Category Archives: 2014
It’s been a funny ol’ year. I don’t think there’s little point denying that one.
A year of transition with few high points and many low, 2014 can (to coin an East London phrase) “do one” now.
Actually, that’s a bit harsh.
2014 had some great times. In no particular order, these included:
- Multiple Trophy winning team performances at One Day TagRugby competitions.
- The Tag Christmas Party when “Tag Me Up and Down” walked away with the Most Improved Team award (and yours truly finished second in the Organiser of the Year award by 8 votes).
- Watching the Dallas Cowboys win at Wembley
- Joining a new 3rd TagRugby team & being the “newbie” again.
- Multiple visits to the Twickenham Stoop
- An amazing week in March, including two trips to Paris in quick succession (& a LOT of walking)
- Leaving a company after almost 6 years, accutely aware that I’d made a difference. The minature rugby ball, heavily signed, remains in pride of place at home.
- The days out with Autistic Students for a small charity, helping them to develop their interpersonal skills.
- Convincing a friend to start her own food blog, and watching from a far (long story) as it has grown and developed and become Award Nominated. Meals with Mel is available here for those that’re interested.
- Knocking out websites for family and friends.
There was more I’m sure, but those are the ones that remain in the mind.
By contrast to the highs, 2014 was also a year of stress, and a constant feeling of unworth and purposeless.
Unemployment, it turns out, is one of the most depressing experiences that I’ve personally known in the past 32 years of life on this planet. I don’t recommend it.
From redundancy to full time work, time lasted seven months. Out of those, four were spent feeling sorry for myself and feeling like life had no purpose.
In fact, it goes without saying that what kept me sane over the months was good ol’ Tag Rugby and managing 3 teams at a time. This regular organisation and focus on team news. It served a purpose nicely.
Having said all of this, as of 5pm on December 30th, there were no personal tragedies during the year. No close deaths, no major financial or physical issues. It was just one of “those” years.
Looking towards 2015, there’s renewed optimism. Back in work in an enjoyable job, Tag returns on January 5th after a month’s break. Purpose is restored. Harlequins are beginning to play well again, the Dallas Cowboys have made it to the Play-Offs in style. Hell, even Manchester United are playing well. Miracles DO happen after all.
So here’s to 2015, here’s to a better year. Here’s to more creativity (apologies if this rare post has been below usual standard. I’ve been somewhat out of practice). Here’s to more “Events” (already to mind there’s the big Duggen/Dennis wedding in March). Here’s to more sporting victories. Here’s to a prosperous New Year.
So to finish off, and since it probably needs mentioning since it was in the title, the WordPress.com stats team prepared a 2014 annual report for everyones’ WordPress sites. Here’s mine…
Happy New Year everyone!
Rule of the day, don’t let someone like me onto something like Twitter
— Toby Bonney (@TheNorthMonkee) July 10, 2009
On the 25th anniversary of the birth of the internet in March this year, the Independent published an article explaining how the Web began in the mind of Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
In the article (link here), there is one quote which sums up what good ol’ Tim was trying to achieve.
The quote, from 1989, offered “the hope would be to allow a pool of information to develop which could grow and evolve with the organisation and the projects it describe.”
Over the years, the founding father of the arguably the greatest creation since the Printing Press in the 1450s, must be proud of what he has created.
The Internet allows us to share our collective brain power, solve the answers to the world’s greatest problems, make this a better place to live.
Admittedly it also features a huge amount of Porn and a lot of spam, but you can’t have everything.
Additionally, one thing I love about the internet is the way ideas, instructions and much more is shared amongst cultures.
I’ve mentioned previously about a friend of mine based in America, and her quite frankly magnificent food blog.
Meals with Mel seems to have taken off big time. With some wonderful dishes, brilliant tips and stunning looking food, it’s always great to read what next is on offer.
It is about time though that I actually tried a dish. With that in mind, I went for a rather basic roasted green beans with bacon.
Taking instructions from this receipe I thought I’d give a relatively simple receipe a try.
