Sausages with Onion Gravy *

6 sausages
2 medium onions
brown sugar
some green beans to serve


Put the sausages in the pan with some oil. Fry them. Keep an eye on them. Don’t let the skins burn before the “meat” inside has cooked through.

Slice the onions roughly – be quite cavalier – and add to the pan. (I put some butter in at this point because I do rather like to see it bubble and foam.)  Sprinkle some brown sugar on top. Stir, stare and marvel. If necessary, add salt repeating the stir,stare and marvel cycle.

When the sausages are cooked (just poke them), start blanching a packet of green beans. When the water’s boiling, remove the sausages and onions from the pan and serve them in dishes.

Pour some already mixed instant gravy into the frying pan. Mix it all together. Pour the resulting onion gravy over the sausages and onions and serve with the beans.

We really enjoyed making and eating this and thus ended up feeling quite smug.

* Assuming my colleague Tom isn’t a vegetarian, I think he really ought to make this tonight. He absolutely deserves the comfort food.

Free Thinking Festival: Is Privacy Dead?

Is it wrong to be blogging about an event which has been recorded for radio not intended to be broadcast until Monday 3 November at 9.15pm? Am I revealing something I shouldn’t be even though I know it will happen because I sat in a room and listened to a man tell me and one hundred or so other people ?

It’s a question I’m thinking about having come out of a debate at the Free Thinking Festival which posed the question “Is Privacy Dead?”

In an age of online communities, blogging, micro-blogging and picture sharing, I find myself thinking intensely about my personal activities online. It’s scary. I can’t get it out of my head.

What should I reveal about myself? What do I reveal about myself online? Do I reveal too much? Am I revealing my true self or, a convenient skewed image of myself? Should I be more private? Should I reveal more? Would anybody read anything I wrote if I did?

And if it is I have an online persona and a real one (and personally, I would argue that they are one and the same otherwise both pursuits would be absolutely agony day to day) are there times when I don’t want to participate online ? Are there times when my mood, my insecurities and fears curtail my online activities? Thinking about those specific things, should I in fact be more careful about how I conduct myself online in an act of much-needed self-preservation?

Don’t you loathe people who ask too many questions and can’t/won’t/can’t be bothered to provide any answers? Well, the truth I feel the pressure of time on me. There’s no time to answer the questions even if I knew the answers. It’s a fast moving world. The bar here at the Free Thinking Festival is buzzing – the “Speed Date a Thinker” crowd are busy preparing for their hour of fun and there’s a competition going on between me and another other chap sat across from me busily tapping away at his laptop.

What I’m struck by – yet again – is how a relatively brief session listening to the likes of Bill Thompson, psychologist Sonia Livingstone, Cultural Historian Jonathan Sawday and Geoffrey Rosen has set my mind buzzing with excitement.

The most pointed example raised in the hour long debate hosted by Philip Dodd was this. Geoffrey Rosen explained how some students he knew of would take to live-blogging lectures and seminars. Was this a use of technology which was to be welcomed?

The fact is it’s here. We all do it. Those of us who use the internet rely on opportunities like these. There’s a buzz. A desire to provide a personal response to events as we witness them. We want to share where we are at any given moment in time even if the majority of the audience don’t care or would rather prefer it if we didn’t clog up the internet with our ill-considered babble.

The answer is impossible to arrive at. My interviews kick off in around fifteen minutes time and the speed daters are about to start their speed dating session.

I also have to get this blog published as quickly as possible. I have to beat the bloke sitting opposite me. I know he’s blogging about it. I just know. Why would he look so intently at his laptop in the way he does? I must beat him to it. Seeing as he’s Bill Thompson, the need seems inexplicably even greater.  

Disappointingly it appears I’ve failed. Mind you, it might have helped if I’d been a little less verbose.

You can hear the Free Thinking Debate “Is Privacy Dead?” on Monday 3 November at 9.15pm on BBC Radio 3.

Free Thinking Festival 2008

“You’re a 90 year old man stuck in a 40 year old’s body,” said a new found friend with a wry smile on her face. I corrected her only on the “40 year old” bit. As it happens I am 36 and I also go to the gym three times a week. I may not have the body of twenty-something gym bunny, but I figure I’m doing OK for my age.

Having said that, she’s not entirely incorrect. I was explaining to her how I was looking forward to my weekend jaunt in Liverpool. I’ve got my train booked – a nice four and a half hour journey to the European City of Culture to attend Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival. I’ll be taking my flask for the journey (yes, really), some sandwiches, and a small weekend suitcase. I love the travel. I love the ocassional weekend away in a hotel. I’m really looking forward to it.

I’ve been to the Free Thinking Festival before and loved it. Initially the prospect of listening to lectures, seminars and debates about a broad range of topics delivered by thinkers, scientists and authors didn’t seem appealing. And yet, only a few hours in Liverpool and I found myself lapping it up.

Attending is one of the many benefits of working at the BBC. You can be working in one division doing your day to day work and then find yourself doing something completely different for an entirely different part of the Corporation. I like that. I value that. It’s something I’m very grateful for.

This year’s event is a little different for me. There’s a personal challenge afoot. Armed with my camera, my laptop and a (hopefully) free internet connection, I’m producing a series of short video reports about various events. There’s a drama being produced over weekend for broadcast on Sunday night, a key note speech from Will Self, a debate about whether computers make us stupid and a discussion about whether our idea of privacy is now redundant in light of social networking tools.

The challenge for me is two-fold. First is the editorial and technical challenge presented by attending a series of events and providing responses to camera immediately afterwards. This is “free thinking” after all. It’s about engaging in the debate, identifying your personal response to a series of ideas proposed by various speakers. That response then needs editing, encoding, checking over and then uploading to the web (all the videos will be at and on this blog).

The second challenge is primarily an editorial one. In comparison to the Proms – where I’ll happily admit I relish the opportunity to be a little tongue-in-cheek – the Free Thinking festival is an entirely different animal. Tongue-in-cheek just doesn’t work at this kind of event. It’s small – intimate in some respects – and it’s a genuine educational experience too. The opportunity to go is a bit like being told I could go back to University and do my degree all over again and not have to pay. The idea of that is a luxury. The opportunity to reflect that using a slightly different language is appealing and also quite a challenge.

Can I pull it off? I’ve absolutely no idea. But I will have a good stab at it. Keep up with what’s going on via Twitter if you fancy or perhaps even check the blog if you’re so inclined. Failing that you could always listen on the radio.

Facebook “imposes facelift” ?

Maggie Shiels, BBC Technology Reporter based in Silicon Valley reports on Facebook’s recent supposed imposition of a website redesign on it’s users. Suitably motivated and annoyed users have set up a group protesting about the changes.

I’m one for gut reactions to things and when I read some of the user’s complaints about “having” to accept a site redesign and not being afforded the opportunity to still choose between the old one and the new one, I did start climbing the walls of my office.

I appreciate redesigns can be difficult for a consumer to muster, but designers like to change things. We all like to see things change so that new things can be brought in, so that new functionality might be introduced in the future. We all like to go through a bit of a redesign from time to time.

And there’s the thing. It’s just a redesign. You’ll still be able to contact your friends. Still be able to send out infuriating requests to all your other friends inviting them to install some pointless application in a bid to ascertain whether you think they’re your favourite pal or not / hot or not / rich enough / poor enough / ugly enough.

The irritating functionality remains. It just looks a bit different now. That’s all.