Northern Bar and Restaurant Show 2018

Today I attended the Northern Bar and Restaurant Show 2018 and I discovered a revelation which I’ll divulge later. There was some top quality items which I will absolutely be suggesting when it becomes suitable. 

Northern Block Vegan Hazelenut Rose Ice Cream

Northern Block Vegan Hazelenut Rose Ice Cream

Right sit down, take a seat and get ready for the shock of the year. Northern Bloc are an ice cream company, with flavours like “Milk Chocolate and Salted Caramel” and “Hazelnut and Tonka Bean” but the shocker is “Peanut Chip” and “Hazelnut and Rose” are V… Ve…, that thing which means no dairy, no meat, no animal products, Vega… erm *deep breaths* Vegan, I said it, that V words. They are V#gan Ice Creams, and they are actually really nice tasting. I have tried gluten free bread and other stuff which has been “trend of the day” and honestly I like gluten an I like dairy, but those 2 ice creams especially the Hazelnut and Rose as delicious. I couldn’t really taste the rose or anything which was rose like. I think it was an accessory flavour, where it enhances the flavours. Either way I actually liked a V-word, plant-based, dairy free, lactose free, gluten free and all natural ice cream. I NEVER imagined I would say a thing like that, ever!!

Yorvale Dairy

Speakng if Ice Cream Yorvale the real dairy ice cream company also had a surprising offer, a Kefir based ice cream and smoothie drink. Sour Cherry and Jaffa Crumble ice creams was delicious. Kefir is the next big health food product, its an amazing product. Probiotic and very good for you. The smoothie / yoghurt drinks are little gloopy but the health benefits easily outweigh this. 

TeeTotal Company

TeeTotal Company Cuba Libre

TeeTotal Company Cuba Libre

TeeTotal Company‘s offerings was outstanding, I’m not a fan of Gin, so the TeeTotal G’n’T or non-alcoholic Gin and Tonic wasn’t to my taste, but the Non-Alcoholic Cuba Libre (Rum and Coke) was absolutely amazing. My second choice of alcoholic drink after Bourbon is Rum. I usually for Woods Old Navy or Appletons 7 yr Reserve, but as a Driver I generally need to stick to non-alcoholic.

However the choices are pretty limited when I or other non-drinkers or drivers are out and about, but now if I can find places which sell it, I have found a new drink of choice. This stuff is made by a scientist who built up the drink layer by layer to make a non-alcoholic rum blend which tastes just like rum.

Its a light coca cola base flavour with just a hint of rum, a little rum flavour on the top. Its almost like you have poured a cola then a small amount of alcohol is stirred in to make a lightly flavoured rum and coke. I have yet to try it chilled over ice with a slice of orange/lime/orange in a high ball glass but I’ll post pics when I get hold of a few to experiment.

There are a number of other companies which stuck out, such as The Sweet Potato Spirit Company, Jarritos and The Food Porn awards, amongst others but I’ll post more about those in the coming days. The Food Porn awards really caught my eye because I used to be STM Photography (My initials are STM) but then I changed to Steven UK so it was kinda a little deja vu, although they are Shoot The Moon but still made me smile and more about their products soon. 


Amazon Give Alexa Follow Up Mode… Finally!

There are a few irksome things about Amazon’s Alexa which are a bit rubbish, the fact you don’t have an “Owner Mode” and a “Guest Mode” and the fact you can’t set which search engine to pull results from and the fact 90 times out of a hundred it tells you “Sorry I don’t know that”, which brings us to follow up questions which the AI doesn’t get at all. 

