What’s For Dinner? The Food Companies Don’t Want You To Know:

Don’t eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food”. This is the advice offered by Michael Pollan, an American journalist, activist and author who has critically analysed the connection between the industrial food chains and what we put on our plates at meal-times. Among his many books are “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. In the opinion of Sarah Boseley, the Guardian’s health correspondent, it’s not even necessary to go back four generations. As she pointed out in the newspaper on 12th April, half the food we take home “is made in factories from a long list of ingredients and additives, most of which never found a place in any grand-parents’ kitchen cupboard”.

We have, Boseley observed, become “ a nation of ultra-processed food eaters”, a fact she had already highlighted in a previous article in February when she cited the results of a survey conducted by the Public Health Nutrition journal. This showed that families in Britain eat more ready meals, biscuits and snacks than any of the other 19 European countries investigated, amounting to 50.7% of the diet. Germany is second on 46.2% and Ireland on 45.9%. According to data the Guardian has obtained from the market research organisation Euromonitor, the brands that profit most from this trend are Premier Foods (Mr Kipling cakes, Batchelors super noodles and soups), McVities (sweet biscuits) & Walkers (crisps) – both of which are “designed to make us want more” – Kellogg’s (breakfast cereals), Cadbury’s (chocolate), Wrigley’s (chewing-gum) and Haribo (sweets).

As Carlos Monteiro, a Professor with the Department of Nutrition at the University of Sao Paolo, Brazil, told Boselely, all of these are invariably made from cheap ingredients and produced on a huge scale: For instance, “Some instant noodles are not real noodles and it’s the same with chicken nuggets – you’re not getting real chicken”. Boselely also referred to the belief of Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director of the Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London, that “We need a change in our eating culture and children need to learn to like the taste of real foods. The solution is to make vegetables, fruits and whole grains more available, affordable, acceptable and appealing to all people and the excessive consumption of energy, saturated fats, sugar and salt more expensive and less available”.

The big food companies have responded to these criticisms by insisting that their commodities “can be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet” and that they are implementing changes which will enable customers to make healthier choices”. They also protect both their brand reputations and their profits (as the Sunday Times journalist, Kate Mansey, has reported), by funding scientific research, carried out mainly by university academics, in order to obtain favourable reviews of their products. The fact that, as Mansey has noted, “the food industry is bankrolling the building of laboratories and handing grants to universities across Britain”, has raised concerns about its influence on scientific integrity.

Among the examples provided by Mansey is research subsidised by Nestle which has claimed that “ a daily bar of chocolate could reduce stress for women”, studies part-funded by the French food giant, Danone, suggesting its yoghurt could reduce the risk of heart disease and increase brain function and an investigation financed by the Austrian company Red Bull which concluded that its energy drink “significantly improves driving performance” – a contention later challenged by the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Kate Bratskeir, a contributor to the “Mic Network” has objected indignantly to the sponsorship arrangements the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) allows for companies such as PepsiCo, Nestle, Coca-Cola and McDonalds. She considers these amount to serious conflicts of interest: “The food brands get what they want (their products sold), scientists get what they’re after (funding to perform research) and the public is left with misinformation” – such as that Ocean Spray cranberry juice reduces urinary tract infection (UTI) symptoms, M&M, Snickers, Twix & Dove chocolates (all manufactured by Mars) are “miracle foods” and that Danone Activia yoghurt helps prevent colds and flu and is good for your intestine.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of “Authority Nutrition”, Kris Gunnars, declared in his column for Healthline.com on February 20th that “There’s no decency in the way junk food companies do their marketing. All they care about is profit.” Included in the list of his alleged “eleven biggest lies” are that most products with labels saying “low fat”,”reduced fat” or “fat free” are not healthy at all as they invariably contain extra sugar and other additives. Also, that most processed food products containing whole grains aren’t really “whole”, so-called “gluten-free” products are often loaded with unhealthy ingredients, and many food manufacturers use the word “organic” to mislead consumers: “Just because something is organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy”. Furthermore, the flavour in many processed foods may sound natural, but isn’t: “Orange-flavoured Vitamin Water tastes like oranges but there are no actual oranges in there: The sweet taste is derived from sugar and the orange flavour from artificial chemicals”.

Bon Apetit!

Filed under: Healthcare | Posted on October 2nd, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

London Fashion Week SS19: Hoping For A “Good Brexit”:

The latest LFW (Friday 14th September – Tuesday 18th September), at which the trends for Spring and Summer 2019 were exhibited, has just ended. It was preceded, as always, by statistics issued by the British Fashion Council (BFC) emphasising the vital financial contribution (£32 billion) the fashion industry makes to the UK economy. The LFW SS19 Prospectus enthusiastically hailed “this season’s packed schedule (which) cements London’s position as an international hub for creativity, innovation and commerce. It features catwalks, presentations and events from over 190 international brands”.

Looming over the occasion, however, was evident and widespread concern regarding the potentially damaging impact on the sector of the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU), due to take place on March 29th 2019. The new chairwoman of the BFC, Stephanie Phair, indeed acknowledged to the Evening Standard’s (ES) fashion correspondents, Naomi Ackerman and Karren Dacre, on 14th September, that the industry faces “extraordinary challenges” from “digital disruption, people thinking about sustainability and Brexit”.

