Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Listening skills

I heard an interesting story on Saturday Morning Live last
weekend. A middle-aged bloke was interviewed about on the
subject of important advice to pass on to other people. He
told a true story about his 6 year old daughter trying to get
his attention one morning, while he was reading a newspaper
at the breakfast table. I'll embroider the story for dramatic
Abi: "Da..ad?"
(Long pause)
Dad: "Ummm?", hidden from view by his newspaper.
Abi: "Dad?"
(Another long pause)
Dad: "Yes, my dear?"
Abi: "Dad! You're not listening to me!"
(Long pause again)
Dad, clearing his throat mid-sentence: "Yes,....... I'm
listening", slightly rustling his newspaper and feeling a bit
irritated by all this.
Abi stamps her foot on the floor: "Dad, you're not listening
to me! I want you to listen to me with your eyes!"
(My dad was just like this - he resented being interrupted while
reading his newspaper in the morning. He could be grumpy at the
best of times.)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Ava and The History Boys

What have I been up to in the last week? Well, I've been to
various meetings with the charity I work for, and have been
doing loads of computer work (the computer version of
paperwork plus website stuff) associated with it.
Add on to that, a lot of socialising with family members -
everyone is flocking up/down to Nottingham to see Little
Ava. It's lovely to see them all.
Today, Mrs C and I went over to see Little A and her mum,
our third or fourth visit in the last week -- so I just had
get my camera out and take 30 more photos of Ava. Here's the
best one, I think ....

Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you this -- we went to see that
fabulous film The History Boys. People say that the theatre
version was even better, and that the film producers altered
the plot a little, to make it more suitable for a young
audience. How I hated school exams -- and yet I chose to
carry on taking exams for another six years at Uni - I just
had to carry on regardless. The film brought it all back to
me - I was put in for the Oxford Uni entrance exams (after
getting mediocre "A" level results), so I spent three years
"in the 6th form", taking yet more exams. I didn't get into
Oxford, but I managed to improve my "A" level grades, and got
into Leeds Medical School the following year. Lots of hard
work, as I never had a photographic memory or an instant
grasp of concepts. No wonder I had exam dreams/nightmares
for 20 years or so after leaving Med School .... more about
that in another blog. Do you dream about exams?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Little Ava

I'm very busy at the moment, doing stuff for an educational
charity in Nottingham, and am starting work revamping another
website for a similar U3A in Newark (whose webmaster has left
them). The woman in Newark wants a feminine feel to the site,
so I'll put on my blonde wig, and my party dress, tights and
lipstick, to get into the right mood, when Mrs C is out later.
So my next blog will be in about a week's time.
Here's a photo of little Ava for you. I took it last weekend,
one of many as you do if you've got a digital camera. She's
two and a half weeks old, (now nearly three weeks old).

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Temporary Xmas Jobs

Did you get an advert through your door in the past week or
so, advertising these jobs at M&S? The advert reads,
"Friendly teams and great pay. No wonder everyone looks
forward to Christmas at M&S."

In case some of my readers haven’t heard who M&S are, Marks
and Spencer is one of the leading clothing retailers in the
UK, and has diversified into selling good quality food and
drink and other things.

Well, on the back of the card from M&S, is the information
that they are seeking temporary customer assistants, and are
offering pay at £5.60 per hour, (plus a range of other job
opportunities with competitive salaries and generous staff

When one of my daughters saw this rate of pay, she laughed out
loud. “That’s only sightly above the minimum wage,” she said.
“Is that what they call a great rate of pay?”

I looked up the statutory minimum wage on the internet –
here’s a link to the current rates, which depend on the
employee’s age. The Government has just raised this rate by
the princely sum of 30 pence an hour to £5.35 per hour for
workers aged 22 and over. Wow, an extra 30 pence – that will
help enormously towards paying for some extra food this Xmas
and for some extra pressies too.

Now , what could I buy for 30 pence? I know ... I could buy
a packet of Tesco’s Value Ginger Biscuits for 25 pence – some
of the best-tasting biscuits available.

