Exam Success at O Level

Well, well. I’m writing this in the week before my older son gets his GCSE and given that he is almost exactly 30 years younger than me, I though it would be as good a time as ever to write this post.

Without getting into the whole GCSEs are much easier / harder / about the same as O Levels debate I know for a fact that my lad worked a hell of a lot harder than I did all those years ago. But anyway, I said I wouldn’t go into all that!

I studied for a total of eight O Levels. I did exams for seven of them and a set of 15 essays for English Literature. When the dust had settled, I ended up with an A in Geography, 6 B’s (Maths, English x 2; Physics; Chemistry and German) and, zut alors!, a C in French.

Now I know that this is supposed to be a celebration, but in many respects this was also the high water mark of my academic achievement. Certainly in terms of the fulfillment of my potential at least.

Yes, I’ve got (3 out of 4) A Levels and a Degree in Civil Engineering (2ii). I’ve also got Certificates and Diplomas in Water and Environmental Management and last but not least a PGCE, oh and a couple of OU modules too. Trouble is, I was a lazy-finish-assignmnets-cram-revision-at-the-last-moment kind of student.

I have to say that it always gives me an enormous sense of pride when I recount that I have 8 O Levels. And they were more difficult than any exam that any sixteen year old since has ever or will ever have to face. Probably…

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Kwak

On The Belgium Beer Company‘s website it says that Kwak is:

A spiced Flemish amber beer that has a very unusual glass. Pauwel Kwak is a Belgian beer brewed by Bosteels in Buggenhout. It is an amber beer, which is relatively strong at 8.4% ABV. It gets its name from an 18th century innkeeper and brewer.

Kwak croppedI first sampled this exquisite tipple in a small and extremely excellent North Walian Tapas Bar by the name of Y Delyn. You may know it.

On first taste I got a sweet, hoppy, liquorice flavour. I then noticed the almost chewy quality of the beer. Finally, I noticed the ABV of the beer. It comes in at a whopping 8.4%, so be careful! I’ve not yet tried it in the rather unusual glass. It looks like a foot of ale, with a rounded bottom and a wooden stand.

Kwak is quite hard to come by with your weekly shopping – you certainly can’t buy it in Sainsbury’s! The last time I enjoyed some, I was on holiday in North Yorkshire and I found it on a day trip to York, up by the Minster. If you’re not in York, I’m sure that someone in your locality will stock it, if not there’s always mail order.

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Me and My DVDs

Own it on Blue Ray and DVD Monday!

So goes the American accented exhortation to own the latest DVD release. I must admit that I used to be susceptible to these adverts. What with this and buying them from Amazon; picking up cheap ones in the supermarket, I have quite the collection of DVDs. Too many to watch that’s for sure. So why did I buy them?

Well, I’m guessing it’s because I belong to the video generation. Not for us was it enough to wait for the film to be shown on the television. We were in a the start of the video rental revolution and we could watch them when we wanted. The first film that I ever saw like this was, wait for it… Rosemary’s Baby.

Wtf?! Rosemary’s Baby? I mean, I was a teenager. How it happened is lost in the mists of time, but I have a vague recollection that it was our PE teacher who got it out for us when we went away on a residential to play football – it was 1980 something. And never mind any of that, the school had a Betamax player! Yes, we were part of the 25%!

So far so scary. Next up, Police Academy. I remember hiring it one morning when I was doing my O levels. I’d been to collect the newspapers to deliver and whilst I was there picked up the video. After delivering the papers and having breakfast it was time to crank up the video and sit back and relax. This was, thanks to Mike Read, the first time I ever heard Frankie’s Relax.

But enough of that nonsense, I fear I’ve slightly lost touch with what I was trying to write here… video renting –> buying –> DVD buying, ah yes. I mean, what is the actual point in buying them? I have an extensive collection, but I can only watch one at a time. This includes some that I haven’t watched even once.