Two days previously, the same newspaper’s business commentator, Joanna Bourke, in a full-page report captioned “Rising costs and a shortage of models: Brands battle Brexit as Fashion Week kicks off”, had highlighted the “new alarms which have been sounding”. She quoted John Horner, chairman of the British Fashion Model Agents Association, as pointing out that “designers rely on recruiting models that nobody else has seen”, hence that if getting European models into Britain suddenly involves more passport and visa costs as well as more bureaucracy, then “ the runways could suffer a dearth of new faces”.

The BFC’s Chief Executive, Caroline Rush, similarly stressed to Bourke the importance of ensuring that the 60% of EU and international models taking part in LFW are still able to easily enter the UK. Meanwhile, the Hackney-based designer Sadie Williams, is especially worried about higher material prices if the UK fails to achieve a favourable free-trade agreement with Brussels, as she buys many of her fabrics from the EU. The womenswear designer, Minki Cheng, is rather more optimistic: “As long as the Government and the creative council are committed to protecting the industry and its talents, we believe London will remain top”.

This was not, however, the gist of an outspoken but unsigned article in the Evening Standard’s Fashion Edition, published on 14th September to coincide with the start of LFW SS19. It was prefaced by the same slogan of “Fashion Hates Brexit” that the English fashion designer, Katharine Hamnett,“known for her ethical business philosophy”, has put on the new version of her T-shirts. She has apparently sold thousands of her previous ones advocating “Cancel Brexit”. The ES writer noted that 90% of British designers had voted to remain in the EU and that Richard Lim, chief executive of the analysts Retail Economics, predicts that “the price of a pair of jeans will, in all likelihood, go up after Brexit”, due to the introduction of tariffs and an exodus of European shop staff, designers, warehouse staff and delivery drivers, resulting in an “inflationary effect on wages”.

According to the editor of the “Ready For Brexit” website, Anna Tobin, “business that’s done unthinkingly now – shipping in cloth from Italian mills, sourcing components from China, Turkey and India – will become a logistical nightmare. The ES article did nevertheless concede that “it’s not all bad”, that the decline in the value of the pound sterling has seen surging numbers of Chinese, Arab and American fashion tourists spending much more money in London’s West End.

A rather different controversy surfaced on the second day of LFW SS19. As the Guardian columnist, Hadley Freeman, observed in “G2” on 13th September, “everyone knows that the row you are seated in at LFW is a reflection of how important you are considered to be”. On 15th September, the newspaper’s “wealth correspondent”, Rupert Neate, revealed that front row seats at some of the shows were being offered for sale for as much as £5,000 each. Examples given were the catwalk that same evening by Mary Katrantzou, “a London-based designer who sells cocktail dresses that cost £30,780”, and for the Victoria Beckham Show on the morning of Sunday 16th September – though Beckham herself was categorical that she was not aware of this.

Caroline Rush has defended the practice of selling front row tickets on the grounds that it enables the BFC to “offer a premium show venue to emerging designers at a reduced rate”. Ironically, many of the remaining tickets to the catwalks – both for sitting in rows further back or standing – are often issued to art and fashion students from as far away as Liverpool or Manchester who travel to London looking forward to attending a show, queue outside for sometimes an hour or more and are then not allowed in because the venue has reached “full capacity”. Freemasons Hall in Great Queen Street in particular has acquired a reputation as a location where this tends to occur.

Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Society | Posted on September 19th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Premier League After Brexit: Good News For English Players & The National Team?

The American singer & song-writer, Darius Rucker, once declared that he divides the year into two halves: The football season and waiting for the football season. Although he was of course referring to the American version (he’s a big supporter of the Miami Dolphins), this view is undoubtedly shared by the many soccer fans in the UK for whom the summer months may seem just a little empty without matches to watch or attend, except (as this June & July) when a World Cup is taking place.

The gap between the end of one season and the beginning of the next, however, is these days fairly brief. The English Premier League (EPL), for example, finished in May and resumed in mid-August. There is, nonetheless, an element of uncertainty hovering over the competition: On 29th March 2019, two months before the end of the current season, the UK is due to leave the European Union. As Business Matters (BM) Magazine has pointed out, “Brexit’s impact on the Premier League is still unknown while negotiations continue” and Politico EU’s sports commentator, Peter Berlin, has warned that that there’s a risk the Premiership could “lose access to the luxury end of the international player market that has allowed them to claim to be the best league in the world”.

The Bloomberg columnist, David Hellier, has noted that English soccer clubs already face higher costs for the best foreign players because of the decline in the value of the pound since the Referendum on June 23rd 2016 and that the tighter immigration regulations planned by the UK Government could pose additional financial threats: “England’s standing in the soccer world would be diminished if EU stars gravitated to other countries after Brexit, potentially cutting the value of future TV rights when the prevailing £8 billion deal expires”. BM Magazine, by contrast, considers that there could be positive aspects to a change in the rules: “At the moment, players from across Europe can ply their trade in the EPL without any problems and it’s not uncommon for clubs to field 11 foreigners on a Saturday afternoon”. If this practice is ended, BM emphasises, the clubs will be forced to look at more home-grown players, giving youngsters around the country a boost as they seek a career at the top level: “This would surely be a good thing”.

