Lack of public toilets…

Lack of public toilets mean older people have ‘nowhere to go’, says a press release by Help the Aged.

However, it’s not just older people. I developed ME/CFS in my early 40s, and part of the package is bladder urge incontinence, which means, in the words of the Bob Dylan song “If you gotta, go now, or else it’s down yer leg…” OK, Dylan didn’t actually write the last bit, but you get the picture.

This means I’m unable to use public transport for all but the shortest journeys. Even where toilets exist on the local Merseyrail network they’re frequently locked, the trains don’t have toilets at all and nor, of course, do buses. Travelling any distance by car (driving, for some reason, exacerbates the problem), means peeing in lay-bys (or anywhere I can find a quiet corner), often to the accompaniment of a chorus of honking from the witless, or asking for spurious directions in pubs “…and by the way, can I use your toilet please?”. The end result is that I haven’t been further than 10 miles from home for years, except on very rare occasions when I absolutely had to, hence the lay-bys. And travelling to Liverpool – I live in Wirral – by train is an impossibility. When I was married, a simple car trip to Chester, 20 miles away, had to be punctuated by a stop – coming and going – at my sister-in-law’s house. I enjoyed that, since, as a bonus, it gave us the chance to pillage the biscuit barrel.

You may recall that Tony Blair, prior to being elected, promised that all pub toilets would be open to everyone, not just customers, a promise that went down the pan, so to speak, once he got the keys to No. 10. That, surely, is an idea that needs resurrecting, even if publicans levied a nominal fee.

I know of one pub manager, in Liverpool, who flatly refuses toilet access to anyone not a customer, on the grounds that it ramps up her water bill. For men, that doesn’t hold water (sorry), as urinals flush automatically no matter how often they’re used, but she does, just, have a point where women are concerned. I don’t accept, though, that the occasional passer-by, caught short, is going to push up her bill by a remotely significant amount (Liverpool city centre, after all, isn’t short of pubs and bars). Her attitude is very common, though, and Liverpool has many pub doorways with signs saying “Toilets for the use of patrons only”, and other, more charmless, variations on the theme.

I haven’t been to Liverpool this year, but how this played with foreign visitors during the City of Culture year, especially the French, who manage to provide public toilets without the claimed drug, cottaging and vandalism problems used as excuses to close them in the UK, is quite beyond me (though they do seem to survive in small towns better than in cities). The French, by the way, are moving to the Tardis-style public toilet (in the UK, by the way, if you’re disabled, the RADAR key fits these), but pissoirs still survive, though modern ones are in boring concrete rather than trditional cast iron, and while I accept that pissoirs are no help to women, they are a hell of a lot better than the alternative of public peeing. I remember seeing, once, in a suburban rail station in Cologne early one morning, a respectable-looking business-man standing with a briefcase in one hand, and his cock in the other, blithely peeing over the edge of the platform – quite unaware he was in full view of passengers on passing buses. Or maybe he just didn’t care, though one has to wonder why he didn’t go before leaving home. . .

As I worked in Liverpool for many years, I knew where the toilets were in many of the public buildings, but by the time that information became vital, increased security had put paid to using them, and if you’re on foot in Liverpool, pretty much your only chance for relief is a dark corner in a multi-story car-park, where you’ll be very aware of the numbers who have been there before you, or a quiet back alley somewhere, though these are getting harder to find as the city is tarted up. And you can be certain that, no matter how secluded your chosen spot, approximately half the population of Liverpool will come into view as soon as you’re in full flow. . .

Anyway, back to Help the Aged. They do acknowledge, on their website, that other age groups are affected, but journalists often look no further than the press release, which doesn’t, so the public get an unrealistic impression of the severity of the problem. This post started life as an email to Help the Aged, but I thought it would reach a wider audience here.

HtA, by the way, suggests that many people carry a container to pee in – sorry, but if you can find somewhere private enough to do that, you don’t need a container. OK – public peeing could be considered anti-social, but the real culprits are those who created the necessity for it, not the poor buggers forced into it.

