captain fishcake

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Whoops!


Hello. Yes, a rather unexpected entry but just to let you know of a glitch we've had.

Trying to be at the forefront of it all, you may have recently noticed an extra link on the right hand side which would have enabled you to subscribe to email alerts when this blog is updated. If only it had worked. Instead of notifying of updates to this blog, it alerted you to a completely different blog!

So, we've taken it down and replaced it with one that works! If you have subscribed using the old method, please can we suggest you click the unsubscribe link when you get an alert, and sign up using the new system!

Thanks, and sorry.

The Captain

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Lost or not lost?

This week from the Captain- directions, Deal or No Deal, the World Cup

At last I have solved one of society's great unanswered questions! Why don't men ask for directions? Now, as a man I have to be careful what I say here, but I admit that I don't like asking for directions, and to that end have a SatNav in the car. And, should I ever run out of fuel or break down in an area with no mobile phone reception, that will be me you drive past wearing the yellow jacket holding my SatNav as I walk along, having added my breakdown position as a favourite, for easy return navigation.

Recently I was in Tesco's having popped in during my lunch-hour to pick up a few essentials- you know, one of those shopping trips where you don't even pick up a basket as you're only getting three items. Now, I don't wear a uniform and was wearing shirt and trousers, but my shirt was white and Tesco employees tend to wear blue shirts. Also, I was wearing my ID badge, which was quite obviously not from T
esco and anyway, when did you last see a Tesco employee wear an ID badge with their photo on it? So, to most people I quite blatantly did not work at the shop. But twice I was stopped to ask for help. Now I'm often stopped by little old ladies who can't reach the bag of flour from the top shelf, and I don't mind that, but to be asked where certain items are is something different. The first gentleman was an old boy and accosted me in the light-bulb aisle. "Excuse me, could you tell me where the turnips are?". At first I thought Jeremy Beadle had come out of retirement and spent some money on a decent wardrobe and make-up department and was about to play along for the cameras when it dawned on me. Turnips? In the light-bulb aisle? I did want to reply with "Well obviously not down here, try the vegetable section" but responded with the usual "No sorry, I don't work here".

"...At first I thought Jeremy Beadle had come out of retirement and spent some money on a decent wardrobe and make-up department and was about to play along for the cameras when it dawned on me. Turnips? In the light-bulb aisle?..."

The second gentleman stopped me as I was heading towards the checkout. I always find that when heading to pay, by default your brain makes you go down an aisle you haven't been down, and not having pets, this is always the pet-food aisle. It's always the quiet one as well. Half-way down, a middle-aged man and his son were looking lost, darting glances around the shelves of dog food, cat food and hamster stuff. "Excuse me, my son really likes Pot Noodles and I know you usually keep them round here, could you tell me where you've put them?" he asked. If it were down to me, I would have put them all in a huge furnace along with the team at Golden Wonder who thought their adverts were funny but I'm not sure that would have helped, so again the standard reply.

And that's why men don't ask for directions. Because if they reach the point where
they need to, it means they're hopelessly lost and to ask for directions would now be embarassing. Imagine driving in London and stopping to ask a policeman how to get to the Angel of the North- you'd be the topic of conversation for years to come. Similarly, you're so lost in the supermarket you're looking for turnips next to the 60W bulbs and Pot Noodles next to the worming tablets; if you ask for directions people are going to think you've lost the plot.

"...Imagine driving in London and stopping to ask a policeman how to get to the Angel of the North- you'd be the topic of conversation for years to come..."

It's the sort of programme you would have thought we'd invented. It has the typically stupid but catchy phrases, it has the jazzy upbeat music, it has people standing up looking strangely happy, and the set looks like it was made for a GCSE coursework project. And then, we would export it to the rest of the world and make squillions. But Deal or No Deal or DOND as I believe it is called in the trendy circles is not ours. It is owned by Endemol the Dutch company, who have brought us such shows as Big Brother, and has proved to be popular around the world. For those of you that haven't seen it, Noel Edmonds hosts the show where 22 people stand around a set that looks like a theme park runaway train is coming by any minute. Each person has a box which has been given to them at random, and each box has a number (1 to 22) on it. Each box has a cash value from 1p to £250,000. One person is selected at random who stands with Noel at "the pound table". Then they chose other boxes which are opened to reveal a cash value. That value is then taken out of play. Every so often, an old fashioned phone rings and Noel then chuckles to himself as he "talks" to "the banker". The person is then offered a sum of money to sell his box. Eventually, the person either deals and accepts the banker's offer, or keeps the value in their box having excluded all the other boxes from play. Think Bruce's Play Your Cards Right crossed with one of those auction tv channels.