Considering my skills as a chef are somewhat lacking, it’ll be interesting to see how this turns out.
Pre-Oven, it looked okay…
With 10 minutes left to go, it’ll be interesting to see how it turns out…
40 Minutes later…
It’s turned out all right in the end.
On reflection, Melody was right about the red pepper bits, they would’ve added to the mix. One idea from London might be to add a splash of white wine to the mix before baking. This would add a softer texture and a more fruity air to the meal.
Rather pleased though with the effort.
A receipe from one side of the world to the other. A sharing of ideas. I’m sure Berners-Lee would approve.
It’s so easy to undermine that feeling of team bonding that sport provides.
That unique collective feeling amongst a group who all aim for the same goals.
Tag Rugby, in it’s purest form, it provides me with this feeling. It helps me to work with friends for a greater good.
Saturday May 31st was one of these. A great day out, the team worked together to see what could be achieved. We played together, threw a ball around and eventually finished 4th out of 14. Even then, we were a bit robbed in the Semi Finals by some questionable refereeing.
Still, these photos sort of sum up the bond felt on that day. There’s a reason it was such a success.
It’s brilliant when an idea works, when someone tries something and it comes together so well.
For the sake of my ego, I’d like to label myself as an “Ideas Man”. Someone who thinks up fresh takes on products, tools, lifestyles and writing.
I’m also someone with a bad habit of not following these through. Ideas for iPhone apps, fictional writing, thoughts which had potential but never got worked on. It’s a sort of counter-action within myself. A need to think up solutions to issues, but never knowing how or trying to put them into action. An element of Sisyphus, permanently rolling the idea up the hill, only for it to fall back down that moment of productive action.
So, when an idea works. There is a joy to be held. A satisfaction. When it is an idea for someone else, when they pick up on it and turn it into something beautiful, it feels simply wonderful.
This happened recently.
One of my oldest and dearest friends is a food obsessive. The last time I saw her, I pushed and pushed for her to write her ideas down. I wanted her to write a blog and to tell the world about her adventures with food.
She wasn’t convinced, and she didn’t seem keen. Since that point though, things have changed. We no longer communicate due to forces outside our control. I miss her constantly, but I understand and approve of her reason for saying goodbye. There were reasons, and these were accepted for a greater good.
Since we stopped talking though, something magnificent has happened. That blog has developed, and in ways I never could’ve expected. She’s bought an actual web address, she’s set up a Facebook page, she’s written some wonderful receipes and stories which leave you drooling and desperate to try them yourself.
She’s written something she should be proud of, and I hope she continues to work on it.
When ideas pay off, they pay off big time.
Here then, is my favourite piece she’s created so far. I hope you enjoy Meals with Mel. I know I do.
As the French would say, Bon appetit!
This past week I have been on an adventure making homemade pasta dough. One of the first pasta dishes I made this week was my take on Northern Italian Lasagna. This is a béchamel base lasagna is packed full of sautéed spinach, chicken, pesto, and all topped off with a nice cheesy crust.
The lasagna filling is a beautiful pale green color because of the spinach and the pesto. Since my sister was coming over for dinner and she attended the University Of North Texas, “The Mean Green” I decided to name this lasagna for her. This lasagna was not complicated to make, but there are several steps and if you decided to make your own pasta noodles you can add 3 more steps to that, but the dried Barilla No Boil Lasagna noodles work great. This lasagna is also a great way to use up any leftover grilled chicken you might have from a previous meal, just add the grilled chicken in place of the rotisserie chicken, you will need about 3½ cups of chicken.
Making lasagna can be a process sometimes but at the end of the day the aroma that fills your house makes it worth every step. The best part about making lasagna is not only does it feed a crowd, but lasagna can be assembled 1-2 days in advance and sit in the refrigerator then baked right before people arrive. Hope you enjoy! Go Mean Green!