Update: If you do get caught short, my advice would be to choose a busy pub and just walk boldly in, as if you’re looking for someone. Weatherspoon’s beer barns are good for this – they’re so big and so crowded. OK, you may get snarled at on the way out but, hey, by then you’ve had your pee, so it doesn’t matter!

Financial crisis…

Having lived on the poverty line for many years – state benefits – I’ve been relatively unaffected by the ongoing crisis, except for my fuel bills. I never thought there’d be an advantage to having no money and no investments!

I try to avoid politics here, as well as religion (mostly), but the Teflon Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, has publicly condemned Gordon Brown’s borrowing to pull us out of the financial mire while simultaneously – of course – failing utterly to come up with anything better, or even different.

This is typical of recent Tory mendacity on the subject, which has seen the smarmy slimeball David Cameron blame Brown personally for the global financial meltdown. Er, how, exactly, does that work? And what does Cameron offer as an alternative to borrowing? Exactly what one might expect – bugger all.

According to the Tories, and the Tory press, Brown is personally responsible for, well, pretty much everything (last year he was blamed for the floods), which makes me wonder – what part of “global” don’t these fuckwits understand? And, you know,the really sad part of all this is that the British electorate is swallowing it whole. True, Brown is not the most dynamic PM ever, but he is not in any way personally responsible for the majority of problems that are being laid at his door by the Tories. The Tories have always been very good at seizing the political initiative but never, before Cameron, has this been based so firmly on cynical misinformation and distortion of the truth.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this current financial shambles has been the direct result of deregulation of the financial sector, intoduced on October 27, 1986. This was, of course, one of the cornerstones of Thatcher’s policies. This is something that Cameron, Osborne and the Tory press apparently choose to forget. But hey, let’s NOT forget it – the responsibility for sowing the seeds of the current situation lies firmly with Thatcherism and the Conservative Party.

True, 11 years down the line, New Labour embraced the policy, but by then it was too late to change things anyway.

Comments for this post are closed – one reason I try to avoid politics is the number of fruitcakes out there. I’ve no objection to anyone giving me an argument but most seem to have only sufficient intelligence for abuse, and I’m not in the mood.

Ross & Brand…

I was asked why I hadn’t posted anything about this affair – Sachsgate, as the media have, inevitably, dubbed it. Simple, they’re a pair of twats who are beneath contempt. What, you want a more reasoned response?  OK. . .

While, these days, I listen to neither of these plonkers (my tolerance of inane and crass drivel is limited), the Sachs affair should, really, surprise nobody. Ross, on his Saturday morning show, has a remarkable capacity for offensiveness that, for some reason, has gone unchallenged for years (except, possibly, by Andy, his producer ). Brand is remarkably juvenile at the best of times (and chronically unfunny to anyone past puberty, or with a modicum of intelligence), and putting these two together was always going to be a recipe for disaster.

Since this slot was, apparently, pre-recorded, there can be no possible excuse for allowing it to be broadcast – did nobody actually listen to this egregious, toxic, bollocks first? (I didn’t hear it, but I did read the transcript – it’s pretty damned disgraceful – were those two fuckwits sober?)

The BBC has, in my view, over-reacted, in the past, to what have been relatively trivial transgressions (no-one hurt, offended or defrauded – no harm, no foul, as far as I’m concerned), but in this instance it’s probably impossible to over-react, unless it’s putting these clowns in front of a firing squad, and I could probably get my head around that with little difficulty. That the responsible production staff should be canned is, I think, perfectly justified– letting that bilge be broadcast was criminal. That Ross and Brand should hit the bricks (they both have form, after all, Ross, in my experience, more than Brand), should be inevitable. The fact that Ross gets £6million a year of licence-payers’ money for this crap is unacceptable. To allow him to continue to do so will damage the BBC’s credibility, and would be an offence against common decency (and whatever Brand is paid, it’s far too much).

