Death by sausage…

So, according to hysterical headlines this morning, we’re all doomed to death by sausage! Apparently, if we eat a sausage a day, it’ll increase the risk of bowel cancer by 20% – terrifying, no?

Well, actually, no. The base figure, assuming it’s accurate, is that 1 man in 20 will develop bowel cancer in his lifetime. Ramping that up by 20% means that a mere 1.2 men in 20 will get bowel cancer – hardly a terrifying statistic (unless you’re the fifth of a man who’s doomed!)

Anyway, this assumes that all sausages contain nitrates and phosphates, which are carcinogenic – they don’t (and my home-made ones certainly won’t!). Actually, make that can be carcinogenic, because just consuming nitrates won’t simply give you cancer, you have to be genetically pre-disposed first.

It goes without saying that this alarmist twaddle was featured in the Daily Mail – these are the same people who brought you the MMR scare, putting the health of an entire generation at risk for no reason at all. Do they actually have any bowel cancer statistics at all for people who eat sausages every day, like truckers and construction workers, which might actually mean something? Don’t be silly…

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BT sucks – big-time…

Back in January, BT bumped up my broadband/telephone Direct Debit by 45%, without notifying me, as they are legally obliged to do, which would have enabled to nip it in the bud, because there was no justification for the increase. They overcharged me both in January and February before I caught on to it, and after an abusive email (I tried being polite for a month – it never works), they have now reverted to the correct amount – £40 per month. This leaves them owing me £36 – a serious loss given my very low income.

They flatly refuse to pay it back, saying they’ll take it off the next bill, which isn’t acceptable. If I paid my bill quarterly, reducing it would be fine – next quarter I’d pay £36 less – but I don’t, I pay £40 a month, and no matter how much they reduce my bill by, in real terms, I won’t get my money back, it’s just a book-keeping exercise, and involves no actual money. Not until the end of the contract, anyway. OK – I’ll be switching ISPs sometime soon, but that’s not the point.

I’ve explained this to the stupid buggers in India (see Work for the Terminally bewildered), to whom all queries and complaints go – it’s quite impossible to contact anybody in the UK – but they are just too dumb to understand**, and my repeated requests for a cheque or a reduced payment in March met with repeated flat refusals. They seem to have some weird idea that if they keep repeating something, like their refusal to give me the refund to which I am legally entitled, long enough, it’ll become real – it won’t. And, of course, because they’re half-way around the world, I can’t get up close and personal with these fuckwits, as I sure as hell would if they were in the UK – it’d be worth the long drive.

Oh, and they keep saying “Give us a phone number so we can talk to you,” which is never going to happen, as email gives me a record of their stupidity, and their refusal to hand back what is, after all, my money. They took it from my bank account, without my knowledge or permission – sorry, but where I come from, they call that theft.

So I sent one last email, yesterday, suggesting to the troll (I find it hard to believe a real human being could be such an utter waste of blood and organs), at the other end, that come Monday (tomorrow), I will be submitting a claim to the County Court for the recovery of my £36, and that he should pass the email along to someone with a functioning intellect without delay (I didn’t actually say that – I’m still being polite, for now), because litigation is way outside his area of competence (assuming such a thing exists). At the time of writing, I’m still waiting for a reply – another problem with India is the time difference – you’d think they’d operate in synch with UK time, as that’s where their customers are, but that would be too easy.

The County Court claim (often, wrongly, called the small claims court) isn’t a bluff – I’ve completed the necessary paperwork online (my benefits mean I don’t have to pay), and if I don’t get an email confirming that I’m getting a refund (cheque or reducing this month’s payment, I don’t care which), all I have to do is hit the submit button and they’re sued.

It would be nice to think the court action, in addition to getting my money back, will actually cost at least one of these witless tossers their job, but it’s probably unlikely and, if it did, I’d never know about it.

I suppose going to law over £36 might be thought trivial by some people, and I’m one of them, but you have to look at it in the light of my total income, and from that perspective, it’s money I can’t afford to lose. There’s also a principle at stake here – BT has taken money from me to which they are not entitled, they are 100% in the wrong, and they can’t be allowed to hide that fact in an accounting exercise, which is all reducing my bill is – it’s not a refund in any meaningful way.

** I mean that – they are unbelievably, mind-bogglingly, useless. When you email them, you get an automated reply saying:-

“We are currently experiencing a very high volume of emails due to increased demand for information and ordering of our range of Broadband products.” The real reason, of course, is they’re a bunch of pillocks, who can’t give a simple answer to a simple question.