Mel’s “Mean Green” Chicken Florentine Lasagna
2 boxes Barilla no boil Lasagna noodles or fresh pasta noodles
1 rotisserie chicken shredded; or 3½ cups leftover grilled chicken chopped.
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups warm whole milk
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cups fresh pesto** recipe follows
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 small red onion finely diced
2 cloves of garlic
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 cups baby spinach roughly chopped
1½ cups fresh grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 cups fresh grated mozzarella
Step 1: Make the Pesto
3 cups fresh sweet Italian Basil leaves
1 cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley
3 cloves of garlic
1 cup fresh grated parmigiano reggiano
½ cup toasted pine nuts
1 lemon (the zest and juice)
2 pinches of red pepper flakes
½ of good quality extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a food processor fitted with a steel blade add the garlic cloves and pulse 4 times. Then add in your basil, parsley, red pepper flakes, lemon zest and juice and pulse another 5 times. Next add in the parmigiano reggiano cheese and the toasted pine nuts and pulse another 5 times. Last with the machine running slowly stream in the olive oil until well incorporated. Salt and pepper to taste.
Put the pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Step 2: Make the Béchamel Sauce
Warm the 3 cups of milk in the microwave for 2 minutes.
In a large heavy bottom pot melt the 4 tablespoons of butter on medium heat. Add one whole clove of garlic (smashed with the back of your knife) to the melting butter. When the butter has completely melted take out the garlic clove and add the 4 tablespoons of flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is lightly browned (about 2 minutes). Slowly add in the warmed milk, whisking constantly, and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer on low.
Step 3: The Filling
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and add in the finely diced onion, red pepper flakes, one clove of chopped garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Once the onion has softened, about 5 minutes, add in the roughly chopped spinach and cook down for another 5 minutes. Then add the spinach and onion mixture to the béchamel sauce along with the shredded chickenand 1/3 cup of the fresh made pesto and give it a good stir to make sure everything is well combined. Take off the heat.
Step 4: Assembly
If you are going to bake this immediately then pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Butter a 9×13-baking pan. Add 2 large ladles full of the béchamel mixture to the bottom of the 9×13 pan then cover with the lasagna noodles. Add another layer of the béchamel mixture, a little of the grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, and cover with another layer of noodles. Repeat this step until you are out of noodles, ending the final layer with the béchamel sauce and the remaining parmigiano reggiano cheese. Then top with the fresh grated mozzarella cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes until bubbly, then take the foil off and bake another 15 minutes, finally bake under the broiler for 5 minutes to get a nice crust on top. Let the lasagna rest for about 5 minutes after you take it out of the oven.
Serve with a Green salad, a nice crisp Pinot Grigio, and Good Friends.
It’s 1am on Saturday morning. I should go to bed, but I’m stuck on Twitter waiting for arguably the most controversial decision of the United Kingdom Local Elections to come through.
For some reason, and it’s one I’ve never understood, the United Kingdom schedules their Local Council Elections on the same day as major votes. Well, okay I DO understand, it’s about money.
Summing up the Local Election, Wikipedia says:
The 2014 United Kingdom local elections were held on 22 May 2014 as provided by ‘The Local Elections (Ordinary Day of Elections in 2014) Order 2013’ (S.I. 2013/2277). Usually these elections are held on the first Thursday in May, but they were put back from 1 May to 22 May to coincide with the 2014 European Parliament Elections on that date. Direct elections were held for all 32 London boroughs, all 36 metropolitan boroughs, 74 second-tier district authorities, 20 unitary authorities and various mayoral posts, all in England. Elections to the new councils in Northern Ireland were also be held on the same day.
All registered electors (British, Irish, Commonwealth and European Union citizens) who were aged 18 or over on the day of the election were entitled to vote in the local elections. Those who were temporarily away from their ordinary address (for example, away working, on holiday, in student accommodation or in hospital) were also entitled to vote in the local elections, although those who have moved abroad and registered as overseas electors cannot vote in the local elections. Those who were registered to vote at more than one address (such as a university student who has a term-time address and lives at home during holidays) were entitled to vote in the local elections at each address, as long as they were not in the same local government area.
