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Letter From England Number 5

20 July 2009

This week my nose has been deeply immersed in history books, the reasons for this will soon become plain. I found some great stories to tell you. I have also had a few comments about "less sport more food", so to appease I have written an article and include a recipe for "Toad in the Hole".

Exterminate, Exterminate!!!

This is the conclusion of our look at Doctor Who and Star Trek that we started in Letter 4.

The Doctor's Assistants And The Crew Of USS Enterprise

The Doctor doesn't have any crew but he has companions/assistants. Normally one, sometimes two and more often than not they are rather pretty young women.

Captain Kirk on the other hand has his crew and main characters Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura.

There must be quite a few crew members of the Enterprise, as from what I recollect the episodes started with Kirk and his senior offices beaming down to a planet to investigate something or another. Also with them would be one or two other crew members that you had never seen before and would not be seeing again. They tended to be vapourized incinerated or just get eaten, but next week pretty much the same happens again with a couple more victims.

Daleks and Klingons

For such admirable individuals both Kirk and the Doctor seem to have an uncanny knack of making enemies.

Kirk's biggest enemies are the Klingons, a thoroughly despicable alien race. They are hell bent on universal domination have no morality and no fear of death. They also hate Kirk with a passion.

If you think Kirk has problems spare a thought for the Doctor and his nemesis the Daleks. They might look like oversized tin cans but they are a formidable enemy. Do not think they are robots; they are individual tanks. Inside there is a horrible mutant that looks a bit like an octopus. They have high pitched electronic voices and their favourite word is "Exterminate". Their aims are the same as the Klingons, total domination.

Dr Who's and Captain Kirk's Gadgets

When it comes to hardware again Kirk goes for the more traditional: phases, communicators and tricorders(a sort of all purpose analyser). The Doctor doesn't really do gadgets, he does have a sonic screwdriver. This is extremely handy for fixing things and also for opening locked doors. Recently Doctor Who acquired a robotic dog called "K-9" (as in "canine"). He has advanced sensors and a laser built in the end of his nose.

The one thing that puzzles me is imagine being a television executive and the two shows being pitched to you.

1) Starship, crew, lasers and fighting humanoid aliens. "Yep, I get that, sounds good, let's make a pilot".

2) Eccentric alien travels time and space in a telephone box, fighting other aliens that look like big tin cans, doesn't have any weapons but does have a top of the range screwdriver. "Um I think we'll pass on that one, thank-you"

Well, shows what I know as according to the Guinness Book of Records, Doctor Who is the longest-running science fiction television show in the world.

Toad In The Hole

Toad in the Hole is a traditional English dish. I am sorry to disappoint you, but there are no toads used in this. Actually, it consists of sausages in batter and it is a really excellent meal. One of my favourite dishes.

No one is quite sure where the name comes from it has been suggested that:

There are a few other theories but as I said nobody really knows and maybe it's good that way.

Toad In the Hole

Toad In the Hole
Serves 2-4 as a Main Meal
  1. If using a food processor or electric whisk. Blend the eggs, milk, water, flour and salt until smooth.
  2. If preparing by hand. Break the eggs into a cup and mix. Add the milk and water together in a jug. Sieve the flour into a large bowl and add the salt. Pour in the eggs stir together well with a fork. Gradually pour in the milk and water and stir until you have a stiff batter. Beat or whisk well until you have no lumps.
  3. Allow to rest for half an hour. (This is not essential and maybe makes no difference).
  4. On a low heat cook the sausages in a frying pan until browned on all sides. You could also grill them if you wish.
  5. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.
  6. Put the lard or oil into a deep sided dish and place this in the oven. Allow this to heat up thoroughly.
  7. Take the tray out of the oven. Quickly pour in the batter mixture and add the sausages.
  8. Put back into the oven and bake for 23-30 minutes until puffed up, golden brown and crispy.

A suggested serving is with mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy. I included gravy which most people like but I think spoils the meal a bit. Personally I use little or no salt in my cooking so feel free to leave this out. Good quality sausages are highly recommended for this and of course you can use vegetarian sausages if you so wish. The most important things are to make sure the oil is very hot and that the batter has been thoroughly beaten until small bubbles appear. I like this dish with mashed potatoes, baked beans and strong mustard. Yum yum.

Hello Mr Pepys

Portrait Of Samuel Pepys

You may have noticed in the right hand column a little widget I have written. This is headed "Pepys's Diary". This is a fascinating document spanning 1660-1669.

Samuel Pepys lived through an extremely interesting and formative time in British history and saw with his own eyes many historical events. To mention a few: the execution of King Charles I, the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London and the restoration of the monarchy with the Coronation of Charles II. He underwent an early operation with no anaesthetics. He was also a Member of Parliament and was sent to prison in the dreaded Tower of London. He also met with many famous people of the day including kings, actors, Sir William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania), Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Christopher Wren.

Apart from it's historical importance it is also a very personal document, where he lists his thoughts, infidelities and impressions of London life.

