Category Archives: Articles

Remember Anatole

Hello everyone, gosh what happened to 2017? Well a lot happened, but nothing much on this here blog. Gamboling has been going now for 14 years!!! Last year was a busier one, this one a very quiet one. You dear reader do deserve something from me don’t you. You need something to help you while away the days until Giggles Advent starts. Of course you do, you deserve it.

I have written you an interactive story, it’s called Remember Anatole.

I hope you have fun with it.

Split Screen

Since this blog has been restarted there has been an amazing reaction from the movers, and to a certain extent the shakers (although I will be honest and state, for the record, that the shakers were a lot more interested in making wooden furniture than I had initially imagined). The advertising spods have been straight on it… Urging me to leverage my brand into another vertical – as if that’s a thing.

Well I do have a business idea and it concerns the pictures, you know the flicks, you know the movies? How about this plan?

Well what do you think?

Oh you’re just going to give it the silent treatment – how rude.

Oh I suppose you insist everyone explains their actual idea before casting judgement, Cuh!

Well here it is, half a film in your lunch break.

The first half of a film is shown twice, once from 12-1 and again between 1-2. And then the second half shown twice on the next day.

Films are shown like that for a week – on Monday & Tuesday, then again on Wednesday & Thursday, and on Friday they whole film is shown.

Only 90 minute films are shown so you see 45 minutes of film in the hour slot, which means you can get in and out in your lunch break.

Say this week the film is going to be everyone’s favourite golfing film -Caddyshack. I take my lunch break at 12 o’clock, so I zip down the pictures and watch the first half of the film. On Tuesday my 11 o’clock meeting is running late, so I decide to take lunch at 1pm and watch the second half. Or I could have decided to wait until Thursday when the second half was also on.

Now I know I’m not a movie mogul or an owner of a cinema. But if you want to steal my idea please do. Just call it Split Screen and I’ll be happy.

Life isn’t like a box of chocolates

Life is only like a box of chocolates, if you throw away the bit of paper with the descriptions on it. Obviously then you would never know what you were going to get, but you have to ask yourself why? Why would you throw away the bit of paper if you hadn’t finished the chocolates? I mean are you stupid or what? But in the end it’s all chocolate. It’s not as if you are about to find the lost treasure of Sierra Madre. It’s chocolate, chocolate, chocolate with a nut, chocolate, chocolate with a different kind of nut. If you never knew what you were going to get, it would be chocolate, chocolate, experimental poetry, chocolate, atomic bomb. That’s what life’s like.

About Roast Chicken

I love a roast dinner done properly. But they are divisive beasts. In the UK, they are often the dish most likely to evoke a cry, most often heard in Italy, “I like it the way my Mum cooked it when I was growing up”.

When I was a boy, my brother and his mate devised a plan similar to the we-both-pretend-we’re-going-to-each-other’s-house-but-we’re-actually-going-down-the-park. They both claimed that the other’s mum served Yorkshire puddings even with roast chicken. It worked for a bit, and we got this “fusion” version served a few times before my mum saw sense.

People do have these quirks, somebody’s mum I’m sure does serve Yorkshires with roast chicken and their kids go around in the world thinking everyone else is plain wrong. People often want to have or recreate the roasts their parents served. Or absolutely do not. I have a friend who refers to this meal as “a oven cooked chicken with veg” so it technically doesn’t count as having a roast dinner, something he felt was ruined for him by his parents in his youth.

My father makes an outstanding Roast Beef for which he roasts ribs. It is unequaled in my experience and so I don’t really attempt it. My mum’s roast chicken is far more achievable (not that that doesn’t make it fabulous) and so Roast Chicken is the roast I turn to. I have made a few changes and modifications over the years, so it now feels like my roast chicken recipe for my family. But the lineage is there.

There is also a lot of influence from Nigella Lawson. I love what she says about roasting a chicken in “How to Eat” for her “Tagliatelle with Chicken from the Venetian ghetto”, her roast potatoes from “Feast” and most importantly an almost throw away comment from “Nigella Express” which shaped a lot of my thinking about cooking generally.

I like quick and easy no-fuss recipes a lot so a book like Nigella Express is great, it’s quick but not as fussy as Jamie and his 30- or 15-minute meals. Not trying to make a masterpiece, just trying to be successful quickly. And in her Express book she has a roast chicken recipe. And she asks the question, how can a recipe that clearly takes at least an hour and a half be considered quick? Well she suggests doing everything in a pan all together and she makes the point that actually roasting a chicken can take as little as 5 minutes prep work and then the oven does the rest and during that time you can be washing your hair or whatever.

