Monthly Archives: March 2010

Day 42 – Chocolate Is Good For You

It seems that there has just been a study showing that chocolate lowers blood pressure and cuts the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

A bunch of  German nutritionists has come up with these facts that will be delight to a lot of us by following the chocolate chompers for a decade before concluding that eating 7.5 grams of dark chocolate a day could reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke by 39% and could also lead to lower blood pressure.

Of course, it’s no good making a bee-line for the cheap stuff the best results are dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. And you’d better put that quarter pound bar back on the shelf. 7.5 grammes is about 1 square. Even if you save up your “allowance” for a whole week, that would be about half of a small Easter egg.

I suppose that they’ll tell us next that a Fruit and Nut bar counts as one of our five a day.

Anyway, who has the willpower to stick to one square of chocolate a day? I don’t. And what would I do with the rest of the bar? Perhaps I could mould it into a chocolate teapot – the ultimate symbol of something useless. 

That’s what this survey is to my version of real life, a chocolate teapot. I’m convinced that it needs less willpower to give up chocolate completely, as I’ve been doing for the last six and a half weeks than to have the temptation of an opened packet of good quality chocolate sitting there yelling “Come and get me”

Ride Safe


Day 41 – An Invitation To Dinner

This evening saw a milestone in my life as a parent. Sue and I were invited for dinner with my middle son, Daniel, and his partner Sophie, in their own home.  Actually, they did have another house some time ago, but this is the one on which they are paying their first mortgage.

It’s in a quiet area to the west of Nottingham, found thanks to some excellent directions and our satnav.

We arrived slightly early and were warmly welcomed and shown around by proud householder, Daniel. Sophie had just taken Casper, their formerly hyperactive dog for a constitutional walk.  Casper had mellowed a lot since we last encountered him and after a perfunctory sniff at me, he proceeded to ignore me and pretend to sleep for almost all of the rest of the evening.

After a cup of tea we sat down to an excellent meal of chicken filled with garlic and herb soft cheese and herb-coated potato wedges served with a delicious fresh salad.

Over the meal we discussed that we all watch “Come Dine With Me” and how we might score the evening. Read on and I’ll reveal all in a moment.

The dessert was a very generous bowl of fresh fruit salad with ice cream. Almost guaranteed to win me over.

It was a very enjoyable evening, with great conversation.

So the “Come Dine With Me Scores”:

  • For the ambience, 10 out of 10
  • For the food, 10 out of 10
  • For the hosting, 10 out of 10

Ideally, we should now be invited to dine with my other two sons and we could score two other evenings on the same basis. On the other hand, they might all want to come round here and give us a score.

I’m not sure I could cope with that.

Ride safe

Day 40 – Bread And Cheese

Hang on a minute. Wasn’t Lent supposed to be 40 days and 40 nights? If this is my 40th day of abstinence from cake, sweets, biscuits and chocolate, how come it is a Monday and doesn’t fall on any significant day within the Easter story.

Anyway, I am very proud that I am doing so well and finding the willpower from somewhere. I didn’t have any of the really nice looking biscuits that Jo had on the table all day today and didn’t actually want one. 

I did get stuck into her warm home-made bread with cheese at lunchtime, though.

I have yet to decide what to do when we reach Easter. Do I continue on my self-imposed “giving up” regime or do I relax it slightly. I will certainly not go mad and plunge into an orgy of chocolate, but I might allow myself the odd treat.

I have also to decide how often I am going to update this blog after Easter. As you will see from the blog calendar over on the right hand side of the page, before this Lent-inspired blogfest, I didn’t find something to write every single day. But as I started “giving up”, I decided that I wanted to record my experience day by day on here, and I have also managed to persevere at this.

Anyway, that’s enough planning ahead for one evening. If I’m not careful I’ll reach a decision, and that would never do.

Ride Safe

Day 39 – Playing Away

No, this has nothing to do with football nor indeed with any other team sport. People who know me will vouch for the fact that I have almost zero interest in such things.

Today Sue and I went to visit another heritage railway. That is “another” in the sense of “not the one that we are usually associated with and volunteering for“.

Our “home” railway is Peak Rail, but today we spent a most enjoyable day of playing away at the Midland Railway Centre at Butterley, near Ripley.

We arrived and parked the car just before the 12:30 departure from Butterley station, giving us good time to obtain this year’s first tickets using our Heritage Rail Pass. I have mentioned this wonderful scheme here before, but it’s worth mentioning that one of the most significant perks of being a volunteer on a heritage railway is being able to purchase one of these passes.