Indeed, BM’s observation that “pundits and England managers alike have commented on the ever-decreasing pool of players available to the national coach, which has impacted on performances and results at major tournaments”, has been echoed by the present England manager, Gareth Southgate. As quoted by the Guardian journalist, Stuart James, on 31st August, Southgate expressed his considerable concern that English players are not getting enough opportunities in the EPL and cited the fact that only 30% of the players who started in Premiership matches over the weekend of 25th / 26th August were English. The figures are “even bleaker” at the top-six clubs, with whom only 19.2% of the first-choice team for the first three games of the season were English.

Southgate has called for a “fresh debate” on an issue that he acknowledges dates back many years: On 31st January 2017, the Daily Mirror correspondent Mark Jones reported that the game between Arsenal and Burnley the previous week had been the 149th time the then “Gunners” manager had named a starting X1 which didn’t contain a single English player, with the only Englishman who featured being Danny Welbeck who came off the bench for the final three minutes. This policy hasn’t changed under the new manager, Unai Emery, as was evident in Arsenal’s game against West Ham on 25th August. Chelsea did likewise against Newcastle on 26th August and Manchester City started with 10 foreign players when they beat Huddersfield Town 6-1 on 19th August.

Statistics issued by Sky Sports indicate that 69.2% of Premier League players are foreigners, with French and Spanish being the most common nationalities. The other seven European leagues in which the majority of players are foreigners are: Cyprus (57.1%), Belgium (55.8%), Portugal (55.6%), Italy (55.5%), the English Championship (50.8%), the Scottish Premiership (50.5%), Luxembourg (50.4%). Research by the “Ticket Gum” organisation has revealed that in the 2017/18 season, Chelsea were the most reliant on their foreign team members, who played for a total of 2,973 minutes, equivalent to 33 matches. The figure for Arsenal was 2,749 minutes (31 matches) and for the reigning champions, Manchester City, 2,647 minutes (29 matches).

For foreign players from outside the EU, their eligibility for a UK / Football Association work permit depends on how often they have played for their national team. If they are from a FIFA top ten country, they must have appeared in 30% of their country’s international matches in the preceding two years. This rises to 45% for players from an 11-20 nation, 60% for the next 10 countries and 75% for countries between 31 -50 in the FIFA ranking. As the Daily Telegraph has stressed, after Brexit – unless a special arrangement is agreed – this criteria will also apply to players from the 27 countries remaining in the European Union.

Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Sports | Posted on September 3rd, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

The Race To The Top: The World’s Next Fastest Elevator:

If you had an appointment on the 4th floor of a building, would you wait for the elevator or go up the stairs? President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, has claimed that as a “modern woman”, she prefers to use the stairs. The American radio & TV writer, Andy Rooney, once noted that many people anyway feel uneasy waiting for a lift with a lot of strangers: “They don’t know what to do, so some press the button repeatedly as though it will help”.

For anyone concerned about being trapped between floors in a malfunctioning lift, the statistical risk of that happening – according to KJA Consultants Inc – is a mere 1 in 5,000. Instead, the best reasons for always taking the stairs, in the opinion of “Fitday.com” is that it provides you with a form of physical exercise for which you don’t have to pay (for instance, to a health club), is good for your heart, reduces your cholesterol levels, and can often be faster, especially during peak times, than waiting for the elevator to arrive to take you to your destination. It also apparently helps the environment by lessening energy consumption.

Research conducted by John Newbold of the building consultancy SVM Associates, together with the health technology company StepJockey, has revealed that employees in modern office buildings spend up to fifteen minutes a day waiting in lift lobbies, which is an “unacceptable waste of their time” and moreover that elevators expend as much as 36% more power than claimed by their manufacturers. The average wait, concluded Newbold, “should be under 25 seconds, so if it takes 60 seconds, as is frequently the case, this can result in more than 400 lost hours in a working week in a large office”. Not only is productivity hit but the “excess energy costs and associated carbon emissions are potentially enormous”. StepJockey also points out that stair climbing is officially classified as a “vigorous” form of exercise, burns up more calories than jogging and hence significantly improves our cardiovascular fitness.

None of these factors, however – as The Independent journalist Adam Taylor has reported – have deterred the manufacturers from competing fiercely to produce the world’s fastest lift. The world’s first safety lift, he observes, was installed by the American company Otis in a hotel in New York City: “It travelled five floors at a speed of less than half a mile per hour”. Britain’s fastest lifts, in the City of London’s Leadenhall building, travel at 18 mph. This is substantially slower than the “record-breaking 42.8 mph” achieved by the world’s current fastest elevator at the Shanghai Tower, which was built by Mitsubishi Electric and takes passengers up the 632 metre-tall building in just 53 seconds. As Taylor emphasises, available data indicates that by 2020, due to the country’s rapid urbanisation, 40% of all lifts will be located in China, which “accounts for 60% -80% of new installations globally each year. The second-largest lift market, India, is less than one-tenth the size”.

In fact, China already possesses five of the world’s ten fastest lifts – the remaining five being in Chicago (John Hancock Centre: 20.5 mph: Building Height – 457 metres), Tokyo (Sunshine 60 Building: 22 mph: BH – 240 metres), Dubai (Burj Khalifa: the world’s tallest skyscraper with a BH of 830 metres but a lift speed of just 22 mph), the Yokohama Landmark Tower in Japan (28 mph: BH 296 metres) and the Taiwan 101 in Taipei (37.7 mph: BH 508 metres).

