Sunday, 17 January 2010

Birthday cake for my daughter, aged 11

I must take after my mum, a dab hand at making cakes ever since I can remember. Perhaps it's because I've stood in the kitchen watching her, waiting to lick the bowl, or it might be that I have the cake gene, which means I can always make a decent sponge or whatever. I should have been a baker.

Anyway, I'm rambling. My daughter was 11 on the 7th January 2010 and because I simply wasn't prepared to fork out loads of cash for a ready-made Waitrose cake, which, to be honest isn't the same as baking one at home, I decided to do just that. Here's the recipe:-

Matthew's Birthday Cake


8oz self raising flour
8oz butter or margarine
8oz sugar
4 eggs

Butter icing

4oz butter or margarine
8oz icing sugar
A drop of vanilla essence


1. Mix all of the ingredients together until a smooth mix is achieved and then spoon the mixture into two sponge tins, making sure that both tins are lined with grease-proof paper.

2. Bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes until both sponges rise. You'll know when it's ready, but keep an eye on the oven.

3. When ready, leave to stand for around 30 minutes and then prepare the sponges to be joined together. This might mean slicing a piece off the top of one of the sponges to make it flat. Then spread jam over the flat surface of one of the sponges and butter icing over the other one. Sandwich them both together and hey presto, a sponge cake!

Tip: I sprinkled the top of my cake with icing sugar. Put a small amount into something like a tea strainer and then just tap gently over the surface of the cake.

Walking from Sanderstead to Caterham in the snow

Pix from the top: the top of Tithepit Shaw Lane, Warlingham; Sir William Jones park in Warlingham; the gates of Sir William Jones park; more shots of people sledging in Sir William Jones park; and a shot of Kenley airfield. All very bleak, but I enjoyed a nice pint or two in the Wattenden Arms.

"Don't venture out unless it's absolutely necessary!" And what did I do? I ventured out! In fact, I walked 12 miles from Sanderstead to Caterham and back to see David Foster and hand over some copy for a magazine entitled Club Report 2010. On Tithepit Shaw Lane, a very steep downward descent towards Whyteleafe from Warlingham, I slipped over twice, once in front of a couple of girls – how humiliating! Two hours later I reached my destination, had a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit and then headed home via Kenley and a pub called the Wattenden Arms where I met Geoff Althoff, the illustrious illustrator.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Tell us another one...

As gritters lay rock salt on our roads, Matthew Moggridge wonders whether the nation as a whole should be taking large pinches of the stuff whenever it reads the newspapers or listens to the politicians.
Let me start by saying that I’m not a psychic, I don’t have a third sense and I can’t see dead people. I am a normal person with, it has to be said, a rightly suspicious mind.

Way back at the beginning of 2003 when plans were afoot to invade Iraq, my brow was furrowed as I listened to media reports about resolution 1441, the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’ – which WAS dodgy – and all that stuff about how we, the citizens of the UK, were just 45 minutes away from being blown to bits by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

I remember all the trips Hans Blix and a gaggle of IAEA inspectors made to Iraq to try and find nuclear weapons that simply weren’t there and, of course, I recall the very suspicious (and, in my opinion, still unresolved) David Kelly affair. In short, it didn’t add up, but the impression we, the public, were being given was that everybody was trying their level best to avoid military intervention. This, of course, was a huge lie.

I remember saying to people at the time when military action was first being mooted that it was a foregone conclusion. I just had a hunch that everything else was mere posturing to make it look as if we really tried our best to avoid an invasion of Iraq but in the end we simply had to go in to protect the UK. And then, to add insult to injury, to double-bluff the public, we heard afterwards that our intelligence services were simply not very intelligent and that was why we accidentally invaded sovereign territory. But, oh dear, it was too late to go back by then so we’d better get on with it.

I’m still amazed at how people actually believe it. I won’t mention names, but people very close to me have what can only be called blind faith in Government.

And now, of course, the truth is coming out, thanks to the Chilcott investigation, and we hear that Blair really was Bush’s poodle. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here: Blair is not going to be punished in anyway for his role in what amounted to an illegal invasion of another country. If I recall correctly, Blair has been appointed Middle East Envoy. But hold on a minute, isn't that like giving Nick Griffin a job with the Commission for Racial Equality?

In fact, judging by the way things work in this country, he’ll probably be rewarded for his role in creating a climate of fear in the UK that had a knock-on effect elsewhere and, of course, lead to other people being given awards when, perhaps, they should have been overlooked. Cresida Dick, the woman in charge of the police investigation that led to an innocent Brazilian being mistaken for a terrorist and shot dead on Stockwell tube station was recently awarded the Queen’s Medal.

Sadly, the message here is that you simply cannot trust anybody in this world, certainly not the Government, whether it’s Labour, Conservative or Liberal. Never trust or believe in what you read in the newspapers or hear on the television and always bear in mind that somewhere there’s a hidden agenda – especially where the bigger, longer running stories are concerned. Invariably, somewhere along the line, you will find that your suspicions were, to some degree, right.

The reason I have decided to put pen to paper is a newspaper report on the so-called swine flu pandemic that, at one stage, was going to be infecting a ridiculously large number of people in the UK. I think it was supposed to be something like 100,000 people per day! I remember thinking that this would mean that I was definitely going to be infected at some stage. I bought zinc from my local health food shop, started eating loads of navel oranges and making a point of keeping well away from anybody with the slightest sniffle. I began envisaging days off work, Lemsips and everything else one associates with the flu – like the Jeremy Kyle Show – and, secretly, I hoped that if I was struck down I would not be one of those who died from the disease.

The Government was predicting 64,000 deaths. The climate of fear created and fuelled by the media had, to a degree, worked – until I started thinking, hold on, 100,000 people per day, surely I will know somebody with swine flu? Oddly, nobody I know has caught the disease – absolutely nobody.

The so-called ‘swine flu’ pandemic was great for the work shy. All they had to do was call a helpline and spell out, to an indifferent telephonist,a few symptoms and they would be sent some Tamiflu and signed off of work for a week – job done (or not in this case). Anybody could do it and nobody was going to ask any questions.

In the same way that the credit crunch gave businesses carte blanche to sack people without a decent reason, swine flu provided skivers with the equivalent of a Get Out of Jail Free card.

And now the truth might be floating to the surface. I use the word ‘might’ because the report I read this morning was in a tabloid newspaper, an area of the media where the phrase ‘economical with the truth’ is definitely an understatement – although hats off to the Sun for a great headline when swine flu was welcomed into the UK; it led with ‘Pig’s ‘ere’.

It is being claimed, not in the Sun, that the head of health at the Council of Europe, Mr Wolfgang Wodarg (there’s probably an anagram there somewhere) believes that the World Health Organisation’s swine flu pandemic was, in fact, completely false and driven by the drug companies who stood to make billions out of convincing us that it was for real. Surely not!

The Council of Europe has passed a resolution, proposed by Mr Wodarg, calling for an investigation into the role of the drug companies involved in the scandal and this at a time when it has emerged that the British government is trying to offload a huge consignment of Tamiflu that it ordered at the height of the scare. Not another case of faulty intelligence, surely?

But there is a big problem here. If we stormed into Iraq for no reason, if swine flu was a sham, then what about climate change? We’re all busy trying to reduce our carbon footprint while putting up with the fact that China and America are producing more greenhouse gasses than the lot of us put together – it all begs the question, what the hell is going on?

It’s all a matter of trust and I for one will continue to take everything I’m told with an extremely large bag of salt – even if it is true that the UK diet contains more salt than any other country in the world. Perhaps that’s not true either.