Prisoners to Learn Baking Skills

The UK is renowned for being a soft touch, with re offenders spending a vast amount of their adult lives in the clink. I personally know a couple of such offenders whom I went to school with. But I’m going to focus on one particular. Chris.

Chris had a somewhat inconsistent start in life, surrounding by poverty, gangs, drugs and being abandoned along with his sister and mother by his father when he was very young. His mother, although she tried her hardest, Chris well and truly went off the rails ‘like a switch had been turned on’. At 11, he was smoking cannabis, had a list of misdemeanours as long as my arm, was on first name terms with his local police force, and essentially feral.

Then he was sent to the same school I attended, a specialist boarding school dealing with self-destructive behaviour and Emotional Behavioural Difficulties. Predominantly run by ex military staff, old school teachers and former social workers who were sick of the red tape and bureaucracy in central government, stripping them of powers more and more with each government, the school, and its houses (for the most part) ran like clockwork.

This was no simple feat, we had to have a fine balance of rough and tumble, and to feel safe – a very fine balance indeed when you have 10 houses of hormonal, emotionally damaged teenage boys. But once teething problems with each individual were worked out – it worked.

I went on to leave with the highest GCSE results the school had seen in a decade, while Chris scraped by with 3 GCSEs all at C or below. This isn’t to say he was thick, anything but infact, he just wasn’t academically minded. Give him a car engine, and he can strip it down and rebuild it without having to read the manual.

Chris got into heavier crime, serving time for shoplifting (never home burglary), affray, drugs offenses, ABH, rioting and so on. I never spoke to him until recently, however, he’s changed his ways, managing to secure a job and go back to college to do advanced car mechanics. Which got me thinking, I wonder if the problem with the rehabilitation system is that they aren’t learning new skills to aid them in finding more worthwhile employment on the outside.

So teaching a load of cons to bake may sound ludicrous to some people, but catering is very therapeutic, to take a load of raw ingredients, and then turn them into something beautiful instils quite a sense of pride.  The idea of a hardened criminal icing a Barbie cake (complete with butter cream swirls and a spun sugar sash) may conjure up some interesting images, but if it keeps them on the straight and narrow, and out of prison, it’s certainly not a bad thing. Especially when they’ll be paying into funding the very system that helped to rehabilitate them.

Ahh, Good Old Easter Sunday

It’s common for families to get together on Easter Sunday for a large roasted lamb dinner with all the trappings. However, people are becoming more likely to just book a table in a restaurant so as not to have to deal with the stress of cooking for upwards of 8 people.

This is good for the trade and the economy, however, restaurants need to realize they can’t treat us, paying customers like cattle, however, customers also need to understand that the business needs to turn a profit and that unless you’re spending obscene amounts of money, or have booked the table for the entire afternoon, you can’t sit there at your leisure all sharing the same bottle of house white.

It’s a common tactic in restaurants to allocate times to tables on major days, Christmas, Easter and so on. For 3 courses, it’s usually 2 and a half hours with a 30 minute window for the table to be turned over, re set and the next group of guests be seated. This is where it’s only good manners to take a seat in the bar area to finish off any drinks, or have a couple more.

However, I do find 2 and a half hours to be a little stingy on the time front, especially when it’s a large table. If was call Easter Lunch £25 each, and the table comprises of 8 adults, add 2 bottles of wine at £12 and 2 bottles of water a £1.50, that’s £227.

As most restaurants also have ample tables, lets multiply the table amount by 10, which would give the restaurant a capacity of 80 people minimum, the turnover for a full check would be £2270 every 3 hours. Now, let’s multiply that with the number of sittings, which would be 3. 12pm, 3pm and 6pm, and usually a small course as it dies down at 8pm, that makes a turnover £6810 for the 3 main sittings. Also, remember, there are also going to be bar snacks, sandwiches and the standard menu being served too.

Not a bad turnover really when you do the maths like that is it?

