Bring a Bottle?

I’ve just watched the first episode of Emma Kennedy’s entertaining new sitcom about family life in the late 1970s called The Kennedys. While the titular Kennedys were certainly classier than our northern working class family it was definitely all too familiar. The family’s first ever dinner party reminded me of a story about my parents from the early 1980s.

They had been invited to a dinner party. This was unheard of among our family and friends. Children might go round to their mates for tea, but grown ups didn’t. But dad must have been moving in some unusually lofty circles in the Catholic charity he was involved in and so mum and dad were invited to a dinner party.

“Bring a bottle,” they were told.
And I remember mum and dad agonising over what this could possibly mean. A bottle of what? Should it be empty? What kind of bottle, large or small? Why weren’t the hosts providing liquids? It was frankly baffling.

Now it should be said at this point that both my sister and I did have an idea of what sort of bottle they should take, but dad was having none of it, thinking we were going mad talking about buying “that” wine “stuff”. And of course he was always right.

And so on the day in question they got dolled up and headed out for their first classy dinner party with middle class folks. My dad armed with his pint bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale, my mum with her very small bottle of Babycham.

God I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at that dinner party.

Incidentally it was probably around this time we also tried pasta (not from a can) for the first time. Mum bought some real dried spaghetti and cooked it following the instructions on the packet. My sister and I found it very bland. “Maybe people have some sort of sauce with it,” mum suggested. We thought she was probably right and said that if we had this kind of spaghetti – not from a can – again, we could put some ketchup on it.

The Quest for the Alrightish Burger

Many years ago my late/first wife and I had a pet called George. We loved George, he was yellow and perky, ever ready to join us in our adventures. With his tail behind him he’d open up his jaws and hiss with delight every time we’d decide to eat with him. He wasn’t a snake though, he was a lean mean fat reducing machine aka a two sided grill. I’m not sure what happened to that George, his fate is lost in the mists of time that for me remains hazy – and not just because of the fat-coated steam that filled the kitchen.

Many years later I’ve returned to a similar adventure. Yes I bought a new George Foreman grill. Once again I can enjoy the delights of arguing who gets to clean the bloody thing and wondering how something can be so charred on the inside and yet so “never mind that’ll do” in the middle. I’m not sure how much fat he keeps from us, but George has proved handy for a variety of our regular meals. I think his contribution will likely be measured more in a slightly lower electricity bill than reducing waistbands.

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Yeovilton Air Day 2015

Queen of the Sky

Another July, another Yeovilton Air Day and this year I took the family along. As ever it was a tricky day for spectators and photographers as the flight line has everyone looking up into the sun. It was lovely to see the Vulcan fly one last time before her retirement at the end of the 2015 airshow season. The highlight of this year’s show for me was the Sea Vixen, it’s such an amazing looking fighter – fast jets tend not to be that pretty anymore.

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SMSL 793II DAC/Headphone Amp – Quick Review

You can pay an absolute fortune for a good headphone amp but much of this money goes into snake oil. A decent DAC chip is not expensive and amplification is not rocket science. SMSL is a Chinese company that’s making waves with good quality audio gear that means you don’t have to break the bank to get good sound. This DAC/Amp receives optical/coax digital PCM and sends it out of the headphone output at the front and via RCA line-out at the rear. The volume controls the headphone only – as it should – leaving the line-out to be a fixed volume. I’ve got this DAC set up on my desk where I feed it an optical signal from my motherboard, the line-out then goes to a hi-fi amp and speakers. The sound quality is excellent both in the phones and via the line-out. I’ve used the line-out to feed an SMSL SA-50 amp and a Marantz MR-603 hifi and in both cases the results were superb. Be aware like most headphone amps there is a little channel imbalance through headphones at the quiet end of the volume taper but this is gone at normal listening volumes.

Also as is often the case with excellent but inexpensive Chinese audio gear the power supply lets the side down with cheapness and potential electric death. My 793ii came with a two-prong switching power supply and a travel adapter. While the power supply seems fine – I didn’t like using it with the travel adapter and bought a 9v switching power supply from Maplin with a proper UK plug.

Quick Jurassic World Review

Just jotting down my initial thoughts having just got back from the cinema, having watched Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World in 2D. It was great.

The trailers weren’t exactly representative – a few red herrings – and that’s a really good thing. I liked all the leads, I like that it set up some well worn tropes then didn’t go through with them in the cliched way. I thought the effects were very good. It was all very grounded, very little CGI swoopy cam, and the realistic cinematography really helped sell the dinosaurs as animals. Certainly in 2D I was sold.

I liked the look of the film. Obviously colour graded – but not in the over the top way of many current films. It had a much more natural look – closer to the original JP. It was also shot in quite a tall ratio and I felt the overall tone, look and atmosphere of the film was not very modern – and I mean that as a huge compliment. It felt like a worthy sequel to Spielberg’s original and I enjoyed the references to the original film.

