Thursday, 14 August 2014

A-Level results

If you're collecting your A-Level results today, I hope you get the results you wanted.  If you didn't get the results you wanted, remember that isn't the end of the world - life doesn't end at eighteen years old with a piece of paper shunting you off into some inescapable backwater of boredom because you messed up in an exam.  But don't make the mistake of dismissing disappointing A-Levels as 'not worth anything anyway' either!

Every year, on A-Level results day, social media and the popular press are awash with 'celebrities' denigrating the concept of formal education.  "I didn't get any A-Levels at all, and that didn't hold me back!" says xyz famous, successful person.  "My teachers told me I didn't have any career prospects, but look at me now!" they boast.  "I never learnt to read, write, walk or tie my shoelaces, but I'm still a star!"

It's worth remembering that these people are the exceptions, not the general rule - and that their success in later life is despite their poor performance at school, not because of it.  They still had to work hard to get to where they are in life, because success doesn't happen without work - be that in school, or elsewhere.  If they imply otherwise, that is highly irresponsible of them, because it makes people think that life can be easy, and that there's no correlation between how much effort you put in and what you get out.

A poor set of A-Level results is not going to put an end to all your hopes and dreams - but an attitude of complacency which says you never needed your stupid A-Levels anyway because 'everything will work out in the end' and because people will always reward you for simply 'being you' just might.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Sandwich review: Chicken, cheese & bacon club with mustard mayo & salad on white bread by Sainsbury's

The official description for this sandwich is:
"Succulent British chicken breast, maple cured bacon with tangy, mature Cheddar, and served with cucumber, juicy vine-ripened tomatoes & crisp lettuce"
A pleasing recipe, overall, with lots of elements guaranteed to fit right in together.  In particular, the balance between the chicken and the bacon was good, and neither overpowered the other - while the mustard mayonnaise actually did have a mustard flavour to it, and was used sparingly enough not to create the alarming overmayonation we so often see in these situations, and the salad was reasonably crisp and fresh.

However, the age-old problem which afflicts all 'club'-style sandwiches was not absent in this case either… The extra slice of bread in the middle of the sandwich made the balance of textures too doughy overall - and, being surround by filling on both sides instead of just on one side, this central slice of bread (as so often happens) became soggy and unappetising.  Unfortunately, this means that an otherwise excellent sandwich was ruined by an over prevalence of damp bread, and that I would not in fact buy this sandwich again.

I am still waiting to experience the a sandwich where the three-slice 'club sandwich' concept is executed effectively - but I am beginning to despair of this ever actually happening.

Sandwich review: Double Gloucester Cheese & Ale Chutney by Delicious (at Boots)

The official description for this sandwich is:
"Double Gloucester cheese with ale chutney and mixed salad leaves on malted bread"
A rare occasion of a vegetarian sandwich being sized up today.  The use of Double Gloucester cheese intrigued me, as most sandwich recipes stick fairly rigidly to using only bland Cheddar, no matter how inventive or off-the-wall the rest of the filling ingredients may be!

In this case, the Double Gloucester cheese was a delight, and had a strong enough flavour to carry the entire sandwich on its own merit as the main ingredient in the filling.  My only criticism is that it was presented as grated cheese, rather than in slices - this would not normally be an issue, but when it comes to eating a sandwich in the car grated cheese is much harder to control as it has so many more individual elements, and you can end up with tiny cheese shavings getting everywhere.  This small gripe aside, however, the cheese was very enjoyable.

The ale chutney was also pleasantly flavoursome.  I am fairly used to these things being mere shadows of what they promise to be, but in this instance the chutney did live up to its billing rather well - it had all all the sweet, tangy fruitiness essential to a chutney, but you could definitely taste the flavour of a good British ale in there as well.  It was a well-balanced accompaniment to the cheese, and made for a well-rounded sandwich recipe overall.

The mixed salad leaves were a little wilted and flavourless, but even this was not sufficient to put me off saying that I was left impressed by this sandwich, and I would definitely buy it again.

Sandwich review: BBQ Pulled Pork by Ginsters

The official description for this sandwich is:
"British pulled pork with BBQ sauce, ranch dressing and fresh spinach leaves on white bread"
'Pulled pork' is the current culinary obsession, so it was only a matter of time before it turned up in sandwiches too.  I gave this limited edition offering from Ginsters a try, and found it to be overall quite pleasant.

The pork meat was tender and flavoursome (something which not all sandwich meat manages), and the BBQ sauce had a nice balance of sweet, yet tangy.  I also enjoyed the inclusion of the spinach leaves, which lived up to description of 'fresh' and added a crunchy salad texture to the sandwich (again, sandwich salad leaves have often reached a 'limp and wilted' state by the time they are consumed - not so, in this case).

The only element of this sandwich which disappointed was the ranch dressing - which I could barely taste at all.  I saw no sign of this as ate the sandwich - this may, however, have been something of a blessing in disguise, as it seemed a somewhat incongruous addition to an otherwise fairly cohesive sandwich recipe, and I am not sure what exactly it would have added, had it been present.

