Friday, 30 March 2007

Being single gets you an extra two years sleep

Well, that's what I deduce from this article in the Telegraph, which says that "Snorers cost their partners two years of sleep over their lives together, researchers claim." Another significant benefit of singleness to chalk up.

Well, to be really honest, it's mainly a benefit to the person who doesn't have to sleep with me - I've have been known to snore so loudly, that I've woken myself up with the awful noise! I inherited this trait from my mother.

Two years of lost sleep if your partner snores

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

A contradictory continent

The Telegraph reviews In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century by Geert Mak:

"Moving from one key historic site to another, Mak argues that we do not always correctly identify the real threats to our social stability or, indeed, our sovereignty; and, of course, in the worst scenarios we turn on minorities and newcomers when in fact we have ourselves encouraged these imagined threats by embracing economic liberalism without understanding its high psychic and social price."

It asks pointed questions: "How could cultivated Europe allow the horror of racist fascism? And then let that horror happen all over again?"

And concludes, "Mak's implications are plain: if we wish to survive and prosper, we really have no choice but to see sense, start working and do some serious business together." I wonder, is anybody willing to listen?

A contradictory continent

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Being sick is harder when you live alone

An apology to my reader for not having been here much for the last week, but, having been afflicted with an infection has kinda knocked me out recently.

And some days, I've only been able to stay awake for a couple of hours at a time, which has brought home one of the major disadvantages of living alone: nobody to take care of you when you're ill.

The upside of this is, of course, that nobody could chastise me either for wasting those precious hours lazing around and nor can they see that nothing here has been washed in days; not pots, not floors, not even me!

Anyway, I do feel a little better this afternoon (hence the ability to make this post), but it has highlighted, for me, that I could have done with seeing a doctor, or even going to the pharmacy, but since both are an almost half-day's trip, the fact was that I wasn't well enough to consider making it.

But, neither was it the sort of medical emergency that warranted calling an ambulance, for instance. This is a conundrum, I think that many of us living alone are likely to find ourselves in from time to time.

My tendency to bulk shop, infrequently, paid off here I think, since I was not at risk of running out of any basics. Although, most days, it has almost been too much effort to make a cup of tea, let alone cook food.

In my extreme rural location, I don't have neighbours to call on (and certainly none who would notice me by my absence) and, there is clearly more that I need to do to be prepared for such emergencies. Are you better prepared?

Saturday, 24 March 2007

English as a second language

OK, I'll admit that like most "parents" (whether the "kids" have hair, fur or otherwise), I'm biased about my doggie's beauty and brains. Even so, I am still surprised by her abilities now and again and, especially her understanding of English.

This may have been cheeky on my part, but having an "English speaking" dog (OK, she speaks dog), in Spain, I felt, was a means to retain sole control and, would be an additional guard dog deterrent feature. Other people might feel more uneasy when they don't understand a bloody word I'm saying to her.

It also helps prevent them discovering that about the worst they would get from her is severe licking and a few whacks from a wagging tail!

No this wouldn't work in tourist areas, but up here it does.

We do use "sit" for "sit", which most folk will recognize, but the few other commands we have attempted to learn, mostly, use non-standard English words too for additional "WTF" effect. In reality, this was her idea, because she simply refused to have anything to do with the usual words, but I eventually cottoned on to the plan. Truthfully, most of what understands, she's learned herself through osmosis.

The uncanny bitch even knows her left from her right and the respective words, which not a few humans have considerable trouble over.

Anyway, as I'm sure I've mentioned before, we have bread delivered daily. This is great, but a whole loaf (really only a large roll) is actually too much for me.

As I consider the pointed ends to serve a similar purpose as the handles on a Cornish pasty - i.e. they're there to keep your fingers clean, not to eat, what I do is to cut slices from the middle of the bread and the knob ends become "treats" for the dog.

No, it's not just a case of using her as a K9 waste disposal unit - though, mostly, she is - bread really is pretty much her favorite treat.

We have even technically termed these left over pieces, "dog ends."