Overall in England, the Labour Party saw 1,891 Councillors elected (up 292), The Conservatives 1,259 (down 201), the Liberal Democrats 404 (down 284), the Green Party 157 (up 17), Residents Associations 38 (up 7), the Liberal Party 2 (down 2), the British National Party 1 (down 1), Independent Community and Health Concern 1 (down 2) and there were 68 Independents elected (up 19).
Throughout the UK on Thursday, people spent their time to go out and vote. They went primarily for European Elections and who should represent us in the European Election, but arguably of greater importance, they voted for their local Councillors. People who would deal with issues at a local level, and where day to day events would be greater felt.
This joint election has lead to confusion throughout. Parties preaching stories about how the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, how we should look at issues at a National Level. Subsequently people were electing their Local Council representatives for the wrong reasons. This was true for ALL parties. Watch the following video:
Now whilst the Labour leader Ed Milliband is a smart man, this borders on manipulation.
He talks about the NHS and maintaining it. This is little to do with Local Councils, and even less to do with Europe. However this doesn’t stop Ed preaching to the masses. Someone somewhere will have elected a Councillor without knowing who it is, purely based on this manipulation.
So this leads me on nicely to the reason for my late night…
Rahman, a 47 year old originally from Bangladesh, is the Directly Elected Mayor for the area of Tower Hamlets in East London.
Gaining the post in 2010, Rahman is a controversial figure. Claims regularly circulate about his corruption, whether it is leaking money to friends, or the fact that he has a chauffeur driven limo. He is regularly investigated for corruption and abuses, and there are concerns about links to hardline Islamic groups.
In fact, to really summarise some of the concerns, the best thing to do is to read these 30 facts provided by Journalist Andrew Gilligan in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday May 21st. These are worrying.
1) In 2008 Rahman (then a Labour councillor) won the leadership of Tower Hamlets council with the close help of an Islamic extremist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, which which works to create a sharia state and an “Islamic social, economic and political order” in Britain. In secret filming, IFE activists described how they exercised “consolidated… influence and power” over the council.
2) Rahman channelled millions of pounds in council grants to IFE front organisations and appointed a senior IFE figure as assistant chief executive of the council, though he was wholly unqualified for this senior post. Both the assistant chief executive and Rahman were subsequently removed from their jobs.
3) An extremist preacher was invited to speak in the council chamber and extremist literature, including audio tapes by the al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was stocked in Tower Hamlets libraries.
4) In 2010, after a campaign including large numbers of fake signatures led by the IFE, Tower Hamlets was changed from having a conventional council leader to a far more personally powerful, directly-elected mayor. In secret filming, senior IFE activists described how they would “get one of our brothers” into the new post.
5) Rahman personally signed up entire families as sham members of the Labour Party to win selection as the Labour mayoral candidate. He was selected, but was then removed by Labour’s National Executive Committee, and subsequently expelled from the party.
6) Rahman won election anyway as an independent, on a tiny turnout, after his (Muslim) Labour opponent was smeared as a wife-beater and enemy of Islam in thousands of newsletters produced with Rahman’s full knowledge. The new mayor was said by his campaign manager to have a “strategic relationship” with the IFE, with “most” of his campaigners being “either Respect or IFE activists.”
7) Even though Tower Hamlets is only 34 per cent Muslim, Rahman appointed a 100 per cent Bangladeshi and Muslim cabinet. He has never appointed any non-Muslim to any cabinet post and has no non-Muslim councillors.
8) Rahman has given control over the council’s finances to Alibor Choudhury, a former employee of an IFE front organisation with a long track record of encounters with the police. Rahman has himself taken personal control of all grants over £1000.
9) Under Rahman and Choudhury, council grants have been diverted away from secular bodies serving the whole community to IFE fronts and to other groups serving largely the Muslim community. Several of these groups, the council’s scrutiny committee found, are new and without any track record. Several appear to be based in people’s private homes. Several involve individuals with close personal connections to Rahman. (For a full account of Rahman’s Muslim grants favouritism, see here.)
