Quick thoughts on the 2015 General Election with relation to social media

The results are in, the pollsters look to have been proven wrong and all across my social media feeds, I'm seeing plenty of posts asking just how the Conservative party are able to get anywhere near a majority.

One lengthy explanation may partly answer this question. Twitter especially has a tendency to be somewhat of an echo chamber, so anybody leaning to the left or the right if unlikely to follow people of a differing political persuasion, so your own opinions become amplified in your impression of the overall influence.

Secondly, the tactics applied by the political parties differed in their approach to targeting. Miliband and Labour went for wide reach with their message (including the Russell Brand interview, which I still think was a good move, even if the impact may not be felt until the next election), while the Conservatives targeted their messaging at their core vote - it may not have resonated beyond those who may have already considered voting Conservative, but it certainly appealed to their audience. Both strategies were risky, but if Labour failed in both their wider comms and core audience, it left them vulnerable to opponents well-targeted messaging.

This meant even though Labour may have taken a greater share of voice on Twitter, analysts fell into the easy trap a lot of marketers make of mistaking social reach for effectiveness. Yes, you may have achieved a large number of impressions, and trended, but that more low-key brand who have targeted their comms and advertising more effectively, have seen more conversions. 

As an aside, it's easy to focus on social comms and forget the effect of offline as well.

Of course, there's more than just social (as has been shown). The collapse of the Lib Dem vote and the success of the SNP is worth exploring in depth (by somebody other than me).

This isn't to say social didn't have a part to play in the election (although judging by the candidates in my constituency, they've still to get to grips with even the basics), but as any good marketer know, placing too much faith in conversation when your goal is conversion is never going to end well.

Look after this podcast. See that some harm comes to it

Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the Oddjob Pod James Bond podcast Anybody would think Ernst Stavro Blofeld himself had been tinkering with this post - every time I attempt to write or publish something crashes or goes wrong.

Maybe SMERSH want to keep the news that a couple of weeks ago, Terry Duffelen, Graham Sibley and I recorded a new Oddjob Podcast on James Bond villains.

We all have our favourites, of course, and those we dislike. For instance, I'm not a fan of Hugo Drax, although Terry and Graham think very differently. I suspect my dislike of Moonraker somewhat clouds my judgement on this - perhaps it's time to rewatch and reappraise Michael Lonsdale's performance.

And then I quite like Elliott Carver as a villain - and I've found very few people who feel the same way about Tomorrow Never Dies and Jonathan Pryce's performance in general.

One thing we're all agreed on: Blofeld is not the best Bond villain, and there's only one definitive portrayal of the follically-challenged evil one. To find out which one, you'll just have to tune in, of course.

Longform: A non-fiction addiction

One of my favourite communities online is Stuart Waterman's Non-Fiction Addiction community on Google+. Dedicate to long and engaging content, it's a delight of discovery. As long as you have a web connection, there's enough reading material to keep you occupied over a train journey. Longform content isn't exactly trendy though. Sites such as Buzzfeed and Us Vs Th3m are leading the way when it comes to espresso hits of quick, shareable content. The fact that plenty of sites seem fit to ape them (especially the former, the latter hasn't been around quite long enough for copycats) shows that many sites are pointing towards the quick, easily digestable amusing visual content (and generally not doing it anywhere near as well as the leaders in the field).

But for all that, it's been fascinating to chat to several friends who work within the newspaper industry or for online publications who have all mentioned the same stat: namely that longform articles tend to do rather well on tablet devices at certain times of the day.

Joshua Lachkovic picks up the theme of longform at Hotwire's blog. In a lengthy post he discusses how the likes of Longreads and The Magazine are quietly building a significant reader base.

It's worth noting the discussion around Kindle publishing in Lachkovic's piece. Kindles may not exactly be seen as sexy in the digital sphere but they're certainly effective. Again, more than one editorial conversation I've had has spent a fair bit of time exploring the benefits of Kindle publishing for longform.

This isn't to say that longform will overtake shortform. The two can co-exist quite happily, and the world would be a poorer place without Buzzfeed and Us Vs Th3m. But has tablet usage especially increases, sites or apps who manage longform particularly well are in a good place when readers decide they want something a little longer on their morning commute.

One word of warning though. Slate's "You Won't Finish This Article" gives plenty of reasons  not to bank on longform, at least not via a browser, not least that the majority of people will have stopped reading a long time before the end. Worth keeping in mind next time you're minded to churn out a 5,000 word essay.

A bit of writing elsewhere and a change in focus for the blog

A slight change of direction will be coming up on this blog, I suspect, certainly regarding the social media posts. Anything social-related will probably go on the Ruder Finn Dot Comms blog. Anything else will probably be here (yes, the dregs. Sorry about that). And here's the first post: an analysis of when brands should and shouldn't piggyback on an internet meme, with specific reference to the Harlem Shake.

And I'm still doing the football writing, when time allows. Here's me at The Two Unfortunates imagining what if Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale had landed the Swansea City job.

Oh mama, I wanna go surfing...

“You get stuck in a rip and fight against it, you’ll eat shit. You try and stand incorrectly, you’ll eat shit. You don’t keep your concentration, you’ll eat shit.” Erik, our Norwegian surfing instructor, is nothing if not to the point.Ten minutes into my first ever surfing lesson, and it appears there are many ways you can eat shit. Given my complete lack of balance and co-ordination, this could be a very painful two hours that involves a lot of shit eating.

I am not a natural beach person, as my pale complexion probably immediately makes clear. As a child at the seaside, I was always happier exploring rock pools before going for a quick paddle and maybe a game of beach cricket. That’s not changed much. I emphatically had no interest in surfing and this lack of interest has continued all my adult life. Yet, here I am on Bondi Beach, about to embarrass myself in front of the Australian beach going community.

This wasn’t my idea, but I was told by my other half that if we were visiting Australia, I should experience the local culture and the surf lesson was duly booked. For me, not for her, obviously. Friends in England found this hilarious. “Pasty Brit on a surfboard on Bondi Beach. This will be brilliant,” was the general consensus.

As it turns out, the surf class is full of pasty Brits and one pasty Canadian, all of whom inhabit various degrees of hopelessness from complete novice to falling over a lot. Erik is very thorough though and has the patience of a saint as he guides us through the movements on dry land. “You might want to stand further back down the board, or you’ll wipe out,” he says, looking at my jerk movement from horizontal to standing up.

Me, in a rare moment standing up

Twenty minutes in, and it’s time to head into the water, waddling like penguins in our wetsuits. Erik talks us through how to prepare for a wave, before pushing us each off, much like a parent does to a child on a bike with stabilisers.

On my first attempt, I’m far too terrified to attempt to stand and tentatively attempt a movement towards the end of the wave. Predictably I fall over. “You need to be more decisive, stand up in one quick movement,” says Erik.

The next few attempts follow a similar pattern before I finally attempt to stand up quickly - and, crucially, without thinking - and, to my astonishment find myself standing on the board and the wave pushes me in to shore. This lasts about 10 seconds before I fall over.

Erik, who has probably been sighing inwardly at my timidity on the board is impressed. “Not bad, you’ve a good motion. You just need to concentrate and focus when you’re standing up and you won’t fall over.”

Concentration, it appears, is my major downfall. I stand stand but find it impossible to focus on anything in the distance, not helped by the fact I’ve not wearing glasses or contacts. After two relatively successful stands, I become too cocky and promptly spend the next three attempts falling off the board relatively rapidly. Still, I’m feeling good about my progress until Erik tells the group we’re moving into deeper water to try and catch a series of waves to take us to the shore.

Lying on the board attempting to paddle further out, I feel like a slightly backwards dog. There’s a lot of splashing around but I’m not really going anywhere. Even more embarrassing is the point where everybody stops and sits on their board. It appears I’m incapable of balancing without falling off.

