Sunday, 26 February 2017

Eat, drink and be merry

Eating out has long been a great pleasure of mine. I realise there are two possible ways of reading that statement, and both are valid, but here I refer to having a meal at a restaurant, cafe, pub or whatever.
Although in the back of your mind you know you could cook dinner at home for a week for the same money as one meal at a restaurant with change to spare, there's something nice about getting yourself tidied up and being waited on for a change. It also makes a change to not have to do the washing up.

Only once have I experienced the whole 'haute cuisine' thing, and an amazing experience it was too.
Although I was initially worried that I'd still be hungry by the end because the servings were so small, but two hours later after I'd seen off five courses, each a taste sensation in its own right with a glass of wine to complement it, I was very glad that we were staying in the hotel where we were eating. We dragged ourselves back to the hotel room stuffed, decidedly squiffy and ready for bed.
The average meal out doesn't come close to this unless you're wealthy, but you don't really expect it to.

The other week we went to a Turkish restaurant in Saffron Walden which was pretty good. As my only previous experience of Turkish cuisine had been a large donor kebab after a couple of pints, I wasn't sure what to expect, but as it turned out it was all very tasty.
Some people get all snobby about Wetherspoons pubs, but I think they're pretty good.
They don't pretend to be anything they're not. You don't go in expecting Michelin star fayre. You go to a Wetherspoons for a plate of down-to-earth food at an affordable price. Where else can you get lasagne with chips, salad and a pint for about six quid?

Some pubs seem to get ideas above their station though.
Yesterday we stopped at a local pub by the river on the way home from Cambridge because we were all hungry but quite frankly couldn't be arsed to cook anything.
The wife tried to be good and only had the omelette, but even that was disappointing - the omelette lacked any sort of finesse and the 'salad' comprised two slices of tomato and a small patch of watercress. My seafood platter was passable, and the boy's gammon steak was rather overdone.
We all decided against dessert because to be honest £5.75 for a slice of lemon meringue pie or similar seemed a bit steep.
What that place provided was ordinary pub grub at restaurant prices. We used to like it there, but we won't be going back. I don't like being ripped off, and judging by the small number of patrons on a Saturday lunchtime, I think word must be getting around.

The cost of dining out is going up and up, so we're more likely to treat ourselves to something nice at home these days. We may have to cook it and do the washing up, but all three of us can have a treat we really like for less than it would be for one meal at a restaurant, especially when you factor in the drinks.
Supermarkets have cottoned on to this and you regularly find some sort of 'meal deal' where you can get two main courses, two desserts and a bottle of wine for a tenner.
If you resent the cost of eating out and you're on a budget, it's a no-brainer.
Obviously it's no substitute for the warm fuzzy feeling you get from a good meal at a restaurant where they actually care about providing good food and service, or even spending a couple of hours in the kitchen preparing something nice yourself, but its value can't be disputed.
We'll still enjoy a meal out from time to time of course, but I think it will become limited to special occasions rather than just on a whim.




Friday, 17 February 2017

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit

As time goes on, I notice things about myself are changing.
I can't work at the pace I used to, I get tired more, I have trouble driving in the dark, especially when it's wet and there's lots of oncoming traffic, and I get out of breath far sooner than I ever used to.
My short term memory is also suffering, and I'm increasingly reliant on little Post-It notes stuck around the place so I don't forget important things.

Another thing I've noticed recently is a reduced attention span, particularly when it's with something I have limited interest in. While a few years ago I might have sat through a mediocre two and a half hour film, now I'll give up and do something else instead. I'd rather watch a couple of half-hour episodes of something than a whole movie.
This attention span issue has also started to interfere with my interactions with other people.
If someone is talking to me (especially if they're just rabbiting on about inconsequential nonsense), after a while I just stop hearing them. I'm still aware that they're talking, but it's as though I've tuned them out to the point where their inane ramblings have been reduced to a background white noise.
Unfortunately there comes a point where some sort of response is appropriate. I sense this and snap back to the moment, but by then I have no idea what they were on about and I have to make some sort of generic non-committal comment and try to catch up when they carry on talking at me.
This happens with some people more than others. Typically, if someone talks in a straightforward manner, making their point clearly, then there's no problem. But if they go into some long-winded shaggy dog story, often darting off at wild tangents, then I just switch off.

Some people don't talk much, and when they do so it's usually short and sweet. No problem. I'm one of those.
Others seem to be incapable of sharing silence and try to fill it with a constant stream of banality that just makes me want to run away to find some peace. Depending on who it is and what the situation is, hiding may not be an appropriate solution, which is when I start to just tune it out.
It used to irritate the hell out of me and I'd end up stressed out and angry because someone just wouldn't shut up.
Now I'm far less likely to have that reaction because I'm more capable of just blocking it out, so in a way it's a sort of psychological defense mechanism.

