Sunday, 31 March 2013

Sunday Service - UK National Debt - how Britain owes over £1 trillion

The debt bombshell website spells it out accurately. We are stuffed. See here for more. I have taken their front page figures and statement below.

It's a truly frightening figure. Why is the world's sixth richest country so deeply in debt?

Every year the UK runs a large budget deficit. The Government spends more money than it can tax, so we plug the gap by selling bonds to investors at home and abroad. These bonds - known as gilts - have to be repaid in full, with interest. Added together, our unpaid loans make up the UK's national debt.

Right now, that debt is growing violently. The Government forecasts it will soar to an eye-watering £1.5 trillion by 2016. To put that in perspective, the UK went bust in 1976 running a budget deficit of 6% of GDP. In 2012 that deficit is going to top 8.9%.

Historically, our debt burden was heavier after World War II. But like any loan, if the money isn't invested wisely we end up borrowing even more. When the Government runs up huge debts and produces nothing to show for it, we're the ones that shoulder the burden. This year that burden will grow by £138 billion.

The state has been wasting our money for decades. Weak politicians have bribed voters with endless amounts of borrowed cash. As a result, in 2012 the interest on the national debt will cost £44.8 billion a year. That's more than we spend on defence, and not much less than the entire education budget.

Future generations won't thank us for mortgaging their future. At best, national debt will be a millstone round our children's necks. But if lenders lose faith in Britain there could be profound consequences for our currency, our country and our lives.

Read on for the complete guide to Britain's debt »

What's the answer? I have no idea but the current coalition idea of carrying on spending and printing money won't work. Especially when pensioners, savers and everyone else are getting relatively poorer every year in large part because of the money printing.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Saturday Kitchen - Poached pears in spiced red wine

This is good stuff as a pudding and is fat free

Ingredients - this recipe serves 6.

1 vanilla pod

1 bottle red wine

225g caster sugar

1 cinnamon stick , halved

fresh thyme sprig , plus sprigs to serve

6 pears , peeled, but kept whole with stalk intact

Method -

Halve the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape out the black seeds and put in a large saucepan with the wine, sugar, cinnamon and thyme. Cut each piece of pod into three long thin strips, add to pan, then lower in the pears.
Poach the pears, covered, for 20-30 mins, making sure they are covered in the wine. The cooking time will very much depend on the ripeness of your pears - they should be tender all the way through when pierced with a cocktail stick. You can make these up to 2 days ahead and chill.

Take the pears from the pan, then boil the liquid to reduce it by half so that it's syrupy. Serve each pear with the cooled syrup, a strip of vanilla, a piece of cinnamon and a small thyme sprig.

Per serving

235 kcalories, protein 0g, carbohydrate 51g, fat 0 g, saturated fat 0g, fibre 2g, sugar 51g, salt 0.3 g

See the BBC Good Food website for more details.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Fact Friday - A monkey was once tried and convicted for smoking a cigarette in South Bend, Indiana. 30 more.

For Your Warehouse of Useless Knowledge. Not entirely sure how true these all are!

1) 1,525,000,000 miles of telephone wire a strung across the U.S.

2) 111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

3) 12 newborns will be given to the wrong parents daily.

4) 123,000,000 cars are being driven down the U.S's highways.

5) 160 cars can drive side by side on the Monumental Axis in Brazil, the world's widest road.

6) 166,875,000,000 pieces of mail are delivered each year in the U.S.

7) 27% of U.S. male college students believe life is "A meaningless existential hell."

8) 315 entries in Webster's Dictionary will be misspelled.

9) 5% of Canadians don't know the first 7 words of the Canadian anthem, but know the first 9 of the American anthem.

10) 56,000,000 people go to Major League baseball each year.

11) 7% of Americans don't know the first 9 words of the American anthem, but know the first 7 of the Canadian anthem.

12) 85,000,000 tons of paper are used each year in the U.S.

13) 99% of the solar systems mass is concentrated in the sun.

14) A 10-gallon hat barely holds 6 pints.

15) A cat has 32 muscles in each ear.

16) A cockroach can live several weeks with its head cut off.

17) A company in Taiwan makes dinnerware out of wheat, so you can eat your plate.

18) A cow produces 200 times more gas a day than a person.

19) A dime has 118 ridges around the edge.

20) A dragonfly has a lifespan of 24 hours.

21) A fully loaded supertanker travelling at normal speed takes a least twenty minutes to stop.

22) A giraffe can clean its ears with its 21-inch tongue.

23) A giraffe can go without water longer than a camel can.

24) A goldfish has a memory span of three seconds.

25) A hard working adult sweats up to 4 gallons per day. Most of the sweat evaporates before a person realizes it's there.

26) A hedgehog's heart beats 300 times a minute on average.

27) A hippo can open its mouth wide enough to fit a 4 foot tall child inside.

28) A hummingbird weighs less than a penny.