The thing is, though, that Andrew Sachs isn’t really (well, not in the main, though understandably he’s supremely pissed off) the injured party here, it’s Georgina Baillie, his grand-daughter, and I believe the BBC should bow to her wishes and fire Ross and Brand, plus anyone else involved without delay. Were I in Baillie’s shoes, I’d be talking to a libel lawyer about now. Er, make that slander. . .

Sadly for all Radio 2 fans, this event is the culmination of a deterioration in standards that has prevailed at Radio 2 for the past few years, under the aegis of Lesley Douglas (who foisted Brand upon Radio 2 listeners, instead of leaving him in the playpen of Radio 6 – she seems to have a penchant for shrieky guys – witness Chris Evans). Hopefully, things can’t get any worse. Whether they will get any better remains to be seen.

Note: Brand has quit the BBC – no great loss. Will Ross, whose career is almost entirely, if not entirely, dependent upon the BBC, follow suit, and go before he’s pushed out?

October 31 – I’ve just heard that Lesley Douglas has resigned from the BBC. As, under this woman’s control, Radio 2 has gone down the pan like an express elevator, this can only be a good thing. Ross, though, get away with a three month suspension, the logic of which escapes me. As Brand was the main offender – though Ross, in my view, is equally culpable – a suspension was always on the cards, as unlike Brand, Ross has few, if any, other irons in the fire away from the BBC. I still think he should have been emptied out, though.

Celebrity crucifixion…

There’s an excellent article by Charlie Brooker in the Guardian online, questioning the morality of the public trashing of minor celebs who have the misfortune to be in physical and/or psychological meltdown, with the focus on the current victim, Kerry Katona.

Brooker says “And tossing insults and brickbats is all part of the fun, especially when it’s done with panache.” No, actually, it’s not, and what I’d have written is “And tossing insults and brickbats, especially when there’s no possibility of retribution, like a well-deserved kicking, is simply cowardly.”

It’s the same logic that fuels so many psycho bloggers, and email abusers – they heap libellous abuse on anyone with whom they may just peripherally disagree or because, as with Katona, they find human suffering hilarious – because they’re utterly incapable of responding in any other way – they have no humanity at all.

I think it’s mainly, but by no means entirely, a generational thing, and I’m at a loss for an explanation, though I think the motivating force is the anonymity offered online, and the absence of any consequences. However in his History of the Runestaff, Michael Moorcock described the country of “Granbretan” (that’s Great Britain, of course, though the problem is, apparently, world-wide), as a country that was institutionally insane, its people revelling in the suffering and misery of others. He may well have had a point even though.

Standard engines for F1?

Oh bugger! I have a serious ethical problem – reading today’s paper I found myself in agreement with Max Mosley.

To cut costs, Mosley wants to introduce a standard homologated engine to F1. Ferrari, who have a wholly unacceptable level of influence over the FIA, have threatened to withdraw from F1 unless Mosley backs down. To which I can only say, bring it on!

F1 teams employ supremely skilled engineers, with the technical resources to match, and it’s at least theoretically possible to remove the FIA seals from an engine, fettle it, and seal it up again as if it had never been opened. I’m not, of course, saying that anyone does, just that it’s probably possible, and with a standard engine illegal tinkering would be immediately apparent.

I’ve lost interest in F1 due to the antics of Ferrari (and Mosley), and one of the things that has pissed me off and baffled me, in equal measure, is how Ferrari, at a time when engine development is banned, keep turning up with unfeasibly fast cars (watch this happen in Brazil – and watch for who does a Schumacher on Hamilton!). On one occasion, when a lot more eyebrows than mine  were raised, they offered the reason of having improved the engine’s breathing. I’m sorry, but isn’t this F1, the cutting-edge of motor sport? And Ferrari expect us to believe that their engineers had fielded a car with less than optimum aspiration? I don’t think so.

Consider, too, traction control, which was introduced because a team was known to have introduced this to their cars illegally, and hidden it in the engine management software, where it couldn’t be found during scrutineering. I don’t think that there’s anyone who didn’t believe that this was Ferrari. Indeed, I have a memory of a commentator letting it slip that he thought that, though I can’t remember who it was.