The train that arrived in the platform turned out to be a Class 101 diesel multiple unit. These former workhorses of branch and secondary services were a huge part of my childhood railway experience. These were trains in which a few lucky passengers had a window facing forward and could see the driver at work and the track ahead; something which has always been denied to people travelling in locomotive-hauled trains. I have travelled very many miles in those front seats, enjoying the unique view of the track unfolding ahead, or at the very back of the train looking at where we had been. Many of these miles were along lines in Wales and along its borders and around Birmingham. Ever since then, I have had a soft spot of these little trains.

It’s a shame that modern diesel and electric units have done away with this unique forward view, thus depriving the latest generation of children of all ages this experience on the main lines.  Even those heritage railways that have DMUs seem to run them very rarely and when they do, most of them almost apologise for the fact that their steam or large diesel locomotives are not in use. 

I can’t be alone in liking these old trains, so if our local preserved lines were to do a little more to publicise when they are running their DMUs, more of us would come out to re-live the feeling of those journeys between the 1960s through to the 1990s.

So I was delighted to see a two-car unit pull into Butterley station this morning. I was even more delighted when Sue and I got the coveted seat right at the back of the train. Clearly, the weekend before Easter was not the busiest for the Midland.

The journey itself is not the longest or most picturesque, but the unique view from the back of the train more than made up for both of these minor shortcomings. I was surprised at the number of vintage DMU vehicles that are in evidence alongside the running line between Butterley and Swanwick. Although I didn’t count them, I think that there must have been more than 20 DMU coaches on view.

When we reached the end of the trip which is close to the junction with the main line, we were already at the front for the return trip.

We got off the train at Swanwick Junction, where the majority of the Midland Railway Centre’s stock is kept and where their museum buildings are located. Sue took the opportunity to grab this picture of the train that we had just left. I apologise for getting in the way

Class 101 DMU at Swanwick Junction

Class 101 DMU at Swanwick Junction

As we wandered up into the yard area, it started to rain, but that didn’t stop Sue snapping away with her camera phone and me from grumbling that I was getting wet. However, it was only a very light drizzle and when we stopped to look at the part of the collection of vintage buses and have a brief chat with one of the enthusiast volunteers in that building, the weather was forgotten. So it was on to the large railway museum shed. Little seems to change in here from one visit to another, although the overflow locos and carriages parked outside the shed do seem to get moved around.

Locos and Rolling Stock outside the Midland Railway Museum Shed

Locos and Rolling Stock outside the Midland Railway Museum Shed

On this visit, it was good to see that a Western Diesel Hydraulic loco, D1058 “Western Lady”, was in pride of place with a class 47 next to it. D1058 had come a long way in its restoration since this photo taken in 2006.

A little further along the same path, just beyond that green shunting loco in the picture above, I was delighted to spot the logo of Netherlands Railways on another shunter.

Dutch Shunting Loco outside the Midland Railway Museum Shed

Dutch Shunting Loco outside the Midland Railway Museum Shed

I do rather like Netherlands Railways, or Nederlandse Spoorwegen, to give them their proper title. I would love to have been able to ask one of the locals about this loco, but volunteers seemed to be rather thin on the ground. I’ve had a quick wander around the web, but can’t find anything about this loco except that it seems to have been one of a batch of diesels built for Netherlands Railways at Derby works.

 I don’t normally rave about diesels, considering myself to be a steam anorak, but I really enjoyed this visit to the Midland Railway Centre. Perhaps the icing on the cake was that we got back into the train for the round trip back to Butterley and our car and we were able to sit in exactly the same seats that we had used earlier.

Ride Safe

Day 38 – Clock Change and Broken Rules

As I write this, it’s just a few hours until the start of British Summer Time, which officially begins at 2.00 am tomorrow morning.  At this moment, 2.00am becomes 1.00am, the precise timing of which will pass most people by because we will be asleep.

Most of us will wake tomorrow moaning about having lost an hour’s sleep. But spare a thought for people working overnight tonight. They have to do an extra hour.

Quite a lot of years ago, I used to present an overnight pop and prattle radio show. During most clock changes I was on the air and enjoyed the autumn clock change when my air shift was an hour less and moaned like crazy each spring when the station got that hour back.

You can guess how long ago this was when I tell you that I was still having to cue up vinyl records on turntables. Blissful days they were too. Programme planning involved wandering into the station’s record library and pulling out an armful of records and taking them downstairs to the studio and playing them. There were a few rules about including a certain number of current records in each hour, but in general there was no-one around at night to know whether I had stuck to the rules or not.