Erik pushes us off again as we aim for shore, except this time if you fall off, which I inevitably do, there’s a long way back to the beach and it’s quite clear that without the initial shove, I’m incapable of being able to push off, let alone gain enough momentum to stand up. My only consolation is the rest of the class appear to be equally inept and it’s not an uncommon sight to see them flying through the air minus the surf board.

After the fourth capsize in as many seconds a nearby Australia swims across to me. “You’re not very good at this are you,” he says in typical blunt Aussie style. “First-timer?”

With a mouthful of seawater, I’m unable to speak so just nod instead. “You’ll get better at it,” he says, “although you’re probably best to stick to practising in the indoor pool.” With that, he turns his attention to his five-year-old son, who is gliding through the water with the ease of someone who has spent their life on the surfboard. I start paddling towards shore, catch a wave, attempt to stand up and wipe out badly, landing on my jaw (who knew this was even possible?).

Despite the pain - my back is also starting to ache badly - and the fact I'm still a good three or four wipe outs from shore, I grin. This surfing lark is quite fun, providing it's done closish to the shore. And I have lots of help. And as long as it's done on a sunny day on Bondi. Really, don't expect to find me doing this on a cold November in Cornwall. I'm willing to attempt local culture, but not so willing to take it home with me.

I went surfing with Let's Go Surfing. Despite my ineptitude on the board, they're actually very good and I had a blast. Can definitely recommend them if you fancy attempting to catch some waves for the first time.

RIP HMV: Not a eulogy

Plenty of people have been sharing their memories of HMV on Twitter following the news the troubled music retailer is set to call in the administrators, so here's one of my own, albeit more recent than most. About six months ago, I nipped into London Trocadero branch on the off-chance of finding the fourth series of a well-known American drama on DVD, as well as to see if I could find a couple of other DVDs I was considering buying for presents.

After much searching, and on the verge of giving up, I asked a shop assistant if they had the fourth season of Dexter. "Never heard of it, mate," came the reply. Did they know where it might be found? "Not sure, sorry." Was there any possibility of ordering it in or that it may arrive in the next few days. "Doubt it." It was a similar story with the other items on the list.

Then there was a similar experience this Christmas, when I may the last-minute decision to add a DVD into a Christmas present. The store was packed, but the DVD was nowhere to be found. Both quite frustrating.

Whether my story was a common occurrence or just bad luck, I've no idea. It does hint at a reason why HMV have been so troubled. If the staff seem indifferent to their products or to helping customers - and it's virtually impossible to find what you're looking for, it's no wonder people are turning to the easy-to-navigate Amazon.

Amazon, supermarkets and the digital world in general will naturally be blamed, but equally the company itself can take plenty of blame for the long-standing debts it finds itself saddled with. The over-expansion over the late nineties and early noughties, combined with somewhat questionable acquisitions such as Fopp and Ottakar's, played as much of a part as Amazon's growth.

HMV never did quite sort out the online side of its business either, with the browsing experience often as frustrating as trying to find an item in the store itself. That's hardly Amazon or Sainsbury's fault if a major retailer can't get one of the more basic requirements right and was too late to realise the need to enter a major market.

But while the nostalgia for HMV is perhaps a little disingenuous - If you really love a shop that much, try to step foot in in more than one a year - it's certainly not misplaced. As a teenager, HMV always had that perfect balance between the mainstream pop and the more niche (if not obscure) music, while their foreign film collection was a joy for a cinema obsessive from Devon. Their staff were always passionate, friendly and only too willing to help, which is what makes their demise even sadder at the missed opportunities.

Brands can't live on nostalgia alone though, and as journalist Dave Lee and Newsbeat reporter Greg Cochrane have noted, hardly anybody under the age of 26 seems particularly bothered about the retailer's demise.

With over 4,000 jobs at risk, there should be no pleasure to be taken for gloating and saying I told you so or using it to champion the brilliance of the digital age. The issues, as I've touched on early, weren't solely down to the likes of Amazon, while it's no fun to see another set of high street shops go empty. And for those who still have resisted Amazon and the internet's charms (and, yes, such people do exist), it leaves a difficult hole to replace.

Still, as Robert Peston writes, it's probably best the "zombie" company was put out of its misery, given it had been flatlining for two years. You can even make an argument it should have done earlier. And who knows, I'm no retail expert, but perhaps a new company with a much more sensible approach to online/offline might even arise and make HMV nostalgia just that - a thing of the past.

Lyon: A food and walking odyssey

It's rare I ever feel compelled to write up my holidays. If I'm honest, it feels a little like the 21st century equivalent of inviting people over to view slides. But Lyon. Wow, Lyon. Lyon was fantastic. Not just for its beauty, but also for the food. Especially for the food. Here, then, is how I attempted to walk off several three course meals over three days, and probably failed. More pictures to come when I get round to downloading them off my phone. I'm also a genuinely terrible photographer. ***

"You might want to avoid three courses for lunch," says my friend Danni on our first day in Lyon. Danni has already been in Lyon for a week and had already experimented with several of the city's eateries. The bouchon lined up for tonight, we are warned, will leave very little spare room in our stomachs so, after much deliberating we eschewed the €16 menu at the restaurant next to the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere and went for a salmon roll at the little cafe nearby instead. It was an excellent call. By the end of the night, we were struggling to make the short walk across the Rhone to our respective hotels and I'm convinced it played no small part in my inability to get up at a sensible time the next day.

Day one

Even at just under three days, Lyon offers a lot any visitor, especially if you enjoy traveling on foot for most places. Traversing the two rivers the city sits on is a daily pleasure, while Vieux Lyon (the old city) and Fourviere Hill, which we climbed on the first day, are stunning. The view from Fourviere over the city is well worth the short hike, while the Basilique Notre-Dame is impressive, although it's easy to see why some think it overdone. Me, I'm quite a fan of slightly OTT churches, so I was perfectly content.

The amphitheatres were fun, and gave a good account of what entertainment was like in Roman days. The two in close proximity felt like their version of a multiplex. You could have the full man seven gladiator brawl in the larger of the two, while the second next door would probably be showing something like man versus toad, in whatever the Roman version of subtitles were, naturally.

Equally fun was the Museum of Miniatures and Film Design. The miniatures were impressive in the level of artistic detail (although three floors was perhaps pushing it), but the film design materials were a giddy ride through the behind-the-scenes aspects of cinema. After walking through several sets from Perfume (possibly more enjoyable than the film itself, although I recognise I'm in a minority here), the exhibits did have the feel of a slightly random collection. But then if I'd manage to acquire the spaceship from Event Horizon, a lifesize Gizmo puppet and a prosthetic head of Dana Scully, I'd probably want to show them off as well.

Even more enjoyable was the ice-cream shop a few doors down from the Museum I failed to note the name of. I enjoyed the Gingerbread ice cream so much, I returned the next day for another selection. The white chocolate and coconut sorbets were particular highlights, although tomato and basil sorbet was more than a little confusing. I probably ate them in the wrong order, as the latter was somewhat like iced Gazpacho.

But all this was just a warm up for Monday night's bouchon, the traditional Lyonnaise hostelry. I've no idea if Cafe de Federations was one of the handful of properly certified bouchons, but it is up there with one of the most enjoyable meals I've ever eaten. Sitting down the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Rue du Major Martin, the bouchon is as Lyonnaise as you can imagine: gingham tablecloths and a cosy setting, with carafes of Cotes du Rhone €9 a bottle.

There is no menu at Cafe de Federations, or at least not until your third course. By which stage, you're already halfway to slipping into a food high that you'll agree to anything. Had you asked me to sign over the deeds to my house, I'd have signed without a thought, my mouth still salivating at the prospect of stewed pig's cheeks. Note to those undertaking charity fun runs: this is an excellent time to ask for sponsorship.

To start, we were presented with a small bowl of poached egg in broth. This lasted a little longer than the time taken to poach the egg and any residual from the bowl was mopped up with bread. Next up was a Salad Lyonnaise, accompanied by lentils and wild boar terrine. I may have overdone this course a little, which was probably largely to blame for my stagger back to the hotel. The wild boar terrine especially.

