Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas leftovers recipes

Need to find ways to use up all your unwanted, outmoded Christmas food? Here are a few ideas and suggestions to help out...

I would like to make it clear, in the third line down, that "a quarter of a pint of gun" is a typing error - this is, of course, meant to say "a quarter of a pint of gin". Unfortunately, these are made up of Tweets from over a year ago, meaning it is not possible to edit the text now.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sandwich review: Cheese Ploughmans by delicious

The official description for this sandwich is -
Vintage Cheddar cheese with tomato, cos lettuce, pickle and seasoned mayonnaise on malted bread.
By popular demand, I am posting my first vegetarian sandwich review. I chose a classic Cheese Ploughmans sandwich, from the delicious brand, to be the subject of this groundbreaking new step.

I enjoyed this sandwich. The salad was crisp, and fresh (which is a huge positive, just in itself) and the balance between the mayonnaise and the pickle (a combination about which I admit I had my doubts) worked much better than I was expecting.

However, for a sandwich in which the main event is Cheddar cheese, it could've done with a bit more flavour in that department. The cheese is described as "vintage Cheddar", but it seemed rather milder than I had hoped, and was consequently a little disappointing.

A more mature Cheddar would do this sandwich a world of good. However, in spite of this, I would buy this sandwich again.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Sandwich review: Meat Feast Sub Roll from Morrisons' "Prepared In Store" range

The official description for this sandwich is -
Prosciutto cotto, chorizo, salami, vine ripened tomato, mozzarella, wild rocket, mayonnaise and tomato and basil sauce in a herb topped sub roll.
I have been impressed by Morrisons' sandwiches in the past, so I was looking forward to this.  The recipe is great, the ingredients are good quality and the flavours all work really well together; what's not so good, is the construction of the sandwich...

It was actually very difficult to eat this sandwich, without the filling all falling out onto the floor.  They have tried to stuff too much filling into only a moderately-sized roll, and the result is quite inconvenient.  Much as I tried to look past this, and appreciate the sandwich for what it was, that proved harder and harder as I continued eating - in the end, these problems became too large, and spoiled the enjoyment of an otherwise really excellent sandwich.

Regrettably, until Morrisons can fix the issues with constructing this sandwich, I would not buy it again.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Sandwich review: New Yorker, from deli2go

The official description for this sandwich is -
Pastrami with Emmental cheese, Iceberg lettuce, gherkins, Ameican style mustard, sour cream mayonnaise and red onion on malted bread with millet and sunflower seeds.
Quite a list, eh?! Well, there's a lot going on with this sandwich - and that means a lot of different flavours to balance...

deli2go make a valiant effort of this - and, on the whole, they don't do too badly at all. Each bite of the sandwich gives you something slightly different, while still managing to paint an overall picture of the whole.

The "American style" mustard is pleasantly tangy, without being overly tart or off-putting; likewise, the gherkins and red onions. The coolness of the sour cream mayonnaise compliments these flavours nicely, while the Emmental cheese sings out above the while ensemble in clear, nutty tones.

The only criticism I would have, then, is that the pastrami gets a little lost amidst the cacophony of other tastes flying around. That's not to say that it's bad, or that you don't notice it - it could just do with being a bit (if you'll pardon the pun) beefier.

Maybe using slightly better quality pastrami could help? Or, if not, another layer in the sandwich, just to help it stand out a little better?

Other than this (very slight) issue, I enjoyed this sandwich, and I would definitely buy it again.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Sandwich review: Chicken & Bacon Ranch by Sainsburys

The official description for this sandwich is -
British chicken breast and naturally smoked British bacon with ranch mayonnaise and apollo lettuce in a white sub roll.
As you can see, this is the first time I have reviewed any sandwich which comes on what we might call "non-standard bread" (in this case, a sub roll). It is disappointing, therefore, that this novelty bread was actually the high point of a sandwich which can best be described as "bland".

The roll was indeed very nice. The rest of the ingredients, however, failed to live up to my expectations - the "ranch mayonnaise", in particular, was something of a let-down. If I hadn't been told that it was specifically "ranch mayonnaise", I would not have known for myself - in a blind tasting, I would've guessed standard mayonnaise for sure (and pretty cheap standard mayonnaise, at that)!

The chicken, and the "naturally smoked" bacon also had very little flavour to them. This sandwich has clearly been put together with the cheapest possible ingredients, with little attention being paid to the flavour of the sandwich as a whole.

I would not buy this sandwich again.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Premier League: how things change...!

We are now twelve weeks through the 2012-13 football season.  For me, so far, this has been a tale of two teams, and their changing fortunes...

Yesterday, Norwich City beat Sunderland in the Premier League - extending an unbeaten run to nine games in all competitions.

Impressive as this is in itself, a glance at the League Table shows just how much of an achievement this is:

Premier League Table as of 3rd December, 2012

Norwich City are currently 12th in the Table (the same position in which we finished last season).  We haven't lost in eight Premier League games, and that includes victories of heavyweight clubs Manchester United and Arsenal.  What really stands out for me, though, is that we suffered some pretty heavy defeats at the beginning of the season - 5-0 to Fulham, and 5-2 to Liverpool - but that now, we are ahead of Fulham in the Table, and level on points with Liverpool.

At the start of the season, I had to read, and listen to, a lot of people telling me how badly Norwich were playing, and how we were almost certain candidates for relegation this year.  OK, we had a shaky start to the season, but I don't think it was ever as bad as some people tried to make out, when they were piling on the Norwich-slating bandwagon - and there were some pretty close results, even early on (like the 1-1 draw with Spurs, which could so easily have been a City win).

I think it just took a while to settle into the new season, following a turbulent summer with a change of manager, new players coming into the squad and doubts over the futures of other players - but we've got there now, and we're in good form; the fact that we're able to keep pace with the likes of Liverpool, even after the 5-2 thrashing they gave us, just shows how competitive we can be.

It has been just the reverse for poor old Chelsea, of course.

After such a bright start to the season, Chelsea hit a slight wobble, panicked, and sacked their manager Roberto Di Matteo - in my opinion, a very poor decision.  Bringing in Rafael Benítez instead was an unpopular choice with the fans, but I can hardly believe that there is already talk of Benítez' being replaced by formed Chelsea boss Avram Grant!  Admittedly, a 0-0 draw with Fulham, and a 3-1 defeat at West Ham (I swear more Premier League matches are London Derbies than are not London Derbies?!) is an inauspicious start to Benitez' reign, but surely even [famously tempestuous Chelsea owner] Roman Abramovich can see that you need to give a new manager more than just two matches in which to make an impact?!

The managerial merry-go-round at Chelsea brings nothing but instability and a lack of direction, and until Abramovich starts putting the club's needs ahead of his own whims and fancies - instead of sacking a manager who is the current holder of the Champions' League and the FA Cup, whose team is firmly ensconced in the Top Four of the Premier League, and who is adored by the fans - I can't really see things improving for them.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

#US2012 - let's let them decide, eh?

I'll admit that I haven't been following the 2012 US Presidential Elections as closely I would normally have liked.  I've been very busy, an' all that...

What's really irritated me, though, is the rather pious nature of the interest by almost all the other British politicos I know, or know of.  Throughout the past few days, as the campaigning in America has reached fever pitch, I've seen countless posts on Facebook and Twitter from British people, saying things like "good luck, America - remember to do the right thing!"

What the hell does that even mean - "do the right thing"?!  This is an election, not a math(s) exam - there's no right or wrong answer.

In general, people urging Americans to "do the right thing" mean "make sure you vote for Obama, not Romney."  The consensual populist view seems to be that Barack Obama is the "good guy" while Mitt Romney is the "baddie".

In my opinion, it is wrong, and indeed rather dangerous, to distil an election such as this down to a simply questions of "good vs bad".  Politics is so incredibly subjective, and there are so many different factors which can influence a person's political view, that this overly simplistic take on the proceedings just does not work.

