Month: October 2006

Questions Answered #4

In a desperate effort to gain some weird form of validation, I stole an idea for a blog post and begged my readers to ask me a question. And they did. The buggers. Now I have to answer them.

Question 4: Neil follows the lead set by Alex and suggests a title rather than a question (honestly, can’t you people read?) but as both were rather imaginative I’ll let it pass, THIS TIME. So, I’ll have a bash at ‘answering’;

The 15th Guinness, table top dancing, questionable headwear and other fun things to do at a blogmeet.

Actually this might be easier than I think. For starters I wasn’t drinking Guinness at the recent blogmeet, there was no table top dancing, nor questionable headwear so that leaves “other fun things to do at a blogmet”.

But what CAN you do at a blogmeet? Well there are some common topics that tend to crop up amongst all the other miscellany and whatnot.

First up there is usually a round of camera drooling. This can feature all or few of the attendees but always ALWAYS happens. Murmurs of f-stops, double bracketing and “nice lens cap” can be overhead at this point. No, I don’t know what they mean either.

After that there is usually some discussion about blogging. Whether it’s “adverts – good or bad?” or dealing with comment spam, or any number of possible related topics, there is ALWAYS some talk of the mechanics and technicalities of blogging.

Beyond that, well it’s difficult to say really as it largely depends on the people who attend. Life experiences and stories are regaled, alcohol is consumed (by some) and general merriment ensues. And then the really weird thing happens. Time zips forward, in a way that would live Einstein baffled, and it’s time to leave. That, for me at least, is the startling thing about blogmeets; you spend a worried hour or so getting to the venue, worrying that no-one will turn up, and as the first of many unfamiliar faces approach you nervously you wonder what on earth you are doing, meeting complete strangers in a local hotel (bloggers? doggers? the comparison was made at a previous blogmeet). All of a sudden it’s dark outside and people are leaving and all you can really remember is laughing a lot and having what is generally referred to as “a jolly good time”.

That’s the real reason blogmeets work. We all share the same base hobby but, unlike other hobbies, we have such a hugely diverse group of people involved. Meeting fellow bloggers offers the safety of a level of familiarity – we all do this weird blogging thing even if some of us aren’t really sure why – whilst allowing us to interact with people we might not normally get the chance to… unless you are the type who will happily chat to strangers on the bus. In fact, you probably are.

To summarise, and try and find and ending to this rambling nonsense (I’d have given up ages ago, so thanks for reading this far) I’d say that there is one fun thing to do at a blogmeet. Turn up.

Kit-Kat Kate

Kate is meeting her husband to go shopping, as she’s early she decides to go for a cup of coffee. At the counter she hums and haws over the cakes but ends up picking a two-finger Kit-Kat to have with her coffee. As she turns away from the checkout she realises that there aren’t many seats available so she wanders over to a bench and asks the man sitting there if she can sit down next to him.

He shuffles over a bit and says “no problem”.

Kate sits down, quickly checks her mobile before putting it back in her bag, and drinks a mouthful of coffee. She picks up the Kit-Kat, snaps off a finger and slowly starts to nibble at it. Suddenly the man reaches over, picks up the remaining Kit-Kat finger, and munches it down in two bites.

Kate is gobsmacked, but before she can say anything the man has gotten up, and wandered over to the counter where he orders a slice of cake. Without even glancing her direction, he goes and sits down at another table.

Kate watches this with amazement, who the hell does he think he is!! ‘I’ll show him!’ she thinks.

She snatches up her bag, marches over to his table where, without saying a word, she reaches out, picks up his slice of cake and takes a large bite. Her point made, she turns on her heel and marches out of the cafe.

Outside, she reaches into her bag to find her phone and, with a look that quickly switches from puzzlement to horror, she pulls out a two-finger Kit-Kat.

Confu-season

The leaves are turning, the nights are “fair drawing in”, and there is a chill on the wind. Winter jackets are extracted from the back of the wardrobe – what does that mean? My wardrobe has a pole running across it, not front to back – and are drawn tightly around goose-bumped bodies. I do like this part of autumn, same as I like the start of spring. I enjoy change.

And so, as October draws to a close, the kids start dressing up for Halloween. As they wander past the Christmas trees in shop windows, they stop to stare at the Guy Fawkes fireworks whizzing and banging overhead…

Hang on, that’s not right. Is it?