I must admit that I do have a particular favourite that I do occasionally put on at bedtime and fall asleep to. I will then be woken in the wee small hours as the TV hisses away in the corner once it’s finished. I’m not going to tell you what it is, cos you’ll laugh, but it’s the seventh film in the series of eight about the boy who was a wizard

So back to the original question. Why do I buy them? I mean it’s not as if I even have the time to sit and watch them – witness my guilty nocturnal treat. I suppose on the one hand, it’s the triumph of nostalgia over realism. Then it’s a cultural / snobbish thing. I want, no I need to be able to have at hand the classic films and TV comedies that I watched whilst growing up in order to prove what good taste I have. I need to be able to sit and recount vast chunks of The Young Ones or The Outlaw Josey Wales to prove just how cultured I am. Ha ha! Like that’s gonna work!

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Debt position – March 2016

DMP summary March 16So here’s my latest summary statement. As you can see, I’m still almost £7k away from being debt free. However, as you can also see, I have managed to increase my monthly payment by around £70 to just over £200. This brings forward my debt free date to March 2019 from July 2020, so progress!

I’ve been able to make this change by shifting my utility providers to take advantage of the much better offers that are out there. I have switched from shopping at the big orange supermarket and now shop at one of the German ones. The biggest and most satisfying saving though is my dumping of the great television company in the wild blue yonder. Yes, I am officially satellite TV less.DMP statement March 16

You may ask why I’ve left it so long to make this move – especially in my position. Truth is, I’ve had a relationship with this broadcaster since first setting up home on my own in the mid 1990s. I probably didn’t need it then, and I certainly don’t need it now. So it’s gone and not before time!

I’m still challenging myself to have the debt cleared by Christmas 2017. This would require my monthly payment for the last 9 months to increase to around £500! Clearly this is quite a leap, so watch this space!

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Beetroot and chocolate muffins

I found a fab recipe on the BBC Good Food website for a Blitz and bake beetroot and chocolate cake and I had been using it only slightly modified for a good few months.

20150812_094616[1]The results were certainly edible, my boys scoffing a whole batch in less than a week. However, it was always a very messy experience as the mix was extremely runny, and that’s an understatement.

So I have hacked the recipe, by adding some extra flour and adding a dash more chocolate powder along with cutting the amount of sugar.  I am now then, left with this:

1 pack of (Sainsbury’s) vacuum packed beetroot (250g)

200g (9 oz) caster sugar

A good shake of cocoa powder to taste (perhaps not as much as 100g or 4 1/2 oz)

350g (12oz) plain flour

A good whack of baking powder – at least a teaspoon

3 large eggs – Free Range of course!

2 lids full vanilla essence

200ml (about a third of a pint) of good quality oil – I use rape seed oil

100g (4 1/2 oz) packet of (Sainsbury’s) chocolate chips for cooking

So there’s your ingredients. Now, as the BBC recipe says, it’s a blitz and bake, so you really do just chuck it in the mixer and blitz it before baking it! I find that putting the beetroot in first, juice and all, with a metal blade is the best way to chop it up.

Then put your plastic mixing paddle in and add the other ingredients except the eggs, oil and chocolate chips. Give them a right good spin before cracking in the three eggs and giving the whole thing a good thrash!

Finally, slow the machine right down to drizzle in the oil and then add the chocolate chips.

20150812_094655[1]I find that this produces around eighteen muffins of a decent size.  Now I’ve got a pair of six muffin baking trays so I do a twelve then a six.

I heat the oven to 180C on the fan setting and leave them until I can smell the chocolate. Usually about twenty minutes, but hey you’re an adult and you’re in charge so you decide huh?!

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Debt position – July 2015

This is my first post on my debt, although I have held the debt for five years now.
Stepchange statement Jul 15 - creditor names hidden

Initially I was able to pay a considerable amount towards the debt, but after about twelve months this became virtually impossible so I moved to making minimum payments each month. This situation persisted until April 2015 when I was at last able to increase my monthly payment to an amount which would see me paying the debt off more quickly.

Step Change are estimating that I will pay down my debt by 2020. This is just too long, so I will be looking to increase the monthly amount and also to make additional payments so that my debt free date will be Christmas 2017, i.e. just two and a half years from now. This will enable me to get on with my life again without having my ins and outs monitored by a third party.

Please visit me from time to time to see how I’m getting on.

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The BBC

There has been a great deal of talk about the BBC in the recent couple of weeks. Let me explain my position on the organisation.