Overall, I enjoyed this sandwich, and I would buy it again.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

We need football, not faith

We are one match into the new football season, and already the shrapnel is flying.  After one game, Norwich have lost a match, had a man sent-off (and subsequently investigated for pushing a referee), had allegations of racism, and are still managed by a man who has never won a competitive match in his managerial career.  So, things are going well!

Even worse, though, the sadly predictable mudslinging from fans has started as well.  There are inevitable calls for Neil Adams to be sacked, and a new manager brought in - after six games in charge, that is demonstrably ridiculous.  So ridiculous that I don't need to dwell on it here.

Then there are the others.  Those who implore us to 'give Adams a chance', despite his abysmal record in first team football - which they are absolutely right to do - and who insist on constant comparisons between Adams and previous manager Chris Hughton, which is almost unfathomably stupid.

Despite his being sacked at the beginning of April (a decision which history has proven to be the wrong one - as I explained before it even happened), many Norwich fans seem unable to let go of the idea of Hughton as the 'villain' figure.  Despite his not having been at the club all summer, anything that goes wrong is still, somehow, Hughton's fault; every decision Adams makes is measured up against whether that is what Hughton would've done in this situation.  This infatuation with the past and refusal to move on and let go of old grievances is crippling and perpetuates the negativity which was supposed to have been alleviated by Hughton's dismissal.

I'm fed up of seeing the phrase 'attacking football'.  Style doesn't win you points, and style won't get us promoted back to the Premier League - results do.  Who cares whether Adams made an 'attacking substitution' when we were 1-0 down against Wolves on Sunday, when Hughton would never have done that?  We still lost!  That's not to say that Adams was wrong to make the substitutions he did, or that he should be removed from his post as a result of the loss against Wolves - of course not.  But to say that losing under Adams is inherently more virtuous than losing under Hughton is nonsensical.

But whilst I totally agree that we should give Adams a chance, I disagree that we need to 'have faith'. We get this with England during the World Cup - we have only to 'believe' in Roy Hodgson and his rag-tag band of journeymen, and they will do extraordinary things - and now Norwich fans are spewing the same rubbish about 'faith'.  This is fairytale stuff; football is about results.  The idea that all we have to do is 'believe' hard enough and everything will be OK is total rubbish; it's Peter Pan-like.  Close your eyes and repeat "I do, I do, I DO believe in Wes Hoolahan at the tip of a midfield diamond", and everything will be just fine.

Football results are not decided by which set of fans has the most faith.  But they are affected by the decisions made in the boardroom, and in the dressing room.  Neil Adams was not my first choice to be Norwich's new manager, but whether his appointment was a good or a bad decision is something we won't discover for some time yet.

One thing's for sure, though…  We need to get rid of this ridiculous notion that we can just light a candle, all hold hands in a circle and wish our team to victory - and we need to see each result for what it really is, neither praising the manager indiscriminately for no more spectacular feat than simply not being the previous manager, nor slating the manager and calling for his head after every minor setback.

This is a long season, with a lot of matches - none of which are going to be easy.  Let's get behind the team and support them all the way - but not hinder them with irrational hysterics of any kind.

Admit it: you don't want principled politicians either

During Michael Gove's tenure as Secretary Of State for Education, he was reported to be the least popular politician in Britain.  His reforms to the education system were met with opposition by teaching unions, and his policies led to strikes, protests, and eventually to Prime Minister David Cameron moving him sideways to the post of Chief Whip during a recent government reshuffle.

One of the most common criticisms of Gove was that he was an ideologue; that his reforms were rooted in an immutable belief system - an ideology - without taking into account the evidence of research studies or the opinions of either experts or the public.  (Interestingly, if your main opposition to a policy if that it is 'ideological', then it follows that your opposition to it is also rooted in ideology - but that is probably a topic best explored another time.)

Strangely, however, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrat party Nick Clegg has also received a lot of criticism during this parliamentary term - but for exactly the opposite reasons.  Clegg has been branded a 'sell-out', and cruelly mocked online and in the popular press for appearing to ditch his principles and beliefs for a slice of power in a coalition government with David Cameron's Conservatives.

Often, it is in fact the same people who attack Gove's dogmatic idealism on the one hand, and Clegg's political expediency on the other.  These inconsistents need to make up their mind about what they actually want; do they really want politicians who act out of principle and conviction, and stick doggedly to what they know in their hearts to be right, even in the face of fierce opposition - or do they want politicians who listen to the public, and to activists and focus groups, and supplely bend with each shift in prevailing opinion, adapting their world view to suit what the voters want?

The answer, I'm afraid, is neither of these options.  People do not want either type of politician in office - they simply want politicians who agree with them on all issues.  They want politicians who stick to their guns as a matter of principle when the stance is one they agree with, but who modify their approach in the face of public opinion when they have a different view.

Unfortunately, in politics people will disagree with you sometimes - often, in fact.  Now, you can prefer the idea of politicians who are principled and do what they believe is right, or politicians who are pragmatic and listen to people, but wanting the best of both worlds all the time is not very realistic - and, frankly, a little immature.