29) A jellyfish is 95 percent water.

30) A "jiffy" is an actual unit of time for 1/100th of a second.

More daft facts here.

Thursday Drinks Cabinet - Port - can't be beaten when with good cheese.

I had some port the other evening at a dinner party with good cheese. You can't beat that combination. It is lovely.

Port wine is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. It is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine, and comes in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties.
Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in the demarcated Douro region. The wine produced is then fortified by the addition of a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente in order to stop the fermentation, leaving residual sugar in the wine, and to boost the alcohol content. The fortification spirit is sometimes referred to as brandy but it bears little resemblance. The wine is then stored and aged, often in barrels stored in a cave as is the case in Vila Nova de Gaia, before being bottled.

The wine received its name, "port", in the latter half of the 17th century from the seaport city of Porto at the mouth of the Douro River, where much of the product was brought to market or for export to other countries in Europe. The Douro valley where port wine is produced was defined and established as a protected region, or appellation in 1756, making it the oldest defined and protected wine region in the world.
The English have played a key role in port eg. what was to become Warre was set up by Englishman John Clark in 1670, Croft was founded in 1678, Quarles Harris in 1680 and Taylor’s in 1692.

See here for detailed information on Port from BBR.
Port comes in all shapes and sizes and prizes. Go on give it a go.
Tip: Also amazing with chocolate.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Wednesdays Joke of the Week - Part 4 - eg Four fonts walk into a bar the barman says ''Oi - get out! We don't want your type in here''

31. So I went to the Chinese restaurant and this duck came up to me with a red rose and says ''Your eyes sparkle like diamonds''. I said, ''Waiter, I asked for a-ROMATIC duck''.

32. Four fonts walk into a bar the barman says ''Oi - get out! We don't want your type in here''

33. I was having dinner with Garry Kasporov (world chess champion) and there was a check tablecloth. It took him two hours to pass me the salt.

34. There was a man who entered a local paper's pun contest.. He sent in ten different puns, in the hope that at least one of the puns would win. Unfortunately, no pun in ten did.

35. I went down the local supermarket, I said, ''I want to make a complaint, this vinegar's got lumps in it'', he said, "Those are pickled onions''.

36. I backed a horse last week at ten to one. It came in at quarter past four.

37. I swear, the other day I bought a packet of peanuts, and on the packet it said ''may contain nuts.'' Well, YES! That's what I bought the buggers for! You'd be annoyed if you opened it and a socket set fell out!''

38. A lorry-load of tortoises crashed into a trainload of terrapins, What a turtle disaster

39. My phone will ring at 2 in the morning, and my wife'll look at me and go, ''Who's that calling at this time?' ''I don't know! If I knew that we wouldn't need the bloody phone!''

40. I said to this train driver ''I want to go to Paris". He said ''Eurostar?'' I said, ''I've been on telly but I'm no Dean Martin''.

Jokes courtesy of newslite.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Tech Tuesday - Bitcoins bid for world domination starts small

The BBC notes Bitcoin virtual currency can now be used to pay for pizza

Orders made via the Pizza for Coins website are funnelled to others for preparation and delivery.

The Pizza for Coins service has been set up by two programmers as a way to boost use of the digital cash. The service acts as a middleman and converts bitcoins into US dollars that are used to pay for food. It charges a small fee to do the currency exchange.

They are not the only ones getting attention with Entrepreneur Taylor More listing his two-bedroom Alberta bungalow, asking 405,000 Canadian dollars (£261,000; $395,000) - or the equivalent in Bitcoins get global attention as noted here.

Bitcoins are now a widely used alternative payments system and one Bitcoin is currently worth about £37. Bitcoins first appeared in 2009 and are closely linked to the global network of computers that supports the currency and its users. Many people generate or "mine" the coins by participating in that network and a growing number of web stores and online firms accept bitcoins as payment.

Bitcoin does not operate like typical currencies: it has no central bank and it solely relies on an internet-based peer-to-peer network. The fact that the system operates outside the global banking world is pretty fascinating and means transactions costs for transferring money and alike are very low and the transaction instantaneous. However you have to worry about just how secure the system is.

I am not sure yet whether the above are examples of a future system or just one off in something that won't take off.

More on Bitcoins on Wikipedia or the Bitcoin website itself.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Tim Montgomerie on the troubled Tories

I agree with Tim Montgomerie's article on Cameron almost entirely.

So here is his article below thanks to The Times newspaper:

I hesitate to be the bearer of bad news but while there may still be 775 days until the end of this Parliament, the general election campaign is already in full swing. It started last Wednesday when George Osborne delivered his fourth and most political Budget. Almost every announcement was designed to tickle the tummies of the voters that the Tories need in order to stay in office. First-time housebuyers, the low-waged, motorists, working mums and, of course, pasty-eating beer drinkers. They were all targeted with as much help as a near-bankrupt country can’t afford. This is a Government that is no longer focused on its Plan A for deficit reduction. Downing Street is focused on Plan B(eer) for re-election.