The problem is it's very addictive. And yet I can't see why, because when you look at it like that, there's nothing to it. No questions to answer, no mathematical challenge to work out. Compared to this, the Krypton Factor looked like a 50 mile run with a 50kg pack on your back. And you got less if you won the Krypon Factor. Now, Noel would say that it is him that makes it brilliant and watchable. Erm, no. Noel still looks like he did all those years ago and seems to have kept the same garish shirts. The producers would say that it's the chance of winning £250,000 but given that nobody has yet won that amount, I doubt it's that. I think it's the music actually that makes it so addictive, because from the few episodes I've seen, it can't be anything else.

"...Compared to this, the Krypton Factor looked like a 50 mile run with a 50kg pack on your back. And you got less if you won the Krypon Factor..."

And so it continues, the World Cup. Apparently it's only been on a week and a bit but it seems much longer. Perhaps that's all the people who drive about sounding their horns and holding cans of Stella in the air. So I was happy to read Charlie Booker this week in The Guardian when he summed up my feelings on the wretched subject (here):

"And sometimes people look genuinely upset, and implore you to stop having a go at the World Cup on humanitarian grounds. "Leave it alone, it's just a bit of fun ... it's done nothing to you," they whine through their disgusting football-loving faces, as though the World Cup were a defenceless nine-year-old girl you're attacking with a hammer, instead of an overhyped moneyspinning festival of tedium in which the world's thickest millionaires kick a rubbish ball round a poxy field to the wonderment of an audience of foghorning cretins."

Now I know I've made my feelings clear on this subject before, especially those flags, but the man has a point and I couldn't have put it better myself. I hated playing football as a child, and rugby only slightly less. But at least there seemed to be some skill in rugby- in football you kick a ball around some grass for 90 minutes whilst every so often you fall over clutching your shin because somebody else "tackled" you. In fact, footballers are so injured that only the panacea-soaked sponge utilised by the team doctor/coach/scout-leader can cure such hideous injury, and that it does within seconds. Now okay, I know that Wayne Rooney broke his metatarsal, but most rugby players would break both legs and still try and play.

But that aside, why are footballers paid so well. Recently, a large proportion of the country exclaimed that GPs were evil because they all earned £250,000 per year. Well, that's rubbish because if they'd listened properly the report said that about half a dozen out of the however many there are earned that. Most earn much less than that. But the readers of The Daily Mail I'm sure promptly cut the article out of the paper to file next to the one about how licking frogs cures cancer. And the readers of The Sun probably didn't notice because there was a picture of some breasts on the next page. But nobody seems to care that some footballers get paid £100,000 per week. Thats £5 million per year. And what about David Beckham? £17 million approximately? Something like that I'm sure. But that's okay really because they do a really hard job and save people from dying every day whilst they kick a ball around a field. Now some people argue that they still have to pay tax on that and that the large tax bill they pay benefits us all. Okay, so David pays his tax bill of £8.5 million and we pay our tax bill of fractions of that, but at the end of the day it is still the same percentage of our income. Deal or no deal?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Beefburgers and Censuses

This week from the Captain- traffic censuses, celebrity chefs and Chris Moyles

Over the last couple of weeks I've noticed many yellow-coated people lurking on the pavements or parked in cars helpfully littering the grass. At first you slow down thinking that it is the speed police waiting to catch you doing 31mph in a 30mph zone. But it's not them. No, it's worse. It's the traffic census people.

