All I want for Christmas is Yule



I got hair straighteners.

And terracotta pots with herb seeds and flower bulbs to grow.

And a day at a Thai restaurant learning how to be a Thai chef!

It’s nice to get gifts isn’t it? If you were gift-lacking today then I promise you can borrow my straighteners, sample some of my herbs or come round for a Thai feast!

Sharing the love,



Partridge in a big pear tree

A capella singing, Christmas

Someone showed me this last night – Not everyone likes barbershop-style singing but this is note perfect, is funny and has a Christmas theme. Enjoy!

p.s. If anyone can tell me the original title/artist of the song they finish up with, I’d be most grateful.

Caption Competition #2

Caption Competition

My good cousin Josie reminded me that I’d not anounced a winner to my first Caption Competition.

Frankly, the take-up was low and the entries were a little shoddy.

One entry was in Hanji, which, although I’m (genuinely) reading a book to learn how to read/write them, make little sense to anybody else.

Another entry was a little rude (i.e. breaking rule no. 2)

The best entry (from Kevin Elliott) was on the right track but I felt didn’t quite make it seeing that Clark Kent has never been Chinese.

So there is no winner from CC 1, I’m afraid. It’s like job applications – if all the applicants are rubbish, you don’t still have to employ one of ’em.

Here’s the next picture anyway. Same rules apply:


Return of the geek

Blogging, Statistics

Blog hits analysis

I’ve been trying to reflect on the fact that iSpy blog hits, though growing nicely each month, seem a little haphazard during the week. In fact, the wonderful Blog Stats that WordPress do for free, when expressed in terms of the last 30 days, resembles the London city skyline more than it does a smooth, gradual progression.

Anyway, this gave me an excuse to try out my new iMac software package Numbers (a powerful equivalent to Excel) and produce the above graph.

I’d like to point out that, as you can see, my graph is clearly labelled like all good graphs should be. Graphs that appear in magazines without a legend or title are a disgrace – they’re supposed to convey information!

Anyway, analysis shows that over the last 30 days (I don’t have the statistics beyond that), hits on my blog start off at a fairly healthy average of 31 per Monday, increase for the next two days, and then gradually tail off to a measly average of 12 per Sunday.

I guess the hits take a dive over the weekend because people are traditionally out doing stuff – Christmas shopping this time of year I guess – but I don’t really understand the Monday-to-Wednesday spurt.

The generally low Sunday hits can be explained by the fact that a large proportion of my visitors are probably at church. Which has made me think…do I really want my blog to appeal only to Christians? No! So, I’m going to try to up my Sunday hits by intentionally blogging more about things that don’t just appeal to Christians. If it’s only Christians that read my blog, it probably isn’t worth writing.

My other confusion is this: why, when I have so many hits per day do I have so few comments?

Any ideas or comments about any of this?

Paperback writer

Christmas, poetry


Yesterday I got a letter from myself. About a month ago I’d been on a writing course in the Lake District and we were asked to write down our goals for our writing and seal them in a self-addressed envelope. This envelope would then be posted a month later.

This is what I wrote to myself.

…I want you to start writing properly – and blocking in time for writing. If you’re buying an iMac you need to make the most of it.

I’d like you to start writing the following:

  • a short story
  • structure and initial chapter for your first novel
  • poems – 2
  • a song

I’d like you to have finished these tasks by 31 December 2008.

Ambitious/idealistic as always. BUT – the amazing thing is that I am already on the way to completing my goals by the deadline. I’ve bought my iMac and I’ve already structured my novel and run the plot past a couple of people I know.

Anyway, this poem ISN’T one of the two I need to write – it’s an older one I wrote in December 2004 for my small group. But I’ve revised it and really like it myself and thought you might like to read it. (Click on it if it’s too small to read comfortably)

Christmas Poem

If you like my writing, please (1) comment on it and (2) ask me whether I’m meeting these goals. I really want to improve!






Vicks and their Tricks

Science, truth

Oh I despise advertisers. They’re such liars! (Or at least perverters of the truth.)

They make people buy stuff they don’t need with money they don’t have.



Consider Vicks First Defence, a product featured in a Tube ad I saw the other day, which incited my hatred by claiming “to attack the cold virus”.

“What a load of absolute bollocks” I thought, knowing that the cold virus (or rhinovirus, rhino meaning ‘nose’, rhinoceros meaning ‘nose of horn’) comes in hundreds of different variants and there aren’t any antiviral agents for colds.