I think that for political commentators (especially non-American commentators) to characterise voting for Obama as the "right choice" and voting for Romney as the "wrong choice" is actually quite insulting.  I respect the right of these people to prefer Obama to Romney, but to say that those who prefer Romney, and vote according to that preference, are wrong to do so is ridiculous.

If an American citizen genuinely feels that they identify more with the policies of Mitt Romney than those of Barack Obama, and that citizen accordingly goes out and votes for Romney, they have not done anything "wrong".  Quite the opposite, in fact - they have voted according to their principles, in a democratic election, which is exactly what you're meant to do.

As I said right at the start of this post, I know embarrassingly little about the policies, or indeed the politicians themselves, involved in this campaign.  I am not saying that I prefer either candidate to the other, and I'm certainly not giving my official endorsement to either (I know how influential this Blog can be in the world of American politics).  All I am saying is that if somebody has voted according to their conscience in a free and fair election, you cannot lambast them for having done anything wrong; their only crime is to have a political view which differs from yours, and to have voted according to their own beliefs.  I don't see how you can complain about that.

Monday, 5 November 2012

#F1 - Red Bull in Abu Dhabi

Yesterday's Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi was a very exciting race indeed - one of the classics, in my opinion.  It was a race which had everything - and it was a race in which we learnt a lot too, I felt.

I was impressed with Kimi Räikkönen and the Lotus team, of course, getting the win which they fully deserved (indeed, I believe that they have actually deserved more wins and podium finishes than they've achieved this year) and I was impressed with Lewis Hamilton, who was supreme on-track, and mature and gracious off-track.

I was unimpressed with almost everything about Red Bull's race weekend, however; I felt they really showed their true colours over this weekend, and they looked like a team who are desperate.  Over the course of the race, as more and more things went wrong for them, they became more and more desperate, and more and more determined to win, at any cost.

The arrogance of Red Bull Racing is something I should've expected - but which somehow still managed to shock me.  Everything that could go wrong for them, did, and they rushed around plugging leaks and pulling strings, refusing to accept that, maybe, this just wasn't their day.

Let's start with Mark Webber.  Webber has gone down in my estimations already this year, following interviews in which he smeared other drivers (particularly Romain Grosjean) and tried to shift blame for poor performances and incidents in races.  This trend continued in Abu Dhabi.

Webber started from the front row, but after his customary poor start, he ended up fifth by the end of the first lap, and spent the rest of the race trying to make up ground.  On Lap 23, Webber was trying to take third place away from Williams' Pastor Maldonado, but in trying to pass him around the outside of the corner, touched his wheels and spun his car onto the run-off area.  I've been pretty critical of Maldonado's driving, in the past, but it's easy to see that it is Webber who's to blame here - as BBC commentator (and former F1 race winner) David Coulthard said at the time:
"You can't just go 'round the outside, and expect the car on the inside to disappear!"
Webber turned in on Maldonado's car, even though he knew he was there.  He later radioed back to his team, saying something like "all the fault of Maldonado" - which is a bit rich, quite frankly, coming on the back of his comments about other drivers.  As the BBC's technical expert, Gary Anderson pointed out:
"If that were Romain Grosjean, we'd be shouting about what a big mistake he's just made.  Mark Webber did that all himself!"
Anderson is right - some drivers (Grosjean, yes, and indeed Maldonado himself - I would also throw Michael Schumacher into that mix) would have taken a lot of stick for doing what Webber did there, and would probably also have received a penalty from the Stewards.  And yet, Webber expects that, just because he's a Red Bull driver, he can shift the blame, and not take responsibility for his own on-track mistakes, born out of desperation and a desire to impress his team, whatever the cost.

Following that incident, Webber ended up down in seventh place, behind Ferrari's Felipe Massa.  Trying, again, to rush past and gain back his lost positions, Webber tried the same move, at the same place, to get past Massa - and made the same mistake again!

Only three laps later, on Lap 26, Webber again tries to overtake around the outside, and again touches wheels with the car on the inside (this time, that's Massa's Ferrari).  Webber runs off the track, and rejoins ahead of Massa, but knows he will have to give the place back after passing Massa outside of the confines of the circuit - however, on rejoining the track so close in front of Massa, he forces the Ferrari driver to take avoiding action, which in turn causes him to spin on the track!

Webber then doesn't give the place back to Massa, who has lost several more positions following his spin, and continues to race in sixth place.  However, it was pretty clear to me that Massa's spin was as a direct result of Webber rejoining the circuit after having hit the Ferrari in trying to overtake, and Red Bull should have been handed a penalty for that incident - or, if not for that incident, or the one before with Maldonado, then certainly for the two of them combined, as Webber had done the same thing to two different drivers, and, in my opinion, needed to be taught a lesson.  The fact that no penalties were given for any of these incidents was poor, in my opinion, and will only serve to strengthen Red Bull's view of themselves as being above the law in Formula 1.

On the topic of "passing outside the confines of the track", let's now turn our attention to Sebastian Vettel.  Having been disqualified from Saturday's Qualifying for a fuel irregularity (a nice example of consistency from the Stewards, who gave Lewis Hamilton the same penalty for the same problem earlier in the year), Vettel started from the Pit Lane on Sunday, and had to work his way up through the field from the very back.  Aided and abetted by fresh tyres, a change of gear ratios, a generous helping of Safety Car, and the fact that the first eight car (or so) he'd have to pass were positively gastropodian in comparison with his Red Bull, Vettel made good progress, and quickly climbed towards the front of the pack.

As early as Lap 16, however, Vettel found himself with a serious challenge, in the form of Romain Grosjean.  Having had an early puncture (from purely a racing incident, I am at pains to point out), Grosjean also found himself out of position, towards the back of the pack, with a lot of overtaking work to do.  Driving the a car identical to the one which would eventually go on to win this race, Grosjean (like Vettel) was considerably faster than those around him, down in 17th place.

Vettel launched down the inside at Turn 8, and thought he had completed the pass, but Grosjean came back at him, and was still ahead on the next straight.  Then, as Grosjean and Vettel drove down the straight together, with barely a hair's breadth between the back of the Lotus and the front of the Red Bull, Vettel deliberately pulls to one side, off the track, accelerates, and passes Grosjean's car, with all four of his wheels outside the painted white lines which define the track area to be used to be racing.

This was not a racing incident, or a mistake, or anything like that - Vettel knew exactly what he was doing, and he knew it was outside the rules.  He deliberately cheated - he gained an advantage by going off the track, and perhaps hoped that, because he drives for Red Bull, he would be allowed to get away with it.  However, the Lotus team radioed to their driver immediately, telling Grosjean that they would "be talking to Charlie [Whiting, Race Director] about that" and Vettel then gave the position back to Grosjean without any prompting from the Stewards, before re-passing him in a more legal manner, which is as clear an admission of guilt from Red Bull as any.

Sticking with Vettel, let's jump back to Lap 12, which was during the first period under the Safety Car. Vettel, at this point, was in 12th place, behind Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso.  Ricciardo was trying to keep his tyres warm, while running comparatively slowing behind the Safety Car, and Vettel was caught out by him.  Vettel failed to break to avoid the weaving Toro Rosso, and ended up ploughing straight through a marker put by the side of the track, causing further hurt to his already damaged front wing.  Vettel radioed to his team:
"What is he doing?!  He keeps stopping all the time!"
On the radio, Vettel sounded petulant and childish, angry with Ricciardo for something which wasn't really the Toro Rosso driver's fault.  Again, he seemed to feel that, as a Red Bull driver, these things were meant to happen to someone else, not to him, and he couldn't take the fact that, for once, things weren't all going his way.