Last week, their email servers were down – their fault, as a message where my webmail should have been made clear. This went on for days, leaving me effectively isolated, as I could send email but not receive via my BT account (though all my outgoing email, as a result, is now set to reply via my Ron’s Realm account, which avoids BT). I emailed the broadband support people asking how long this service outage was likely to last (for as long as I’ve been with them – the better part of a decade – their mail servers have been unutterably crap). Instead of an email apologising for the lack of service, I got one telling me it was my fault, and detailing how to fix it. That required me to access my webmail account, which I obviously couldn’t do! And that’s the pattern every time there’s a snafu – it’s never their fault, it’s always the customer’s – even though by the time I contact them (and believe me, that’s very much a last resort), I’ve already established that the problem wasn’t at my end. Their favourite email “explanation” is that, by some mysterious means my account information has re-written itself and no longer works! Followed by pages of complete bollocks telling me how to fix it. That can happen – on rare occasions, way back when I used Outlook Express, the Server Information would become corrupted. It doesn’t happen with proper, grown-up email clients, like Outlook or Thunderbird, but I check anyway long before I ever resort to asking the fuckwits what’s going on. Seriously, I’ve never been a racist, but these pricks would make Martin Luther King into redneck bigot!!

Update:  The threat of legal action managed to get their minds focused – a cheque is on its way!

Work for the terminally bewildered…

Having been locked in a battle for a month with BT Internet’s “support” numpties (they’ve bumped up my Direct Debit by 45%, with no justification), it now seems clear that what BT is doing in India is not providing a service for its customers, it’s running a home for the bemused – they’re clearly providing work for every fuckin’ retard in the country! Possibly on the planet…

I need a new ISP, right now.

Immature oiks…

The most politically significant state visit for centuries, putting an end to seven hundred years of political rivalry and, all too frequently, outright war between Britain (note for pedants – I know that, historically, the conflict has been with England), and France is taking place right now. And what are the newspapers full of? Pictures of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, that’s what – pages and pages of them – which no doubt gives our European colleagues the not entirely erroneous impression that UK newspapers are run by a bunch of 12-year-old wankers (apart from the age, this is, in fact, the case with the Daily Mail and the Sun).

There’s no doubt that Mrs. Bruni-Sarkozy is an absolute babe, and sexy as hell, but right now, the important thing is what her husband had to say about building a union between France and Britain. There can be no doubt that he’s committed to this course of action, the only question is whether or not the government can stop drooling over Carla long enough to seize the moment, and not piss about so much that Sarkozy gets brassed off and goes to talk to the Germans. I’m not putting money on it…

New-look blog…

I’ve changed the appearance of the blog – I think this one is easier to read. On the other hand, for me the all-white appearance glares a bit (actually, now I’m used to it, it’s fine, and more grey than white – unless that’s my screen), but then, I’m not spending a lot of time reading it, so do me a favour and let me know whether you like it or not – you can email me or post a comment (I can delete it once I’ve read it, unless it’s amazingly flattering!). Especially tell me if you don’t like it – it’s easy enough to revert to the previous format if enough people prefer that.

I’ve shuffled the sidebar contents into what I hope is a more usable order, as the Archive Calendar works differently – now a mouse-over will list the posts, if any, for that day – and isn’t as easy to use as it was. And the blog is now searchable (top right of page), which should be useful.

On the previous version, the default text colour was silver, and persuading it to change to black (and stay changed!), was often a battle. In this version, the default colour is black so now the need to edit will be greatly reduced. In addition, links are now much clearer, although they’re black, for some reason (these page Themes are provided free by WordPress, but I do wish the designers would stick to the normal colour, blue, for links).

Another improvement, when calling up a month’s posts from the archive, is that you get just a couple of paragraphs of each post, rather than the whole thing, as previously, something I’ve wanted from the outset. The page loads faster, and it’s less of a pain to wade through if you don’t want to read them all (but you should, you should…).

For now I have two home pages, one on the Home tab and the other on the Welcome to… tab. They’re the same, and I’m stuck with it. It’s no big deal, it’s just irritating.

By the way, it was originally called Ron’s Realm Blog to differentiate it from Ron’s Realm, the website. However, I don’t think that’s absolutely necessary and, as it self-evidently is a blog, I’ve removed that word. It also means that, from now on, anyone Googling Ron’s Realm will be offered this blog, my original blog and my website. Everyone wins!