For course three, the main, we were offered a choice. While I was tempted by the calves' head, I took a recommendation and plumped for the aforementioned pigs' cheeks.

That brief pause was a little more salivation. Apologies. It was delicious. Many, many hours of stewing went into those cheeks, which were so tender they fell apart in my mouth, while the stew itself packed a meaty kick. The black pudding and apple was equally stunning, with the pudding the consistency of a pate.

Cheeses were a pleasant selection, with the mild goat's cheese proving a real winner, and the range of textures an excellent journey through Lyonnaise fromage, although the local speciality of cheese rind melted into a pate was an acquired taste that none of us had quite acquired.

To round off, the chestnut cake was light and fluffy and the perfect finish to five courses over the course of around three hours and countless bottles of wine. And the price for these five course? A mere €25. You'd be lucky to just get one cheese for that price in some Islington gastropubs. Content, we waddled into the night.

Day two

Tuesday got off to an inauspicious start. After a day, our iPhones finally worked out they were in France, so we assumed we'd slept in until 10.30am, and panicked, rushed out of the hotel sans breakfast to fit in some sightseeing, not realising we had an hour more that we realised. I've had more productive tourist mornings.

To rectify, there was only one solution: lunch. L'Aile ou la Cuisse in the city centre close to the Chamber of Commerce wasn't quite a Cafe de Federations but at €16 for a main and a dessert, you can't really complain. Especially when that gets you a giant pork chop with roast potatoes. When I say giant, I mean covering the whole plate giant. That was one serious piece of meat, and tasty too. The chicken, at a euro cheaper, was smaller but the skin was deliciously garlicky.

Where this restaurant really excelled, though, was the puddings. Pineapple tart was lovely and sharp, but couldn't hold a torch to an orgasmically light and fluffy dark chocolate mousse and a perfect creme brulee, with a top that cracked open, satisfyingly, like an egg when tapped.

As lunches go, this set us up nicely for the afternoon's walking tour of Lyon. €10 for an audio guide may seem a tad pricey, especially given the recent price of the lunch, but is easily one of the best things you can do, preferably on the first day you arrive. The audio guide is very detailed and gives you a mixture of history and practical tips. Without this, we would never have discovered the series of traboules in Lyon's old city - passes between houses that include some pretty impressive architecture.

The whole tour of the old city took around 90 minutes, although we were pretty quick (allowing time for a sorbet stop en route). You could easily spent an hour or so more and then move onto the Croix Rousse tour, which we skipped due to a lack of time. Foot was by far the best way to explore Lyon over our three day visit and these walking tours are probably the perfect way to start getting yourself orientated.

The evening meal was less a meal and more of a picnic, albeit one that wouldn't have been out of place accompanied by a glass of fizz. Halles de Lyon - Paul Bocuse is a food paradise in the Part Dieu district. Originally a market, this is now a series of stalls, shops and small restaurants serving seriously high quality food. It's not necessarily cheap, but there are some seriously good value nibbles to be had. Assuming you can tear yourself away from the mouth watering selections of jamon, fromage and patisserie, that is.

We went for a selection of salads, some potato cakes and a tomato tart, plus an incredible macaroon cake for dessert. Altogether, this bounty for dinner came in at just €20 for two of  us. The only shame is there's no park in the immediate vicinity to sit and eat. C'est la vie.

Evening was a short walk to Lyon Auditorium to hear the National Orchestra of Lyon and three choirs from Washington, Lyon and London (the latter containing our friend Danni - our main purpose for traveling to France) perform Berlioz's Requiem. Berlioz isn't a composer I'm overly familiar with, but the performance was fantastic, and the three choirs produced some truly spine-tingling moments. Afterwards Danni informed us she'd never experienced such a standing ovation, which gives you an idea of just how good the concert was.

Day three

With plenty of time to pack in food and sightseeing before our mid-afternoon flight, the morning was taken up with a trip to Parc de la Tete d'Or and Lyon's free zoo. I'm still blown away that this is free and anybody can wander into this very public area. Apart from a couple of enclosures that seemed a bit small, this is an excellent attraction, especially if you're traveling on a budget with children, and a perfect way to spend a sunny day. The park the zoo sits is is quite beautiful and I could have happily spent the day walking around the botanic gardens and snoozing by the very peaceful lake.

But with a flight to catch, it seemed logical to stop by Les Halles, given its proximity to Part Dieu station, and test out one of the sit down restaurants - and the one we chose I utterly forgot to note down the name of. What I can tell you is that it was a toss up between this and Cafe de Federations for my best meal, although to try and compare them is somewhat like comparing oranges and clementines. One is a traditional bouchon, the other some seriously impressive technical cooking.

Escargots were near-drowned at the back of their shells in herby garlic butter and were absolutely delicious. Every last piece of bread was used to mop up any drops of the butter. Gazpacho soup was fresh and danced on the tongue. This was a mere warm up for the mains.

Shark fillet was cooked to perfection and fell apart in the mouth. Duck on a bed of potato and carrots with a creamy sauce was mind-blowing. Tender and pink in the middle and just the right level of crispiness on the skin. All three simple elements combined together produced something quite special that wouldn't have been out of place in some of London's more exclusive gastronomic experience. Yeah, I'm still fantasizing about the duck now and it's been three days.

At €17 for lunch with a carafe at €9, this was fantastic value and the food and service was so good you could ignore you were at the far end of a hall in what could be a slightly soulless venue. Although no restaurant opposite the macaroon cake patisserie would ever suffer from that problem - one glance and you're transported to a magical world of cake and fruit. With a giant version of the macaroon cake on display, it would have been remiss not to check if it was up to the standard of its smaller cousin. I'm happy to report it there were no problems and I could have easily eaten a second. Or a third.

Three days in Lyon then, with some of the best food I've eaten that doesn't break the bank. Make sure you bring some good walking shoes and clothes with plenty of room for expansion as, no matter how hard you plan to try to go "food neutral" and walk off your meals, you'll do well to avoid a food baby. My diet for the rest of the month is essentially salad. Possibly Lyonnaise.


It's the little things

I now own the latest Cornershop album, Cornershop and the Double O Groove Of. I wasn't necessarily planning on buying it until an unexpected intervention. I'd listened to the album a couple of times on Spotify and thought it really rather lovely. I Tweeted my thoughts on the album and made a mental note to possibly purchase a copy if I saw it for a decent price.

A few hours later, I had a retweet from Tjinder Singh from Cornershop, along with a quick thank you.

We don't follow each other, so he must have been keeping an eye out for mentions of the band. I've never been personally thanked by a relatively well-known musician for complementing their music before, and that kind of tipped me towards buying the album.

As with most things Internet-related, it got me thinking about social media and communities.

One assumption I often come across with managing your online social media areas is that you have to use it to fight PR battles and crises, or to use them to launch whizz-bang promotions that entice new followers.

This isn't to say this is a wrong attitude - these are both very valid and necessary uses for a brand's social media.

But a good community manager also knows the value in the little things that show the large swathes of often silent fans they're appreciated.

All community managers will have a set of vocal fans they'll often interact with. These are often the brand cheerleaders and can be nurtured.

But it never hurts to say thanks to those who'll pop onto Facebook and Twitter once to politely say how much they liked something. These are also relationships worth nurturing.

After all, the person who you say thank you to a couple of times or answer a reasonably easy query could be tomorrow's brand evangelist.

And, yes, the new Cornershop album really is rather good.

Random recipe: Lamb and squash stew

This time of year is meant to be a time when bloggers look back at the past 12 months and look ahead to the rest of the year, or at least share their resolutions. The former I'll do at some point, but the latter I don't really bother with, apart from a vague commitment to cook more in 2011, and this one is a good start to the year. It's adapted from a lamb casserole recipe I found online. Is it a casserole or a stew? Frankly, who cares. It's perfect for this time of year when all you want to do is hibernate. Better still, wait for a crisp, sunny day, set this cooking, go for a walk then warm up with a delicious and healthy-ish meal ready and waiting.