The Government’s retreat from a focus on deficit reduction has happened in stages but there can be no doubt that the retreat is now almost total. Last year the Government borrowed about £120 billion. It will borrow about £120 billion this year and a similar record-breaking amount next year. At the end of this Parliament, in the year we were promised the deficit was to be eliminated, annual borrowing will still be £100 billion. By 2015 the national debt will be heading over £1,500 billion. It will be the year in which taxpayers are paying more to service the nation’s debts than they’ll be spending on policing and schools.

It didn’t have to be this way. The Government could have made a fundamental re-evaluation of what kind of State we could afford. It could have abolished whole Whitehall departments, ended universal benefits and brought public and private sector wages in line. It could have used the crisis to enact landmark changes to tax, banking and energy policies to supercharge national competitiveness. We got neither big cuts nor big vision.
The Chancellor and Prime Minister still hope — with good reason — that there’ll be just enough economic uplift by polling day to persuade voters that their period of stewardship hasn’t been for nothing. They will run a version of Barack Obama’s successful re-election campaign. We will be told that progress may be limited but that it would be a gross folly to hand the country back to the party that wrecked things in the first place. So long as Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are leading the Opposition, they have a reasonable chance of succeeding.

Mr Cameron’s shift from mending the economy to saving his electoral bacon is only the latest in a long line of “strategic adjustments”. He has struggled ever to define a mission, let alone stick to one. His big idea was once the Big Society, and climate change was his top priority. Neither gets much attention any more. He launched his leadership bid with a promise to recognise marriage in the tax system and, in 2007, he saved his leadership by promising to abolish inheritance tax for all but millionaires. Today there is no marriage tax allowance and inheritance tax is going up. He promised not to reorganise the NHS or to regulate the press by statute. We all know what happened to both promises.
No 10 attempts to bat away all criticisms of Mr Cameron by pointing to opinion polls that suggest that he is more popular than large parts of his party. And it’s true that Mr Cameron is good on telly and portrays a reassuring, wholesome family image. But are these really the qualities our country needs at this moment?
There are many examples of institutions that have gone backwards or failed to prosper under popular or charismatic leaders. In recent times, one might think of the Catholic Church under John Paul II where, despite the Pope’s personal holiness, the moral degeneration of large parts of the Church went unaddressed. Or — to go from the sublime to the near-ridiculous — one can think of Tottenham Hotspur under the charismatic Harry Redknapp. Spurs were a good team under his management but they are only beginning to fulfil their true potential under the less charismatic but more technically astute AndrĂ© Villas-Boas.

Successful leaders guard and develop the underlying institution. At some point leaders must be judged by their success at doing that, rather than by their own celebrity or popularity.

What, then, about the country and the Conservative Party under Mr Cameron? The coalition will deliver significant improvements to our schools, to the welfare system and to the accountability of the police, but the central issue of our time is the national debt. That at least is what the Prime Minister told us three years ago. At the end of this Parliament the nation’s debt problem won’t be better. It will be worse. Much worse.

In its postwar history the Conservative Party enjoyed three principal electoral advantages: a mass membership grassroots organisation, a supportive centre-right press and a monopoly of the centre-right vote. Under Mr Cameron, the long-term membership decline has accelerated. Worse, there have been no efforts to build a digital machine to compensate for that decline. Relations with the press have deteriorated badly, probably irreparably. And, third, and most significantly, for the first time in the postwar period large numbers of centre-right voters have, in UKIP, a new vehicle for their concerns.

In regretting Mr Cameron’s unfocused, drifting leadership, I don’t recommend to the Conservative Party that it chooses a new leader. The nation’s problems are complex. There is no political messiah sitting behind Mr Cameron in the Commons, or indeed opposite him. The country may need a statesman in charge — someone with a plan to restore competitiveness and to ensure that everyone in every part of Britain shares in the prosperity that results — but I can’t see an obvious candidate.

Mr Cameron can claim achievements that will stand the test of history: his support for gay marriage, for example; his investment in transformational vaccination programmes for the world’s poorest people; his lifting of nearly 3 million poorly paid Britons out of the income tax system. Overall, however, to reapply a phrase used by the Labour leader on Saturday, Mr Cameron’s leadership of the Tory party is looking dangerously like a lost decade. The decade began with a promise to save the world’s climate and rebuild conservatism. Cameronism then became a more modest project to balance the nation’s books.
By 2015 the shrinkage will be complete. The Tory leader will stand before the country with the thin claim that he’s not as bad as Ed Miliband. It may be enough to keep him in No 10, but it’s a depressing prospect for the country.

Tim Montgomerie can more usually be found here.

PM - The Man In The Bowler Hat

The Man In The Bowler Hat

I am the unnoticed, the unnoticable man:
The man who sat on your right in the morning train:
The man who looked through like a windowpane:
The man who was the colour of the carriage, the colour of the mounting
Morning pipe smoke.

