What’s A Bramble Worth?

This weekend I threw back the years and done something that I’ve not done in a very long time – I went brambling. I also asked my son if he would care to join me. “Go what?” he said. So we covered the basics. Make sure they are nice and black, make sure they are juicy, don’t bother with any ones that has grubs on them and certainly avoid the ones splattered with bird poo. Once my finest brambling togs had been donned (I selected a loud multi coloured shirt and burgundy trousers on the basis that any juice stains would be unseen) it was straight to the shed to mount our bicycles. Oh yes, we were riding for our brambles. But where to go looking for them? All of a sudden I realised that I had no idea of where the good spots were in town. So, passing some likely bramble spots en route, we headed off to an area of managed wild ground,  a flood defence area that is carefully maintained to grow wild but there were no brambles in sight. At least none that were easily accessible on our side of a stream. We did have a super bike ride however, enjoying the wild life, the scenery and each others company. So where to next? Laddo remembered a prime spot from an Autumn walk we did last year when we lived in a different house. So we decided to check there. Allowing Laddo to make decisions about the day was very important to me. I was impressed with the way he wanted to take charge.

He was right – we struck brambles! I couldn’t help but share his joy as he discovered his first bramble, glistening like a jewel in the hedgerow. “Can I try one Dad?” “Yes, make sure it’s a really ripe one as they are the sweetest” and he was as smitten with the fruit as I was when I was a eight year old boy. The harvest continued at a pace now – we exhausted that particular bush but more than doubled our load as we crossed to the other side of the road. Working as a team we reached the top branches to get the juiciest fruit. My son then said that “this was so much fun! Much better than sitting at home watching telly or playing with lego! And we’ve had a brilliant bike ride too Dad and seen so much nature!” This day was as magic for me as it was for him, especially after that statement.

The next stop for collection was closer to home in Chivers Road, so named as it was once the site of soft fruit fields for the jam company. This provided us with some very rich pickings indeed despite the fact we were probably a week early for the finest fruit this bush had to offer. Some kids walked past us with their Gran, the kids couldn’t believe we were fruit picking, almost as though we were doing something wrong. The Gran said that she remembered doing this as a little girl with her parents to the astonishment of her brood. Without prompting my son offered the kids some of the brambles we had picked for them to taste. Not for the first time that day I was bursting with pride in my son.

Finally back home to turn our bounty into treats. I’d love to take the credit here, but I wont. I handed bramble control to the good lady wife. We opted for a blackberry flapjack recipe as we had everything in the house for with the exception of some caramel. For ease sake I went down to Sainsbury’s for a tin (and to be honest this is the quantity the recipe asked for so she wasn’t going to start boiling sugar up at this stage!) and whilst Laddo and I were hunter gathering for the second time that day I decided to have a quick look on the soft fruit shelves to see how much they were being sold for. £2.00 for a 150g packet. That equates to £13.33 per kilo! And yet we had collected that volume for nothing. Free food! The real value was the father and son time though. Doing something fun together, introducing him to something I did as a lad. For that reason alone a bramble is priceless.

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Antisocial Media

The Internet is a wonderful thing. Quite rightly it’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee was celebrated at the London Olympic opening ceremony for his gift to the world. And what a gift! Can you imagine life without the internet now? Online shopping, online news, information, data, entertainment and the ability for people to interact with each other via an online device – social media.

I absolutely love social media. I love the fact that I have got back in touch with long lost school friends, university chums, family in far flung corners of the globe as well as the joy of making new friends. I have met a fine group of people through my participation in Carry On Film chat forums, people who I have subsequently met in real life and shared many fine times together. I have embraced Facebook, sharing pictures with family, friends and colleagues as well as arranging events and the like. I have been able to keep on top of the ever changing privacy settings and hopefully don’t over abuse the amount of information I share with the World, or at least the couple of hundred folk I interact with. I also have the opportunity to write down my own thoughts in a blog and share them with those who care to have a read here on the pages of Yak Yak Yak! And then there is the micro blogging site, Twitter.

Ah, Twitter. I do love Twitter. The joy of Twitter is the speed at which news can be shared,  a barometer of public opinion, a sounding board to let off steam, a fantastic source of humour, an opportunity to interact with folk and a medium in which those in the public eye can be of an equal footing to those who care to follow them. Twitter has had an important place in World events and the so called Arab Spring of 2011 would certainly not have had the momentum it did without such instant shared news and views.