If you want to spend longer in the venue, at your table, you should at least ensure your drinks are coming thick and fast, or come to an arrangement before hand with the restaurant to cover a ‘table fee’ to ensure that you can have the table as long as you like.

As a customer you are important, however, just because you’ve spent over £200 doesn’t give you the God given right to clog up the table at your leisure so the restaurant can’t turn over another profit. Simply go into the bar area.

And restaurants, we know you have time constraints, but you can’t virtually forced feed up and make us eat faster, so be a little more flexible with the timings, it doesn’t take 30 minutes to turn a table over, It takes more like 5 – 10.

How About Fish for Easter?

If you have been thinking of having something different for your Easter dinner, then how about having Fishcakes with a Thai Sweet Chilli Dip?

These simple Fishcakes are simply divine as an appetizer with a small side salad, or as a healthy lunch with New Potatoes and Glazed Vegetables for a more substantial lunch or evening meal. Feel free to play with the recipe to suit your own tastes and needs.

Serves 2 – 4

Ingredients

4 Large Potatoes, 1 Large Salmon Fillet, 1 Large Cod Fillet, 160g can Tuna in Brine well drained or pre drained, 1tsp Chilli Powder, Butter, Milk, Salt, Black Pepper, 1 – 2 Eggs, Breadcrumbs, Paprika, Oil, Thai Sweet Chilli Dip

Method

Bring a Pan of Salted water to the boil, Peel and chop the potatoes for mashing.

Open and drain the Tuna, Cut the Cod and Salmon in to around 1” chunks.

In a heavy bottomed frying pan, add a knob of butter and add the Tuna, Salmon and Cod and cook for around 5 – 7 minutes. Set aside.

Once the potatoes are cooked thoroughly, drain and mash them, add the required amount of Pepper, Milk and Butter (taste if you must) and gently whisk with a hand whisk until a firm texture is achieved. Gently spoon the fish into the Mashed potatoes, being careful to not add any fluid from the pan.

Add a generous amount of black pepper and roughly whisk, being sure to achieve a pleasant fluffy texture, adding more butter and/or milk if needed. Set aside to cool.

Once cool enough to touch, Take good sized handfuls of the mixture and roll into balls 1.5” – 2” balls and flatten them and put them on a plate. Put in the fridge for 5 – 10 minutes so the mixture firms up.

On a plate pour out a decent amount of Breadcrumbs, add just enough paprika for the breadcrumbs to take on a pinkish colour and mix together well.

In a wide bowl whisk the eggs so they are well mixed

Taking each fishcake, gently dip in the egg on both sides and coat in the bread crumbs and set aside. Repeat until all the fishcakes are done.

In a large frying pan, heat some oil over a medium high heat and cook the Fishcakes for around 2 – 4 minutes on each side until golden brown, and place onto a paper towel. This may need to be done in a couple of batches.

Once the excess oil is drained, serve with a side dish and Thai Sweet Chilli Dip.

 

Okay, we’ve seen it all now can we start educating our kids

Over the last 2 nights, we’ve seen ‘The Real Full Monty’. Wednesday was the boys, raising awareness for Male Cancers, and last night was the girls turn, raising awareness for Women’s cancers. Both worthy causes, and if I’m honest, causes that aren’t explored enough.

I’ll be perfectly honest, nudity doesn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact, it bores me. We all have the same bits and pieces, they just come in different shapes and sizes, and apparently Colleen Nolan and Jeff Brazier certainly made up for most of the human race.

Sex Education is a broad subject, and it should be taught from cradle to grave. Not just the physical act, that’s a minor detail, as is making babies. Sex is everything from understanding the differences between guys and girls to menopause. Period pains to Male Teenage Aggression. A proper understanding of how our bodies work, and what can go wrong with them is imperative.

It’s also important to instil body confidence, but to also stress that no two bodies are the same. Jane has bigger boobs than Rachel. Billy is taller than Mark. Rhys wants to be called Rhea, and Lilly doesn’t like boys, she likes girls.

