Friday, March 23, 2007

23 March 2007: Loo Roll

Here in Britain we're getting excited about the forthcoming ban (100 days to go!) on smoking in pubs and restaurants (or frustrated, depending on your point of view, although frankly we found the pub experience in Ireland greatly enhanced by the lack of cigarette fumes hanging round in the air). But in Florida, things are being taken a step further.

State Senator Victor Crist (Republican) has introduced a bill to the state legislature that requires restaurants to have adequate toilet paper in their rest rooms at all times (translation notice: 'rest room' = 'loo', not just a nice place for a sit down as my nan used to think). It also requires a decent supply of soap, hot water and generally good pooing conditions in every WC. And when the bill gets passed (ha ha, passed), which it will if the initial opinion of the 'Health Regulation Committee' is anything to go by (ha ha, go) (unanimous 'yes'), it will make it illegal for Florida restaurant loos to be substandard.

Which leads to two questions. Firstly, given that we've all experienced exactly what the bill is talking about (anyone in Asda Eastleigh last Sunday? Sheesh. My shoes are still sticky.), why has nobody introduced such a bill before? If a party adopted it as a policy over here they'd getter elected quicker than you could say "reallocation of the tax burden to the slightly less well off". But secondly, and more importantly, what is the punishment for failure to adhere to this new law? Relevant community service for the owners (a la Naomi Campbell)? Alligator hunting duty (now they're no longer endangered, just 'threatened')? Of course, let's not forget Florida still has the death penalty.

Despite all this, however, Google's 'In The News' section features Gordon Brown and Britney Spears as their two top links. Somehow I never quite thought I'd see those names together, but there's definitely something amusing about it.

Monday, March 12, 2007

12 March 2007: Quicker

As Chris points out, it seems I came 17th in this year's Hastings Half Marathon.

Sadly however, I don't spell my name quite that way, nor am I a member of 'Dulwich Runners' (nor indeed would I wish to live in or near Dulwich). In actual fact, you have to pan down the results page all the way to position 2154 to find my name, which more accurately reflects events as I remember them.

Despite this seeming mid-table obscurity (finishing some 55.5% of the way down the field) I'm actually very happy with this result. Partly because I comfortably beat last year's time, thereby proving that 31 is the new 30, but also because of the actual finishing time I got. Despite running under the finishing line when the clock said '2:02:09', it did of course take me over 2 minutes to get to the start line, so as I approached the finish and saw the clock ticking towards 2:02 I had to speed up - I just had to beat two hours, otherwise I'd have to do the thing again next year (which, of course, I may do anyway, but it's the principle of the thing, isn't it?).

So, knees creaking (ugh), I cranked up the pace, charging toward the line, desperately hoping that I'd make it in under two hours. Even when I crossed the line I wasn't sure: 2:02:09 (see above evidence - it actually says 2:02:10)... had the clock said 00:02:10 or later when I'd gone under it at the start? I wasn't sure. I thought I was probably there but couldn't be certain. Have to wait for the official results to come out...

And happily the official results show me comfortably breaking the two hour barrier, giving me a finishing time of 1:59:44. And the interesting thing I found, after putting the results into a spreadsheet and playing round with the ordering, is that I was actually not the closest person to just break 2 hours. Of those officially credited with a time so far (for some reason, a few haven't been confirmed), some fifteen people managed to squeeze in a time closer to two hours than myself, of whom the happiest will surely be one Cordelia MacMillan of Hastings, who clocked the magic 1:59:59. Saddest will be John Ellis of St Leonards and Malcolm Connolly of Seaford, both of whom are club runners incidentally, and both of whom came in at 2:00:03.

So re-assessing the actual time for running the whole distance gave me a far superior final position of 2094, putting me just 53.9% of the way down the field. And this, combined with the huge cheering crowds, the pleasant combination of sea-breezes, sunshine and sixteen degree celcius temperatures (leading to the now-traditional first sunburn of the year) and the usual kind comments about my shorts ("did ya make those out of yer curtains, mate?"), made for a thoroughly pleasant day.

