The Great Christmas Pudding Wars
With Christmas day barely a month away, celebrity chefs and supermarket chains here in the UK are already sparring with each other for the consumer’s hard earned UK pound. Now read on…
“A rare Heston Blumenthal Christmas pudding for Waitrose is open for bids on eBay, but it’s not the only supermarket Christmas fare that’s whetting gastronomes’ appetites.
Every year there’s something, isn’t there? A decade ago it was Delia Smith, boldly introducing the nation, Walter Raleigh-like; to the notion of fresh cranberries in a sauce we could make ourselves rather than buy in a jar. Sales of the acidic dark-red fruit promptly trebled, triggering shortages up and down the land.
Five years later, it was Nigella Lawson. She praised goose fat as essential for perfect roast potatoes. A fortnight afterwards, Tesco and Waitrose said sales had doubled, while Sainsbury’s and ASDA reported mere 70% spikes.
Logically, as we slide ever further down the celebrity-endorsed slope, this time around it’s not an ingredient but a product baring Heston Blumenthal’s name. “The must-have pudding for 2011. Sold out in 99.9% of stores. In original sealed box.”. Time left: 9 days.” As G2 went to press, the bidding stood at £77.
Admittedly, this prince among puddings serves 10-12 people. And it is, if we believe its creator, “very special . . . As it cooks, the essential oils from the orange peel infuse the nuts and fruit from the inside out.” But £77, you’ll agree, is a lot to pay for something that retailed at £13.99 (already a pretty penny to pay for a pudding).
“We’ve sold tens of thousands,” says the supermarket, adding that while there were “around 2,000” in stores at the start of the weekend, “they’re being snapped up very quickly. We always thought it would do well; it’s a modern twist on an old favourite, from one of our food ambassadors. But even we have been slightly surprised.”
Delia, Waitrose’s other “food ambassador”, is doing all right too. Her £10 DIY Christmas cake kit “perfect for first-time bakers who don’t want a cupboard full of half-used jars, and enjoy baking but don’t have the time” – is currently flying off the shelf every seven seconds. It can only be days before it shows up on eBay too – maybe for £26, which is what the ingredients would cost individually.)
The moral of all this, of course, is that we really, really care about our Christmas dinner. Also, some of us are gullible enough to swallow anything. If you’re in the former category but not the latter, a tip: the Christmas pudding that won this year’s ‘Which’ magazine’s taste test comes from Lidl. And it costs £2.99.”
Whatever happened to the family tradition of all gathering round, helping your mother stir the mixture, with tiny hands adding the ingredients and the odd few silver coins before your mother put the delicious concoction away to mature. Remember the joy you all felt when she triumphantly brought it out on Christmas day for the family meal to the applause of all seated around the table and when your father lit the alcohol? Remember that wonderful sight of the blue flames licking their way around and down the sides of the pudding? I do.
Happy Christmas to one and all…

Guardian of the Sky RealmsGuardian of the Sky Realms by Gerry Huntman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had the privilege of reading an advanced copy of Gerry Huntman’s YA novel “Guardian of the Sky Realms” earlier this month. Gerry is not only my good friend but also my editor at IFWG Publishing. Despite the fact that fantasy is not normally my preferred reading, with the exception of J.R.R Tolkien’s timeless tales, I loved reading this wonderfully crafted tale. Well done my friend and congratulations. Sky Realms has been a long time coming… 

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Are we happy Mr Prime Minister – no?
With all that has happened here in the UK in the last several weeks I begin to ask myself the question – are we really in a recession, or are we being conned? Are we being dragged back to a time when the average human being in this country was required to doff his cap or touch his forelock whenever an upper class twit entered the room? This is the twenty-first century Mr Prime Minister, not the nineteenth! 
Our government has managed to get its hands on a few billion to help bail out Ireland. While it breaks every election promise it made concerning the elderly and the poor, when they clearly promised to look after those self same people.
And now you Mr Prime Minister want to spend a few million on a nationwide survey asking the populace whether or not we are happy??? 
Prices for practically everything on offer to the consumer are rising steadily and are set to rise even more next year when VAT increases. 
Students are rioting over the massive hike in tuition fees being proposed for next year and who can blame them. If, and when the new crop of students graduate, on average, most will be saddled with a massive debt of approximately £40,000!
Regarding those among the population who are unemployed for various reasons Mr Prime Minister, instead of making their existence even worse than it is at present, why not forcibly encourage the businesses of this land to create worthwhile and financially rewarding jobs before directing the unemployed to seek demeaning below minimum wage labouring jobs, merely to make the government statics on employment look good to the world at large. 
One final thing Mr Prime Minister, please, please don’t emasculate this nation’s vital armed services. What use is a modern navy without a fully functional aircraft carrier complete with its fighter aircraft ready for action at a moment’s notice wherever it may be needed to help defend the realm? Plus, what use in an airforce without its jets and the bases to operate them from or an army without adequate, up to date weapons and body armour? 
Plus, think of the thousands of people and their families whose livelihoods depend on those armed forces bases and the personnel running them, who, if your insanity is allowed to become law, will join the ranks of the unemployed. 
The answer to your question about the nations happiness Mr Prime Minister is quite frankly no, we are not happy when your target the defenceless old and poor, and place our countries defences in a precarious state while kowtowing to the very people who caused all of the financial problems in the first place – the bankers!
Personally I am now firmly of the opinion that the inmates are running the asylum…  

