Ask Nick – Bloggers

Yet another one from Ian:

I have a sort of “where are they now question”. What happened to all the UK “Proto-bloggers” those that were around in the year 2000-ish? Sadly the media and unreliable ex’s mean we know what happened to Brooke (Methylsalicylate) but I’m sure there must be some other interesting stories out there… Perhaps there’s a coffee table book in it (I’m calling dibs on royalties at least for the idea!).

I know what happened to a few of them as they’re still about on Twitter, Facebook and the like. Every so often I wonder about the possibility of organising a bit of a reunion, but I’m not sure how many would be willing or able to come, especially as so many of them seem to have left London and, in some cases, the country.

I’m not sure that a coffee table book would be appropriate, but maybe a few blog posts or something. If there’s anyone still reading this who used to come to the old Blogmeets in London, it’d be great to hear from you and find out what you’ve been up to.

Ask Nick – Amazon

Another question from Ian:

Firstly, thanks for answering my other questions. I have another one, although it might not be entirely your specialist subject. Where is my Amazon order? Tracking info suggests its in Scotland at the moment, will it arrive in time for Xmas? And most importantly what do I do if it doesn’t?

You’re very welcome, Ian. Always happy to help.

I can’t, of course, tell you where your Amazon order is right now, but it looks fairly likely that you won’t receive it in time for Xmas. I’d suggest, therefore, that you apologise to the intended recipient and explain that you’ll give them their gift as soon as you can and, if you’re able, pick up a small token item so that you still have something to give them on Xmas day.

Ask Nick – Post Natal Meals

Another one from Angela Howard:

I’m expecting a baby in a few week and I want to make some nice meals that I can freeze and reheat whn I’m exhausted and up to my eyes in nappies, any ideas what would be good? I hate ready meals and I’d like to make some things that Pat, the children and I can eat that are easy, but still taste nice and are reasonably healthy.

An interesting one, this, because I’m often in need of something quick, simple and tasty myself. When I was younger my mother used to make large batches of shepherd’s pies and cottage pies and bung them in the freezer. Grab one, reheat it and add some mixed vegetables and you’ve got yourself a decent meal with very little effort. So that’s my recommendation.

Ask Nick – Insomnia

A bit of a medical question from Angela Howard:

What causes insomnia?

There are a number of things that can cause, or contribute to, insomnia. These include:

  • Stress, depression, anxiety or grief.
  • Physical illness such as asthma or pain.
  • Noise or discomfort.
  • Some medicines.
  • Stimulants such as caffeine.
  • An irregular sleep routine.
  • Alcohol

There are other causes, too, but I think I’ve got the main ones. As to what to do about it, that really depends upon the precise cause. If it persists, though, I’d definitely recommend talking to your doctor.

Ask Nick – Christmas

Another seasonal question, this time from Ian:

At this time of year I often find myself having to type the name of the “holiday”, you know the one on the 25th. But as an Atheist I’m troubled, should I use a capital C as it’s the name of an event, or does that confer too much recognition of the history of it’s name and indeed acknowledge the C bloke too much. Or should I use a lower case C to display my dismissal of the aforementioned geezer, thereby not acknowledging its status as a proper-noun which surely it is? Your considered answer would not only reduce the head scratching which my ill-covered bonce can scarcely afford, but would also save me untold time as I won’t have to have the same argument with myself every time I send an email for the next few weeks.

As an atheist myself, I’ve wrestled with this dilemma in the past and come up with the following. Since Christmas is a proper name and the correct name of the festival, I see nothing wrong with using a capital ‘C’. If this makes you uncomfortable for any reason, you could do as I do and use the common abbreviation, ‘Xmas’. As well as solving your problem rather neatly it’s also quicker to type, which is handy for us lazy types.

At the end of the day I’m not sure it really matters all that much. As I get older I find that I’m less inclined to spend hours agonising over trivia than I once was. Remember the basic rules:

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  2. It’s all small stuff.

Follow the above and I think you’ll be much happier.

Ask Nick – VAT

Angela Howard asks:

Id VAT charged on second hand goods? EG things you buy from Ebay etc

I’ve looked into this and the answer seems to be that if you’re a private individual you don’t need to worry about VAT. However, if you’re a business and are thus VAT registered and are trading in items that are normally VAT-able, you will have to pay the tax on any profit you make. If you don’t make any money you won’t have to pay tax.

