Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Today we celebrate Pancake Day in England. Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday was traditionally a day when Christians went to church to make their confessions and become “shriven” before the start of Lent. Lent begins the day after Pancake Day on Ash Wednesday. As the Lentern period up until Easter was considered a time of fasting, Shrove Tuesday was the day when people would use up all the eggs, fats and sugar in the house by making pancakes and so Pancake Day was born. It still continues to this day. Pancake races are held in some towns in England to celebrate the day. Our American neighbours in New Orleans celebrate Pancake Day in the form of “Mardi Gras” which means literally, “Fat Tuesday”. It's nice to see that they are still able to go ahead with their parades this year, despite the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. We wish them well.

I like my pancakes with jam and a dash of lemon juice but however you choose to eat them, pancakes are certainly a delicious way of using up all the leftovers! For recipe ideas go to:- www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/database/basilpancakswithsuga_66226.shtml
A tip for really light batter is to add a dash of soda water or lemonade (if you like a lemon flavour) to the batter.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


With the news last week that the first case of bird flu has been discovered in France, everyone in the U.K. is now wondering how long it will be before the deadly virus arrives on our shores. As France’s first case of bird flu was discovered at a turkey farm, poultry farmers in this country are being advised to keep their birds indoors, as a precautionary measure. Despite France’s president Jacques Chirac insisting that cooked poultry and eggs are still safe to eat, France’s poultry export sales have now plummeted.

Amid fears of a pandemic flu outbreak, many people in the U.K. are now panic-buying Tamiflu on the internet, in a bid to protect themselves and their families from the effects of the deadly disease. Trading standards chiefs have warned the British public to beware of on-line criminals who are cashing in on people’s fears over bird flu. Apparently there is currently a massive black market in fake and stolen versions of the drug and conmen are making millions by selling fake drugs claiming to be “Tamiflu” over the net to unsuspecting customers.

The British government has awarded multi-million pound contracts to two pharmaceutical companies to make a vaccine against the H5N1 strain of bird flu. They will supply over 3 million doses of the vaccines, earmarked for key healthworkers in Britain and Ireland, (many National Health Service workers who will be caring for victims of the virus).

In addition pharmaceutical companies have been urged to quote for a further large contract to enable every individual in Britain to have two jabs of an antivirus (which will be produced as soon as the exact strain of the bird flu virus is determined, should it hit Britain).

I was reading in the press today that apparently the government has now arranged for planes to fly over estuaries and marshland searching for dead birds. Amongst the areas being targeted are Morecambe Bay and The Mersey Estuary. What next? According to a government source, "The public should be aware every effort is being taken to ensure that if avian flu reaches Britain it is found and contained as quickly as possible." For the sake of everyone in this country, we certainly hope so!


England has a new No.1 hit. After two weeks at No. 1, seventies pop star Leo Sayer (pictured right), has finally been toppled by Madonna with her hit single, "Sorry". Leo’s hit song “Thunder in my Heart” (remixed by D J Meck and featuring the diminutive singer) has been No. 1 in the British pop singles chart for the last two weeks. The singer (famous for his big hair!) is now at No. 3. "Thunder in my Heart" has been flying off the shelves since its release and even Leo himself admits that when he first heard D J Meck’s remix of the track, it “blew him away!” Looks like it has had the same effect on the British public! Meanwhile Madonna is queen of the charts once again with her 12th No. 1 UK hit.

Friday, February 24, 2006


Britain's favourite dustbusters Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie are branching out. The stars of "How Clean is Your House?" are to visit Ealing Hospital in West London, which was accused last year of poor hygiene standards. The formidable duo are going in to advise them on tips to improve cleanliness and prevent the outbreak of the deadly superbug MRSA. Judging by their success with some of the householders they visited, they should do very well.

If this visit proves successful, Kim and Aggie may pay a similar visit to other hospitals in the country.

It remains to be seen if Kim and Aggie can do for the nation’s hospitals what top British chef Jamie Oliver did for school dinners. Jamie Oliver successfully campaigned to get schools to serve children a healthy diet and also paid Mr Blair a visit to get him to increase funding for school dinners. Judging by the state of some of the hospitals in this country, I think Kim and Aggie will have their work cut out!