I am the man too busy with a living to live,
Too hurried and worried to see and smell and touch:
The man who is patient too long and obeys too much
And wishes too softly and seldom.

I am the man they call the nation's backbone,
Who am boneless - playable castgut, pliable clay:
The Man they label Little lest one day
I dare to grow.

I am the rails on which the moment passes,
The megaphone for many words and voices:
I am the graph diagram,
Composite face.

I am the led, the easily-fed,
The tool, the not-quite-fool,
The would-be-safe-and-sound,
The uncomplaining, bound,
The dust fine-ground,
Stone-for-a-statue waveworn pebble-round

By Arthur Seymour John Tessimond. See more of his work here.

Arthur Seymour John Tessimond (Birkenhead, July 19, 1902 – Chelsea, London May 13, 1962) was an English poet.

He went to Birkenhead School until the age of 14, before being sent to Charterhouse School, but ran away at age 16. From 1922 to 1926 he attended the University of Liverpool, where he read English literature, French, Philosophy and Greek. He later moved to London where he worked in bookshops, and also as a copywriter.

After avoiding military service in World War II, he later discovered he was unfit for service. He suffered from bipolar disorder, and received electro-convulsive therapy.

He first began to publish in the 1920s in literary magazines. He was to see three volumes of poetry were published during his life: Walls of Glass in 1934, Voices in a Giant City in 1947 and Selections in 1958. He contributed several poems to a 1952 edition of Bewick's Birds.

He died in 1962 from a brain haemorrhage. See Wikipedia for more detail.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Sunday Service - The rise and rise of UKIP

It's their spring conference this weekend and boy do they have a lot to celebrate. They are beginning to win local council seats which is a decent sign of progress in the first past the post world.

More importantly they are doing well in recent by elections such as Eastleigh where they came a close second and put the Tories in third. UKIP have also now polled consistently well for say about a year. They are on a par if not above the Lib Dems, maybe averaging 10% in polling.

And on it goes as they get more media coverage (eg today they are in the Times, Telegraph, BBC online etc as mainstream articles), get an audience with Rupert Murdoch and have the future on their side.

By that I mean they have the May local elections mid way through an increasingly struggling coalition Government. The ingredients for a perfect protest vote. Indeed Nigel Farage hopes that the party is now more than a protest vote or ex Tory party. He believes there is strong evidence they have picked up plenty of Lib Dem, Labour and non voters too.

Following the May elections come the Euro elections next year. This is obviously UKIP home turf really as they already have a number of MEPS, Europe is in turmoil and their principal reason for existing is to get out of Europe. In addition it's not a first past the post system which helps them enormously. They may well just about finish top of the pile if if if...

If they can keep the momentum rolling and ride the wave then it could be an incredible next 12 months for them. Certainly over the last 12 months their membership has apparently flourished, they are improving their professional organisation and standing in more and more areas. They wish to stand in all seats at the next general election.

So the rise of UKIP has occurred. Will they fall flat as a pancake or will they continue to flourish over the next year. We shall see.

One final point - UKIP are still dominated by Farage, who is very good on the media and seemingly everywhere. However they need to get others in the firing line and in the meantime hope Farage stays well. Plus they can expect their policies to be attacked but I don't think that will get Labour or the Tories far.

I think UKIP at present are on the rise because they are not one of the main parties and UKIPs rhetoric chimes much more closely with those outside Westminster village and the media.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Saturday Kitchen - Moules Mariniere

Another classic dish that we don't eat enough of. this recipe is from from Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets.

Preparation time: less than 30 mins.

Cooking time: less than 10 mins
Serves 4.

It's surprisingly easy to make.


- 1.8kg/3lbs 8oz mussels
- 100ml/4fl oz dry white wine
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 small onion, very finely chopped
- 4 fresh bay leaves
- 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 tbsp whipping cream
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh flatleaf parsley


1. Wash the mussels under cold running water in a sink, removing any beards and barnacles. Do not scrub the shells as the colour will transfer during cooking giving an unappetising grey colour to the dish. Discard any mussels that float or remain open when tapped against the side of the sink.

2. Boil the wine in a small saucepan for 30 seconds then set aside. (This is to remove the harsh taste of the alcohol and leave only the fruity acidity of the wine.)

3. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a high heat, then add the onion, bay leaves and thyme. Stir for 10 seconds, then add the wine and bring to a boil.

4. Add the mussels, cover with a lid and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the mussels open. (Discard any mussels that do not open.)

5. Add the whipping cream and parsley and stir well. No seasoning is required as the mussels will release a little salt water when they open, which is enough to season the dish perfectly.

6. Serve the mussels in a large warmed serving dish or four soup plates. Give your guests finger bowls and plenty of good-quality French bread to mop up the juices.

