No, not your blog of course. I concede that your posts are succinct, insightful, humorous and well worth reading. That is why I would appreciate it if you could spare a moment to cast your eye over my efforts and let me know how I can encourage people to read it. On the other hand it may be the most boring blog, someone's has to be.

Newark market place

Newark market place
Newark market place dull Saturday morning

Newark Church

Newark Church
Two residents at the weir

Snowy Dry Doddington

Snowy Dry Doddington
Snow on the road to not very Dry Doddington

Raleigh Runabout RM6 Refurbished

Raleigh Runabout RM6 Refurbished
Look for the "before" in the blog post

Sunday, 31 December 2006

How many innocent Iraqis?

I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning. Not that I had any time or sympathy for Saddam Hussein and his vile rule but because:

  • There are plenty of unpleasant regimes around the world which the UK and US governments not only do not change but actually support and deal with.

  • There seemed to me to be no justification for sacrificing the lives of young men and women in our military services in a conflict with a country that was not immediately and directly threatening our interests.

  • It was clear that given the fire power of the USA many innocent Iraqis would be killed in the adventure.

  • There was much obvious fabrication and scullduggery in Blairs justification for joining the Americans in the war.

  • I was and still am deeply suspicious of the USA's motives for engaging in the enterprise. I still think their motive is control of the oil supply and I suspect that however ignominious their eventual pullout is they will maintain some presence or influence that enables them to control this.

I do not believe for one moment that the Bush government thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. We are expected to believe that a country which can take spy satellite pictures of individual vehicles could not spot a bomb factory or the movement of munitions. If they had seen them they would have shown us them. The best they could do was set Colin Powell up at the UN trying to convince us a milk processing truck was some kind of portable weapons production platform.

Memo to any dictator. If you want to make sure the USA does not attack you must have a nuclear weapons capability. Let them see evidence of it but not enough to be sure of what you have got. You might be the subject of UN sanctions for a while but don't worry. The "International Community" will deal with you if they need you again in the future.

The whole thing has been a shambles. Coalition fighters by the hundreds and Iraqis in the thousands dying for no obvious positive outcome. A country riven by factional fighting and whatever Blair and Bush say, a situation providing a focus for terrorist activity which threatens us in the UK and others in a way that did not exist before the war.

The thing that really galls me is the sight of the Tory "Yo" Blair, who has borrowed the Labour Party, strutting the world stage attempting to convince us he has some significant role in all this. He tells us we will get our troops home when the Iraqi elected government and their security forces are able to manage their internal insurgency and conflict. Utter bullshit. Our troops will come home when the Americans say it is ok. It may well be that a new Labour Prime Minister is able to negotiate with the Americans an "early release"for the UK, but there is no way we would be staying on after the Yanks have gone.

And now Saddam Hussein has been hanged, the event reported round the world in unbelievably ghoulish detail. Will this have helped this situation? I don't think so. I have to admit some bias here in that I have always opposed the death penalty and do so in this case. However it is not just a matter of principle. It is just possible that the Iraqi governent have made a martyr of, and given some dignity to Saddam for a significant numbers of people in Iraq and the Arab world. He should have been tried for all the crimes he is alleged to have committed. I suspect the Kurds will feel cheated that he has not been brought to book for allegations of genocide against their people. If he had been imprisoned public opinion may well have focussed more on why he was incarcerated rather than as now the manner of his death.

We are told that he deserved execution because of the number of deaths of his people he was responsible for. This implies that a lesser sentence may have been given if less people had been killed on his orders. So how many innocent Iraqis can be killed on the orders of a world leader without them facing the death penalty?

Perhaps people like Bush or Blair could help us with a figure?

Thursday, 28 December 2006

Born to be Mild

Out for a run this morning on my 1991 Honda C90 Cub. Seen here parked by the Little Witham river in Lincolnshire. The plan was supposed to be that I renovate mopeds in the winter and ride them in the summer. The main rationale for this being that I don't fancy getting cold and wet.

My recollection of riding a Triumph Tiger Cub in the winter in the early 60's is of being frozen to the point of immobility. Mind you it seemed to cure my chilblains as I have never had them since. My grandma's remedy for them was to soak the offending finger or toe in urine so maybe I had been doing that. My memory is not what it was.