However, recent events have combined to reveal an anti social side to Twitter and indeed the platform has been the news maker rather than the news breaker.

I am sure there are other examples, but the ones that stand out for me include in no particular order…

A former Big Brother contestant decides that he wants another fifteen minutes of fame.  A little background here – mega famous Take That singer and all round good egg Gary Barlow recently suffered a personal tragedy when his fourth child was still born. What an opportunity for our nonentity to achieve some notoriety. He hits on the strategy of sending abusive tweets to someone who is considerably more famous than himself. That will get him noticed! So amidst the genuine outpouring of grief and sympathy from fans and members of the public alike our fame seeker crassly sends abusive messages and wallows in the limelight he has so carefully cultivated by being abusive. In fact he is seeking employ as a media consultant on the back of this.

Can this guy not see how wrong he is? I genuinely believe he can’t. I doubt for one minute that any employer would wish to hire the services of such a person who has crossed the line in such a bad manner. The guy then comments that he is being cyber bullied!

On the subject of Gary Barlow, it is well worth reading the wonderful blog constructed by comedian Jason Manford.  He goes on to explore the notion of online commentary in some detail and beautifully shreds to pieces those who think it is fair game to comment before engaging brain.

Olympic diver Tom Daley received some abuse regarding his late father whilst competing. As mentioned earlier Twitter is a level playing field, but does this give anyone the right to sink to such levels?

My home town of Haverhill was recently blessed as the home of the Euromillions lottery winner who is now £148 million pounds better off. I am genuinely pleased for the guy and his family. However, a quick search on Twitter on the winners name gives an alarming number of returns of people who go onto the site to do nothing than throw abuse. Singe line comments such as “B*****ds” is one of the more polite offerings. Why do people think this is socially acceptable? Would you do that in the street, to his face? However, one of the better comments spotted did make me smile. The winner is of a bulky stature shall we say, and one observer suggested that there is now a demand for pie shops to be opened in Haverhill. This is clearly a gag without offense being made and brings to mind the recent Twitter Joke Trial which I’m delighted to report that the correct verdict was given.

The next incident that springs to mind was the reported death of Margaret Thatcher. Now, this occurs with some frequency on Twitter. The account that reported it this time was deliberately set up to look like the Sky News site in order to give it some credence. Of course, the news spread rapidly. On closer inspection it was very obvious that it was a hoax attempting to gain publicity and the “news” story was taken down. In it’s place was the advert for whatever programme they were attempting to glorify with the message “Of course Thatcher’s not dead you thick c**** but thanks for all the free publicity you f******!” Fame for fames sake and using the same brainwave as the Big Brother low life.

Finally, Twitter made the news and shaped events in the Kevin Pietersen affair currently ongoing within the England dressing room. Twitter is not the main issue, KP’s ego is of course, but the fact that a well constructed and extremely funny parody account (that England players including KP have interacted with) has managed to have an adverse effect on a national sporting side is a worry. The spoofer has owned up, apologised for his actions and closed the account. It was probably the straw that broke the camels back for the unity of the England team nevertheless. The majority of people I follow on Twitter are linked to cricket in one way or another. It is clear from their tweets that the volume of abuse they receive is dreadful and self proclaimed Twitter champion Jonathan Agnew, the BBC’s cricket correspondent, was close to quitting the media following a specific incident. This turned out to be a journalist undertaking a baffling social experiment by attempting to be as controversial as possible. I’m glad Aggers didn’t quit, the medium is so much richer with his contributions.

It is all very well blocking / banning and answering back but it has the effect of increasing the publicity of the toe rags. I am a firm supporter of the notion that we have freedom to speak, to exchange our views without fear of persecution. This is a fundamental pillar of our society and a basic human right. However, there must be some method of starving the online abusers of the oxygen of publicity that they so crave and the appropriate legislation to distinguish online bullying from a bit of banter. I don’t know what the answer is, perhaps it is a question that needs to be addressed to Twitter at large. After all, they know best. Lol

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It’s Good To Be Back…. and Call Me Charlie Roper

A blog can be therapeutic and cathartic for the blogger as well as entertaining, stimulating and informative (hopefully) for the reader. I have enjoyed putting my thoughts down on occasion and it is nice to do so again. Just one of those things that have lapsed a bit over time. As my kids have grown older they become less dependant upon you for immediate needs but their requirements change and time devoted to parenting is still at a premium. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way and enjoy being “Dads Taxi” running them from place to place. Anyway, I sound like I’m making excuses for letting my blog lapse, I guess I am, and if I refer back to the content of some of the blogs I wrote in 2010 I am guilty of letting other good intentions lapse also.