And for regular followers of such this blog, you'll be interested to hear the badger situation remained the same as last year: "hand-held badgers" were clearly advertised as being at the finish line but did I see any? Not a single one.

Click to view full-size

Sigh. Still, it gets the Watford post off the top of the blog page, doesn't it?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

11 March 2007: Watford

Plymouth Argyle 0 - 1 Watford

Shots: 14 - 5
Corners: 13 - 2
Possession: 57% - 43%

Bleddy Argo.

Hastings Half Marathon was fun though.

Friday, March 02, 2007

2 March 2007: Crazy-Eyed Rabbit

As you may or may not know, I'm a fan of Indian food. Since making my first madras around the age of 10 or so, I've learned to appreciate a wide variety of Indian food ranging from korma through to phall, along with naan bread, roti, aloo gobi.. sheesh, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. And to start it all off you have to have a decent papad (poppadom), smothered with some decent lime pickle if at all possible.

So what does this have to do with the bright pink crazy-eyed rabbit pictured above? Well, I first saw it in (of all places) San Antonio, Texas just before Christmas in late 2004. Gloria and I had located an Indian restaurant there (and there aren't many in Texas), and next door to it was an 'Indian Shop', which mainly seemed to feature things like Cadbury milk chocolate and PG Tips tea. But a little shelf near the back of the shop contained a few packets of papads, all of which had this rabid-looking bunny on the front. We bought a pack, cooked them at home and commented that yes, these are particularly good papads.

Didn't see them again for a while. In the UK, we got used to buying either Sharwood's pre-cooked ones or perhaps some own-brand supermarket version. But venturing down to St Mary's, across the road from the fire station at the Asian cash-and-carry, we did find the crazy-eyed rabbit papads again. We called them that because all the labelling on them was in a language other than English, so we had no idea what the brand was.

Our latest venture was this week. We went there in search of some cheap spices and a little Pataks mixed pickle, and over in the corner were the crazy rabbit papads, so we got a couple of packs. But this time it was different: there was a label inside, in English, saying how to cook them, what were the ingredients etc, but most importantly what the brand name is.

And the name? Lijjat.

Now this may mean nothing to you, and to be fair it didn't mean a lot to me, but I looked around on the internet and it quickly became apparent that this is a good brand to be buying. It was started in 1959 by a group of seven semi-literate women in Mumbai (then Bombay), who borrowed a little money, bought out a loss-making papad venture, made four packs of papads and found a seller in Kalbadevi. They set themselves up as a co-operative rather than a full-on business, meaning as other ladies came along to join, they all became members rather than employees and shared in the success of their venture. After three months there were 25 members; after three years there were around 300 women working for the co-operative. Around this time they settled on the name 'Lijjat', a Gujarati word meaning 'tasty'. Growth continued apace, with more branches springing up in different cities and a growing export market meaning that by 2001, Lijjat's annual exports were worth in excess of US$2.4 million.

And it's still a co-operative. The workers are all described as 'member sisters' and there is no set retirement age. It frequently wins "Best Village Industry Institution" and similar such awards. The papads are still made entirely by hand, although the central offices do use computers for accounting and administration purposes these days. And when the Gujarat earthquake struck in 2001, the Lijjat co-operative donated some 4.8 million Rupees (over US$100,000), a far cry from their humble beginnings, where they borrowed 80 Rupees to get their venture started.

OK, so what about the bunny?

Well, from what I can tell, the 1980s saw Lijjat branch out a little in terms of advertising - TV adverts were commissioned and a gentleman named Ramdas Padhye was asked to bring his puppets on board. It was a success for all concerned - the rabbit holding the papad became a popular enough to make it onto the product packaging and Padhye got asked to bring his puppets to several other TV commercials for a variety of products.

So that's why there's a pink crazy-eyed rabbit on the packaging of my favourite poppadoms. And now I know that if you see it and buy it, it's at least as good in terms of 'fair trade' as anything CafeDirect have managed to do so far.