10) Rahman has transferred valuable council properties to close personal associates at far less than their true market value, including a 10,000 square foot office building a stone’s throw from Canary Wharf which was sold for £875,000 to the man in charge of his election campaign website.
11) Key Rahman allies have been witnessed, and have not denied, engaging in a practice known as “vote-harvesting,” registering people for postal votes and then collecting their blank ballot papers.
12) Some of the supposed voters do not appear to exist. “Ghost” voters registered to empty properties or huge numbers of voters registered to small flats have been regular features of Tower Hamlets elections.
13) Rahman has presided over an atmosphere of menace and intimidation at council meetings. Phalanxes of Rahman supporters drafted in to the public galleries shout homophobic abuse at several key opponents of the mayor, who are gay. Rahman’s cabinet members, such as Alibor Choudhury, abuse their opponents as fascists.
14) Rahman has used council officers to hound and bully opposition councillors, spending tens of thousands of pounds of public money to make spurious, but time-consuming, legal attacks on them.
15) At council meetings, Rahman refuses to answer questions about any of these or most other issues, with officers saying that to do so would breach his human rights.
16) Rahman also refuses to engage with most other questioning. He has made almost no public appearances in this election campaign at any event where he would be required to answer questions.
17) Rahman largely ignores the non-Bengali media but pays tens of thousands of pounds of public money to UK-based Bengali-language TV stations – including £50,000 a year personally to one TV channel’s chief reporter. In return, they give him fawning coverage. The channels have been repeatedly censured by Ofcom, but it appears to make no difference.
18) Rahman has channelled further millions of taxpayers’ money into an extensive cult of personality. He has a weekly newspaper delivered to all households at public expense, containing often as many as a dozen pictures or mentions of himself.
19) Rahman has had hundreds of copies of his own picture displayed at public expense on billboards, lampposts, and even council dustcarts (to comply with election law, most have recently been removed.)
20) Rahman has used public funds to send thousands of personal letters, again with his picture on them, to residents claiming credit for things which are not his doing, such as the Government-funded council housing refurbishment programme.
21) Rahman has been hostile or indifferent to the borough’s non-Muslim heritage, threatening to close the local history library (reversed only after a storm of protest), selling off pubs and threatening them with closure, and attempting to dispose of a Henry Moore artwork whose form offended Islamic sensibilities. At the same time, he has created a new programme to channel hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money to (mainly Muslim) faith buildings.
22) Rahman’s cabinet member for education, Oliur Rahman, appeared on a public platform with a group campaigning for the “unacceptability of homosexuality.”
23) Rahman’s cabinet member for the environment, Shahed Ali, avoided £25,000 in tax by liquidating his restaurant business, then immediately reopening the restaurant under a new name. He boasts that he used the proceeds to buy a Porsche.
24) Rahman’s cabinet member for culture, Rania Khan, mocked gay people and published pictures of knives on her social networking site, saying: “I know it’s not ladylike, but I luv my weapons.”
25) Rahman’s key funder, Shiraj Haque, a restaurateur, has a criminal caution for selling counterfeit wine. He was sacked from his chairmanship of a council-sponsored festival after suspicions that it was being used as a front for illegal immigration, but was reappointed by Rahman. Despite being a millionaire who owns at least seven properties, Haque has been given subsidised social housing by the council.
26) Rahman has repeatedly given character references for convicted criminals, including a sex attacker.
27) Rahman charges taxpayers up to £60,000 a year for a Mercedes car and chauffeur, which he has used, among other purposes, to collect his dry cleaning. No other elected mayor, including Boris Johnson, has a limousine. He claims he has now given it up, but this appears to be only for the election period.
28) Rahman has also spent large sums of public money on taxis for himself, including one purported fare of £71 to travel a distance of 400 metres and another £28 fare from a local McDonald’s to his office.