I realise that Halloween and Guy Fawkes are pretty close to each other on the calendar, but what is with the Christmas trees? It’s still October! Is this commercialisation getting worse or am I just noticing it more as I grow older (and yes, it’s probably a bit of both).

As good as a rest

I’ve a couple of days off when we get back from Spain in a couple of weeks time. I’m going to be making some changes to this site, including a new(ish) take on the design. I’m hoping to have cracked a semi-fluid (max-width controlled) layout, but don’t want to confirm that until I’ve tested it properly.

One change I’m considering is whether to switch to WordPress comments. I know a lot of people don’t care for the pop-up comments I currently use, but from a maintenance point of view it does save me worrying about comment spam as, essentially, I don’t get any; I’ve had less than 10 in the past year!

One thing that WILL definitely change, and that I’ve mentioned before, is that the “mini-blog” (really need to get a consistent name for that, miniblog, overflow, sidebar??) will be switching from Blogger to WordPress. Any suggestions on the best way/plugin to do that would be appreciated. From what I’ve seen it’ll mean a new category which is used for those posts, and a plugin or hack to pull only those posts out into the sidebar.

Anyway, consider this forewarned. Changes are afoot.

I'm not blogging because…

… I’ve got a new camera to play with. A belated birthday present from my darling wife.

… I’m burning CDs for my father-in-law in Spain. Hopefully I can delete them afterwards but Louise has similar tastes in music so I fear that Shakin’ Stevens and Showaddywaddy will be appearing on my last.fm account at some point in the future.

… I’m finalising a letter of complaint to the Bank, to be posted tomorrow. Thanks to Lyle, hans and Blue Witch for their help.

… I’m waiting up until midnight when our cheque finally clears, so I can shift the funds about where they need to go. OK, so I could just do this tomorrow but I’ve waited this long and it’s getting done ASAP.

… I’m trying to dry out after my run this evening – chucking it down it was and I loved every damp soggy (twenty) minute(s) of it! I’ve not got the Nike+ setup yet though, gonna try that on holiday I think. Yes, I’m going running whilst on holiday.

… I need to remember to get my suit dry cleaned. Er… just because.

… I really should’ve hung the new blinds in the kitchen. We bought them about three weeks ago and they’ve slowly migrated from the kitchen, to the dining area, and finally upstairs to my ‘office’.

… I’m typing up answers to those questions from a while back so that I’ll have stuff here for you to read, whilst I’m lazing in the sun on the roof terrace next week. Chilled beverage in hand, trashy thriller cast aside, iPod blaring out “Best of Bananarama” (which was the first CD I ever bought).

Of course this post is completely usurping my non-blogging. But we’ll ignore that.

Red Pesto Chicken Pasta

I mentioned this dish on Monday and, as she asked so nicely, here is my recipe for Red Pesto Chicken Pasta. Although I’m sure you guessed that already…

First things first though, my brother-in-law made this for us a couple of weeks back, he’s a wonderful chef and I have completely and utterly stolen this dish from him. Sorry Paul!

What you need
2 chicken breasts
Penne pasta, enough for two
Red Pesto
Single cream
Parmesan (or any grana padano which is usually MUCH cheaper..)
Adjust portions for your own needs.

What you will use
1 pot – large enough to hold your pasta
1 frying pan – large enough to hold the chicken AND pasta combined, preferably a straight sided pan. A large cooking pot will suffice.
1 sharp knife, the sharper the better.
1 stirring implement… er… a wooden spoon or spatula.

How to make it
Firstly, get your pasta on to boil. You can just follow the instructions on the side of the pack, remembering to only add the salt once the water is boiling, and if you add a touch of oil along with the pasta it’ll help stop the pasta tubes from sticking to each other.

Now, slice up the chicken breasts into even sized pieces. I prefer smaller mouth-sized strips just a little bigger than the penne pasta, I think it helps give an even sauce coverage.

Aside: The topic of sauce coverage is of some debate in my house. I prefer to have a fine coating of sauce, lightly coating the pasta, and any other ingredients, so as to subtly slide over the palate. My wife takes the “sauce and some pasta” approach, casting the tubes of pasta adrift in a sea of passata at a moments notice (I shouldn’t be too nasty though as she makes dinner far more often than I do). Feel free to tweak this recipe to your own sauce preferences, but if you are of the latter persuasion don’t bother inviting me round!

Now, where was I? Ohh yes, you’ve got the pasta onto boil, so let’s cook the chicken.