If you’re intending to trade heavily on eBay or elsewhere, I’d strongly recommend speaking to a qualified accountant.

Ask Nick – Supermarket Hierarchy

A really good question from Ian:

We all know that there is a supermarket hierarchy, as Alan Coren said “The best thing about Sainsburys is that it keeps the riff-raff out of Waitrose.” So my question is, what is the proper place of each supermarket in that hierarchy? (I’m assuming a supermarket must have at least half a dozen branches, so Fortnum & Mason doesn’t count!)

I reckon that the hierarchy runs something like this, in descending order of ‘poshness’:

  1. Waitrose
  2. Sainsbury’s
  3. Tesco
  4. Asda
  5. Co-op
  6. Morrison’s
  7. Budgen
  8. Iceland
  9. Lidl
  10. Aldi

I’m excluding Marks and Spencer’s Food Halls from the list as M&S isn’t really a supermarket as such. If it were to be placed, though, it’d probably have to go at the top.

I know I’ve left quite a few supermarkets out of this list, but I think I’ve got all the major ones.

Ask Nick – Illness

Vally asks:

You seem to be getting ill a lot. Are you eating properly?

Thanks for your concern, Vally. I’m eating as well as I can, taking multivitamin tablets daily and drinking fruit juice. I’m also trying to cut down my sugar intake and get a little more exercise. Hopefully this regime will help me to fight off future illnesses better.

Ask Nick – Secret Santa

A seasonal question from jez b:

I have to spend up to £5.00 for a company ‘secret santa’ thingy.

The subject is male, approx 40 yrs and is head of sales for a media company.

Any ideas / recommendations?

If I were you I’d have a look at or, both of which have plenty of items for under a fiver. If you can’t find something suitable there I’ll be quite surprised.

Ask Nick – Rebel Base

An interesting one, this. Darth Vader asks:

Where is the rebel base?

Yavin IV. See? All that nonsense about tracking people down and torturing them was completely unnecessary. All you had to do was ask me.

If you have a question, on any subject whatsoever, why not Ask Nick? Answers will range from completely serious to utterly frivolous, depending on the nature of the question.

Ask Nick – Skype

A question from Mike Henden:

i am an old git, so be gentle, can you tell me what ‘skype’ is and is it better than msn? how do i get it? down load it. i am on windows vista…………yeh i know hahaha . thanks nick

Skype is a piece of software that, as well as providing text-based chat, also allows users to talk to each other and, if they have webcams, see each other too. If both users have Skype installed, then the service is free. You can also use Skype to call ordinary telephones for a small charge and you can also have a phone number associated with Skype, that other people can call just as if it was a regular landline, but with the added bonus that you can take the number with you anywhere. I use Skype to provide me with a number in this way. Most mobile devices these days can run Skype, too.

In my opinion, Skype is way better than MSN. Try it for yourself and I think you’ll agree.

You can download Skype by visiting this page. Just follow the instructions to set up a free account.

Ask Nick – Thermals

And now a question from my mother:

It’s cold out. Are you wearing your thermal vest and balaclava? If not, why not?

Not much research needed for this one. I’m not wearing a thermal vest per se, but I am wearing plenty of layers and wrapping up nice and warm. I don’t own a balaclava but I’m seriously tempted to get one, if only to frighten little old ladies (such as yourself) with.

Ask Nick – Personal Identity

The honour of the first question goes to Marcus parkus, who asks the following:

‘All personal identity is tenuous shaky ephemeral. We are the universe pretending to be a person’ deepak chopra.


Well, Marcus, my own view is that the universe is in no way sentient and that, until good solid scientific evidence to the contrary becomes available, we really are the individuals we appear to be. Hard-headed and unromantic, I’m afraid, but there it is. But thank you for your question.

Ask Nick

I’ve decided to launch a new feature that I’m calling ‘Ask Nick’. Essentially, if you have a question about anything at all, ask me, I’ll do the research and then provide my answer. It’s much better than Googling your question or posting it somewhere like Ask Metafilter, because instead of getting a confusing array of conflicting answers you’ll just get a nice, simple, clear answer from me.

Please be aware that I don’t pretend to be an expert on anything and I can’t guarantee to answer your particular question. This is just a piece of fun. I am not your lawyer, doctor, or whatever.

That being said, if you do have a question, whether serious or completely frivolous, do fill in the form below and let me attempt to help you.

Update: Form removed due to spam. Sorry.