So, this morning, I'd placed one of these "dog ends" on the kitchen table, but not given it to Holly. It was in reach and, most dogs are very good at stealing food. Nope, she hadn't been given it, so she didn't touch it.

She certainly knew it was hers, guarded it and did have a few sharp words with a couple of cats who got too close to it, but that's all.

I was making coffee at the time and could see the child-like excitement growing in her, so without looking round nor indicating at anything, I just said to her, "Is there something you want? Show me!"
With that, she stands up and places her two front paws on the edge of the table, no more than 3 or 4 inches from the bread and nodded her nose towards it, before looking up at me with those huge, brown pleading eyes.

And she still didn't touch it until I gave it to her.

Nah, any resemblance to obedience here is purely coincidental.

Obedience is not something I've ever forced on her, since a) I'm too much of a pushover and b) she has such a wonderful spirit that I didn't want to break (she's so smart and independent, I don't think I'd be successful anyway). But, as with many non-native English speakers, I'm coming to the conclusion that her comprehension of the language is close to surpassing mine!

Speaking of smart doggies, what about this one who took himself to hospital? Honestly, the story's enough to bring tears to a glass eye.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

New UK passport rules forget expats

Whist the new 200 question interview will not apply to anyone who already has a passport and, since expats must already necessarily have a passport, at least we escape from that piece of prying, but I don't think the new rules for issuing UK passports have given expats any consideration whatsoever.

The whole thing is laughable, in my view, because a determined terrorist, trained in subversive behaviour, is probably going to be much better at "acting" through the 200 questions than most honest folk.

The main problem for expats is that, presumably, from 2009, when everyone applying for a passport - either their first or a renewal - will need to attend one of the new centres to have their fingerprints taken - will mean that we will have to go to our nearest British Embassy or Consulate to do this. They don't say that, but I cannot think of another way that they will tackle this.

Currently, we can do it by post. In fact, I haven't yet seen any news report that mentions expats, how we will be affected or be supposed to deal with these rules. If what I assume is right, it's all very well, if the Embassy or Consulate is within easy reach and one is in a state of health that makes it possible to attend. The difference being that, if someone in the UK isn't fit enough to attend the centers, they're probably not going to want a passport.

However, if an expat is already abroad, they are obliged to keep their passport up to date, whatever their state of health or circumstances.

The ID cards are something I am not that keen on either, but I've become used to the idea after living in Spain. But, because the ID card is compulsory in Spain, for instance - for everyone, irregardless of whether they wish to travel or not - then the Spanish authorities make provisions to visit the homes of the old and infirm to renew their documents. This provision, clearly, is not even considered within the British system, even in Britain, and, it would absolutely need to be to make passport renewals possible for many retired expats.

They are bringing in these rules because, around 10,000 bogus passports are issued each year. That's a drop in the ocean, not to mention that it is through their own inefficiency. However, it's estimated that one in ten Britons now live abroad, which means there must be in excess of five million of us, who could be effectively shafted, cut off and ignored by our own country, because of these rules. I call that an injustice. 200 questions to get your passport

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Poll shows strong Euroscepticism

image "In the run-up to the EU's 50th birthday a Financial Times online poll surveyed 6,772 adults in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. In the UK, 52% of those questioned said things had got worse since joining the EU, while in Spain 53% said life had improved."

This also helps explain, in my opinion, why there are so many of us Brits in Spain. Or, at least, those of us who are less Eurosceptic.

The British, in general, are not joiners and so often opt-out of things in the EU, but the fact that they don't join in - particularly that the UK didn't join the Euro - also causes animosity against them from people in other states. Only yesterday, someone mentioned this to me again. Trouble is, I agree with them.

Britain should join in properly or [expletive] off.

But, if Britain were to opt out completely, it could leave Brits abroad in Europe in legal limbo as citizens of a non-European country, or of one for which excluding exceptions are made on the basis of "if they won't join in, why should we keep giving them benefits they don't deserve?" That concerns me, because the more the UK opts-out of things, the more negative British people become about the EU and, the more likely this fear could become a reality.