With the combination of poor attention span, unexplained depression, times when I can't remember what happened in the past few minutes, memory problems and general anxiety, it's hardly surprising that I started to worry that I was showing signs of early onset dementia.
Browsing the NHS website is a very efficient way of convincing yourself that you have all sorts of conditions and diseases and should really be dead by now.
But now it has come to light that I'm not the only one who reacts to certain people who constantly talk about nonsense in this way, so I feel slightly less worried that I'm mentally circling the drain.
I don't much care when I die, but I hope I still have all my marbles when it happens.


Everything in moderation

'Human' by Rag 'n' Bone Man is an excellent song - one of those that grabs you by the ears and won't let go. Granted, someone who only ever listens to classical music or jazz would probably have a different opinion, but for the most part I can't imagine there would be much argument.
However, because it's so good it's suddenly turning up everywhere, like trailers for TV programmes on the BBC, or as backing music.
No doubt this is good publicity for Rory Graham and sales will continue to soar, but it also means that before long everyone will be sick of hearing it, which is a shame.
This always seems to happen when a song is popular. The radio stations play it every hour, it crops up in all sorts of unlikely places, you can't walk into a shop without it blaring from the overhead speakers and even if you initially enjoyed it, it's not long before it's driving you mad.
A classic example of this would be 'I will always love you' by Whitney Houston which you simply couldn't get away from in 1992. The only difference was I hated that awful wailing right from the start, which only made things worse.

Over-saturation is a surefire way of taking the enjoyment out of pretty much anything.
I love a nice piece of rump steak, medium-rare with oyster mushrooms, blue stilton sauce, roast potatoes and broccoli, but if I had it every day I'd soon get fed up.
I remember mum getting frustrated with dad always saying how he loved egg and chips and could eat it every day, so she decided to prove a point and gave him egg and chips every day. I think he lasted about a week before he gave in.


We once went to Alton Towers just before the season opened. The company the wife worked for arranged a day where employees and their families could go and enjoy the park without the crowds of people and the usual massive queues for the rides.
'Oblivion' had just opened the previous year and I was dying to go on it. There were no queues at all and we got straight on. The first ride was immensely exhilarating and the second still took my breath away, but by the fifth time I just felt numb and wanted to move on to something else.
Similarly, Buttertubs Pass in North Yorkshire is a fantastic stretch of road to drive, but I'm sure that after half a dozen runs you'd be ready to try something different.

It's hard to think of anything that wouldn't have the pleasure taken away by overindulgence, with the possible exception of sex, but even then I think I'd occasionally want to read a book instead.
I must be getting old.



Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Note to self

It's very hard to avoid having an opinion on things. Maybe even impossible.
Beliefs such as those to do with religion are usually pretty much set in stone and any attempt to convince someone with a strong belief that they're wrong, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, will only be met by blunt refusal to acknowledge the argument followed by fingers in ears and some out-of-tune singing.

An opinion is rather more flexible, and as time passes I notice this more and more in myself.
Often an opinion is formed on the basis of limited information. You pick up on other people's viewpoints, hear snippets of news articles, get swayed by stereotyping, read a newspaper article, and compile these things into an opinion that makes sense to you.
If subjected to closer scrutiny however, these opinions are often found to be flawed, and sometimes more full of holes than a teabag.

The trouble is we can form opinions on subjects that we don't even have experience of, taking hearsay as truth, and this is where the old "Walk a mile in my shoes" thing emerges.
We can easily make assumptions about people based on what they look like, how they dress, what car they drive, or what job they do. We might see someone in the street in shabby clothes, dragging their heels with their eyes downcast, and immediately assume that they're some n'er-do-well who never made an effort in life, but for all we know they could have just gone through a traumatic experience that has left them emotionally battered.
We don't have all the information, and until we do we don't have any right to judge. But we do anyway.
You see a six and a half foot neanderthal with a shaved head and acres of tattoos, and you immediately cross the road because you feel threatened. This might be justified or it might not, but first impressions generate an opinion, and you make a decision based on the opinion that someone who looks like that is a potential threat and act accordingly.
The thing is, he might be a great guy who by accident of genetics turned out big, shaves his head because he can't be arsed to deal with bed hair in the morning, and happens to like body art.

I've shared a great many opinions on this blog. Some I still hold on to and others have changed.
For example, I've spent plenty of time criticizing tattoos on women.
I still don't like things like this:


To me it's like slapping one of those 'No Fear' stickers on a Ferrari - just wrong.
But I have no problem with subtle things like this:


I've even said that tats on men make them look moronic, and yet last year I got a large rose tattooed on my right upper arm in memory of my mum who died ten years earlier (her name was Rose), and in two weeks I'm getting another tat done.
That opinion got turned around, although there are still plenty of aspects of this whole area that don't appeal, but I no longer make a negative judgement of someone on the basis of them having tattoos.

