Monday, 16 November 2009

In search of a flat tum

I got in the car this morning and as soon as I started it up the windscreen wipers started off. I haven't been near the car since last week, so it was a fitting reminder of the pelting rain I arrived home in on Friday.
It pelted down Saturday also - for once Jacqueline and I, having dropped sproglet off at her tutors, drove into Salisbury rather than walking. Even once parked, we had to sit in the car to ten minutes for the rain to stop bouncing quite so high off the pavement! All this for a simple cup of coffee.

Quiet day Saturday, then, it just rained a lot.

Yesterday, however, the weather broke and, in the morning at least, we had beautiful sunshine. Caught Maisie sunning herself on a neighbour's fence, and got an excellent snap of her catching some rays. Something we haven't done for a while, Alice and I went out for a swim yesterday morning. We visited The Quays in Southampton for the first time - built at the same time as the West Quay shopping mall. Excellent facilities.
There's generally an incompatibility when we go swimming, since I like to swim lengths and Alice likes to play (and Jacqueline likes to shop!). Yesterday we were all happy, I got to swim 40 lengths (1000m) in their main pool, while Alice alternated between the main pool (where she did 5 lengths in total, and 4 lengths non-stop, bravo!) and a kiddies pool with slides etc. And all the while, Jacqueline was window shopping in West Quay. There's also a diving pool at this swimming pool, and Alice and I sat in awe, watching these young girls high-diving into the pool. Very impressive.

So needless to say after swimming a kilometre I was feeling very fit and happy with myself. I'm still cycling and am noticing things like ribs becoming visible again. Last night I saw myself in the mirror and was able to see my sternum poking out. Plus there's my clothing - my belts are in a notch and Jacqueline said my trousers looked way too big on me. I'm really in a groove with this, the cycling especially but it'd be nice to get swimming regularly also. Maybe next week...

But anyway, we weren't finished yesterday. Because we went swimming quite early, we came out of the pool ready to meet Jacqueline for some lunch, a jacket potato all round. Alice is becoming quite conscious of what she is eating (although it doesn't necessarily stop her from eating the wrong things!), so I was proud of her for choosing a jacket over a Happy Meal. Plus, she even got her favourite filling of prawns. Far better than chicken nuggets, despite the mayonnaise.

The weather was just about holding out, so we left Southampton for a trip into the forest. I took Jacqueline and Alice to the place where I went a month or so ago, to try to see some red deer. By now the weather wasn't quite so bright, and of course with all the rain we've had it was very wet underfoot, but guess what? We lucked out! Admittedly they were a couple of hundred yards away, in the tree line on the other side of a heath, but nevertheless we were able to stand and watch this herd of red deer just going about their business. Amazing!

Of course I had the camera with me, but the light was such that I don't think any shots will be particularly good. At that range, I'm pretty much blowing the image up to 100% and cropping right in, in order to get a good-sized image. And although I was shooting from a monopod, every little jiggle will adversely affect the shot, and it is very easy for things to become out of focus. Still, we'll see.

We had such a good time deer stalking that by the time we arrived back at the car it was almost dark, even though not quite yet five o'clock. The last visit of the day was very pleasurable, we headed across to the
Rhinefield House Hotel for some afternoon tea. Although rather busy and slightly disorganised, when our tea finally arrived it was delicious, and a very pleasant way to wind down.

After that, a drive home through the dark forest. There was a magical moment just as we were leaving the hotel, as a small deer (think it was a roe) was illuminated by one of the spotlights on the hotel's driveway. Really lovely, a shame (sod's law) that the camera had been well and truly packed away by that time. I'd never have been able to capture it anyway, I'd have needed my flash (which I'd left at home) and that would have scared the poor thing out of its wits.

I'm in a very French mood at the moment, in fact I signed up on the Libération (a left-of-centre newspaper) web site and left my first comment! Plus, I'm reading a book - in French - at the moment, by the late Michel Serrault, a French actor who was also pretty switched-on about life too. It is very, very good, profound - il était très sage. Finally, last night, I was in just the mood to watch what I think is my favourite film ever, a French film starring none other than Serrault - Le Bonheur est dans le Pré. Wonderful stuff.

