Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Last TV Debate

The Last TV Debate

A little poem to mark this auspicious occasion:

Last of the TV debates
Before the general election
But will you let old Gordon’s gaffe
Affect next week’s selection?

While Cameron tries not to be too posh
And Clegg does much the same
How will Gordon strive to quash
His public “bigot” shame?

This is their last public chance
To sway the nation’s voters
So will their economic stance
Decide the stragglers and floaters?

The country waits with bated breath
For them to start this final jig
When all I’m really hoping for’s
A gatecrash by Peppa Pig!

The cost of driving

The cost of driving

We all like to drive (well, most of us do), there’s nothing quite like the freedom of the open road or the sense of fun when driving slightly faster than is legal on the motorway. Not that I would ever do that, you understand, someone else told me it was fun. And surely at some point or other in our lives we all wish we had the vast quantities of dosh required to purchase a hugely-engined supercar? Several times now I’ve looked down the back of the sofa to see if I can drum up the hundred or so grand I need for an Audi R8, but all I’ve found so far are a few odd socks and some biscuit crumbs. They wouldn’t even take those in Toys R Us for a toy version. Bloody capitalists.

Any love affair we may have had with driving, though, is coming to an end, thanks to its ever increasing cost. Sure, it’s still fun to have that open road freedom (like that ever really happens) but driving hits the wallet from all sides now. What you pay for your Road Fund Licence has changed for cars registered after March 2001, we used to all pay the same but now based on CO2 emissions you could be forking out a staggering £435 a year. OK, so very few cars belt out the 255+ g/km of CO2 that would incur such a high fee, but it’s still an awful lot. Car insurance premiums seem to be going up and up too and it must surely be the reason why, when you watch shows about Traffic Police (which I find strangely compelling), that so many of the people they stop are driving without tax, insurance or even driving licences. And they don’t even seem to care, there’s no remorse from them. They can’t afford it, or don’t see why they should pay it so they don’t. And because of people like that the price of car insurance goes up further still. Your classic vicious circle.

Worst of all, though, is that petrol prices are becoming prohibitively expensive. In my local Shell garage the price of unleaded petrol is currently 118.9p, almost as high as it’s ever been. I love my car, absolutely love it, but the fact that it’s a huge 2.9l petrol Volvo XC90 means that to fill it costs nigh on £80 and as we get little more than 20 miles to the gallon that £80 doesn’t go very far. It regularly makes me want to cry. It probably wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t drive much but my sons live with their father near Aylesbury (if you want to know why go to and every fortnight we have to drive from Portsmouth to High Wycombe pick them up on a Friday afternoon and then back to Wycombe on a Sunday afternoon to take them back. The 10 miles the ex does must be a real chore. Don’t see him sobbing into his drainpipe jeans. Sniggering perhaps, definitely not sobbing. Petrol prices have been exorbitant for a while but what’s got me really riled this week are the announcements of BP and Shell’s profits for the first quarter of the year, $5.6 billion and $4.9 billion respectively. The last time forecourt prices were so high was in the summer of 2008 when the price of oil per barrel was $147. It’s now more like $80 a barrel so, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think their maths has gone a little awry. Even with the few pence added here and there to fuel duty it still doesn’t add up. Not even close.

Of course, the oil companies will argue that most of the cost paid on the forecourt in the UK comes from fuel duty, currently (I think) 57.19p per litre, not to mention VAT at 17.5%. By January duty will have risen by a further 1.76p. Fantastic. I wonder what the treasury actually do with the billions of pounds they make from it? It’s tempting to say “furnish second homes and buy duck houses” but I don’t think they do that any more… Are they investing this money into public transport? Doesn’t look like it, train journeys are hideously expensive and buses, in Portsmouth at least, are unreliable and also incredibly expensive. And does fuel duty have the desired effect? Does it make fewer people drive, share cars or take public transport? Not by the looks of it, there are now more cars on the road than ever. Unless there was a serious overhaul in public transport I doubt many people would give up the convenience of their cars, however much fuel costs. But the point to all this (I think I have a point somewhere) is that while there’s little we can do to change how much tax we pay on fuel, surely the petrol companies are taking the piss by keeping the forecourt price high while announcing massive profits, way above predicted levels? In fact MP Lindsay Hoyle said we’re being “legally mugged” by them. If an MP said it, it must be true. A boycott has been planned on facebook for May 1st, I’m not entirely sure of the details but I think the plan, unlike those of the past to boycott all petrol stations, is to boycott just one company. More details can be found here:

The Good Life

The Good Life

I love gardens. I really appreciate lush, busy gardens full of mature plants, trees and pretty flowers. I love the idea of gardening, I’m just a bit crap at it. I’m always so full of good intentions, I go to the garden centre, spend a small fortune on likely looking shrubs and flowers and stick them in the ground where I’m instantly disappointed at how small they look. I water them regularly for the first week or so, then promptly forget about them. I don’t mean to, but that’s how it happens every time, and this is why my garden is usually a sorry looking wasteland when I want it to be something that looks like Alan Titchmarsh designed it. Obviously the Titchmarsh usually has the advantage of a bottomless budget so can stick massive plants in an empty bed to make it look like they’d always been there but I have friends who have a beautiful garden, mostly grown from seed, all by themselves. I buy seeds too, stick them in the ground or seed trays, water them for a week and then promptly forget about them. Are you sensing that there’s a trend here? Do I lack the patience? The know how? Both?

Our house has a nice big garden, pretty unusual for Portsmouth, but this just means there’s more for me to ruin. Last year I put some strawberry plants in hanging baskets and some tomatoes in pots, which I put on the sunny patio at the end of the garden. Guess what happened? Go on. That’s right, for a few weeks I watered and fed them religiously. And then I sort of forgot about them, especially the tomatoes on the far patio which you can’t quite see from the house. So we had a crop of about three strawberries and maybe about ten tomatoes. Sigh. Not only that, I had some extra strawberries in pots by the patio doors. The dog ignored them completely for a few weeks and then suddenly, for no good reason, ravaged them. Bastard. She smashed one of the tomato pots too. Bastard. In fact, having a dog has not been entirely advantageous to creating my Titchmarsh ideal. Quite the contrary. Having a dog has royally buggered up my plans before I even got a chance to bugger them up myself. Bloody dog.

This year, though, THIS YEAR is going to be different. No, it is. It IS! This year I fancy a crack at growing some veg, and clearly because of my previous “successes” it’s a brilliant idea and we’re going to save a fortune by producing vast quantities of our own vegetables and not having to pay supermarket prices. Of course we are. Well, OK, were I to be in charge of this little project myself it would naturally be doomed to failure. That’s why I have a little trick up my sleeve, I have enlisted the help of my mum, hurrah! Aren’t mums great? My mum doesn’t have a garden at her house and misses having one quite badly and as she has proven herself to be a very competent gardener in the past, surely having her on board is win win? As long as the INcomptent gardener (yours truly) doesn’t bugger it up. I really hope I don’t.

Growing your own is all the rage at the moment. It’s like everyone’s suddenly rediscovered The Good Life and are all desperate to emulate Tom and Barbara’s suburban self-sufficiency dream. Possibly minus the pigs. I fear I’m a bit more like Margo than Barbara, though. Especially when it comes to worms and creepy crawlies when I’m digging, it’s all I can do to stop myself running inside when I encounter something with more legs than is acceptable to me (four is acceptable, more than four is not). Or fewer legs than is acceptable as in the case of worms. Our local council gave away some growing kits to encourage people to grow healthy produce in whatever space they have, be it in a garden, a window box or even a window sill. The people of Portsmouth do need all the help they can get and this is quite possibly the first council scheme I’ve ever liked the look of. The BBC also gave away growing kits and since the licence fee is pretty high it would have been rude not to apply for one. You’ve got to claw it back where you can. As well as that I spent a few quid on seeds, seed trays and compost (from Wilkinson, bargain place) and that was about it. Oh, apart from my seed potatoes. I may have made a slight error of judgement when considering exactly how many I would need because I didn’t know anything about growing potatoes. Consequently I still have millions of the bloody things but on the plus side they were reduced because they’d all started sprouting already. And I’ve learnt something (that I’m an idiot) so that’s good.

