Archive for December, 2011

LPG stoveEver since summer I’ve been looking for a way to make our conservatory more usable throughout the colder months.

We looked at wood-burners first (well, multi-fuel stoves) but the flue system would have been both hideously expensive and hideous to look at! So we then looked at balanced flue gas fires. It turned out that our conservatory walls are not high enough for one of those either.

Next, we found that there were a few LPG fires with a ‘living flame’ look about them – but all online; we couldn’t find any on display in any of the local ‘fire’ shops. So, we bought one online from a company in Leicester.

I wish we hadn’t bothered.

The fire, a Flavel Thurcroft Stove, was delivered during the week following the first agreed Saturday date, because the Leicester company cancelled at last minute, due to it not being convenient for them any more. The day after the fire arrived I went out and bought the necessary 7Kg bottle of gas (harder than you think – they are all 12K around here) and we were set-up ready to go.

What can I say? The fire was very noisy. That’s about it really – the fire was far too noisy to provide the warmth, appearance and atmosphere of a traditional stove alluded to on the adverts. And there were only two heat settings: (1) High and (2) Higher still.

Now, I’ve used LPG fires for over forty years and I’ve never had one that creates this much noise – apart from one that was designed to work outdoors, a ‘site heater’. I’d imagined something that looked a little like a wood burner (and it did) that had a real flame (and it did) but that didn’t intrude on the ambient background noise usually experienced in the conservatory (but it did – very much so)!

So, it had to go. The company in Leicester were happy to exchange it but then started to involve the manufacturers. To be fair, it is the manufacturer’s lack of real interest in my problem that made me reject the delivery of a replacement fire. At various times they told me “all gas fires are noisy” and “this model only has two settings” – all very product-protective and not very customer focused.

Anyway – the long and short of it is I’m £50 down and I still don’t have a fire.

The company I bought the stove from were happy enough to refund my money, less a £49.95 collection fee (as stated in their terms and conditions) – under distance selling regulations. The alternative (free collection) would have been based on the manufacturer’s opinion of whether the stove was faulty or not. Despite my argument that my contract was with them and not with the manufacturer, and that I wasn’t returning the stove due to ‘dislike’, but due to ‘online misrepresentation’ (it didn’t provide the warmth, appearance and atmosphere of a traditional stove ) – I wasn’t prepared to let the issue go on and risk even more expense.

It must be remembered that at this time, the supplier had me over a barrel – they still held both my payment AND the stove. I decided to lose the £50 and walk away.

I write this blog post purely as a caveat emptor.

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I set myself on fire!

I often use a blowtorch in the kitchen: For lots of culinary reasons.

However, since changing the gas canister recently, I’ve not been able to get a steady flame. I replaced the canister once more but the same thing continued to occur – so I suspect that my ‘flame-unit’ is faulty.

Hey ho.

Knowing this, Sharon bought me a Colourworks KitchenCraft blowtorch, for Christmas. It’s a really cool blue, bijou design that doesn’t need a canister. Instead, it refills like a cigarette lighter, from a valve in the base.

Cool – so far.

Because I don’t always read instructions and often dive straight in, I waited until Boxing Day to open the new tool and to play with it. For once I DID READ THE INSTRUCTIONS, as I didn’t want any mishaps with it; well I wouldn’t, would I? What’s more, and this has nothing to do with the story, I also read the instructions for my new DAB radio too (despite needing Sharon to reinterpret them for me) – perhaps I’ve turned over a new leaf.

On the handle of the blowtorch, there’s a gas trigger that doubles as a spark creator and neither the trigger nor the spark can operate unless the user pulls down the gas release tap beneath the flame barrel – a two handed operation. Before use, you have to fill the handle with gas via the valve mentioned above and off you go. So, I did all that (as per instructions) – the blowtorch lit, and when I released the trigger the flame went out. Annoying, but understandable. So, then I tired again and got nothing. No sound of gas – nothing. I re-read the instructions and found I was doing everything correctly and had to assume that I hadn’t put enough gas in. So I filled it again.

This time when I pulled the trigger, the gas ignited and like before, went out when I released the trigger. All OK so far. Except, it wouldn’t light again – just like before. I therefore decided to wait half an hour before trying again, in case there was some sort of safety cut-off.

After half an hour it still wouldn’t light. Suspecting user incompetence, I tried refilling the handle again and this time the gas certainly did overflow (a sign that it was indeed full), so much so that it went all over the work surface and onto my shirt.

What happened next is a mystery, inasmuch as I don’t know what it was that ignited the overblown gas but within seconds the work surface was ablaze – as was I!