And do you know what? School-leavers aged 16-17 will be
getting £3.30 per hour. That sounds far too much, doesn’t it?
No wonder they don’t wish to stay on at school or college, with
such fab wages available. Still the shop-owners seem keen to
take them on – there are always a lot of young people working
in the City Centre shops.

Oh, by the way, if I were to catch a bus into the town centre
instead of walking for 15-20 mins, that would cost me £1.30 or
£2.50 for the return ticket ... and a medium sized cappuccino
in Costas would cost me around £2.45.

So I wonder who will be applying for the temporary Xmas
vacancies in the retail trade and for the Post Office?
Students, housewives/husbands, pensioners, perhaps? I doubt
anyone on state benefits would be applying, unless they’re
hoping to get a more permanent job with the firm, as for every
£1 earned, I gather that £1 would be deducted from state
benefits such as housing benefit. I believe this is still the

At the other end of the pay scale are solicitors – of course
you all know this. Doctors are not badly off either. I hear
it’s now common for solicitors to charge £180 to £200 an hour
(correct me if I’m wrong) – but then they have to pay for
premises and staff, and to pay for costly mortgages, school
fees for their kids, expensive cars and for holidays abroad.
It’s hard for them, isn't it?

Friday, October 20, 2006

tea or coffee, anyone?

If you're like me, you're probably reading this or
blog-writing with a mug of tea or coffee alongside you. I
have to admit that I love the stuff -- I'm a caffeine addict.

Well, they do say that if you declare your addiction to
everyone, then you're on the way to overcoming it -- not
that I'll be doing so. If in years to come, caffeine is
deemed to be totally anti-social, and only the sort of thing
that down-and-outs do, then I'll be joining them with my mug
of tea, sitting on the pavement with my legs wide apart,
calling out to folk, "Can you spare a penny, luv, (for my
next fix)?" ... sorry that's grammatically incorrect ...
"Could you spare a penny, luv?"

One of our neighbours takes his (lap) dog for a walk round
the block in the mornings. It's a strange sight seeing him
walking along with his business clothes on, with the dog
some distance ahead on one of those extendable leads. In his
other hand, he holds a mug of coffee. Mrs C met him the other
day on her way into town, and chattted with him about his
walking the dog while drinking his coffee. "Oh, it's called
multi-tasking", he said. The dog's called Mabel, by the way.

I drink a fair amount of tea during the day, and usually have
a strong coffee mid-morning too. If I drink any caffeine later
than about 4pm, then I'm awake during the night quite a lot...
wide awake. Yesterday, I only had one mug of tea (Twinings
English Breakfast leaf tea, made to a medium brown boot polish
colour), and this morning I woke up with a mild muzzy headache
- you know that mild hang-over feeling the next day, when
you've had a little too much booze the night before? Well,
I've had this a few times, just with not drinking enough
caffeine the previous day.

I didn't realise what it was, until I read about it in a
medical textbook - it's a caffeine-withdrawal headache
suffered by addicts when they come off the stuff. So, now you

About 20 years ago, I did go about 6 months on a caffeine
fast - drinking those flavourless decaffeinated substitutes
- not very nice, though I do drink them occasionally in the
evenings. I'd rather have something else, like one of those
fruit teas you can get in tea-bags. I mention this, because
when I went back to drinking ordinary tea & coffee, I noticed
an amazing difference in my alertness and drive -- like
suddenly changing cars and setting off in a Ferrari. Wow, I
felt alive again.
No wonder people say, "I'm dying for a cuppa!"

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Teaching & learning Photoshop

I've been teaching a group of retired folk like me, a fair
amount of Photoshop 7, and today is the last session of my
short course. It's something I feel enthusiastic about, and
I hope I've been able to put that feeling across.