Coming full circle, we had a very stormy night, and when I got in the car this morning it was as well the wipers started automatically - saved me a job!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Getting Fitter

Well we're into November and the weather has certainly turned. Been quite windy and stormy, and getting cooler though no frost yet.

Despite this, however, I have kept on cycling to and from the clients, two months now, and am starting to see and feel the benefits. I weighed myself before I started cycling - a massive shock at 15st, all the more reason for doing something! A month later the family were saying I was looking more toned, but I hadn't registered any real weight loss. However I weighed myself last night and found that my weight had dropped to 14st9. Of course by now I had realised that good things are happening anyway, since my clothes are looser and I can tighten my belt a further notch. But now I know I'm losing about 1lb per week. This is great news, especially since I'm only really cycling 25 minutes per day, and haven't really been eating anything different/less.

Funny thing though, some days are definitely better than others. Yesterday I felt really good, loads of energy, pushed myself and still felt like going around the block a couple of times. This morning a little more restrained, although I still pushed myself - when I feel my thighs starting to hurt I know that good stuff is happening to me!

Alice hasn't been well the last four or five days, not really ill, but definitely under the weather. When I got home last night she'd already been crashed out on the lounge floor for an hour, where she stayed the rest of the evenng until we helped her get into bed. And this from a child who, more often than not, is still lying awake at 11 o'clock at night.

Went to see fireworks down in Bournemouth last Saturday. The weather wasn't brilliant, but the display was good. Took the camera and the tripod, got a couple of shots but nothing particularly special.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Sad News

Do you ever have times when you hear something, some "news", that makes you really quite sad? Even though the "news" involved may be far from recent?

I remember getting that feeling several years ago when I googled (or whatever the technology was in those days) Jon Pertwee, only to find out that he'd died of a heart attack a few years earlier while on holiday in New York. I remember Jon Pertwee fondly both for Doctor Who (though he was only my second-favourite doctor, Tom Baker taking that particular prize) and for Worzel Gummidge, a Sunday afternoon childhood memory. Very sad.

Anyway, I digress. Got exactly the same feeling today. I don't know why but I was thinking about films, more specifically about French films, which I like and which I haven't bought for quite a while. I googled my favourite French actor, Michel Serrault, only to find that he died a couple of years ago. Again, it left me feeling really sad. Especially to find out also that he was based in Honfleur, which I know so well.

I'm not sure I should google my next-favourite French actor (Jean Reno), just in case I find something out I don't want to know!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Drawing In

Another blog entry, and so soon after the last. Amazing!

We're now into October and the weather is becoming more autumnal. Throughout the whole of September we had almost no rain - and bear in mind I'm cycling twice a day now so I take note of these things - but yesterday and today there has been rain both days. Not enough to put me off, though, not just yet!

Quiet weekend just gone, Jacqueline is still not 100% and to make matters worse she's passed her cold onto me, so I too am not 100%. So we hardly went out. However we did accomplish a mammoth task - tidying Alice's bedroom - which took eight or nine hours to do properly. We ended up with six full bin liners, but really cleaned the room from top to bottom, wardrobe, toy chests, the lot. Looks a lot better now, but I'm going to have to put my policeman's hat on every week now to make sure it stays tidy. We've been lax in this area before, but really at 10 years old Alice is old enough to take on this responsibility, especially now she has been given a head start.

Still disappointing, though, that she wants to hoard everything. We had started out with the intention of donating little-used toys to the charity shop, but in the end there was no middle ground. Things were either thrown away, or were kept. She can't bear to part with anything, even stuff she hasn't touched for years. Very annoying.

Not a great deal else happening. Finally got a skype account and a little box which enables us to use the existing phone, although to get it working properly I needed some special phone connectors, and the only shop that had exactly what I wanted was based in Hong Kong. So I'll probably have to wait a week or two before everything is wired up properly. The plan is that the cost of this equipment (around £30 all told, plus £10 per quarter for Skype) will pay for itself in reduced phone bills - we'll have to wait and see.

As soon as we get a bright weekend, when I'm feeling Ok, I really want to get down to the Purbecks and take some photographs. I haven't picked the camera up for ages and I'm missing it.

