists, such as Eric Clapton's version of Cocaine. I'm very sad he's gone, his music made me feel happy and always will.

New music - Spotify

A while back when I first converted my little netbook to Ubuntu Linux, I wasn't sure I could get it working but I installed some Spotify beta software and to my surprise it did work. I find Spotify quite a good service, although I don't subscribe to it as I don't quite have the listening time to make it worthwhile.  The adverts are a little bit annoying but are bearable. I particularly like the top lists, where I've come across up-to-the-minute music that I've liked for six months or more before they form part of my wife's consciousness - she's very conservative when it comes to music.
There are no shortages of internet radio stations or music services but if you are interested in discovering new music, I'd recommend Spotify. The free version includes adverts and there is a limit to how much per month you can listen to but I've never hit that limit. As I write the limit is 10 hours per month, which is 2.5 hours a week, easily within my limits.

I did scan a few lines recently that some respectable artists, such as Radiohead, had pulled tracks from Spotify because of some rights policy or other. Without knowing the full facts I can't say much about this.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

I've bought an album that my dad used to play a lot when I was young. Rick Wakeman's Journey to the Centre of the Earth. My son now enjoys it when I put it on in the car. I'm reading the Jules Verne novel to him at bedtime too. We're both enjoying it. I had never read the story before. The album was very magical to me, it is a kind of overture with excellent narration of excerpts of the book, slightly altered for more drama to convey the story with just a few lines. The music brings the story to life I feel, one of the most pleasing combinations of music and storytelling, all the more remarkable given the age gap between them. 
I was a big fan of Yes, especially the Rick Wakeman era. He wore capes and had long blonde hair and was mysterious to me because I never heard his voice. But his synthesisers and keyboards were very very distinctive. He played on Black Sabbath's Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album to great effect. When he started appearing on TV later in life he was just a nice bloke, not the aloof and intriguing character I had imagined of him at all!

News or not news?

I was looking at the BBC News page yesterday and saw a photo and headine Beyonce's hair stuck in a fan. The photo was of a large metal bladed fan, not the human type. That might be interesting on some level to a few people but really? Really? Is that news? Come on!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Staycation coming up

At the end of this week I have got two weeks of leave booked. I haven't made any plans but I hope we do lots of things as a family. We didn't go away last year either but we have two cats who will love the fact that we're at home with them. It's kind of nice just to be home, chilling out. It's not as exciting as going away somewhere new and different but at the same time we can actually get things that we need sorted out like a new bed for  my son and a new fridge. We can do those important and lasting things for less than the cost of a holiday.

This fine weather

For the last few weeks it has been really hot here in the UK. It has really felt like being in the Mediterranean. The plus side is that when leaving the house I don't have to think about what to wear. I feel good and enjoy being outside. The downside is that it can feel very clammy, at night it is hard to sleep and it saps the energy out of me. This may sound like a complaint but really it isn't. I enjoy the good weather but I know that soon it will break and we'll be back to normal, whatever that is. Normal is good too. My son said he loves the winter because he likes hunkering down in his bed, under his duvet where it is warm with his own body heat. I know exactly what he means.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reading Tom Clancy books

The book I am currently reading is Red Rabbit and is one that I began recording my reading back in June 2011. The book did get packed up and I didn't read it for a few months. But it's a long time to have a book on the go. I am working my way through it at a steeper rate now. It's about a Russian plan to assassinate the pope and how they plot to do it without being directly attributed. It goes into detail about the role of CIA spies in foreign embassies, the special relationship between the US and Britain, and develops the main character's (Jack Ryan) back story. The rabbit in the title refers to a Russian defector who has knowledge that would be very useful to the US who has to run from the country rather than remain in situ. It is a very long book and I'd say one for die hard Clancy fans rather than a casual reader.

Here is a rundown of the other Clancy books I've read, they are not presented in any order.

Red Storm Rising was the first Clancy novel I read and I ripped through it with mounting excitement. I'd say this is a good starter book if you want to get into Clancy.

I read the Bear and the Dragon fairly late into my Clancy reading and it is another book I would say that is best for people who are already fans of Clancy.

The Cardinal of the Kremlin was good for casual readers as well as fans of Clancy.