Then came the introduction of CDs into the studio, and with them came the end of this absolute freedom. I arrived one evening and was handed a computer printed playlist which told me which CD, what track number, the artist, title year of issue and its duration. Also, the record library was locked and the idea of free choice for any presenter outside the daytime superstar jocks was abolished.

Like everyone in radio at that time, I was aghast. This was the end of personality. It was almost the end of the world.

But only a few weeks later, I turned up to do a clock-change overnight shift. This was the first big test of the computer and it failed. In fact it failed in a big way. I normally had a seven hour live show (with the early part of my shift being a two-hour pre-recorded programme.) On this occasion, the computer had printed out just one hour of playlist, repeated eight times.

So I stuck to the rules and followed the playlist for my first hour, thinking about what to do next. I briefly considered recording that hour and playing it back all night, but I had my own sanity to consider.

Like everyone else in the radio station, I had realised that the key for the record library was kept in reception, so quickly found it and the rest of the show was done on the old way using vinyl.

This almost certainly made me the very last presenter ever to do a totally free choice show on this particular radio station, although the daytime “big boys” continued to include tracks from the vinyl collection for a long time afterwards.

Tonight won’t be anything like as adventurous as that night because I’ll be off to bed within the next couple of hours, but as I drop off I will spare a thought for the legion of people working overnight tonight having that extra hour to do with very little scope for breaking the rules as spectacularly as I did that night back in the 1980s.

Ride Safe

Day 38 – Norovirus

I’ve been suffering from Norovirus all this week.

No, don’t worry, I haven’t actually had the virus myself. Sue did, but, believe me, I suffered from it.

I’m not sure where the virus itself it came from and I have no idea how the diagnosis arrived, but I have been authoritatively told that this was the bug in question.

As it is a virus, there is no treatment, according to the NHS, so my suffering has been worse than usual. Sue has been listless, tired and feeling nauseous. She hasn’t specifically reported grumpy and unreasonable, but I detected it.

However, she was well enough to go to her regular volunteering and to attend a training session, not knowing that she wasn’t well.  I feel sure that it took a lot out of us both for her to do this. 

Fortunately, my suffering seems to be over as Sue is now a lot better. I’ll know if she’s really better when she reads this and describes me as an insensitive git (or something worse).

By the way, the highlight of a dull day at home was a trip to the Priory for lunch and another ice cream dessert. This time with butterscotch sauce. It really doesn’t take a lot to make me happy.

Ride Safe

Day 37 – Home, The Gun Capital of Britain

I live in Nottingham, a city that enjoys a pretty terrible reputation both locally, regionally and nationally. I agree that everybody who lives here and every street and building does not deserve to be stereotyped, but Nottingham consistently seems to appear way down league tables of all kinds. 

From the struggles of out two football teams to the academic standing of our two universities; from the performance of the police in solving crime to the provision of affordable housing, we don’t do very well. The city council’s determined campaign for their workplace parking levy has also done little to enhance the image of Nottingham as a great place to work.

But it is Nottingham’s reputation as the gun crime capital of the UK that was a national and international talking point just a year or so ago and leaped back into the spotlight yesterday.

It’s all a close to home for us here. There used to be a pub (now demolished) about 200 yards as the crow flies from our house that was the scene of a fatal shooting. The infamous Bestwood Estate is close by and Bulwell, just across the local golf course, has also seen shootings.

Things have quietened down recently, but the headlines yesterday reported two shootings in different areas of the city on the same day. A man was injured in a shooting incident in Top Valley, another estate close to where we live, and although no-one was hurt in the incident in New Basford, this is no more than a mile away.

So it comes as no surprise to me that Nottingham City Council is worried about our city’s image.  However, I find it an unedifying spectacle for a senior councillor to blame the media for taking the city’s shootings out of context. How can the story be reported any differently from the way that, for example, the Nottingham Evening Post reported it today?

The BBC are reporting that the council’s deputy leader, Graham Chapman has been “pleading” with the media not to go over the top. The BBC quoted Councillor Chapman,

“I’m just pleading with people to put it into context.

“It got really out of context a few years ago and it damaged the city enormously.

“If the media put it into context then it won’t [do] that damage.

“Obviously what we need to do is sort out the guns, and that is gradually being done.”

There is no way that I would ever be mistaken for a support of a pro-gun lobby such as exists in the USA, but come on Councillor Chapman, “sorting out the guns” is setting the wrong priority.

Don’t you need to need to sort out the people who find it acceptable to fire guns at other people on the city’s streets? And it seems that these streets are uncomfortably close to our house.

Ride safe