It's a one-pot dish, so takes up very little washing up, and is supremely easy to put together. This serves two - if you're cooking for four, you won't need to increase the stock or tomatoes by much.

You'll need:

250g-300g lamb neck fillet, diced 1 medium onion, diced 1 medium carrot, chopped 1 small leek 1 clove garlic, finely chopped or crushed 1 small butternut squash, cubed with seeds removed 400ml lamb or vegetable stock a handful of frozen peas 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 tbsp mint, chopped flour salt pepper Vegetable oil


Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 6 / 180 C. Put your squash on an ovenproof tray, cover with olive oil and quickly roast for 10 mins to soften them up.

Roll your lamb fillets in flour so they're lightly dusted. Heat the oil in a casserole or ovenproof pan or dish and brown off the meat on both sides. Take out of the pan and put to one side.

Put the onion, carrot, leak and squash into the casserole and slowly cook for about 7-10 mins or until the onion is lightly golden. Add the cinnamon and cook for another minute.

Put the lamb back into the pot and add the chopped tomatoes and stock. Stir the ingredients together, bring to the boil and season to taste with the salt and pepper.

Cover the pot and put into the oven. Cook for around 1 hour and 20 minutes, when you'll want to add the peas and stir the mint into the pot. Return to the oven and cook for a further ten minutes. Remove and give it a couple of minutes to cool down before serving.

And that's the recipe. Very simple - the only hassle is peeling and cubing the squash. Other than that, it only takes about 10 minutes to prepare and is comfort food in a dish. There's no pictures of this, sadly, as it smelt far too good and I was hungry.

Interspersed with social media and journalism thoughts, I'll probably be posting a few more recipes this year, if you're ok with that. I may also be looking for guinea pigs to test out future recipes on - don't all shout at once...

Radio head: A love letter

Let me transport you back to my childhood briefly. I had a fairly long journey into school every morning, which often meant a good 40 minute car ride with my mother. She wasn't into pop music and, at the time, neither was I (it took me a while before I became the kid who'd obsessively record every new entry off the Top 40), so the usual choice is listening was Radio 4's Today programme. This wasn't my choice, per se, but if I had to pick a starting point of my long love affair with radio, this would probably be it. I suspect I may well have been the most politically informed kid in my class at the age of nine. To me, the Today programme was my morning. I used to delight in the likes of Brian Redhead sparring with politicians, and getting the better of them. Looking back, my career choice was clearly never in doubt.

Despite discovering all manner of visual entertainment - starting with a BBC Master System and progressing through the Nintendo consoles - and diving headfirst into the world of film in a big way, I still returned to the radio time and time again as I was growing up.

As mentioned, I would sit religiously by my stereo, finger hovering over the record button, to ensure I didn't miss a moment of the Top 40. I laughed at assorted radio comedy, from I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue to Lee and Herring's Fist Of Fun. One of my favourite shows was Collins and Maconie's Hit Parade, where a bunch of people sitting round a table discussing music was turned into an art form. I appear to be the only one of my friends to remember this show though.

I was a Radio 1 devotee, for sure, but over time my tastes have changed somewhat, as I've grown up with the station. My favourite DJs were always Mark and Lard - their sense of the surreal and their bluff Mancunian humour was completely at odds with most other mainstream DJs on the station. When they (and Steve Lamacq) moved on, I think I did too.

Hell, I spent a fair bit of time listening to Jonathan Ross of Radio 2 (much much better than his chat show), while I now find Chris Evans a much easier listen on the same station, whereas I found him too much to stomach on Radio 1.

It'd be remiss not to mention two of my favourite ever broadcasters here. John Peel is obviously one. He could come in off the back of a practically unlistenable Bulgarian hardcore techno act with a voice that sounded as if he was offering you a cup of tea, before moving onto Half Man Half Biscuit. I once recall him broadcasting from a festival and refusing to go to the main act because he was enjoying an Eastern European choir. In a completely different way, Home Truths was also brilliant.

The other favourite is Danny Baker, a man who commands like English language like few others. Whether it was Baker and Kelly's football phone-ins that had little to do with any actual football action, or the genius of Fraser Digby's washbag, Baker is a true radio legend and one who is currently much missed while he undergoes treatment for cancer. Chris Lines at Narrow The Angle has a longer tribute to the man, which says it far better than ever I could.

It's why podcasting brings a whole new level of joy to my life, especially that there's a whole new world of discovery waiting out there. It also enables me to catch up during my daily commute on programmes I'd otherwise have missed.

Fighting Talk still makes me laugh on a regular basis, and 5 Live as a station as a whole is great for dipping in and out of. I'd much rather have radio commentary on while watching football. BBC London's Non-League Show is another weekly favourite, as are a whole host of other pods.

And every now and then, scouring the Radio Four listings, you find an absolute delight of a documentary, such as this (sadly no longer available) half hour programme from Phil Jupitus on Calvin and Hobbes (the cartoon, not the philosophers).

I love the way audio allows you to be creative in a way that TV can't. Four blokes sitting round a table discussing a topic can be dull on the box, but on radio it can be transformed into something totally different and much more alive.

Yes, you have no pictures. But that's the joy of radio - you paint your own pictures using creativity. One of my earliest radio memories, other than the today programme, was a version of Under Milk Wood, which had me enchanted.

I guess what this love letter is also saying is that radio can be a forgotten and sometimes neglected medium, but offers an experience that's much more personal and fun (at times) than TV.

Several years ago, when still a student, I took part in a focus group about the BBC. A lot of those in the group were complaining about the TV programmes, the licence fee, and the rest. I then mentioned radio, and, somewhat hesitantly, suggested this alone was worth the licence fee (hell, Test Match Special alone is worth the licence fee).

The mood in the room changed, and before long we were all comparing our favourite radio programmes. This isn't to belittle TV - I'm a sucker for a good documentary or drama (I'm currently enjoying State Of Play, which I missed first time around. It is superb). But there's just something about radio that makes it more friendly, more familiar.

I'll end this love letter by attempting to share the love. Next time you're watching sport, try turning the commentary down and switching the radio on. It'll enhance your viewing. And next time you're flicking through the channels, wondering what to watch, why not try flicking through the radio channels. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Food over football

England be darned. After four straight days of non-stop football, combined with an uneasy feeling that despite my prediction of a win Algeria would provide difficult opponents, it was time to indulge a different passion: food. Months ago I'd been offered a VIP ticket to the Taste of London food festival and nothing - not even England v Algeria - was going to stop my inner foodie running riot. I suspect I may be one of the few people on Twitter lavishing praise on what I experienced that Friday evening.

And, yes, because I like blogging about food - and have been cooking a lot recently as well (prawn massala curry and a delicious moussaka have been particular highlights) - all I really want to do is make a few notes on tonight's food.

Sadly, because I'm an idiot, I forgot my camera. So no pictures.

Easily the best thing sampled was Mennula's handmade egg maccheroni with braised shoulder of Scottish lamb, pecorino and summer truffle. I can still taste it now and, despite being stuffed, could happily wolf down another plate.

Perhaps it's because Italy is still a recent memory in my mind, but this was sensational. The pasta was as good as I've had anywhere and the lamb was so tender it melted into the maccheroni and onto my tongue, while the truffle just rounded everything off. What's more, this was a simple dish with bold flavours that I could imagine tucking into at a decent trattoria. Delicious.

Following close behind was The Modern Pantry's garlic snails with chorizo mash. Frankly, it would have taken some extremely hard work for me to dislike this dish. The snails were perfectly cooked and the garlic sauce slowly seeped into the meaty mash. A complete winner, and one I might try to do myself at some point.

If you're talking desserts, then the torta al cioccolato con crema di mascarpone from Theo Randall was the kind of gooey chocolate heaven that makes sharing seem like a chore. We were practically snatching the pot from each other to lick out every last drop. And I'm not generally a dessert man.