Taylor assesses that, because assembling these lifts costs “a fantastic amount of money”, the market is beginning to slow. He quotes a Toshiba communications representative, Yoshinori Inoue, as declaring that “The competition for speed is over”. Yet in the same article, Taylor refers to plans by the South Korean company Hundai to begin testing constructions capable of 50 mph. It remains “unclear”, though, to what extent it will realistic or indeed safe to exceed the Shanghai Tower velocity levels: “One recent study has suggested that 51.4 mph would probably be the limit before passengers get sick. Travelling down quickly is even more difficult. Go too fast and the body thinks it’s falling”.

Dr Gina Barney, a British expert in “lift technology and vertical transportation” concurs with this view. In an interview with BBC, she has stressed that protecting passengers from discomfort is a big challenge for high speed lifts: “Probably the most significant problem with high-speed travel in buildings is that you’re going to get pressures on your ears changing – so people suffer some pain.”Canny Elevator, a Chinese company based just outside Shanghai, is nevertheless proceeding with the building of a 3,100-foot tower which, so it has announced “ will be the tallest in the world”.

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on August 21st, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

What’s In That Cupboard? If You Don’Need It, Get Rid Of It:

According to research conducted by the online trading site, Zifflit, 57% of British people are reluctant to throw away their accumulated clutter. Instead, they prefer to hide it away indefinitely in whatever space is available in their homes. The reason for this – so Kate Ibbotson, the founder of the “Tidy Mind” organisation, has told the Daily Mail journalist Siofra Brennan – is the “just in case” mentality, the fear many of us have that we’ll get rid of something only to discover a few weeks later that we need it after all. Ibbotson regards this as merely a way of postponing for as long as possible a decision as to what do do with possessions we no longer use.

Marie Kondo, the Japanese author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” has pointed out in her book that putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved, but that sooner or later, all the storage units will become full – so what do you do then? Effective tidying, she emphasises, must start with discarding and involves only three essential actions: “ All you have to do is to take the time to examine every item you own, decide whether or not you still want it, then choose where to put what you will keep”. Ask yourself, she advises, why you have that object in the first place and why you bought certain clothes if you never wear them.

Kondo considers books to be some of the hardest things for people to throw away. She doesn’t believe, though, that there’s any point in their just being on your shelves: “Only keep the ones to which you are really attached”. She also suggests that we should “bin” any documentation such as our credit card statements once we’ve checked that they are correct and that we should dispose of the box containing our new smartphone as soon as we’ve unpacked it: “You don’t need the manual or the CD that comes with it either – you can figure out the applications for yourself”. As for buttons, Kondo has come to the conclusion that when one falls off a coat or jacket, people don’t usually bother to sew on another one, even when they have kept the spares: “So if you are not going to use the spare buttons lying at the bottom of the wardrobe, throw them all out”.

Elizabeth Larkin on “thespruce.com” provides her “ultimate list of things to get rid of immediately”, by recyling, donating or even (if possible) selling them. What sense is there, she queries, in retaining plastic forks, knives and spoons, kitchen utensils or appliances you never employ, mismatched or warped food storage containers or expired pantry products such as the “Hungarian paprika you bought for a recipe four years ago and which for sure doesn’t taste the same any more”. Receipts, in her opinion, should go straight into the rubbish bag “if you’re already enjoying your purchase” and likewise with rubber bands, dried out bottles of glue, pens with no ink, old cell phones and newspapers which are more than two days old. In the case of magazines which “you really love and you will frequently refer back to: Make sure these are stored properly and not just hanging around in piles”. When she receives greeting cards, she puts them on display for a while, then recycles them: “You don’t expect anyone to keep yours, do you?”

As the “nosidebar.com” commentator, Allison Fallon, has noted under the caption “How To Get Your Life Back”, another key issue is what to do with duplicates: Do you have two vacuum cleaners or two lawn mowers, she asks: “Maybe you got a new one and are keeping the old one. Why? Just in case? Just in case of what?” She also warns us to beware of “shoving objects that we aren’t sure we want to keep but aren’t ready to get rid of” into places such as under the bed, so that they become “out of sight and out of mind” and we forget they are there or even what they are.

For those people who feel overwhelmed by the clutter inexorably amassing around their home and spilling out of their cupboards, there is an organisation to which they can turn for help: The Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers (APDO), which was formed in 2004, now has 281 accredited members and is “part of a rapidly growing industry”. APDO describes itself as a unique enterprise offering experienced professionals who will provide a practical and sympathetic service and will get the property back to looking its best. They exhort their readers to “clear their mind by freeing up the space in their home” and declare that they are available for de-cluttering jobs of any size: “Lots of the individuals who call us need only minimal assistance to restore their property to its most aesthetically pleasing state: How big or small the mess is doesn’t matter to us”.


Filed under: Society | Posted on July 24th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Under Attack: TheTraditional Sounds of Britain’s Countryside:

Jean Arp, the 20th Century German-French sculptor, artist and poet, once lamented that mankind has turned its back on silence. Day after day, he declared, it invents machines and devices that “increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation and meditation”. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged that environmental noise represents a major threat to public well-being and so has recommended that it should at least be limited at night to a maximum of 40 decibels.

In practice, the Guardian columnist Richard Godwin noted on 4th July, “comparative decibel levels” (based on statistics issued by Industrial Noise Control.com) are becoming much louder: A normal conversation can reach 55 decibels, the sounds from a motorway at a distance of 15 metres 76dB, a motorbike at 7.5m (90dB), a jet plane landing at one nautical mile (97dB: hence the widespread objections to a third runway at Heathrow Airport) and live rock music (108-114dB).