It’s true that you don’t have to do much when roast chicken is in your otherwise quick meal, but isn’t really true when dealing with a roast chicken dinner with potatoes and veg and gravy and all of the proverbial trimmings. When doing a roast chicken dinner, there are quite a few things to get right. But don’t worry… I have your back. Next week’s recipe should be the foolproof roast chicken recipe you’ve been looking for.

Update on time for a change

So as you may know, last week I changed time forever with my new universal system of time. Since then, apart from the customary Nobel prizes, Field Medals and various Gongs and Bulls that have been flowing in, there has been one consistent message which is, “what on earth are you talking about, and what is the point of it?”.The point is that there are two problems to solve with time zones. The genuine “I’m on the other side of the world” type time zone problems where you need a big adjustment and the “small regional differences” which are different because everyone wants to go to work at around nine in the morning and leave around five in the afternoon. This system tries to fix both problems, but to understand it let’s take them one at a time.
1) People who are near each other

People who are near each other shouldn’t be on different time zones at all. There is no point in Europe and Britain having different time zones. They only do because Britain and France both want to go to work at 9am (ish) and they want it to be light from an hour before in the morning most of the time for commuting. The traditional way to solve this is to let each zone have it’s own time and make 9am be at lots of different times around the world. But there is another way. They could just start work in France at 8am instead and leave at 4pm. But there would be uproar apparently. They would be going to work at the same actual time of the day as they were before, but just be calling that time 8am now. But people can’t cope with change like that.

So what we do is trick them. We change to splitting the day into quarters not halves and at the same time tell people “work will start at the new time of x”. That way nobody will notice that we’ve just converted the world into only having 4 time zones.

First of all this means I can work out if I can call anyone in the same quarter of the world as me by simply saying “can I call you at 2 in the morning”. It means the same thing to them wherever they are.


2) People a long way away

Suddenly working out times for people in Australia is easy too. If I want to work out what time to call them, I know their morning and afternoon are my evening and night. Night isn’t a good time for calls for me, but evenings are ok. So now I know that my evening is their morning I can call them at a convenient time. I can even say, “can I call you at 2 in the morning your time?” and know that that will be 2 in the evening my time. The numbers always line up.

In between is easy too. America is all on one time zone now. Morning for America is Afternoon for Europe. That’s all you need to remember.


3) This is all very interesting but can I see it as a picture?

  

I think we’ll need to drill into some specific time examples next week, but for now I’ll let you digest time itself.

Closing Time

“As your brother I advise you to drive as quickly as possible to the supermarket.”

It was the first warm day of the year, and Pete’s hand was hovering over the stereo. He was about to subject me to some contemporary culture and I knew it. If this trip was going to succeed, I would need some strong salt and vinegar crisps, a pre-packaged sandwich and more beer than the recommended daily intake suggested by the UK’s chief medical officer.

The situation had begun at the desk the previous day. It was the end of work before the weekend and I was keen to get home and prepare for my first camping trip in almost 20 years. There was probably a list of things that I needed to take with me. But it was Friday night and those things could wait. A colleague approached the desk and said, “who’s going to take me out for a beer?”, my boss demurred and in doing so gently shoved me under the path of the 20 tonne truck we like to call Bob.

Bob’s a lovely fellow, everyone agrees. But a one-on-one session with Bob at the bar can end badly or well depending on your definition. And nine pints later, we agreed that it had gone very well. The world had been set straight on its axis, which actually would be very bad for the world but we didn’t seem to mind. The next morning the world was still spinning, in more ways than one, and suddenly my camping trip seemed more of an ordeal than had originally been indicated.

Luckily my brother was going to be in attendance to convey me to our destination. An inability to drive was clearly indicated, as was not listening to loud electronic remixes of the hit parade. But if I had to acquiesce on one point, it had to be the music. You see Pete can’t drive if he’s not listening to a rhythmic thumping beat. I know, we’ve tried. Britain’s top scientists have looked into the phenomenon and decided that in terms of difficulty to solve it’s up there with the question of what all that ‘dark matter’ is doing. If I were going to face the music, certain situations would have to be dealt with.