Predictably Gaucho's Argentinian black angus sirlon with humitas chimichurri was exactly what you'd expect from a Gaucho's steak. Tender, grilled to perfection and bursting with meaty goodness. The chimchurri was a nice addition, with a crisp, fresh corn taste that nicely offset the heavier meat. Definitely one of the best steaks I've had over the last year.

The Cinnamon Club's spice crushed bream with masala mash and tomato lemon sauce was the first dish we tried and set the evening up nicely. The flavours were light and playful, while the mash tingled in the mouth and complemented the fish perfectly. It was a delicious concoction, albeit one that would get outshone as the evening went on.

I enjoyed Awana's Malaysian slow-cooked beef curry with coconut milk a lot, and there was a nice delicateness to the dish (plus it was easily the largest portion of the evening). But given other offerings on show, it trailed down into 'quite nice' on the list of dishes tried. A good quality curry, for sure, and no doubt a decent meal but it didn't have the same spark as, say The Cinnamon Club's dish. Not that it was in any way bad. I'd have happily polished it off in the restaurant with no complaints.

Bringing up the end of savoury dishes was the pan-roasted scallop with sardine pie and cauliflower puree from The Grill at The Dorchester. It wasn't that this dish was bad, but I probably expected a little more given the restaurant's reputation. There was nothing wrong with the perfectly done scallop nor the pie. Both were nice. But they didn't quite sit together as a dish and I've had many more interesting meals involving scallops than this one.

Finally, the biggest disappointment was Asia de Cuba's Mexican doughnuts with butterscotch sauce and mojito sorbet. Perhaps the cold rain didn't help the rather nice sorbet aspect, but the whole dish was a bit nothing. The butterscotch barely made an appearance while the doughnuts were... doughnuts. Nice street food, I suppose, the kind of thing you'd buy on a whim from a trader on the South Bank. Given everything else we'd eaten, it just didn't do anything for me, which is why we made a bee-line for Theo Randall's for a second dessert.

Sadly, stomachs and funds running low meant there was no chance to try L'Anima's rabbit Siciliana, a delicious sounding Stargezer monkfish green pea aubergine and corn curry from Busaba Eathai, and Colony's half shell grilled scallops with chilli, garlic and yuzu butter.

I'm now heading to bed a happy man and, in what's possibly an omen, my Sky Plus box decided not to work meaning I can't watch England's draw with Algeria. Clearly the food gods have decided there's no point in spoiling my night.

Come, laugh at my embarrassing musical taste

One night this week I, for some reason unknown, thought it'd be a good idea to make a playlist of one song off every album that I own. That's a lot of music, by the way.

So, a couple of hours later and this Spotify playlist is the result.

You'll probably have noticed that I've got a slight preference for noodling electronica and female singer-songwriters, with an added dash of blokes with guitars thrown in for good measure. It's nothing if not varied.

A few points to note though:

1. Spotify didn't have every album I owned. Where possible, I'd try and then find a song off that album and include that in the playlist, so don't necessarily think I go owning some of the more random albums on there. In particular, I was surprised at the lack of Underworld albums on Spotify. There's also several obscure folk bands, Roisin Murphy's Ruby Blue and 4 Hero's Two Pages missing, not to be found for love nor money. And the Sneaker Pimps track is off a remix album - the original is nowhere to be found.

2. Compilation albums, thankfully, weren't included in this, although film soundtracks were, hence a few songs from Chicago, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill in there.

3. Yes, there are a lot of greatest hits albums. What of it? I wasn't exactly flushed with cash and best ofs were often a good way to collect a lot of songs I liked in one place. If you're wondering why not so much Blur or Suede in there - I owned their albums on cassette tape, until The Great Gary Clearout of quite a few years ago where a lot of stuff I shouldn't have chucked out got chucked. Including a NES. Boy, do I regret that.

4. Ahem, yes, your eyes do not deceive you. I do own three U2 albums. In mitigation, I only purchased one of them. There are also a lot of albums I own but didn't buy. I don't shoplift, I've just acquired a lot of free stuff over the years.

5. Sadly there's no Echo and the Bunnymen in this list. I do not own any album that has The Killing Moon on it, and this makes me sad.

6. I own more albums by Eliza Carthy than anybody else. This is no bad thing. I probably don't have enough albums by Eliza Carthy, if truth be told. She is excellent and I've seen her more times than any other act, bar the Super Furry Animals.

And that's it. I'm not going to write out the tracklisting as I'd be here for ever. Grab a pair of earphones and have a snigger.

Saturday Night with the Common People

You know how it is: you've carefully been saving up a set of blog posts on media and the wider world that are so corking that they may just change the way people think about the world and will surely elevate you to the rank of minor deity, then when you come to sit down and blog all you can think is: "I really, really want to write about Britpop." It's probably my fault for plugging in Pulp on the bus home. Different Class was the first albums I ever purchased and I still know all the words to every track. It may well still be the best album ever made (although Marvin Gaye's What's Going On gives it serious competition).

When Britpop was at its height you were either a Blur or Oasis man and, being a poncy Southerner, I naturally fell on the Blur side. Looking back, Roll With It is clearly a much better song than Country House, but I was blind to loyalty at the time (although The Universal was probably one of the best tracks from this era of Blur).

Taken as individual tracks, Oasis probably had the edge with several iconic anthems. Cigarettes and Alcohol, Champagne Supernova and Some Might Say sounds just as good today as they ever did. But in terms of overall canon, progression and longevity, Blur have the edge.

But just as I was wrong about the 1995 race for number one, so I was wrong at the time about Blur and Oasis being the best two bands from that period. I'll occasionally dig out a Blur album, usually their self-titled offering from '97, or Modern Life Is Rubbish, while Oasis occasionally get fired up on Spotify.

But for timeless classics that never fail to hit the spot and get repeat plays nearly every month, it's a toss up between the aforementioned Pulp and a band who may never have quite got the credit they deserved - Suede.

Pulp really need no more eulogising. They were the perfect band - a witty, lyrically gifted frontman in Jarvis Cocker, with a stage presence that gave up to all us bespectacled teenagers, while their songs were witty, pithy and said more than Noel Gallagher has managed in his entire career. Common People - need I say more.

Then there's Suede. Perhaps unfairly maligned for not being Blur or Oasis or Radiohead or Pulp, or as the band that filled the gaps between releases of the others, or a band who peaked too early and then lost their guitarist and were never quite the same. Not true.

Ok, so Richard Oakes was a little showier than Bernard Butler on the guitar and the band's glam rock influences started to take over by the end, but they could still produce a cracking tune. Coming Up was an amazing album that defies their reputation as a singles band, while Film Star and especially Saturday Night were highlights, while later tracks such as Electricity and She's In Fashion were Suede playing at being Suede and wonderfully entertaining.

And then there's the Bernard Butler era. Animal Nitrate, So Young, New Generation and We Are The Pigs and all outstanding songs while Wild Ones may well be one of my favourite ever tracks.

Put up against other bands from the era, Suede's tracks seem to have survived the test of time. Radiohead may have been a great band, but their albums are more to be appreciated than subjected to repeated listening while Blur and Oasis, while producing fantastic albums, tend to be remembered for a few select anthems. Pulp, sadly, also occasionally fall into that category, even if their best work - This Is Hardcore and Babies - came after and before Britpop's peak.

At the time, I'd never have said it, but Suede may now just be my favourite band of the 90s.

Although don't necessarily trust me. My first gig was The Bluetones.

The General Election aka Hobson's Choice 2010 has arrived

I'm sat on my sofa writing this at half eleven, the night before the general election. The Sun's front page for election day, with David Cameron mocked up into the iconic Barack Obama image, is flying around Twitter - mostly to disbelief. Bet their sales go up though. It's almost as if they've deliberately chosen an image that'll provoke howls of online outrage. So, yes, I'm sat here still not sure who to vote for. Tomorrow should be interesting, historic even. I can't wait for the drama and the coverage, although I'm less than sure about 98% of the politicians involved.