Oh, and last Friday was the twentieth anniversary of my starting work. So I went out to Bodeans for a slap-up lunch, and some people from the current clients came with me. Great food once again.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Weekly Update

Busy weekend in the garden, the front looks really good now and everything is pretty much bedded in for the winter. I did the back last weekend. I'd hired a chainsaw for the occasion it was an unmitigated disaster. Cost me £75 and got something like a half an hour use of it. The blade stopped working and nobody had explained to me (or given me any documentation to say) that this was just a safety cut-out and I could get the thing working again just by flicking some switch on the unit.

Maybe it was just me being an idiot, I should have known, but at the end of day I am the one out of pocket with nothing to show for it. So, Romwy Garden Machinery, you'll understand I'm sure if I go elsewhere to get my stuff serviced from now on.

Anyway....suffice to say I managed without the saw, I have a little hand-held jobbie that did the job well, and the garden is now looking really good.

Aside from this, I had planned Sunday to go down to the Purbecks and take some sunset photos, but obviously did the garden instead. This was partially due to Alice helpfully using all the hot water - it was about 2:30pm before I managed to have a shower yesterday - smelly! But on the plus side I did get the VAT return done, which is a chore out of the way. It'll actually get to them early this quarter.

I've not done much photography lately, but in the mornings at the moment I'm leaving home just before sunrise. So on Friday I went out at the usual time but instead of going directly to the station, stopped off by the river at Charlton-all-Saints. Watched the sun come up and took a couple of photographs along the way. I could have done with staying another ten minutes or so to get some better photos, but didn't want to miss the late train.

Downloaded some music at the weekend - I had to go to Amazon to buy it - some of the punk stuff I listened to as a student. Did you ever hear of Crass?

Oh, and did I mention I'm now riding an old bike between the station and the client's? Have been now for a month. Good exercise, and at certain times a lovely ride. I'm often cycling past Big Ben, for example, as it strikes nine o'clock. I save £80 per month on my travelcard by not including the underground on the ticket, and although I bought myself an Oyster I have yet to use it. Four weeks having been nowhere near the tube is excellent!

Monday, 21 September 2009

In the garden

Had an almighty row with Jacqueline on Saturday morning, it just blew up out of nothing but spoilt the whole day, most of which I spent bedding the garden down for the winter.

Lots of chopping. I'd even hired a chainsaw for the weekend in order to do most of the "tough" branches, but in the event this packed up after not very long. So, £75 out of pocket, I ended up having to use my trusty old hand saw instead. But I really wanted to use the chainsaw to have a go at one of the trees in the front, and of course that never got done.

In the event, I had to stop at the back garden, because I simply ran out of space to pack away the cuttings. So in the front garden and the outside (not much really, mainly trimming hedges, although there is this tree...) everything gets to live another week at least.

By Sunday lunch, Jacqueline and I were on speaking terms once again, and she helped me tidy the garden a little.

All in all, one of those weekends which aren't particularly interesting, but which nevertheless need to happen once of twice a year.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Norfolk

Terribly bored today so thought I'd fill in a bit more detail about our holiday etc.

We started the holiday by going up to Oxford to see the wedding of my old friends Paul and Theresa. I first met Paul through a friend when I moved to the Cowley Road area of Oxford in early 1990. He introduced me to Theresa shortly afterwards, they'd only just started seeing each other. Theresa is a lovely person and would always invite me to Sunday dinner, even though she had four kids and everything must have been a handful. I remember taking her third daughter June up to see my folks for a week in Liverpool - I have no idea what led me to agree to that - and once took her boy Brian (aged eight or nine) to London to see QPR play Leeds. This must have been 1992 - it was the year Leeds won the title. He's a big bugger now, well over 6 feet, and I had a nice chat with him at the wedding.

Also saw the other kids. June (the girl I took up to Liverpool) was always mouthy and hadn't changed. Trish and Maggie (the other two "girls" - I use the quotes because they must be around 30 now!) were there and are both gorgeous. I think they each have 2 kids, I remember Trish had her first very early on, she must have only been 17 or so. But all of them looking good, and of course there were lots of kids around so plenty of stuff going on. Alice loved it.

Because the wedding didn't start until 4 o'clock, we had some time to have a walk around Oxford beforehand. Of course it is a beautiful city, just made for walking around. In many respects I wish I'd been interested in photography during the time I lived there, there would have been many opportunities.