We ranged around the supermarket and found everything we needed. The fridge doors in the shop didn’t close automatically, and the fridges were constantly beeping in protest at their poor treatment. I wanted to shout at them, “Evolve, I have seen the future, fridges with automatic closing doors”, but Pete just quietly and considerately closed the doors.

Back in the car we noted that we had managed the incredible speed, thus far on our journey, of less than half a mile an hour. Pete suggested that we might need to increase this speed if we were going to make it to Rob’s in time for the football to start. I had forgotten about this, apparently there was to be a game – televised – for people’s purported entertainment. It didn’t make sense to me, it never has, but Pete insisted he wanted to be present for kick-off.

Our journey was delayed by an accident on a junction, a grim reminder of the ease with which something can turn into nothing. The way things suddenly, and with no indication, can come to an end. We all make a choice, do we mourn the end that’s coming before it’s come or only after it’s gone? It was a sad foreshadowing of our entire endeavour. Our weekend was to celebrate the departure of one of our number. Our cousin Stewart was about to move to New Zealand. It’s not a final departure, but it’s a long way to go. And our relationship will change forever. Our relationship is based on times when we gather the family all around us, bringing everyone together, but also on weekends of loud music and revelry. Something that will be hard to recapture once he has gone to the other side of the world.

I once spent a week in his front room. We watched Wimbledon tennis in the day, and movies in the evening. We averaged seven movies a day for five days. A misspent youth? Or a long hard soak in the prevalent culture of the generations before ours? How can you react to a culture unless you’ve explored it?

So would we mourn his departure before it happened? No, we would not. We’d continue on like normal, living one more weekend without consequences. The consequences will come later, but to think of them now was against the spirit of the thing.

We pulled up to the side of the road outside cousin Rob’s house and found him putting sticks into the ground. Rob said he was trying to protect some plants from an aggressive lawnmower advocate who operated locally. He would mow anything that looked like lawn, even if it was lawn enhanced with flowers. The sticks might do the trick thought Rob, and deter the aggressor from his task.

As we were discussing this, cousin Stewart and Rod (who isn’t a cousin) turned up. Rod is Stew’s best friend from school. They went to the same university together and shared a house there. He’s technically not a cousin but I’ve known him since we were all kids together.

It was time to put drinks in the fridge and for the football to start. Pete and Rob went to the living room to watch a five-nil defeat for Pete’s team. The apparent draw of the beautiful game not having reached myself, Stew or Rod, we set to putting up the tent.

My calling has never been in the so called “physical” end of the spectrum so I immediately seized the instructions and helped as best I could. My dramatic reading of the instructions was immediately praised by the Tony awards panel, but somehow didn’t seem to get the job actually achieved.

There were pegs that had to go into the ground. At one point it seemed to be clear that they were trying to put one tent up inside another tent. All of it seemed wrong to me, not in a “you are doing this wrong” kind of way, but in a fundamental “this can’t be how this works” way. But apparently it was.

In the end the tent was up, and the football was finished and so it was time to go to the pub for dinner. Everyone we had met had said, “oh are you going to the pub in town” and Rob had said, “oh no we’re not going there, we’re going to the pub across the fields”. Everyone had expressed surprise and doubt at this, but Rob had remained confident. “So Rob,” I asked, “how long does it take to get to this pub”? I was wondering about how many beers to carry with us for the journey. “Oh,” he replied, “I don’t know, I’ve never walked there”. I think the panic suddenly must have showed on my face. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I know these woods like the back of my hands”. “I think,” I said, “that is the opening line from the Blair Witch Project”.

We decided to proceed with the plan despite the obvious issues, as we were about to set off, I stuck a couple of cans in my pocket. The cans had been keeping cool outside the house – something that should have alerted us to the obvious temperature issues in relation to our tent-based sleeping arrangements later that evening. The beers were nice and cold, I stuck the two cans of Guinness in my pocket and thought about setting off. Just then it started to drizzle. I then said one of those things that may turn out to be one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever said in my life, “it looks like it’s starting to rain, maybe we should get going so we get there before the rain really takes hold”.

Who is the greater fool, the fool or the fool who follows him? That’s not clear, but what is clear is that we all decided to set off. It seemed like the right thing to do – we had giant umbrellas, and we were walking across fields in a lightning storm – what could possibly go wrong? Maybe it was time for one of us to check out? But luckily it seems Pete, Rob, Stew, Rod and I had a little bit more life on our clocks.