I think I've made the mistake of putting too much info across
at any one time, so when I come to repeat the course in Jan-
Feb, I'll do less. For example today, I'm covering correcting
red eye, some fancy things you can do with text, creating
borders (to create an illusion of an inner bevelled edge), a
couple of layering techniques to add blur or chrome to a
background, and building some simple photo-montages, all in
less than an hour. It's teaching up front with lots of
repetition, as we haven't got extra laptops for folk to get
their hands on. Also to do the latter would require 2-3 times
the amount of time to allow people to work at different
speeds, and for me to go round the class helping them out.
I've been giving out written material also, for "homework".

I mention all this as along the way, I've learned a tremendous
amount, by looking up how to do things in books and on the
internet, by creating a course with increasing technical
difficulty and putting material together in a logical
progression, and by trying out a lot of stuff myself to get
the presentation right.

I'm not a natural teacher. I'd be hopeless in front of a
disruptive class of teenagers, but it's a lot easier teaching
a group of people who've chosen to be there, and who ask
relevant questions (and help me out occasionally when things
go wrong). I work with Windows 98 most of the time on this old
machine, and I've found it difficult to get used to the layout
of Windows XP, which I'm using to present the course (and
which most people have got). Mrs C has Windows XP on her
laptop, but I've been wrong-footed a few times by a slightly
different version of XP on the teaching machine. Another
problem which some of you will be used, to is that the colour
produced by the Powerpoint projector we've got, is rubbish
compared with what's on the laptop screen -- I've found that
so frustrating at times.

That's enough of all this, as I'll be boring the pants off
you -- that's an odd expression, isn't it? Hardly a seduction
technique, more the complete opposite...your partner at the
dinner table will be wondering where the nearest exit is.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

do you like body hair?

Well, lads and lasses, do you like body hair? I've got lots
of the stuff, like Sean Connery. What I've lost on top, I've
made up for elsewhere ... I can almost hear some of you
saying, "Oh God, spare me the details!" Why is it that body
hair has gone out of fashion, and that male models and celebs
feel the need to have it ripped off in beauty parlours?
When did you last see a bloke/a film star with a hairy chest?

And what about under-arm hair in men & women? Do you like to
see a thatch of hair growing there? I keep mine short just
for practical reasons -- I don't like puttting a roll-on
deodorant on, on top a thick mat of hair. I remember many
years ago a friend of mine spraying his hairy armpits with
Gillette's Right Guard. "Instant bath!", he said (bath
pronounced as barth, as he was from down South).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

As bald as a coot

You’ll never guess what someone said to me the other day ..
well you might from the title of this story.

I was standing near the top of Huntingdon Street in
Nottingham, waiting for a few cars to go by before crossing
the road. One of the cars was a new, light blue Peugeot 206,
and inside were two well-built young men .. in their early
twenties I thought. They had stylish short haircuts and
they were wearing designer T-shirts.

Do you know the type of young men I’m referring to? Down
south, people would call them Essex lads. Up here in the
Midlands ... now what would we call them?

Anyway, as they were passing by, one of them leaned out the
window, with a huge grin on his face, and shouted, "I’m sorry
to tell you this …. but your FRINGE now starts at the back
of your head!" They drove off laughing.

For a few moments I was stunned by what he said, but then I
thought ... "Hey, that’s really funny!"

Saturday, October 14, 2006

lifestyle choices

MB writes in the comments, that she's amazed by the fact that
I've had so few jobs in my life ... she says, "That strikes
me as unusual!". Well, yes it is ... especially for the
present younger generation, who aspire to travel abroad, and
have lots of designer clothes, electronic gadgets and
computer games. It's usual now for young people to take on
part-time work to fund all this spending, or to take a year
out of education and travel or do voluntary work abroad.

People did do this in my day, but generally not those going
through med school. Some schoolkids did do paper rounds of
course, but I made do with the little pocket money I got off
my parents, and had a dull social life as a result when I
was growing up. I wasn't into meeting girls in coffee bars,
as a teenager -- I know of some lads who did, but I was/am
socially inept in that respect.