Some years ago, when Mosley wanted to introduce V12 engines, Ferrari forced him to back down and go with V10s instead, just one of a number of instances that have made those close to F1 – and a great many fans – question the reason for this apparently excessive influence, not to mention Mosley’s anti-McLaren stance.

Personally, I see little objection to the introduction of a standard engine (with the teams allowed, perhaps, a limited level of personalisation and tinkering), since it makes economic sense for the smaller teams; as things stand, without having obscene amounts of money, it’s impossible for a team to break into F1 and be competitive. It wouldn’t completely eliminate illegal tinkering by anyone, but it should make it much harder, and easier to spot, especially if standard ECUs were also supplied.

Ferrari’s claim that this would ruin F1, as F1 is all about technological development is a tad simplistic – what F1 is primarily about is racing, and a standard engine would go a long way towards keeping all the teams honest and, of course, it would bring the skills of the drivers to the fore, which is surely no bad thing. If I were Mosley, I’d go even further, and revert to having one set of tyres throughout the race (a system with which Ferrari just couldn’t cope so, of course, it was binned), and also give the teams a year to come up with the ability to fuel the cars for the entire race (which, I believe, would require somewhat more powerful engines to avoid painfully slow early stages of the race), which would prevent the teams from dominating the race from the pit lane and return the racing to the track, where it belongs – too many races are won or lost in the pit lane. An alternative would be to allow just one pit stop for fuel, thus obviating the need for the cars to be excessively heavy at the start. As some teams do this already at some circuits, it’s perfectly feasible.

However, as Mercedes, Honda, Renault and BMW are all said to feel the same way as Ferrari – though no-one else is threatening to take their ball and go home just yet – it probably means that the engine idea is doomed and, as it has always been in F1, money rules. Oh, and Ferrari, of course. . .

One last comment, the ban on team orders must be enforced, not least for Ferrari – the way Massa and Raikkonen swapped positions in the last race was mind-bogglingly blatant, and I have no doubt whatsoever that if McLaren had done this Hamilton would have been severely penalised. The fact that Massa was not surely demonstrates the pro-Ferrari stance not only of the FIA, but of the supposedly independent race stewards as well. By the way, if McLaren have to do the same thing in Brazil you can look forward to Hamilton being screwed by the stewards and, probably, McLaren being fined by the FIA as well – there is, I believe, no doubt about that at all.

Micro-greens and sprouts update…

An unmitigated disaster all round.

There is very little information available for growing micro-greens, so I drew upon my gardening knowledge. After all, what I’m doing is just growing seedlings to a little beyond the pricking-out stage – how hard can it be? And back in my veggie days I sprouted seeds and beans with great success (knitted my own yogurt, too), so I do actually know what I’m doing, which didn’t make a blind bit of difference to the outcome.

First of all, the germination rate of the micro-greens seeds was very low, and I’m not sure why. Those that did grow lacked vigour, failed to prosper and, eventually, I let nature take its course, and they died off.

Two problems, as far as I could see. First, using vermiculite as a growing medium just doesn’t work outside a hydroponics set-up, and next time I’m using a 60/40 mix of seedling compost and vermiculite, to provide nutrients right from the outset. Secondly, the ventilation of the propagator is hopelessly inadequate. It has vents in the top, it also needs vents in the sides so there’s an air flow through it. In addition, next time, once the seedlings are up, I’ll remove the cover completely so they have plenty of air.

I also noticed that the alfalfa, which in a sprouting jar grows in a tangled mass, did the same thing, briefly, in the propagator, so that can be scratched from the micro-greens list – it can go in a sprouter.

One final problem was that every afternoon the sun fell full on the propagator, overheating the seedlings. If I move them – and space is at a premium – then they’ll get even less light, so I’m hoping that removing the propagator cover, as above, should prevent overheating

In the sprouter, things were no better – the hemp seeds never progressed beyond the just barely sprouted stage, and I suspect they should have been kept in the dark.

