Monday, 26 November 2007

Croeso i Gymru

Just back from a hugely successful weekend in my old stomping ground of Cardiff. I went to University there twenty-odd years ago, and have been back only very irregularly since. I think the last time was with Jacqueline, but not long after we'd met. So that would probably put it in the Summer of 1998.

To save time, I took the train directly from London, while Jacqueline and Alice drove up from home. She should have got there an hour or so earlier than me, although as it happened because of the traffic we arrived at the hotel at almost the same time.

We stayed in the Future Inn, which had a few strange traits (they wanted us to pay on arrival, for example, the first hotel I've stayed in where this chas been the case) but was comfortable enough. Plus, it was close to all of the Cardiff Bay facilities, most of which was of course derelict when I last visited Cardiff. Indeed, there appeared to be lots of building going on all over the city.

On Friday, then, off to the Red Dragon Centre for some supper at the Old Orleans restaurant. An excellent meal, plus they were really kind to Alice. The three of us shared this amazing chocolate dessert, complete with ice cream, marshmallow, maltezers and brownies.

Saturday started quite cold, so rather than walking into the city centre we drove, even though it was only a mile or so (indeed, once I'd got my bearings I realised that there was a park and ride bus just opposite the hotel, plus there was a station just a few minutes walk away. But still...next time...

So, into the centre of Cardiff where we had a good old walk around. The place itself was full of people (I hadn't realised that Wales were playing this weekend), and having walked up a couple of the shopping streets we made a detour to avoid all the people and visited the university, so I could show Alice where I used to study. Now, they'd warned me the evening before that they'd gone past a fair on the way to the hotel, and although nothing was immediately apparent, Alice's eyes lit up as we walked across to the university and right in front of us we saw the big wheel. They'd set up in front of the museum, and it was a "Winter Wonderland" theme rather than just a fair.

We weren't ready for the fairground yet, however, and we strode on until we reached the main building of the university. Of course, since it was a Saturday it was very quiet, and I was able to give them a tour of where I used to study. I was quite lucky (although didn't fully appreciate it at the time) to study in such a lovely old environment. It truly is a magnificent building. I rounded off the tour by taking Alice into the library, where she was absolutely aghast at the huge number of books on the shelves. "Daddy, when you studied here did you have to read all of these books?", came the whispered question!

So, a wonderfully refreshing visit, full of memories. In fact, the only major change I noticed from all those years ago is that the theatres and labs in which I studied now form part of the Chemistry department, and the Physics department has now been hived off to a new location altogether. So, if I were to go to university now, I wouldn't even be in that building!

Back to reality, and at last Alice got to visit the Winter Wonderland, and we had a ride on an excellent big wheel, in the cold drizzle I remember so well! Still, Alice was totally unphased by it all. Right next to the big wheel was an outdoor ice rink, which also looked like great fun.

Back into the city centre, where we got sidetracked by Alice wanting to visit a Santa's Grotto. It was a little strange since she was the eldest child queuing, but there again kids generally want to grow up so quickly nowadays that its quite nice to have her enjoy childhood.

Alice by now was very content, and we settled down to strolling some more through the city streets. Cardiff has some beautiful Victorian and Edwardian arcades, which retain their charm largely because the high street stores have left them alone. Very different to your average city centre, although there is a load of construction work going on at the moment so quite how much charm will be left in a couple of years is open to question.
By this time the rugby had started, so many of the bars and had emptied, and we settled down to a somewhat belated lunch, before walking through the arcades once again.

We finally got back to the car just as the rugby was finishing, so avoiding most of the crowds. Both Jacqueline and I had bought hats, while Alice had a new teddy (courtesy of Father Christmas) and some new bottles of fairy dust.

Back to the hotel for 5pm for a couple of hours' rest, then out again, this time to the excellent Doctor Who exhibition in the Red Dragon Centre. There were full size Daleks (which are actually quite scary!), a model of an "old" cyberman (a guy in a grey boiler suit!) and a "new" cyberman. Plus, of course, the Tardis and K9. I'm not very into Doctor Who, though Jac and Alice love it, but it was very impressive. At the end of the exhibition was a shop, and the amount of merchandise of all kinds was incredible. This must make the BBC a lot of money.

Out through the centre - the weather having cleared up somewhat - and we caught our first glimpse of Cardiff Bay. Lovely. Fortunately I'd brought my camera and tripod with me so took some decent photos to boot. They really have smartened the place up well (I visited Butetown once of twice when I lived there, and it was very rough), and clearly it has become a big venue for going out. A lovely stroll. Back through the Red Dragon Centre for supper, to a Thai restaurant which was basically a buffet. Lovely, but I couldn't work out where the chips came in!! Finished off with some fresh pineapple, to wake us up a little.

Back at the hotel, Jacqueline's pedometer said she'd walked 30,000 steps that day, with her normal target being just 10,000. So, that's how far we walked

Sunday turned into a full day also, though at the outset we had little planned. Checking out of the hotel, I treated the family to a drive around Cardiff, showing them where I'd used to live etc. etc. Very little had changed in Roath, and we had time to take a stroll around the lake in Roath Park. On then, back into the centre of Cardiff, where I'd booked for Alice and I to go skating. Initially Alice got very upset because she'd thought it would be easy and it wasn't, but by the end of the hour she was moving a little more fluidly, albeit with one hand still on the rail! Back then across to the bay, where we visited Technoquest - a great entertainment for youngsters. At about 4 o'clock, we finally had some "lunch" at the nearby Harry Ramsden's. As usual, the food was good but the service was disappointing. Topped up with food, however, we then headed for home.