The walk through the woods was fraught with difficulties, chief of which was what to do with our empties. The answer was, it turned out, to store them in branches of felled trees for our return journey as our ancestors had done. Rob assured us that this was the way to behave out in the country and we happily obliged.

By the time we arrived at the pub it had stopped raining, we could have easily avoided walking in the rain, but we would have actually found that less fun. We were there for the experience. We walked into the pub and ordered six pints of experience. There was beer here, it was lovely, other correspondents might be able to tell you what the beer was, but I cannot.

Now we were at the pub it was obvious that if we wanted to enjoy dinner in the style to which we had become accustomed (i.e. having a table) we would need to seek one out. Pete and Rod headed off in one direction finding a low table that was free amongst several sofas. But Stew, Rob and I kept our eye on the prize, a table near the bar with enough room for the five of us.

While we waited for the table, the conversation turned to matters of ancient history, to how things were when we were kids…

We are grown ups now, we must be. Most have kids and look down on the foolishness of children. We like to think of ourselves as perpetual children, but do we really behave that way? We act the fool and we tilt at moments of madness, but could we do anything truly childlike and escape our day to day reality?

My daughter will concoct a world where she seems to really actually believe she is a dog for hours on end and not respond unless we pat her on the head and say, “good doggie”. I admit that the thread of reality is there for her, she knows she isn’t a dog, but – and this is the point – she also doesn’t consider what others might think about her pretending to be a dog. For all our flights of fancy as adults, and how we like to pretend we aren’t grown up, there aren’t many of us who could actually behave like this.

But despite this we loved the time that we were all kids together, and we all pretend to ourselves that we haven’t really grown up. So those days of cricket on the lawn might still happen, the conversations and run-ins with Granddad might happen at any moment. It’s all alive for us in this conversation despite being gone for 25 years.

There’s no foolishness here, I don’t want you to get that impression, these were some of the most important moments for “us” as individuals and for “us” as a group. It’s only fair that we remember them. I know a bit more about some of those moments, because Granddad came and lived with us towards the end, and we talked about this for the first time in that pub. For the first time of the weekend, it seemed like the last time we’d be doing this.

The group of ladies on the ideal table decided that they’d finished nursing the bag of crisps and J20 that they had been passing around for the last hour. We wanted to be polite, but we also wanted to swoop like ravenous vultures. Luckily we have been brought up so that our ravenous vulture swoop looks polite and the ladies actually complement us on it.

We sit and examine the menu, there will be steak, this will happen, but what else? Pete declares that he has stopped eating wheat. Is this one of those fad diet things? He doesn’t seem the sort. He assures us that it isn’t.

He was at work and one of his colleagues mentioned that he couldn’t have a sandwich for lunch. Why not, Pete had asked? His colleague said it was because he wasn’t eating wheat anymore. Why not? Pete asked, some kind of fad diet? No said the colleague, it was because his wife had been complaining about his absolutely killer farts. She had looked something up online about it and found that it might be an allergy to wheat causing the problem. Pete heard this with slack jawed amazement. Pete had previously had terrible reactions to wheat beer. Could this finally be the thing that stopped him from having to declare his whereabouts to NATO in case they misattributed his actions to a chemical weapons attack?

While Pete was telling this story, the attractive barmaid was hovering behind him waiting to take our order. Normally we would have interrupted to speed her night along, but the chance of embarrassing Pete was too good. She cringed every time he said the word “fart”, thus far enhancing the story for us.

We made the decision to switch to wine with dinner, and it was noted by the bar staff. “How are you enjoying your weekend away?” they asked. How did they know we were on a weekend away? They accused us of being a company on a team-building exercise. “Look,” they said, “the boss is ordering this fancy wine and putting it on expenses.” “No that’s just Al.”

We ordered one more bottle to have when we got home and headed off. It was dark now, our torches helped, but drunken exuberance helped even more and the journey passed without incident until Rob needed to pause briefly to, ahem, examine the shrubbery. We carried on walking following Rod’s off road biking GPS that uses the ordinance survey map. When we realised we had lost Rob, we all shined our torches back to check where he was, blinding him. He soon recovered and we headed back, collecting all of the cans we had secreted on the way.