One final problem, which affected everything, was the weather, or rather the unremitting cloudiness of it – the propagator is in a well-lit area, but light levels outdoors were very low.

So, tomorrow I’ll pick up a bag of compost, get the propagator cleaned of debris, and make another start. I’m also going to get some sprouting jars, like this

rather than a bigger sprouter, that way, on the odd time that I’m out, and forget their afternoon rinse, they won’t dry out – something that hasn’t helped the hemp seeds. They’re widely available – at a wide variety of prices! Don’t pay more than £4.10 each, the distributor’s list price. In fact, I recommend buying from the distributor, A. Vogel, as their postage is a mere £2, as opposed to the £6.95 which is so prevalent in this market.

Who’s afraid of the dark?

Well, British Summer Time – pause for hollow laughter – ends tonight, and once again people are whining that the nights are going to be dark (yep, who’d have thought that would happen…), and wouldn’t it be nice if we kept British Summer Time all year round, and just called it British Standard Time. And I think to myself, what planet are these people on?

It has been tried before, you know, and it didn’t work. While people managed not to have to travel home from work in the horrid dark (ah, diddums), children, who are far more vulnerable, had to go to school in the dark. And, of course, adults had to go to work wreathed in gloom, too, much to their apparent surprise.

Oddly enough – and this happens every summer, you’d think people would have twigged by now – if you gain an hour of light in the evening, you lose it in the morning. This matters not at all in summer, but it matters a hell of a lot in winter.

Some research numpty is claiming that leisure activities would increase by 4% if BST were to be (re)introduced. Can someone please tell me what outdoor leisure activities would benefit from an extra hour of daylight (let’s be sensible here, what we’d get is an extra hour of twilight), in the middle of winter? It would have little or no effect on the traditional ones of vandalism, theft of, and from, cars, and illegal, under-age, drinking, I’m sure.

As I said, though, it has been tried before, and it failed dismally. In Scotland they were plunged into stygian gloom in the mornings, and in other places kids were mown down by rampaging milk floats, and wolves roamed the high streets. Or something. And those trades that depended on, even in winter, the dawn arriving at a sensible time – farmers the length and breadth of the land, for example – were supremely pissed off. It was idiotically suggested – and it no doubt will be again – that the Scots, and farmers, were allocated their own time zones – at a stroke putting them out of step with the rest of the country – a suggestion that was, mercifully, treated with the derision it deserved.

Every winter, at this time, though, a bunch of whining pussies emerge to bitch and whinge about the nasty, cold, dark (and, no doubt, the increasing prevalence of bogeymen), and insist that the rest of us change our clocks to assuage their fears. I wonder what Scandinavians and Icelanders think of these people? For a sizeable chunk of winter they don’t even get a sunrise.

Where I live, the majority of motorists seem unable to find the cars’ light switch in the mornings, no matter how dark, wet or foggy it may be, or maybe they’re afraid of wearing them out. Whatever the reason – oh, come on, they’re just too ‘kin stupid – let’s not give them another hour of darkness, they’re bad enough now.

Look, folks, the nights will only get darker for a little while, until the Winter solstice – the shortest day – on December 21, then they’ll start to get lighter again. So until, say, March, why don’t you give us all a break, go to bed, pull the blankets over your heads and leave the rest of us to get on with our lives in peace?

The Mediterranean Diet – does it work for everyone?

The British Medical Journal has recently published a study that has looked at the effects of adherence to a Mediterranean diet, which is claimed to reduce death-rates in a variety of illnesses.

I have a problem with these claims, in that these are not research-based data but obtained by meta-analysis – research by computor. I’ve read the report (at http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/337/sep11_2/a1344 ), and there’s not the slightest suggestion that any attempt was made to assess the quality of the source material – as is all too often the case with meta-analysis – and some of the research utilised meaninglessly-small populations (the smallest test population that will return statistically-valid results is 1,000 – this is why you so often see 1,001 given as the number of people questioned in, say, MORI polls). It simply says “Data sources English and non-English publications in PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials from 1966 to 30 June 2008.”.