Top recipe tip

There are many variations of this dish. Try adding Madras curry powder with the onion and finish the dish with lemon juice and fresh coriander. For a Thai version, add chilli, garlic, lemongrass and lime leaf with the onion and replace the cream with coconut milk.

So tasty

Best place to get the mussels from is fish for thought online. Amazing stuff.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Fact Friday - 10 useless facts

1) The word "queue" is the only word in the English language that is still pronounced the same way when the last four letters are removed.

2) Beetles taste like apples, wasps like pine nuts, and worms like fried bacon.

3) Of all the words in the English language, the word 'set' has the most definitions!

4) What is called a "French kiss" in the English speaking world is known as an "English kiss" in France.

5) "Almost" is the longest word in the English language with all the letters in alphabetical order.

6) "Rhythm" is the longest English word without a vowel.

7) In 1386, a pig in France was executed by public hanging for the murder of a child

8) A cockroach can live several weeks with its head cut off!

9) Human thigh bones are stronger than concrete.

10) You can't kill yourself by holding your breath

More useless facts here.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Thursday Drinks Cabinet - Meantime London Pale Ale

Meantime Brewery founded in 2000 by Brewmaster Alastair Hook, who had previously trained at the world famous brewing school at the Technical University of Munich of Weihenstephan makes Meantime Pale Ale. The Greenwich Brewery, home of the Meantime Brewing is located on Blackwall Lane, London, 2010. More info on them is here.

Meantime may be yet another trendy micro brewery but their London Pale Ale is good stuff. Indeed their lager is lovely too.

One hundred and fifty years ago the new bitter beer style, Pale Ale, was so popular that brewers had to import Californian hops to meet demand.

Meantime London Pale Ale continues that tradition by combining lots of American Cascade and Centennial hops to give it a complex citrus aroma and buckets full of local Kentish Goldings to provide the bitterness that makes the style so refreshing.
Together they are quite tasty.

See here for more detail.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Where your taxes go in 2013-2014

Quite interesting to see how the receipts and spending break down.

See order-order for a clearer view of the chart.

Wednesdays Joke of the Week - part 3 - another 10 of the top 50 ever

21. A jump-lead walks into a bar. The barman says ''I'll serve you, but don't start anything''

22. Slept like a log last night........ Woke up in the fireplace.

23. A priest, a rabbi and a vicar walk into a bar. The barman says, ''Is this some kind of joke?''

24. A sandwich walks into a bar. The barman says ''Sorry we don't serve food in here''

25. The other day I sent my girlfriend a huge pile of snow. I rang her up, I said ''Did you get my drift?''.

26. I cleaned the attic with the wife the other day. Now I can't get the cobwebs out of her hair.

27. Went to the paper shop - it had blown away.

28. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. ''But why?'' they asked, as they moved off. ''because,'' he said ''I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.''

29. I was in Tesco's and I saw this man and woman wrapped in a barcode. I said, ''Are you two an item?''

30. I'm in great mood tonight because the other day I entered a competition and I won a years supply of Marmite......... one jar.

Jokes courtesy of newslite.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Tech Tuesday - The 4G nightmare is to begin

This year will see the arrival of new 4G services, enabling the super-fast internet on your mobile phones. But while 4G will benefit the UK by giving us access to next generation mobile internet services, it will also have the side effect of disrupting people’s existing Freeview service.

Satellite and cable TV services are not expected to be affected.
Because this is no fault of the consumer, at800 will provide free support on how to fix interference before it happens.

All well and good except this body which has been given nearly £200 million by the mobile phone operators appears ill equipped to deal with it all.

They have a few hundred call centre staff and men in vans to fix any problemo.

It could all go horribly wrong.

Also at800 has only just launched and doesn't have long before 4G properly takes off. Not much time to inform us all of the 4G issue.

We shall see but it doesn't look like its being handled well.

Monday, 18 March 2013

PM - A Western Ballad by Allen Ginsberg

The poem below is by Allen Ginsberg who was well known and liked in the US. See his website for more details

When I died, love, when I died
my heart was broken in your care;
I never suffered love so fair
as now I suffer and abide
when I died, love, when I died.

When I died, love, when I died
I wearied in an endless maze
that men have walked for centuries,
as endless as the gate was wide
when I died, love, when I died.

When I died, love, when I died
there was a war in the upper air:
all that happens, happens there;
there was an angel by my side
when I died, love, when I died.

Allen Ginsberg (3 June 1926 – 5 April 1997 / Newark, New Jersey)

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Sunday Service - Lord Ashcroft: End the ringfence for international aid

Last Wednesday Lord Ashcroft on Conservativehome and his own website argued the following:

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC.

"The budget deficit remains the central fact of British politics. The deficit constrains everything the government does, or can plan to do. Restoring the country’s finances remains the coalition’s priority, and rightly so, but this is proving harder than it hoped or expected.