I did go to a few CND meetings as a teeanager, and met up
socially with a few of younger members -- they were keen to
go on protest marches, and one of them I remember was very
keen to get into fights with the police --on one occasion, he
brought home a policeman's helmet as a trophy) -- punch-ups
are not my cup of tea, so I didn't carry on meeting up with
I did write off to several hospitals departments in the US,
for temporary work in the summer hols, between my second and
third year at med school. Nothing came of that, but I did
intend to work and travel round the US that summer, until I
found out that I had an exam to resit. It was on neurology,
so I spent the summer holiday reading and learning a couple
of textbooks instead.
One film I enjoyed watching as a student was "Easy Rider",
which came out in 1969. I was amazed by the care-free
lifestyle and impressed by the thought of just going off
on a motorbike ... just going somewhere ... dropping out,
or what some people said was bumming around. Well the hippy
lifestyle and flower power was all the rage then ...it was
the fashionable thing to do for the young, who wanted to break
free of the treadmill of education and working long hours
and years in a job. I chose to carry on.
So, how about you -- did you wish you'd done something else
with your life?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Four things about me

Dear Reader,
I've been dobbed by this meme that's going around.
Hope you enjoy it and having a go yourself (doing
the same on your blog).

Four Things about me
Things you may not have known about me..... but then you
you wouldn't, would you?

Four jobs I have had in my life:
1. making syringes for medical use at Gillette's
2. various hospital doctor and GP jobs
3. unofficial PA to Mrs C, and house-husband

Four Movies I would watch over and over.
1. BBC Pride & Prejudice
2. Love Actually
3. War and Peace (the Russian version - the best)
4. Blow-Up (chiller-thriller of the 60s)

Four Places I have lived
1. Manchester & area around
2. Leeds & area around
3. Reading
4. Nottingham

Four TV shows I love to watch
1. Jane Eyre (BBC1 drama on at the moment)
2. Who Do You Think You Are? (on BBC1)
3. Criminal Minds
4. The Amazing Mrs Pritchard (drama on BBC1 again)

Four places I've been to
1. France
2. Spain
3. Germany
4. Tenerife
(and other countries too).

Four Web sites I visit regularly
1. Google (my home page)
2. Googlemail
3. oneacross dot com
4. Flickr

Four favourite foods
1. smoked salmon salad
2. Greek salad
3. New and baked potatoes
4. home-made meringues (dipped on the flat side in plain
chocolate, with a little whipped cream).. MMmmmmm.

Four Places I'd rather be right now
1. (Sorry, but home in Nottingham is just fine)

Four friends (readers) I think will respond
1.(anyone of you, but I'm not bothered if you haven't got time)

... I think it's a fun thing to do.
Go on, pass it on to all your friends out there.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Who do you think you are?

Well, who do you think YOU are? Are you interested in your
family history? "Oh, I haven't got the time or the slightest
interest", you might be saying. Or, "Boring!"

That's a shame, I think, if that's your attitude. I'm
fascinated by it - relationships between family members in
particular, as what goes on in one generation tends to
repeat itself in the next. You think that people might learn
from others' past mistakes - get out of the life scripts they
or their parents acquired ... "Don't trust (anyone)" was one
of my mother's strong beliefs, and which has affected me to
some extent.... not of course that she's to blame for any
of my dysfunctional beliefs really -- I have to take full
responsibility for my belief system.

So how much do we really know what relationships were like
between our grandparents? -- I have a fairly good knowledge
about that from my parents. But what about the generations
before that?

I know a little about my ggrandparents but bugger all about
the previous generation. All of them were just ordinary
working class or lower middle class folk. If they kept any
diaries, which I doubt, the diaries never came our way.

And so the sad thing is that generations of people get
forgotten -- their graves neglected and bones chucked away to
make way for others. How long will I be remembered? By my
grandchildren - yes -- but their children?

We can look back through a few hundred years at our ancestors
-- discover their BMD details, where they lived and what their
jobs were, possibly -- but this is like trainspotting -- just
collecting the bare facts -- no detail of what their lives
were really like -- all we can do is speculate about what
happened to them at that time in history.

