Goodbye, 2010

This is a quick send-off to 2010 with a butchers at my resolutions as laid down in last year's New Year post.

  1. Lose the Christmas weightI managed this one! Woo! I dread to think how much I've put on during this year's festive season, though.
  2. Lose 2 more stones
    Nah, didn't manage this one... I think I lost about a stone and a half, then put the half back on again. Since making the resolution I have gone down a trouser size and maintained being able to squeeze my backside into it. I'm fitter than I can remember ever being in the past, so it's all gone in the right direction. Just not far enough.
  3. Get back into playing in a band
    I've managed this one, just! No Verdict have reformed for a New Year's Eve gig at The Warren in Kettering. We also did two 'practise runs' at the same venue a few weeks ago, and there's talk of carrying on into the new year. Watch this space...
  4. Develop some kind of social life
    I've been fairly successful with this, having developed a small but very well formed group of friends out of my work colleagues. At the other end of the scale, I've been away for a weekend or two with old friends and had a bloody good time doing it. Playing in the band also provides opportunities for talking to people who are actually real, and I've become a bit more involved in my own small corner of twitter. That last may not count much to many, but surely you can make friends without having to have them in the same room as you?
  5. Care less about what other people say, do and think about me
    I'm much better at this one, now. I occasionally have relapses, but on the whole I'm happy for people to take me as they see me. I don't often try to be something I'm not, which has allowed me to actually be me more of the time. The people who I spend the most time with are those people who choose to be around me, rather than the people I should be choosing to be around, and my happiness and comfortableness in social situations has skyrocketed as a result.
As Meatloaf may have sung had Jim Steinman written a song for him to sing about new year's resolutions, four out of five ain't bad.

What about your resolutions? Did you make any last year? Did you manage to keep to any / all of them? Please comment below, or feel free to post a link to your own post about resolutions!

Christmas Songs Countdown: #0

Yes, folks, the countdown ended yesterday, but I thought why not bung in something as a surprise for Christmas day (though, in truth, most of you probably won't read this until at least Boxing Day...)

We've had the popular Christmas songs, so how about a couple of novelty ones? O.k, so the line between 'serious' and 'novelty' is particularly blurry at this time of year, but here are a few that I think reside on the far side of that divide...

First up it's Billy Mack (played by the inimitable Bill Nighy) with Christmas Is All Around from 2003's movie Love Actually. I am annually ashamed to remember that I think this film is nothing short of brilliant. Coming from someone who hates romantic comedies, that's saying something. The song is a rip-off of the Troggs' 1968 hit Love Is All Around.

Next, here's Monty Python's Christmas in Heaven from their 1983 musical comedy, The Meaning of Life. There's not a lot to say about it except it's probably not suitable for some young'uns.

Finally, this is a little-known beaut from comedian Jasper Carrott. Recorded in (I think) 1978, this is Carrott's take on the Twelve Days of Christmas carol in which each days' traditional gift is replaced with an alcoholic beverage, and his singing style becomes increasingly drunker and raucous as the song progresses. Great fun!

To anyone who reads this:

I hope you have/ are having/ have had a brilliant Christmas, regardless of your personal beliefs, ideals, customs or tradition, and that you've used the holiday season to good advantage, catching up with friends and family, relaxing and generally having fun!

Thanks for reading, and here's to a awesome upcoming 2011!

Christmas Songs Countdown: #1

It's Christmas Eve, babe, and as this is my blog I can do whatever the chuffing heck I feel like doing. So for #1 on my Christmas countdown I'm chucking in a double-bill of Christmas songs!

First up it's Fairytale of New York by The Pogues, featuring Kirsty MacColl, from the album If I Should Fall With Grace from God. It reached number 2 in the 1987 Christmas UK charts (but hit number 1 in Ireland, naturally). It's a gorgeously grumpy-yet-cheerful Irish folk/rock ballad, with MacColl's meliodious tones contrasting perfectly with Shane MacGowan's harsher, drunker, and considerably more toothless vocals.

Here's a live version of the song from St Patrick's Day 1988. Enjoy!