However, Tony Lewis, Head of Policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, quoted by Godwin, has emphasised that people do have a legal right to a reasonably quiet environment, so can contact their local authority if they feel they are being unduly disturbed. The Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council in Wales, for example, states on its website that it investigates around 400 complaints about “noise nuisance” every year. Most of these are related to noisy neighbours (music, shouting, alarms and DIY at unacceptable hours), noise from commercial venues such as pubs and industrial premises (factories and construction / demolition sites), car alarms or loud stereos (but only if the vehicle is parked) and persistent barking dogs. They don’t have the power, though, to resolve issues connected to road traffic noise.

Godwin has observed that, unsurprisingly, all of the loudest locations are in cities: “It’s well established that the more densely populated an area is, the more complaints there will be”. One obvious solution therefore would appear to be to move away from a crowded urban conglomeration to a more peaceful rural setting. It’s a decision that many city dwellers have made – but without taking into consideration the fact that the countryside has its own noises which they might find equally unsettling.

As Thierry Ottaviani, president of France’s National Committee for Victims of Noise and Pollution, told the Daily Telegraph correspondent Henry Samuel, “These are people who could no longer bear the stress of the city. They have bought a house in the country, thinking that they would find absolute tranquillity but forgetting that it’s also a living environment with a working life”.Jacques Bischoff, the mayor of the village of Cesny-aux-Vignes in Normandy, was cited by Samuel as urging city folk to learn to cohabit with the traditional country sounds of tractors, combine harvesters, braying donkeys, chiming church bells and the wildlife which was there long before they arrived.

It’s a similar situation in the UK: On 18th April, Richard Hartley-Parkinson, a commentator for the Metro newspaper, highlighted the case of Stephen Nolan, a farmer from Higher Wheelton in Lancashire, who had become exasperated with “townies” moving to to the countryside and then complaining about the horses, chickens, hens and geese. His response was to post a notice on his gate pointing out that the property is a farm, that it has animals who make funny sounds and smell bad: “If you can’t tolerate all of this (he advised), then don’t buy a property next to a farm”.

On 29th June, Alex Shipman, also a journalist for the Metro, reported that the bells of St Mary’s Church in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, had been silenced for the first time in 161 years because someone had complained that the “8 am racket had disrupted their Sunday lie-in”. This followed similar circumstances in Sandwich, Kent, in February, when St Peter’s Church was ordered by the local council to stop ringing its bells at night, after 239 years, because one person insisted that its chimes were keeping them awake – despite more than 4,000 people signing a petition to keep the bells tolling. In the view of a Fishguard resident, this is a trend that has been instigated by people “who move to the countryside and then moan about cockerels crowing at dawn”.

There have indeed been a series of recent court cases involving cockerel owners who have been fined because their birds have been crowing too loudly and too frequently. The South Northamptonshire Council specifies that “the law will consider nuisance is being caused if your cockerel is crowing at unsocial hours – namely at night, early morning or late evening – and is crowing for long periods”. According to Danelle Wolford of the “Urban Farming. Healthy Living” website, a rooster may crow between between 12 to 15 times a day; “It’s not possible to silence its crow, but you can decrease the volume by adjusting its lifestyle or placing a collar around its neck”. At night-time, its coop should be well stocked with sufficient food and water and kept dark as this will limit its exposure to light. Furthermore: “Roosters crow to assert their dominance over other roosters – so to avoid crowing contests, keep only one in the roost”.

Filed under: Society | Posted on July 10th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

It’s An Emergency! The Food In Britain’s NHS Hospitals:

It’s about 8 am in the ward. The nurses are bustling around, preparing the medication to be administered to their patients, most of whom are now awake. The familiar rattle of the approaching breakfast trolley doesn’t, however, engender any great sense of anticipation. Those patients watching the morning news programmes on their bedside TVs continue to do so. When invited to make a choice between the available cereals, there’s very little response. Why? If they select the rice crispies, it’s piled high in their bowls with very little milk added. The porridge looks and tastes like inedible mush. The toast resembles burnt pieces of plastic. The tea is very definitely not Twinings English Breakfast or Earl Grey.

Any patient who does manage to force some of this down their throat has to digest it fairly quickly, as by noon the trolley will be back with lunch. The meals have been selected in advance from the menu provided, but that doesn’t make them any more appetising. Some hospitals, such as the Royal Free in Hampstead, North London, say they offer flexible meal times, namely 7.30 am – 9.30 am (breakfast), noon – 1pm (lunch) and 5.45 pm – 7 pm (supper). This makes evident sense, as people have very different eating habits. Many NHS hospitals, however, appear to have very rigid schedules and hence insist on their patients being served their food at fixed prescribed intervals, irrespective of whether they are hungry or would prefer to wait a while longer.

The 77-year-old cookery writer and restaurateur, Prue Leith, in an article for The Guardian, has described hospital food as a “ recipe for disaster”. Patients, she declares, deserve so much better than plastic containers filled with sweaty cheese, dabs of margarine and unidentifiable grey slop. In her view, it’s no surprise at all that “80,00 hospital meals are left uneaten every day and two-thirds of staff admit they would not themselves eat what they serve up to patients. You can’t blame either patients or staff: most hospital food is a disgrace”. Indeed, she’s concluded that hospitals have an incentive to provide bad food, that if it’s really horrible, the patients will not ask for it again, less will need to be prepared and the catering bill will go down: “If the grub were better, more people would eat it and the catering costs would rise”.