When we got back we sat in Rob’s living room and put on the Jimi Hendrix Experience. We used to live in a world where we aspired to Jimi’s experience, and now had we become parodies of the people we pilloried? Of course we believed we were different, of course we know that we’re not like the people we work with, of course we aren’t becoming “the man”. But look from the outside? Drinking wine and eating fancy steak at the pub. They don’t think of Jimi Hendrix, they think of us as “the man”.

Where did the dream go? Stew is moving to the other side of the world because it feels right. Not because it necessarily makes sense. Is sense the enemy of right? Dark thoughts at 2am. Is it fair to criticise ourselves because we have become what we were destined to be?

The music stops and as we switch to Led Zeppelin, it’s clear that Stew and Rod haven’t made it. They have conked out. A brief respite, and as the music kicks in, Rob and I seem to get our second wind.

Almost at the same time, Stew and Rod wake up, after a bit of bleary eyed questioning of where they are they ask perhaps the most crucial question, where is Pete? He isn’t here anymore. He went to the bathroom, Rob and I remember that, but where next?

He’s found moments later, face-down in Rob’s bed. He said he was going to the loo, he obviously decided not to return. We decide that this is the moment to make our way to the tent outside. This seemingly took an hour.

We actually had to scrape the ice off the outside of the tent as we are getting in. The dew had frozen. I had a inflatable double mattress to sleep on, just as our ancestors did. Everyone else has gone for more traditional tent-based sleeping arrangements.

Pete’s decision, such as it was, to take an early bath in Rob’s bed cost him dearly in the morning. As we woke up with the morning sun, it was clear that his use of a bed made him responsible for the morning tea, coffee and breakfast. I also decided this action would largely make him responsible for driving us home, it seemed clear to me that my driving wasn’t indicated once again.

A chap turned up with a metal detector and wanted to show us what he had found in the neighbouring fields. Why was he here? Maybe Rob knew, but we couldn’t ask.

We ate our breakfast on the pub garden table Rob had in his garden. We talked about our future, our loss as Stewart left. And what the future held for him. He didn’t know, how could he? Better of him to be honest about that then pretend to have the answers. He was off on his adventure.

It started to pour with rain, we went inside. The metal detector man didn’t have to worry because he was eating his breakfast in his car. It was time to go.

The hedonistic weekend had passed, as well as it could. We had enjoyed it. It was excellent to be that free. But we had questioned one of our members’ decision to move to the other side of the world without a plan. We questioned it because we love him and don’t want him to go, but mainly we question it because we have forgotten what being free is really like. While things are changing, he’s not really gone. We will see him, and maybe he will continue to teach us what life is really about?

This article might have wallowed, but the weekend did not. Sometimes it’s important not to think about the whole of your life. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting to celebrate the changes, but don’t spend the last chance you have to enjoy them crying instead of celebrating it.

Turkey Stir Fry

The two recipes that I have published so far have both been easy and linguine-based. This recipe is neither. It even features a part which seems like the line about how to boil and egg, “first create the universe”. But once you have this recipe down it will go well for you – honest!

The first thing that you need to do for this recipe, technically, is make a roast chicken (luckily we are going to talk about that in the following weeks – lucky you) and then from the leftovers of the roast chicken, boil up some chicken stock, then leave it to cool and freeze some of the stock in ice-cube bags or trays to make ice cubes of chicken stock.

Chicken stock is just one of the ingredients here. I know this sounds like an absolute faff and I’m sure that you can make this dish with shop bought chicken stock but… For loads of recipes you simply don’t need as much chicken stock as a chicken stock cube makes. Obviously if you are making a stew, risotto or a soup or something then it’s quite the right amount, but for things like this, you just want a couple of ice-cubes worth. It’s honestly worth it, even though I know you don’t believe me. The other advantage is that you can control the amount of salt, which can be very high in shop-bought stock.

Serves 2 or 3 depending on how hungry you are.

Ingredients

2 ice cubes of chicken stock (or alternative)
2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of ketchup manis (or Hoi Sin)
1 teaspoon of Chinese 5 spice
1 teaspoon of Rice Vinegar
1 teaspoon of Mirin
1 squirt of tomato paste
1 clove garlic (crushed)
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/5 teaspoon of Chilli flakes

5 Sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce (approx. that much, I’ll explain in the method)
Cornflower
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I use shop bought stir fry oil which normally has ginger, garlic and sesame in it)
2 turkey breasts

300g Green beans (French beans)
1 red pepper
2 nests of medium noodles

Combine all of that first batch of ingredients into a bowl and stir it all together. Don’t worry about waiting for the ice cubes to fully melt or anything.