Christmas just wouldn't - no: couldn't - be Christmas without my next #1. The sixth number 1 single for Slade, Merry Xmas Everybody beat Wizzard's I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day to the Christmas number 1 slot in 1973, stayed there for five weeks, and didn't leave the charts until well into the February of 1974. Noddy Holder, Slade's frontman, says that he wrote the song overnight at his mum's house as an antidote to the financial issues and various workers strikes affecting the country at the time.

It charted every year in the first half of the 1980s, 1998 and 2006. It has also appeared in two of the new Doctor Who series Christmas specials: 2005's The Christmas Invasion and 2006's The Runaway Bride.

Here's a vid from their 1983 Top Of The Pops appearance:

Christmas Songs Countdown: #2

1973's Christmas number 4 was Wizzard's I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday. It was beaten famously by Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody but remains a popular favourite, making chart appearances (albeit lower down) with re-releases in 1981, 1984 and a number of years since 2007 (when downloads started to be included in chart calculations). As with many of these Christmas singles, it's been covered by a fair few artists, but not many that I've heard of.

The song was actually recorded in August and in order to set an appropriate scene, engineer Steve Brown decked the halls of the studio and set the air conditioning as low as it would go. Roy Wood's hat in the video was apparently obtained from the studio's Lost Property office.

And because that's such an awesome song, here's a travesty:

Surely you don't celebrate Christmas?

I'm an atheist. Most people who know me know that fact if they know little else, and at about this time of year I am invariably asked the somewhat rhetorical and, I assume, half humorous question "surely you don't celebrate Christmas?"*
By Me haridas (Own work) [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Well... why not? I want to make two points:

1. It's not just yours, folks, and never was
Midwinter celebrations have been part of various cultures and traditions for hundreds of years. There is evidence to suggest that there were certain midwinter Christian celebrations and feasts as early as the first and second century ACE, however it wasn't until the 4th century that the Roman Catholic church chose December 25th as their 'official' Christ-Mass day. There is evidence to suggest that they did this to fall in line with one of the Pagan midwinter celebrations, the solstice feast of Mithras (the Roman god of light), in one of their greatest recruitment campaigns: the idea was that Pagans could convert to Catholicism without losing the biggest of their holidays and traditions.

So the Christmas that we celebrate today has more in common with the three main Pagan winter festivals than it does with the original Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus:
  • Saturnalia, celebrated on the 17th December was the feast in the name of the Roman god Saturn, god of agriculture and plenty, and is thought to be where the modern day tradition of having fun, exchanging gifts and eating and drinking far too much originated.
  • The feast of Mithras on December 25th originally marked the renewal of hope in the Pagan calendar, and is the closest of the three to the 'traditional' Christian celebrations of the birth of Jesus.
  • New Year's Eve, traditionally dedicated to the two-faced Roman god Janus, gave us the modern day traditions of decorating our houses with greenery including holly, ivy, misteltoe and even Christmas trees.
For many hundreds of years the festival that we in the West usually refer to as 'Christmas' has been a largely Christian one, but things change. Christmas is not a one-size-fits-all celebration and it means many different things to many different people, with overlaps here, there and everywhere. Nowadays, it seems to me that Christmas is more of a secular celebration than a religious one, with having fun, exchanging gifts and spending time with the people that matter to you taking over from overt religious observance. Just as Christmas was changed with the absorption of Pagan traditions, so it is evolving once more.

2. Even if you could argue that it was 'your' festival, why take offence?
Some people see non-religious people, or those of other religions, taking the opportunities provided by Christmas to indulge in such activities as love, friendship, socialising, happiness and generally being nice to each other, and seem to be offended by it. There's something wrong somewhere in that thought process, in my opinion.

Now, I'm not in any way religious, and this may well affect my thoughts on the matter, but if I had a special day that I used for celebrating something or other and I saw other people who thought what I was celebrating was basically nonsense but nevertheless using that special day for making their own gestures of friendship in their own way, I'd be pretty happy about that.

I've known people of various faiths (and none at all) to swap presents, have a meal and a drink and spend time together on December 25th, regardless of their thoughts and opinions regarding the Christian faith.

And why the hell not?