It's been a fascinating election to watch, especially from an online perspective, although I'm somewhat glad I took a holiday in the middle of it all and totally switched off from the entire campaign. Fun as it can be, I can totally understand why Adam Tinworth, and others, have retreated from Twitter for some of the election period. It can get a bit much, really.

Politics is tribal, yes. It also invokes passion. That I also understand. But it's somewhat unedifying to see people who are already elected representatives or are aiming to become an elected representative - and especially party-supporting people - close up and angry on social sites. This Tweet from Conservative blogger, Iain Dale, being a case in point (although, in fairness to Dale, he did apologise and he's not deleted the offending Tweet).

Call me an idealist, but given these people are meant to be aiming to change the world for the better and represent our interests, it'd be nice if one or two could rise above the mud-slinging. Really, all it comes across is that these people want power above political convictions (I'm probably doing quite a few a disservice here though). And I'd rather back somebody who is entering politics because of convictions as opposed to a fanatical desire to see their party returned to or achieving power.

It's not just Dale, who is meant to be one of the online stars of politics, who has forgotten what social media is about. I've seen plenty of people, especially on Twitter, who sell themselves as social media experts and, by and large, fall into that category, forget themselves.

Brands should listen and engage is a regular message from social media land. Which is why it's rather depressing to see certain people shout down and talk at others for having their party's policies questioned. It's worse than some of the rather low-brow football banter on the site. Much as I dislike Plymouth Argyle, I wouldn't go as far as some social media people have gone with politics.

And still the politics rumbles on, the 24 News Channels do their best to make The Thick Of It look like a factual documentary and all the political parties come out with policies with so many holes in them you could drive the entire US marine corps though.

This all probably sounds a bit gloomy and, yes, it's easy to be disillusioned with British politics. If there was a 'None of the above' option on the ballot paper, as they used to have in my old Students' Union elections, I'd place my cross there without hesitation.

But, having worked reporting two general elections and numerous local elections, 2010 feels like people actually care about the outcome. I haven't felt the country (at least in my personal sphere) be this engaged with the election.

I've had long conversations with strangers on the bus about the election, the result, their hopes and fears. That wouldn't have happened at the last two elections.

And, for the first time in ages, it's never been easier to connect with your MPs and other local politicians via social media and hold them to account. Anything that brings the public closer to their elected representatives can only be a good thing. Twitter and Facebook have made this possible.

But the most entertaining aspect has been the humour on social media, aimed at all parties. At least once a day I've laughed at something irreverent posted on Twitter or Facebook. It's made it entertaining. Politics is suddenly fun to discuss.

And it'll sure as hell be fun to watch tomorrow as the TV coverage gets bigger and probably more bizarre and the results fly in.

That said, it's now quarter past midnight on election day.

I still have absolutely no idea who I'm going to vote for.

A little bit more on politics and social media

History be damned. You can't get through a Prime Ministerial leadership debate without the urge to make the occasional sarcastic comment, and some cheese straws. Twitter - and social media - can't provide the latter but it made watching the first of the three leadership debates a lot more entertaining than if I was just sat by myself in front of the TV. And pretty much every big media player devoted airspace and column inches to just that.

Certainly if you want evidence of an electorate engaged and responding to politicians then Twitter and Facebook made tonight's debate hard to ignore. Want to fact check Cameron's use of Bulgarian cancer rates? There's people exchanging info via social networks as soon as he opened his mouth.

In a strange kind of way, responding to the politicians in real time made you feel a lot closer to the action and reaction. Even if the conversation was a bit one-sided (not their fault - the leaders can't Tweet and debate on TV at once), it felt like the electorate having its say.

Certainly, pretty much every news site worth its salt was pulling in from social media. I could only get ITV's worm working briefly, but their social offering was very decent, as were other sites.

The downside is you still get some rather unpleasant partisan bloggers making a lot of noise and generally trying to hijack the area. The Lib Dems got a slapping down for trying to game the Guardian's live poll. Naughty.

Unsurprisingly, since then, each party has claimed the victory. Indeed, when you looked at the party political Tweets it felt like a lot of people shouting among each other rather than many any attempt whatsoever to engage.

In all honesty, political parties are no different from many other big organisations. Many of them like to talk about how engaged they are online but in reality they're either using it to talk at people rather than with them. Politics has always rather easily fallen into that trap anyway, so it's no surprise to see the same online.


A few other random bits and pieces that I can't quite be bothered to create a new post for, but here's as good a place as any to put them.

Several weeks ago I wrote to my MP, via 38 Degrees, about the Digital Economy Bill and my concerns. Impressively, my MP wrote back, via post, almost immediately. Since then, they've written to me two more times updating my on their efforts with the bill, their concerns and what they planned to do next.

What they didn't tell me was they didn't turn up for the vote.

Cheers. That's nice to know you're so concerned on my behalf that you don't think voting's necessary.

[In fairness, there may be a good explanation as to why they didn't turn up to vote, but given they're a London-based MP that's pretty poor if there isn't one. I'm trying to find out why but haven't heard yet].

And if you want a really good breakdown of voting on the #debill and why this is yet another reason why politics is broken, Chris Applegate at qwghlm.co.uk is particularly good on this.

When I go forwards you go backwards and somewhere we will meet

And they're off. We're now well and truly into electioneering territory as Hobson's Choice the General Election 2010 rolls well and truly into town. Forget any hope of finding out news that isn't connected to three middle aged men trying to out-quip each other. It's everywhere. Including social media. And as a recovering politics geek who spends more time than is healthy on these places, I find it all completely fascinating. Last election Twitter didn't exist, all the cool kids were flocking to MySpace and, while the political blogosphere was in fairly healthy shape (and, it has to be said, a lot friendlier), the whole area was seen as a niche concern. These days, political news is being discussed on social media before the speech has even finished, while somebody will already be plotting the inevitable Downfall parody. Yes, for General Election 2010, social media matters - both to the media and the politicians. And that's both a good and a bad thing.

The bad covers a range of areas, the most obvious being that politicians and the media will try too hard to woo and give credence to what is, in all honesty,  a small percentage of the voting population by focusing too heavily on what Twitter users and bloggers are saying. That's not to say they shouldn't, but us social media types may not be representative of the areas of society who a change of government will make the biggest differences to.

[Facebook, incidentally, is a completely different proposition and one where there is are genuine possibilities for breaking down barriers between the public and politicians and enhancing democracy like never before.

My feelings on YouTube and politicians, though, generally falls under the same category as the words "let's do a viral."]

There's also the unsightly and rather depressing sight of grown adults indulging in petty point scoring across these networks, and the media breathlessly reporting this like IT MATTERS. It possibly does, but maybe not to the level it gets elevated to. I'm more interested in working out if the sums add up, or there's a commitment to, say, democratic reform of Parliament than seeing a schoolboy-like putdown that serves nothing other than mutual backslapping from that team.

Then there's the gaffes. With social media now firmly entrenched in our lives, it was inevitable that there would be plenty of political gaffes, fails and misunderstandings on how to use it all.

Us social media bods across the media or in brands engaging online have just about got the hang of what works and what doesn't, by and large, although are always learning. We're adaptable to the needs of our audience because we've been listening and engaging with communities for a while now.

Politicians, with some notable exceptions, haven't. There's a reason why companies are prepared to spend thousands on pounds in training their staff on how to use social media. Sure, they can use Facebook and Twitter for personal use, but that's a very different thing to acting as a representative for your brand in a public space, where anything you do can be attributed to your paymasters. The list of companies who've committed brand-damaging social faux pas grows monthly.

Stuart MacLennan could have probably done with some of this training.

And it's why there will probably continue to be many more social media gaffes as the election campaign carries on. If MacLennan is the only political online casualty over the next month, I'll be a very surprised man.

Yet these sort of fails also highlight the good side of social media and politics. For a start, it enables us to get an insight into prospective candidates, many of whom you'll never have heard of, and have at least something to judge their suitability for office on. And if they fall up short, then that helps inform your vote.

