About me
Bookshop

Get new posts by email.

About me

The price of flour

Here’s a question: what’s the price of the cheapest 500g bag of plain flour at your local supermarket? Here’s what I found:

Retailer Price
M&S 45p
Sainsbury’s 45p
Waitrose 50p
Morrisons 55p
Asda £1.30

That might not be as you’d expect: it’s not what I expected. I popped into Asda with the intention of buying a 500g bag of flour, and after seeing the price, walked over to M&S. I was so disbelieving of the price that I confirmed it later on the Asda website.

In fairness, Asda does sell much bigger bags of flour in a range starting from 70p, but I didn’t want a big bag. I am surprised that their premium for a small bag is so disproportionately high.


The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous.

‘Death in Paradise’

A few weeks ago, a family member, perhaps irritated by the timing of a phone call, asked Wendy and me whether we were watching Death in Paradise. We were not: I confessed that I’d never heard of it. We both assumed that it was a new TV series that had simply passed us by.

And then, listening to The Rest is Entertainment, I learned that it has been running for the better part of thirteen years, pulls in eight million viewers per week, and has sold to more than 200 territories around the world.

It’s astonishing how big cultural blindspots can be.

This post was filed under: TV.

‘Mothers’ Instinct’

I caught this film in the cinema last week, knowing nothing about it in advance. It’s taken me a while to write about it simply because I’m struggling for anything to say.

The film is set in United States suburbia in 1960, and it follows the relationship between two mothers who are next-door neighbours after one of their sons dies. It’s described as a psychological thriller. The main characters are played by Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway, who by their names I recognised as very famous actors, but whose faces I wouldn’t have recognised. I did recognise The Good Wife‘s Will Gardner, Josh Charles, as one of their husbands.

The word that springs to mind to describe this film is ‘bland’: there’s just not a lot to it. The plot’s a bit silly, which I suppose is somewhat fun in a ‘surely they’re not going to… oh, they did’ kind of a way, but I didn’t feel invested in any of the two-dimensional characters. I kept looking at my watch with a sense of resignation.

I suppose this just wasn’t for me.

This post was filed under: Film, , , .

Jolene

Judging by the sheer quantity of ‘think pieces’ that have been written on the subject, it seems that it is now mandatory for every living being to share their opinion on Beyoncé’s cover of Dolly Parton’s Joelene.

Mine is best summarised as: ‘meh’.

Beyoncé’s revised lyrics change the tone of the song from plaintive to combative, and it’s therefore a bit discordant to keep the same plaintive melody. It’s the Wonka / Pure Imagination problem all over again.

But, then again, perhaps the discordance is an intentional commentary on how plaintive feelings often find expression in combative language, particularly among those who are reluctant to admit vulnerability.

I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt… but neither version is really up my musical street and I have no immediate plans to listen to either version again.

This post was filed under: Art, Music, .

The first pancake

Merely days after I read Dan Cullum’s post about ‘the first pancake rule’, Wendy decided that we’d make pancakes for breakfast this morning.

For the first time in my life, even the first one turned out perfectly. Maybe Wendy’s just better at cooking pancakes than me.

This post was filed under: Photos.

The millstone of incumbency

Sixteen years ago, in March 2008, I predicted that David Cameron was ‘cycling towards election victory’. I was wrong: the result in May 2010 was a Hung Parliament.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to revisit that post with a 2024 mindset. My argument was that the incumbent in any election has an automatic advantage.

People inevitably like to vote for something known over something unknown. Political parties all too often forget that people don’t vote on the basis of promises, but on the basis of actions: Telling people you’ll do all of what they want can never rival the power of actually doing some of what they want.

On top of this, the incumbent has the advantage, by default, of being the more Presidential or Prime Ministerial figure – exactly the kind of figure one would want leading a nation.

And yet, there are rare moments where the incumbency becomes a millstone.

Now, in 2008, Labour’s greatest achievements no longer resonate. We’ve tired of hearing of the New Deal, the minimum wage is old news, and NHS reform has been done to death. It seems like this government has nothing new to do – it’s done it all before, and we’re comparing Labour’s current promises with Labour’s previous delivery.

Indeed, even systemic failures of government – such as the recent furore over MPs’ expenses – now enter the public consciousness as failings of Labour by default, as they are in government, even though they are often cross-party failings which should tar the Parliamentary machinery as a whole.

It’s easy to make a case that Brown’s lament has been inherited by Sunak. Perhaps Sunak doesn’t get a fair hearing as a result of the millstone of the Conservatives’ record dragging him down.

I think I was onto something when I talked about ‘comparing Labour’s current promises with Labour’s previous delivery’. These days, the litany of broken Conservative promises makes it challenging to set any store by Sunak’s pledges. I moaned earlier this week about passport price fluctuations indicating a lack of a plan, which I think feeds into the same narrative.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: Politics.

Spicy box

Look, I know it’s irresponsible of me to keep you in suspense for this long over my spice rack dilemma. I must apologise if it’s been keeping you awake at night.

The solution, as to so many things in life, was Tupperware: a box that lives in the cupboard and can be lifted out as required.

This post was filed under: Photos.

They giveth, they taketh away

Like me, you may have a dim recollection of Monday 3 September 2012. The Minister for Immigration was thrilled to announce a £5 cut in the cost of a standard UK passport, a result he attributed to his hard work in driving efficiency at the Identity and Passport service.