Can you imagine saying that to a 5 year old? Something so easy and simple to say, and understand, it’s almost a blasé comment, one that you would throw away without much afterthought. My nieces have never had an aunt and simple throw away comments made by my sister have made it normal. Obviously I’ve not told them about the joys of same sex relationships, or the physical side of it. But I have taught them that our relationship is no different to that of my sisters and her ex. We have bills, we bicker, we make up, we kiss.

So, why are we whitewashing our kids sex education? Sex is one of the fundamental cores of our very being. Why aren’t boys taught about periods? Why are girls not taught about prostates? Why is the human body so alien to the other gender? We all have hormones, we all have to go through puberty, we all experience good and bad relationships. Why are we not teaching the WHOLE subject? From bumpy boobs to bruised balls, we all at some point in our lives have a complaint about our intimate parts, why don’t we just normalize them? Maybe then, people would be more inclined to speak to their doctor or STI clinic.

Hypothetical scenario: ‘Doctor Frankenstein, my left breast is really tender and it’s drooping slightly more than usual.’. Instead, what do ladies do? They wear a higher support bra.

The same goes for men too. They could have a lump the size of a water melon on their testical, but they’ll do all they can to not disclose it, usually out of embarrassment.

Come on, it’s the human body, we all have one. Talk about it, and the possible issues we may have, that is the only way to get people to understand what’s normal, and if there’s something wrong.

 

The Rise of Feminism

I’m going to come out with it. It’s not going to be popular, and Mumsnet users the world over are going to want my testicles as earings for saying it, but here goes. Femenism has gone too far.

Femenists come in two varieties. The nice, moderate lipstick wearing ones who want true equality. And the scary skinhead ones in dungarees and chequered flannel shirts who look like they want to take a chainsaw to all men’s b******s.

The former want boys to learn about the great achievements that women have made over the years, and I’m not talking about baking the perfect soufflé. The scientists, business women, politicians, artists. Women have done great things over the years, and mainstream history books do have a habit of painting them out, which is wrong.

The latter want men to be domestic servants, like women were treated all those years ago. But sorry ladies (am I allowed to call you that?), this is 2018. You have legally got equal rights, but if you keep pushing, you’re going to end up with more rights that the rest, which isn’t fair.

As a hypothetical scenario. Yourself and I are mobile hairdressers, on our way to a job. In our cases we have Combs, Brushes, Hairdryer, Scissors and Razor Blades. The police do a stop and search and question us on why we’re carrying potentially deadly blades. Are you going to scream discrimination because both of us were stopped and searched? Where as I would co-operate and explain the reasons for carrying blades in public, would you refuse to work with them? To explain that you’re on your way to your next clients house to give them a haircut?

We need to be teaching our children the good and the bad when it comes to history. From Martin Luther King to Hitler. The Suffragettes to Stonewall. Our very planet has a rich tapestry of history, sometimes grim, sometimes more upbeat, but children of both sexes need to be taught that equality doesn’t go all one way, and that if you want to get ahead in life, you can’t use your sex as a playing card. If I was to employ someone, and then sack them for incompetence, it wouldn’t have anything to do with race, gender, sexual orientation or disability, it would be their lack of skill in the field.

Working in hairdressing has taught me one very important lesson, being a man in a predominantly female industry, it is not nice to be discriminated against. But, did I shout it from the rooftops? No. I proved myself to be worthy in the industry, far surpassing a lot of my co-workers.

If a girl wants to be a truck driver, let her. If a boy wants to be a fashion designer, let him. Equality has to work both ways, and let’s be honest, if women won’t let men into ‘their’ industry, why should men let them into ‘ours’?

 

Failings of Great Manchester Fire Service Revealed

The terror attack that shocked the world at the Manchester Arena last year has had a damning report released. Fire crews from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue were delayed for 2 hours by bosses, when other services and even citizens rushed into the building to help victims of the blast which could have been far worse, which I’ll go into shortly.

