Not a good week so far

Let’s make a list:

  • broken router
  • broken down car
  • tenant in H’s flat has served notice to leave – we’re advised to expect two months without rental income
  • car still faulty
  • two hours on hold to BT
  • uncomfortably hot
  • one of my customers is misbehaving and it could, potentially, end in litigation
  • mother-in-law melted some of Tom’s bottles (don’t ask)

And it’s only Wednesday.

Fifty six kay

This post brought to you with the aid of string and sticking plasters, as my broadband connection is currently not working. BT’s problem-reporting call system is worse than useless (being told by an automated voice that, as BT are not my broadand supplier, I should contact the company that supplies my broadband *click* – this in spite of the quaterly invoices that BT send me for broadband provision!) and it took me several attempts to get through to a human being – not impressed.

BT have promised me that they will have an engineer to sort this out within 48 hours of it being reported. I reported it early on Saturday afternoon, so I’m already beginning to wonder if I’ve been forgotten or shoved down the queue. Helpfully, I got a call on Saturday evening to tell me that my telephone is ok – well, I knew that already – and the engineer helpfully told me that broadband was nothing to do with him but there was a broadband fault logged on the line.

So things may be a little quiet around here for a while. It’s all shown up how much I rely on my broadband connection, as my work rate has slowed considerably since the failure (which coincided with a big electrical storm during which I’d unplugged all my kit) and there are a bunch of tasks on my to-do list that I can’t do until the nfault is repaired.

In addition, the exhaust has failed on Hels’s car (which also had a puncture last week), so this is proving to be a troublesome week all-round. Harrumph.

EDIT: it turns out that my router has failed – it’s still working as a wireless router but is failing to work as a modem. This is either related to the storm or to heat damage, I suspect, as it runs very hot indeed. I’ve ordered a new LinkSys piece of kit for, which should be here in the next day or two. In the meantime, I’m using a BT-supplied modem, but it means that I’m tied to the phone socket by a cable.

FURTHER EDIT: I’m convinced that the storm caused the problem. I unplugged all my kit from the electricity supply, but left the modem connected to the telephone. Our telephone service comes to us via overhead cable. That’ll learn me.

Implied presumption

I always find this sort of news story interesting:

Police searching for a missing East Sussex pensioner in West Africa have said they have found a body.  

William West, 76, of St Helen’s Park in Hastings, had been with his wife Kate, 26, at their holiday home in Gambia.

The couple were on a day trip to Senegal when he disappeared after going into a shop on his own on 3 July.

Sussex Police said Gambian police had contacted them after a body was found. Four people are helping authorities abroad with their inquiries.

A spokesman for the Sussex force said the four people were a 26-year-old woman and three men.

With the information released and the tone of the reporting, we are led to believe, as readers, that the wife has bumped off her husband in an African country. Our imagination takes us on to the notion that she might have done it for the insurance money or to escape an unhappy marriage of convenience. Perhaps she chose an African country in the belief that the criminal investigation system there might not reach her. Already, we’ve bounded to the conclusion that she is guilty – we have been conditioned to do so by years of this sort of reporting and our own prejudices.

The truth, of course, could be vastly different. He may well have been the victim of a random attack. He could have died from some entirely non-violent cause. She may be as innocent as a newborn lamb, truly distraught at the loss of her husband. In fairness, we can not say because we are not party to all of the facts and won’t be until the trial (if there is one) is reported in due course.

Tabloid journalism has a lot to answer for. We assume guilt too often.

Childminder run

This morning, I think I became truly middle class. I achieved this by putting Tom in his seat in the back of my car and driving the mile-and-a-half to his childminder’s house (I have considered pushing Tom in his buggy, but it’s a very dangerous lane). There were two other parents there dropping off their children and, on the way home, I had to fight my way through the congestion around Ruralville school where dozens of parents were delivering offspring.

Tom, like the rest of us, is struggling with the current heatwave. We reached 36 Celsius yesterday here and the poor lad was wilting a bit. He sleeps in the afternoon more than usual and then is awake in the evening when he would normally be in bed. So life is all a bit upside down.

Today the temperature is a little lower, but the humidity is up so it is no less comfortable. I’ve struggling to keep going, my PC fan is going mad and the cats can barely drag themselves around. Typical English – never satisfied by the weather.

Limping along

My poor old laptop. It’s a Dell Inspiron 8500 which I’ve had for three and a half years. It’s been to America, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Ireland and is about to go on trips to Hungary, Poland and Spain. It’s been used almost every day. It has been a maid of all work, carrying out business and personal tasks for me and for Hels for the whole of that time. And the poor thing is beginning to show the signs of age.

This week, I’ve noticed that it’s been slowing down a lot. Partly, I’m sure, that is due to heat, as the fan is running a lot and the battery life is consequently diminished. But I also took the time to have a poke about in the innards and found that the hard drive is 94% full. This is clearly not sustainable. So I’ve shunted some of my less-frequently heard music files on to the external hard drive that I use to back everything up (6pm, every Thursday), used the disk cleanup utility and had a defrag. Things are running a little more smoothly now, but it is clear that this computer is not long for this world, certainly not as my main computer (I plan to retire it and give it to Hels to use).

However, I’ve decided that it must struggle on for a little while longer. Having looked at the specification required to run Windows Vista, it seems sensible for me to wait until after the launch of Vista and purchase a new machine then, bundled with the new operating system. It certainly makes no sense to buy a machine now and then have to fork out to upgrade the OS next year.

Of course, what I really need to do is spend some time deleting more crap from the hard drive. There are certainly some photos there that are of no value and could disappear. There are probably some music files too. And I suspect that there are one or two stupid games that I could live without. The problem is that I’m not very well disciplined with my hard drive – I tend to shove everything on it and treat it like a huge dustbin that I can go and rummage in when I need to find something.