It was Nigella Lawson's turn in tonight's BBC1 programme on
celebs' family history. With the help of a research team, she
delved back into her Jewish family history in Germany and in
Holland -- her distant ancestors were very poor on her
mothers' side of the family, but the more recent ones became
very rich (an ancestor founded the Lyons company - the
catering and food company with all the corner tea shops).

The BBC programme went on to show scenes of Belsen, the Nazi
death camps in Germany, just after the liberation by the
Allied Forces. Her grandparents were said to be on the Nazi
death list and would have been killed if the UK had been
overrun by the Germans in WW2. My parents reckoned they were
on the same list too (as they were left wingers). It's
good job we won the war, otherwise I wouldn't be here.

Monday, October 09, 2006

family get-together

As you'd expect, we had a big family get-together over the
weekend - to celebrate the arrival of our granddaughter,
little Ava. Her mum was let out of hospital on Saturday
afternoon, which was remarkably early considering she'd had
a CS last Wednesday. She was very pleased to be back in her
own home ... for the usual home comforts and home-cooked
food. The hospital food wasn't very nice, as usual -- I
suspect it's a ploy to encourage patients to get home asap
-- the smell of cooked food in hospital corridors is off-
putting -- a sort of overcooked cabbage with melted cheese
smell, common to most hospitals I've been in...yuck.
Anyway, both mum and Ava are very well. I've posted abother
photo of Ava, which you'll see below.
None of us went to Nottingham's Goose Fair this year (as we
were socialising instead), so I haven't got any new photos
of it to post. As I drove by this afternoon, the Goose Fair
site was half empty, as the show was over. Oh well, next year
we might be taking Ava with us.
We watched the second episode of "Jane Eyre" on BBC1 last night
-- it's the best dramatisation of it we've seen so far, with
excellent acting from everyone, especially from Ruth Wallis
who plays Jane. Our only criticism of it is the portrayal of
Rochester as a handsome and fairly pleasant character -- he's
said not to be so in the book. I see in the Radio Times, that
the BBC are bringing out a DVD version of it, in February --
something worth getting I think, like the Colin Firth version
of "Pride and Prejudice", which I enjoyed more than the more
recent film with Keira Knightley in it.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Amazing Mrs Pritchard

Would you vote for an independent candidate at the next
General Election – someone who was plain-speaking, honest,
and sincere, someone with lots of vitality? Well, if Ros
Pritchard were standing for election right now (and if her
policies were left of centre, as mine are), she would get my

I’m referring to the new 6 part drama, that was on BBC1 a
few nights ago. Did you see it?

I had to suspend my disbelief about various aspects of the
plot -- the Purple Party was presented to us with no policies
whatsoever, and interviewers like John Humphrys did not give
her a grilling over that ... also her employer gave her £10
million towards her new party funds, at the drop of a hat (??),
but, overall, I thought the drama was brilliant.

It was lovely to see the fabulous actresses Jane Horrocks,
Jodhi May and Janet McTeer all back on our screens again. I’ve
missed seeing Janet in particular (I’ll have to put her name
into Google sometime to see what she’s been doing all these

Perhaps we need someone like Ros as Prime Minister next time,
as I don’t think any of the potential candidates – Gordon
Brown, David Cameron and Ming Campbell – are suitable. However,
if I were to choose someone for personality rather than
policies, it would be David.

Tony Blair has it .. and so does Bill Clinton ... charisma,
intelligence, brilliant speaking ability ... excellent
leadership qualilties, and sex appeal too.

So who would you choose for the next P.M. out of the present
bunch of M.Ps.?

P.S. I've reposted this to edit it and to moderate the
comments - Angel: thanks for your comment -- you're excused. :)

Friday, October 06, 2006

I'm a granddad! Yippee!

I'm very pleased to say that I'm now a granddad. Little Ava
was born by CS a couple of days ago. Her weight was
5lbs 14oz / 2.66kg, so she's quite small as you'll see in
the photo below. Some people say she looks like me (poor
kid!). Let's hope she gets some more hair then.