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

Lets say you want to find out where your nearest Sainsburys store is and the opening hours, then you want the phone number, it currently goes like… 
Me: Alexa Where is my nearest Sainsburys store?
Alexa: I found a Sainsburys store nearby, its approx 5 km away on London Road. 
Me: Alexa What time is my nearest Sainsburys Store open ?
Alexa: Your nearest Sainsburys Store on London road is open from now until 4pm.
Me: Alexa What is the phone number for my nearest Sainsburys store?
Alexa: The phone number for your nearest Sainsburys store on London Road is 0161…

Which is clunky as hell, that’s on the assumption Alexa doesn’t have a tantrum and tell you “I don’t know that but I’m working on adding more local businesses”. However this “Follow Up Mode” in theory means it should work like…

Me: Alexa where is my nearest Sainsburys store ?
Alexa: I found a Sainsburys nearby, its 6km away London Road.
Me: What time is it open ? 
Alexa: Its open from now until 10pm.
Me: Whats the phone number  ?
Alexa: The phone number is….

How It Works!

Amazon Echo Follow-Up Toggle in Alexa App

Amazon Echo Follow-Up Toggle

This new “Follow-Up Mode” is disabled by default and needs to be enabled using the Alexa Mobile Phone app, otherwise it won’t work, its as simple as flicking a toggle switch. You need to go to the Alexa App, then select Settings then choose the device you wish to enable it on, and scroll down to “Follow Up Mode” and flick the toggle. 

All Amazon Echo Devices will give users approx 5 seconds after their first query to ask a follow up question, during this time frame the blue ring on your device will be lit to make you aware Alexa is still listening. The Follow-Up mode is smart enough determine what is general chatter in the room verse what is a follow up question. Its not clear if it recognises the original enquirers voice or just recognises a question but its said to work. 

Its worth noting that if music is playing or an audiobook or similar it won’t remain active as its a fair assumption you won’t be asking follow up questions. Also if you wait too long and the blue ring stops flashing, you’ll need to use your chosen wake word, which is “Alexa” by default. 

Saying “Alexa”, “Stop”, “Cancel”, “Thank You”, or “Go To Sleep”, will end your session so you need to start from scratch should you do this. Its also worth noting if your query ends with these it can end your query too. 

Owner and Guest Mode

I really want Alexa to have an Owner Mode and Guest Mode, by Owner Mode, I mean so Alexa recognises the owners voice much like “OK, Google” google can be set to recognise the owners voice pattern but it can be set to accept anyones voice. Owner Mode would be great for general commands, but Guest Mode for when your having a party and you want guests able to adjust the music or change the playlist or control the lights stuff like that. 

This would also open up the option of Alexa recognising multiple people, so “Turn my light on” could turn your light on, and when the missus says it, it turns her light on, and the same for any other command, playlists being a key one, adding to your diary and such.  

This is available in the USA only for now, but I would expect it to drop in the UK soon, the updates usually roll out quite quickly. 

The End of Pavement Parking is Nigh

We’ve all been tempted to park part on the pavement to create a little more room on the road so cars can make easy progress, not to mention so they won’t clip your car. Door mirrors aren’t cheap but are required by law, so don’t want to lose them. 

You have seen it just as well as I have, where some inconsiderate little jerk-off decides to park too close to a corner, or double park on a road thats too narrow or generally just get in the way. Even worse there seems to be a range of white-van-men, couriers and taxi’s who decide to mount and drive along the pavement to make progress or pull up wherever they feel like. Many use this method to pull on to the curb at say building number 49 and drive along the curb to number 180 without queueing in traffic or to make it around traffic to turn a corner some way up the road. Others have a habit of parking as close to possible to the school / pub / shops creating a serious hazard just to save a little time at the expense of others.

Cats Claws

Inventor Yannick Read, 47 from Bristol a member of the Environmental Transport Association (ETA) has drafted an idea for a gadget he calls “Catclaws”, and has so far in the last year had a pretty good response to it. I would speculate that this is being fuelled by fact 43 people was killed as a result of drivers mounting the curb and driving on them last year. Not to mention the terrorist attacks using cars which have mounted the curb, which would be greatly reduced had their tyres all been shredded by speed. 

Catclaw Solar Reflective Surrounds

Catclaw Solar Reflective Surrounds

The gadget works like Cats Eyes, you know the little reflective studs on the motorway, only these are situated on pavements (away from the curb stone), so when a car drives over them in either direction, they burst the cars tyres in a brutal way. The devices have what appears to be a loaded spring which can detect the difference between a bike, a pram, or anything under a certain weight.