The Sunday, we drove on to Norfolk. The main thing I remember - apart from the gradual realisation that the car had a puncture and the uncertainty that caused - was the total absense of traffic. For the third week of August, I was surprised. Almost clockwork journey, then, cross-country first to Waitrose in Swaffham (I'd done my homework and programmed it into Tom Tom) and then on to the cottage in the village of Warham. A lovely sunny day, the cottage had been completely renovated around ten years ago (formerly two cottages knoched into one), the first thing we did after unpacking was sit in the wonderful garden and enjoy an iced drink. Jacqueline and Alice went off to explore on their bikes, while I remember falling asleep. I think I'd done most of the driving that day.

Early evening we decided to check out the nearby beaches, and drove to Brancaster Staithe. We arrived I think at around 7pm, which was ideal because most of the occupants were leaving. What a beautiful evening! After staying for an hour or so, we decided to drive over to Cromer for some fish and chips (to a place recommended by the cottage blurb), totally underestimating the distance. As it was we got to Cromer late and could not find the place, but undaunted had a distinctly average meal in another restaurant.

Clearly the tyre caused some concern, and I insisted Monday morning on finding a local tyre place to find out what was what. The nearest city was Norwich, so we headed in that direction. The first town along the way was Fakenham, and I used the wonders of my internet-enabled phone to find the postcode of a tyre place. There bagen my encounter with a lovely guy called Major Gilbert. As well as running the tyre shop (Major Tyres, no less) this guy was also an excellent wildlife photographer, with many prints on the office wall. Really top quality material, very, very impressed. The tyre became almost incidental, other than when he showed us the nail in the tyre and said the earliest he could get a replacement would be the next day.

I liked the guy so was perfectly happy to get the tyre from him. There was nothing to be done so we drove over to Norwich for the rest of the day. Nice, green city, not too dissimilar from Salisbury (at least at first glance), maybe a bit bigger.

Next day, we pretty much wrote off the morning in Fakenham. We dropped the car off and went for a walk while the tyre was sorted. Of course I had my camera with me so we got on the subject of photography again. He shoots with Nikon gear too, though he's sufficiently serious about all this that he owns the top-of-the-range professional kit, and a 600mm Nikkor lens to boot! I think after this we drove to Holt for lunch, and then visited a shire horse sanctuary. Of course they do wonderful work with the animals etc. but the centre itself was quite unremarkable, though I got a couple of excellent photographs of a sow having a mudbath! Very interesting literature there about Bernard Matthews, of course they promote the very opposite of his factory farming. I think I also got to Weybourne station to take some photographs of the steam trains on the Poppy Line.

On the basis that I had a paddle every day, I guess this day ended at the beach. Warham is very close to Wells-next-the-sea, and this was a lovely little town with an excellent beach. We visited there a couple of times.

What we did on the other days is something of a blurr now, but we did visit a couple of National Trust places, Blickling Hall (said to be the most haunted house in Britain, and the childhood home of Anne Boleyn), which was lovely, and Felbrigg House, which was closed. That'll teach us not to read the manual...

After our visit to Blickling, we cut across to the coast to see what the beaches were like on the east coast (all the beaches we'd seen thus far were on the north coast) and we came across a place called Mundesley. The weather had been very changeable that day and it was still pretty cloudy, but at the height of the season we were surprised indeed to have the beach almost to ourselves. We sat for an hour or two, and I got a beautiful photograph of a rainbow, out to sea, seeming to end at a fishing trawler.

We also visited Hunstanton, though I must say I was somewhat less enamoured. I must say that I didn't find these seaside towns particularly attractive, though as soon as you leave the coast and get into the countryside, the villages are absolutely stunning. Warham for example is an idyllic, quiet village but only a couple of miles from the beach. A perfect location.

That about took up our week, except for the wonderful morning we took a boat trip to see the seals at Blakeney Point, and to have an hour on the spit to explore the nature reserve. Of course, the seals are beautiful creatures and I now have the photographs to prove it. The nature reserve was a particularly unspoilt beach (you either get there by walking a couple of miles, or you get a boat) and was almost like being on a desert island!

I think we all agreed it would be lovely to go back. Our first visit to that part of the world will certainly not be our last. Even the trip home - M11, M25, M3, M27 which I was dreading, was uneventful and not too unpleasant (though it being bank holiday weekend there looked to be big tailbacks going the opposite way into Norfolk).