Ava and her mum are both very well...hopefully they'll be
out of hospital on Sunday.

I've been busy doing lots of preparation for my third talk
to the Nottm U3A, which I gave yesterday. This was all about
Publisher (how to make CD covers, newsletters and the like),
and revision of some Photoshop topics.

I made the mistake of packing too much stuff in, in too
short a time - information overload for me and my audience,
I think. I'll do less next time (I'm doing another 4 sessions
after Xmas, and already have another 12 people signed up for

Monday, October 02, 2006

to cheat or not to cheat?

“To cheat or not to cheat?” –- that is the question.

When you buy a book of crossword puzzles, do you take a
sneaky peak at the answers at the back of the book if you
get stuck?

I couldn't possibly do such a thing! Oh dear, I can feel
my nose getting longer and longer.

My wife Mrs C and I have a go at doing the Radio Times
crossword every week. There are a few weeks when we’ve been
unable to finish it and give up, but most weeks we do manage
to complete it and send it off to the BBC.

With last week’s crossword, we sent several days looking at
it from time to time, and then on Friday, we sat down together
and nearly finished it. It’s amazing how two people can work
it out much quicker than one. “Oh, look!” one of us might say,
“This one’s an anagram” … and then a few seconds or minutes
later, the other works the anagram out. “Brainstorming” is
the word that’s just come to me.

Well, we got stuck on the very last clue, which went something
like this … “Singer awards TV mafia head” … two words of four
and seven letters. I spent an hour or two going through the
alphabet for the first few letters of each word.

The first word looked as though it could be Tony or Rory …
any connection with Tony Bennett, the singer?

I found him on a Google search …

Anthony Dominick Benedetto, born on August 3, 1926 … that’s a
good Italian name

… and Frank Sinatra was said to have friends in certain
American-Italian circles … allegedly.

How about Tony Corleone in “The Godfather”? Corleone was a
better fit, but not quite right.

And then I waded through 15 Google pages all about Rory Singer,
who is an American martial arts fighter … that was a barking
up the wrong tree.

But then, Mrs C put the second word into “oneacross dot com” …
blank O, blank R, blank N, blank … in a flash, the word
“soprano” popped up.

Soprano … singer!

Tony Soprano! … head of the Mafia family in the TV series …
I’ve never watched it, but I’ve seen it billed in the Radio

So I put it to you, “Is using the internet to solve a
crossword” cheating or not?

Are you cheating if you look through a dictionary or thumb
through the pages in Roget or in the Dictionary of Quotations?

“Ah, but using a book is more educational and so more worthy”,
you might say.

But is it?

I can now hear my daughter L. saying, “Dad ... get a life!"

Sunday, October 01, 2006

veggie heaven

Mrs C and I revisited a veggie restaurant in Hockley a couple
of days ago, and were amazed by the quality and inventiveness
of the food there. We’ve never tasted anything so good for a
long time.

Well when I say revisited, that’s not true really, as the last
time we went there it was known as “Salamander”, and I presume
it had different staff then. It’s now known as “Squeek”, and
it’s on Heathcote Street in the centre of Nottingham.

The food was out of this world. For the starter, I had a
delicious feta cheese salad, and for the main course, a crepe
with wild mushrooms and a light white wine sauce, served with
Dauphinoise potatoes, Delia Smith-style red cabbage, a green
salad (with a lovely vinaigrette on it) and I think a little
couscous as well. Fabulous. Mrs C had an exotic vegetable
terrine, which looked like a soufflé with a dark (?) oatflake
crumble on top … the soufflé had a hint of nutmeg in it … very
nice but rather rich. We were too full to try the desserts.

A couple of minor disappointments … we were given a small
starter of houmous and pitta bread, but the houmous was too
oily for my taste (I would have added more lemon juice and
tahini, if I’d made it) … and Mrs C’s decaff coffee was too

We had a good bottle of wine - Robertson’s Chenin Blanc,
which was very dry for this type of wine. The staff were very
friendly and attentive. So all in all, we had a great meal
out, and we’ll be going there again.