My healthy eating and weight loss regime died a natural death in 2011 and I was back to some old bad habits. We still cook our own food, we are amazing cooks even if I say so myself, we rarely eat junk or anything “processed” – I just eat too much of it, too many “treats” especially at work and far too much bread. And beer. Who would have thought it? Beer fattening? It’s mainly water and hops, which is a natural antibiotic after all. I have also lapsed on any real form of exercise. It wasn’t too long ago that I’d run a half marathon. Even as recently as 2005 I was cycling 6 miles a day. These days I sit in a car, drive to an office where I sit at a desk for the day and drive home again. Then after all the kids stuff I drink beer. I kind of knew I wasn’t doing myself much good but didn’t put it at the top of my personal agenda. I had lapsed into that lifestyle. Throw some really good blow outs of late into the mix and I really wasn’t the epitome of health. My weight has crept up rather than ballooned,  my clothes started getting a little tight.

Then it happened.

After a couple of days of twinges in my chest I got a pain. This pain didn’t go as the previous minor pains did, it stuck. I had a quick check on NHS Direct and it didn’t look good from that perspective. So I made my excuses at work and drove to A&E in Addenbrookes, Cambridge. I declined any offer of a lift or thoughts of a taxi, I don’t know why, perhaps I just wanted to be on my own, to sort myself out, who knows? I didn’t feel particularly ill aside from the pain so thought I could tough it out.

Anyway, got there ok and parked up. I joined the triage queue as a patient soon to be patient behind those with gashed legs and the like. Nothing gets you through the system in A&E faster than a chest pain and as soon as they could find an ECG machine I was wired up to it.  It is really hard to put into words what I was thinking or feeling at the time, I was worried about my family and causing them grief certainly. The ECG results were good. Regular heart beat. No immediate evidence of a heart attack. But was there one in the offing? The nurse didn’t tell me my blood pressure readings but I could tell by the low whistle she gave that it wasn’t good. I was walked through to the next stage of the process and was assigned my own cubicle in the main treatment area. Quick as a flash I was stripped down to a hospital gown, one of the most impractical garments ever designed. I’m stood there with chest pains wondering how the hell to tie the damn thing up without my arse hanging out. I was seen by a doctor who bore a remarkable resemblance to Michael McIntyre. I don’t know if this made things easier or not.

He couldn’t have been more professional. I was immediately reassured. Another BP check. “Wow” said the Doc. An ultrasound and chest X-ray later as well as urine and blood tests confirmed that I hadn’t had any heart attack or aorta inflammation. No infection was present in my lungs. So what exactly was wrong with me? I guessed I had a high BP but was that causing the pain? I felt like Charlie Roper, Sid James’ character from Carry On Doctor. I had seen a couple more specialists at this stage and it was confirmed that I hadn’t any coronary issues but if the BP wasn’t checked soon then I may have. Only then was it revealed to me that it was 228/118. I’m no clinician but even I know that is in the high region. So up to the ward I went.

The nurse took my BP again straight away. “Oh my God, I’ve never seen such a large one as yours!” You couldn’t make it up. I felt rather flattered in a way. She had a credit card sized table indicating what the blood pressure results mean and mine were well of her chart. It was at this point that I looked around the ward I was in. I was in a bay of six beds and the first thing that struck me was that I was the youngest person there by about 30 years. And it hit me. My condition is that of a much older man. I’ve lapsed into this.

My fellow patients were a grumpy lot. There was one poor old boy who kept asking for a self discharge form and said he’d had enough. Trouble is he has a fit every time he stands up. We aren’t talking the sort of fit that comedy genius Jack Douglas used to throw, this was very disconcerting to watch. It went in a cycle – moan and get abusive to the staff, ask to be discharged, stand up, have a fit and then sleep it off. Another was a ringer for Dicky Attenborough and he couldn’t move either. He was grumpy too but all he wanted to do was to go home. I guess everyone did really. I was wired up to the BP machine which wrenched your arm on an hourly basis. Not shifting so time to pop a pill. And gradually it fell below 200.