Due to the long-term outsourcing contracts which many hospitals have signed and can’t now get out of, Leith points out, very few of their kitchen actually cook any food, at least for the patients. A company based hundreds of miles away prepares, for example “ a dish with the cheapest imported chicken, minced, pelleted and freeze-dried, then topped with a packet sauce made of who knows what. It’s cooked, refrozen in portions, then delivered to the hospital to be “regenerated” (warmed up) with boiled frozen vegetables. Finally, it’s kept warm on a trolley before being plonked in front of the unfortunate patient. No wonder it’s disgusting”.

Leith recommends a much smaller range of healthy, filling options, such as vegetable soup, fishcakes with chilli chutney, chicken and leek pie or vegetarian curry and the possibility of ordering a tempting salad or scrambled egg on toast for patients not ready for a full meal. Above all, everything should be cooked fresh and on the spot, perhaps even on the ward itself to cater for patients who cannot eat at scheduled mealtimes: “If anyone thinks this is unaffordable, they should look at current waste rates, which are running at 70% in some hospitals”.

The food journalist, Bee Wilson, has commented in The Telegraph that “our health service has largely lost any sense that food is medicine”. In schools and prisons, she notes, the lunches may not always be delicious, but they must abide by certain basic nutritional requirements: “Yet in hospitals – places where, in theory, we go to get well – meals are still not governed by legal standards”. She quotes the depiction by Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist at Croydon University Hospital, of hospital food as constituting a “toxic environment”.

This same theme was the main feature of an article on 20th April by the New Statesman columnist, Felcity Cloake, captioned “Why NHS catering needs a revolution”. Plate after plate of disappointment, she wrote, is not only demoralising for people who may already be at a low ebb. but overlooks the part food has to play in the recovery process: “Balanced, appetising meals are vital to help weaker patients build up strength during their stay”.

A survey on London hospitals conducted by the Campaign For Better Hospital Food has revealed that only 30% cook fresh food on-site for their patients but 77% do so for their staff, which has prompted the indignant headline in The Telegraph that “doctors and nurses eat better than sick patients”. Furthermore, that 17% serve food to the patients in ready meal packaging and 20% don’t provide them with a hot dish if they miss the mealtime. Recently released official data indicates that £560 million was spent on 144 million hospital patient breakfasts, lunches and dinners in 2016/17 – which equals an expenditure of about £3.68 on each meal.

Filed under: Healthcare | Posted on July 2nd, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

“The Lightbulb Isn’t Working: Call An Electrician!”: Has DIY Gone Out Of Fashion?

How long does it take to boil an egg? That presumably depends partly on how hard or soft you want it to be. However, a “Home Report” compiled by the British insurance company Aviva has indicated that one in four of millennials (anyone born between 1982 and 2004) isn’t capable of boiling an egg on their own and that 19% of those questioned have “admitted to thinking that an egg can be hard-boiled in less than two minutes”. The “Natural News” commentator, Jayson Veley has observed that “Sadly, the survey has shown that young people are losing the skills that their parents and grandparents possessed: 77% say the can’t fix a bicycle puncture and 68% that they can’t wire a plug”.

Uncertainty about how to cook eggs is not, of course, necessarily restricted to the millennial generation: The British author Tom Bower has claimed in his book “The Rebel Prince” that Queen Elizabeth’s eldest son insists on being presented at breakfast with seven boiled eggs, each cooked to various degrees of softness and lined up before him so he can choose his favourite. Prince Charles has adamantly rejected this “rumour” as a complete fabrication.

Veley quotes the view of Dr Sandi Mann, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, that the problem is “Young people are no longer seeing the importance of being hands-on: They are brought up to be tech-savvy and their skill is in electronic manipulation” What would they do, asks Dr Mann, in a “survival situation” where there is no more government, no more power and no more internet? “They wouldn’t be able to do a Google search to find out how to boil an egg or change a wheel”. He does, though, acknowledge that the situation is reversed when older people have problems with their computers or smart phones and have to turn to the younger generation for help. Nevertheless, the Daily Express has pointed out that, according to Aviva’s survey, “A staggering 70% of millennials would have to summon a plumber to change a washer on a tap while 63% would incur a garage bill for fixing a flat tyre”.

The Daily Mail has noted that “surprisingly, newer technology leaves many of them stumped as well, with 23% not able to use a washing machine, connect a blue-ray player to a TV or (citing a Poundland investigation) hang a picture, decorate a room or iron a shirt or blouse. Its columnist, Alex Ward, has focused on statistics showing that “seven out of 10 young adults don’t know how to sew a button and so many of them often have to pay other people to do both this and other similar chores for them”. A generation that takes technology and the latest gadgets for granted is, he declares “not very good with practical matters.

This might explain why The Guardian newspaper has published a “How To Mend” series of articles, in one of which Lisa Comfort, founder of the “Sewing Cafe” has provided “easy step-by-step instructions” as to how to sew on a button. You are likely to need, she advises, “a tape measure, needle, thread, scissors and toothpick or matchstick” and you should begin by finding the correct position for the button.