Its interesting that the inventor says the device is cheap to make, it uses only 4 commonlu available parts put to gether in such a way which makes the invention. Its also possible to add a solar powered illumination so they are lit up and easy to see at night, which I think would be essential, along with reflectors perhaps a Cats-Eye-Claw is the answer. 

Expensive Lesson

There is also a downside, sometimes you are pressured or obliged to mount a curb, such as when a liveried police vehicle instructs you to, or when other emergency services are trying to pass you. What about when your making a tight turn or parking and you need to roll over the curb, or accidentally mount it. Its an expensive lesson to learn, that device looks like it would destroy the inner tube which is £20 and the tyre on my car that’s £167 on black circles, so call it £200 per corner, if it takes out both tyres on 1 side, thats a £400 lesson. 

Now thats not even allowing for damage to the alloy wheel / rim during rapid de-pressurisation, will certainly crunch the edge of the rim on initial impact and grind upon turning, I’d guess your looking £300 per corner including a lathe finish on the alloy.

Lidl Shocking Customer Service

I recently realised during the “Beast from the East”, no not Eddie Hall, he’s the “Beast from the East Midlands” that the final day to spend the old paper style £10 Bank Note was the 1st of March 2018, and I had 1 left in my emergency cash stash. I had no plans to go anywhere but did want something in the “Middle Aisle of Lidl” so rather than go to one of the 2 nearer Aldi’s, the nearer Asda and Sainsburys I made the special trip to Lidl which is 3-4 miles away in Siberian weather.

Lidl Logo

Lidl Logo

Upon arriving I looked around, while not specifically looking for them I did not notice any signs telling me they wasn’t accepting the old style paper £10 notes or any indication they wasn’t following the Bank of England’s official line. The official requirement was you accepted them until 23:59:59 on the 1st March 2018. I proceeded to pick up the items I went down for and some other shopping coming to a total of over £31 and headed to the till to pay. At this point I still noticed no signs saying Lidl had stopped accepting them early or anything else. Part way into tilling my goods I checked if I could pay part by cash and part by card as I wanted to use some cash and I was told yes. The chap on check-out noticed it was an old £10 note and said he’s not sure if he can accept them any more and checked with the other check out person who confirmed the same.

I clarified the Bank of England says Midnight 1st March 2018, the newspapers and TV was all quite clear the 1st March was the final day. Both open tills had half a dozen or more people at each queueing several of which agree’d and confirmed today was the final day. The checkout person tells me his manager told him not to accept them, so he’s unable to accept them, sorry. 

I asked to speak to the manager and ask the managers name, which I’m told is Bob (fake name to protect the guilty), but Bob doesn’t have a surname. Because the checkout person hasn’t been there very long so doesn’t know his surname. When Bob arrives I asked his surname as I intended to complain, he declined to give it to me. I asked him who told him not to accept the paper style £10 notes he told me is his Boss; I asked for his bosses name, which he wouldn’t give me. I asked for the store managers name, I needed a name to put to this, which he told it wasn’t the store manager who told him not to accept them so wouldn’t give me the store managers name either.

5 Wheelbarrows full of Pennies

5 Wheelbarrows full of Pennies

I asked to clarify did his actual boss tell him not to accept the £10 note, at which point it changed to head office told him not to accept them. I tried to clarify who exactly at head office told him not to accept them at which point he tells me a piece of paper in the back office with no name on it, and he’s not exactly sure who put the paper there. I pushed further and tells me its a bit of paper which says “sales” on it that’s it. I wonder if I put a piece of paper there which says everything in the store is £1 today, if they would follow that blindly too ?

I explained the BoE situation and that it was still legal tender and it was potentially against the law to refuse the £10 Note, aside from the fact I was a regular customer and I had risked driving in the snow and ice in to a badly gritted car park, wasted my time walking around buying the shopping, queueing when they should have opened more tills, and legally he should accept my payment in lieu of the debt I owe.