Wanting to give Vicks the benefit of the doubt, I went to their website to glean some more information. And I find this:

Vicks First Defence is clinically proven to significantly reduce the incidence of cold. In a survey* conducted amongst consumers in the United Kingdom, over 88 percent claimed that they did not catch a cold, or their cold was less severe than usual after using the product.

* P&G UK Usage and Attitude Study, 90 respondents, March 2006

Now, I wasn’t 100% sure what clinically proven means, and I can’t find any reliable source on the web to help me out, but one person replying to a question on this subject says:

It means (usually) that there was more than one controlled study. “Clinically shown” means there was only one study.

The studies are not overseen or rated by any governmental agency, such as the FDA, unless so stated.

So basically, it means nothing…Doing a clinical trial with a small number of observations will greatly increase the chance of observing some wanted fact 100% of the time.

Which is what I thought – “clinically proven” means sod all; it’s a phrase invented to deliberately mislead people. I’ll pick out three reasons to mistrust the claims of the product from the marketing blurb quoted above:

  1. Small trial size – for a proper trial, you need hundreds of people, not just 90. Notice they start off saying “clinically proven” then move imperceptibly onto “survey” quoting the details in an asterisked footnote that most people don’t bother to read (or can’t read, because it’s so small)
  2. Subjective – this ‘trial’ measures the opinion of people in a survey.  It’s based on how people feel and not on observable fact. That doesn’t constitute Proof.
  3. Subtle – so, over 88 percent (which = 80 of the 90 people) claimed that they did not catch a cold, or their cold was less severe than usual after using the product? That’s basically the same thing as saying that 88% of people who ate Ready Brek for breakfast claimed they didn’t get hungry, or that their hunger was less severe than usual after using the product. Big deal! Most of them probably didn’t have a cold in the first place!
  4. Significant – they claim a “significant” reduction in the incidence of colds. Well, if you check out the Times Online article about the product, it says:

In one trial, 70 healthy volunteers were dosed with a rhinovirus that causes a cold. Among those treated with a placebo, 79 per cent developed a cold, whereas 57 per cent of those treated with First Defence did. First Defence also reduced the severity of symptoms.

In a second trial on 400 volunteers, it was tested against naturally acquired colds. The volunteers were asked to start their treatment four times a day as soon as they experienced cold symptoms. Those using First Defence recovered in an average of 6.1 days, compared with 7.2 days for those using a placebo and 8.9 days for those taking no treatment. Although this is far from a cure, it is an improvement that may justify the £6.99 that the treatment will cost.

So, it does have some effect. But, on their website it says that “Vicks First Defence attacks colds at their source, removing the virus before it has a chance to develop.” Cutting down the duration of a cold from 9 days to 6 days is NOT the removal of the virus before it has a chance to develop, is it?

One final thing. The Times Online article explains that Vicks First Defence isn’t a pharmaceutical product – it works by enveloping the cold virus in a sort of gel, and irritating the nose so that you snot it out trapped in the gel. That’s fine. If something works, it works. However, Vicks don’t bother to tell us that it’s not a drug product. My cynical side would say that it is in Vicks’ interests to keep quiet about this, as it probably enhances the placebo effect if the people buying it think it’s effective. It’s also very incoincidental that the £6.99 cost for VFD is so close to the current NHS prescription charge of £6.85.

OK, well that’s my rant over. I’ll never be in PR/advertising/marketing/selling because I hate it when people lie.

What a wonderful world

Songs, The World, Video

Three of my favourite songs have pretty much the same theme:

  • Coldplay’s first UK release Don’t Panic, for which I saw the video and instantly fell in love with their music.
  • James Morrison’s Wonderful World. Really catchy.
  • Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.

I guess they all just reflect a good theology of creation.Anyway, when I saw this, I couldn’t resist posting – sorry if you’ve already seen it!

…And what kind of box would you like that church in?

brass band, Hong Kong, relevant, Religion, salvation army

Just saw this and it made me want to cry.

First, because the huge amount of humour and power that Sister Act gave to nuns singing a Vegas (or Reno) showgirls song has been totally lost when whatever genius decided to convert it into a brass band piece.

Second, because they murder it anyway.

But mostly because, why in the name of all that is sweet and lovely are the Salvation Army in Hong Kong churning out brass bands??? Since when have brass instruments been the stalwart of Chinese music? Am I missing something?

It so makes me want to swear. Loudly. I want to go and slap whoever thought it was a good idea to package up the Salvation Army in the UK and ship it out to the Orient.