As David Coulthard pointed in his commentary (actually when referring to an earlier incident with Bruno Senna, which was where the initial damage to Vettel's win occurred):
"I don't think you can apportion blame here, but it's really the responsibility of the car behind to keep his nose clean."
Ricciardo didn't actually do anything wrong - he was weaving a lot, and was driving slower than normal, yes, but that is to be expected when the Safety Car is out, leading a long line of cars around the circuit at considerably slower speeds than when they're racing for real, and he didn't contravene the rules about following the Safety Car at all.

We've seen Vettel have issues with the re-start when behind the Safety Car before, even when he's been at the front.  Perhaps he should just accept that this is actually something at which he's not the very best?

Of course, we can hope, but I don't think we will.  All of the examples which I have laid out here demonstrate how Red Bull, and their drivers, see themselves as invincible, and untouchable.  And when things don't go their way, they either cheat and bend the rules to suit themselves, or they become stroppy and angry, and throw a hissy fit until they get what they want.

When Red Bull win, it's entirely down to their brilliance - but when they don't, it's always somebody else's fault.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Sandwich review: Taouk Chicken Salad from Waitrose' World Flavours range

The official description for this sandwich is:
Marinated chicken breast, tomato, apollo lettuce and cucumber with spiced mayonnaise in sliced herb bread.  Chicken from carefully selected British farms.
I was unsure, when I bought this sandwich, what "taouk" actually meant.  After reading the description and ingredients, I was no wiser.  The illustration on the packet was similarly unhelpful - a man in a hat appears to be offering me an ornate lantern and an urn containing his ancestors' ashes, on a tray.

Having eaten it, I thought it might be something Moroccan - but was still, basically, ignorant as to the nature of a "taouk".

In spite of this, I enjoyed this sandwich.  As we so often see, it was down to the mayonnaise to make, or break, the success of the sandwich as a whole - and, in the case, it was definitely "make"...

The "spiced mayonnaise" was a triumph, with the herbs in the bread adding a nice touch too, and the sandwich overall was piquant enough to be interesting, and to bring to mind the flavours of exotic places, without being off-putting for those who may dislike hot or spicy foods.  The chicken was tender, and clearly of good quality.  The salad was salad.

I later Googled the meaning of "taouk", only to find out that it is simply a Turkish word for "chicken" - essentially, this sandwich is named Chicken Chicken Salad.  Waitrose may make a good sandwich, but there appear to be serious deficiencies when it comes to naming them!

In spite of this tautology, I would buy this sandwich again.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Sandwich review: SuperValu Chicken & Bacon Club

The official description for this sandwich is:
Chicken breast in mayonnaise with sweetcure bacon, Cheddar cheese, vine ripened tomato, lettuce & a chipotle salsa mayonnaise on malted brown bread.
The poorly-spelt SuperValu is Budgen's own brand range of, well, almost everything.  None of it is very good (only marginally better than the spelling) and I'm afraid to say that this sandwich follows suit.    As a Club sandwich, it is packed full of multitudinous ingredients - the description makes it all sound very sophisticated, with its sweetcure bacon and vine ripened tomato and chipotle salsa mayonnaise - yet you barely notice their presence at all; that's not to say that it tastes bad - it's just so, so bland!

There's not a whole lot else to say on this topic, I'm afraid.  "Bland" pretty much sums up the whole experience of this sandwich - it is lacking in flavour, the packaging is boring, and nothing about it interested or excited me in the slightest.

This is a sandwich concept which has already been done fifty times better, by fifty other companies - so no, I would not buy this sandwich again.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Sandwich review: deli2go Triple BLT

The official description for this sandwich is:
Bacon, curly lettuce and tomato with mayonnaise on malted wheatgrain bread.
I enjoyed this sandwich.  The deli2go range is sold in Shell garages, and on the whole, I have found them to be surprisingly good, for petrol station fayre.

The ingredients are all there, although the bacon is possibly slightly bland.  On the front of the packet, it is described as "smokey" - I'd like to see a bit more of the smokey flavour in the bacon, if I'm honest.  I'm pleased to see that the mayonnaise has been kept to an appropriate level, though - I have spoken before about the dangers of over-mayonnaising a sandwich, but luckily we don't have that problem here.

The aspect of this sandwich with which I was most impressed, though, was the excellent forethought exhibited by the makers in placing the tomatoes right in the middle.  Cushioned by the bacon, to one side, and the lettuce and mayonnaise to the other, the tomatoes are kept well enough away from the bread - tomatoes left too close to the bread will it soggy and damp, causing the whole sandwich to disintegrate all too easily.  This has not been allowed to happen here, and for that I am very grateful.

My main criticism of this sandwich is not actually to do with the sandwich itself, but with the packaging.  Aside from the minor issues with the bacon, which I have already mentioned (it could do with being a little more flavourful) it is the packaging which has impressed me the least...

This is a triple sandwich - that means it's 50% as big again as a normal sandwich.  The cardboard packet in which it is served, however, is not 50% bigger than normal sandwich packet; at best, it is about 25% bigger.  This means, of course, that the sandwich is squeezed into the packet so tightly that it's quite difficult to grasp any one of the three individual pieces - with the pressure of being packed into such a small space, the three pieces of the sandwich have almost become fused together, and are actually rather hard to separate.

In spite of these problems with the packaging, and the resulting issues involving actually getting into the sandwich to eat it, I would buy this sandwich again.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Some observations from England vs. Poland

After an unremarkable game of football this evening, here are a few comments, questions, and general remarks...

The mohican is back for real, in English football - for (I think) the first time David Beckham in 2001/02 - with Ashley Cole, Tom Cleverley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all sporting those strange kind of mini-mohican hairstyles that don't really announce themselves until you're right close up, instead giving the appearance, from afar, that one's head is slightly triangular.

On the topic (kind-of) of Ashley Cole, why does his shirt still say "A. Cole" on the back, now that he's the only player named Cole in the squad?

The referee was dressed as an England player.  I thought it was traditional for the referee to wear a colour different from either team?  For some reason, the referee was wearing the same blue colours as all the England team - I'm surprised they didn't start passing to him!

If it comes to that, why were England playing in blue?  What does the colour blue have to do with England?

The Polish midfielder Obraniak rather sounds like he could be a mad Irish scientist - Professor O'Brainiac.  Just a thought.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

#F1 - Vettel's no Legend (yet)

So, another race victory for Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel in Korea this week, and another seemingly impressive statistic to go with it.  Last week in Japan, we were gleefully informed that Vettel had equalled Juan Manuel Fangio's record of race wins, and this week he equalled Jim Clark.

So Vettel's a true great of Formula 1, then - just like Fangio, Clark, and others?  Well, no - not really.

I'm not saying he doesn't have the potential to be, or that he won't be.  He's still very young, at only twenty-five years old, and already has an impressive portfolio, so it's clear that he has a bright future in the sport.

In my opinion, however, equalling or surpassing previous records of race wins is a fairly meaningless statistic...  Much as I'm a sucker for a bit of classic F1 history, what relevance does a comparison with Fangio's or Clark's era have, when the sport has changed so much since then?

In simple terms, there are more races these days.  So yes, of course the modern-day F1 driver (providing he's good, which Vettel unquestionably is) will eventually win more races - purely because there are so many more races available to be won.

In 1951 (when Fangio won his first World Championship), there were eight races on the calendar.  By 1963 (when Jim Clark took the first of his two World Championships), only two races had been added to the calendar, making ten in total.  This year, we have already had sixteen, with another four still to come - twenty races in total, which is two-and-a-half times the number Fangio raced in 1951.

With so many more opportunities to win races in the modern era, is it any wonder that successful drivers rack them up so quickly?

A better measure of these things, in my opinion, would be the overall percentage of wins.  This allows us to take into account the wildly different amount of races contested by drivers from different eras, and tells a rather different story...