For clarity, if I had been told on entry we don’t accept £10 notes, like many shops have signs which say we don’t accept £50 or £20 notes, a shop can refuse to serve you, and thus doesn’t have to take your notes I wouldn’t have bought anything as my only reason for going out was to spend the £10 note. However this doesn’t apply when you owe a debt. In theory, because my goods was tilled through, I owed a debt and this was my angle. I’ll admit its murky ground and not clear cut. On assumption my position holds, I could have paid them with 11 x £1 coins, 20 x 50p coins, 50 x 10p coins, 100 x 5p coins, 10 x 2p coins, 16 x 1p coins which would have been legal tender or any other legal tender including the £10 note.

I learned this from a news story some years ago about a man settling a fine with pennies. The Americans don’t have any such coinage act as referred to in the above story, so you can pay any bill with any amount, such as the man who paid his bill with 300,000 pennies delivered in 5 wheel barrows weighing in at over 750kg.

My issue is, it would have taken less than a minute to clarify the BoE position and accept the £10 as a gesture of good will, instead the store management decided humiliating a regular customer in front of at least a dozen or more other customers was the best course of action.

I visit that store multiple times per week and spend hundreds per month, and the customer loyalty is repaid this way, by cutting off old paper notes in the middle of the biggest cold snap in 30 yrs without any warning, humiliating a loyal customer with no chain or command to supersede. 

Interestingly, Aldi said they was accepting the notes no problem, and they expected they would accept them a little longer than the 1st March 2018 as they have with other money. Sainsburys also confirmed they was accepting the notes but wasn’t sure if they would accept it any longer. 

UPDATE: Since I wrote this, Aldi, Morrisons and some others have officially confirmed they will be accepting the notes beyond the 1st March Cut Off. 


Top 5 Silly MOT Test Failures

March is a big time in the annual vehicle cycle, lots of Marques release their new versions Models and Revisions to Existing models be it a slightly altered body, new lighting array, or just a collection of tweaks and improvements. I believe this march Honda are releasing their new diesel engine too for example. This is partly fuelled by the the new Number Plate revision which will be AA18 Range. With these new models and new financial tax year means lots of new cars are bought and sold around this time which makes this MOT Season, now is the time to prepare.

There very many reasons for a vehicle to fail its Annual MOT, I’m obviously not talking about serious safety or dangerous issues here. I’m talking about some of the very easily avoidable failures; of which there are nearly 75,000 each year. Many of these are often down one of three things (1), simple ignorance, (2), lack of basic maintenance/upkeep and of course (3), blatant stupidity. Many of these common problems can be fixed or least checked in mere minutes and take no time at all for the vehicle owner to rectify. Other problems cost a few pounds and a little time to solve in advance but could cost much more on the spot. Especially if you leave your MOT to the last minute and don’t have the time to shop around or could require a second day off work to re-test. 

Maintenance Trinity

I have bundled these together has the top trinity of common failures which aren’t really within my silly list but are easy and basic tests and shouldn’t be so common. (1), Tyre Tread Below 1.6mm, (2), Headlamps Poorly Aimed (usually too high) and (3), Brake Pads Below 1.5mm. At least 2 of these should be routinely checked, and easy to do within seconds at home. 

Tyre Wear Indicators by Bridgestone

Most tyres have Tyre Wear Indicators (TWI) in the tread which you can easily see and/or feel, I recommend this Tyre Wear Guide by Birdgestone. It shows you wear patterns, and how to find the TWI. Bottom line, if you can feel a good lip on your TWI, your legal, if its a slight/smooth lump your in advisory town, and if its level and smooth, its fail city. Guide

If your headlamps are illuminating the entire car in front of you, and certainly if they are illuminating the drivers cabin in front or lighting up the cars on the other side of the road, you either have High-Beam on, or they are aimed too high for your load. Your headlights should illuminate part of the curb side, and half way up the average car in front and not shine into the cabin of the car in front and not shine across into on-coming traffic. This simple guide will help you avoid a failure which could be avoided by simply turning them down using the height adjuster.

Alternatively this FREE PDF Guide to Headline Alignment may help if you want to check your alignment yourself more than height.