So, what shall I do? Change my ways? Or buy a computer with a bigger dustbin?

Quiet around here

For once, this isn’t a post making lame excuses for the lack of new content on this site. Instead, I’m remarking on the fact that it’s a bit quiet at home today, even though Tom is here, my mum is here and the two cats are around somewhere (although trying desperately to find somewhere shady and cool, much like the rest of us).

The reason it is quiet is that Hels has gone back to work today for the first time in seven months. To say that she was not looking forward to it is an understatement – the thought of having to deal with daily stresses, irritating people and a stifling office environment are not the things that encourage someone to be enthusiastic. Added to that, H feels guilty at leaving Tom. Tom, of course, is going to be ably cared for by a combination of grandparents, childminder and me, so he’ll be fine. Furthermore, H is caring for him in a way by going out and earning the money we need to keep home and family together. So I’ve suggested that she shouldn’t feel guilty or even worried, but I guess it’s a natural reaction.

Meanwhile, I’ve had my mum for company today and she and Tom have taken a nap this afternoon on the lawn in some shade. She’s ably dealt with trying to get Tom to eat food he doesn’t really like, drink water that he doesn’t really want (I’m concerned about fluid intake in this heat) and is currently poaching some chicken for his tea this evening.

But it’s not the same as having Hels here every day. Anyone want to make a cash donation so we don’t have to work and can just enjoy Tom together?


Looks like I started something here. My comment at number 2. Comment 73 puts the same idea that was in my head in far better terms. I’ve submitted other comments to the Nick Robinson blog too, but none have been published (yet?).

Poulet basquiase

Last night, we had good company in the form of my sister-in-law and her husband. Stepping off our diet for one evening (you knew that we are both dieting, didn’t you? Perhaps I haven’t mentioned that. In five-and-a-half weeks, I’ve lost 12lb and H has lost 10lb, about which we are very pleased.), I prepared poulet basquaise with a rice pilaf whilst H made a chocolate meringue and summer fruit dessert. If ever H gets a blog (incredibly unlikely), she can describe the making of the dessert for you, but I thought I’d share the poulet with you here.

The recipe was from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, which is one of my favourite cookbooks for meat recipes – lots of rustic French and Mediterranean style cooking with rich reduced sauces. I found I needed slightly more fluid than the recipe suggested, so here is my interpretation:

Ingredients (serves 4 generously):

  • chicken (The recipe calls for a whole chicken cut into eight pieces. I found it simpler to use two breasts, halved; four drumsticks, skin-on; four thighs, skin-on – you need meat on the bone as the dark meat works best, and you want about 1.5kg in total);
  • two red peppers, cut into long thin strips;
  • two green peppers, similarly cut;
  • one onion, thinly sliced;
  • 450g tin of Italian tomatoes;
  • salt and pepper;
  • a pinch of cayenne;
  • a little olive oil (about two tablespoons);
  • a knob of butter (about 15g);
  • 150ml white wine;
  • 200ml chicken stock;
  • fresh parsley, chopped (note: this is real parsley usage – for flavour, not for useless garnish).
  1. Heat the oil on a medium-high heat in a large heavy pan with a lid. When it is hot, add the butter. Wait for the butter to melt and foam.
  2. Meanwhile, thoroughly season the chicken with salt, pepper and cayenne.
  3. Add the chicken, skin side down and brown it on this side only. Remove it to a plate and set aside.
  4. Add the peppers and onion and cook on a medium heat for about ten minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes and cook until the juices are reduced by about a third.
  6. Add the wine and cook for a further few minutes to reduce the wine by about half, being sure to scrape the bottom of your pan to get up that slightly burnt stuff from the peppers and onion.
  7. Add the stock and cook for a minute or two.
  8. Add the chicken, including any juices left on the plate. Cover the pan and leave on a low heat for at least 30 minutes, if not longer (mine was simmering for nearly an hour).
  9. Whilst this is going on, drink the rest of the bottle of wine and prepare the rice pilaf (I made mine with chicken stock, finely chopped shallots and peas – the peas give a good contrast to the poulet). Warm the oven to 75 Celsius.
  10. Remove the chicken from the pan and keep warm in the oven. (You might want to warm some plates too – I always forget that).
  11. Add salt and pepper to the sauce, as well as the chopped parsley. Crank up the heat to the max, remove the lid and reduce the sauce by half – this takes around ten minutes.
  12. Serve the chicken on a bed of rice pilaf, pouring over a generous amount of the pepper and onion sauce. Sit back, take the credit. Open another bottle of wine.

I would have taken photos, but we were too concerned with eating it! If you want photos of food, check out Fraser’s site.

Breaking the ice with a spade

Want to break the ice with your neighbours? Found that they don’t generally say hello or give you the time of day? Don’t want to have a reputation as the secretive soul in your street? Then dig a hole!

Yes, my amazing discovery of the week is that digging a hole in your front garden is the perfect way to get to know your neighbours and far easier to organise than some sort of party or barbeque. I’m currently working on the front garden, swapping the turfed area with the parking area so that the cars are not parked right by the front door (sounds easy, doesn’t it? – I estimate a completion date some time in September, particularly as rain is precluding any digging activity today), and as I’m working various neighbours have stopped by our gate and called out such pearls as:

  • that looks like hard work
  • how big are you going to make that hole?
  • it’s a bit hot for digging
  • when will it be finished?
  • why don’t you use a digger?
  • found anything interesting?

The usual suspects have been more-than-usually friendly, but I’ve also had brief, hole-oriented conversations with neighbours who have been strangers for the first eighteen months that we’ve lived here.

So, why not give it a try? Report back in the comments on the conversations that you have as a result of wielding a spade.