I’ve no idea whether the majority of people originally involved were from rural areas, inner cities, or even from Italy and the Med in general, or how many were from Italian or general Mediterranean populations wherever they lived – we’re not told. In Mediterranean countries, of course, people are much closer to the source of the foodstuffs than, say, I am, on the edge of Merseyside, so is the freshness of the food at least as valuable as its nature? The Med diet has been claimed for many years to be healthy but, to the best of my knowledge, no-one has ever discovered the reason for it.

Oh, and can we lay to rest the canard that a Med diet consists primarily of vegetables, fruits, legumes, cereals, fish, olive oil and a moderate intake of red wine? It also has a substantial meat component, including cured meats, plus cheese and other dairy products, and Italians get through pretty much the same level of booze of all kinds as we do, per head of adult population and, until about 20 years ago, they shifted a hell of a lot more (source, Alcohol consumption by country, adults aged 15 and over, 1970-2005, Europe (Table), WHO, 2007). There may well be health-giving attributes of the Med diet, but it sure as hell isn’t abstemiousness.

Living along the shores of the Med, of course, is, of itself, undoubtedly healthier than living in Manchester, or Detroit – is that as much of a factor as the food? What I’d like to see is a long-term study of the Med diet in, say, Liverpool and Manchester, Detroit and Hammerfest – the most northerly town in Europe, and with produce sourced from supermarkets, which is where normal people away from the Med get the bulk of their food or, in a great many cases, all of it. Even in the Med, the increasing prevalence of supermarkets has undermined the claimed health-giving properties of the diet, suggesting to me, at least, that the freshness of the food really is a major factor.

Run a study like that, with the fruit and veg a hell of a lot longer in the tooth than the pretty-much farm-fresh produce of much of the Med, and in all probability sourced from Holland, to ensure it tastes of bugger all, not to mention ruinously-expensive fish, and let’s see, then, if the Med diet is of benefit to normal folk. Me, I’m willing to be convinced, but totting up the numbers from research going back 42 years, then dividing by your grand-dad’s army number – or something equally esoteric – is no substitute for real-time, people-based research. Not at all.

The price of food…

My grocery shopping, today – for one person – hit £30 for the first time. OK, I have spent more at times, but today there were no treats, no alcohol, no impulse buying, nothing but essentials for the coming week – bread, meat, vegetables, fish, cheese, milk and other dairy items, plus maybe £2.50′s worth of non-food items, all of which went into one shopping bag, so obviously, not a lot.
Now, I’m often not able to cook from scratch (though I’m having a good spell at present), and I know full well that replacing the fresh food with processed and pre-prepared junk foods wouldn’t have cost any less, and would probably have cost more. So it made me think that Jamie Oliver is quite right – it costs no more to eat decent food than to eat poor food. In fact, the things Oliver’s finding, that people in Rotherham fondly believe are food, are several levels below crap.

Food, then, almost any food, is horribly expensive**, so we owe it to ourselves to make the best of it that we can, and that means – if you can’t already – learning to cook. I don’t accept that not being able to cook is an excuse for living on ferociously expensive takeaways (nobody on a limited income, like benefits, should treat them as anything other than an occasional treat – they are a long way from being cost-effective). I taught myself to cook as a child (the first thing I ever made was shredded chicken in cream and mustard – I was about 11 and had invented Toast Toppers!), and by the time I was 14 I was perfectly capable of producing a full roast Sunday lunch – or dinner, as we called it in those distant days.

** At Tesco, today, their Value steak was gristly and dire – cheap meat at its worst – so I paid a couple of pounds more and got some very nice frying steak, which I’ll braise. Despite being labelled as “low fat”, it’s nicely marbled with the stuff and should be tasty. Anyway, on with the show…

In a way, I’m fortunate, in that I’ve always been able to look at a bunch of potential ingredients and know how they’ll taste, in various combinations, when they’re cooked – much the same way an artist instinctively knows what colour he’ll get by mixing various pigments. It’s a natural talent and I appreciate that not everyone has it (given some of the meals I’ve eaten, very few have it!). It is, of course, something that can be learned, and it will come with experience.