Okay, so their presence on the side of the road is annoying, sitting there with their clipboards marking down how many drivers have coats on and how many are picking their nose. And with which hand. These are just about acceptable though, especially compared to when they launch a full scale assault. On two days this week the traffic inexplicably slowed to a grinding halt on the roads approaching my work. Perhaps an accident? Perhaps an overturned lorry, like the ones you hear on the radio. Yes, there are the traffic police in their white and black caps. Yes, and the cones everywhere to divert the traffic away from the accident. And the four people standing in the road with their yellow jackets and baseball caps... What? In actual fact the cause of the traffic standstill was a traffic census, the sort where every 4 cars, a convoy of vehicles is ushered into a specially made coned-off section in the middle of the road to speak to the census people. Luckily on both occasions I had to turn off before the onslaught. But it did make me wonder. What do they ask? Do you have to stop? What if you're an ambulance? A colleague of mine told me they were asking if they felt it fair Chris Moyles had been voted out of Celebrity X-Factor. And what if you're running late- the last thing you need is some spotty teenager stopping you and asking where you're going and why you're going there- I'm going to work because that's where I work.

"...A colleague of mine told me they were asking if they felt it fair Chris Moyles had been voted out of Celebrity X-Factor..."

And what about these yellow-coated people? Who are they? Who do they work for? Do they get paid to sit in a car parked in a dangerous position hanging into a lane of traffic so they can count cars for a few hours? And why do they never get parking tickets? I remember once parking in a Pay-and-Display car park and in the few minutes between me turning the engine off, walking to the machine and coming back, a traffic warden was standing by my car feeling the radiator grill to see how long I'd parked there. I think the simple fact I was clutching the ticket in my hand placated him. It seems though all I need have done is printed off the word "Census" on a piece of paper, shoved it in the window of my car and parked in the middle of the roundabout, which is closer to the shops, and I'd get away with indefinite parking! Never mind disabled parking badge fraud, how long before you can buy a photocopied "Census" notice on eBay?

However, I did actually find out what they were asking. Or rather doing. As you drove up, they thrust a piece of paper through your window with questions like where you've come from, where you're going, why you're going there and how many people are in your vehicle. You then post it back to them and it gets filed in the bin. The reasoning behind it all? To create a "new traffic model" of the city. I've got a traffic model they can have for free. Don't put bloody traffic censuses in the road in the middle of rush hour!

"... I've got a traffic model they can have for free. Don't put bloody traffic censuses in the road in the middle of rush hour!..."

I'm not sure if you've seen the advert. It's the one with the annoying Jamie Oliver on it who, in his now-so-tedious watch-me-throw-things-in-the-bowl way, makes some beefburgers and then gives them away to people waiting to catch a train. Is it just me or is he one of the most annoying men in the world? The Naked Chef. Erm, well he's never appeared naked, and I don't think I'd ever want to see him so. Once upon a time, when I was little, there was a spattering of television chefs, who weren't even really celebrities. There was Delia, who appeared on the front of her book stroking an egg; there was Keith Floyd, who appeared on tv pickling his liver; and there was Madhur Jaffrey. Now there's Ainsley Harriot, Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein, AWT, Gary Rhodes and the beautiful Nigella Lawson to name a few. And Jamie Pukka Oliver. Now, I can tolerate all of the other chefs, some I even like, especially Nigella. But Jamie Oliver is too much. Firstly he goes around on that stupid motorbike-cum-lawnmower. Then he goes around saying Pukka all the time (does he know that it means something else in Sri Lanka???). Jamie, everything you use is not first class or genuine so please stop saying it. And he also has this annoying habit of throwing food around, almost a cross between Ainsley Harriot and a four year old trying to make some cheese-flavoured stick at nursery to take home to Mummy and Daddy. I’m sure he’s a very nice man who worked very hard to tell us how bad our children’s diet is (because we didn’t know that before did we Jamie?) but I can’t stand him.

The one thing that really infuriates me about that advert though is the pukka beefburgers he makes. Yes, he proclaims as he throws something into a bowl whilst the camera spins around him, these are genuine pukka beefburgers. Oooh, we all coo, genuine beefburgers, pray tell us more Jamie. A bit more throwing of food, and Jamie tells us the ingredients. Nothing but beef, salt, pepper. And breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs? What? Beef, salt, pepper, yes I can understand that- they all go in to burgers when I make them at home. But breadcrumbs? Why Jamie? Why?

"...A bit more throwing of food, and Jamie tells us the ingredients. Nothing but beef, salt, pepper. And breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs? What?..."