Clear and Present Danger was a great book and would also be a good starter for people wanting to get in to Clancy. It was also made into a film but like many of the Clancy film adaptations, I don't think the film did the book justice. It did have Harrison Ford playing the Jack Ryan character though.

Debt of Honor was a good read and focuses on the characters John Clark and Ding Chavez, who are more operational than Clancy's other main character Jack Ryan.

Executive Orders was a difficult read, I thought it was very wrapped up in Washington politics. It did feature a dramatic plane crash. It's not a book I would recommend except to Clancy fans.

The Hunt for Red October was a brilliant story and a great book to get into Clancy with. The film was also very good with Sean Connery playing a defecting Russian submarine commander.

Patriot Games was another good read, worthy of attracting new readers into Clancy. The focus is on Jack Ryan and his family and IRA terrorists. Harrison Ford played Jack Ryan in the film of the same name, Sean Bean played the Irish baddie.

The focus of Rainbow Six was on John Clark and a role he took up after leaving operational service. It's a good read, perhaps a little on the long side for someone new to Clancy but for the fans it is a great book. I'm surprised it's not been made in to a film (as far as I'm aware it hasn't anyway).

The Sum of All Fears was a great read, I think someone new to Clancy would enjoy it. There was a film with Ben Affleck playing Jack Ryan, I'm not a huge fan of Ben Affleck.

More Clancy: I've some more Tom Clancy books in my cupboard still to read after Red Rabbit. I like to mix up my reading though, so probably won't start another Clancy straight away. Then there are a series of books that use other writers under the Clancy name, I have read a few of those and they are good but not interesting to me as the Clancy ones.

Breakfast: first meal of the day

It is easy to underestimate the power of a good breakfast.

I was very saddened by reading an article in the paper recently which talked about banning school lunch boxes because children weren't getting the equivalent nutrients that they would have if they ate school-prepared meals. One example cited a box containing yesterdays cold chips (fries) from a chip shop. I know there are unfortunate children whose parents neglect them, so they either go hungry or eat whatever rubbish they can, like cold chips. I'm talking here about households who have the capacity to run cars, have big TVs and iPhones: and yet the kids go without breakfast - their parent's have priorities all wrong. A good breakfast sets you up for the day. It is brain fuel for young children who need to concentrate in order to learn. I challenge anyone to take information in and concentrate completely on something if they're hungry. Believe me, it ain't possible. I know how hard it is to try and ensure that the breakfast food is in the house or that the kids take money to buy a breakfast. So I'm all in favor of school's providing everyone with a breakfast and a lunch. There is more food deprivation than survey stats reveal, state funded square meals for kids would have a massive impact on education in this country.

I sat down to blog about my breakfast this morning but that came out instead!
I picked up some streaky bacon on Friday evening and yesterday and today cooked breakfast for the family. We each have our own preferences when it comes to bacon:
  • My wife likes it very crispy (verging on burnt) just on the plate, with a small blob of ketchup on the side
  • My daughter likes it crispy in a sandwich with ketchup
  • My son like to have it in a buttered roll, he's not fussy about the crispiness
  • I prefer it cooked but still soft, rather than crispy, and on a sandwich or toast with HP sauce (a tangy brown sauce)
In terms of drinks in the morning, my first drink of the day has to be coffee. I like to follow that with orange juice, just before eating, and then while I'm eating I like to have a cup of hot sweet tea.
My other favorite breakfast foods include:
  • French pastries (pain au chocolat, brioche buns, croissants, maple and syrup lattices)
  • Yoghurts (raspberry, strawberry, blackcherry) and yoghurt drinks
  • Eggs - boiled with bread soldiers, fried eggs on toast, eggs benedict, poached eggs and omelette
  • Potatoes - rare for me but I do enjoy them at breakfast in things like potato cakes, rosti, potato waffles and hash browns
I can and do eat cereals but probably not as much as I should do. This is an area I could improve on.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Tasty cheese

One of my favourite cheeses that for some reason I don't buy very often is a product called Boursin. It's a soft French cream cheese, I like the variety that includes garlic and herb. It's lovely on freshly baked bread or spread on thin multi-grain crackers. Yum!