Out of control boozing…

DRUNKEN teenagers face being breathalysed on street corners in the most radical police clampdown yet on Britain’s binge-drinking yob culture, says the Daily Express. This scheme is being piloted in Colwyn Bay, North Wales and, if successful, will be rolled out nationwide.

If they fail the breath test they will be hauled off home by officers and their parents will be quizzed. Parents who, in all probability, couldn’t give a shit. Perhaps, in the case of under-16s, parents should be fined?

That’s all very well, of course, but it does rather pre-suppose the presence of sufficient police officers on the streets to make it work, and in sufficient numbers to allow for them to be tied up for hours taking the under-age lushes home. Of course, there simply aren’t enough officers available – I can’t remember when I last saw a traffic patrol, never mind a foot patrol.

This problem, and extreme, mindless violence that goes along with it, is never going to go away, though, until we have a system, as in America, where you can’t buy booze without proof of age. The simplest way to achieve that is to issue photo ID cards, along the lines of the driving licence, with the photo embedded in the plastic (but with better, and colour, photos!), to everyone over 13. Photo-IDs which include a laminated photo are useless, as they can be too easily forged.

The kids may well sulk, and refuse to carry the cards, which is absolutely fine as it’ll stop the buggers buying booze just as effectively.

Of course, the sellers of lunatic soup to kids also need the imposition of stringent – and rigorously applied – penalties. A heavy fine for the first offence, and the loss of their licence, for life, for a second offence. Conceivably, anyone found selling booze to sub-teens could be done for child abuse.

Here’s a thought, though. Although booze from off-licences and supermarkets can be cheap, it’s still expensive for someone who isn’t earning, so where do kids get the money to get as apocalyptically blitzed as they do? OK, a group of them could pool their resources for a couple of litres of cheap cider but, per head, that would give only a relatively small amount of booze. Being so young, their tolerance for alcohol is bound to be low, of course, but they seem to have no tolerance at all – it’s as if the very thought of illicit booze is enough to tip them over the edge.

Jacking up all taxes on booze, as this inept government has just done, does nothing to solve the problem, and simply penalises every legitimate drinker. Targeted taxation wouldn’t work either. The favourite target of ill-informed MPs seems to be alcopops – hideous crap like WKD and Bacardi Breezers, but these things are pretty harmless as quantities are small and at 5% alcohol, you don’t get a lot of bang for your buck – for the price of 2 of these, you can probably get 2 litres of 5 or 6% cider at an off-licence, which is far more damaging.

Raising the drinking age isn’t the answer either (unless it’s to 45!), but enforcing the law would provide a solution. It’s an offence, for a start, for off-licences to serve anyone who is under age, so if they just stopped serving anyone who clearly isn’t an adult, they’d cover themselves.

It’s not just plastered teenagers who are a problem – the 20-30 age group seem to have a serious problem with booze, too. It’s an offence bar staff to serve anyone who is drunk, yet in most pubs and bars frequented by this group, the aim is to get the customers as shit-faced as possible as quickly as possible, and to keep them that way until they’re tossed out in the early hours. That has got to stop. It’s already against the law, as I said, but the law just isn’t enforced. A couple of dozen prosecutions, spread across the country, would have a salutary effect on this deeply cynical trade, the more so if licences are lost as a result.

It’s also high time, in my view, to enforce the laws covering being drunk in a public place – they already exist, and if you wander erratically home from the pub (you don’t even have to cause trouble, or puke on your boots, you just have to be a bit unsteady), you can be done. You won’t be, though, because this is another booze-related law that’s almost never enforced.

It has been suggested, in all seriousness (by that limitless source of stupid ideas, Jeremy Vine), that under-age teens should be allowed into pubs to drink, and that adult drinkers could keep a kindly eye on them (paedophiles would just love the supply of pissed youngsters). Of course, it ignores the fact that what a great many of us like about pubs is that they are kid-free zones – we sure as hell aren’t going to be looking after other people’s kids. We should be able to treat this idea with the contempt it deserves – sadly, it’s the sort of idiotic idea likely to find favour with the government, as it passes the buck to someone else, and will cost nothing to implement.

So, answers to this problem do exist, and, though it can never be totally eliminated, it can be radically reduced if there’s the political will to make the police enforce the law. And, of course, to provide enough officers to enable them do so – Community Support Officers may have a role to play here, but cut-price coppering isn’t a long-term solution – we need far more fully-trained police officers on the streets, and more money, preferably government money, as Council Taxes are already excessive, to fund them.

