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The older I get, the more cynical I get. It is not a fact I am proud of, but it is a fact. I disbelieve just about everything the establishment and the media tell us. I am convinced that we are manipulated into being the submissive, law-abiding robots that we have become. It grieves me greatly.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

All things tea

I love tea and everything that goes with it - teapots, mugs, cups, afternoon tea, tea shops.  At the age of 50 I have the consumer selection of a 90 year old. 

I didn't touch tea or coffee until I was 26.  I was on a four-months detachment in the Falkland Islands.  We couldn't drink the water unless we boiled it so I mainly drank soft drinks from our one shop.  The management, in all its wisdom had failed to rotate stock, and had a massive amount of 6 months out-of-date diet coca-cola to shift.  Nobody wanted to buy it.  They reduced it to 10p a can and still nobody wanted to buy it.  They then removed all other soft drinks from the shop.  This was of course in no way an abuse of their monopoly nor incompetent management covering up for failure by maltreating its customers.  Good old NAAFI - supporting the British Forces!

However I have them to thank for my love of tea, because there was nothing else I could drink.  I couldn't take it with milk and didn't like it really strong so I am became a master at whisking the tea bag out of boiling water before it got to the stage where a mouse could trot across it.  Spoons are for sissies, asbestos fingers are the order of the day.  In December 1991 I returned to the UK and access to a wider range of teas - and yes, all the RAF pilots really did announce 'ladies you are now all officially ugly again' and we did all laugh and take the comment in the good humour in which it was intended.  

For several years I only drank earl grey until I was in Ecuador and it was very hard to come by, but I did manage to occasionally find earl grey leaf tea and eked it out by mixing with English Breakfast.  That encouraged me to try stronger teas when I got home.  Since then I have come on in leaps and bounds and have teas of all strengths and mix up my own blends, sometimes by design, sometimes because I pour a new pack in the wrong caddy.  I still can't stand milk, I will never understand why anyone would ruin a drink as amazing as tea with milk.  I much prefer leaf tea, even though it is messy, it is worth the effort.  Tea bags are a good stand-by and handier for work, but it still has to be good quality tea.  

Boiling water is another must have.  At work we have water-urns which produce very hot water, but for a decent cuppa you need freshly boiled water, and to warm the pot / cup so the tea stays hot as long as possible.  I am not fussy about the type of mug or cup, but it must not be too thick and the inside must be white, not coloured (this is my idea of not fussy, you should see my idea of tactful).  I have several teapots - not the cute 'looks like a house' type, I just can't resist an attractive teapot, so I have seven.  Despite this abundance of pots the one I always use is the cheap, red small enamel teapot that I bought in Bert's of Brighton.  It is showing its age now, but perfect for two cups of tea.  I hanker after 'For Life' stump tea pot as well, to go with the other six pots I don't use.

I quite like mint tea in the late evening, but at all other times it generally has to be black tea and I have a few favourites.  H.R. Higgins in Duke Street has a fantastic selection and is a lovely shop; and the Kent & Sussex Tea & Coffee Co in Pluckley, Kent does great tea.  I also liked Taylors of Harrogate Ntingwe Kwazulu and tend to keep a supply of Twinings bags and leaf tea in case I run out of any of the others.  I have foolishly assumed that paying a higher price for tea means the workers who provide it enjoy better conditions, but I need to stop assuming that.  Having just looked at the ratings for tea companies on 'ethical consumer' I was shocked that Twinings scored so poorly.  I don't know why I was shocked, it isn't like I have cared enough before to research it.  This blog piece was just me waffling on about how I love tea, but it has made me realise that I need to love tea which provides a decent living for people.  I don't want others to suffer so I can faff around being precious about brands surrounded by tea pots I don't need.  The more we know, the more we realise we need to know.  If nobody else is even interested in this piece, it has definitely made me think about what I will drink going forward. 

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Bottom gear

Over the last few days I have driven some 1200 miles through France and it has left me most definitely feeling my age. It was also not ideal conditions for driving - howling winds, heavy rain and much of the driving in darkness.

I now have much greater appreciation for British roads. French motorways are laden with either tolls or potholes.  They seem narrower and are definitely less well lit.  I really missed cats eyes.   The rain was torrential.  If I drove up behind a large lorry, the spray was horrendous, but overtaking large lorries on dark narrow motorways makes me feel a bit sick.  I have to coach myself past them with a little pep talk on how much better it will be when I am over it – the kind of pep talk I haven’t had to go through since my divorce. 

On the return journey, speeds of over 65 miles an hour in the fully loaded small van felt unstable.   When I got home and was on the M2, I realised I was bombing along, overtaking lorries without a second thought.  I get to France and I turn into Mr Bean behind the wheel.  Going through one extremely narrow section of roadworks made me feel so sick I nearly had to stop, bribe someone else to drive the car whilst I hid in the back - but my pigeon French isn’t up to that kind of request and if you want to get back into the UK these days, lurking in the back of vans isn’t the best move.