Bullying in our schools and on our streets, an age old problem…
In an article published today (see below) November 22nd, which I have just read online in the Malta Times, the age old problem of children being bullied on the way to and from school out of sight of the teachers, has once more raised its ugly head.
 In an age where corporal punishment in schools has been done away with and people fear retribution if they intercede to protect a child from being bullied in case they are branded at best as an interfering busy body, or worse, to be targeted, often violently, by the parents of the bully in question as a potential paedophile, what can the average ‘caring’ individual do?
Bullying sadly is a sign of the times we live in. Daily I read reports in the newspapers of the elderly and the very young being subjected to muggings and verbal abuse, usually followed by some form of physical attack.
Our police departments are facing massive losses of serving police officers in an effort to cut back the cost of policing in the country. Indeed the government minister in charge of the police here in the UK, made a facile comment declaring that there was no correlation between the number of police currently pounding the beat and the fall in crime across the UK. With out of touch fools in charge, what hope have we of living in a law abiding safe society? 
If the number of policemen and women patrolling our streets is cut, the crime figures will rise. 
I place bullying in the category of crime. 
Most parents these days do not accompany their child to and from school because of financial reasons, namely, both parents need to be bringing home a wage to support their families.
Children, whether travelling by bus, train, or simply walking to and from school need to be and feel safe. But when a lowlife bully is waiting for them to cross his or her path, what chance do they have?
Bullying must end! And people witnessing such attacks on our streets, buses and trains, must intervene, or at the very least report the incident to the police. 
Naming and shaming the bullies, making them social pariahs in their communities needs to be achieved. 
Now read on…
“School run bullying in UK goes unreported – research
Raf Sanchez, PA
Nearly half of all 11 to 16-year-olds see bullying on the way to or from school, according to new research.
Around 43 per cent of those surveyed said they saw bullying on the school run but only half of those reported it, a study by the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) found.
The research found that 47 per cent of those who witnessed bullying did not report it, with 50 per cent of 13 to 16-year-olds failing to do so.
Of the young people who did not report bullying incidents, 44 per cent said it was none of their business and 10 per cent said they did not know who to tell.
ABA chairman Ross Hendry said: “This research shows us that a significant number of children and young people in England are suffering from bullying on their school journey.
“Whether they travel by bus, car, public transport of if they walk to school we need to make sure they are protected. It’s of great concern that nearly half of young people who see others being bullied do not report it and that such a large proportion don’t think it’s any of their business to do so.
The report was released as Beatbullying, a separate anti-bullying charity, prepared to launch a “digital demonstration” in support of children’s rights.
More than 750,000 people, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pop star Alesha Dixon and singing group JLS, have created virtual avatars that were to “march” across around 60 partner websites against bullying.
Katherine Rake, chief executive officer of the Family and Parenting Institute, said that greater interaction between parents and teachers could help protect children from bullying, but added that this was less common at secondary schools than primaries.
In 2008, 51 per cent of parents said they felt very involved in their child’s school life, compared to just 29 per cent in 2001.”

Regarding Dwarfs, Elves, Goblins, Trolls and my Little Grey Cells
I previously wrote: 

“For the last several days, I have been occupied with a short story about Dwarfs, Elves, Goblins and Trolls. Unlike most stories which escape from my mind, this one is taking its own precious time extracting itself. 

I recently read Derek Haines’ latest blog post on his blog (Derek’s Vandalism of Words) about losing the plot, forgetting things, short term memory loss etc. Well in that regard, I seem to be having a problem with the plot of this particular story.

While I have successfully negotiated my way through the ‘back story’ leading up to the action, so far I’ve started the nitty gritty of the story no less than twenty times. 

Where is J.R.R. Tolkien when I need him?”

