Yearly Archives of: 2011


Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals


I was having a look through some recent photos taken on my phone and noticed a pattern. Just recently we’ve been cooking a lot of meals from the latest Jamie Oliver book ‘Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals‘ (almost all of it delicious) and I’ve gotten into the habit of photographing our creations.

The idea is you can cook a 3 course meal in just 30 minutes. You see him do it on TV but the reality, as it turns out, is a little bit trickier. You need a good sized kitchen, everything laid out in advance and you don’t tidy up as you go. But with practise it can be done. Anyway, enjoy!


Why Depressing Music Cheers Me Up


I’d never really noticed it before but I love listening to depressing music. Actually, let me clarify that a bit. I love listening to music that you probably find depressing. Or you may not. Perhaps if I list some of the albums that have a high play count in iTunes you can decide which side of the line you stand on:

  • Radiohead – OK Computer (’nuff said)
  • The Stills – Logic Will Break Your Heart (one of my favourites – all melancholy gold)
  • Mogwai – Young Team (particularly ‘R U Still in 2 It?’ – which is somewhat dark)
  • Beck – Odelay (and ‘Jack-Ass’ is by far and away the most played track)
  • Board Of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children
  • The Supernaturals – A Tune A Day (an album entirely filled with break-up songs)
  • Doves – The Last Broadcast (I don’t think it’s depressing – but ‘others’ do)
  • Eels – End Times (he was in a grim place when he wrote this one)
  • Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (probably started the whole thing for me)

My perfect song formula (and the kind of music I’d record if I could play the guitar and sing – think yourself lucky I can do neither) is quite often just a guy and his guitar. He’s probably singing about being in dark place where he’s looking back on when things were good. When he was happy. When he fell asleep in the arms of his lover. How he and his girl danced across poppy fields laughing all the way. How life was great, everything flowed and he was a different man. He was riding on the crest of a wave, the summit of a mountain. And then he’ll reflect on how those days are gone. How he’s a shadow of his former self. How he knows those days will never come back. How life is pointless. How he’s at the end of his tether and he can’t see a way out. How he wished he could turn the clock back. Wondering how it all went wrong and realising it was – perhaps inevitably – his fault for not knowing when he had it good.

Hmmm, ok, I’ll admit, that does sound pretty depressing. But the funny thing is that when I hear a song like that it makes me smile. Even when I’ve been in the depths of despair in my own life, listening to this sort of music never fails to cheer me up. And I think it’s all about my optimistic outlook on life. The way I see it, these songs aren’t about the depression and down times, but more looking at the happier times from a place of darkness. And if you’re in a dark room and someone shines a torch in your eyes it seems pretty frickin’ bright. Shine a torch in your eyes in daylight and you won’t bat an eyelid. For me the same rule applies with this sort of melancholy music.

I learned about my ‘depressing’ musical tastes from my long suffering wife. Whenever we drive anywhere I like to put a mix tape together (well, strictly speaking it’s a CD, but ‘mix tape’ is more old school) or create a playlist on my iPhone and plug that in. In the early days of creating these mixes I’d fill them with bands like those listed above combined with a few singalong classics that I can murder as we cruise along the motorway. The wife’s a tolerant wee thing on the whole but she kept criticising my choice of ‘depressing’ music and could I put something on that didn’t make her want to jump out of the car at high speed? I assumed she was just being negative, but have had it confirmed by an independent panel of judges (other people I know) that no, it’s me. But it never depresses me.

Many years ago my father told me that I’d only ever understand love songs when I’ve been in love. That I’d know when I’d listen to the lyrics and magically they’d make sense. He was right. Maybe you only understand melancholy music when you’ve been melancholy yourself. And listening to music that reminds me of the lows I’ve been through reminds me that I’m not the only one and that I’m not in that place now. That things can always get worse so I should make the most of right now. Plus when I remember the lows the first thing that springs to mind is the highs – the happy times before the broken heart.

I put together a playlist on Spotify of all the songs that ever meant anything to me – it’s pretty much the soundtrack to my life. While listening through it I was struck by two things. Firstly the memories they stir up are mostly associated with women (those loved and lost) or cars (usually breaking down in the middle of nowhere). And secondly, the most memorable parts of my life are inevitably the ones with the strongest emotions – the negative ones. So when I listen to those sad songs they remind me of times when I was down, which then reminds me of the happy times I was looking back on at the time. And that cheers me up.

My wife on the other hand listens to melancholy music and after a short time wants to burst into tears, probably dwelling on the negatives. Perhaps it’s a glass half full thing. Or maybe it’s just be a man / woman thing. I’m sure someone’ll have written a song or two about that…

Oh, if you want to hear the sort of depressing mix tapes I put together, here’s a Spotify playlist that gives you the idea. Enjoy!