Despite only having participated in fifty-two F1 races throughout his entire career, Fangio leads the board with twenty-four wins, giving him a win percentage of 46.14% - a full 7% ahead of second-place man and rival to Fangio, Alberto Ascari, who won 39.39% of races in his F1 career, making Fangio the only man ever to have won over 40% of his races.  (Apart from anything else, this just goes to prove what a tough sport Formula 1 really is, as even the very greatest in the sport's history always lose more races than they win.  No one has ever won over 50% of their career races.)  Jim Clark is next in third, with 34.25%.

Other legendary F1 names predictably make an appearance in the Top 10 - including Michael Schumacher, and Jackie Stewart.  Sebastian Vettel is currently in 8th place, with 25.77%.

Of course, this is still not entirely conclusive.  More has changed in Formula 1 over the years than just the amount of races in a season.  Comparisons across so many years will always be shady guidelines, and little more.

Is Vettel a legend of Formula 1?  No, not yet.

Will he be, one day?  Quite possibly, yes.

Monday, 8 October 2012

A quick tip for young drivers

Removing the manufacturer's standard branding and insignia from the rear of your minuscule hatchback (Peugot 106, or similar) does not make it in any way a cooler, or sportier, car.

Always remember that.

#F1 - Grosjean until proven innocent?!

Poor old Romain Grosjean - he just cannot get a break!

This weekend, the young French driver was under fire again, for yet another collision on the first lap - this time, a tangle with Mark Webber into the first corner at last weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.  And of course, out came the detractors, endlessly repeating that tired old statistic of "eight first-lap crashes this year" and calling for all kinds of fierce and terrible retribution...  During his post-race interview, Webber claimed that Grosjean should have another ban from the sport, while former F1 driver and Sky Sports pundit Johnny Herbert believes that Lotus should sack Grosjean.

I've already debunked the "eight crashes this year" thing, explaining a few weeks ago how this is a false figure when not all of those crashes were Grosjean's fault, so I shan't go into that now.

I don't condone Grosjean's first-corner driving at Suzuka, even though I'm still not entirely convinced by his culpability - from some views it appears to be Grosjean's fault, but other camera angles make it look like Webber cuts across the front of Grosjean a little sharply.

I'm pleased to see not all commentators are jumping on the Grosjean-bashing bandwagon.  The BBC's technical analyst Gary Anderson wrote in his column that the pressure of having to prove that he wouldn't crash got to Grosjean, and caused the incident, while Sky's Martin Brundle Tweeted that Grosjean deserves his seat in F1 next year:

But none of that is the point, really.

What concerns me is that Grosjean cannot get a fair trial any more.

People assume he is going to crash - because he's Romain Grosjean, and that's what he does.  And when he is involved in an incident, people assume it's his fault.  And then he gets given a harsher penalty than other drivers would receive for the same transgression.

In my view, that's not justice - or discipline.  That's a witch-hunt.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

#MOTD - Big club bias on the BBC

As a Norwich City fan, I cannot agree with the BBC's Match Of The Day presenter Gary Lineker that it has been "a brilliant start to the Premier League season".  Still searching for our first Premier League win of the season, we (Norwich) have been very poor at time, while at other times just unfortunate.  However, at no point have we actually ceased to exist...

Why, then, was there no mention of Norwich in last night's Match Of The Day?

The Chelsea/Norwich game was the first to be featured on Match Of The Day last night.  They showed clips of all the highlights, and then interviews with both managers.  And then Lineker, along with Alan Shearer and Martin Keown, gave us their analysis of the game - or rather, their analysis of Chelsea.  Not a word about Norwich was there to be heard in the analysis.

Yes, Chelsea beat us 4-1 (and fair play to them - they're a great team, and likely to be challenging for the title this year) but we weren't exactly invisible in the game.  In fact, it was Norwich's Grant Holt who opened the scoring in the game.  Is that not even worth a mention?!

The one-sided analysis consisted of the three presenters fawning over Chelsea's performance: "oh, look at Chelsea's fluid style.  Aren't they so special?  They're like Britain's answer to Barcelona!"  (A less surprising comparison than you may think, given how many Spanish or Brazilian players feature in Chelsea's first team squad.)

The analysis is meant to give us the experts' opinion on all the pivotal moments of the game - not give us the chance to listen people waxing lyrical about one of the teams, while the other team gets totally ignored.  I'm not bitter about Chelsea winning the game (I'm disappointed, yes - but not bitter) and don't resent the Match Of The Day analysis showing their goals, and discussing their style of play - as I've already said, they are definitely title contenders this year, so they deserve the plaudits they received last night.  I just feel that there may have things which Norwich players did that deserved a mention too: Holt's goal, in particular, and some very impressive saves by John Ruddy too.

Personally, I enjoy watching football, but I'm getting a bit tired of the bias towards the so-called "big clubs" on the BBC; it takes two teams to make an exciting game of football, and I believe an experts' analysis should be impartial.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Sandwich review: Chicken & Bacon Club from Sutherland Deli

The official description for this sandwich is:
Chicken breast, mature cheddar cheese with smoke flavoured sweetcure bacon and seasoned mayonnaise topped with tomato and lettuce on malted bread.
Overall, this sandwich delivered on its promise.  All the ingredients were there, and noticeable - the bacon was nicely flavoured, the cheese actually had some tang and bite to it, and the chicken was nicely tender.

The salad was rather wilted, unfortunately, but at least the sandwich was not too over-mayonnaised.  (I've spoken before, in previous reviews, about my frustration with sandwiches that are so mayonnaise-sodden it spoils the rest of the ingredients completely.)

The only issue I have with this sandwich is the fact that it's a "Club" sandwich - that is to say, a sandwich with three slices of bread in each half.  While I don't object to large amounts of bread on principle, I find that the middle slice of bread (which has filling on either side of it) can often end up getting quite soggy.  I don't really understand what the extra slice of bread adds to the sandwich (apart from an increase in carbohydrates, and an increase in width) so I can't see why the sandwich makers don't just put these same filling ingredients in between two slices of bread, as per a normal sandwich - what would you lose, by removing the middle slice of bread?  It doesn't seem, to me, to be an integral part of the sandwich.

Having said that, I knew it was a Club sandwich when I bought it (the packaging proclaims as much) and I enjoyed it nevertheless.  I would buy this sandwich again.

Friday, 21 September 2012

TV idea: Ready, Steady, Book!

"Ready, Steady, Book!" is a literary programme, based on the "Ready, Steady, Cook!" format.

Two members of the public choose various words, phrases, and punctuation, and then two celebrity authors have to write a novel or short story with whatever raw materials their teammates provide.  A studio audience then listens to a reading of both books, and votes on which one they think should be the winner.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Mobile phone development

This is a topic about which I've written before - but, with the recent advent of the new iPhone 5 and iOS 6 for Apple devices, I think it bears repeating...

While bigger screens, slimmer bodies, voice-recognition technology, etc. is all very well, I believe that none of that stuff is as important as that biggest of all mobile phone issues: the stupid noise made by HiFi speakers, radios, PA Systems or other audio equipment whenever a mobile phone is nearby.
"Buh-ba-duh!  Buh-ba-duh!  Buh-ba-duh!  Buh-ba-duh!"
If I owned a mobile phone company, I would make it my first priority to eliminate this problem from all the models in my company's range.  Never again would a group of people travelling in a car with the radio look bewilderedly around at each other, asking:
"Who's phone is that?"
"I don't know?!  It's not me; I'm not vibrating.  Are you vibrating?"
I believe that the entire research and development budget of all the mobile phone companies in all the world needs to be put into stopping this irritation once and for all - once that is fixed, then (and only then!) can you go back to creating all kinds of whacky apps, top-quality graphics and social networking integration.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Biscuit redesign

Chocolate digestives.  Everybody loves them.

But, there is an inherent design flaw in the world of chocolate-covered biscuits.  Here is how chocolate biscuits look at the moment:

As you can see, there is nowhere really to hold the biscuit, without touching the chocolate - when it will inevitably melt on your hands, leaving a sticky, chocolatey mess.