This is something that, the few blogging MPs that existed in 2005 aside, simply wasn't available at the last election and anything that brings politicians closer to the public is a good thing, broadly, in my book.

In many ways, this reminds me somewhat of a post I wrote almost a year ago, on the criticism around Gordon Brown's YouTube video, and Hazel Blears' comments that YouTube was no substitute for knocking on doors.

While I was critical of Blears, perhaps I was also a little disingenuous, although probably not in the way she was meaning. Yes, it's good that politicians are experimenting with social media and using it to campaign with, but it's not really a substitute for talking to the electorate. Fortunately social media allows just that.

But it's a two way conversation and those politicians and political parties that get it right may reap the benefits. Lets not forget, 12 votes can be enough to swing a marginal, so engaging online could just be a seat-winner.

That is to say, those who talk with rather to to the electorate will help their case. A politician could just be on Twitter broadcasting his thoughts, on YouTube, blogging away, and encouraging people to become a fan on Facebook, but all this activity, while making the politician appear a bit more switched on, means nothing if said politician doesn't get engage.

The really good ones will chat back and forth and listen over Twitter, respond to comments on their blog, answer questions on their Facebook page, and be an active member of the YouTube community. Now that becomes a bit more likely to get a precious few extra votes. But more than that, it shows the politician is prepared to listen, engage and respond. A bit like a 21st century version of door knocking.

It's also one of the reasons why, in my mind, the whole Cash Gordon debacle wasn't the greatest of ideas. Many of the most effective or notacable online campaigns tap directly into the zeitgeist of that particular moment. Think Trafigura and Jan Moir.

They are a swift, sharp, popular movement that gains traction because people feel strong enough to, at the very least, Tweet about it. The story or campaign then takes on a life of its own from there, and becomes a story in itself.

But trying to tell somebody on a social network what they should be getting angry about is unlikely to go beyond the traditional supporter base unless it touches a nerve, and the Labour / Unite issue wasn't enough to get worked up about. Had the Conservatives done something quick and cheap around the hiking of cider tax or the Digital Economy Bill, then they might have got more widespread support.

Again, this shows the value of listening and responding - and is possibly why having something cheap and ready to go isn't necessarily a bad idea. It's easy enough to spot something developing on Twitter if you know how to listen, and if it ties in with a political party's ideals, then there's certainly possibilities, providing it's not done in a completely top-down manner.

And if the online campaign is very top-down and has an indifferent response, you're much more likely to see the politically agnostic hijack it for a bit of fun (leaving the page open to a very simple barely-even a hack is just stupid. As is claiming it's still a victory. Sometimes it'd be nice if political people were prepared to say they made a mistake).

Those MPs who understand the sensitivities of a social media environment and listen and respond are those who may well benefit. My own MP has gone up in my estimation for a very quick response to my email about the Digital Economy Bill, although it'd be nice to see them on Facebook and Twitter. It's little things like that which can sway where an individuals vote will go.

Social media, as with its relation to most aspects of life, isn't the be all and end all when it comes to politics, but it is an incredibly useful communication channel to get an insight into the person behind the politician, as well as a chance to ask direct questions, something we so rarely get the chance to do.

Come the end of the election, it'll be fascinating to see how the three main parties - and the other parties - have harnessed social media and how well they've done, on both an individual MP level, and a party level.

There will undoubtedly be more mistakes. But there may be triumphs. And with the possibility of a hung parliament very real, that could make a huge difference. Or at least a difference between me actually knowing who I want to vote for in advance of polling day, as opposed to my usual dilemma of not being impressed with any candidate and having to resist the temptation to draw something rather crude on the ballot paper. Not that I've cocked up my vote yet, mind.

DISCLOSURE: I'm not a member of any political party and have no idea who, if anybody, I'll be voting for come May 6th.

People on the internet may also have diseases shocker

Rather glad that Ben Goldacre chose to write about the "Facebook can give you syphilis" non-story from last week. It seems everybody's got it in for Facebook at the moment and while there's a lot you can complain about, some of the ridiculous stories written about the site take bad reporting to a whole new level. When somebody who struggles with most forms of maths and science at the best of times (ie me) can spot huge flaws in the science and maths and correlations, then chances are the facts behind said story are pretty poor.

It takes a huge leap from a public health official stating that social networking sites are making it easier for people to have casual sex, and thereby increase their chances of catching an STI, to saying that Facebook causes syphillis because Sunderland has one of the highest useages of the site. But linking them together requires such a huge leap of faith and doesn't take into account the possibility that you have a random cluster.

What annoys me on this, though, isn't so much the reporting (although bolting on an unrelated report isn't great), it's the press release in the first place. These are PR professionals working with public health professionals. You'd have thought one of them might just pick up that the social networking line would be the one that the media would leap on. Or perhaps they intended it to be that way ("Go on doctor, sex it up a bit. Throw in a reference to social networking. That'll get the buggers biting.").

Either way, you'd have thought some kind of facts to back up the claim, even if the form of a few notes to the editor, backing up or explaining the statement would have been good. Or, if you can't, let the professor throw out the idea in interviews, as his own opinion. At least you're then separating opinion from fact.

As somebody who has, in the past, probably been guilty of spewing out some bad science stories (busy newsroom, no science background, easy press release for a quick bit of copy), it's not helpful when press releases like this are thrown in our direction. If you decide not to run with the social networking angle, your editor sure as hell will.

I've long said that there's no much thing as adding too much information on science and health press releases, even if you do this as notes and let the release itself be eye-catching.

Going from past experience, the best science or health stories I did was when the press release was clear, explicit and assumed you were a science-idiot (which I was; still am) and laid everything out in as simple a way as possible. And were then very good at explaining and expanding, quickly but clearly, when I rang. Those that didn't probably led to misunderstandings and undid any work the press release may have done in the first place.

It's easy to chide journalists for getting science stories badly wrong (and the other stats-bolt on does no favours for this story). But if you're going to throw garbage into the news system, in the form of a poorly-thought through science-related press release then you're inevitably going to get garbage.

Age doth become me, and age doth become the internet

Last year, this post almost certainly wouldn't have got written. I'd have probably been busy running around, bottle of beer in hand peering at people's nametags and having mutually agreeable conversations that what we were doing was the future. Today, this post nearly didn't get written because I got distracted by The Big Lebowski on TV. Somewhere along the line, I've morphed from Riggs into Murtaugh.

It's not that I didn't want to go to Twestival tonight. I even had a ticket and had every intention of going. But it clashed with podcast recording night, and we were running a bit late, and the studios were across the other side of London, and I had lots to do and didn't want to be tired at work, and home is back the other side of town, and so on and so on. And so the sensible, but boring, decision was taken to head home rather than party into the night.

(And in many respects I'm rather gutted I didn't make it. The Twestival team have done a fantastic job from turning it into a small one-off in a bar near Trafalgar Square into a global phenomenon. I'm always slightly humbled whenever I see what they've achieved).

Gone are the days where I'd run across London, make three social media parties in a night, and still come in bright and cheerful the next morning.

But it's also interesting as I don't think I'm the only one. When it comes to partying or cracking on and doing something, the latter is often the default setting.

Perhaps its because social media has been around for long enough that it's no longer new, it's not a phenomenon, any people have stopped going "Ooh, isn't this cool," and moved towards "Right, how can we use this better." Or, put more crudely, "How can I make money from this?" [1]

It's not that in social media that people have now met all the useful people. But we've got a better idea of who we need to contact and how to get hold of them. And while partying was, you know, fun, websites don't just built themselves, and Twitter doesn't update itself, and money doesn't just magically appear in your bank account, and willyalookatthateverybodysdoingsocialmediathesedaysholyshitwebetterupourgame.