I liked that they addressed the feathers issue in a realistic and genuine way. I liked the kids – I think having younger cast members gives it that Spielberg feel but also guides the younger audience through the film. Pratt and Dallas Howard were really good.

As I said I thought the effects worked really well. There was a solidity to them that worked. I think at times it looked like there was an attempt to recreate the look of the original film’s T-Rex animatronic using CG rather than try to completely make a realistic animal. Whether my guess is true or not – the T-Rex and some others – moved and looked a lot like the way we enjoyed them in Spielberg’s original.

I think the director Colin Trevorrow did a great job. He managed to keep a film about some pretty bonkers stuff very grounded and human, with good acting and action sequences that worked really well. I liked the restraint in many scenes – he didn’t feel he had to keep showing us brightly lit CG dinosaurs all the time but went for classic suspense. Excellent production design, dialogue and characters that were smarter than most summer blockbuster fodder, and some huge scary dinosaurs – what more could one ask for.



Deadly goings on in our garden this morning as a Sparrowhawk captures a small bird. The prey was still very much alive at this point and screeching. The reason the hawk was standing like that was to defend itself as all the birds in the garden were dive bombing it in little squadrons to try to get it to leave. Meanwhile the poor sparrow wasn’t being finished off quickly and was very loud.

So I went outside with the hope of either getting the hawk to move off with its prey or leaving the prey behind. It picked up the sparrow and flew down under a tree, then over the wall and out of the garden – followed by lots of small birds trying to scare it away.

A Sad Day

Don’t be poor, or hungry, or have more than two children, or be disabled, or vaguely foreign, don’t need a new home, don’t get ill, don’t need a good education. Your country without soul, heart and compassion has abandoned you. Kindness is over, replaced by fear and austerity. Shame on you England.

New Parentmail “Upgrade”

The primary school our three children attend use a system called Parentmail. It’s simple and easy – we just get sent emails with information from the school – such as newsletters, parent’s evening appointments, school policy etc.

This worked very well. We can file the school emails and keep them together, star, highlight and keep control of the diary and information as one would expect. We parents are in control and can work with the information as we see fit.

Until now. Now the school has “upgraded” to a new PMX Parentmail system that seems like some throwback to the 90s. Now we receive an email that tells us we have an email. We then have to click and visit the parentmail site where we have to login to read the mails. There’s no way of storing these messages locally on our computer – instead we have to use this basic site.

Instead of being able to star and highling emails in my own gmail account, I now have what is essentially a whole other one-way email account that I can only access on the web. I used to be able to open pdf files from the school in my gmail, now I have to click through to this site, click several times more to get to the pdf then download it.

This of course also a waste of mobile data. Previously our phones would receive an email with all the relevant content in it. Now once your phone has receive the email telling you that you have an email – one has to use the app or site to then find out the information. It is so arse-backwards.

How on earth is this progress? It’s a very poor system and the previous one worked so much better. I would prefer a return to the school sending paper letters home than this very poor approach.

An Open Letter to Oliver Letwin MP (Con)

Tory pamphlet devotes more space to lies and fostering fear than positive messages about Tory policy

Tory pamphlet devotes more space to lies and fostering fear than positive messages about Tory policy

Dear Mr Letwin,

I returned home from shopping this lunchtime to find a poor tree had died partly to fund an election “communication” from you , promoted on behalf of your campaign by a Mr Antony Stanley. My first thoughts were to return to sender with instructions on where one could shove it. However I have decided to respond in more detail.

Your election pamphlet was addressed to me here at the Vicarage. You see my wife is a vicar. In fact Mr Letwin you met my wife during the last election campaign. She was introduced to you in her capacity as a local Church minister in Charlton Down and you completely ignored her. Whatever merits or demerits your party may have I would never vote for someone so rude as to completely ignore and refuse to speak to someone in this way. Manners maketh the man and all that.

But let’s move on – I don’t want to make this personal, I have more of a beef with your party than your own lack of manners. As I said your pamphlet was sent to me at the Vicarage. I know it’s not popular among your church going party colleagues but this house, my wife’s position and our family ethos actually has something to do with the teachings of a man called Jesus of Nazareth. Anglican Tories, are happy to miss out all the giving to the poor, helping the needy bit, and instead favour racist immigration policies and demonising of the meekest members of our society. However I feel that your party is the enemy of everything this house, the church and the teachings of Jesus stand for.`

I want to raise a few points for you to explain why I would never vote for you or any other Tory candidate:

1, The Bedroom Tax – a purely malignant policy with two aims, first to divide and demonise the poor and secondly to save a tiny bit of money that could be spent elsewhere such as on rich pensioners. This policy was never about freeing up larger homes for poorer families – the housing stock didn’t exist to downsize people into. But your party went ahead with it anyway.