So I thought over the next few weeks we'd follow Pepys through his life paying attention to the events he witnessed. This will be schoolboy history, so I will concentrate on the more gory aspects. It will be a fun journey.

It's Just Not Cricket

A Boy With A Dunce Hat

The story that I am about to recount is one of a nation's dishonour. A tale of events that occurred over 75 years ago, the telling of which should have every Englishman holding his head in shame. Painful as it is I will now recount events from the 1932-33 England cricket tour of Australia.

Below is a picture of Sir Donald Bradman, known as Don Bradman of just "The Don". He was the greatest batsman that ever lived. A human run machine.

Don Bradman Playing Cricket

I have 2 tables to show you, that illustrates this. In the first table we have the top 10 international batting averages.

 BatsmanTestsInningsRunsHighestAveCareer dates
1D.G. Bradman5280699633499.941928-1948
2R.G. Pollock2341225627460.971963-1970
3G.A. Headley22402190270*60.831930-1954
4H. Sutcliffe5484455519460.731924-1935
5E. Paynter2031154024359.231931-1939
6K.F. Barrington82131680625658.671955-1968
7E.D. Weekes4881445520758.611948-1958
8W.R. Hammond851407249336*58.451927-1947
9G.S. Sobers931608032365*57.781954-1974
10J.B. Hobbs61102541021156.941908-1930

Just see the one batsman who stands head and shoulders above the rest!

The next table was compiled by a statistician called Charles Davis. Without going in to great detail he took statistics from various sports and compared the difference between the average player and the top player. As this was produced in 2000, I guess that Roger Federer and Tiger Woods would now be on the list. Now, obviously you cannot compare sports but I feel this gives an indication of just how good Bradman was.

AthleteSportStatisticStandard deviations
BradmanCricketBatting average4.4
PeleSoccer Goals per game3.7
Ty CobbBaseball Batting average3.6
Jack NicklausGolf Major titles3.5
Michael JordanBasketballPoints per game3.4

But wait there is a bit more to say. He achieved all this with a career interrupted by the Second World War. Also, unbelievably he suffered from fibrositis (chronic muscular problems) that at it's height meant he was unable to shave or comb his hair. It has been speculated that the condition was psychosomatic caused by stress and maybe depression. So this make his achievements with the bat even greater. After singing Bradman's praises I one last thing top say, unfortunately he was an Australian!!

England are touring Australia in 1932-33. Bradman is then aged just 24, but already the English see that he will dominate cricket until he retires. So what to do? Well, the England management hatch a dastardly plan. They called this "fast leg theory" the Australians called it "bodyline" and this is the name that has stuck.

So what was this plan? Remembering back to Letter 3 I wrote:

" ... a fast delivery is between 85-95 mph (136-150 km/h)"

"Fast bowlers use pace to beat the batsman, they may also 'pitch it short', a delivery called a 'bouncer'. This bounces a bit further from the batsman and comes flying back up heading towards the batsman body or head."

Now, it is quite acceptable to bowl an occasional bouncer to "tickle the batsman's ribs" or just to "let him know you are around". It is a quite legitimate part of the game. But what is not acceptable is to bowl every ball like it!

It was felt by England that Bradman was a "coward" and didn't like short pitched balls. So they built on this to create "bodyline". The idea is to bowl fast and short with the ball heading towards the batsman and then have fielders close by. The batsman will have to defend himself by hitting the ball that hopefully the fielders will catch. See the picture beneath.

A Photograph Of Bodline Bowling

This was plain dangerous. In those days the batsman wore no head protection, unless you consider a cloth cap one.

To find out what happened you'll have to read next week's letter, but what I can tell you it's not pretty.

What's News

An Indian Call Center And A Train

A little story that broke this week is that all calls to National Rail Enquiries will be answered by Indian call centres.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), which runs the service, said that this would not reduce the quality of the service.

"Call centre operations now represent only some 7% of rail inquiries and this proportion continues to fall, with the internet rapidly growing in importance for passengers looking for journey information."

I have a few things to say about this and I speak from experience. A year or two ago when I worked in London there was a flash storm that caused flooding of a few stations. The website said to phone for updated information. I had somewhere important to go that evening so I called. I was put through to an Indian call centre. The guy's English was not good and also he didn't know of any weather problems. Being a few thousand miles away I don't hold that against him. He then gave me advice of how to get to my destination which was Brighton. Well, apart from directing me through underground stations that I knew were flooded he then directed me to Liverpool Street. A neat feat .. but there was one flaw NO and I repeat NO trains run from this station to Brighton. Absolutely useless!! Luckily I realized this.

Now, I ask "who will be the users of this service?" Well, it will be people with no access to the internet. A lot of these will be elderly. So God knows how the conversation between Edith and Mr Patel will pan out.

My last point on this. How can someone in India who has never visited the country (no matter how well trained) be able to offer a better travel service than someone based in the country who knows the places and geography. The working conditions of Indian call centre workers would not be acceptable here, as would the pay, in fact I would speculate that they could be considered illegal here. It's pure greed and exploitation.


That's it for this week and back to the history books.

I hope you have a good week!