Bootiful!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Lazy Lazy Lazy

Arrrrrggggghhhh! No entries for the whole month of August!

Highlight of the month was the family holiday. Obviously things are still very tight financially but we managed a week away in a cottage in Norfolk, probably one of the cheapest holidays we could have taken
However, for all of this, we had a generally excellent time. Both the cottage and the village it was in were picture-perfect, and just a mile or so away from the beach at Wells-next-the-sea. We had good weather, generally only either sunny or cloudy, but with proper rain only once, we got several trips to the various beaches along the coastline, and I made sure I paddled in the sea on every single day of our stay. I also managed to get out for a few short cycle rides, plus a couple of walks, early in the morning, of course accompained by the camera.

Had fun and games with the car, which took out a couple of mornings to get a tyre firstly looked at, then fixed. Also the screen on my laptop packed up, so I was computerless for the week (no bad thing I suppose). Fortunately Jacqueline let me borrow her laptop in order to get my photos from the camera onto my portable hard drive.

Alice was generally ok, though we had our moments. Frustratingly having been good all week, she wet the bed on our last night there, and there wasn't time to sort it all out, so we had to tell the cottage people. Slightly embarrasing.

Anyway, since this is now all after-the-fact, I won't go into it in minute detail. If you're interested in seeing where we went, the best of the photos are, of course, on Flickr.

Oh, congratulations also to my friends Paul and Theresa, having been together 20-odd years we went to their wedding just before heading off to Norfolk. Very impetuous.

Visit to Romsey Show last weekend, where a good time was had by all. I have a new pedometer which, by the end of the day, showed I had walked just short of 20,000 steps that day. Again there'll be photos of that too, when I get around to publishing them.

Aside from that it is work, work, work. Corporation Tax is due at the end of October and this year I may need to take out a loan to cover it.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

I forgot to mention that we also got Wii Sport Resort last week. Great fun!

Bicycle Race

After last weekend, the one just gone was very quiet and restful by comparison. Good, just what I needed.

Saw the Tour de France on Saturday, climbing Ventoux. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing but in the end the classification remained unchanged. Brad Wiggins had a brilliant ride and finished fourth overall. Plus I've said already how impressive Lance Armstrong has been this year.

Inspired, after the stage was over we headed over to the next village, by bike of course, for a nice cool pint of cider. Somewhere along the line I (helped by next door's boy) managed to mow both front and back lawns, too, so we didn't do that badly as regards catching up with stuff.

Watched the Tour again Sunday, although with it being the last stage there's not really any racing as such. Very memorable though for the finish - Mark Cavendish was led out by George Hincapie and Mark Renshaw, and coming into the Champs Elysees they just got their line so right, that in the end Cavendish won by several lengths, with Renshaw second. It was just an explosive ten seconds and nobody was anywhere near them at the line. This is what Cavendish is so good at.

After the finish Sunday, in complete contrast to Saturday, we went down to Bournemouth for some decidedly less healthy fish and chips! Well......who can argue with a Harry Ramsden's every once in a while?

This week has been just work so far. I went to Lillywhites yesterday to get Alice some beach clothes - she and Jac are headed over to her mum's next weekend - although I'm not sure about shorts and t-shirts, I should probably have got an umbrella and some wellies!

My mum is now out of hospital and seemingly on the road to recovery. I think she's only telling me part of the story about what's going on, but at the end of the day that's her prerogative I suppose. (You can tell we're not a particularly close family!!) I was all set to have to go up there and do the dutiful son routine this coming weekend, but she's said she'd sooner I went next weekend. I suppose it doesn't make much odds to me - whenever I go it is still a thoroughly unpleasant trip. A couple of years ago Alice and I managed to fly up on a Saturday morning from Southampton, which was a little expensive but extremely convenient. But now there are only flights from Monday-Friday, so if I were to fly I'd need to take 2 days off work to do so (i.e. lose 2 days' fees). I could take the train from London I suppose, but the train costs as much as flying and either way, I'd still have the issue of not having a car once I got there. All in all, the only way seems to accept that this journey of just over 200 miles is destined to take 7 or 8 hours every time I do it.