I actually taught myself to cook in self-defence, as my mother was a typical cook of her time – Brussels sprouts for Christmas went on about half past April. Anything green routinely got the bejesus boiled out of it, and the concept of using stock, rather than water never crossed her mind (even Oxo, used with care, was better than plain water, and Oxo was pretty much all there was in the 50s). She was far from alone, of course; most women of her generation cooked the same way, with food treated as an enemy to be subdued.

Anyone capable of learning can learn to cook – the basics are not hard to master (even my mother made gravy by making a roux first, though she had no idea that’s what it was); we’re not talking restaurant-standard cooking, just every-day dishes that are nourishing and a pleasure to eat, and not just a refuelling exercise.

Cookery-books abound, and second-hand ones are very cheap – I have a shelf full going back a hundred years or so, and ranging from Nigel Slater to Escoffier and Mrs. Beaton, from England and France to the American West, via Sephardic Jewish. I almost never use them for the recipes, but I do read them for inspiration.

If you truly don’t have a clue, then the Dreaded Delia will teach you. She’ll also take all the pleasure and spontaneity out of cooking in the process, with her obsessive formulae – rather than recipes – anyone who counts raisins, or weighs chorizo to a fraction of an ounce is, frankly, obsessive – cooking, at a domestic level, does NOT require such minute precision, the exception being baking. She’s one person who has no place at all in my bookcases. She will teach you the fundamentals, though, after which you can consign her to the nearest charity shop.

I’d recommend almost anything by Nigel Slater (his book Toast, by the way, is autobiographical, not variations on the theme of toast), but get yourself along to a second-hand book shop and look for books from The Good Housekeeping Institute, or by old writers like Marguerite Patton, and similar books that will give you a solid grounding in the basics of cooking (though you will have to convert the temperatures from whatever units are used to Celsius), or be inspired by people like Elizabeth David, whose recipes are delightfully vague. Keith Floyd is good, too, and mostly free from celeb BS. Do not, I’m afraid, buy Jamie Oliver’s books, not until you’ve developed the basic skills and are fully confident and starting to feel ambitious. Don’t buy American books either, not to start with, at least, as their obsession with measuring everything in cups – a relic of the pioneer days, when scales were often unobtainable, is a pain. There’s really no excuse for still using it, though – it’s a terribly vague method.
You’ll probably start, like most people, by following someone else’s recipes

Atheist advertising campaign…

Writer Ariane Sherine suggested, in a Guardian Comment is Free blog last June, that an atheist bus campaign would provide a reassuring counter-message to religious slogans threatening non-Christians with hell and damnation. By last night, the fund, set up to provide posters on 30 of London’s bendy buses for a month, had hugely exceeded expectations. The posters, by the way, will say “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”

As a lifelong atheist ( I have no memory, even as a child attending Sunday school, of ever believing in any sort of supreme being; as an adult I find all religions based on that concept to be wrong-headed – I’m an equal-opportunities atheist), I find this whole idea rather bizarre. Why should atheists need reassuring about hell and damnation? We believe in neither and I, for one, have never given the question a moment’s thought – it sure as hell doesn’t worry me.

If you call yourself an atheist and feel you do need this sort of reassurance, then I suggest you examine your beliefs or, rather, disbeliefs, very closely – you’re probably an agnostic, and unable to make up your mind either way, which is pretty sad (I actually think that many agnostics are simply hedging their bet, just in case they’re wrong). That poster, indeed, is pure agnosticism – as an atheist I feel it’s terribly limp-wristed – that “probably” is entirely superfluous. No atheist worthy of the name would ever say that there was “probably” no god – we know there isn’t with the same certainty that Christians and others believe there is.

That atheists atheist, Richard Dawkins, has offered to contribute £5,500 to the ad campaign, which for me undermines his atheistic stance considerably – I don’t see how he could ever agree to that wording and I’d love to know what his reasoning was. For now, though:-

There is no god – have a nice day.