* The person who prompted this post this year (he was not the first of my friends to make a similar comment) regularly tries to wind me up about things and has views on many subjects which are orthogonal to my own, but that, in my opinion, is part of what makes an acquaintanceship interesting and I'm sure he won't be offended by me responding in this way.

Christmas Songs Countdown: #3

In 2003 a band fell to Earth that would provide much needed refreshment in the UK charts for anybody who was desperate for some good old fashioned rock music. Like me. They called themselves The Darkness and, after some considerable success with their debut album Permission To Land, launched an offensive which was designed to snag them the Christmas number 1 slot for that year. It failed, losing out to Gary Jules' version of Tears for Fears classic Mad World. Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End) peaked at number 2 in one of the closest run Christmas chart races for a number of years.

It lost out to this track, which isn't really Christmassy at all. It's a good song all the same, though I prefer the original.

Christmas Songs Countdown: #4

Mud's second number 1 single (after Tiger Feet) held the top spot for four weeks from December 1974 to January 1975. The single's writers took much of their inspiration from the slower love songs from the latter end of Elvis Presley's career. Consequently, this song is often incorrectly attributed to Elvis- even by self-proclaimed hardcore Elvis fans. Here's the promo vid:

And because I'm feeling festive, here's KT Tunstall's cover of the song from 2007. It's quite a different take on the original, but I like that in a cover. What's the point in covering a song if you're not going to change it? May as well just put the CD on.

Christmas Songs Countdown: #5

In 1984 Midge Ure (famous for being in Ultravox) and Bob Geldof (famous for being Bob Geldof) wrote a charity single that would blast all previous single sales out of the water and keep hold of the record until Lady Diana sold lots of copies of Candle in the Wind for Elton John in 1997. That single was Do They Know It's Christmas, released on 29th November, selling a million copies in the first week and then staying in the number 1 for four more.

The single sees forty-four British and Irish artists of varying popularity singing their hearts out to raise money to help out sufferers of the Ethiopian famine. The video was a simply mixed shots of the artists recording their pieces- if you look about three and a half minutes in you'll see Paul Young singing what looks like "eat the world".

1989 saw another Ethiopian famine and another recording of Do They Know It's Christmas with different artists (Bananarama's Sarah Dallin and Karen Woodward are the only artists to have sung in both versions, though they have a much more prominent role in the second) under the name of Band Aid II. In my opinion, Cliff should wear those headphones more often.

Presumably Band Aids 3 to 19 inclusive didn't quite make it into the public arena for some reason, but a new bunch of artists were joined by Bono (the only member of the original Band Aid to sing in 2004's version as well) to form Band Aid 20. This version benefited from a bit more of a guitar driven sound, but also included Dizzee Rascal in a special, new, pointless, cringeworthy rap segment which spoils the song and makes sure that the original is unarguably the best.

Christmas Songs Countdown: #6

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without George and Andrew gracing our screens in dodgy knitted pullovers looking wistfully back at last year's skiiing holiday.

Double A-siding with Everything She Wants, Last Christmas was released in 1984 and reached a peak position of number 2 when the season's favourites Wham! and Frankie Goes To Hollywood were pipped at the post by Band Aid's charity single Do They Know It's Christmas. Wham!'s first year of royalties from the Last Christmas/ Everything She Wants single proved a considerable top-up to the money raised by Band Aid for the Ethopian Famine appeal when an out-of-court settlement was reached regarding a dispute based on perceived differences between Wham!'s Christmas single and Barry Manilow's Can't Smile Without You.

Personally, this song would be higher on the list if it wasn't for my annually renewed annoyance at George insisting upon singing "gev" instead of "gave." Drives me spare.

Here's the vid: Check out the jumpers, the skisuits and the hair!

Last Christmas has been covered by a scary number of artists, including but not limited to Whigfield, Cascada, Florence & the Machine, Atomic Kitten, the Arctic Monkeys and, not least, Rose from Doctor Who*:

* To evade messing up spacetime, Rose recorded this single under the moniker "Billie". Yes, I know it's awful, but it provided me an opening to shoehorn some Who in, and that's never a bad thing.