One reason for this is that while Conservatives favour public spending cuts in principle, they often oppose them in practice. Ministers are evidently fighting to protect their own territory. MPs and activists call for spending to fall faster, but to rise in their own favoured areas. Vested interests and lobby groups protest, but that is their job – just as it is the Chancellor’s job to make decisions.

None of those decisions is easy. But one is overdue, and has the unusual advantage of being both popular and helping the Chancellor achieve his fiscal goals. It is time to remove the ringfence around the International Development budget and end the commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on aid.

I don’t want to rehearse the overseas aid debate in detail. I have argued before that spending large sums of taxpayers’ money in this way is too often ineffective or even counterproductive, fuelling corruption and stagnating economic innovation in the countries we are trying to help.

The 0.7 per cent target, proposed by campaigners half a century ago, is arbitrary and even bizarre: in what other areas of government do we start not by asking what we want to achieve, but how much of our national income we want to dispense?
It is sometimes said that the commitment to the aid spending target shows Britain’s compassion as a nation. But whatever its merits or otherwise, spending taxpayers’ money on aid has nothing to do with compassion. People show compassion by giving of what they have, of their own accord. If people want to support charities that provide real help to those in need, I admire them. But governments cannot be “compassionate” with money they have confiscated from their citizens on pain of prison.

The Department for International Development budget is increasing by an amazing 50 per cent over this parliament. It is one of only two Whitehall ministries whose staff numbers are growing.

Even for those who defend overseas aid in principle, it is hard to argue that spending on it should rise at this rate at a time when spending at home is being cut.

Yet this policy remains the orthodoxy among the three main parties, even though most people disagree with it. I do not claim that many people are turning to UKIP, or saying they will not vote, simply because of the aid policy itself – but Westminster consensus in the face of public opposition is the kind of thing that many voters find exasperating and drives them to look for alternatives or give up on politics altogether.

There are signs that the government has begun to respond. David Cameron has indicated that some aid money may be diverted to the Ministry of Defence to help cover peacekeeping costs. Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary who is said to be sceptical about some of the policies pursued by her department, is involving British companies in the delivery of aid policy in an attempt to strengthen the private sector and end dependency in recipient countries.

The Chancellor should build on this by announcing in next month’s budget that he is dismantling the ringfence for the aid budget which sits so uneasily with most voters’ priorities. He need not formally abandon the 0.7 per cent target if this would make coalition relations so difficult that progress stops in other areas – though the country would no doubt welcome the news that we were no longer pursuing higher aid spending as an end in itself. A statement that we were slowing the planned rise would be a step in the right direction and show he was listening."

I am not Lord Ashcrofts biggest fan but I have to say that I agree with nearly every word he has written.

I get very annoyed when Cameron says it shows "compassion" to give this aid. But it's not his bloomin money to give etc etc its a patronising nanny state line.

Anyway instead of beating round the bush they shod consider the very hard decision if cutting the overseas aid budget a lot.

Saturday Kitchen - Lemon Roast Chicken

Another ridiculously easy meal ideal for a weekend family and friends roast. It tastes so good and is fool proof!

Ingredients for the roast chicken and veg for four (details from here) -

1 onion , roughly chopped
2 carrots , roughly chopped
1 free range chicken , about 1.5kg/3lb 5oz
1 lemon , halved
small bunch thyme (optional)


1 tbsp plain flour
250ml chicken stock (a cube is fine)


Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Have a shelf ready in the middle of the oven without any shelves above it. Scatter the vegetables over the base of a roasting tin that fits the chicken, but doesn't swamp it.

Season the cavity of the chicken liberally with salt and pepper, then stuff with the lemon halves and thyme, if using. Sit the chicken on the vegetables, smother the breast and legs all over with the butter, then season the outside with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and leave, undisturbed, for 1 hr 20 mins - this will give you a perfectly roasted chicken.

To check, pierce the thigh with a skewer and the juices should run clear. Remove the tin from the oven and, using a pair of tongs, lift the chicken to a dish or board to rest for 15-20 mins. As you lift the dish, let any juices from the chicken pour out of the cavity into the roasting tin.

While the chicken is resting, make the gravy. Place the roasting tin over a low flame, then stir in the flour and sizzle until you have a light brown, sandy paste. Gradually pour in the stock, stirring all the time, until you have a thickened sauce. Simmer for 2 mins, using a wooden spoon to stir, scraping any sticky bits from the tin. Strain the gravy into a small saucepan, then simmer and season to taste. When you carve the bird, add any extra juices to the gravy.

The golden rule to roast chicken...

A 1.5kg chicken will be perfectly roasted after 1 hr 20 mins at 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. It doesn't matter what you stuff into it, rub or sprinkle over it or put around it, this timing never changes. Remember this and you will always be able to roast a chicken.


Obviously you may well want some potatoes and even Yorkshire pudding which actually work well with the dish.

See here for the best potato recipe.

See here for the best Yorkshire pudding recipe.