Stick a pan of water on to boil for the noodles and beans (use two pans if you care, but the ingredients won’t), and chop the veg and put it to one side. I like peppers in chunks, and green beans with the ends off but it doesn’t matter much. I chop the veg first to stop me having to use two boards as we’ll be chopping the meat in a bit (store the veg in the bowls you are going to serve in, or the colander you are going to drain the noodles in, they are going to be cooked in different ways so easiest not to store them together).

Place the Sichuan peppercorns in a dry wok and warm them for about a minute. Put them in a pestle and mortar and grind them up.

Now chop the turkey into similarly sized chunks. They should look like medium meatball sizes. Pour the dark soy over the turkey on the board. This should indicate how much to put on. You want to cover the turkey with this sticky black sauce but you don’t want much more than the amount that you need to cover it. Use a fork to make sure it’s covered.

Put some cornflower in a Pyrex dish or mixing bowl. What does “some” mean in this context? Well you want the turkey to be well covered. So take a guess based on how much turkey you have in front of you, you can always add more. By putting this in the dish you are trying to stop creating too much additional soy cornflower gloop that doesn’t have any turkey in the middle. Grind some black pepper into the cornflower and also pour in the sichuan peppercorns you ground up earlier. Pop the turkey into the bowl too and mix with a fork until well covered. You want a good coverage of cornflower so add more and add more soy if you didn’t estimate enough of either.

Ok. Now we are ready for some cooking. How exciting. I’m going to base this running order on an estimate that your noodles take 3 minutes to cook. Adjust if they don’t.

Set a timer for 11 minutes
Pour the oil in the wok and turn it up to the highest heat

Timer says 9 minutes to go
THE OIL IS GOING TO BE REALLY HOT. DO NOT BURN YOURSELF!!! HANDS BACK AND USE IMPLEMENTS!!!
Place the turkey in the oil, space the turkey out as much as possible so it isn’t touching (easier in a flat bottomed wok) try not to turn them as you are spacing them out. You are trying to cook one side. Try to not get too much non-turkey covering cornflower into the wok.
Turn the wok down to 3/4 heat.

Timer says 6 minutes to go
Put the beans in the boiling water.
Turn the turkey pieces over one by one (if you can).
Turn boiling water down to 3/4 heat.

Timer says 4 minutes to go
Put the peppers on top of the turkey. Don’t stir.

Timer says 3 minutes to go
Put the noodles in boiling water.
Add the sauce mixture to the wok and stir, pulling the turkey off the bottom if it’s stuck.
Watch the temperature here because you want the sauce to start to bubble by the end of the process, and you may have just put some ice in the wok so turn up the heat if necessary. But don’t boil everything either. It is probably best if for the last 20 to 30 seconds it is pretty close to boiling though to allow the sauce to reduce a little.

Timer done
Drain the noodles and the beans and mix them into the wok covering everything in the sauce.
Serve.

Time for a change

It is clearly time to sort out time. There are all of these time zones around the world, and I guess this is so that everyone can wake up and go to work at nine ish or at least that was the plan. But who does this anymore?

There are all kinds of people working at their own pace. I have friends who do their best work at three in the morning. Sometimes it seems that they are on their own time zone but they don’t need an official one to work. The problem is that we all need a similar frame of reference. In an ideal world we would all just use UTC and be done with it but apparently people wouldn’t like having to wake up at eleven o’clock in the evening.

I have a suggestion which is pretty straight forward. Why don’t we divide days into four chunks. Each of these chunks will have two names the first set of names will be local names – in the UK I would suggest Morning, Afternoon, Evening and Night. Then we would have international names for these periods like Alex, Bob, Freda and Jeff, or whatever we can all agree on.

The advantage of the system is that for each time zone the periods would always be called the same thing. In the UK, morning would always be Alex, in Australia Alex would always be evening. This way, you don’t have to work out everyone’s time zone. It allows a kind of UTC by the back door. Everyone would know their local translation so everyone would always be able to tell you what time it was in a way you would be able to understand.

So let’s get down to specifics. What I am really proposing here is that there be only 4 time zones. Time would go from 0 to 6 o’clock in each period. Lets start at what is called midnight. For reference this is when the day starts at Night 00:00.