I’ve never been so frightened in my life. My shirt was on fire and I couldn’t put out the flames. I tried removing the shirt over my head but the top button was tightly fastened and by now I had begun to panic. Sharon had appeared in response to my alarmed shout and tried, also in vain, to get the shirt over my head. Luckily, my first attempt had extinguished the flames about my person but I could see the work surface burning behind us as Sharon shouted to make me get in the shower. The work surface went out (luckily again, only the over spilled gas had burned – everything else was fine) as I started to realise that my hands hurt and that my chest hairs were now much shorter and curlier! SHIT!!!

In the end I only had minor burns on four of my fingers and small areas on the back of my hands. They hurt today but haven’t blistered. I feel very lucky.

But what caused the flame and why the blowtorch wouldn’t light despite doing everything correctly? I’ve no idea.

The torch is obviously faulty, or it would have lit a second time (remember that on two occasions it lit once and then wouldn’t light again) and I wouldn’t have needed to try and refill.

I will now continue my search for a canister blowtorch – they seem (ARE!) much safer.

Any recommendations?

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To celebrate my birthday this week, Sharon booked us into one of the venerable old ladies of British Transport Hotels1 (BTH) – The Queens2 in Leeds.

Built in 1937 for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company3 (LMS), it stands proudly outside Leeds railway station as a testament to art deco4 architecture. I’ve been aware of this hotel for more than half of its life – and not all of that awareness has had the respect I can now give it.

As a child, my parents took me to Leeds by train once or twice each year, to visit the big shops in Leeds (C&A, Lewis’s etc.) for new clothes. Passing the Queens, I could see it was quite posh and that it knocked Huddersfield’s own Queen’s Hotel into a cocked hat. (The Huddersfield Queens is long gone). As I grew older and entered the catering industry I begun to realise how tired it really was. I worked in several old West Yorkshire BTH hotels in the late 60’s/early 70’s and they had all begun to fade badly by then.

As a catering teacher years later, I used to take students along to the Queens Hotel as well as other city centre establishments and when asked to compare, they invariably said that the old lady was quite tired, old fashioned and not certainly not a patch on the more modern hotels.

What a difference £10m+ has made since QHotels5 took over in 2003.

Without losing any of the grandeur, a tasteful revamp has made it a warm and welcoming place to visit. The staff are superb and unlike many other city centre hotels, they are not surly, forgetful or in any way superior. During our visit they were helpful and informative, they couldn’t do enough to help us. And it’s no longer draughty, because despite still having the original steel frame windows, the secondary glazing means that is retained. The décor and furnishings complement the hotel’s age and architecture.

Well done QHotels.







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In the early years of the 17th Century, much of northern Europe was at war and vast areas of Europe were not ruled or laid out as we now know them. Northern France for example, was under the rule of Spain – as part of the Spanish Netherlands. It wasn’t until the reign of Louis XIV that this began to change. [e.g. http://history.wisc.edu/sommerville/351/351-14.htm]. By 1680, France’s northern border began to resemble that of today.

With war on many fronts, the Minister of Finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert, was forced to encourage domestic industry and to heavily tax or ban imports. It stands to reason therefore that Dutch produce (produce from the Spanish Netherlands, which included Holland and Belgium) was banned or at the very least – hard to get.Mimolette Cheese. Image credit at bottom of blog post.Dutch Cheese, as you might imagine, was part of this trade embargo. Yet, the king enjoyed Edam Cheese so much that he encouraged Colbert to find a French alternative. This he did, in the form of Boule de Lille – produced at that time in Flanders. It had to be coloured orange to distinguish it from the Dutch version and Mimolette was born. See Monday’s #sugsnip – http://bit.ly/vQrhnR.

Mimolette is a cheese that until this week, has passed me by. And that’s a shame because it is delicious. Simply delicious! All the websites that discuss this gorgeous cheese suggest it looks like Cantaloupe Melon – and it does. When I opened my recent purchase and showed it to Sharon she said “Mmm, melon”. But the colour changes with age I understand, as does the taste.

It is a hard cheese and like parmesan, has a rich nutty flavour. What I didn’t tell Sharon was how some of the flavour is introduced:

Maturing the cheeses involves storing them in damp cellars and turning them every week. At the same time the surface of the cheese is brushed to remove cheese mites which feast on its surface. As the cheese ages, evidence of mites can be seen in the pitted and moon like surface which appears on the cheese. http://bit.ly/u4LNLb

Hey ho, what you don’t know can’t harm you – and – it sure tastes good 😉

Photo Credit – 1 = http://www.flickr.com/photos/vialbost/5001160831/
Video Credit – 1 = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVg2CWhLnF4

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