Thursday, February 23, 2006


It seems that Heinz, the market leader of baked beans (Britain’s favourite snack) are getting worried. Despite the company’s slogan, “Beans Means Heinz!”, it seems that Branston have now taken 10% of the market with the launch of their baked beans. I actually tried these myself and the only difference I found was that the sauce tasted a bit more tangy. Apart from that the beans were very similar in both texture and taste. Heinz have now decided to update their baked beans and launch an “improved recipe” variety of the nation’s favourite. They are also considering producing baked beans for supermarket own brands, something they always refused to do in the past.

Whatever brand you choose, beans on toast is still the healthiest meal it’s always been; high in fibre and low in fat. Baked beans also count towards your recommended daily intake of five fruit and vegetables per day. Bon Appetit!


The cost of living in England continues to increase at an alarming rate. This week British householders faced devastating news that not only are energy prices set to soar but council tax bills are also on the rise. As if to rub salt into the wound, Centrica (the company that owns British Gas – the nations largest energy provider) announced record profits just days after announcing the biggest rise to date in energy costs. If Centrica’s profits are so good, surely they should pass some of their good fortune onto their loyal customers? Apparently not. The excuse being given is that demand for gas can no longer be met by the North Sea fields and wholesale costs of European imported gas have increased.

The rise in council tax has been blamed on the growing demand of council’s resources, i.e. caring for the elderly, rubbish collection, etc, which hasn’t been covered by government funding. I was reading in the newspaper that Local Government Minister Phil Woolas was pleased that most councils had held down tax rises below five per cent. He also stated, “I realise that for some people on fixed incomes without access to council tax benefit. It is a squeeze.” He has no idea and like a lot of government ministers in this country today, is out of touch with the ordinary people. Even the Tories and Liberal Democrats have condemned the increase in council tax.

With costs of water, petrol and public transport also set to rise, it seems like everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. As the cost of life’s essentials goes through the roof, everyone in England is left wondering when it is all going to end.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

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Sunday, February 19, 2006


Yesterday I spent a very enjoyable day in the Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate. The famous English crime writer, Agatha Christie went into hiding there for a while in the 1930s! Not surprising really! It’s a beautiful place to escape to at any time of year! It has a certain old-world charm all of its own. The shopping is great with a wide variety of shops and stores selling everything your heart desires! And if it all gets too much for you and you need a break, you can always head to Harrogate’s beautiful Turkish Bath for a relaxing spa or beauty treatment. Alternatively you can always go to Bettys famous tearooms for a delicious cream tea or homemade cakes and a pot of Yorkshire tea. Sheer bliss! People come from far and wide to visit Bettys. I had a very enjoyable lunch there myself. You can read more about Bettys on their website:- www.bettysandtaylors.co.uk

If you are planning to visit England, don’t forget to include a visit to Yorkshire.


Yorkshire people are amongst some of the friendliest in England
England’s favourite soap, “Emmerdale” is filmed there
Best selling writer Barbara Taylor Bradford was born there
Yorkshire specialities include Yorkshire pudding, parkin and licquorice – delicious!
Yorkshire is a land of contrasts with windswept coastlines; beautiful countryside in the Dales and smart, bustling cities. There is something to suit every taste.

For more information go to:- www.yorkshirevisitor.com the official Yorkshire Tourist Board Site.


It has been a good week for England’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. First his controversial plans for the introduction of ID cards were backed by MP’s. Then came the news that England was to become a “smoke-free” zone by next Summer. Finally came the news that Tony Blair had also won a key vote on the introduction of tough new anti-terrorism laws. Political analysts say this will help to reassert his authority. Wonders never cease. Maybe things are finally looking up for Mr Blair.

The next big test of his leadership will come in the next few months when Mr Blair tries to push through education reforms which are opposed by many members of his own party. It will be interesting to see what happens then. If things get really tough chancellor Gordon Brown is waiting in the wings.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Britain is to follow Ireland’s lead and ban smoking in pubs, clubs, restaurants and workplaces by the Summer of next year. Health campaigners and cancer charities have welcomed the new legislation which protects individuals from the dangers of passive smoking. British scientists were amongst the first to discover the link between smoking and lung cancer. So this can only be good news for all of us.