Fire Crews have spoken of how they wanted to go into the building but couldn’t due to management forbidding them.

Well, I say there are some situations where protocol and orders shouldn’t be followed, and this was one of them. As rescue workers, they are PAID to do dangerous things, and should have been among the first to be on the scene. Instead bosses shamefully held them back for 2 hours because ‘there could have been a gun man on the loose’. That is not a good enough excuse.

The notion that Fire and Rescue couldn’t attend a very real situation is shambolic and shameful, and the heavy lifters, those on the front line, wanted to get in there, but the pen pushers were too concerned with their risk assessment. IT WAS A BOMB! There is bound to be risk no matter which way you look at it. It’s just exceptionally fortunate that the bomber clearly didn’t know too much about the architecture of the building.

The Manchester Arena is built over Victoria Railway Station, at the time accessed by going up a flight of stairs and over a foot bridge over platforms 3, 4, 5 and 6. The Arena then has an oval food court where Mc Donald’s is above the line for platforms 4, 5 and 6 and a gangway leading to all entrances which is then the lobby.

Had the bomber known this, he could have caused far more destruction, as if the bridge were to collapse, it would destroy platforms 4, 5 and 6, and also severely damage platforms 1 and 2. As all the trains that go through Victoria are diesel, and it’s seldom not got a train waiting in at least 2 of the platforms, this could have caused a truly catastrophic explosion.

Had the worst happened, such as the scenario above, would the fire crews have been forced to wait an agonizing 2 hours? This is the most devastating attack that Manchester has seen, and greatly overshadows the IRA bombing in the 90’s.

Seriously, there are more important things in life that management approval, and the crews that wanted to go in should have given the pen pushers a royal 2 finger salute and just done it.

There is a need for safety first, but when situations like this happen, the rule book should go out of the window. Well and truly. More people could have been saved that night, had the fire brigade been allowed to go into the arena and do their job unhindered and without fear of repercussion from senior management.

 

The Full Monty Testicular Cancer Awareness

Several UK celebs of both genders have agreed to bear all to raise funds and awareness for cancer. The boys include the likes of Alexander Armstrong and Ainsley Harriot, while the girls include Coleen Nolan.

Channelling the hugely popular comedy from the 90’s, The Full Monty (American friends, if you’ve not seen it, it is a true British gem of gritty comedy), where during the Sheffield Steel crisis, coupled with the aftermath of recession, a group of guys find themselves so flat broke, something costs ‘£4.99 and they’re still a fiver short.’.

Both sets of participants are raising awareness for male and female cancers, and hopefully much needed funds to help research and hopefully one day cure this horrible disease. Each celebrity has their own reason for doing it. For example, Jack Tweedy, who was married to Jade Goodie, who was tragically diagnosed with, and ultimately died of cervical cancer, leaving him with their 2 sons, whom, though I’m not a huge fan of his I must admit, he has done an impeccable job at raising them in to a pair of lovely little boys.

One of the main reasons for male cancers being quite a big thing at the moment is that for the first time, testicular cancer is killing more men than breast cancer is killing women, and the pendulum has swung further towards men, and it’s high time that male cancers got a cut of the research.

With male cancers (testicular and prostate), they’re on a par with women’s cancers (ovarian and cervical). Neither is less or more important, they just so happen to only affect one gender, and like it or not, getting checked out is imperative.

Ladies, stirrups are hardly the most comfortable things (you’d think they could at least get something to cushion the straps!), and gents, having a couple of fingers up your backside isn’t the most flattering experience (for most), but is 10 minutes of mild indignation and discomfort seriously more important than your health? Watching your children grow? Growing old with your partner?

We can’t force anyone to get regular checkups, though ideally you should be getting yourself MOT’d once every 6 months, 3 if you have already had cancer, or you have a strong line of cancer in your close family.