I did a lot of thinking that night, all very reflective I guess, but most of all in my thoughts was my dear chum Dave who had died of a heart condition getting on for four years ago now. Was the sort of thing that I was experiencing the sort of shit that he went through? The blood pressure thing was starting to make sense now too. It explained the way my head had been feeling on occasion especially at work, the pressure which I had attributed to being bunged up was really my blood circulating around my brain like a pressure cooker coming to steam. The night staff couldn’t be better but fat chance of any sleep with the arm torture machine going hourly, Noddy doing his stuff in the bed opposite and all the thoughts swirling around my head.

Daybreak. Quite literally in fact as my son was appearing on the TV show of the same name in a rent-a-pupil type shot in school whilst a local student was receiving a prize for writing a book in a competition. Sadly I didn’t see the feature that he was on – I was busy putting up with the morning routine in hospital. A second reference to Carry On Doctor here – where Francis Biggar spent his first morning in a ward. It was all so similar. Nothing has changed since 1967! I managed to configure the patientline thing by 7.30 but by then had missed my boy’s claim to fame. (I have subsequently seen it and it was a bit of fun for him!)

The other major thing regarding today is that it happened to be the first Doctors strike in 40 years. Just my ruddy luck! However, I was still critical enough to be seen by a doc, it was only routine stuff they were putting off. The moment was classic, you have all seen it in the films, a senior consultant bursts in surrounded by juniors all making notes. If only he had turned around to one of the trainees and asked “What’s the bleeding time?” and my day would have been made! The upshot of this was positive. I was informed that my chest pain was almost certainly viral but the blood pressure needed urgent attention.

The care was questionable today however. I had been seen by a number of different individuals but they didn’t appear to share their notes. At one stage I was woken up from my post lunch snooze to ask me what time my blood tests were taken. Surely that should be recorded in my notes? They had cocked it up anyway as apparently two files had to go on ice immediately. So had to have another test. I then asked the nurse on duty if I was ready for more paracetamol. Apparently my entire file had gone down to the pharmacy. When I first cut my teeth in the hotel industry the technology existed to send a message from a till to a kitchen telling a chef what a customer wants to eat, you’d think that 20 years later a similar system could be implemented in a hospital!

Finally when my medicine came it was discharge time. The lack of information was staggering. But I didn’t care, I wanted home. To my own bed, my family. I bet that took 10 points off my BP at least. I’m currently having a week of complete detox, no caffeine, no fat,  no booze. Automatically £25 came off the weekly shopping bill! As I write this, two days after discharge, my BP has fallen to 162/102. Still far too high but going in the right direction. I am monitoring it myself at home.

Basically, the key to lowering it is to up my exercise. It’s not so much the diet, but that helps of course, but the exercise. So I have to build a gentle-at-first programme that will start to develop my most important muscle (no sniggering at the back), my heart. And I’d like to encourage fellow couch potatoes to reform too. I’ve had a warning. Not quite a second chance, but a lifestyle warning. I’m only 42, it’s no age to be in an old man’s ward in a hospital. I’m heeding my warning, I hope I have taken a warning shot for others. You may not get one.

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A Bit Of A Hitch

So it’s finally been announced. Royal chopper racer to marry common bird. And she’s got her finger in her late mother in law’s ring (no, not like that) and everyone remembers the big event 30 years ago. How times have moved on, don’t you all recollect? Millions out of work, Government slashing costs, riots and protests, fears over the economy, ah, what a hard time we lived in! However, a good Royal Wedding was on hand to boost the morale of the Nation, how we applauded, how we shared the love and marvelled at a rather crushed dress. Did we care how much it all cost? Naa, we didn’t as long as it looked the biz.

Well, this time around hopefully things ARE a little different. Despite the nation owning the Royals we can’t expect to fork out for a wedding for one of the richest families in the land. (As an aside note, I bet Mr Middleton is counting his blessings that the old tradition of the father of the bride having to fork out for his Gal’s nuptials is likely to be overlooked on this occasion.) We are constantly being told that this country is broke and are slashing £7 billion out of the public services budgets. Coincidently, this is the same figure that the banks are paying in bonuses to their staff this year and the amount of dosh we are lending Ireland to bail them out of the doggy doo. But anyway, we’re bankrupt. Apparently. So the wedding will reflect the times. Lambrusco all round and pork pies off paper plates presumably. Meanwhile, the banks will give Bollinger to their staff and the Government will be feeding the Irish lightly roasted swans.