England is to have an American-style National Veterans Day to be held on 27th June, to honour the men and women who fought in two world wars. Events will be held up and down the country to present medals to those who fought. Gordon Brown (England's Chancellor), is keen for young people to become involved in the events of the day as well, even though it won't be a national holiday.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


MP's this week backed plans for the introduction of ID cards in England. Tony Blair must have heaved a sigh of relief at this. The vote on ID cards was seen as one of the biggest tests of his authority since becoming Prime Minister. The controversial cards will be linked to a National Database, containing personal details of every citizen living in England, including biometric information. Anyone applying for a new passport in 2 years' time will have to purchase an ID card as well. This is the government's way of gradually introducing the cards until they eventually become compulsory for all English citizens.

Some countries, including Belgium and Portugal already use ID cards. Surprisingly the U.S. isn’t amongst them probably because photo driving licences are so widely used. After September 11th, maybe their country’s government will have a re-think on this too. It could be argued that here in the U.K. we now have photo driving licences too so why the need for ID cards?

Supporters of ID cards stress that they would help in the fight against crime and terrorism. In addition they would help prevent identity fraud, which is currently a growing problem in this country. Only last week there was a story in the press highlighting this. Top British comedian, Harry Hill, had been robbed of thousands of pounds from his building society account due to identity fraud. Anything that prevents this sort of thing happening has to be good for us? But apparently not say the critics.

Some people are wary of the new scheme. Critics say it takes away our civil liberty and gives a sense of “Big Brother is watching”. It reminds me of the sixties tv series, “The Prisoner”, and Patrick McGoohan's famous line, “I am not a number, I am a free man!” Even The Law Society are sceptical saying that the police don’t have problems identifying criminals, just linking them to crimes that have been committed. There is also the money issue and the cost to taxpayers of implementing the new system.

And so the argument goes on.

Monday, February 13, 2006


This week we're celebrating National Chip Week in England, an annual event that helps to boost demand for potatoes and increases sales at Fish and Chip Shops throughout the country. Fish and Chips are a delicious national institution in the U.K. They are so well loved that it was the only food not to be rationed in the Second World War. I love chips but find they always taste better when they come from a Fish and Chip Shop. They never taste the same at home. I think it's the fat they use to fry them in and the secret ingredient in the vinegar! Hmm Delicious! I'm off to the Chip Shop to get some!

Sunday, February 12, 2006


England's Prime Minister Tony Blair and members of the Labour party were in Blackpool this weekend for their Centenery Spring Conference at The Winter Gardens Theatre. I was in Blackpool myself yesterday and security was very tight amidst continued terrorist threats. Part of the town was completely closed off to traffic and there were police everywhere.

Mr Blair opened the conference by urging MP's to back him on new anti-terrorist laws and plans for ID cards. It remains to be seen whether or not he will get the much-needed support he is looking for. Crucial votes are to be held on both issues next week. In the past many MP's have condemned the need for ID cards arguing that they are too expensive and threaten our civil liberty. Mr Blair argues that they are essential if we are to prevent a repeat of the July 7th terror attacks. Whether he can convince his party of that is another matter.


England's largest supermarket chain, Tesco announced plans this week to break into the American market. The popular store whose catchphrase is "Every little helps", plan to open their first U.S. store on the West Coast next year. With the American market dominated by the likes of Walmart already, it looks like they will need all the help they can get!