Reminiscing About Cold Winters Ain’t What It Used To Be


A couple of years ago I wrote an article talking about how when I was a kid the river Tay in Scotland (alongside which I grew up) used to freeze over. I would get woken up to hear the ice flows banging against each other despite the river being 2 miles wide where I lived. Winters used to be long, cold and sustained. And more importantly we used to get up to a few feet of snow which meant the schools would often be closed and sledging would ensue. It also gave me an excuse to show a cool photo my father took back then:

Ice Flows In The River Tay

My point was that just 20 years later this sort of thing no longer happened. Our Winters consisted of the odd few days with a centimetre or two of the flaky stuff that quickly melted then more rain. The Scottish ski industry looked like it would go under from a lack of snow and my assertion was that people living alongside the river Tay now wouldn’t believe that it used to pretty much freeze over. So what happened next? I’ll tell you what happened next. We got 3 proper, old school Winters in a row, each colder than the last! This year was particularly cold (and probably isn’t over yet).

The coldest I’ve ever been in the UK was hiking about 15 years ago in Scotland during a freak cold snap that encased the whole of the UK in ice. I was up a 3000 foot mountain when I took off my glove to throw a snowball at my then girlfriend (a bad idea as it turned out). It took seconds before the cold resulted in a searing pain in my hand, like the life was being quickly sucked out of it. It was around -20C and I can tell you it was bloody cold (my hand immediately found itself in my other armpit to ward off frostnip). I think the next coldest would have to be about -10C since (ignoring wind chill). However just a few short weeks ago I started up my car to go to work and it registered -18C! And this is Yorkshire in about the most inland point of the country. So cold Winters have returned but they’re not quite like I remember them.

Back when I was a teenager and the Winters were cold a bit of snow never stopped us. We didn’t think twice about going into the highlands snowboarding or climbing. A foot of snow was ok, you just drove slowly, kept in a high gear and the revs low. No need for Winter tyres – in fact I didn’t realise there was such a thing – I just used the cheapest tyres I could afford.

Cut to nowadays and a centimetre of snow seems to stop the entire country in its tracks. I sold my previous rear-wheel drive car because it had large, wide tyres that gripped very well in the Summer but would lose traction with even the lightest of feather touches to the accelerator. Now I have a front wheel drive car again and while that’s a million times easier to drive in the snow and ice, it’s still pretty awful in terms of traction and braking. Since the local council doesn’t appear to understand that you should grit the roads I had some entertaining drives on what appeared to be an ice rink. Admittedly gritting doesn’t work below about -8C so I’ll let the council off at least some of the time. But modern high performance Summer tyres really don’t work at all in the Winter.

After some web-based research following the Winter of 2009/2010 I bought myself a pair of Autosocks. The idea is you get stuck in the snow, you can’t get any traction and your day is about to suck. But then you remember that you’ve got a pair of Autosocks in the boot! They’re some flexible material wheel covers that take a couple of minutes to fit over your driving wheels. Put them over the top half of the wheels, drive forward a metre or two and a pull them over the other half. Then simply drive off.

My Autosocks In Action

Sounded too good to be true. Except in fact they’re amazing. I tried them out as soon as there was some snow and instead of having to drive at 5pmh I could pretty much drive normally – accelerating hard and braking hard (not that I would generally employ such tactics in snow). Only problem with them is if you keep them on when you return to tarmac they’ll be shredded in no time – so they’re strictly for the ‘stuck in a car park or snowy lane’ scenario. Ironically I got stuck in a car park a couple of days later and they got me out a treat!

However if you’re driving along a regular road and suddenly hit snow or slush you’re not expecting then it’s already too late. So I’ve been looking into Winter tyres and it turns out I didn’t really understand them at all. I assumed Winter tyres were the sort of things rally drivers used for Snow stages – they had metal spikes and would shred a road. Turns out they’re snow tyres and Winter tyres are somewhat less exciting. Instead they’re made of a rubber that works better at low temperatures (Summer tyres suck below 7C and Winter tyres are designed for life below 7C) and have a tread pattern that doesn’t get clogged up with snow. Interestingly Summer tyres wear out more quickly below 7C whereas Winter tyres wear out more quickly above.

So the obvious solution, given that Winter tyres will perform better in the cold wet of Winter (with or without snow) than Summer tyres, is to get a second set of tyres and swap them over at November and March. After some of the death-trap drives to and from work I’ve had and reports from people who bought Winters (and loved them) it’s a no brainer. Only problem is there’s no point trying to buy them in the Winter as they’re sold out or hugely overpriced, so I’ll wait until Summer. I’ll also keep a look out for a cheap pair of spare wheels on eBay to put them on (saves getting my wheels rebalanced twice a year). Of course you can bet if I do shell out the cash on wheels and Winter tyres we’ll end up with a barbecue Winter for 2011/2012. But you know what? I won’t mind that at all. Snow when you’re a kid is all about sledging. Snow as an adult is great for snowboarding holidays but a pain in the arse aside from that. In other words, roll on Summer!

And as for why driving on snow and ice 15 years ago seemed a lot easier, am I imagining it or are modern tyres too specific to their operating temperatures? Or was I remembering through rose tinted spectacles? Could be a bit of both.