I also suspect that my age has something to do with it.  My brother and I used to laugh at dad, who won't drive in the dark and would leave hours earlier than he had planned because he said he must get home 'before the rains get in'.  Now I am starting to agree with him.  Driving in rain is now so tiring, that I couldn't face a 30 mile trip tonight to visit a friend.  I don't think I am the greatest of drivers, but I always used to enjoy driving and have been on road trips covering thousands of miles and loved every minute.  It could have been the reason for the journey which got to me so much, but if I win the Euro lottery, I am definitely going to consider getting a chauffeur to drive me around.  

I forgot to take CDs as well, so the only company I had was French radio.  I listened to music stations until I got completely sick of both Sam Smith and Uptown Funk and then listened to talk radio, conning myself that I was improving my French by repeating what they were saying - or at least what I thought they had said. My final entertainment was when the van was searched at Dover.   I had expected the first question to be where had I been and why, but he asked me where I lived, so it threw me.  I took a while to answer, which made me worry I looked guilty and I then started stuttering.  I am the kind of person who feels guilty when I walk through nothing to declare with nothing to declare, so being searched makes me want to show everything to the customs guards from my few purchases of French wine and the contents of my luggage to the length of my intestines.  He was a very nice customs guard and even helped me manoeuvre the van out of the parking spot ... I say that as if it were a hydraulic truck, not a car-based van. 

I got home a bit less keen on driving and a lot less keen on driving in France.  The French have got two things right though, their service stations are better than ours - cleaner, better food, and the price of the fuel is much cheaper.  Diesel is €1.18 a litre (£0.87) in towns and €1.35 (£1.00) on motorways (petrol is €1.22 / €1.45).  I topped up my wine rack as well. It would seem rude to spend a weekend in France and not have a glass or two of wine, even if you do have to wait until you get home to enjoy it.  I opened one of my bottles when I got home.  I was so freaked out by rainy motorways that before I knew it there was only one glass left in the bottle.  I'm pretty sure that the extremely low prices mean lower alcohol content and the consumption is in no way reflective of excessive alcohol consumption.  I did briefly feel bad about the amount that I had drunk, but then I looked at the amount left in the bottle, and it looked so lonely that I drank that as well – there’s a lot to be said for not having to drive in the morning. 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Choice behaviour

Does the average woman or man in the street really want to see their prospective parliamentary / council candidates in the same street? 

You may have heard that there is a general election coming up in the UK.  Equally you may not have heard, in which case I can only envy you.  Rochester and Strood's by-election in November 2014 brought election fever to us early, and it is still very much here.  Dozens of MPs descended upon us.   Their keen interest in our towns has not noticeably improved the area.  It is a shame that they didn't all stay home and just pledge us all the money it had cost them to campaign instead.  It led me to wonder what really influences our voting behaviour. 

You venture out to visit the library or a trip to a teashop and you run the gauntlet of candidates and their supporters, leaflets and clipboards in hand, rigid smiles plastered on to their faces.  I avert my gaze and walk by as if they were not there. I have had lots of practice in that from studying the way young, attractive men avoid me.  I don't pursue young men, I can see how ineffective that would be, so I wonder why parties put so much time and money into campaigning without any supporting evidence to say it works?  I would like to see one area brave enough to ban campaigning and see what difference, if any, that it made to voting behaviour.  I choose the candidate I think will be best for the area.  If I still can't decide, I then chose the party I dislike the least.  If that disappoints you, I put less effort into my choice of first husband, so at least my choice mechanisms are improving.   

I ran a quick search on the internet, the font of all knowledge available to me on a Sunday morning.   There wasn't much available.  The Guardian wrote a piece on a voting behaviour study by the London School of Economics and Opinium in 2010 (article here).  Apparently there hasn't been much research into this since the 1960s, which would have taken place in a vastly different landscape in terms of politics, social media and technology.  The study has yet to finish, bit some of the findings so far have been published (article here).  

Findings suggest that 20% to 30% of voters change their minds in the last week, 25% of Americans have actually cried because of an election, and 63% of voters say they feel happy when they are in a voting booth.  This tells us three things, candidates should stay at home until near the end of the election, there is a lot to be said for the stereotypical British reserve and 63% of voters need to get out a lot more.  Voters who vote in a polling station are more likely to cast their vote based on what they think is best for the country.  If you take that fact into account along with vote-rigging scandals which have bugged postal voting (2005 BBC report), it is a good argument for encouraging us to vote in person.  

I have yet to see anything about the influence, negative or positive, of door to door campaigning.  Young voters apparently are more negative about politicians who use social media campaigns, which seems a bit hypocritical for a generation whose attachment to their smart phones is akin to general population's attachment to oxygen.  I don't mind the social media campaign, I find it much easier to cope with that than candidates campaigning in person.  In fact I am somewhat disappointed that only one out of my five local candidates is on Twitter.  I enjoy a good rant.  

Candidates will campaign, whether I like it or not.  Voters will employ a myriad of reasons for casting their vote, whether campaigners like it or not.  I don't think of marketing campaigns as manipulating the way I vote, I think of them as marketing companies manipulating political parties into wasting their time and money.  They and the spin doctors are like a controlling partner, whispering in the ears of the insecure politicians 'you know you'd be nothing without me'.  The reality is a bit less spin would do everyone a favour.  I look forward to the full study being published.  I find it all quite fascinating, even if that does suggest that I also need to get out more.