I was on my way to the local bank the other day. As I walked along, I was surprised to hear the sound of horses' hoofs behind me. I looked round to see a couple of mounted police officers. It certainly makes a change from the old days when we had local bobbys pounding the beat (for any foreign visitors "bobby" is an English expression for policeman!). In actual fact, I personally think that's what's lacking in this country. We don't have enough police walking the streets anymore. I think the mounted police are a great idea. They certainly have a "high visibility" presence. Their main function is to tackle the problem of vandalism and anti-social behaviour in the local area. The idea is that they can stop and talk to people who are causing problems and deal with them on the spot rather than passing in the car. Also because the horses move a lot slower and are tall, the police are able to see a lot more of what's going on. The sight of police on the streets helps to bring the local community together, especially when they take the time to stop and talk to people. It certainly makes for good public relations. Everyone feels a lot safer. I certainly felt safer that day going to bank my firm's monies.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


The Queen is hosting a children's tea party as part of her 80th birthday celebrations in June this year. Grown up guests at the bash will include Harry Potter author J K Rowling. Children will be able to meet their favourite characters including Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe who plays the boy wizard will also be present at the bash) and Winnie the Pooh.

The idea behind the event is to celebrate the success of British children's books and encourage children to read more. Tickets are available via a national ballot on the BBC website. The lucky recipients get to bring another child plus one adult with them. Good luck kids!


Chocolate bars bought in England are to carry a government health warning as part of a new “healthy eating” initiative. I’m not sure how well this will work but there we go. Cigarettes carry a government health warning, “smoking kills”, but people still buy them and some still smoke like chimneys! As a chocolate lover myself, I suspect the same thing will be true of chocolate bars!

The wrappers will carry a message urging people to be “treatwise” and encouraging them to enjoy chocolate bars as part of a balanced diet. They will also carry a link to a website www.betreatwise.org.uk which stresses the importance of people eating chocolate bars in moderation. The old saying, “a bit of what you fancy does you good”, comes to mind! Cadbury’s chocolate is certainly very good, the best in the world – not sure about eating it in moderation though!


Another example of how the internet and modern technology is taking over our lives. Smash Hits magazine, (a popular English teen magazine), filled with pop posters, song lyrics and interviews with the latest chart-toppers is to cease publication after many years. I used to buy this magazine myself (in my youth!), as did my schoolfriends. It seems that with the advent of computers, the youngsters of today prefer to surf the internet for details of their favourite bands and so sales of the magazine plummeted, leading to its closure and the sad end of an era.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


The shabby state of Englands railway stations was highlighted by the government last week. I must admit I use the trains from time to time myself. My two local stations are both clean, tidy and staffed but unfortunately, (like most people), I have come across many that are old and dilapidated. Whilst new modern trains have been bought into service, nothing has been done to improve the condition of the stations.

Many stations are unmanned (there are no staff to answer passenger enquries). They are vandalised and full of graffiti, not giving a very good impression of England to any overseas visitors using them.

British passengers pay among the highest rail ticket prices in the world for derelict stations and trains that often don't turn up on time. Where does this money go? Surely Network Rail (who now owns the majority of Britain's stations) should get their act together and clean up our stations. Maybe if they did more people in this country would use public transport and leave their cars at home.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Looks like Tony Blair could be on the way out after the government suffered a shock defeat on a policy issue. This resulted in Mr Blair having to settle for a law that is a watered down version of his original proposals for new legislation to combat religious hatred. This is the third defeat he has suffered on a major policy issue. Mr Blair who first came to power in 1997, has said he won’t run for office again.

Only time will tell if he survives this latest crisis.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Around 100 vigils are due to be staged all over England tonight as part of a campaign by the Stop the War Coalition. Even though the total death toll of British troops in Iraq has now reached 100, our Prime Minister, Tony Blair is still defending his decision for British troops to remain in Iraq. Apparently Mr Blair believes that "legally and politically" this is the right thing to do. I'm sure if a member of his family was out in Iraq he would feel differently. His words are of little comfort to the family of the 100th soldier to be killed out there.

How many more needless deaths will it take? Surely Mr Blair after everything that's happened it's now time to bring our troops home.


I saw the new Batman movie, Batman Begins over the weekend. It was very good, a very enjoyable distraction from the freezing cold weather outside.

Michael Caine made a surprise appearance in the movie. He was perfectly cast as Alfred, the English butler, providing much of the film's humour. It was a good role for him which he played to perfection, as always.

Sir Michael Caine (as he’s now known) is truly one of Britains best actors and still going strong in his seventies. As the star of such well-known films as Alfie, Educating Rita and The Cider House Rules, I’m sure he’ll continue to entertain us for a long time to come.