In the Easter holidays I somehow managed to persuade Number 1 son to dig a vegetable patch at the back of the garden near the patio you can’t quite see from the house. Really, though, I suspect it was done more voluntarily by him, probably because he knew damn well I’d never get round to it. He’s a very wise boy, that one. I could reel out the pregnancy excuse again but it is wearing a bit thin. While he was doing that I filled many seed trays and small pots with compost and exciting looking seeds, tomatoes (lots of), strawberries, carrots, leeks, spinach, cucumber, aubergines, broccoli, peppers (lots and lots of) and possibly myriad other things I’ve already forgotten. I’ve got a mini greenhouse in my garden so I shoved them all in there, watered them and impatiently wondered how long it would be before anything happened, if anything happened at all. I wasn’t feeling especially confident. I also filled some potato planters with compost and was a little perturbed to discover that each one only takes 3 seed potatoes. I have hundreds. Oops. I’ve been good so far, I’ve watered everything regularly and was delighted to see some shoots in some of the trays and pots after a week or so. My mum came and planted some strawberries in the hanging baskets and some onions, cabbages and cauliflowers in the vegetable patch. The dog is now fenced off from that part of the garden so can’t suddenly decide to ruin anything after weeks of ignoring it, however much she wants to. The problem is that with just onions, cabbages and cauliflowers the patch is already almost full. Where the buggery bollocks am I going to put the tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, leeks, spinach, cucumber, aubergines, broccoli, peppers etc.? Perhaps I’m just not cut out for the Good Life…

Never Knowingly Undersold

Never Knowingly Undersold

Hello strangers! I know it’s been many, many, many months since I last posted anything to my blog and for that I apologise. Or perhaps I apologise that I am now going to write something and make you read it. Well, tough. I have no excuses other than extreme laziness, although I did have a very productive week working on my book. Yes, one whole week. And since then, nothing, and it’s all the fault of the media getting into a tizzy about Jon Venables going back to prison. But enough about that, I don’t want to get cross about all that again and put myself off writing AGAIN when I’ve finally found the urge.


So. Today, children, I want to talk to you about the new John Lewis advert, following a girl through her life, school, love, marriage, popping out babies, er, kids growing up, family arguments, grandkids, old age, blah blah blah. All in a lovely middle class setting with lovely John Lewis “stuff” most of us normal people can’t afford and to the sound of Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman” (albeit a cover version). They stop before she pops her clogs, presumably because John Lewis don’t do a range of coffins. Here it is if you haven’t seen it yet:

Now, this advert, while appearing fairly cleverly done (to me, the uninitiated who doesn’t really know about these things and is waiting to be put right) has divided opinion, on twitter at the very least. A lot of people, really, an awful lot, are saying that they love it and it made them cry. Actually cry! I will grudgingly admit to you when I saw it for the first time that I welled up a little but IN MY DEFENCE I am pregnant and am therefore a bag of unchecked hormones. Also, all little girls with brown hair remind me of my very pesky daughter, just like all small boys have always reminded me of my sons and this has been wont to cause me problems in the past. Like the time my sister and I were in McDonalds in Glasgow and the young chap on the table beside us dropped his chips on the floor and cried his little heart out. My heart melted and his little face reminded me of Number 2 son so much I went and bought him some more. Yes, I am a total sucker. Had to queue for bloody ages too. Er, but I digress. The Joel song they’ve used is very sentimental so I suppose I can see why some non-pregnant, non-sucker types might feel a bit emotional, but still. In fact, if it did make you cry watch it again but with something like Cowboys from Hell by Pantera playing. Same effect? Really? You weirdo.

The other opinion, however, is much more interesting. A large number of people have found the advert to be depressing, after all the woman’s whole life passes by in a minute and a half, and all, weirdly, present day. Not to mention the fact if you don’t have the friends/family/John Lewis products that she has surely your life is a big fat fail? That’s what they’re telling you, right? Many are annoyed by its sentimentality, others that a Billy Joel song has been covered, others that the song has been used at all. My favourite tweets on the subject were from columnist Grace Dent: “think i’ll have a massive gin and watch the John lewis ad again and then put my head in the oven” and author Jenny Colgan: “My favourite bit in that @johnlewis ad is when she goes to university and gets an interesting job. Oh, no, hang on.”

I don’t think it’s changed my opinion of John Lewis particularly, rather emphasised its middle class stereotype. In her final incarnation Mrs John Lewis bears a striking resemblance to all the tweedy ladies that frequent my local branch here in “Saithsea”
and who look down on me for daring to go in the rather small lift with my daughter’s pushchair. Perhaps I don’t look like I can afford to kit my entire life out with John Lewis’s finest (I can’t), even if they are “never knowingly undersold”, but come on tweedy ladies, I’m still allowed to look! Aren’t I? Oh, I’m not. Back to Argos with me, then.