Great mobile internet deal

I’ve just ordered a mobile internet dongle from 3, through a very good offer I discovered through Martyn Lewis’s Money Saving Expert site.

The dongle (currently being advertised elsewhere for £50) is free, and the monthly rate is half the normal price: 

1Gb per month is £5 monthly

5GB per month is £7.50 monthly

You have to get the deal through the web cashback site Quidco.  You don’t have to join Quidco, but if you do you get further cashback (£12.50 for the 5Gb offer).

1Gb deal

5Gb deal


Fresh(food)er’s week

I’ve just done the weekly grocery shop at Sainsbury’s in Selly Oak.  As usual, the main clientele on a Tuesday evening consisted of students from Birmingham University, which is very close.

Being that time of year again, they’re either self-catering freshers, or second years who have moved out of catered halls into their own accommodation.  But the real division is into:

  • slightly lost souls wandering round with a near empty basket and no idea what to put into it,
  • and cheerful pairs and trios wheeling piled up trolleys, squealing with delight at the adventure of cooking their own food.

They certainly brighten up the weekly chore.  But I can’t help wanting to borrow the tannoy microphone when Customer Services isn’t looking, for a public service announcement along the lines of:  “Sainsburys?  Are you mad? Aren’t you on a really tight budget?  There’s an Aldi down the road for goodness sake!  And why aren’t you buying your fruit and veg at the market?”

I haven’t so far. But if you ever hear of a madman being expelled from a supermarket after a public address incident, that’ll be me.

Festival equipment – sleeping bags

Having got something to shelter you from the weather and insulate you from the cold, hard ground, now you need something to cuddle and cosset you all night long.  You can’t rely on another person to do this, sadly, as they may still larging it at the Hidden Disco or be crashed out on the floor of the 24-hour café .
A good sleeping bag will never say “Of course I looked for you at the main stage. Where were you”.

Not this

Once again, in my dismissive way, let’s make it clear what I’m not talking about:

rubbish sleeping bag

While this sort of sleeping bag might be suitable for a visiting niece or nephew dossing for the night on the sofa, they don’t really cut it for camping purposes. Why?  Not  warm enough (wrong shape, poor filling material, leaky zips) and too bulky for carrying easily into the site.

Mummy bags

Already feeling cosy, aren’t you?  Actually, this is the sort of mummy we’re talking about:


A practical sleeping bag shares a similar shape:

mummy bag

  • a hood that can go all round your head (for very cold nights),
  • broadest in the shoulders
  • tapering to the narrowest point at the feet.

Other features

  • There’ll be a zip up the side, to make it easier to get in and out, and to adjust the degree of insulation.
  • The zip should have a baffle the whole length to stop warm air from escaping – don’t buy one that doesn’t.
  • Sometimes they’re sold with a left or right zip.  The theory is that if you buy one of each you can zip them together to make a sort of double bag.The added opportunities for, er, togetherness probably make it worthwhile for a couple, but when you split up you’ll have to make sure your new partner is compatible (“…NS, GSOH, left-handed zip…”)
  • There should be a drawcord, so that you can pull the neck of the bag tightly around your shoulders, or head.
  • On higher specification bags, you might also find shoulder baffles with a separate drawcord.  These enable you to pull the bag more snugly around your shoulders, than with a hood drawcord alone.  This may seem a bit over the top, but you’d be surprised how cold it can get at night, even in Britain in summer, given a northerly wind and clear skies.
  • The sleeping bag should pack away into a stuffsack.  That name indicates the way the bag should be stowed – literally by stuffing fistfuls at a time firmly into the bag, and then tightening it with a drawstring. (Only while in transit, though. When not in use the bag should be taken out of its stuffsack and ideally hung up, or put flat under a bed)
  • Look for a robust stuffsack, with good strong stitching around the drawstring, because you’ll be putting a lot of strain on it.
  • The stuffsack should have compression straps.  Once the bag is packed away, these help squeeze a lot of the air out, reducing the size you have to pack by about a third. It’s this sort of thing that can make the difference between getting all your gear into the site in one go or having to go back again and missing that up-and-coming act on the BBC Introducing stage.
  • If the stuffsack doesn’t have its own straps, you can buy compression harnesses, which go around the sack, but they’re fiddly.


Top flight bags are filled with goose down, or a mixture of feather and down.  This gives maximum warmth for weight, and maximum compressibility so that they pack away small.  But down is expensive, useless if it gets wet and needs specialist cleaning.

You’ll find a lot of synthetic fillings on the market, and these are a good compromise if you’re not planning on bivouacking on the Matterhorn in February.

How many seasons?