And now enjoy your weekend roast.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Fact Friday - strange but true Kennedy/Lincoln facts

There are weird similarities between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846. John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860. John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

Both were shot in the back of the head in the presence of their wives.

Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.

Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.

Lincoln's secretary was named Kennedy.

Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.

Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

Lincoln was shot in the Ford Theatre. Kennedy was shot in a Lincoln, made by Ford.

Lincoln was shot in a theatre and his assassin ran and hid in a warehouse.

Kennedy was shot from a warehouse and his assassin ran
and hid in a theatre.

Both Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Thursday Drinks Cabinet - Mojito's

You just can't beat this drink on a hot day! Not that we have had many of those lately. Anyone can make it. It is easy to do. Get some pre summer practice in now.

The ingredients are -

2-3oz of white rum,

juice of one lime (1oz) or more to taste,

2tsp sugar (sugar syrup),

2-4 (or more) mint leaves,

soda water to taste.

Lightly muddle the mint and sugar with a splash of soda water in a mixing glass until the sugar dissolves and you smell the mint.

Squeeze the lime into the glass, add rum and shake with ice. Strain over cracked ice in a highball glass. Top with soda water, garnish with mint sprig and serve. (Optional to add ANGOSTURA bitters for more flavour).

The above is a general guide. Don't be afraid to mix up the quantities to taste.

You've got to give it a try.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Wednesdays joke of the week part 2 - 10 more of them!

11. I went to the doctor the other day and said: "Have you got anything for wind?" So he gave me a kite.

12. My mother-in law fell down a wishing well. I was amazed, I never knew they worked.

13. I saw this bloke chatting up a cheetah. I thought: "He's trying to pull a fast one."

14. A woman has twins, and gives them up for adoption. One goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Amal". The other goes to a family in Spain, who name him "Juan". Years later Juan sends a picture of himself to his mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wished she also had a picture of Amal. Her husband responds: "They're twins. If you've seen Juan, you've seen Amal."

15. Two fish in a tank. One says: "How do you drive this thing?"

16. I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day - but I couldn't find any.

17. When Susan's boyfriend proposed she said: "I love the simple things in life, but I don't want one of them as a husband".

18. My therapist says I have a preoccupation with vengeance.

We'll see about that.

19. I rang up BT and said: "I want to report a nuisance caller." The operator said: "Not you again."

20. I met a Dutch girl with inflatable shoes last week. I rang her up to arrange a date, but unfortunately she'd popped her clogs.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Tech Tuesday - Google Glass

I think this will be the start of a technological revolution. It's a bit scary really. Google Glass will be available to buy by the end of the year for around £1000.

Google Glass (stylized simply as GLASS) is an augmented reality wearable computer with a head-mounted display (HMD) that is being developed by Google in the Project Glass research and development project.

It takes a step further toward ubiquitous computing, which is the idea that the Internet and computers will be accessible anywhere at any time without having to use one's hands.

Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like format hands-free, can interact with the Internet via natural language voice commands, and uses Google's Android operating system.

While the frames do not currently have lenses fitted to them, Google is considering partnering with sunglass retailers such as Ray-Ban or Warby Parker, and may also open retail stores to allow customers to try on the device.

Glass will utilize many already-existing Google applications, such as Google Now and Google Maps. The device will also be able to display the weather.

Voice commands will be a big driver of apps.

Feature Voice activation text examples -

Record video "ok glass, record a video."

Take picture "ok glass, take a picture."

Start Google+ hangout "ok glass, hang out with [person/circle]."

Search "ok glass, google [search query]".

Search photos "ok glass, google photos of [search query]."

Translate "ok glass, say [text] in [language]."

Give directions "ok glass, give directions to [search query]."

Use Google Now "ok glass, [question]

Send message "ok glass, send a message to "[name]".

See much more on it and the video here

Monday, 11 March 2013

PM - An Eastern Ballad - Allen Ginsberg

An Eastern Ballad

I speak of love that comes to mind:
The moon is faithful, although blind;
She moves in thought she cannot speak.
Perfect care has made her bleak.

I never dreamed the sea so deep,
The earth so dark; so long my sleep,
I have become another child.
I wake to see the world go wild.

Allen Ginsberg (3 June 1926 – 5 April 1997 / Newark, New Jersey)

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Sunday Service - Night of the Tory long knifes approaches?

I do not think replacing David Cameron before the election is a good idea. I don't think Cameron has done a good job with his party but he has done okay on the national front given its a coalition and terrible times.

The press seem to think there is some discontent in the party. The press are wrong its more than that, many Tory MP's and Tory members are fuming. They see certain electoral defeat, they have no idea of Cameron's direction and they hate seeing the party apparatus whither on the vine or defect to UKIP.

While they have a point especially about the death of the party machine outside central office it is madness to change leader now. Problem number one - who else is there? Problem number two - the speculation itself is very damaging. Problem number three - it might just cause an early election. I just don't see it happening. A night of the long knifes would be disastrous.