So good was his performance that the very next day, he was promoted to become Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice.1


As of next Thursday, the passport fee will increase by £7, capping off a total increase of £27.50 since that 2012 announcement. The fee will reach triple figures for the first time.2

You might note that next week’s £7 increase isn’t being promoted nearly so much as that £5 decrease. We got a fiver off, but then stung for the better part of thirty quid over the ensuing years.


Let me be clear: I don’t begrudge the increase in the passport fee. I’d happily pay twice the price if it protected some of the essential services that are no longer financially sustainable thanks to this Government’s choices.

It’s more that cutting the price then jacking it up gives the impression that there’s no strategy: no ‘long-term economic plan’, no ‘plan that we need to stick to’. And when repeated across, well, basically all areas of Government policy, that begins to feel like something of an electoral challenge.


  1. It wouldn’t be until five years later that he’d be sacked for having pornography on his work computer and lying about it, issues which were uncovered during an investigation into alleged sexual harassment.
  2. There is an £11.50 discount for applying online these days, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that you’re still much worse off.

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

‘How We Are’ by Vincent Deary

I took this out of the library after seeing that the second book in Deary’s intended trilogy, How We Break, had recently been published and positively reviewed.

How We Are was first published in 2014, and it’s a book which blends philosophy with some self-help. It is broadly about habits and the degree to which we live our lives on autopilot. It’s also about how we break out of those habits.

The book is in two ‘acts’, named ‘saming’ and ‘changing’, as in the lyrics to the song These Boots Are Made for Walkin’—‘You keep saming when you ought to be changing’.

And in two words, that’s why I didn’t get on with this book. It is stuffed with pop culture references, particularly to films, which meant absolutely nothing to me. It’s neither fun nor enlightening to read passages about why the action of a character in a movie you’ve never heard of illustrate a key philosophical point.

I suspect this is also the reason other people rave about Deary’s book. I suspect that if you get the references, this genre-bending book is fun and enlightening. I can imagine that it might even be delightful.

But not for someone as ignorant as me.

I still took away some nice quotations:


London Transport, the governing body of the capital’s transport infrastructure, used to have a surprisingly abstract definition of family. On the back of their family ticket, where up to two adults and two children could travel cheaply, they defined family like this: ‘Family are those who stay together for the duration of the journey’


‘A walk in the park’ is a synonym for ease because the park knows how to walk. It does it for us. A good park anticipates our desire. Anticipated desire is the key to leisure. People have been paid and good money has been spent on figuring out what we are going to want to do. They care so that we don’t have to. The good hotel, the theme park, the penny arcade, the pub, the cinema – all of them relieve our consciousness of the burden of worrying about what to do next.

The better the park, the less we have to think what to do next. We place ourselves at the beginning of the path and it walks us, guides us through its sub-routines, its different games. Here for children, there for the scenic stroll, there for tennis, here to sit and enjoy the sun. The path leads, we follow. Many other sets of circumstances, many other social objects, play a similar game with us. The fairground and the playground are the archetypes of these. We want to be taken for a ride, to give over agency, to abdicate will, for a while, to something that will move us without our conscious intercession. That is what we want from leisure, it’s what leisure is — the switching off of choice and doubt.


I am dedicating myself to the perception that, however unlikely, however against nature, improvement happens, people get better. I mean better at living, at being who they are, at handling life with grace, humour and courage. Some people handle life admirably. And other people really don’t. Some get stuck in hideous deforming places and postures and become ever more unbearable versions of themselves.

This post was filed under: What I've Been Reading, .

Cozzy livs and letters

Sitting at the Harrods Champagne Bar last week, I overheard a conversation between two customers. One pulled a book of stamps from a handbag—“Ten pounds! And there’s only eight in it now, not twelve! Can you believe it?!”

“Talk about the cost of living!”

Today, they’d be even more appalled: the price of a first-class stamp rose to £1.35 this morning, so the book of eight sticky portraits of the King now costs £10.80.

If this interaction had been filmed and played to Rishi Sunak, I’m fairly sure he’d deny responsibility. And in a technical sense, he’d be correct: the price of first-class stamps was deregulated by his Prime Ministerial predecessor, and current Foreign Secretary, David Cameron. In 2012, when that decision was taken, a first-class stamp cost 46p; a book of twelve, £5.52.

For the Prime Minister, if the cost of living crisis—aka “cozzy livs”, apparently—is the topic of conversation in Harrods Champagne Bar, you’ve probably already lost the argument. Hailing a “new economic moment”, as Sunak was yesterday, probably isn’t going to cut the mustard.

But then, I don’t know what could save the Prime Minister now. As one Sunak-supporting MP said this week,

We’ve got to stick with the plan. I don’t know what it is, but we’ve got to stick with it and it’s working.

Ho-hum.


The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, , , .




The content of this site is copyright protected by a Creative Commons License, with some rights reserved. All trademarks, images and logos remain the property of their respective owners. The accuracy of information on this site is in no way guaranteed. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. No responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information provided by this site. Information about cookies and the handling of emails submitted for the 'new posts by email' service can be found in the privacy policy. This site uses affiliate links: if you buy something via a link on this site, I might get a small percentage in commission. Here's hoping.