As I commented way back in 2010 on this website I believe that it is an important arbiter of the quality of TV output across the range of TV companies in the UK.

Of course you may be of the opinion that the BBC’s output is crap. You might disagree vehemently in paying what you would describe as a tax to watch the television, especially when you don’t watch the BBC. There are countless other reasons and arguments for wishing the BBC to be hobbled, to have its remit reduced. Some of them are valid; some are not.

One reason that is so invalid and, dare I say it, anti democratic is to assist the other TV companies. I’m not going to name names, but I do hope that you will know exactly which individual, which organisation, believes that he / it stands to gain most from the downgrading of the presence of the BBC.

Imagine too the irony, oh the irony, when George Osborne criticised the ‘Imperial reach’ of the BBC’s website on the Andrew Marr show on the Sunday before the budget just gone. Imperial reach from a man representing a governing party which cannot gather more than a quarter of the available votes in the country. Pfft!

Anyway, moving swiftly on, although not too far… In these days of austerity, I have had to make sacrifices in my household budget. One of these sacrifices has been to cut out the pay TV subscription. One thing that I have not cut out is my TV Licence. There is a simple reason for this. It is the width, length and depth and let’s face it, the sheer quality of stuff put out by the BBC. Yes, I watch ITV and Channel 4 and I have even been known to take a peek at Channel 5.

Since I made the decision to stop receiving pay TV channels I have been subject to a sustained broadside of marketing material from them. Phone calls and glitzy sales documents offering me half price subscriptions for twelve months and even, yes, wait for it… a 32″ Samsung TV. It is as unwelcome as it is unwanted, but I have no option but to grin and bear it – something to do with my marketing preferences?! Some people may feel the same way about paying their TV Licence fee, I get that. However, for the money paid out in order to avoid the knock on the door from the TV Licence Detector Man (TM), the return is beyond comparison.

Hands off the BBC, you odious ideologues.

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Can I make money with Qustodian?

Answer, yes. Very definitely.

With a host of top notch, dare I say it, Blue Chip partners, ranging from Audi, through Vodafone to Nokia, Universal and Nivea there will be an advert for everybody that whether or not they buy will spark their interest and earn them a few pennies.

And, as my mum used to say, ‘if you look after the pennies, the pounds look after themselves.’ True words mother, true words.

Click here to give it a whirl.

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Not taking summer job as a street sweeper in 19**

This one is more than just a little indicative of how I struggled as a teenager. Low confidence issues meant that this job was one that there was just no way I was going to take.

But how did it come about?  Well, it was during the summer between my first and second years at University. For the summer before my first year I had worked in a local, wait for it… cottage cheese factory. So, this time I fancied a change.  One of Mum’s friends worked for the local council in the waste disposal department.  So, she arranged an interview for me – as a bin man.  I quite fancied this job, so I was happy to turn up for the interview.

What I was offered when I got there was something just a little different.  What they actually wanted was for me to operate as a street sweeper and picker-upper of rubbish off the streets.

As I look back on the debacle now, I am more than a little regretful.  My decision to say no thanks and walk out was the wrong one. What benefit would it have given me?  Well, it would have made me a stronger, tougher person; that much is undeniable. Dealing with the general public on a day-to-day basis in such a role would have made elevated my self-confidence to a level which may have had changed my whole life.  Plus, imagine some of the stories which which I could have regaled my mates both immediately afterwards and ever since.

But I turned the opportunity down and got a job at last year’s factory, this time dealing with Munch Bunch yogurts. Confidence remained unchanged and another chance to push myself out of my comfort zone voluntarily had gone.

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Bl@@dy Petrol Pumps

Having been a driver of diesel cars for most of my car owning life, it has come as quite a shock to me when I have had to fill up my petrol car.  I cannot for the life of me get the bloody pump to work consistently.

For some reason, wherever I fill up, it takes an age as whenever I try to increase the pressure on the pump trigger it cuts out on me.  I have tried rotating the nozzle in the petrol tank almost through 360 degrees.  I have tried to push the nozzle in as far as humanly possible.  I have risked getting my feet wet by pulling the nozzle out a little. All to no avail.

Boo and indeed hoo…

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