Brakes, well unless you know what your looking for this can be tricky, but you can often see some of your pads and feel if they are thin. If you have a quality pad they often have special metal rod inserts which once worn down to near the legal limit they start to make a squealing / screaching noise to alert you and the noise gets louder and louder the more of the inserts are exposed. A good rule off thumb If its been a lot of miles since your last pad change, its worth asking them to do a quick check before hand. 

Number 1 – Poor Hygiene and Filthy Vehicles

Almost 2,500 people was refused an MOT, because the test centre refused to even enter the vehicle. This could because of mud and dirt specially on off road vehicles, but other cases its been due to fungus and mould growth in the vehicle. Masses of fast food containers, left overs and other general rubbish. 

Spend Ten Minutes giving your car a quick clean up, doesn’t need to be Kim and Aggy but does need to be reasonable or the test centre can refuse to do it. 

Number 2 – Screen Washers and Wipers

Almost 1,700 people failed because they had no screen wash fluid in the vehicle. This is a routine maintenance task and would take a few minutes, but it will require a retest and booking more time off work. While checking your screen wash, check how effective your windscreen wiper blades are, perished, ineffective or damaged wiper blades can all lead to a failure which several thousand also failed for poor wipers. A few squirts and cleans and you’ll easily see if you need replacements, if the window isn’t clear after the wipes, replace them. 

Number 3 – Registration Plate Issues

Over 1,500 people failed due to various number plate related issues. The vast majority was dirty number plates, too dirty to easily read, so give them a quick wipe if they look cruddy. Other common issues was incorrect colour plates used (Yellow/White or Black), Illegal Fonts and Spacing.

Over 125 people turned up with a missing or no number plates at all on their vehicle, part of me thinks these people was thinking road worthy test rather than MOT but still, check your number plate is in good condition and actually there.  

Number 4 – Obstructions to Drivers View

Almost 1,000 people failed because of various things obstructing the drivers view. This can be things hanging from the rear view mirror, satnav / mobile phone suckers, stickers on the windscreen. 

When you checked your windscreen wipers, a quick look whether anything is obstructing the path where your wipers clear should indicate if its a potential problem. Its worth removing it to be sure, or asking if you are unsure. 

Number 5 – Accessibility

If your boot is full to the brim with sporting goods, shopping, rubbish or you have child seats fitted or anything else which obstructs free access to the vehicle, you could end up with an MOT Failure. 

Child Seats can be removed (to allow seat best tests) and put into the boot, most test centres are fine with this, but other stuff, leave it at home. 

Bonus Round – Lights

A quick check of your indicators, side lights, main beam, high beam, reverse lights can save you some hassle, time and money. When it comes to checking your reverse lights, your engine does NOT need to be running, so you can get in, put the car in reverse and climb out and take a look. Checking your Break Lights I tend to wait until its dark, turn off my normal lights then look how much of whatever behind me is illuminated

Its worth being a good driver and letting people you see in carparks know if you spot their lights out, you never know they may save you time and money, so return the favour. 

Any Dashboard warning lights will need sorting out before a test, you have little or no hope of passing, so don’t waste your time. 

Time and Money

While re-tests are generally free, if you have left it to the last minute, you maybe left with no car to drive as no cert = no drive. You also have to consider the time off work and the hassle of a re-test so 10 minutes of your time before hand can save you serious time and money. 

I was told 2 of my tyres was close to the legal limit, based on my driving mileage we estimated I had a few months wear. The dealership would have wanted approx £140 per corner to replace, balance and fit. A local independent or black circles or similar, would be about £170 for the pair, so considerable saving.

You can always ask the garage if they offer pre-MOT tests, which are usually a 10-15 check of the most common failure points, all of these reasons I listed here would be covered by this quick check which is often free with your MOT or Service or costs a few pounds. You can then shop around and handle some of the repairs/replacements yourself. 

Beetle Image by Gratisography

New Year, New You, New Resolutions, New Blah

Lots of people have done a year in review but this year has been kinda dull and really slow, it has been eventful so I’m not so much going to do a year in review as I am going to point a few highlights out from 2017. 