My proposed design adds two chocolate-free "handles" - one area on either side of the biscuit which allows the biscuit eater to hold the biscuit without getting chocolate on his or her hands.  To compensate for this loss of chocolate, the chocolate covering the rest of the biscuit is a thicker coating.

Here is how this would look:

I hope that all biscuit manufacturers will shortly put this new innovation into place, so that everyone can enjoy delicious chocolate digestives without getting melted chocolate all over their hands.

Friday, 7 September 2012

#F1 - Woe Man Grosjean?!

I believe Romain Grosjean's one-race suspension (effective for this weekend's Italian Grand Prix in Monza) to be most unfortunate.  I'm not saying it's unfair, or undeserved - but it certainly is unfortunate.

I've been flying the flag for Romain Grosjean for the best part of this Formula 1 season.  In searching for a new driver to support, following the departure of the great Rubens Barrichello, the talent of Grosjean really caught my eye, and I've been cheering for him, and the Lotus team, ever since.  (Of course, I'm not as attached to him yet as I was to Barrichello - there is a small part of me which still hopes the veteran Brazillian driver may yet return in 2013 - but it's a work in progress; Barrichello left big race boots to fill!)

It has, however, been difficult to keep the faith, over the past fews days, in the midst of the backlash from last weekend's first-corner carnage at Spa Francorchamps, in Belgium.  The crash which took out Championship contenders Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, as well as Sauber's Sergio Pérez was initially triggered by Grosjean off the start line, and this is the reason for his unfortunate one-race ban.

To be absoutely clear, I am certainly not condoning Grosjean's driving off the line in Belgium; having watched numerous replays, it was definitely a very poor piece of driving, and the resulting incident was frighteningly close to being very serious indeed (in terms of injuries, or even fatalities).  The punishment for this error of judgement is severe, but not unfair.  My worry, though, is that it unfairly tarnishes other race fans' opinions of Grosjean - a young, talented racing driver, with lots to give.

Something which has particularly alerted me to this possibility is the statistic being constantly parroted in news articles, and on forums and message-boards across the web, that Grosjean has been involved in no fewer than seven incidents in the opening stages of a Grand Prix - six times on the first lap, and once on the second lap.

Whilst factually accurate, it is my opinion that this statistic doesn't portray Grosjean in a fair light.  After all, how many of those incidents were actually his fault - and on how many occasions was he just unlucky?  I have been looking into this, and with the help of this handy video from BBC sport, showing all of Grosjean's opening-lap crashes this year, I shall attempt to point my point-of-view across.


In the opening race of the 2012 season, at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit in Australia, Grosjean collided with Pastor Maldonado on Lap 2, breaking his front suspension, and forcing his retirement from the race.  The two young drivers are side-by-side coming around the corner, their cars touch, and Grosjean slithers off onto the gravel with his right front wheel hanging off at a very strange angle indeed.  Former Grand Prix driver, and BBC Sport commentator David Coulthard is very quick to pin the blame for this incident on Grosjean:
"The pass was done, and Grosjean should've got out of the power there!"
But having watched this crash several times, I can't honestly say I agree with that analysis.  As they come 'round the bend, it looks to me like Maldonado squeezes Grosjean, and he runs out of room on the track.

I don't have the experience or the insight of Coulthard, of course, but I can't reconcile myself with the idea that this crash is solely Romain Grosjean's fault.  At the apex of the turn, the two cars are level with each other - Maldonado has more pace, but he has to allow Grosjean the space he needs on the exit of the corner, and he doesn't do that.  In my opinion, this is purely a "racing incident" - just one of those things that happens.


This first lap collision with Michael Schumacher is a difficult one to call.  So much rain is there spattered on the lenses of the cameras that it's hard always to see what's going on in these replays.  Relying as much on the commentary as anything else, it seems that Grosjean touched Schumacher's car from behind - which, in the wet conditions, was enough to send the German driver into a spin.

In my (inexpert) opinion, it appears to be another "racing incident" - although I would say that Grosjean is more at fault than Schumacher, on this one, being the car behind.  Racing in wet weather is tough, though, and things happen so quickly that one tiny mistake can have big consequences.

In the end, Grosjean later retired from the race, and Schumacher recovered to finish 10th.


Another hard one to judge, this.  Contact with Sergio Pérez at the third corner on the first lap causes a puncture on Pérez's car, forcing him to pit for tyres.  The only camera angles I have found of this have been most unhelpful, and it is hard to see really what is going on - again, Grosjean closest to the edge of the race track here, and it's possible to accuse Pérez of not allowing him enough room, although this would be quite a flimsy claim.

The most concrete thing anyone can say about this incident is that there was no penalty award to either driver in its aftermath.  If the Race Stewards (with many more camera angles than I will probably ever have access to!) didn't deem anyone to be at fault for this, then, in the absence of any firm evidence of to call my own, I can hardly go against that!

Yet another "racing incident" (at least in the eyes of the Stewards!) it would seem.


Grosjean's contact with Michael Schumacher off the line in Monaco was a particularly unfortunate one, I thought.  It added to a catalogue of woes for the Schumacher - the seven-times World Champion had been the fastest car in Qualifying, but had been demoted for a pervious incident with Bruno Senna in Spain.

I really felt for Michael in this situation, as he hasn't had the best of luck since his return to the sport, and his Qualifying performance in Monaco allowed us all a glimpse of what he is truly capable of, and showed us that he can still be the great racing driver that he undoubtedly was during his first career in F1.  This first-lap crash was a sad end to what had once been a very promising weekend for the German.

Having watched the replays, this is a fairly cut-and-dried one, and I have to concede that it is Grosjean's fault.  He was ahead of Schumacher on the grid, but the Mercedes is faster, pulling up alongside Grosjean's Lotus as they move away.  Grosjean is guilty here of not being quite aware enough of his surroundings, in my opinion - he doesn't seem really to know that Schumacher is there next to him, and he cuts across the Mercedes as they leave the grid, without allowing him enough space - they touch, and Grosjean's car spins 'round, ending his race.

Interestingly, David Coulthard's commentary doesn't assign the blame for this incident to Grosjean (although, in my opinion, that's quite clearly where it lies), saying instead:
"Unfortunately, I think that's just one of those things, in Monte Carlo." 

Great Britain

Another heartache incident here, as the victim is promising young British driver Paul Di Resta who collects a puncture and ends up retiring from his home Grand Prix at Silverstone (interestingly, Di Resta's only non-finish so far this year).

Despite his impressive record, though (only one DNF this season), I am inclined to blame Paul for his puncture at the British Grand Prix.  Di Resta's Force India car comes across the front of Grosjean's Lotus, as they exit the corner, and his rear wheel tags Grosjean's front wing, causing the puncture.

From watching the replays, there is nothing (so far as I can see, anyway!) which suggests that Grosjean in any way altered his course into the path of Paul Di Resta's car, and I can only assume that this was an error on the part of the British driver, thinking he was already well clear of Grosjean, when, in fact, they were still slightly overlapped.


Another really tough one to decide, here - not least because the footage of the actual incident itself is so scarce.  It looks, from what I can see, as if Grosjean is hit from behind by Felipe Massa, but it is difficult to apportion blame to either driver, on such scant evidence.  Like in Spain, the only thing I can say for definite is that there were no penalties handed out by the Stewards for what happened - in their eyes, I assume, this was another "racing incident", and from the little of it I've seen, that is an explanation which satisfies me.


So much has been written about this already, it seems a little pointless for me to delve into it too deeply now.  Yes, of course this crash was Grosjean's fault - it was stupid and reckless, and it could've ended up seriously hurting someone.


So, in conclusion, only two of those incidents (Belgium and Monaco) were definitely Grosjean's fault.  The other five are debatable, at best.