The Daily Telegraph correspondent, Philip Johnston, has emphasised that the blame for the decline of “Do It Yourself” in Britain and hence the decision of the DIY giant, Homebase, to close down 25% of its stores by 2019 should not be attributed to either the millennials or their elders. Whereas he used to regularly visit Homebase for paint brushes, rollers, wallpaper, nails, screws and rawlplugs, he now employs someone else to do the work: “A hired decorator gets the material more cheaply and uses it more efficiently. The job is also far less likely to be botched”. Further more, some primary and secondary schools “have dropped traditional craft lessons because their teachers lack sufficient health and safety training to explain equipment such drills, lathes and saws” – which means the younger generation haven’t been instructed in the basic skills required for carrying out home improvements. Also: “Once we were able to open the bonnets of our cars and change the spark plugs or distributor cap. Now the sealed computerised engine is impossible to tinker with unless you have a degree in advanced mechanics”. Since the implementation of the Building Regulations 2005, “fixing a major electrical fault in your home has to be undertaken by a qualified electrician”: You’re no longer allowed to try to repair it yourself.

Meanwhile: Data published by YouGov.co.uk offers rather mixed conclusions about 18 – 24 year olds: Although many, it reveals, are still unsure as to how to replace a fuse in a plug (54%), read energy meters (43%), defrost a freezer (37%) or control a boiler (32%), almost all of them can make a cup of tea (97%), use a gas / electric cooker (96%) and operate a vacuum cleaner (98%). They also know how to do the washing up (98%), clean the kitchen (97%) and bathroom (94%) or change and make their bed (97%). However, it’s not specified how many of them are actually willing to carry out any of these duties.

Filed under: Society | Posted on June 12th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Power To the People: The Online Companies & the New Data Regulations:

“Good night, Good Night: Parting is such sweet sorrow”. So declared Juliet to Romeo in Act II Scene II of the play by the 17th century English dramatist William Shakespeare. From her balcony in Verona, Juliet also expressed the hope that they would see each other the next morning. It didn’t of course, quite work out like that: The play, after all, is a romantic tragedy. From the deluge of e-mails into everyone’s inboxes in the days prior to May 25th – when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect – it seems that many companies with an online presence have been in a panic that their relationships with all of us might come to a similarly abrupt end.

In his column for The Guardian on 26th May, the journalist Tim Dowling cited some of the “desperate, begging e-mails” he’d received from “companies keen to keep stuffing our inboxes with promotional rubbish”: “Is this goodbye, Tim?” queried one with some anguish. “”Don’t throw our love away”, beseeched another. This imploring tone was reflected in the last-minute messages being sent out by many other companies: “We’re sorry to see you go!” declared the Wigan-based company, Festive Lights on 24th May “but if you’ve realised that you’re making a terrible mistake, today is your last chance to change your mind”. The D&D London restaurant chain insisted that they were not yet ready to say “hasta la vista baby”. One major retailer proposed that we should “hold hands and be friends forever”. The Great Estate Festival chose a more low-key approach, asking us “nicely” if we’d like to stay on their mailing list.

The Guardian’s former technology editor, Charles Arthur, noted that he’d been receiving requests to keep in touch from companies that had never e-mailed him before. Dowling hailed the 25th May as “a glorious day” and observed that “GDPR may well go down in history as the last nice thing Europe ever got to do for us”. His colleagues on the newspaper, Patrick Collinson and Robert Jones, quoted statistics issued by the consultancy organisation Accenture indicating that, “of the total number of one billion GDPR messages likely to hit personal inboxes by the 24th May deadline”, many would go straight into “spam” and so not receive a response and a third would be deleted by the recipients as soon as they arrived. They pointed out that, although each person in Britain is understood to have about 100 “data relationships”, some small business have revealed that their “reconfirmation rates” have averaged only 10% – which meant they are losing 90% of their marketing e-mail lists.

On 22nd May, BBC News reported that, according to a survey of 906 UK firms conducted by the Federation of Small Businesses, only 8% had so far completed their preparations for GDPR. Furthermore, that about 23,000 organisations had contacted the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for advice since it was set up in November 2017. The Daily Mail commentator, Madhvi Mavadiya, observed on 18th April that the new regulations “have been formulated to ensure that organisations like Google and Facebook follow stricter rules amid concerns over how private data is collected and shared” and to resolve the growing concerns about privacy issues following the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal and the “significant data breaches suffered by the likes of Yahoo! and Linkedin over the past few years”. The Economist magazine believes that the main loser will be the advertising technology industry (ad tech) which has “an insatiable hunger for personal data”.

As emphasized in the guidelines published by the “Simply Business” organisation, GDPR applies to “any businesses that processes the personal data of EU citizens, including those with fewer than 250 employees, and thus they must employ a Data Protection Officer DPO). Individuals now have the right “ to access all of their personal data, rectify anything that’s inaccurate or completely erase all the data a company might have about them, for example, if they have ceased to be one of their customers – hence they have acquired “the right to be forgotten”.

Businesses must ensure that all their suppliers and contractors are “GDPR-compliant”, to avoid being impacted by any breaches and consequent penalties, which , if people’s rights are ignored,could amount (remarked the Daily Mail) “to £17 million or 4% of the company’s annual turnover, whichever is higher – a massive increase on the current maximum fine of £500,000. When a data breach does occur, both the people at risk of being affected and the appropriate data authority (The ICO in the case of the UK) must be informed within 72 hours.