For that and other reasons, I'd prefer an EU constitution, so I could have an EU passport with proper rights in all states, but the likelihood of that occurring, in my lifetime, doesn't exactly look promising.

What Britain needs to realize, I think, is that not joining in must have a lot to do with the fact that they also don't enjoy some of the benefits. Perhaps it would help if they weren't just so generally negative?

Poll shows strong Euroscepticism

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Mmmm ... coffee

Coffee meme found at White Thoughts

Your first cup, when do you drink it?

We have strict priorities to be observed in this house. First bathroom (usually accompanied by two lady cats), then cats' breakfast must be served. Then I usually put the coffee on so it can brew itself while I take the dog out. I get my coffee a.s.a.p. after that.

 How many cups a day do you drink?

Unless I go out and have any extras in a cafe, I ration myself to three.

Decaf or real?

It's not really coffee without the caffeine.

Sugar, milk or cream?

(Soya) milk only, if anything.

Your favourite way of brewing?

I do agree that the Moka Express stovetop coffee maker produces excellent coffee and, they are the most common here in Spain still, but in practice I find them a bit of a fiddle and tend to use an electric filter coffee maker instead. I wish I could find another single cup version.

With whom do you prefer to enjoy your coffee?


Your favourite brand?

Cafe Coronas. It's 100% natural, distributed in Tenerife and it's cheap.

Where do you prefer to drink your coffee?

No particular preference, but there's definitely something luxurious and smug inducing about drinking a leisurely coffee outside in the square on Christmas Night, wearing only a light jacket or cardigan.

What does your favourite cup look like?

A plain white cup or mug.

Espresso, Cappuccino or Latte Macchiato?

This is Spain, coffee does come in many varieties, but we don't really go in for all these fashionable names and variations. People also don't seem to have set preferences and rather, drink different types of coffee at different times of the day; cafe con leche (coffee with milk) for breakfast; a small, black espresso after a meal; a cortado during a quick afternoon break and so forth.

Favourite occupation while drinking coffee?

None in particular, but it does follow that I normally bring my coffee to the computer when I begin what passes for work each day.

Photo: Greek Coffee At Cafe In National Gardens, Athens, Greece

Do Shopping Lists Promote Or Prevent Healthy Choices?

Not necessarily advice aimed soley at the single shopper, but if there is never anyone around to question or regulate our potentially unhealthy choices, this may indeed have especial relevance to us. We've all read advice which says, "Make a list and stick to it," so you're less likely to be tempted by all those naughty things in the supermarket, but this report seems to suggest that the converse may be true.
According to the researchers, when consumers decide what to purchase at the grocery store, the decision is "stimulus-based," that is, it is based on what is directly in front of us. On the other hand, writing out a grocery list at home before going to the store to pick up the items requires "memory-based" decisions. The consumer must attempt to recall the items available at the store before planning out meals for the rest of the week. "We find that consumers who must generate options from memory are more likely to select fun, hedonistic, and sinful options over sensible options or "appropriate" options," write Yuval Rottenstreich (Duke University), Sanjay Sood (UCLA), and Lyle Brenner (University of Florida).

I don't know. I do always make a shopping list, so that I don't forget essential items, but whist I would certainly never write "fattening little pastries with too much sugar, confectioners' custard and cherry on top" on my list, a packet always seems to come home with me, which seems to suggest that my decision for picking it up was "stimulus-based", not "memory-based".

Unless I'm just remembering how good they were last time! Smile

My way of reducing temptation is simply to stay away from it and to shop less often. No more than once a month, if possible and then, as I'm strong enough to limit myself to only one bad treat at a time, it's hardly going to make a great impact on my otherwise healthy eating habits.

One thing this article did confirm was that consumers who had to recall what items were available (i.e. make lists) "opted for lower-priced items, while consumers who had the options in front of them chose higher priced goods".

So I guess the moral is, if you need to stick to a budget, make a list, but be careful that your choices are also healthy ones.