Winter riding does not now seem so bad. There could be a number of explanations for this. Am I less sensitive than I was? My family support this thesis. Maybe I now have better weatherproof clothing. Looking at the pictures of me riding the old bike this could very well be the case. Perhaps I don't go fast enough. Almost certainly true.

Or is it global warming?

I bought the Tiger Cub from Tony Gray for £9.00 in 1963 and it was either a 1956 or 1959 plunger framed model. The registration number was KTL 266 and I wonder where the bike is now. If you know please get in contact.

In those days we painted our own helmets (you can probably tell). I still have the crash hat hanging in my garage. I originally painted it with green and black house paint, but whilst it was drying someone knocked it into some sawdust. My mother probably, always trying to spoil my teenage fun. The sawdust gave it an interesting texture but not much street cred with the other young bikers or the young women we tried to impress. It looked a little like a decorated half coconut on my head. Nothing for it but to sand it down and refinish in blue, black and white. An improvement though it still had a pimply appearance, a bit like it's 16 year old owner.

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Nonna's Gnocchi Recipe

First ensure that you have the essential ingredients to hand. However to make the gnocchi you will require:

2.5 kilos of potatoes
One egg
500 grammes plain flour

Peel the potatoes and boil till tender in plenty of lightly salted water. Strain and allow to cool, but not go cold. You will be mixing them with raw egg and you do not want this to coagulate with the heat from the potatoes. Tip the potatoes onto a clean table and mash carefully as per Nonna's instructions. If possible wear a green and orange outfit like the assistant in the picture as these are almost complementary colours, but not quite. Make a well in the potatoes and drop in the egg, without the shell of course. Mix this into the mashed potatoes.

Next knead in the flour. You could nonchalantly upend the flour bag like Nonna does, but she knows what she is doing. It is more reliable for non Nonnas to weigh it out and mix it in a little at a time.

You now need to find many other people to assist with the next stage. Fast food this is not. Their job is to roll out the dough into sausages about two feet long and an inch thick. These will be cut into gnocchi about one inch long.

Like this. Use flour to prevent the dough sticking to the table, as you would with pastry.

The individual gnocchi should then be shaped with a fork to give them the authentic Italian appearance. This is achieved by rolling each piece of gnocchi down the tines of the fork to give it a ridged or grooved appearance. It takes ages but after some time you will have a table full of perfectly formed gnocchi.

Like this. A bit like the Humber foreshore after the tide has gone out but that is just poor camera work.

Now you need to cook them, and this is something that should be done just before you intend to eat. Drop them quickly one by one into a large pan of boiling water. We had two highly trained Italian ladies to do this, one Nonna and one Zia. Their hands were a blur as they transferred dough to pan. When a gnocchi rises to the surface it is cooked and should be scooped out immediately with a slotted spoon. Do not leave it and wait for the whole panful to rise as they will probably turn into mash.

These are risen gnocchi and should be removed from the water at this stage. I know they look like overcooked cauliflower.

Serve the drained gnocchi with a sauce of your choice and some grated Parmesan. Nonna tells me that the Italians also eat it brushed with melted butter that has been infused with sage leaves. An additional statin required I think.

He thinks its OK, you should try it.