Then, at what used to be 06:00 on the 24-hour clock, we would have a mini reset so it becomes 00:00 again and the morning has begun. Morning finishes six hours later at midday, followed by six hours of afternoon and six hours of evening, ending at old midnight.

Now how does this help? That’s a good question, and one I’ll get to next week.

Hi, I’m Ivan Reitman

I haven’t got a recorded message on my mobile phone voicemail; I just have the standard lady giving the standard message. And I was asked the other day if I’d ever had a personalised message.

I don’t think I’ve ever had one on my mobile, but I certainly did on my landline. There were a series of them from films, and one which just said, “Hi, I’m Ivan Reitman”.

Reitman was the director of Ghostbusters (and a number of other films) and the Ghostbusters directors commentary was a firm favourite in our house – imagine how much spare time we had that we used to rewatch directors commentaries! This was before I met Katherine.

The first line of the commentary was Reitman introducing himself, and somehow it just sounded so funny to our ears that it immediately became our answer phone message.

This was, of course, an absolutely hopeless answering message as nobody, other than us, knew who it was, or what was going on. So people would hang up or worse, leave odd messages thinking they were talking to somebody called Ivan.

Luckily I managed to knock that habit on the head a while ago, but now for some reason I still don’t record my own message. I’m not sure I can say why not, I just haven’t.

The unexamined life is not worth living said Socrates, but perhaps, in this case, some things are best just left?

Le chauffeur est terminée

We were in a holiday home in France, the owners only spoke French, we only spoke English. But that hardly seemed to matter. It was a beautiful house with a wonderful garden and the owners, who lived in the house next door, seemed very friendly.

We didn’t have a situation, at all. The situation, that we didn’t have, was that both sides wanted to be sophisticated without the necessary, as the French would say, je ne sais quois.

I was on the trip with two people who actually can speak fluent French, but both of them are shy. I, however, know just enough French to be truly dangerous. I found myself going to the bakery every morning and ordering the bread for the day. After a few days the ladies in the bakery would shout, in French, “he’s here”. So everyone could come and listen while I butchered their beautiful language. To be fair, as everyone kept saying, at least I was trying. Something that would only encourage me into the situation that I am about to describe.

We were invited to afternoon tea by the house’s owners. They obviously thought that this was the appropriate thing to do for English guests. We walked in to the host’s house and it had a barrel of beer on tap. This was mentioned specifically to me.

We were asked about drinks we might like. I remembered the beer barrel that had just been mentioned (it stuck in my mind somehow). I was the first person to be asked the question, I felt that things were on my side, but no. Everyone else settled for cups of tea or water.

Once people had sat down, we discovered there was cake and macarons to go with our drinks, and the scene was set. We had two fluent French speakers on our side, and me who can just about remember some things from when I learned French at 12 and my mum and my daughter who know about the same amount of French as each other (although my mum has been trying to improve since this incident).

The owner’s entourage spoke only in French, the conversation stalled.

Now, it’s fair to say, that I found the conversation (or lack of it) uncomfortable. This social embarrassment is, to me, the epitome of British character flaws. I found the embarrassment of sitting quietly and potentially not being polite by not making idle chit chat more embarrassing than the only thing I had to offer as an alternative, a story told in French by somebody who can’t really speak French.

For the sake of all that is holy, I will try and explain my fairly ambitious story in English and you will have to imagine how complicated it would be to explain in broken French. Here it is…

I started by explaining that I had been doing a lot of driving on the way there which is unusual for me (pas de typical!). And that I had taken to saying, “le chauffeur est terminée” when we arrived at our destination.

But Katherine corrected me. “Chauffeur” is not the correct French word for driver, it is the word for fireman, but specifically a fireman who keeps a train full of coal, not a fireman who puts out fires which is what we call a fireman.

(Note: Yes, I am trying to explain idiomatic French in French without any way of helping them understand the vagaries of what I’m talking about. Just think how many different contexts of the word fireman, which is two different words in French, they had to follow along with in the previous paragraph.) I continued…

Oddly enough the correct name for a driver of a car, the equivalent of our word chauffeur, not your word fireman, but our word chauffeur, in French is conducteur, which we use in English for a person who collects tickets on a train or bus.

At this point one of the French people in the room said, in perfect English, “that is an excellent story, and I must say that only an English person would have carried on with such a ridiculous story in the face of such obvious obstacles”.

“You can speak English,” I asked?
“Yes,” he replied, “I lived in Portsmouth for 20 years”.