2, Tory opposition to Labour’s non-dom policy. A grown up intelligent party might have pulled the rug from under Labour by instantly adopting the same policy. Instead you circled the wagons and defended the fat cats that leach on this nation yet pay little tax here. The “all in this together” rings very hollow.

3, The recently announced changes to inheritance tax rules. The wealthy of this nation do not create their wealth in isolation. Our roads, railways, schools etc. are all used as they built their business empires. It seems perfectly reasonable for the rich to make reparations to society when they die. However as usual your party has decided to man the barricades and ensure very little of this money trickles down.

4, The harsh benefit sanctions driving people to starvation and suicide.

5, The lies on the economy. The figures do not bare out Tory claims that Labour wrecked the economy and you are fixing it. Independent figures show GDP fell due to your draconian slash and burn austerity policies.

6, Focus on the few benefit fraudsters when by its own figures the government wastes more benefits in mistakes and overpayments. The continued focus on the unemployed as your demons of society is revolting scapegoating. Pensioners make up the vast bulk of benefit payments, but of course the old vote for you so you will tip toe around the rich pensioners that receive benefits they do not need.

7, Selling off housing association stock. This one is new and a new low. This wrong-headed nonsense would see you sell off prime housing stock at a loss to fund building more expensive homes. It is totally insane. We have precious little social housing as it is and you want to flog it off? Shame on you.

8, Opposition to European human rights laws protecting workers, the disabled, parents, the sick, the poor – basically the laws that protect anyone from your party and its friends.

9, The attempted coup against the Speaker at the end of the last session of Parliament was shady, disgusting work.

10, TTIP – an assault on our freedoms via the back door. Selling off parts of the NHS to American corporations, relaxing banking laws (well it’s not like the banks would get us into trouble eh?), reducing controls on environment and food safety and even an assault on our democracy itself.

11, The Tory campaign has offered little positive. It’s all been about scaring people into voting for you. Daily Mail tactics – make vulnerable poorly educated people too scared to abandon the Tory party. Your pamphlet which I received today features a banner that devotes two thirds of its space to fostering fear of Labour rather than celebrating your party’s own policies. What’s wrong? Not enough positive policies to trumpet? Scared Labour might be right? I wasn’t going to vote Labour, but this pamphlet has me thinking of doing so.

12, George Osborne’s £8bn NHS boost. A completely fictional pile of money, a desperate attempt to win back some credibility on the subject of health. It failed. What kind of minister, or even chancellor, cannot answer a question asked 15 times about where such a large amount of money will come from? I can claim to be eating unicorn bacon for breakfast tomorrow, it’s just as likely as this £8bn being real.

13, The volunteering policy. So people could take time off from work to help a registered charity such as their local posh private school – but not their normal common village primary? What larks.

14, £9000 tuition fees. The children are the future of this nation. The rich pensioners are not. But your party insists on bolstering the past while robbing from the nation’s future. It is sickening. My children will be paying for your follies long after you are gone.

15, Cuts in social care for the old that means hospital beds are blocked by them, making people waiting for treatment wait longer. Like in many areas you make cuts to get headlines but cost us more money in the long run.

16, Protecting the wealthy, the privileged, the powerful. I see plenty of entertainers from the past have been in court – but not so many party colleague that perhaps frequented Dolphin Square. A cynical person might suggest we’re being offered these entertainers as a decoy. I also see plenty of bankers are still free to wander the streets after wrecking our economy, you’re still friends with them and blame Labour for their wrongdoing. Why are these bankers are not in prison? And why do those in desperate need who wrongly make benefit claims find themselves in prison but not former education secretaries who refurnish their kitchen(s) at our expense? On rule for one, eh?

17, The failure to make the likes of Vodafone pay the billions owed in taxes.

18, Closing libraries. What the actual fuck? Why not just go the whole way and burn books at torchlight parades?

I could list many more, but if I don’t put the shopping in the fridge soon some of it may spoil. And so that will do for now. I’m also a bit cross, so I’d rather go have a wagon wheel and some Fanta than bang my head against this uncaring brick wall any longer.

Mr Letwin, I would never ever vote for you or any of your party. You are the enemy of decency and fairness, your party has attacked and vilified the poor, made the poor hungry and sick, made the sick homeless and driven people to their deaths with your selfishness. The policies of your government since 2010 were an all-out war on the most desperate and needy people in our society, the people without a voice, all so you could hoard wealth for rich pensioners, non-doms and your corporate friends.

When children arrive at school hungry and without warm clothing there is something very sick at the top of our society. I am not a party loyalist – I haven’t even decided where my vote will go in May – but one thing is clear, it will never go to those who abuse the weakest members of our society. My late mother brought me up to believe in decency and kindness – and I am not one of those people who can stomach the cognitive dissonance of kneeling on a Sunday but voting to harm the poor on a Thursday.

Good day to you

Harry Neary