I still hold on to my belief that we're all entitled to our own opinions, but what I've come to learn is that opinions are subject to change, or at least some flexibility as experience and the information on which they are based alters.
Although I do try to avoid making sweeping generalisations, I also need to exercise caution in expressing strong opinions because when they change you can make yourself look a bit of a fool.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

AA - Agriculture Anonymous

They say the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem, so it's only right that I start this post by saying "Hello, my name's Dave and I'm a tractorholic".
I wouldn't say I have a particularly addictive personality, although I do fight an ongoing battle to keep my alcohol consumption to sensible levels, and least said about JaffaCakes the better.
Apart from music, I've also never been a collector since a brief pre-teen period of stamp collecting.
The trouble with collecting things is the room they take up, but I'm working on a degree in space utililisation and hold a black belt in origami, so the single shelf that I've been assigned to house my agricultural machinery model collection will soon be subjected to some serious folding of space and time.
And not a moment too soon, because it is now as crowded as the M25 on a bank holiday.

So how did this strange and slightly sad state of affairs come to be? It's not as if I grew up on a farm or anything, but on the other hand, living in the Fens does mean farming machinery is as common a sight to me as a cameltoe is to a swimming pool lifeguard.
Let's not forget that most small boys have a fascination with tractors and suchlike, and when you have an engineer's brain there will always be an attraction to pretty much anything mechanical.
Indeed, I remember being awestruck by the vehicles on display when my mum took me to the 'East of England Show' in Peterborough when I was a kid; agog at the monstrous tractors and combine harvesters that would dwarf me now, let alone as a wee ten year-old.
The real culprit behind all this however is the 'Farming Simulator' video games.
I've been a lifelong gamer, but while the 'Call of Duty' and 'Far Cry' franchises may have reasonable longevity, eventually I always got bored and wanted something new to get frustrated with and swear at.
The recent 'Farming Simulator' offerings from Giants Software have been different.
There's no raised blood pressure, no frustration, and to the wife's relief no swearing or gunfire either.
If anything it has become my own sort of meditation, and I can happily lose several hours at a time immersed in a world of crops, animals and forestry. There's also still no sign of getting tired of it.

Since getting into this I've found myself on the road to becoming a fully fledged farming anorak - more excited by the sight of a Case International Quadtrac than a Lamborghini Murcielago.
The collecting of 1:32 scale diecast models is simply the latest symptom of my affliction, and although the shelf is now unable to accomodate additional similar models, I suspect it may be possible to fit a few smaller scale ones in the gaps.
In the meantime, I'm going to investigate whether the companies that sell experience days like driving a Ferrari have anything that involves dragging a cultivator up and down a field with a 300hp New Holland.
Or is that just feeding the addiction?


Friday, 3 February 2017

The big grey

During the summer when it's so hot that all I want to do is sit in the fridge with the beer, I dream of the cool temperatures of winter. It's easy enough to get warmer by putting a jumper on, but there's only so much clothing you can remove in an effort to cool down before it becomes socially unacceptable.
The trouble is there's so much more to winter than being able to stay at a sensible temperature, and just about every other aspect of it sucks.

While various members of the animal kingdom are hibernating or generally keeping their head down, we carry on regardless. We have jobs to do and bills to pay, so life carries on as normal.
Or does it?
There's no doubt that winter has a negative effect on us, and I'm sure I can't be the only one that feels like I'm just going through the motions on autopilot until the trees start turning green again.
Commuting in the dark at both ends of the day with barely a glimmer of sunlight between is soul destroying, and as soon as the weekend comes and you wash the thick layer of grime off the car it just gets replaced with a fresh coat the next time you go out.
Everywhere is muddy, wet, and washed-out looking, as if someone has turned down the colour with the TV remote.
You look out the window and all you can see is a vast expanse of greyness, so it's hardly surprising that so many of us find just making it through the week a bit like wading through treacle, as the oppressiveness does its best to crush you.

John Gray mentioned in his blog 'Going Gently' yesterday about the low volume of blog posts around at the moment, so perhaps one of the effects of winter is that it saps creative thinking.
I know I've had a distinct lack of inspiration of late, which is reflected in my recent lack of posts.
Trying to garner any level of enthusiasm at this time of year is an uphill struggle, which is possibly the only valid reason for things like Christmas, because without that one thing to look forward to, people might go a little bit insane.
Perhaps I should make something more of the winter solstice - an un-christmas celebration of the impending return of spring and longer brighter days. Now that's something to celebrate.

So in summary, winter is gloomy, depressing, suffocates creativity, makes the car dirty, costs a small fortune in screen wash for the car and electricity for the tumble dryer, and makes your boots get all muddy.
So I'm just going to wait it out as best I can, secure in the knowledge that eventually I'll be commuting in daylight once again, the snowdrops and daffodils will be in bloom, and the pigeons will start shagging each other senseless in the neighbour's trees.
Spring will arrive, bringing with it a welcome burst of colour and the need to push the lawnmower around at weekly intervals, then before we know it summer will arrive when I can start my yearly grumble about the heat.