L Plate

L Plate

Late last year my shoulder surgery was delayed for one reason or another so to fill the gap I booked a dozen or so driving lessons over the 4 weeks gap between cancelled surgery, after passing my driving theory test first time a few months before. In the theory test I scored pretty close to a perfect score. Only 1 question wrong in multiple choice which still haunts me as I know exactly which question it was. I was also a little slow on one or two hazard perceptions videos but still nearly perfect is good enough. I started my driving lessons towards the end of January. This meant I had driving lessons in the frost, in the fog, in the snow, in the rain and ice and all that’s in between giving me really good all around experience. The worst was stuck in rush hour traffic on a 1/4 mile hill, which moved a few cars at a time, and meant non-stop constant hill starts, which was about my 4th driving lesson so yeah that wasn’t fun. When I passed my test about 4-5 weeks later I had 3 minor faults so my Driving Instructor John Swan did a pretty good job, in a very short space of time and literally just a few days before my surgery. 

Shoulder Surgery

AC Joint Grades I to VI

AC Joint Grades I to VI

My shoulder surgery turned out considerably more complex than planned, originally it was a Rotator Cuff Repair, and AC Joint Repair, it changed something much more once my shoulder was opened. My shoulder healed record fast, I was discharged from physio in just over 2 months, out of a planned 5-6 months. The surgeon wanted to discharge my left shoulder at 4 months, as fully healed and fine, out of an expected 9-12 months. All in all the healing process, very quick for the amount of work I had no one expected it to be so quick.

My return to the gym hasn’t been so quick, the many areas bone was cut away, or ground down was raw and exposed and then left soft and gooey, waiting for the scar tissue and hardening has been a long slow process. It was expected to be 18-24 months before fully healed. I could put some moderate weights on it at 6-7 months, by some I mean about 40% my maximum, where as a month before surgery I could manage about 20% of my maximum. For example bench-press, my max as been around 115-120kg (including the bar), a month before my surgery I could barely move 30kg with bad form, now I can move 50kg for 8, so definite improvement but still long way to go. 

I have done my first actual shoulder work out, including farmers walks, waiter walks, shoulder press, shrugs and upright rows, my grip is screwed, not sure I’ll get that back due to a torn tendon in my forearm and damage to my hand, so maybe stuck using straps and hooks. It has however 100% improved from pre-surgery, however under load when the bones appear to be touching, OUCH!

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to squat again, the work on my glenohumeral has almost certainly left me with impingements meaning I can’t get my arms into position. Maybe some yoga or pilates will help, but I don’t know. 

Rich Piana Died

Rich Piana at Body Power 2017

Rich Piana at Body Power 2017

For all the controversy, hassle, and fanfare over the Rich Piana crazy train, the man was a decent guy and a powerful inspiration to many. I don’t agree with his Synthol or PMMA or whatever the hell he was injecting to get his crazy size but he loved his fans and had a lot of respect for them. Way way more respect then almost anyone I have ever seen I’ll never forget him apologising to fans waiting while he did press photo ops, or for the long wait to see him, or even when he took his lunch/drinks breaks. 

Not ONCE, did I notice him rush a fan, cut one short, he spoke to them for as long as they wanted, and had a laugh, happy posing with fans, by all accounts he was a rock solid guy. 

The only other person who was equally popular who was a chatterbox was Kai Greene, he was being told off all the time his people for taking too long with fans. 


My Year 

Most of my year has been waiting, recovering and planning. Now I’m I’d say 85-88% recovered and able to put some power down on the left shoulder, and I’m not sure I want the right shoulder done. 

I started training again between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, so that gives me 9 months out. I’ve lost about 1okg of muscle mass (rough estimate based on my monthly bio-impedance),  and gained about 6-7kg total weight, which is pretty diabolic. About 2 months of that was pretty no gym and comfort eating a lot. I’m getting back on the ball slowly now. 

Diet is horrific to reign back in to boring stuff again, I may need to just go for a crash and go meat, veg, sweet potato, and try reset it.