One of the things that did come about from me being slightly delayed by the census was a slightly longer than normal listen to the radio. Now, I put my hand up and admit that I listen to on Chris Moyles on Radio 1 in the morning. I know it's aimed at "teenagers" and I am not a teenager, but he is actually quite funny, plays music that won't make my ears bleed and doesn't play stupid adverts that the local independent radio stations play every 3 minutes. And no, I won't listen to Terry Wogan because he's only funny when he commentates for Eurovision.

This week, Chris was pointing out that he was yet again in trouble for his radio show. This time, not for swearing but for being "homophobic" (see this link). It seems that certain people feel that some of his comments may convey a view that he doesn't like homosexual people, and according to the article, similar conclusions were drawn about other radio presenters at the station. And where did this stem from? Apparently he said a ringtone was "gay" on air. Oh. I remember when I was younger the time when "gay" started to be used by teenagers to mean "stupid" or "rubbish". It's hardly as if Chris Moyles had spearheaded a campaign to deport all non-heterosexual people from the country. I can't imagine the happy people of the world started expressing how injust it was when the word "gay" went from meaning "happy" to "homosexual". Anyway, as Chris Moyles has already said that his lawyers are involved, let's leave it at that. But in case the meaning of words might change in future, may I say now that any words I've used in this blog should not be taken to mean anything but the meaning I mean them to mean.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Peas and sand

This week from the Captain- supermarket checkouts, frozen food adverts, beaches and pre-World Cup problems

This week I was in Sainsburys getting a few tasty morsels for Mrs Fishcake and myself to eat when I saw some lovely garden peas still in their pods. So I filled a plastic bag with them and duely went to pay. As the young lad serving me got to this plastic bag, obviously confused by the lack of barcode, print or hermetic sealing, he turned to me and said, "Oh. Er, beansprouts?" Bless. Apparently in the eight months he had worked there, "no-one has given me these before". Oh, sorry, I'll try harder next time to buy the "normal" food in life, like Pot Noodle's and Coca-Cola.

"...I'll try harder next time to buy the "normal" food in life, like Pot Noodle's and Coca-Cola..."

But I don't really blame the 18 year old youth. Yes, as British Summertime settles in, we can perhaps become a little less reliant on fruit and vegetables that have been flown 9 million miles to get to us, and we may start seeing good old-fashioned British vegetables. Like peas. As I said though I don't blame him for not knowing what peas were because he's probably grown up thinking of peas as those things that come in huge bags that sit in the freezer having been harvested from a pea tree. And for that reason I blame the frozen food companies. Why? Well look at the recent adverts from Birdseye. Yes, they are very clever, especially the billboards with a lump of ice and a fish/vegetable/meal half-in and half-out, the frozen part looking fresh and the other part looking like something a school might have served pre-Jamie-Oliverisation.

I do see
what they're trying to say. The frozen food industry has become linked with an idea of fast, convenience and therefore poor-nutrition processed food and, something I'm sure Birdseye wouldn't argue with, a lot of it is still. But not all frozen food is unhealthy and processed and certainly some will have a higher nutritional content than certain "fresh" foods you can buy (a lot of supermarket chilled ready-meals aren't fantastic in the nutritional stakes). But to claim that their frozen vegetables have more vitamins than fresh vegetables, especially those that you either grow yourself or come from a grocer/market is complete fantasy. And that advert with the man (Richard Johnson, Journalist) dressed in a polo neck white wooly jumper and a far-too-small wax jacket terrorising a fishing community. In case you haven't seen it, said wooly jumper and wax jacket man who's several times bigger and taller than everyone else, goes round this small fishing village scaring old women into deciding which is the fresh fish and which isn't. He does this by holding two fish in her face. When she gets it wrong, he almost-manically proclaims her ignorance before terrorising a small child (well not quite, but you could imagine it happening). Then he appears on a fishing boat, to show us plebs where fish come from, and the advert culminates in him telling us how fresh this frozen fish is because it's put in to suspended animation as soon as it's plucked from the sea, waking up when it reaches our plate. Now I could believe this if they were talking about fillets of salmon, cod, sole etc but when the advert ends with an image of a box of one of their many breadcrumbed fish bits, you can't tell me that in the middle of the sea, the fishermen clean, debone and prepare the fish, breadcrumb and box and then fast freeze them. I don't think so. And nor does Scotland nor its parliament. It seems that there are motions to get one of the adverts banned (here and here). Ooops.