Your doctor has seen it all. Hell, I’m not a doctor and I’ve seen it all. From bumpy boobs to bruised balls on friends, I even had one female friend find a lump just behind her boob. I told her to whip her top and bra off and I’d have a quick check. It was nothing to be worried about, but I did tell her to go to the doctor and get it professionally checked out. What it turned out to be was an inflamed gland on her underarm likely caused by an ingrown hair. Exactly what I’d said. It doesn’t take Sherlock to put shaving rash, inflamed gland and smooth underarms to come to that conclusion!

So no matter the problem, just speak to your doctor.

Who’s for Afternoon Tea? Or Coffee?

It’s an old English tradition to have afternoon tea, usually between a close group of friends who want to have a catch up, gossip and occasionally just skip the tea and move onto the Wine!

The idea of Afternoon tea is it’s a snack, served between lunch and the evening meal. Hence the confusion between Lunch/Dinner, Dinner/Tea.

A little history lesson, it’s Luncheon (Lunch for short), served between 11:30 and 12:30, Tea is at 4pm, and Dinner was served in the upper houses at around 7. Supper was rarely served, but when it was it was a very light meal.

So, with expensive and exotic teas becoming more and more fashionable, along with the more quaint and less loutish behaviours among some of society, why not take a look into hosting a tea party? They’re brilliant for catching up with old friends you don’t see very often, or even set up, or host a book club once a month? Book Clubs are also more popular now. You don’t have to be a complete snob to host a fine lunch. Simply make sure you’re prepared with the following:

-Matching Cups, Saucers, Cutlery, Cake and Sandwich Stands, Glasses and Teapot. Also Linen Napkins.

– Cakes, Scones, Biscuits, White and Brown Bread (we’ll get to that), Vegetarian Options, Cream, Jam and Preserves.

– Tea of course.

Now this may sound absurd, but a lot of planning goes into an afternoon tea, and the host has to think long and hard about their guests. Are any vegetarian? Jewish? Muslim? Hindu?

A lot has to go into what you provide, and although the rules are a lot more relaxed now, it is still advisable to try and stick to the rules of; Nothing too filling, nothing too spicy and nothing too bland.

Something I find is always good, is to take tea myself, get inspiration. After all, Cucumber Sandwiches are dull. There are all kinds of interesting fillings that don’t have to be pretentious, and the classics are always pleasers. Salmon and Cucumber, Tuna and Mayonnaise, Roasted Ham. But you can put a spin on things. How about Corned Beef? Or Roasted Chicken with Stuffing. Have a salad bowl to hand too. If you have veggie guests, there’s more to life than Egg Mayo. Spice it up a bit, how about Curried Quorn sandwiches? Have a play with ideas.

You should never need a reason to see friends, but it does help if you want to get them all together for them to have a reason for them to come to you!

Finally, remember, you don’t have to bake everything from scratch, just ensure it’s presented well, and that it’s freshly made that morning and kept covered in the fridge before serving.

So dust off that dinner set, and get looking at having a few friends around for a civilized get together that doesn’t revolve around drinking yourselves into oblivion or going out dressed like you’re about to moonlight in a strip club.

 

Expensive Restaurant? No Thanks

As M&S looks at overhauling its food range, let’s look at ways YOU can make some restaurant quality favourites.

As M&S has reported a decline in sales, it has been decided that a bit of an overhaul is in order. However, we thought it may be an idea to show you how to make restaurant quality foods at a fraction of the price. Most of these are side dishes, and predominantly will go with anything, but we have slipped a few mains in too. So get creative.

The reason we’re doing this, is because it really isn’t expensive to eat well, and with so many people relying on solely ready meals, it’s getting to a point where we need to up our game, otherwise the obesity endemic is just going to get worse. These are simple alternatives that even the kids can help with, and it’s always good to get the youngsters in the kitchen to learn about food from a young age as cooking is a life skill that we will always have to use, be that making a sandwich, or making a 3 course dinner for a date.