I am now happy to report that the storyline is at long last now unfolding before my eyes. At long last my ‘Little Grey Cells’ are fully functional one more…

The Rise and Fall of Standards in the English Language
The following article demonstrates yet again what can and does happen when ‘dumbing down’ becomes acceptable within our education system here in the UK, and what our current Conservative led coalition government proposes to do about it. It clearly highlights the appalling standard of the English language in this country at present, and this time the focus is on written English.
“Teenagers will lose up to five per cent of marks in GCSE examinations if they fail to display high standards of written English.
The rules, which are likely to apply to all subjects, including mathematics and science, follow claims that thousands of children leave school without being able to compose a sentence, spell difficult words or write a coherent letter or email.
The move, to be outlined in an education White Paper next week, would reverse a Labour decision seven years ago to scrap rewards for good literacy.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said the building blocks of English had been “demolished by those who should have been giving our children a solid foundation in learning”. Business leaders such as Sir Stuart Rose, the Marks & Spencer chairman, have complained that too many young people leave school “not fit for work”.
Last night, the change was backed by educationalists who suggested it would give schools a greater incentive to train pupils in the basics of spelling and grammar. The written English requirements will be among a string of radical reforms designed to restore rigour to the examination system in England and promote the study of traditional subjects.
Next week’s White Paper will also propose:
  • A return to traditional A-levels by moving away from bite-sized “modular” courses in some subjects in favour of tests at the end of two years of study.
  • Allowing universities to script A-level exams and syllabuses to ensure sixth-form courses act as a better preparation for a degree.
  • The introduction of an “English Baccalaureate” that rewards pupils for gaining five good GCSEs in English, maths, science, foreign languages and a humanities subject.
  • A ban on schools using vocational courses as “equivalent” qualifications to boost their ranking in GCSE league tables.
  • A review of the National Curriculum to outline the key “bodies of knowledge” that children should master at each stage of their education.
  • A reading test for all six year-olds to identify those struggling the most after a year of school, ensuring they receive extra tuition.
The Coalition reforms are being billed as an attempt to reverse 13 years of “dumbing down” by Labour. Mr Gove has been critical of changes to the exams system which he claimed had widened the gulf between independent and state schools. Many fee-paying schools have shifted pupils towards alternative exams following claims that mainstream tests are too easy.
In a speech, Mr Gove attacked Labour’s decision to abandon requirements for pupils to spell correctly and use proper punctuation and grammar in GCSE exams.
In the past, five per cent of marks in all GCSE exams were ring-fenced for high standards of written English. But the rules were scrapped in 2003.
Good spelling and punctuation is still rewarded in some exams, but the number of marks available differs between subjects and often candidates are only rewarded for good English in certain questions. They are usually told which questions these are.
Mr Gove said: “Thousands of children – including some of our very brightest – leave school unable to compose a proper sentence, ignorant of basic grammar, incapable of writing a clear and accurate letter.
“And it’s not surprising when the last government explicitly removed the requirement to award a set number of marks for correct spelling, punctuation and grammar in examinations.
“The basic building blocks of English were demolished by those who should have been giving our children a solid foundation in learning.
“Under this Government we will insist that our exams, once more, take proper account of the need to spell, punctuate and write a grammatical sentence.”
The move, which will not at first apply to A-levels, was given a cautious welcome by examiners. Jim Sinclair, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents exam boards, said: “The previous system fell into disrepute because of cases where candidates were writing competently, spelling flawlessly and using correct grammar – therefore picking up the five per cent – but the subject content of their answers was rubbish.”
He added: “I wholeheartedly support the desire to ensure that when young people leave formal education that they are functionally literate and numerate but I would caution against using crude instruments to disproportionately reward spelling, punctuation and grammar.”
Prof Alan Smithers, the director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: “Clear expression is evidence of clear thought. It is reasonable to expect accurate spelling and good use of grammar in an exam. “The results mean less if the examiner is trying to project on to a poorly written answer what he or she thinks the candidate was attempting to say.” 
Like all commonsense approaches to a problem, I suspect this one will be bitterly fought against by the teachers, headmasters and school boards who condone ‘dumbing down’ in their blinkered belief that school ‘League Tables’ mean more to them than the education of the children in their charge, as at every level, Mr Gove struggles to get it through parliament and into law…  

Dwarfs, Elves, Goblins, Trolls and my Little Grey Cells
For the last several days, I have been occupied with a short story about Dwarfs, Elves, Goblins and Trolls. Unlike most stories which escape from my mind, this one is taking its own precious time extracting itself. 
I recently read Derek Haines’ latest blog post on his blog (Derek’s Vandalism of Words) about losing the plot, forgetting things, short term memory loss etc. Well in that regard, I seem to be having a problem with the plot of this particular story.
While I have successfully negotiated my way through the ‘back story’ leading up to the action, so far I’ve started the nitty gritty of the story no less than twenty times. 
Where is J.R.R. Tolkien when I need him?