And the thing is, we generally get it now. Not all of it. That implies there's no more to get. But now social media is more commonplace and even if not everybody in any given is immersed in social media, they know it's important and they're prepared to create new jobs for people to show them how to do social media and these people have stopped going "Well, there's a lot to learn<' and instead are saying "It's not that hard. Look, I'll show you. And, actually, we can do something VERY cool with this."

So, yes, doing things. That's what we're largely doing now. Burying ourselves in work - and this isn't necessary dull, because a lot of it is putting the VERY cool things into practice rather than just talking about them. There's less of a need to jump around and drink lots and generally tell people how cool the projects are you're doing. We know. We're probably working on something similar.

But that doesn't mean we can't party from time to time, right? And every last person at Twestival well deserves every drop of beer drunk tonight because they're all contributing to something amazing and making a huge difference to people's lives in places where debates over Foursquare are, frankly, insignificant. And this wouldn't have been possible without social media.

And tomorrow we'll get our heads down to working again, either with hangovers or tinges of regret about not being able to make it. And we'll enjoy it.

I'm getting old. I'm also working hard with VERY cool things. And while I'm careering slowly towards not being able to name the majority of artists in the Top 40, I'm still loving every minute of it. Social media isn't the future any more, it's part of the future, and I'm bloody glad I'm part of that part.

PS The podcast tonight was so much fun, I'd happily have missed most things to record it. It'll be up at the usual places tomorrow and should be sounding fantastic.

[1] Not that I necessary subscribe to the latter viewpoint. It may surprise people, but I make precisely zero from the podcast. It's currently done solely for the love of podcasting and football.

Three courses. Six people. Oh fuck

What, all five of you who read this might be entitled to ask, have I been getting up to while not blogging. The answer largely involves eating. More of that to possibly follow, but one of those nights of eating involved something I've never tried before: cooking a three course meal. For six people. On my own. The terror! Actually, the evening went rather well and, as it's Christmas, I thought I'd share what I cooked on here. There should have been photos, but I've left my USB cable at home. Anyway, I was so busy getting the main ready, I forgot to take pictures of it.

Starter: Spicy parsnip soup

The perfect dish for a cold winter's evening. The garam masala gives it a nice warm flavour without overpowering the vegetable, and can be served to this who don't like their food too spicy.

You will need:

1 decent size onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or chopped

A small knob or pinch or ginger

1 tablespoon garam masala

5-6 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped

Olive oil


1 litre stock - chicken or vegetable is fine

1/2 litre of milk

Put a decent glug of olive oil and a knob of butter into a large saucepan and let the butter melt. Throw in the onion, garlic, ginger and garam masala and lightly fry until lightly brown and covered in the buttery, spicy mixture. Then add the parsnip (be careful not to cut the chunks too big) and make sure this is also covered in the mixture (about a couple of minutes).

Pour in the milk and the stock and a dash of salt and pepper (if you want to be fancy you can add coriander at this point) to season. Bring to the boil, then cover and let it simmer for around half an hour. Check if the parsnips are cooked through by sliding a knife in them.

Liquidise your mixture and return to the heat, and season to your taste. If you want to make it extra special, cut a few slices of crusty bread, top with Mexicana cheese and grill for a couple of minutes, then put in bread and cheese into the soup once you've served it up.

Main course: Slow cooked beef in Guinness with mustard and gruyere mash

A brilliantly easy dish to prepare that makes about 10 minutes to put together and can be left while you go off for a walk. Or, in my case, down the pub to watch football before coming back to make the mash. Yes, it's that easy you can do it after a couple of pints. You'll probably need to get the silverside from your local butcher. It won't be cheap but it WILL taste amazing.

You will need:

1.5kg Silverside of beef

150g bacon lardons

2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced

2 medium / small onions, peeled and chopped

You can add your own vegetables at this stage as well. I used a leek in this, but sprouts, kale, or any other veg that takes your fancy would work equally as well.

1 can of Guinness

Worcester Sauce

Thyme or coriander, chopped

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Tie up your beef (you can get your butcher to do this) and season the surface. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 1 (140 C I think). Get a large oveproof casserole dish, turn the heat up on the hob, throw in a dash of olive oil and brown the meat all over for a couple of minutes. Take the meat out of the dish and put to one side.

Put the lardons in the dish and cook for a couple of minutes, then add the carrots and onion (and other veg) and gently cook for a few minutes until the onion is turning soft and brown. Put the beef back in the dish and give it a good move around in there.

Add the Guinness and a dash of Worcester Sauce and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and put it into the oven for a couple of hours minimum. Take the lid off and leave the dish in for another hour, minimum. Make sure you check and turn the meat occasionally to ensure it browns all over.

When you take the meat out, you can use the Guinness and juices to make a tasty gravy. Remember to cut the string off and to give the meat time to settle, then get carving.

But first, you'll need to make the mash and for that you will need:

6-12 potatoes, depending on size of potatoes and hunger of guests

Lots of butter


Salt and pepper

English wholegrain mustard

Gruyere cheese (other cheese works as well. I just happened to have Gruyere to hand.

Peel and cut your potatoes. Put in a saucepan, cover with water (add a dash of salt), bring to the boil, turn down the heat, cover with a lid and let it simmer for around 20 minutes. Check if the potatoes are cooked by sliding a knife into them. If it easily goes all the way through, you're ready to get mashing.

Before you take your potatoes off the heat, grate your Gruyere or snap bits off so you've got lots of small chunks. Get your mashing implement and mash your potato down. Return to the heat and add a small dash of milk and lots of butter, as you want to get your mash nice and buttery (I tend to use James Martin's advice and put in as much butter as you think you need, then a little bit more). Thrown in the cheese and 1-2 tablespoons of mustard plus the salt and pepper to season and keep mashing until you you've got a lovely creamy cheesy mustardy mash. Serve at one with the beef, vegetables and anything else you want (peas, etc).

Pudding: Zuppa Inglese

Possibly one of the easiest puddings in the world to make! You can prepare this the night before and worry about the main course the next day. If you can't find vanilla custard, you can always use normal custard and throw in a dash of vanilla flavouring. For the brandy, the only stuff I had to hand was peach brandy, which worked well. You could also use Tia Maria (or both) and the cognac isn't essential - really the nearest to what you have to hand works pretty well.

For the layers, if you want it really chocolatey, ignore the instruction to put some of the custard to one side and melt the chocolate into all of it. The coloured layers are purely for aesthetic reasons.

You will need:

1 litre pre-made vanilla custard

1 round sponge cake

1 cup of espresso (or good quality coffee)

150g (or one and a half slabs) of Green & Black's dark chocolate

1 teaspoon brandy or Tia Maria

1 teaspoon Cognac (optional)

Cocoa powder

Put aside around 1/4 to 1/3 of the custard. Heat the rest in a saucepan and melt in most of the chocolate. Take off the heat once everything's melted into a dark chocolate custard. Meanwhile, in a cup, mix together the espresso, brandy or Tia Maria and cognac.

Get a reasonable size bowl and spoon half the remaining vanilla custard in. You'll then need to cut up the sponge cake and cover the custard with a layer of sponge. Brush the sponge with the alcoholic espresso mixture to ensure it remains moist. Repeat the layering but with the chocolate mixture. You should go chocolate custard, sponge, moisten. The last layer should be the remaining vanilla custard.

Put the trifle into the fridge and leave to cool overnight Just before serving, grate the remaining chocolate. Dust with cocoa powder and sprinkle with the grated chocolate.

So, that's it. Three easy, non-too-time-consuming and delicious courses. You've got plenty of time between each t make your house look amazing. Or watch football.

And a word of warning: it's impossible to have just one helping of the trifle.


Alternative Christmas Number One campaign

No, not Rage Against The Machine. I like the track I'm far too apathetic and quite like The X Factor as well. Whatever. But somebody on Exeweb suggested an alternative campaign to get Half Man Half Biscuit's 'All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit'. Now that's a campaign I could really get behind.

And because you can never have too much Half Man Half Biscuit, here's the wonderful Referee's Alphabet.

Time to dig out my copy of Cammell Laird Social Club, methinks.