The one-race ban, as I've already said, is a harsh but fair punishment for the crash in Spa.  I am pleased to see that Grosjean's response to his suspension from racing has been a mature and responsible one, apologising unreservedly for his actions, and vowing to be more aware from now on.

What saddens me, though, is articles painting Grosjean as a perpetually reckless or dangerous driver (like this one in the Globe and Mail) or comments and Blogs which lump Grosjean in with Pastor Maldonado - a man who, in my opinion, is a very dangerous driver, with a history of overly-aggressive driving, and using his car as a weapon (see the comments at the bottom of this article on ESPN for examples of what I mean).

I hope that, when the dust settles from all of this, and Grosjean returns to F1 in Singapore at the end of September, the world of racing fans can see through this unfortunate episode, and continue to recognise the talent and potential which this exciting young driver brings to the sport.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

An open letter to the designers of public toilet cubicles

Dear toilet cubicle designers,

I know space-saving is key, as one of the most oft-heard complaints about public venues (whether for entertainments, arts, sports, education, or anything else) is that there are insufficient toilet facilities available, and cramming more and more (ever-smaller) cubicles into the allotted space seems to address this.

However, please - and this is very important - please ensure that there is sufficient space to open and close the toilet cubicle door once inside.

Let me show you what I mean.  Here is an example of a good cubicle:

Do you see how there is plenty of space between the toilet bowl and the swing of the door, where a person can comfortably stand as they open and close the door?

Now take a look at a bad cubicle:

Where can one stand, when opening or closing the door?  The only option is to stand on the toilet.  Ridiculous!

So please, save space where you can - but do remember that this little strip of standing space is an essential component of toilet cubicle design, not a luxury.

Many thanks,
Kit Marsden

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

#Paralympics: part of things

When the London 2012 Olympics ended a few weeks ago, I wrote a Blog post about my Olympics regrets.  I regretted not having been able to be a part of such a momentous event.  I'm delighted to say that I am both pleased and proud to have been a part of the Paralympics - an event which I have no doubt will be remembered as an inordinate triumph.

Yesterday, I spent a whole day at the London 2012 Paralympics, with my dad, and my sister.  We had day-passes to the ExCel centre, and we saw a variety of events throughout the day.  We watched the Wheelchair Fencing, we marvelled at the extraordinary Power Lifting finals, we cheered Team GB in the Sitting Volleyball (even though they got badly beaten by Brazil!) and we learned how to pronounce "Boccia".

The thing which struck me the most about the Paralympics was just how wonderful the atmosphere was at all the events we saw.  Talking about it on the way home, Dad and I both agreed that the whole thing had felt like a big party - a party where you didn't really know anyone, but where you didn't need to, because everybody was so friendly and warm-hearted, you just instantly got along.

The organisers have done a great job of the event - everything is clearly signposted, there's ample space for queueing/eating/resting/whatever and the GamesMakers are helpful, friendly courteous, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable, and are always smiling!

The in-house presenters and commentators do a great job of setting the mood, and getting the audiences involved, and the result is that the crowds really get behind the athletes.  Obviously, there was huge support for the British athletes, as the home team - hearing an entire ExCel Arena shouting itself hoarse for the Team GB's Sitting Volleyball Women's Team was quite an experience, and I shall never forget how the place erupted as one when the big screens (which are dotted all around the venue) showed a clip of British Paralympic Swimmer Ellie Simmonds from the Aquatic Centre.  But even at the Power Lifting, where there were no British competitors in the events we saw, the crowd really got into it all, and you could feel that whole room of people willing on each athlete to achieve the best he or she possibly could.

The only bad thing about my Paralympic experience (and I do mean only) was the rapid resurfacing of my disappointment not to have made it through the final stage of the GamesMaker applications.  As I've already mentioned, all the GamesMaker volunteers really are fantastic at what they do - I have so much respect for them.

Other than that, however, the whole day was brilliant.  The Paralympics is an amazing event, and to be a part of that felt just as amazing - if you haven't got involved yet, I would absolutely urge you to do that when you can, before the opportunities to see it all are gone for good!

Monday, 3 September 2012

#F1: good unpredictable, or bad unpredictable?

I remain unconvinced by this idea that Formula 1 needs to be made unpredictable.  Of course, I'd hate it to be too predictable - but the idea of trying to force unpredictability is something with which I still struggle to come to terms.

I wrote about the issue of tyre wear in the new Pirelli tyres over a year ago, and explained how I didn't feel it was right to try and "plan" the so-called "excitement" of high tyre-degradation.

I love to see smaller teams taking the fight to the big boys as much as the next fan, and I'm always keen to see new, young driving talent coming through the field, challenging the old order - but this excitement and competition should be a result of huge driver skill, and inspired engineering vision, not because of dodgy tyres which have been made specifically to be dodgy to give these kinds of results.

When I saw Jake Humphrey and Eddie Jordan ask "is F1 becoming too unpredictable?" at the beginning of the BBC's coverage of yesterday's Belgian Grand Prix, I surprised myself by answering "yes".  Eddie Jordan went on to say he believes racing "can never be too unpredictable", but I disagree.  Or rather, I disagree if that unpredictability is for the wrong reasons.

So, what are the "wrong" reasons?

Well, the "right" reasons would be lots of closely-matched, highly competitive racing drivers, fighting wheel-to-wheel to win races.  But, as I've mentioned, tyre wear is now a big factor - in my opinion, too big a factor.  So are recent developments like KERS and DRS.

However, I don't believe it is right when these other factors have a bigger influence on race results than the skills and commitment of drivers, team engineers and mechanics.  When a top driver wins one race, and then finishes outside the points in the next race - and similar things are happening to other top-level drivers - that can't be good; it's consistency which wins races, and by forcing this type of inconsistency on the racers you take the results out of the remit of driver skill, and leave the races down to the luck of whose equipment will fare best on the day.

We often praise the design of modern-day F1 cars for their hugely improved reliability (many fans will, I am sure, still remember the days when it was not uncommon for engines to blow up, gearboxes to fail, and so on, during races, and several retirements a race due to mechanical issues was not an abnormal sight) but that praise can seem slightly hollow, when the regulations practically institutionalise unreliability, in the form of tyre wear, etc.

Just my opinions, of course - but I worry that we may get a stage (if we haven't already!) where we are not allowing the true skill of these drivers (the best drivers in the world!) to shine through, because we insist on giving them sub-standard equipment, in order to "make races more exciting".

Sunday, 2 September 2012

#F1: Williams' fortunes

Instead of looking at the results from today's Belgian Grand Prix, and talking through what happened, I am going to write about a more peripheral, but more personal, issue instead.

I have been saddened, and more than a little hurt, by some of the recent comments about the performance of the Williams F1 team.  In the BBC's preamble to today's show, Eddie Jordan claimed that "the reemergence of Williams into the winners' circle capped it all" - a remark which stung a little, for someone who is, and has always been, a big fan of Rubens Barrichello.

Barrichello was dropped by Williams at the end of last season - their worst ever, in terms of points scored.  I believed at the time, and I still do, that this was a very poor decision.  I hoped (perhaps churlishly) that Williams' results would not see a significant improvement in 2012, as I feared that their decision to axe Barrichello would appear vindicated by such dramatic reversal of fortunes.

The team's results have improved, and they have already scored over ten times the amount of points they amassed over the whole of 2011.  I firmly believe, however, that this is down to improved car design, and not down to the drivers they have this year - the breathtakingly unremarkable Bruno Senna, and the utterly bewildering Pastor Maldonado.

Whilst I've nothing against Bruno Senna, it seems clear to me that the team's decision to replace Barrichello with him was not a good one; he's not a bad driver, but his results so far (16, 6, 7, 22, DNF, 10, 17, 10, 9, 17, 7, 12 - accruing a total of 24 points so far this season) are nothing to write home about especially.  I believe that the hugely experienced Barrichello could've achieved much more with this vastly improved Williams car.