Christmas Songs Countdown: #7

Welsh singer-songwriter Shakin' Stevens' festive classic first hit the charts in 1985, reaching number 1 after having its release postponed by a year in order to avoid a clash with Band Aid's charity single Do They Know It's Christmas. Merry Christmas Everyone has entered the UK charts at Christmas time every year since downloads started to be counted towards them in 2007, reaching a highest position of number 22 in that first year.

It receives airplay on radio and video music channels every year, has some pretty distinctive Christmas knitwear being modelled by Shaky in the promotional video, and is @Squiggle7's favourite Christmas song. Here it is:

Christmas Songs Countdown: #8

Bobby Helms first released Jingle Bell Rock in 1957 and is arguably one of the most famous Christmas-themed popular music songs of all time. It is certainly one of the most covered, with versions having been recorded by acts as diverse as Bill Haley, Ashley Tisdale, the Chipmunks, Girls Aloud, Neil Diamond, Kylie Minogue and even Billy Idol!

To modern audiences the 'rock' aspect of the song can sound more country & western as it follows a style popular in the 50s that merges the two called 'rockabilly'. The single has been included on a number of Bobby's own albums, the most recent (and final) in 1983, and one in 1970 on an album itself titled Jingle Bell Rock.

I've already mentioned the many different cover versions of this song, but to those of us of around my age (28 at the time of typing), arguably the most well-known is the original largely due to its inclusion on the soundtrack of 1990's Christmas movie Home Alone.

Here's a vid:

And because it's Christmas and I'm feeling generous, here's Billy Idol's version, complete with promo-vid. Worth it for the facial expressions, I feel:

How to: Cook Beans on Toast

Beans on toast. The toast is blackened to taste
I'm often tempted to write about food, not least because I am often set a-droolin' by @NoLoveSincerer*, but the thing is... I'm rubbish at it. Or, rather, I'm lazy at it, which makes me rubbish. But, I suddenly realised, surely there's an opening for blogging about lazy food? There are loads of blogs about posh food, whether that's making it, eating it or taking photos of it, but not a lot about lazy, bog standard, fill-yer-guts grub.

And what could be lazier or boggier standard than the baked bean? For those who have either lived under a rock or hail from across the pond**, baked beans are pre-cooked haricot beans mixed with a tomato sauce. They are packed in tins and are a staple student food due to their cheapness and the ease with which they can be prepared.

Cooking the beans
This is the really easy bit. The other bits range from 'easy' to 'a bit less easy' depending on what you have to hand, personal preferences and how much you dislike washing up.
There are three main ways you can cook beans, but any method is great so long as you end up with them in an edible state afterwards.

1. Microwave them.
This is probably the preferred method for most, being the quickest and easiest. Simply empty the tin into a microwavable bowl (don't microwave them in the tin because it's metal and whilst microwaving metal things can be dangerously pretty, it's also pretty dangerous and more than a bit stupid), pop into the microwave and nuke 'em for a couple of minutes, checking and stirring a couple of times on the way. A recommended option here is to cover the bowl as beans have a non-porous skin and therefore a habit of exploding when microwaved.

2. Saucepan them.
Open the can, pour into a saucepan and cook for a few minutes until hot. The pros of this method in comparison to microwaving them are that the beans are cooked more gently and seem to taste a bit nicer for it, and you can simmer for a bit to thicken up the sauce if you think that you would like that. The cons include a slower cooking time and more washing up.

3. Don't cook them.
O.k, so not cooking them is not technically cooking them, but it's an option to explore. Baked beans are perfectly edible cold although a fair number of people don't seem to like them that way. The advantages of this method of preparation are that it's super quick and the sum total of your generated washing up is a fork as you can just eat them out of the can.

There are, of course, other methods of making things go all hot, but these venture quite quickly into the realms of the difficult, time consuming or downright dangerous.

Serving the beans
Baked beans are almost infinitely adaptable and go with many, many other foods. The best idea would be to experiment. Here are a few options I have tried successfully, just to start you off:

As an accompaniment to a more complicated meal
Beans are a vegetable and count as one of your 'five-a-day', and go well with everything from burger and chips through sausage and chips to chicken kiev and chips. The sauce is great for dipping chips in, too. Unfortunately this idea involves preparing a whole 'nother meal to go with the beans and is therefore not great for those in a hurry or those who are simply just too lazy to cook.