"...then he appears on a fishing boat, to show us plebs where fish come from..."

Briefly going back to peas though, if you've never shelled peas I'd thoroughly recommend it. It's therapeutic in its own little way. If you have though, or next time you do, look at the peas after you've shelled them. Some have little bobbles on top where they are attached to the pod. How do the pea-shelling machines operated by the manufacturers get those little bobbles off???

Had Sainsburys had those self-serve checkouts in place the above beansprout-pea mistake may never have occurred. (I note our Tesco has not got them yet but I believe this is because the store's computer is too busy working out who has stayed more than 5 minutes in the car-park). Now these come in two guises that I know of. The first, shown above, has a scanner and payment bit as well as a conveyor belt. I haven't seen any of these round here. The second, and more common, is the same as the above but instead of the conveyor belt, underneath the payment bit is a bagging area. Now, I like these machines for the simple fact they are usually quite quick and mean you can go at your own pace (which, in a rush, is quick). However they are designed for people with a basket (hence the basket shelf) who aren't going to pay in coppers or with a cheque or hand over fourteen coupons, thirteen of which aren't accepted. Despite their appearances, even the conveyor belt tills are designed for small amounts of shopping, unless you have taken someone with you, otherwise you end up having paid and trying to pack whilst the next person's purchases come down at you. So why do people with trolleys of food try and use them? Or people who don't know how to operate an electric toothbrush? The machines are not the simplest. They don't work on trust that you will honestly scan every item. No they work on weight- you scan an item, put it in a bag/on the conveyor belt, a hidden scale weighs it and works out that the pack of value crisps you scanned cannot possibly weigh the same as the £500 plasma tv you've put on the conveyor belt. So, why do people stand there are try and scan one item then scan another whilst still holding the first item? I'm sure no checkout assistant who has ever served them has done that. Or the people who scan a restricted item, say a bottle of wine, and when the machine squeals that authorisation is needed, they panic, press all the buttons on screen, proclaim "it's crashed" and run away. Come on, please leave the machines alone so busy and grumpy people like me can use them. Even if you're eight year old child pleads with you that it looks like fun, I beg you, they are not fun. Their sole purpose is to allow me to spend as little time in store as possible.

"...you scan an item, put it in a bag/on
the conveyor belt, a hidden scale weighs it and
works out that the pack of value crisps you scanned
cannot possibly weigh the same as the
£500 plasma tv you've put on the conveyor belt..."

Now that the summer has arrived (fingers crossed) I plan to spend more time sitting on the beach, reading and watching the world go by. Something I can never fathom about our beaches though is what makes them so different and un-holiday-like when compared to the beaches abroad. I really don't know. I don't think it's the temperature, because I have to say it's been lovely weather here today. I don't think it's the people, because let's face it there's enough Brits littering the beaches of shores near and far. Let's compare the two, each has sand, sea and sun. Each has overweight, sizzling, pasty people feeding their malignant melanomas more ultraviolet light. Each has funny coloured parasols and windbreaks. Each has screaming children making sand castles. At first I thought it was the lack of palm trees and sea-front high-rise hotels. But today I think I've found the answer. Even though on the foreign beaches you are plagued by people trying to flog you pretzels, aloe vera in gin bottles and coconuts, nowhere I've ever been are you plagued by 20 year old boys playing football. Now, anyone that knows me will start saying that this is just my anti-football argument again, but come on, when you're sitting on the beach enjoying the sun and a good book, why wouldn't a group of unwashed, body-odour-releasing yobs whose vocabulary consists of "finish it", "f*ck yeah", "beautiful" and "ooooooohhhhhhhh" annoy you. They weren't even having a good game because "that bit bounces the ball funny". So why didn't they go somewhere else then? I may not like football, but I can say I am looking forward to the World Cup, and I now honestly hope England make it to the final. Because then for those football-filled weeks, the beach might be empty while the supporters fill the local pubs!