Wednesday, 1 September 2010

In the current economic climate, what is the most likely area that construction can deliver more for less?

I was asked this question by a journalist, and found it difficult to give a straight answer, but on reflection, came up with this:

Construction can indeed deliver more for less. The sector always has done. It has always been possible to cut corners and substitute good materials with low quality substitutes. Apart from substituting poor materials for good ones, we are also routinely de-skilling and de-professionaling the design and construction processes in every way possible to respond to clients who are not willing or able to pay for a good job. In the current economic downturn, it is inevitable that construction quality and social responsibility will be low on most agendas. But this does not provide more for less, in the long run. Perhaps what we need is a concerted attempt to persuade our clients of the medium to long-term benefits of good design and construction?

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Elderberry Chutney

Several years ago, when we had an elderberry tree in the garden, I discovered a really good used for the elderberries; it makes a great chutney. Because the tree was in the garden, I could see when the berries were ready for picking, usually in September. Elderberry chutney needs to be kept sealed for at least three months after it is made to allow the flavours to develop fully, so we used to open the first jar on Christmas Day, because it was am excellent alternative to the ubiquitous Cranberry Sauce, which is usually a bit too sweet for me. But for quite a few years, and especially since we moved to a house without an elderberry, I keep missing the right time to pick them. Either they were too green, or they had rotted on the branch. This year, I noticed that there were several tress nearby that were ready for picking, so I went out at 7 this morning and grabbed myself a bag of berries. Here is the recipe if you want to try it:

500 g elderberries, freshly picked from the tree when they are ripe, washed an removed from stalks (this is a fiddly operation to make sure that you don;t end up with any stalks or insects in your bowl of berries)
500 g onions, finely chopped
500 g cooking apples, peeled and chopped
125 g sultanas and/or raisins
250 ml malt vinegar
150 g white sugar
150 g light muscavado sugar
6 ml coriander
6 ml cumin
12 ml five spice
12 ml mixed spice
12 ml ginger
6 ml salt
6 ml cayenne
Put everything except sugar into a large enamelled or stainless steel pan. Cook the mixture until the ingredients are soft, stirring from time to time. Add the sugar, stirring over low heat until it dissolves. Cook the chutney until it is thick so that a wooden spoon drawn through it leaves a mark without filling at once with liquid. Meanwhile choose small jars with vinegar-proof (preferably plastic) lids. Paper covers are not satisfactory because vinegar can evaporate through them and the chutney will dry out. Plain metal lids should not be used because vinegar corrodes the metal. Put clean jars (roughly 3) into a cool oven to dry and warm. Fill warmed jars nearly to the brim with hot chutney, and seal at once. Store in a cool dark place. If correctly stored it will keep for years.

Let me know how you get on with it.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Reading Festival

This year's festival was quite interesting, because most of the headline acts were not to my taste. The line-up was quite disappointing when it first came out, but then every year, different people are delighted or disappointed depending on their tastes, but with so many bands over three days across six stages, there is always something to enjoy.

On Friday, the highlights for me were on the smallers stages, especially the "BBC Introducing..." stage. For example, Our Fold are a new band from Bolton, and their guitarist was really good, having joined them from Stone Roses. Skints, on the Lockup Stage were an excellent London reggae band with flute/saxophone. Mr Fogg, Blood Red Shoes, LCD Soundsystem were also excellent bands.

On the Saturday, I had been looking forward to Modest Mouse, Maccabees, Villagers, Black Angels and Pendulum and lots of sunshine after a rainy start to the festival. The weather was fine, but Modest Mouse and Maccabees were not interesting. Black Angels were really good, like 1970s psychelic rock mixed with Spiritualized. Enter Shikari were funny, but not much music. I loved Hadouken's lyric in Get Smashed, Gatecrash - "welcome to our world, we are the wasted youth, we are the future too". Imagine 10,000 kids chanting that. But there were lots of really poor bands on Saturday. In fact, we went to the pub for a couple of pints of real beer while we waited for the kids to finish watching what they wanted to see.

Sunday was more promising. and didn't disappoint. In fact, it was an excellent day out. The weather was mostly dry, with a couple of showers. I really enjoyed Peers, Holy F**k, Fool's Gold (with a conga!), Four Tet, Kele (better without the rest of Bloc Party), Foals and Caribou. It was a good end to what turned out to be a great festival, even though the headline acts were such a disappointment.

What probably made most of the difference was checking out all the unknown acts on YouTube first, so that I had some idea about which stages to go to at what time. It was much better having an idea about what would be worth seeing and what would be worth missing. The only thing I would change about the festival is the beer. They get sponsorship from a certain brewery, I guess, and the result is that there is only one kind of beer available on site, Tuborg, which almost undrinkable. Everything for sale on the site is ridiculously expensive, of course, and rarely justifies the price. But even so, the event is such a strong sensory experience of all kinds, it makes a complete break from the daily grind and is an excellent way to spend a few days. It helps that it is only two miles from home, too.

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