Pastor Maldonado, however, clearly has a screw loose.  He has finished in the points only twice this season, of which one was his much-talked-about victory at the Spanish Grand Prix (the other was an 8th place, giving a total of 29 points so far this year) but aside from this one (fluky) 1st-place finish, Maldonado has done very little to show that he deserved to keep his place at Williams after last year's debacle.

Apart from his shock win, Maldonado has been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.  From his overly-aggressive tactics in Monaco to this weekend's crash with Timo Glock, the number of times he has been called to Stewards' inquiries must be some kind of record (could someone check that for me?) and I know I'm not the only one who has called into question some of his driving over the past few months.  His racing style is a particularly volatile combination of arrogance and clumsiness - David Coulthard has pointed out occasions of Maldonado "using his car as a weapon" - and he appears to have very little respect either for the rules of the sport, or for its other participants.

Last year, Williams scored an astonishingly meagre 4 points across a whole season.  Of these 4 points, Maldonado contributed 1 (that's 25%) with Barrichello scoring the other 3 (75%).  3 points is an awful total for the year, and a driver of Barrichello's calibre should've done better - but it's still three times what Maldonado managed!

If Williams wanted to bring Bruno Senna in to have someone different in the team, that's perfectly understandable - but for me, he should've replaced Maldonado.  As a huge fan of Barrichello, you could say I'm a little biased, but I have a feeling that this post will resonate with other F1 fans, who may not necessarily be as fond of Barrichello as I am.

I don't see Williams' 2012 season as the stunning ascent to their former glory that some people seem so keen say that it is.  They are currently 8th in the Constructors' Championship (last-but-one of the teams to have scored points this year) and their inconsistent drivers bring in dribs and drabs of points here and there, when they're not too busy retiring from races, or taking other drivers out in the closing stages of races - but is that really enough?

If Williams really want to become one of the "big teams" again, they need a driver who can consistently deliver podiums, and points finishes.  Of course, I can't guarantee that Barrichello would be that driver - but he'd certainly have had a better chance than the mediocre Senna, or the headcase Maldonado, and I am still quite upset that the team never saw fit to give him that chance.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Help!! It's the Breakfast Menu Police!

It always frustrates me when a restaurant or fast food outlet only allows customers to order food from their "Breakfast Menu" before a certain time.

Traditional breakfast fare is naturally unsatisfying and disappointing, but this is not the point; I've no issue with restaurants having a Breakfast Menu, for those who like eating such food.

However, if I feel hungry at half-past-nine in the morning, and I want to order pie'n'chips, or spaghetti carbonara, or a four cheese pizza, then I should damn well be allowed to! And who are Wetherspoons, or McDonalds, or anyone else, to tell me otherwise?!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

My final #Olympics post: regret

A few short weeks ago, I wrote about the Olympic Games - I described how I believed that London 2012 would be a great event, and a very momentous occasion for Great Britain, and I expressed my hopes that the cynics and the grumblers would give it a rest for the next couple of weeks.

And I was right - the Games have been a triumph, and (for the most part, at least) the resentment and the scoffing has turned into genuine admiration and praise for these very special two weeks.  The International Olympic Committee has heaped praise upon LOCOG, the city of London, and the people of Great Britain as a whole.  If I'm honest, I'm very sad that, by the end of today, it's all going to be over.

But what makes me saddest, is that I never got to be a part of it all.

I have loved watching the Olympics on television.  The BBC Olympics coverage has been second-to-none, and they have received many (richly-deserved) accolades for the quality of broadcasting.  I have been amazed and delighted by the success of Team GB - such an enormous haul of Medals at a home Games, and third place in the Medals Table, is quite astonishing, and an extraordinary achievement which is testimony in itself to the quality of the sportsmen and women we, as a nation, have produced.  (Not to mention our "behind the scenes" teams of coaches, trainers, nutritionists, organisers, promoters, and so on.)  I am proud of every single one of them.

But this all combines to make this particular Olympic Games (the Games of the 30th Olympiad) all the more unique - and this, in turn, makes me even sadder not to have been involved at all.

It quickly became apparent that the 2012 Olympic Games would be the defining event of this generation.  It is something which will be talked about, for years to come.  It is something which people will look back on, and remember fondly.  My memories of it will mainly involve sitting on a variety of sofas, watching a variety of television screens.  When people ask in the future "what did you do at London 2012?" or "what events did you go to at London 2012?" I will have nothing to say.

Not through a lack of trying.  Initially, I applied to be a Games Maker (one of the volunteers who did all the jobs which a huge undertaking such as the Olympics requires) and, although I got invited to the interview procedure in London, and made it through that, I never actually got offered a volunteer rôle.

After that, I tried, multiple times, to apply for tickets, so that I could at least go to an event, see the Games in action, and soak up the atmosphere.  But I never quite managed to find anything - all the tickets were snapped up within seconds of their being posted online, and the London 2012 Ticketing website was set out in a confusing and convoluted way.

There will be other Olympics.  Of course there will - the Games will be in Rio in 2016, as we know, and after that, goodness knows where else!  And there will be other big sporting events happening in Britain.  (The BBC presenters have often alluded to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 during the coverage of the London Olympics.)  But that isn't the same, is it?  I'm sure that going to Glasgow or Rio would be fantastic - as would many, many other things - but London 2012 is gone, and that special, unique feeling of having something so wonderfully all-encompassing as the Olympic Games here in Great Britain is unlikely to come around again for a long, long time.

I honestly feel like I have missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience - and, much as I have enjoyed every moment of the Olympics, I will always regret that I never truly got to be a part of it.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

#Olympics: what is a sport?

D'you know what's really irritated me over the past week or two?  People watching the 2012 Olympics Games in London, and then going online to comment on how such-and-such an Olympic event "is not a sport", or "shouldn't even be in the Olympics".

You need only search Twitter for the phrase "not a sport" to see examples of this.  People intent on bashing everything from synchronised swimming to shooting, table tennis to showjumping, BMX to handball, and volleyball to dressage.  (This search also returns an apparently ongoing debate as to whether cheerleading is a sport - a topic on which I have no opinion.)

What qualifies these people to decide what is, or is not, a "sport"?  Presumably, they think that they know more than the International Olympic Committee...  But, more importantly, what does it matter?

The Olympics is about people being the best they can be.  The Olympic Motto - Citius, Altius, Fortius (Latin for "Higher, Faster, Stronger") - bears that out.  The Olympics is a chance to celebrate what is possible.

Olympians train for years - often their whole lives - in whichever discipline they have chosen.  They make huge sacrifices, and they push themselves to the limits - physically, psychologically and emotionally.  This is what the Olympics is really all about: people, being brilliant.

Why, then, do some people feel the need to try and tarnish that?  All the hard work and determination?  Maybe they are just painfully ignorant, maybe they are resentful and bitter, or maybe they're just looking for some attention.  Whichever it is, perhaps they should stop and think about what they are doing, for just a minute...

What right have you to dismiss the achievements of others?  To win an Olympic medal - of any colour, at any sport, or discipline - is a huge accomplishment, and you can bet it's taken a huge amount of effort to get there.  Why try to cheapen this incredible feat, with a cursory wave of the hand, and a derisive snort of "ohh, but that's not a real sport..."?

Maybe, one day, you too might set out to achieve something.  It might take years to get there.  It might mean making sacrifices.  It will almost certainly mean many, many hours of training, working hard, perfecting your craft - often early in the morning, or late into the night.  But you will persevere, because it is something which means a lot to you; something about which you are passionate.

And, when you eventually get there, and your brain floods with emotions of relief and elation that you finally made it, that you realised your hopes and dreams of so long, how will you feel when that accomplishment is degraded by others who haven't been through what you have, telling you that it isn't worth anything?

Friday, 3 August 2012


What is this phrase "pre-order", which has become so common just recently?