Interesting thought to follow on from that, is I wonder how much better (or worse) we perform if we order our groceries online? We aren't then required to recall as much, as the choices are presented by the online store. However, these are not as tempting as having the actual goods in front of us and, we can see the real cost of those temptations adding up on the total in our shopping cart, which might help to temper the overspending as well as the over-indulgence.

Do Shopping Lists Promote Or Prevent Healthy Choices? Via: zaadz

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Your outlook determines your lifespan

One of my theories is that those who are happily single are far more likely to get to grips with cooking for themselves than those who find themselves single against their wishes; perhaps because of a divorce that wasn't their idea, being widowed, or desperate to find that "perfect partner" for the first time.

Nothing scientific, just seems sense (to me) that the whole "can't be bothered to cook for one" thing is likely to go hand-in-hand with one's general attitude to one's situation.

Happiness and optimism are not the same thing, of course, but they are surely linked and this seems to make even more sense when you see how much impact your outlook has on your lifespan. Eric at Paris Daily Photo pointed to, as he describes it, a dreadful site, The Death Clock "the Internet's friendly reminder that life is slipping away ..."

How nice of them. Well, nobody else is going to remind us, I guess!

Whilst I'm sure there is some "science" behind it, I choose to take it with a healthy dose of salt (rather than scare myself to a premature death).

Nevertheless, I can't help "fiddling with the controls" and discover that I'm set to expire in 2029 with a normal outlook and as a smoker (Hey, I eat healthy, I'm not a saint!) I'd gain seven years, if I didn't smoke.

If my weight went up by 50 lbs, I'd knock off two years.

But what if I were a pessimist? (and sure, some days I am!)

Wait for this ... in that case, I'll be shuffling off this mortal coil in 2010.

Yes, in just three years time, whilst, as an optimist, I could stick around right to 2052 (when I would be in my 90's), even continuing to smoke. (Actually, I don't believe that for a moment, but I can be optimistic!)

At least I now know I'm not sadistic, since I didn't die in 1992! :-)

All joking aside, I know that sometimes it can be very hard to be optimistic, in a world that often doesn't seem to do much to encourage it and, the more so if you find yourself in a situation that is not your choice. If you do find yourself in that situation, please don't hesitate in getting help and support from friends or even professionals. (My "kitchen table" psychology is certainly not intended to be a substitute!) Food for thought, anyway and eating healthy must help.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Little Britons Abroad

This article from the Telegraph, points out, that "... almost one-in-ten British citizens now live overseas" and "around 800,000 other UK households owning a second home abroad, it is getting increasingly hard to find any part of the world that isn't peopled by Little Britons."

For most, those are "selling points", meaning they will find familiar things there. As far as I'm concerned, it starts to mean, how can I win the lottery very big, so I can buy an island where none of them ever set foot!

I do wish someone would tell me why it is that British expats everywhere feel this need to live in Little Britain or the "30°C version of Sussex."

OK, so I still keep Marmite in the 'fridge, but other than that, I can't think of a single "typically British" thing I find the need to repeat here.

I don't have satellite or English TV. In fact, I don't even speak English, other than once every couple of weeks when my mother calls, because I don't spend time with or seek out the company of other Brits. Because they're the same here. In fact, I'm surprised Tenerife didn't get mentioned in the article, because there are Little Britain estates here in the south, homes with wall-to-wall carpet, just like "back home", even though they probably reach 45°C in August; British beer, Fish & Chip restaurants, etc. I just come to the conclusion that Brits abroad, mostly, are the most unimaginative, unadventurous lot going.

You really wonder why they don't stay in Britain and buy a sunlamp!

Feel at home even when you're away

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Poor British youth

"In February, Britain scored second from the bottom in a Unicef report that used 40 indicators, like relative poverty, health and family relationships, to measure children's well-being in 21 industrialized countries. (Only the United States scored lower.)" Heartening news, isn't it?