Two hours later, fortunately with very little traffic along the way, we were greeted by the lovely Maisie, whom we had awoken from her slumbers upon our return. Someone was glad we were back...

Monday, 19 November 2007

Naughty but Nice

Tippled down over the weekend, so no walking despite a trip to Cotswold Outdoor Saturday to get some proper walking shoes for Alice. We did have a tentative plan to go out to the forest Sunday, but 33mm rain yesterday put paid to that. Instead a trip to the Rapids for a swim, followed by afternoon tea at the White Hart in Salisbury. So very much a day of two halves - a good one and a naughty one!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Eastern Promise

I must mention a TV channel I have recently found. Its a news channel called Russia Today, and I have taken to watching it as I'm getting ready to go out in the morning. At that time of day they seem always to be showing documentaries, but the tone of these documentaries is highly questionnable. A week of so ago, I was treated to some black-and-white footage of Lenin's time. All well and good, except that as I became drawn in, I realised that the footage was not filmed *during* Lenin's time, but some time later. And the documentary was not simply telling me a story, it was telling me how wicked a man he was to boot. Pure propaganda.
Then yesterday, a documentary on Latvian nationalism. It was not immediately apparent when this program had been made, save that it wasn't made that long ago. But the programme went back to the Second World War and made sure the viewer was aware of how many Latvians were complicit with the Germans. All very emotive stuff, Latvia should look toward Mother Russia rather than to the West. Then the documentary displayed footage which was clearly contemporaneous, made me realise that people are probably churning out more and more of these even as I write.

Can't wait...

I am something of a golden boy again at the client's, for both prudence and brevity I won't go into much detail. Suffice to say that my approach of being calm, understanding problems, and grinding out solutions is rather less spectacular, rather less pro-active than many at the client's, yet it seems to produce better results. I am reminded of Rudyard Kipling's "If", and of Hemingways quote - "Never confuse movement with action".

If nothing else it is just interesting to see different people at work, and how peoples' fundamental nature means that they will take the same approach again and again, irrespective of previous results. To be honest it is partly frustrating, but for the most part amusing (after all, they're paying me to watch all this!).

Did I mention I was thinking of buying myself the complete Dilbert collection for christmas?

Monday, 5 November 2007

1984

I've prattled on for years about the policies of our illiberal government. Fortunately, Blunkett now appears to have been carted back to whichever lunatic asylum from whence he came, and Reid - never more aptly described than as an "attack dog" by Paxman - has faded back into obscurity.

However I was reminded yesterday just how pervasive this "Big Brother" attitude has become when I heard on the car radio an "advert" regarding benefit fraud. Listen here.... Truly disgusting.

Its not that I condone benefit fraud, although I can easily think of other types of tax avoidance (which is essentially what it is) whick would probably be fairer and more lucrative to target (for example the millionaires who live in London but pay no tax). It is purely the tone of this advert, alongside the tv adverts we see about TV Licenses and Car Tax, all of which aimed purely to scare.

It upsets me a lot to see this. I think of the terrible event that was 9/11, and how even more terribly these opportunistic politicians have taken this event as an opportunity to erode our liberties and essentially turn the country into a police state. I remember with dread 7/7 - not least because I take the tube each day - but I cannot see how such an attack will be a one-off when simply the tone of our government gives rise to so much resentment both at home and abroad.

On a final note I read an article today claiming that Brown has put a halt to the ID Card project pending a review of the feasibility of the technology. Dare I be optimistic enough to hope that this is one constraint on my liberty that is now dead and buried?

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Photogenius

Well, the holiday seems a long time ago, although we have just had a good weekend, especially from a photographic perspective.

Started Saturday slowly, but Jacqueline wanted to finish an essay for her latest course, so Alice and I made ourselves scarce, going to Serendipity Sams over in Romsey. I'd have thought Alice was a little old for this now, but she seemed to have a great time. For all her flaws, Alice is very gregarious and has no trouble befriending people. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to get into a new book (I stopped off at Hatchards last week and basically stopped buying at £50, but could easily have spent the afternoon there).

So, Alice ran around like a mad thing while I started reading Tony Benn's latest diaries. Benn is a man I admire greatly in any case, plus these diaries take hime from 2001 (when he left the Commons) to the present, so are very much comtemporary. I am sure they will be excellent.

From Romsey we headed over to Salisbury, where I had determined to take some photos of the cathedral. Every night when I come home from Salisbury Station I drive along the Ring Road and I have often though what an excellent vantage point to see a good view of the cathedral. Of course, one cannot stop on the ring road (let along set up the tripod!!), but the ring road runs next to a multi-storey car park, and such places are excellent for a good photograph.

Off, then, to the top floor of this car park, complete with photo bag and tripod. Even though I say so myself, the end results are wonderful. Even Alice was placated, since she had an excellent view of some fireworks displays over Salisbury.



Back home, and not only had Jacqueline completed her essay, she was also up for taking Alice to the local firework display in Downton. I stayed home for that one - I'd had enough of Alice's sole company for the day. But they came back an hour later having had a great time.

Despite lovely weather on Saturday, Sunday was actually forecast to be the better day of the weekend, and today we headed back over to the Purbecks (we were there just a couple of weekends ago), parked up at Lulworth, and walked across to Durdle Door. Absolutely perfect. Even Alice (although she whined on the walk there and back) had great fun exploring the caves along the beach.

Once again, although we were at the wrong time of day for perfect photography, I got some okay snaps.








So, Sunday evening. Having traipsed over the Dorset cliffs today I feel absolutely knackered, and won't be long out of bed!