The phrase is being used when encouraging consumers to place an order for a product which hasn't yet been released, so as to guarantee their copy when the product does come out.  Here is an example from EA Sports, advertising their next football game, Fifa 13:

The trouble is, it's utter rubbish - the phrase doesn't actually mean anything!

The prefix "pre-" refers to something being done in advance (for example, "premediated", "predetermined" or "preconceived") but one can only ever order a product in advance of receiving it, making the "pre-" completely superfluous.

We see the same thing with nonsensical expressions like "pre-planned".  According to YourDictionary.com:
"Pre-planned means you gave an event or project thought ahead of time."
That's exactly what the word "planned" means.

How is "pre-planning" something any different from just planning it?  How is "pre-ordering" Fifa 13 any different from simply ordering it?  It isn't; there's no difference.  The "pre-" is unnecessary.  STOP ADDING IT IN WHERE IT'S NOT NEEDED.

Monday, 30 July 2012

#Olympics: rules are rules

Yes, like them or not, rules are rules.  The big news overshadowing the fact that Team GB won a Bronze medal in the Men's Gymnastics Final is the fact that we were on course to win Silver, following a mistake by Japan's Kōhei Uchimura, until an appeal by the Japanese team caused them to be promoted back into second place, having slipped down to fourth.

There followed, predictably, a considerable amount of disappointment, as well as anger directed at the Japanese Gymnasts.  Disappointment I can understand - anyone would be disappointed with the Bronze medal after having had a taste of the Silver - but anger I cannot.

Not only does this miss the point that Bronze is still a fantastic result for Great Britain, who haven't even qualified for the Final in this event since 1924, let alone won a medal, but it also completely ignores the fact that Japan were correct to appeal, and deserved the Silver medal.

Uchimura slipped as he went to dismount from the Pommel Horse apparatus, and it was this mistake which caused him to lose points, thereby meaning Japan slipped from second to four place on the leader board.  But the rules state that he did complete a dismount, because he landed on his feat - it was a poor and a messy dismount, and he had clearly made a mistake, but it was a dismount nonetheless.  He deserved to lose points for the sloppiness, but he didn't deserve to be denied the dismount points altogether.

It was a mistake by the Judges in not awarding Uchimura the dismount points (albeit minimal dismount points, for the shoddy quality of his dismount) which caused the upset, and Japan were right to appeal against this.  We (in Britain) may not agree with the rules which allow them to do this - but rules are rules, and must be adhered to, whether they help us or hinder us.

If this had happened to a British Gymnast, fighting for a medal position, rather than a Japanese one, there would've been an uproar had we not appealed, and been awarded the points which were due to us all along.

It's natural to be disappointed not to achieve the Silver medal, but we can still be proud of Bronze - and we've no right to be cross with the Japanese for fighting every inch of the way to make sure they get the points owed them, in one of the biggest Gymnastics competitions in the world; isn't that what any team would do?  It's what any team's fans would expect them to do.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

My first (and hopefully only) #Olympics Blog post

Personally, I'm really looking forward to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.

I enjoy watching sport, and the Olympics is one of the biggest and most prestigious sporting events in the world, so I'm expecting it to be good!  Not only this, but it allows me to watch some of my favourite sports which don't always get as much TV coverage as I might like - especially sailing, and table tennis.

However, a lot of the Olympic-related comments I'm seeing at this time are making me feel quite uncomfortable.  If Twitter is to be believed, the events at which which Great Britain really seems to excel are moaning, whinging and grumpiness - and, while I respect the fact that everyone has a right to their own opinion on the Olympics, I don't see why you wouldn't think that getting the chance to host the Games in the UK is a great opportunity.

Now, I'm not saying that the organisation of the Games couldn't have been done better, or that there aren't ways in which we could improve - but the blanket anti-Olympics, and anti-everything-to-do-with-Olympics attitude which some people seem to espouse has become very tiresome.

If you don't want to watch it on television, that's fine - you're perfectly at liberty to watch something else - but to suggest that the whole thing is a waste of time, and to make comments like "what right has the Government to spend money on this event?  I wasn't consulted!" (wait a minute - do you expect that the Government should ask you personally on every point of taxation or economic policy?  That's absurd!) is ridiculous, and gives Britain an image of bitterness and resentment which we can well do without.

Is that the impression we want to give our visitors from around the world this summer (be they athletes, trainers, support staff, spectators or tourists)?  That we don't care, we're not interested, and we wish they weren't here at all?  No, of course not.

Hosting the Olympics here in Britain is a very special opportunity - one which is unlikely to come around again in many people's lifetimes.  It should be a chance for us to celebrate the talent, hard work and expertise of all our home-grown sportsmen and women, in a huge range of different sporting disciplines, and to build bridges with other nations.  It should be a way to inspire more people (of all ages!) to take part in sports and exercise, at all levels.  And it's our opportunity, while the rest of the world is watching, to show everyone what Britain is really all about, and what a great country this truly is.

So, c'mon - let's not spoil it now with all this grumbling!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

SatNav snobbery

Being someone who drives around a fair bit for work, I have a SatNav (a Garmin Nüvi 1300, if you must know) and I use it a fair amount.  Now, I'm not one of those idiots who would blindly follow a SatNav wherever it told them to go - even if that were off a cliff, or from Solihull to Barnsley via Ashgabat - without ever exercising any common sense, but I do find it very useful to use the SatNav when I'm doing a lot of travelling.

However, something I often find irksome is the strange kind of SatNav snobbery which some people exhibit.  I'm sure we've all experienced this, at some point...  Someone gives you the address of their house, school, workshop or tinned soup processing plant, and then adds: "oh, you'll have to use a road map to get directions, SatNavs can't find our address."

I don't know why this irritates me quite so much, but it always does.  It's like they're trying to say: "we're too special for that; our address is so exclusive, your plebeian SatNav won't possibly be able to find it.  We're down a Private Road, don'tcha know?  You can't even see the entrance to our road ordinarily - it only appears to you if you drive past in second gear, reciting cornucopia handlebar squirrel reticence, while not wearing trainers!"

Whenever I find myself in that situation, I like to drive to that destination using nothing but the SatNav to direct me - just to prove that they're not so special after all.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Damn those noisy megabytes!

Yesterday, I went to London by train.  I don't travel by train very often, as I much prefer driving to taking public transport.  (Long-time readers may well recall some of the reasons for my dislike of trains.  Newer readers - or those who simply wish to refresh their memories - can read my post about the trials of rail travel here.)

Thankfully, my rail journeys yesterday were pretty uneventful - aside from the vague uneasiness caused by sharing my mode of transport with so many strangers.  (I am always nervous that someone will drug me and steal my shoes.)  However, something which perplexed me was the rules and regulations surrounding the Quiet Coach.

The Quiet Coach is one coach of the train in which one is not permitted to behave in a way that disturbs other people.  The idea is to provide a refuge for those who might want to travel without the annoyance of people talking on mobile phones, or playing music through speakers, noisy kids, screaming babies, etc.  I can understand that.  But I can't understand this announcement made by the Guard on the train:
"There is WiFi available throughout the train - except in Coach B, which is the Quiet Coach."
I didn't know WiFi was particularly loud.  Indeed, I've never been disturbed in any way by the presence of WiFi.

I know that the reasoning for this is that being able to access the internet gives one the facility to be watching videos on YouTube, playing games, talking on Skype, and generally using technology to make a nuisance of oneself.  But that's totally illogical - it isn't the WiFi itself that's annoying, it's the way certain people might use it; you may as well say that people clicking their fingers could be irritating, so everyone in the Quiet Coach has to wear mittens the entire time.

It is, of course, possible to access the internet very quietly indeed.  In fact, I am doing so right now.  Withholding WiFi in the Quiet Coach is absurd - it's not WiFi which is the problem, it's people's inconsiderate behaviour.