With toast
Baked beans are most at home when served with a couple of slices of toast. Traditionally, the toast is prepared in the usual manner and served under the beans (this is where the popular name for the configuration comes from: 'beans on toast'), but the toast may be served wherever your personal preferences suggest: underneath, on top, to the side or on a different plate entirely. It's fine to butter the toast, but jam is seen by many as a step too far. For those following the 'don't cook it' route, you may like to try 'beans on bread' as a variation of this.

With another ingredient mixed in
As I've already stated, baked beans go with almost any other food, so you could try mixing in a favourite ingredient. Some of my favourite examples include:

  • a teaspoon of curry powder
  • grated cheese (or for the truly lazy or those devoid of grater, diced cheese)
  • a (small) tin of tuna
  • copious quantities of Worcestershire sauce
Any, some, all or more of the above ideas and ingredients can be mixed together for some really gourmet*** baked bean concoctions. The only things in your way are your imagination, fear and irritable bowel syndrome.

Baked beans top tips
  • Lick the plate afterwards. Chances are that your plate will sit on the side in the kitchen for some time, and baked bean juice is a bugger to get off after a week or so.
  • If there are posh people, your girlfriend's mother or friends with sensitive stomachs nearby when you have finished your meal, a slice of bread can be used to clean up the bean juice in place of your tongue. This is, however, less efficient and not great for the calorie-conscious.
  • A whole tin of beans can be a bit much for some people, but these people are weird. You can buy half-tins but these have little going for them: they are nowhere near enough bean for any normal hom-sap, they're less economical and they're just as girly as a half-pint glass.
  • Baked beans are actually not as bad for you as their ease of use and tastiness might imply. As already mentioned, they can count as one of your five-a-day, but this doesn't mean you can eat five cans a day and remain healthy. Or keep your friends.

* Not by @NoLoveSincerer herself; I'm talking about her blog No Love Sincerer. Not that she's not drool-worthy herself, of course. Oh God, I'm backing myself into a hole again, aren't I?
** As I understand it American baked beans differ from British ones in certain respects.
*** Or sometimes gruesome

Christmas Songs Countdown: #9

Step Into Christmas was released as a non-album single over the Christmas of 1973 with the b-side Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who'd be a Turkey at Christmas), and peaked at number 23 in the UK charts. It was originally recorded during 'quickie' sessions at London's Morgan studios and (allegedly) intended as an homage to past Christmas songs produced by Phil Spector.

Although originally album-free, it has since been included on a number of Elton John's compilation albums and box sets as well as a 1995 reissue of Caribou.

And just because I like you, here's that b-side I mentioned above, Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who'd be a Turkey at Christmas):

Christmas Songs Countdown: #10

It's a rare thing for me to put a Queen number so low down on any music based list, but at number 10 it must go.

Thank God It's Christmas is Queen's foray into the world of festive singles. It was released during the Christmas period of 1984 and spent six weeks in the UK charts, peaking at number 21. Personally, it doesn't feature high on either my favourite Christmas songs or favourite Queen songs lists, but it's not actually bad. I think my main issues with it are that it's a bit too serious for me. I like my Christmas songs (on the whole) to focus on the eating, drinking, being merry and and falling out with the family that are for me the defining features of a good Christmas. This song has a feeling of "Bleedin' 'eck, I'm knackered, thank Bob Christmas is here so I can have a lie down." I'm all for that, and I'll be having a very thorough and determined lie down next week, but it doesn't make for a popular seasonal party favourite.

It was written by Brian and Roger* and wasn't blessed with a promotional video which may go some way to explaining its lesser-known status. It wasn't included as an album track on any of the studio albums, but was released as a b-side to Made In Heaven's A Winter's Tale and later made it on to the Queen+ Greatest Hits III compilation.

O.k, go on; Here's A Winter's Tale too: The video's from Queen: The Films, a video of films commissioned by Queen and filmed in conjunction with the British Film Institute shortly after Freddie's death.

* I like to pretend we're on first-name terms.