Poor British youth face drink, drugs and alienation

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

All hope for the English language is lost

The Telegraph asked people which phrases or expressions frustrate their readers the most and, of course, their readers replied.

And, I can confirm that all is lost because as one comment says, "But --- if that word 'gotten', which an American friend once told me you will not find in any dictionary, gets into Britain then all is lost." OK, I may not be in Britian, but I am still British and I know I regularly use this word.

Actually, (she says in an Estuary English accent, annoying by itself), I've probably used each and every one of those annoying phrases, misuses, Americanizms and cliches at one time or another, even though some of them are, well, lame. Some don't sound too bad with a hint of drawl, but become pathetically laughable in some regional British accent.

And, yes, the same bastardization is happening to Spanish too.

Or, you might say that these languages are alive and growing. Personally, I prefer the latter view, even if it keeps me on my toes to keep up.

In truth, mostly I don't really keep up and half the time, I forget which side of the Atlantic whichever slang expression originated.

But people seem to forget how much English has changed already.

The English of Tudor times, would probably be hardly understood at all today. The language in the late 17th Century, as in Pepys Diary reads really curiously now, or listen to the 18th Century English in Jane Austen's, Pride and Prejudice.

Folk would find the new terms that have insinuated themselves into the English language "insuportable". That's OK to me, since the word in Spanish is still, insuportable, but imagine how awkward and convoluted "Old English" would sound now. Maybe worse than American verbiage at this moment in time!

What is the most annoying phrase in the English language?

Monday, 5 March 2007

Birthday paradox

flaming_cake Apparently, "In probability theory, the birthday paradox states that given a group of 23 (or more) randomly chosen people, the probability is more than 50% that at least two of them will have the same birthday. For 60 or more people, the probability is greater than 99%, although it cannot actually be 100% unless there are at least 366 people."

Well, I have news for the probability theorists. If you gather together all the surviving members of my immediate family - that's all two of us - it's already 100%, as we both have the same birthday. What was the probability of that? 

Definitely the birthday problem though, is that it's today and I am having one of those horrible milestone birthdays. You know, one of those with a big, fat ZERO on the end, which of course has no value whatsoever, but still gets taken into account. It's grossly unfair! While mother insists on being "selectively dyslexic" and claims to be 38 today, there won't be any candles on my cake, because the nearest fire station is much too far away from here! 

Things It Takes Most Of Us 50 years to learn

Old, but timely (given my age):

1. The badness of a movie is directly proportional to the number of helicopters in it.

2. You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight-saving time.

3. You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests you think she's pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.

4. The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above-average drivers.

5. There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is: age 11.

6. There is a very fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness."

7. People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.

8. If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be "meetings."

9. The main accomplishment of almost all organized protests is to annoy people who are not in them.

10. If there really is a God who created the entire universe with all of its glories, and he decides to deliver a message to humanity, he will NOT use as his messenger a person on cable TV with a bad hairstyle or in some cases, really bad make-up too.

11. You should not confuse your career with your life.

12. A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter/janitor, is not a nice person.

13. No matter what happens, somebody will find a way to take it too seriously.

14. When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that individual is crazy.

15. Your true friends love you, anyway.

16. Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

Things It Takes Most Of Us 50 years to learn

Via: Duda Razonable and Microsiervos

Friday, 2 March 2007

Fancy Scrambled Eggs

scrambled_eggs Scrambled eggs, to a British or American person - despite being prepared differently on opposite sides of the pond - are generally, only seen as a part of breakfast.

In Spain, they're a real delicacy. Most often, these fancy scrambled eggs, called Revueltos in Spanish, are served as an entree in restaurants, but if I ate that, I wouldn’t have room for anything else. Two traditional versions of this dish use wild “triguero“, small green, asparagus (known as bruscandoli in Italy) with prawns; or with “Setas“, Oyster mushrooms. Both - or a variation on the theme using whatever ingredients you have to hand - are incredibly easy to throw in a pan to create a deceptively filling lunch or light supper.

Piquillo Peppers with Jamon and Scrambled Eggs


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