Anyway, I’m sure Cameron and his Commoners will be hoping that the Royal Wedding lifts the spirits of the Country just as much as the last one. Except this time round we are all a lot more cynical and in the age of 24 hour rolling news we are sick to the back teeth of it already.

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We’re All In It Together

“We’re All In It Together” has become a kind of mantra whilst the Government are slashing costs with the subtle skill of a chainsaw wielding maniac  – ill thought out schemes such as the scrapping of Child Benefit to those who earn more that £44,000 a year whereas if you are a couple both on £40,000 a year (and thus a joint income of £80,000, my Maths A level is not wasted) you still are entitled to the benefit, etc etc are now the norm in a weekly announcement of cost cutting from the Coalition always accompanied with the aforementioned diatribe. I see our local Tory Councillor on a regular basis and will remind him of this mantra when I bring up the subject of local council signage in the area as featured here in Bury St Edmonds.

Now, call me an old cynic, but aren’t conkers meant to fall from trees at this time of year? What about the dangerous deluge of acorns? The sycamore seeds spiralling earthwards with all their venom? Soon we will be facing a storm of leaves of Biblical proportions. Shouldn’t St Edmondsbury Council warn against this also and provide safety goggles to combat the full force of Autumn “out of courtesy to visitors?” Health and safety cannot be taken too lightly and it’s a dangerous world out there at this time of year thanks to Dear Old Mother Nature.

What a preposterous load of old chestnuts. Whilst we are all in this together I wonder how many man hours, committees, focus groups and all the rest of it has gone into this ridiculous madness and what fear of compensation has forced a council into this action. It is not only squirrels that gather nuts in the autumn but Town Halls across the land are storing them on a permanent basis. They are all in it together you know.

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Stuff About Stuff

My life seems to revolve around stuff. There is stuff to do, stuff to sort, stuff to tidy and put away, stuff to file, stuff to find and so on. Some stuff can’t be done unless you have done some other stuff first, stuff that is more important and stuff is organised in a certain way – you have to plan stuff. I’ve done good stuff and bad stuff in my time, seen some stuff, lost and found stuff, heard some stuff and generally crammed a lot of stuff in. I’ve read a load of stuff and nonsense about stuff. There used to be a time when doing stuff was kidstuff, but now I have the kids and their stuff too there doesn’t seem time to do the stuff that I want to do and stuff that needs to get done today gets put back. There is too much stuff at times, so much so occasionally I just want to say stuff it, I’m stuffed.

I’ll do more stuff tomorrow.

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Living Off The Fat Of The Land

Over three weeks into the diet and there are a hell of a lot of positives to report. I feel fitter already, I’m less tired, more energetic and am really enjoying my food. The only down side is I’m missing me beer!

So, what did I do so far?

I identified from the outset where my weak points are likely to be and took steps to manage them. I’d replaced the ease of chocolate cake at work by removing the auto top up facility on my passcard and more importantly replacing it with a large fruit bowl on my desk. I’ve kept up an exercise routine and found support from some willing colleagues who are also wishing to get fitter. We have been power walking daily at lunchtime and have done one session of boxing into the mits. Blimey, they are muscles I’ve not used in a while!! As for the food at lunchtime I’ve been making my own with a little planning and can have some big portions of fat free goodies. I do get gasps of admiration when I open my lunchbox!!

The food at home has been a revelation also. Out with pizzas, any other pre-packed stuff and reduce the bread consumption down to the levels in the Slimmingworld Guide. We have rediscovered the joy of cooking, buying simple fresh products and preparing meals without any fats or oils. We are also converts to quark, a zero fat soft cheese that has become a substitute for many previous fatty foods such as mayo or even in some cases butter. The curry book that we have from slimmingworld has been tackled and we have produced much better food than you can get from your local tandoori house which is traditionally swimming in grease. With a little planning we have eaten exceptionally well and large portions but still being able to lose weight.

As for drink, this is really my big weakness and I have cut out the drinking mideweek. As for weekends, we did try zero alcohol beer but that really was no fun so back to the proper stuff. That too has been cut down though and replaced with a little wine. We have started using smaller glasses too so we are not throwing it down our throats and this has had the effect of making us enjoy the wine all the more.

And the results? I’ve lost 9.5lb in three weeks, already feel fitter and am generally less tired. Also I appear to have encouraged some colleagues into joining me, one of which was a big surprise. So far I am well on track on my target of losing 2 stones by Christmas and whilst I am currently still over 17 stones with work to do already I feel fab!

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