Below are simply guides, but with a little common sense, we’re sure you can work out your measurements without too much difficulty. Also, take a look online at how other people do things, you may find you have a new passion.

New Potatoes with Herbs – Simply empty a bag of New Potatoes into a pan of salted, boiling water until cooked through and tender, drain, transfer to an oven proof dish, drizzle in olive oil, add fresh herbs and toss well. Put in the oven for 20 minutes at 200C. Saving – £5.50

Glazed Vegetables – Boil your vegetables until tender, but still slightly firm, drain and return to the pan with a knob of butter and 1tsp of sugar. Place over a high heat for a few minutes until the veg has a nice glaze. Saving – £3-5

Bubble and Squeak – Boil Potatoes, 1 Carrot and 1 Onion, drain and mash together. Serve as a topping for cottage pie, make into cakes and shallow fry for a few minutes each side, or serve as an alternative for stuffing for a veggie roast dinner. – £3

Sticky Whiskey BBQ Chicken Breasts – In an oven proof dish, place 1 chopped onion, chicken breasts, sliced green pepper and submerge in BBQ Sauce, add 2 shots of sweet whiskey, cover and marinate for 2 hours. Remove cover, put in a preheated oven at 200C for 30 minutes or until the sauce is reduced and sticky. – Saving £10

Mac, Leek and Bacon and Cheese  – In a large pan boil the macaroni for 2 minutes shy of the packaging instructions, drain. Chop and fry the leeks and bacon until cooked add to an oven proof dish. Make cheese sauce and put into the dish. Add the pasta to the dish. Stir well. Top with lots of grated cheese and bake for 20 minutes at 200C. – Saving £7

More Tax On Private Education?

Middle Class families who pay for private tuition ‘should pay extra tax’. Errr. They do!

It’s common knowledge, the wealthy pay more tax. Those that work hard are able to reap the rewards. Not only is it up to them how they spend their money, they pay through the nose with VAT, not to mention the initial income taxes.

So if they employ a private tutor, or even prep school, they are also paying tax on that, which is still quite high.

Then you have additional taxes on extra-curricular activities on offer by the school. They don’t come free! The school has to be able to fund it somehow. Basically, you’re taxed for goods and services provided.

Look at private school like buying a new computer, and then each month buying new software/hardware updates for it. All of that is taxed. You’re just not getting a computer, but the best education for your child.

There is also the very major fact that all staff have to pay tax, so the costs are reflected in the inflated initial price, which has to be passed on to the staff to cover their  tax bill. So it’s a tax, on a tax.

If people want the middle classes to pay more tax, then why don’t they work a little harder and see how it feels having 50% of your earnings gone before you’ve even seen it hit the bank.

It sounds to me like UCL are Wealth Shaming, which is seriously not cool. Also, has it not occurred that among ¼ of pupils in Grammar Schools are actually gifted and are there on scholarships, or their parents have taken on second jobs (even more tax) to afford their child the luxury of a top rate education.

The thing with private education, a lot of them have ‘additional needs’ so to speak. Not because they are educationally inept, but because most of them don’t see things inside the box, but in a more broad and complex manner, making them more difficult to teach in a mainstream environment.

If these children were forced into a mainstream school, would they be banging on that the parents should pay more tax for holding others back because they need to be explained things in a different way? It’s a double standard, which is laughable. The world is full of the Have’s and Have Not’s. That’s inevitable. Some get lucky, but others tend to stay socially immobile, and that is no one’s fault, not even their own. But those lucky few that do lead an envious lifestyle with luxuries shouldn’t be penalized for this sad fact of life.

Striving to be the best you can be is all you can do, and harvesting bitterness towards the middle and upper classes is going to do nothing but make you more bitter and envious which is a highly unattractive feature, especially as our children live what they learn, and this will breed another generation of envious and irrational adults thinking the wealthy man should give up even more.