In your frying pan, add a dash of oil, bring up to heat and add the chicken. Ideally you want a nice colour on both sides, but I’m sure you can all manage to fry some chicken. You can, of course, grill the chicken if you prefer. As long as it is cooked and there are no pink bits.

Depending on your timing skills, you may find that the chicken is ready before the pasta. Not to worry, just take it off the heat as we’ll be warming everything through before serving.

Check your pasta to see if it is ready. Some people like to throw bits of pasta at the wall to see if it sticks (although not sure what that tells them, other than that they should really clean their walls more often), but I generally prefer to actually bite into a bit to see if it’s to my liking. Al dente or whatever you prefer (although I’d suggest that ‘soggy mush’ means you’ve overcooked the pasta).

Once it’s ready, drain the pasta, and add some red pesto.

This, again, is entirely to taste. I’d suggest that you don’t want much more than a couple of teaspoons, just enough to give a nice soft covering. You should NOT have a sauce, the pesto should just cling to and pasta.

Once you are happy with the amount of pesto in your pasta, empty the pan out into your frying pan and mix it with the chicken.

Now, swirl in a dash or three of single cream (I dunno, maybe a tablespoon?) again don’t add too much, we don’t want a runny sauce! You are just adding enough so that it softens the colour of the pesto without washing it all off the pasta.

Heat gently for a minute or so, then serve topped with parmesan shavings, and possibly a nice Chablis. Enjoy!

serve and enjoy

What else can you add?
The main flavour of the dish is chicken and basil, the tomato in the pesto is very subtle, so from that simple base you could add other ingredients to give it a little extra ‘zing’. Maybe some finely chopped onion or a little chilli to give it a bit more kick, or some toasted almonds or pine nuts? Or for a more tomato-ey flavour how about some sun-blushed tomatoes?

Be prepared

It’s slowly dawning on me that we fly to Spain on Monday. I’ve not even thought about planning what to pack, let alone consider packing itself. I mean it’s round about now that you need to start to make decisions, isn’t it.

You know the type of decision I mean.

The “ohh I COULD wear that t-shirt but then I wouldn’t be able to take it on holiday with me” type decisions. Yes we are only away for a week, but we have the advantage of easy access to a washing machine to we reckon we can pack clothes for 4 days and be fine. But, of course, once you add in clothes to wear in the evening and the newer “running clothes” for me, then we’ll probably need a case each anyway and there’s no point in a case being half empty…

The “what do I REALLY want to put on my iPod” type decisions. Every time I fill my iPod I do it with the greatest of intentions of listening to something new, however as I normally use it on my commute to and from work, most of the time I end up picking something familiar as, after all, it’s only really background noise whilst I read the paper or a book. But on holiday I should have time to contemplate and consider the music, I should be expanding my horizons, but I know it’ll end up being Massive Attack. Again. Double trouble this time though, as I’ll be taking my Nike+ system for the iPod so I also need to cram on my “Running” playlist.

The “I SHOULD take a classic with me but I think I’ll nip to Asda and buy the latest few paperback thrillers instead” type decisions. I have a few (more than 2, less than 6) classics on my bookshelves, gathering dust and unread. Every year I go away I consider taking one with me. Every year I go through the same reasoning: Rarely do I have an entire day to spend just reading a book, let alone a string of consecutive days, so I should make the most of the opportunity.

And every year I decide that, as I’m on holiday, having to concentrate on something isn’t what I want to be doing, so I pick up all of the Dan Brown* novels in a 3 for 2 (* insert current ‘bestseller/hypester’).

This year I’m going to try and buck the trend. I WILL listen to that Yo-Yo Ma recording of Dvorak’s Concerto in B minor. I WILL, finally, listen to Ali Farka Toure’s album Savane. I WILL read the Count of Monte Cristo, and I WILL only pack two pair of speedos!!

I’m joking about the last bit, obviously. I’d need at least three…

Promotion

Sunday morning, 11am, and… ohh wait, I wasn’t going to blog about my jogging so much was I. Ohh well, my site, my rules etc etc.

Sunday morning, 11am, and a glorious sun stretches up into the sky. I felt really good as we started the run and pushed myself pretty hard, something noticed by the jog coach who, as we were walking back to the centre to do some stretches, suggested I move up a group. I very quickly, and firmly, said no. Flattered as I was, I just know that if I move up a group (which equates to running for longer) I’ll likely end up sore, or injured, and sicken myself of this new regime that I’m so enjoying.