Monday, 25 December 2006

No New Jersey in Newark this Christmas

I know, I know, the title of this blog was slightly misleading. Anyone who bothered to look at it would probably have thought they were going to get some snappy story of life in the States. Not so, its just another mundane bit about Christmas day in a small town in the UK, Newark in Nottinghamshire.
Our day was much the same as any other family Christmas Day. Grandson Orson woke the family early and all the adults stuck to the story that Santa had consumed the beer and mince pie left out for him on Christmas Eve. I reckon he knows his Dad drank the beer five minutes after he went to sleep. The lad is only three but he has seen the presents under the tree for about a week. So why would Santa be making unprofitable, expensive and potentially dangerous journeys across our allegedly crime infested land to visit everyone's home if no delivery was required? To check on customer satisfaction and quality of service? I don't think so. In Mr Blair's modern Britain Santa isn't allowed to do anything that doesn't improve the profit he makes for his company or his sales performance indicators.
In our house we all know that Santa does exist but, like a lot of hardworking public servants he is not allowed give the quality of service that he used to. I personally am deeply ashamed to be colluding in the myth that Santa is still going about his business as he did when I was a boy.
Anyway I digressed away from the important issue I wanted to deal with. The picture accompanying this blog is of the family pre-Christmas dinner walk at Kelham Hall near Newark. These fine and decent people all bought me presents this Christmas. Very nice presents which I will enjoy. But not one of them got me a jumper. I get one every year for Gods sake. I know they are usually unsatisfactory in some way, they don't fit, need washing, have style, or are decorated with patterns I don't like. I'm usually informed when presented with them that they came from Marks and I can take them back if I don't like them. I am always too idle to do this. I expected a pullover this year as usual but no such luck.
What rubbed salt into the wound was that my wife, Susan, told me she had in fact bought me a jumper, didn't like it and took it back to Marks. She got me some very nice cord trousers instead. I mean, the cheek. Its not for her to make decisions on what pullover she gets me on the basis of what she does or doesn't like. She should just buy one and let me not like it as usual.
I sincerely hope we are back to normal arrangements again next year. Surely somebody will get me one of those pink and white Pingle golfing jumpers with diamonds on that I can't stand.

Saturday, 23 December 2006

Blogger on a Moped

This Puch MS 50 V first rolled out onto the highway on February 1st 1971. George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" was just about to fall from the top of the pop charts when Leslie Dalby of Gainsborough became the proud first owner. Perhaps I am wrong but I suspect that Leslie the Puch purchaser was not a devotee of Indian mysticism like George. I know nothing of Leslie except that he possibly worked on the railway and may have used this bike to get to work. If any one reading this knows anything about him then please get in touch.

As far as I am aware I am the second registered owner. I came across the machine in a farmers shed in North Lincolnshire where it had lain neglected and partially dismantled for many years. After brief negotiations £40 changed hands and I loaded what appeared to be an incomplete heap of rust and filth into the back of my car.

As any resolute moped restorer will know sometimes the apparent basket case does not turn out as hopeless as initially feared. After a fair amount of hard work, a moderate investment of cash, and the assistance of Jim Lee (Puch expert), the bike was restored to a roadworthy condition. No problems with the MOT in April 2006 and the moped has since been ridden on several hundred miles of country road. It has a top speed of somewhere around 35mph and is great fun. Acceleration is as you would imagine fairly poor and therefore they are not ideal on busy roads or in urban traffic.

Puch mopeds were made in Austria from the 1950's. The MS50V model and similar derivatives are very well made with a sturdy pressed steel frame and a 49cc two stroke motor with fan assisted air-cooling. They would have transported many thousands of men and women to their place of employment during the fifties, sixties and into the seventies. Steyr Daimler Puch imported MS50V type mopeds and subsequently Puch Maxis into the UK and for a time they had a healthy share of the moped market. However despite their many qualities they could not offer the level of sophistication available to the UK commuter from bikes like the Honda C50, C70 and C90 and new Puch mopeds do not seem to have been available here since the 80's.

If you come across one, remember it is a piece of transport history. Buy it and either restore it or give it to someone who will.

Friday, 22 December 2006

Shallots and the shortest day

I have vowed on many occasions to keep a diary but have hardly ever got beyond a neat entry on the first day. Will this enterprise be any more successful, perhaps not, but I hope so.
It begins on the day after the shortest day of 2006 and this date is for me significant. I suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and I intensely dislike the short days and long nights. Once it gets dark for me the day is over. Talk of the joys of gathering round the fire to watch some celebrity claptrap or play canasta don't wash with me ( Whoops! Sorry about the regression to the 50's. I'll be on to the delights of Chivers Jelly and sugar sandwiches in a minute.). You cannot get away from it, you are just sitting waiting until it is time to go to bed.
Light boxes have been suggested as a cure but I have never tried one. It seems a rather mechanistic and lifeless alternative to what I think I am missing, the opportunity to be out and about.

I say I suffer from SAD but this is the winter self diagnosis. The rest of the year I just have free floating anxiety and neurosis. My family however think I am just a miserable hypochondriac!

Anyway things get better from now on and by the time we have struggled through the festive season (no misery me) into January I will be feeling quite upbeat and optimistic again.
Whilst we are on the shortest day. My dad advised me many years ago that you should always plant your shallots on the shortest day and harvest them on the longest. Can this be right? Like the light box I have never tried it.