One of the key principles of GDPR is “to require companies not to hold on to personal data for longer than necessary or process it for purposes that the individual isn’t aware of”. Requests for consent must not be hidden in small print but instead presented clearly and separately from the company’s other policies – so “ no more pre-ticked boxes and inactivity is no longer a legitimate way to confirm consent”.

The “Small Business” website has attempted to re-assure its subscribers by stressing that “No one likes having their data lost,stolen, damaged or shared without proper consent” – therefore doing everything possible to protect customers and grow their trust could be a unique selling point and bring in more business. As the UK is still a member of the European Union, the new regulations apply as much here as anywhere else in the EU. The British Government has confirmed that, post-Brexit, it will be introducing its own Data Protection Law which will replicate the requirements of GDPR.








Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on June 1st, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

“Eating Carrots Helps You See In the Dark”: Myths & Superstitions That Survive In 21st Century Britain:

Which side of the bed do you get out of in the morning? According to a survey of 2,000 people conducted for the iron supplement brand Spatone , quoted by the Daily Mail journalist Alex Matthews, if you choose the right side you’ll take longer to feel fully awake and are more likely to be in a bad mood for the rest of the day – which is why 10% of those questioned say they’ve also tried the left side to see if it makes any difference.

Anna Berrill, a columnist with the same newspaper, has reported that 5.8 million people in Britain admit to believing in “old wives tales” or to being in some way superstitious. She has cited statistics issued by the Betway Group, a leading online gaming organisation, which reveal that more than ten million won’t walk under a ladder because they fear it will bring them bad luck – a myth that apparently dates back to early Christian teaching that an object with three points represents the Holy Trinity. Another nine million worry that breaking a mirror will result in seven years’ misfortune, 4.3 million have a “lucky number” (with 7 being the most popular), 2.7 million are convinced that if they blow out all the candles on their birthday cake in one breath, the wish they make will come true and more than 800,000 confess that they believe in the power of “lucky underwear”.

Among the other “Top Superstitions” in the UK: Don’t open an umbrella in the house or put new shoes on the table, Friday 13th “is a day to beware” (in Latin countries, it’s usually Tuesday 13th) and if a black cat crosses your path, that means you’ll have problems, though in Japan it’s considered by some to be a good sign. In Germany, so bluecross.org states, it depends on which direction the cat walks in front of you: Left to right means good times ahead, but right to left means the opposite. In Scotland, “tradition suggests that if a black cat appears on your doorstep, you could be coming into money”.

The latest study by Spatone, published on May 8th, has confirmed that “almost four in ten adults in Britain continue to put trust in myths about food, for instance that consuming carrots can improve a person’s eyesight. The “Scientific American” monthly publication agrees that the vegetable’s “beta-carotene / Vitamin A ingredient” can be beneficial, but also points out that “it’s not clear how many carrots would be needed to optimize night vision”. Many other widespread myths, say Spatone, have been conclusively proven to be untrue – such as the notion that eggs are “bad” because they contain high cholesterol. On the contrary, the Readers Digest magazine has declared, “more than 40 years of research has shown that eggs are “nutrient-dense” and can absolutely be part of a healthy diet”.

Gemma Francis, a correspondent for The Independent, on 8th May assessed the accuracy of other common assumptions: “You shouldn’t eat a meal after 8 pm if you want to lose weight”:(False). “Sugar is a great source of energy”:(False: The initial boost it gives you is often followed by a drop in vitality levels); “An apple a day keeps the doctor away and chewing them helps cleans your teeth” (True: They are a good source of Vitamin C which is essential for healthy gums, teeth, bones and skin and their fibrous content can act as a toothbrush).

Some other food products, it seems, possess qualities that are less well-known. Honey, so the Daily Mail commentator Angela Epstein has claimed, can heal wounds:”It’s the only natural antiseptic available which does not damage skin tissues and for centuries has been used to treat infections”. The mercola.com website has asserted that eating tomatoes can limit the risk from sun exposure: “In an experiment at the University of Michigan, participants were asked to consume 16 mg of lycopene from tomato paste with olive oil daily for 10 weeks – the conclusion being that this method was able to reduce ultra-violet induced sunburn by about 40%”.

The Readers Digest has noted that only 5% of the sodium we imbibe comes from the salt we sprinkle on our meals. Most of it “is hidden in packed and processed food” that we buy in supermarkets or eat when we’re dining out in restaurants. Dark chocolate “is said to provide antioxidant benefits, but unfortunately is one of those feel-good foods that is high in fat and sugar”.

The Readers Digest also offers advice on other healthcare myths: “Without exposure to the common cold virus, you can go outside with your hair drenching wet and it would be impossible to catch a cold. It’s the virus, not the cold air, that makes you sick”. It acknowledges that “hunching can be bad for your back” but that sitting up straight for too long can also cause strain: Make sure, it exhorts, that “your chair is at a height where your knees are at a 90 degree angle, your feet can rest flat on the floor and you have proper lower back support.”

Meanwhile, Michelle Manetti, a writer for the Huffington Post, has recommended using the oils from walnuts to remove or seal scratches on furniture made of wood and has proposed various solutions for anyone suffering from nocturnal leg cramps: Avoid caffeine before going to bed, increase your intake of potassium, magnesium, calcium or Vitamin E, ingest a teaspoon of yellow mustard, drink a glass of water with a small amount of baking soda mixed into it – and if none of that works, sleep on your back with your toes pointing towards the ceiling.

Filed under: Healthcare | Posted on May 21st, 2018 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »


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