I’m going to start doing a longer run myself though, and as my Nike+ arrived today (cheers Keith!!) I’ll be using that from here on out to keep a track of distances covered and what not. I’ll probably double post it to the Fetch Everyone (yes, that’s my stats) site I currently use.

Anyway, that capped out a nice weekend. Not only do I FINALLY have a large cheque in my bank account, but my parents popped over last night and brought with them some ‘stuff’. Namely a lot of old school reports, jotters, and random snippings from the local newspaper that my Mum had kept over the years. It included a card I made for my Mum, presumably when she was in hospital awaiting the birth of my sister, which read: “… I hope it’s a boy!”. Although I’m glad it wasn’t, then I wouldn’t have a wee sister to look after (and laugh at.. 😉 ).

And so, as the last remnants of last nights dinner (red pesto chicken pasta, made by me) are consumed, the weekend fades out of sight. I wonder what this week will bring?

10 minutes

Jesus H. Christ on a bike.

A quick recap for ya, whilst re-mortgaging Louise and I freed up some extra funds. The mortgage has been processed and we got our cheque for a not insubstantial amount of money (well, to us anyway). However as the mortgage is in joint names, the cheque we received was made out to the same, which is a slight problem as Louise and I don’t have a joint account. It’s one of those things we’ve always meant to do but have never really had a reason to until now.

So, two weeks ago, we nipped into the local branch of my bank to get Louise added onto my account. Simple enough, right? We sat with one of the staff, filled out a form and were told it would take around 10 days to process as the form had to go to ‘central processing’. Despite the faint whiff of bullshit, we let it pass after garnering assurances that everything would be in place in 10 days (and yes, we asked if he meant “working days”, but no, he was going by the calendar).

10 days passed and I phoned my bank to check if the details had been added. They hadn’t and, worryingly, nothing was showing on the ‘system’ as pending. I phoned the branch and was told that I would be phoned back. Guess what…

I phoned again the next day, three times, and the final time was told that the information was “being keyed into the system” today. That was Thursday. Friday I phoned the bank to see if the details had been added or, at the very least, were pending. Nope. Nothing. Nada.

Four phone calls later I was assured that I would be phoned back. Go on, guess.

This morning we went to the branch to find out what was going on. A very helpful young lady answered my question with a puzzled look and said that she could get that done today for me.

Slightly bemused we followed her to the desk where, after confirming that we’d completed the form and that, despite having it with us, proof of identity wouldn’t be required (understandable as we were sitting in front of the guy whilst we completed the form), she turned to her computer and started, and I’m guessing here, “keying in our details”.

10 minutes later, job done. She took our cheque, made sure it was successfully processed into our account (bar the usual nonsense about “3-4 days to ‘clear’ “) and we left the bank. Fuming quietly and already drafting a complaint letter in my head – more on that later.

We did a little shopping, including some yummy Baklava from the market, and headed home. On the doormat was a letter from the bank stating that we had neglected to supply enough information and would need to re-complete the form before they could process our ‘application’.

I’ll be returning that form with my complaint letter which will ask why we had to wait 10 days for something that we were told, this morning, could’ve been done there and then. I’ll also be pointing out that they’ve cost me 10 days interest on the money, and that as far as I could tell, between the original staff member of the branch, who obviously didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, and the phoneline staff who, whilst helpful, obviously don’t have access to the right information as at no point did ANYONE tell me that the ‘application’ was awaiting additional information, they might want to look at how they treat their own customers.

After all, I could’ve walked into one of their competitors who would’ve happily opened me a new account and I’d have had access to MY money within a couple of days.

Not that I’m gonna have the money for long, part of pays off some debt, the rest goes on servicing the car, new tyres, and a new front door. Ohh but I do get my new camera, hopefully in time for taking to Spain..

Anyway. Banks. Complaint letters. Suggestions? There are a few of you out there who are infinitely better than I at drafting these things, so I’d welcome your ideas.

First draft of letter below the fold (names changed to protect the.. er.. incompetent?)
Read More

Loom

Gosh time flies, doesn’t it.

Or not, as the case may be.

STILL waiting to put a large cheque into the bank. STILL having to phone THEM every day. STILL not able to get things done as we need the cheque processed… and we head off to Spain at the end of the month so time is running out.

[insert gratuitous swearing here]

Wankers.

Ohh wait..