Re-inventing the wheel…

The government, it was announced this morning, is to announce a scheme encouraging those who drive long distances to take a break every two hours. It seems that 1 in 5 accidents are caused by tired drivers (so 4 in 5 accidents are caused by drivers who are, apparently, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed; hmm…**).

Exactly like, then, the informal campaign that’s been running for oh, I don’t know, 5 or 6 years now.

There’s nothing like a little original thought when it comes to government policy – and this is nothing like it.

** A bit like the stat that says a third of accidents are caused by drunks, which clearly makes sober drivers twice as dangerous. Wonderful things, statistics!

Stating the bleedin’ obvious…

Scientists warn of soot effect on climate· Coal and wood ‘more damaging than thought’

Thus the headline to a Guardian article today. I can only assume that the researchers are either very young, or very stupid.

Anybody who experienced the lethal, coal-fire-generated smogs of the first half of the 20th century (though they were nothing new even then – smogs were born with the Industrial Revolution), which provided the impetus for the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968, already knows how enormously damaging coal fires can be and, since wood is, in effect immature coal (yeah, yeah, I know…), it’s logical that it, too, is extremely damaging.

These days the only deaths from fog come from drivers too witless to slow down, or to use their lights (or, if you live where I do, in Wirral, both at once!), or hill walkers who can’t use map or compass. When I was a child it was the smogs themselves that killed. The “Great Smog of 1952” has entered the history books because it affected London (then, as now, assumed to be the centre of the universe!), but all major towns were very badly affected by smog (the exact degree depending on their level of industry as well as density of population), like the one that came very close to killing me, in Liverpool**, a couple of years later, but it wasn’t London, so it didn’t matter! And smogs could last for days because unlike mere fog, which is a meteorological event, smog was man-made, and production of pollutants was a 24/7 process, as China, these days, is demonstrating all too clearly.

** A bus journey I made at that time, from Liverpool centre out to the suburbs of Bootle, where I lived, took the better part of half a day (normally 25 minutes), because the conductor had to walk along the kerb with one hand on the bus (luckily, in the mid 50s, parked cars weren’t a problem), and the driver had to open all his windows so he could get slightly better vision but, more importantly, to be able to talk to the conductor as he guided him every foot of the way. You wouldn’t get that sort of commitment to the job these days, that’s for sure.

Still, already-known facts have never stopped scientists from re-inventing the wheel – especially when there’s a grant at stake.

Here’s a thought, though, for people who deny climate change – when did you last see a serious fog (and by serious, I mean one in which you can’t see across the road)? For me, it’s at least 15 years, and about 10 years since I saw any fog at all.

Staff of life…

Writing that post about home-made sausages – the delay before the first batch is made is going to be intolerable – made me thing about home-made bread. I’ve been making the stuff for years – you can find out why going here and scrolling down to “If bread is the staff of life, why is someone beating me up with it?”, but recently I’ve rather got out of the habit.

So, time to restock. I use Dove’s Farm organic Spelt and organic Rye flours. If I could find organic yeast and baking powder, the whole thing would be organic. I use the baking powder, along with white wine vinegar (organic, natch), as an additional leaven, as rye and spelt have little gluten, which means they don’t rise very well with yeast alone.

Previously, I’ve used a bread machine for the whole process and, while it tastes very good, aesthetically, it’s dull (and the paddle leaves a hole in the bottom), so I think I might just use the machine for the kneading and first proving, then take it out, give it a short kneading by hand, put it into a bread tin, prove it again, and bake it in the oven. The results should be far better, with a decent crust.

I believe I can get around all my machine problems by buying a Panasonic machine, but at £100, that’s not an option – not for some time anyway. My current spending ability is, perversely, boosted by illness – I’ve hardly been out since January, and I’m not eating much (losing weight, though, at last!), so I’ve spent little, and bought no petrol; part of these savings has gone on a new camera outfit and my Rollator, the rest is going into the sausage project. This supposes my health will improve, of course – fingers crossed – and I can start getting out and about. If it doesn’t, then I’ll be able to afford the Panasonic. I hope I can’t, though!

Grasping Harpy, Part 3…

In her post-court rant, less than a week ago, Heather Mills said:-

“I can’t leave England, I’ve always wanted to keep my daughter near her father and believe me if I tried to go, he’d have an injunction on me in a second.”

Today, she’s in America, along with her daughter. Illustrates just how trustworthy she is. Mind you, if we’re really lucky, she’ll stay there.

I did hear a rumour, though, that she’s going to open a gigantic mushroom farm in the near future – just to find a use for all her bullshit…