Most sleeping bags as classed as one, two, three or four season, and often have a temperature range that the manufacturer reckons they’ll be useable in.  Like tent sizes, these are often optimistic (I’m being charitable here).  At the lower ends of the range they seem to assume you’ll be sleeping fully clothed, including thermal underwear.

One-season bags (the season is summer, by the way) are really only suitable for mild nights and indoor sleeping.

Four season bags are designed for hardy types who own ice axes and crampons.

So for use in the ever-expanding British festival season – effectively May to September – you have the choice of a two- or three-season bag.

For many years I’ve used a three-season bag – an Ajungilak Kompact, and there have been times when I’ve been grateful for every degree of comfort that it’s offered me.

But on milder nights – or when sleeping into the morning when the sun is up, when a tent can be doing a passable imitation of a bread oven – my three-season bag is often too hot.  You can undo the zip to stick various limbs out, or to use the bag just as a cover.  And I also pack a very light cotton sarong.  Not for doing my celebrated David Beckham impression, but as an alternative covering for the hottest times.

My recommendation – bag and liner

Learning from this, if I were buying today for Spring to Autumn use – including festivals – I’d get a good two-season bag and a silk liner:

Silk is a superb material; light and warm – and of course it feels lovely next to the skin.  With this combination, you’d be prepared for all conditions, from sub-tropical (liner only) through average (bag only, in various states of zipped up-ness) to freeze-your-nuts-off-if-you’ve-got-them (both together).

What’s on the market

As well as Ajungilak – a venerable make, and worth seeking out just for the challenge of pronouncing it – you might also take a look at bags from Marmot, Mountain Equipment, Snugpak, Vango

Two-season bags

In the budget department, a Karrimor Global 900 07 two-season bag is about £35,

If you’re after real quality, an Ajungilak Kompact Spring two-season model can be had for about £85.

A silk liner (various makes) is about £25.

Three-season bags

If you feel the cold, like to sleep naked, or plan to camp well into the autumn, then consider a three-season bag.  You can get cheaper, but a Snugpak Softie Chrysalis Kilo looks like a good bet at £70-ish.  Or the modern version of the one I’ve got, the Ajungilak Kompact three-season bag, is about £95.

Carry that weight

The next article in this series will be about getting all this shiny new gear from the car park to the camp site.

Led Zeppelin – pioneers of house music?

Although they didn’t know it, when rock gods Led Zeppelin released the album Physical Graffiti in 1975, they invented a style of music that wasn’t to take off for over five years.

House music.

Oh yes.  Side two, track two – Trampled Under Foot – has almost all of the hallmarks of the seductive dance music that came out of Chicago in the 1980s and was to take over the world – for a while, anyway.

Trampled Under Foot doesn’t have a conventional verse/chorus structure, but bashes out verse verse verse verse with a relentless repetition, based around a jagged guitar riff.  The release of this charging tension comes from an electric piano figure with a lot of the feel of a house breakdown.  It doesn’t have a drum machine, of course, but  John Bonham’s 4/4, underlying the track with precise brutality, does just fine.

Hairy Melon mix

Well, that’s my theory, anyway, so in tribute to this pioneering track, here’s an entirely unofficial remix of it.  I’ve taken out some of the 70s soloing, which sounds a bit self-indulgent now, and laced it with some 21st-century distortion, but it’s essentially the same propulsive tune.

Trampled Under Foot – Hairy Melon mix

I’d be interested to hear what you think about the mix.  And is there an even earlier tune with a claim to be the first house record?

The Archers goes to Bestival

This week, two examples of British eccentricity come together, as two of the younger characters from The Archers (Alice Aldridge and Christopher Carter) are off to Bestival.

As it happened, it fell to me to write all this week’s Archers episodes (31 Aug – 5 Sep), which was quite handy, as I know Bestival fairly well.  I went to the first one, when it was a small hopeful punt by Rob da Bank. In fact I bumped into Rob on the site and asked if he was going to do another one.  “If I can afford it”, was his answer.

It’s become a great success, of course, and I went again in 2006, when it had grown substantially.  I couldn’t make it this year (going to the End of The Road instead), but I took two off my sons to its new small offshoot Camp Bestival, which was great.

When I was writing the script, the Bestival folk sent me a full site plan and stage running order, so that I could get the details right, supplemented with my own knowledge of the festival atmosphere. So I now know where the Hidden Disco is (although I’m sworn to secrecy).

There’s a bit of run-up on Thursday evening’s Archers episode (1900hrs, repeated the next day at 1400hrs), and quite a substantial chunk on Friday.

If you’re familiar with festival-going, I’d be interested to hear what you think of the episodes.  In fact any feedback is always welcome.

btw, I’ve been writing a bit about equipment for festivals:


sleeping mats