Category Archives: News

Squirrel Of The Week

Red squirrels might be so scarce in Britain because of the loss of their habitat and their inability to compete with the imported grey squirrel but their poor gastronomic choices might have something to do with it.

A red squirrel broke into the Atholl Road branch of Greggs in Pitlochry through the eaves on a Saturday night and refused to move out, forcing locals had to do without their sausage rolls for several days. The squirrel’s occupation was manna from social media heaven for Greggs who shared updates of the chase with their followers and were finally able to tweet four days later that “after giving us the run around, we managed to catch the Greggs squirrel safe and sound”.

They posted a video of it being released into the the nearby Faskally woods. The shop then had to be thoroughly deep cleaned – every cloud has a silver lining – but is now open for business again.

Perhaps the squirrel will stick to nuts next time it feels hungry.   

Porridge Of The Week (2)

If you are a porridge lover, here are two dates for your diary. October 10th is World Porridge Day while two days earlier the 29th World Porridge Making Championship makes a welcome return. While the hotly contested competition to secure the Golden Spurtle was held in 2020 and 2021 Covid restrictions forced it to be held virtually. Not this year, though, and so competitors, fans and onlookers will be able to see the fun for themselves at the Village Hall in Carrbridge.

First held in 1994 the title of World Porridge making Champion and the prestigious Golden Spurtle is awarded to the competitor producing the best traditional porridge, made from pinhead oatmeal. Each competitor is to produce at least 2 pints of the porridge, served in four bowls, and oatmeal must be untreated and only water and salt can be added. Consistency, colour, taste, and hygiene are the criteria upon which the entries will be judged.

There is also an award for the best specialty porridge, made from untreated pinhead oatmeal and any other ingredients the contestant chooses to use. The blending and harmony of the porridge with the other ingredients will be the key judging criterion.

A spurtle is a traditional Scottish utensil, dating from the 15th century, used to stir the mixture. Its rod-like shape means that the porridge can be stirred without congealing or forming lumps.

Let battle commence.

Swap Of The Week

Necessity is the mother of invention they say. With Ukraine and Russia accounting for around 80% of the world’s sunflower oil production, many European countries are feeling the pinch with supplies running out or rationed.

Having run out of oil one night, the managers of Giesinger Bräu, a brewhouse and pub in Munich, scratched their heads and came up with an innovative plan to ensure that they would always have enough to cook their punters their schnitzels with. They have launched a barter system, offering a litre of the brewery’s finest ale to any customer in return for a litre of sunflower or rapeseed oil.

With a litre of beer costing €7 and a litre of oil €4.5, it seems a great deal, with customers swapping over 400 litres at the time of writing. One enterprising customer, Moritz Baller, bought 80 litres of sunflower oil on a recent trip to Ukraine delivering humanitarian aid and swapped it for eight crates of beer to fuel his birthday party.

A case of greasing the palm, you might say.

Twitter Handle Of The Week

Pity poor Liz Trussell. Her Twitter handle is @Liztruss and for some reason politicians, newshounds and other unsavoury characters seem to mistake her for the new British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, who, as social media was another thing she discovered late in the day, has had to make do with @trussliz.

Still, it has boosted her followers and Trussell does seem to have a sense of humour. On September 7th she tweeted “Grabbed lunch at IKEA today, picked up a new cabinet”. However, things are likely to get worse for her, at least in the short term, if the experiences of John Lewis are anything to go by.

Lewis whose Twitter handle is @JohnLewis and whose profile says he is a “Computer science educator, father of four, social liberal, atheist, and not a retail store”, receives upwards of 50,000 tweets a year from people trying to contact the British retail store, John Lewis, whose handle is @JohnLewisRetail.

Life was so much simpler when we made phone calls and wrote letters.

The Snaking Queue

If there is one thing the British are good at, it is queuing or, as the Americans prosaically describe it, standing in line. We grin and bear it, showing a stiff upper lip, a physiognomic combination that, I find, is difficult to pull off with any degree of aplomb.

Our continental brethren are made of sterner stuff and hanging on in quiet desperation, to paraphrase Pink Floyd, is not their way. In the early part of the 20th century, mathematicians and statisticians began to consider the dynamics and component factors of a queue in a formalised way.

The forefather of a branch of mathematics known nowadays as queuing theory was a Dane, Agner Krarup Erlang, who published a paper in 1909 in which he considered the optimal configuration for the Copenhagen Telephone Exchange to reduce waiting times and improve connectivity. It is tempting to think at the time not many operators were needed, given the number of telephone users at the time, but you have to start somewhere. He went on to develop the Erlang theory of efficient networks and the science of telephone network analysis.

Others, principally Kendall and Little, developed upon and refined Erlang’s work and there are, for the non-mathematician, mind-bogglingly fiendish algebraic formulae designed to assist service providers configure an optimally efficient queuing system. When it is all boiled down, though, the key components are when the customer enters the queue and the interval between each arrival, the time it takes for the customer to be serviced, the number of operators, the capacity of the queuing system, and whether the first in are to be served first or to use another form of service provision.

It goes without saying that the analysis is heavily biased towards the service provider rather than the person queuing. No queue may mean that the provider has overcapacity resulting in a waste of resources which, of course, equates to money. Overly long queues mean that there are not enough operators. Queuing theory attempts to find the ideal balance between resourcing the service and the time a customer can tolerate standing in a queue. Queuing theory makes queues an inevitability.

I always thought that the single “snake” line weaving its way to a few service counters was just a nifty way of confining as many people in as small a place as possible, what the police call kettling, and freeing up floor space. For sure, it is intended to do this but its advocates also claim that the process provides two principal benefits to the people in the queue.

It imbues a degree of equity into the process as there is only one queue to join. You just shuffle along until you get to the front. When presented with a choice of queues to join, how many times have you got that sinking feeling that by some innate ability you have managed to select the one that seems to be moving more slowly than any of the others? This source of frustration is eliminated.

Psychologically, so proponents claim, people feel much better if they are on the move than if they are just hanging around. A “snake” line is more likely to keep you on the move as it is feeding several service counters. I find the back of someone’s head only holds my attention for a few seconds at most but as you are snaking along you can at least engage in conversation with the people going the opposite way on the other side of the barrier. Sure, the conversation wouldn’t rival the Socratic dialogues for its perspicacity but there is some comfort to be gained in a mutual moan as to the length of time the process is taking or speculating whether there will be enough time to hit the duty-free shops.

Enthusiastic queue managers see the “snake” line as an opportunity to sell additional product. That’s why in supermarkets and other retail units the human serpent is routed through shelves of unlikely products that you would have given nary a glance to normally, but which become strangely enticing after prolonged contemplation.

They also like to keep you informed to manage your expectations. Notices like “abandon all hope ye who enter here” or the like greet you at the entrance of the “snake” and at varying intervals you will encounter “just thirty minutes to go” or “nearly there”. I treat them as the antithesis of the signs you see on the motorways telling you how long it will take you to get to the next junction. That is a challenge to be beaten. In a queue, I am grateful if I overshoot by less than 50%.

Serpentine queues, I’m afraid, are here to stay and for that you can blame Agner Krarup Erlang and the Copenhagen Telephone Exchange.