Discontent will remain as a large number of Tory MP's know they are going to lose their seats and blame him. Equally lots of party faithful now have to sit day in day out listening to friends and family who have joined UKIP and don't like it.

Cameron should be ignoring all this speculation. He spent years walking around Westminster espousing his view that he would be a one term Tory and he's right he will be (in fact not even that as he's in coalition). He needs to finish the job on the economy, welfare and education as they will be his legacy. However it probably still all irks him a great deal.

He should try talking to people in his party. That would be a start, but he has never really appeared to do that.

Still we shall have rumours all year helped by the May local elections and euro elections next year which it seems will no doubt see the great advance of UKIP.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Saturday Kitchen - Sicilian dish of Spaghetti and capers

This recipe is really simple, fast and tastes amazing. It is from Rick Stein. Just don't put 3 times the amount of chilli flakes in as I did first time round - not good.


200g spaghetti

2 tbs Extra Virgin Olive oil
3 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
8 tomatoes on the vine
Handful of mint leaves
2 tbs capers washed and drained
1/2 tsp chili flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese


Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the pips and juice (you don’t need the pips or juice).

Into a pan put the olive oil and pop the garlic cloves in to cook gently. No browning we are just infusing the oil.

Remove garlic and discard.

Chop the tomatoes and add to the oil.

Chop the mint and rough chop the capers and add to the pan.

Add chili flakes and season with Salt and pepper.

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add the spaghetti – cook until al dente.

Drain the cooked pasta and add to the sauce.

Toss together and serve. The original recipe does not have Parmesan cheese but its good stuff grated over it all.

Simple Sicilian recipe and is very tasty.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Fact Friday - Global population is estimated now at over 7 billion

7 billion! We only just reached one billion in 1800. In fact we only got to 3 billion in around 1970. We are everywhere and still increasing fast. I am sure we will cope and things are slowing but it's getting crowded.

You only have to look at London and the South East to see how crowded places can be.

See here for more info.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Thursday Drinks Cabinet - Tusker

If you're looking for the best lager around then look no further than Kenya's Tusker. It rules. I used to drink it when I lived there for a little bit.
Tusker is a beer brand owned by East African Breweries, with over 700,000 hectolitres being sold in Kenya per year. It is also the largest African beer brand in the Diageo group. It is a 4.2% ABV pale lager.
The beer's slogan "Bia yangu, Nchi yangu" means "My beer, My country" in Swahili.

In 1922, Kenya Breweries (now East African Breweries) was formally incorporated as a private limited company. The company's first beer was brewed on 15 December 1922, with its first batch delivered to the Stanley Hotel where it was met with mixed reactions. The beer, originally from Kenya, shifted through to Tanzania and other East African countries and soon began to be exported.
The company's first annual general meeting was held in 1923. George Hurst, the company's founder, was killed in an elephant hunting accident and in his memory, his brother Charles decided to name the first beer brewed "Tusker".

And - Brilliant news
In early 2008, the UK supermarket chain Tesco began selling Tusker, followed soon after by Sainsbury's.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

3 Proverbs for the day

1) Money can buy you a house but not a family. It can buy you a watch but not time. It can buy you a bed but not sleep, a book but not knowledge, can buy you medical care but not health.
-- Unknown

2) Life is not measured by the breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.
— Unknown

3) To lose patience is to lose the battle.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday's joke of the week - Well 10 of them

1. A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says: ''Ugh, that's the ugliest baby I've ever seen!'' The woman walks to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her: ''The driver just insulted me!'' The man says: ''You go up there and tell him off. Go on, I'll hold your monkey for you.''

2. ''I went to the zoo the other day, there was only one dog in it, it was a shitzu.''

3. ''Dyslexic man walks into a bra''

4. A young blonde woman is distraught because she fears her husband is having an affair, so she goes to a gun shop and buys a handgun. The next day she comes home to find her husband in bed with a beautiful redhead. She grabs the gun and holds it to her own head. The husband jumps out of bed, begging and pleading with her not to shoot herself. Hysterically the blonde responds to the husband, ''Shut're next!''

5. A classic Tommy Cooper gag ''I said to the Gym instructor "Can you teach me to do the splits?'' He said, ''How flexible are you?'' I said, ''I can't make Tuesdays''.

6. Police arrested two kids yesterday, one was drinking battery acid, the other was eating fireworks. They charged one - and let the other one off.

7. Two aerials meet on a roof - fall in love - get married. The ceremony was rubbish - but the reception was brilliant.

8. Doc, I can't stop singing the 'Green Green Grass of Home'. He said: 'That sounds like Tom Jones syndrome'. 'Is it common?'I asked. 'It's not unusual' he replied.

9. I'm on a whiskey diet. I've lost three days already.

10. A man walks into a bar with a roll of tarmac under his arm and says: ''Pint please, and one for the road.''

If you think they are funny then more are here