29) Rahman is accused by the Government of practising “divishttps://thenorthernmonkee.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpive community politics” and the “mismanagement of council staff and resources.”
30) Neither of the neighbouring boroughs, Hackney and Newham, will work with Rahman. The Labour mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, describes Rahman as “very bad news” and as creating a form of apartheid in his area.
So yes, there are concerns.
When I started writing this, it was looking that despite all his flaws, Rahman was on course to be re-elected.
The obvious question is how can this happen? More importantly, how is this not covered in greater detail in the news?
Well we can all speculate, but Gilligan tends to answer this question above when he refers to Rahman’s links. There’s all manner of other potential reasons, but none I’m willing to put on here.
What I will finish off with, is the story as it happened on Twitter…
Biggs 27k and Rahman 36k. Too close to call in second preference round, I think
— Robin de Peyer (@robindepeyer) May 23, 2014
Apparently there’s a crowd of “hundreds” still outside the Troxy waiting for the Tower Hamlets result in the middle of the night — Robin de Peyer (@robindepeyer) May 24, 2014
CONFIRMED: Lutfur Rahman re-elected as mayor of Tower Hamlets
— Robin de Peyer (@robindepeyer) May 24, 2014
Numbers: Lutfur total: 37,395. Biggs total: 34,143 — Robin de Peyer (@robindepeyer) May 24, 2014
Lutfur giving acceptance speech. Most I’ve heard him say in 2 yrs covering LBTH pic.twitter.com/IngCnpHkPP
— Robin de Peyer (@robindepeyer) May 24, 2014
Green candidate on stage: “Lutfur, if you’re going to keep your chauffeur-driven car, please make it low emission”
— Robin de Peyer (@robindepeyer) May 24, 2014
After all this, I made one “harmless” tweet. One I already regret.
Almost straight afterwards, a response…
@TheNorthMonkee Go offer Mr Biggs a shoulder to cry on 🙂
— Raja (@Wimpylad) May 24, 2014
It’s going to be interesting in Tower Hamlets over the next few days. That’s Politics for you though.
I’m not a cook, I never have been.
Personal attitude has always been that spending an hour knocking up a meal for 10-15minutes of eating, it just tends not to make sense.
I guess that’s why I’m a bit happier to try larger meals, ones that’ll last for the whole week (or at least the majority). I’ve never been that bothered about learning though, so it has been a bit of a slow development.
Today however was different. Unemployment, it turns out has benefits.
Whilst the job hunt never really developed today, the run down & mucus cough didn’t prevent me from (using the below instructions from the Joyce Bonney Cookbook) trying my hand at a spot of Cottage Pie. It wasn’t perfect, slightly too much water, but as a first go, I’m pleased with it.
So, here, using my Mother’s instructions is How to make Cottage Pie, an Idiot’s Guide.
- 500g of minced beef
- 3 x decent sized Potatoes
- 2 x Onions
- 2 x Oxo cubes
- Butter (personal preference for quantity)
- Cheddar Cheese (again, personal preference)
- Chop up potatoes, not necessarily peel, but cut out mouldy bits.
- Put in cold water in pan & simmer until potatoes are soft (approximately 30minutes).
- Tip away water and mash up with butter.
- Peel and chop the onions [Good God this stings] into thin slices.
- Throw away any manky looking bits.
- Fry in the oil until soft (approximately 5-10minutes). Try not to burn.
- Add the mince to the onions and fry until brown (approximately 10minutes).
- Add boiling water, enough to cover the mince & onions.
- Add Oxo Cubes (crumbled not whole).
- Simmer for 30-45minutes.
- Put the mince/onions into a metal tray, smoothing it out.
- Add the mashed potato on top.
- Sprinkle gratted cheese on top.
- Put in the oven until cheese melts.
Over did the water covering the mince, so the gravy was a wee bit weak, but for a 1st attempt, I’m happy with it.
Next time, I’ll try to get the sacred Sausage Roll receipe! Next time!