Why I don't send Christmas cards

To say I hate Christmas cards would perhaps be a little strong. I certainly feel no offence at being given one, but I just don't see much of a point. Here are a few of the reasons why I don't particularly like Christmas cards in no more than a stream-of consciousness order:

 - I'll get the environmental issues out of the way first: They spend a few weeks sat on your mantelpiece, they are looked at once when you first open them, maybe again if they have a joke of some sort contained within, and then you throw them away. I haven't looked up the figures, but the number of cards I see flying in front of my face through the Christmas season is phenomenal, and for something that essentially has the sole purpose of being thrown away it must contribute to a significant fraction of unnecessary festive waste.

 - The financial ones next: Christmas cards are expensive. For the price of what I assume to be a 'decent' Christmas card, you could just as easily buy me a pint of beer or a bar of chocolate, both of which you would give me preferentially if you knew me well enough to warrant buying a card anyway.

 - There's phenomenal scope for causing offence when Christmas card season strikes. Missing the wrong person out can open up a whole can of nasty, stinking worms that fester for years to come, which has led to the writing and distributing of cards turning into something of a military operation that starts being planned some time during August and involves the bulk-buying of obscene numbers of folded bits of stiff paper and firing them off at everyone you have ever met or are ever likely to meet just so that you can avoid upsetting anyone.

 - It's just so false an enterprise. For many people, the annual Christmas card is all that lets them know that you're still on the planet. Some use this as an argument for sending cards. I don't: If they're not important enough to at least poke on Facebook during the rest of the year, then why bother them at Christmas?

 - Having said all that, home-made cards are fine: they take so much time and effort individually that you're telling me I'm worth it. Giving me one out of a box of 500 is telling me I'm not worth it, so why bother in the first place?

To anybody who is considering sending me a card:
Ask yourself whether you're sending it to me because you really, truly want me to know that you're thinking of me in some way at this time, or if you're just doing so out of some feeling of duty or habit.

If the answer's something along the lines of "yes, actually, I like you and want to share feelings of Christmassy goodness with you," then please consider one of the alternatives:

  • Say it to me in person, preferably over a pint or two. If, to you, I'm worth thinking of, then we should catch up, even if we last saw each other only yesterday.
  • If that's not possible or particularly difficult to achieve, send me a personal message via facebook, email, text, telephone or one of the other billion-and-one lines of communication that are open for use. It's free, and it's the thought that goes into it and the words you use that count- don't waste your money on pointless and repetitive mass-communication*.
If you really must spend a small amount of money on me, then the following would be better, depending on the portion of your Christmas card budget that is to be pointed in my direction:
  • Buy me a pint (there are always plenty of festively themed real ales around at this time of year!)
  • Buy me a bar of chocolate.
  • Drop the cash into a charity box (as long as it's not a religiously motivated charity because the chances are it'll be wasted).
If you're thinking of sending me a card out of habit, duty, or other such values, then:
  • Don't bother.

What do you think?
Feel free to agree or disagree with me as vehemently as you like by commenting below or mentioning me on twitter (I'm @TeaKayB!)

* I don't like e-cards either, if that's what you're thinking. If the words that I'm receiving aren't yours then it's a hollow gesture.

Weight loss: The Challenges

I think I've singularly failed in my quest to lose a stone by Christmas, as outlined in this post. I don't know by how much as I haven't been able to bring myself to get on the scales in the last few weeks. I don't think I've gone up (in comparison to my starting weight of 11st 8lb), so it's not too bad.

I've decided to have a think about the challenges that affect me, personally, in my goal to lose weight. They're naturally also things that have contributed to me being overweight in the first place. This post, then, will outline the main challenges as I see them. These may well be the same challenges that you're facing, or you may have others as well: please feel free to comment below with any challenges that you're facing (or have faced) in your own weight loss regime.

1. I really like food.
I mean really like it. And I don't just mean posh, unusual or seasonal food. Any food. I bought some basic, bog-standard bread today of a brand that I haven't tried before and I actually caught myself thinking semi-excitedly about the sandwiches I'd be eating during the week. Would they be nicer than other sandwiches I've had recently? What surprises would a different brand to usual have in store? Would I miss the nuttiness I liked so much in the last loaf, or would there be some different aspect to the bread that would sneak out and fill that particular space? And that first sandwich from a new loaf: soft, fresh bread with smell and texture which makes the filling almost redundant.

Yes; I can get excited about sandwiches. Just imagine the internal struggles of willpower I must be facing as we approach Christmas, traditionally the longest running and most lavishly food-laden of Western celebrations.

2. I really like beer.
I'm not an alcoholic, although the act of writing that has just made me think that that's the first thing I'd write if I was... But I'm not. I do genuinely like beer. Not lager, at least not the awful yak's piss lager favoured by many British weekend drinkers, but actual, real, proper beers and ales. Thinking further, I don't think I'm an alcoholic: put a pint of Carling in front of me and it's likely to remain a pint of Carling indefinitely. But plonk a pint of something darker, hoppier, tastier, locally brewed and possibly including a slight hint of toffee in front of me you're likely to lose your arm if you don't withdraw it quickly enough, and the pint will very quickly cease to be describable as such.

Drinking for me is not simply about the effects of taking on board alcohol. It's about the flavours, colours textures and overall experience of the process of drinking a really nice beer, so it takes an immense effort of will not to order one. I even find the action of the pump arm and seeing the beer flow into the glass and then settle an enjoyable part of the process. Again, the run up to Christmas is a part of the year that sees all those lovely new and different beers finding their way into bar pumps just begging to be sampled. By me.

3. I really don't like exercise.
I don't like sport: playing team sports annoys me, makes me uncomfortable and provides no enjoyment, and even watching them bores me to the point at which I start seriously contemplating chewing my own arms off just to see what happens. More solitary exercise opportunities, such as jogging, cycling, rowing and the rest also fail to interest me, especially as they require extended periods of repetitive actions to be effective. I also do not wish to be seen exercising in public and, even with my levels of cynicism, do not feel the general public should be subjected to my purple, sweaty and breathless form heaving its way through their lives any more than is absolutely necessary.

These are the three main challenges that affect my march towards a leaner, fitter me. I've avoided going into discussions about metabolism, genetics and big-bonedness as these are frequently used as excuses for staying overweight rather than challenges to overcome, and I don't want to stay overweight. Maybe some of these issues are making it more difficult for me to lose weight, but there's not a lot I can do about them so they can go and jump off something.

I'll update with a followup to this outlining what I've been doing to overcome these challenges. For now, though, I'd like some comments from you lot explaining what your weight loss challenges are.

How to fix Google Reader's "oops, an error occurred..." message

Blogging is a big thing at the moment, though many of us read far more than we write. Keeping track of them can be a bit of a nightmare, dotted as they are here and there across the internet. Reader is Google's solution to that: it keeps tabs on your favourite blogs so you don't have to, grabbing new posts from each one and putting them in the same place so you can read them in a similar way to reading your emails: they come to you.

But, like everything in life, there is the odd problem. One of them is this:

In certain versions of certain browsers (my school's version of Internet Explorer is one of them; not sure about others that this issue affects), whenever you try to do much at all (I discovered it when trying to unsubscribe from a blog, but it has happened when trying to mark individual posts as read or unread, and I'm sure there are other times it happens too) an error is displayed towards the top of the page which reads "Oops... an error occurred. Please try again in a few seconds." Waiting a few seconds and trying again doesn't help.

The fix
The fix, it turns out, is an easy one!

  1. Look in the address bar towards the top of your browser window
  2. Where it says "http://...", just click between the 'p' and the ':' and type an 's', so now it looks like "https://..."
  3. Hit return to reload the page.
Done. everything should work properly now. If it doesn't, try the steps outlined above again. If it still doesn't then I'm sorry, but you'll have to continue your search...

Good luck.

Scary Chocolate

I just opened door number 2 on this year's advent calendar and look what jumped out at me:

Chocolate's bad for you...

Not only are they making advent calendar chocolates smaller these days (you can't really tell in this pic, but it's minute), they're also making them scarier. Even now I'm seeing the evil, manic eyes and the bared teeth preferentially to the innocuous and classic children's toy of ages.

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