Still, it does mean that I've got this weekend totally free! Oh, er, wait. I need to get a haircut and I need to do some maintenance on Alice's bike. And I need to try to find my bike helmet, which I couldn't find last weekend. (But I did wear my cleated bike shoes, and managed to get my feet on and off the pedals without falling off, so that was good!)

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Long Weekend

Last weekend a mammoth trip up to Liverpool to visit my mum, who's in hospital. Out of the 48 hours, I think something like 16 of them were spent in the car. Not at all my idea of fun. Highlights included my forgetting my mum's front door key, fortunately realised around half an hour into the journey. I turned around to get it, but there was an hour gone. Also, Tomtom routed us right past some air show at RAF Fairford, so we sat hardly moving for 45 minutes trying to get around Swindon. And yes, this is the wizzy Tomtom which is meant to be aware of traffic situations...

Still, at the end of it all my mother is recouperating well after her operation, so much so that she was irritating me by the time we left (which is normal). But arriving back home at 10:30pm Sunday I felt totally drained, even with a couple of pre-10pm bedtimes since I still feel knackered.

I've told my mum I won't be visiting this weekend, and definitely want to get out somewhere walking, hopefully get some Purbeck sea air in my lungs.

Still following the Tour de France every night, Contador looks to have it sewn up but I don't think he's done his reputation any good in the process. In yesterday's climb he dropped Kloden (his team mate), shows he is riding only for himself. Armstrong, on the other hand, may not even get onto the podium but will come out of this tour with his reputation far enhanced. For all his seven wins, I never really warmed to Armstrong until this year, and there must be others like me.

Still travelling up to London every day, Alice just broke up from school a couple of days ago. She won a prize at Sports Day - unbelievable I know but one of the other mums took a photograph to prove it!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Activity

A brief update. Been following the Tour de France, as I do religiously at this time of year. They are climbing Mont Ventoux this year and I always promised myself I'd go, but unfortunately the money isn't there...

Good to see Lance Armstrong back in the mix, fascinating to follow him on Twitter also. I'm still making my mind up about Twitter.

Been active a little myself. Off the back of Wimbledon I bought cheap raquets for Alice and I, and we had a knock-about in the village sports centre last Sunday. It is another experiment, really, it would be great if Alice could take up a sport and become good at it, and become fit with it. But right now....put it like this - I don't remember as a kid ever being unable simply to hit a ball! We'll see.

Also at the weekend, Alice and I visited the Salisbury Show. The weather was drizzly, and the show itself was sufficiently small that it was pretty much a waste of time. Still, lots of father-daughter bonding going on!

Since the last update I've also done a little in the garden, and we had a very pleasant day out in Portsmouth for Jacqueline's birthday. She went to Gunwharf Quays, Alice and I went on one of the harbour tours, which was pretty good. We met up for a nice meal in one of the restaurants there, and ended the day with a short drive over to Southsea and a walk on the beach. As always, parking in Portsmouth was a nightmare, this puts us off going more than once or twice a year.

What else? Nothing much, really. Been working every weekday and have now caught up with my taxes. I just have a smallish bill at the end of this month, plus a big bill in October, I should be there-or-thereabouts with that one. The name of the game will be to pay the January 2010 bill pretty much on time, if I can do this I'm hopeful the worst will be over. 

Monday, 22 June 2009

Aching Limbs

Beautiful weather again today. We have great weather Friday and Monday, but poor weather Saturday and Sunday, what's the game?
In fairness, I suppose, the weather wasn't poor over the weekend, just pretty cloudy. We did have a short downpour Saturday, but it wasn't enough to prevent me mowing the lawn (which is looking pretty good this year, by the way), or from Alice and I taking a lovely sunset stroll down by the river. While we were there we watched some terns fishing for their supper, flying over the river then just plummeting in when they saw a fish. Plus, of course, there are many swans on the Avon and they certainly make their presence felt.

Downton Sunset

Yesterday we had a Fathers Day treat of going canoeing down on the Beaulieu River. I suppose it was good in a way that we didn't get loads of full-on sun, as it was the conditions were ideal and we were out on the water for two-and-a-half hours, by which time I was well and truly knackered, and starting to get frustrated because the canoe wouldn't go where I wanted it to go (and because I was the only one who was paddling, though jacqueline will dispute this!) But still, an excellent time nonetheless, I love that kind of thing. Life just slows right down, and we were able to see plenty of birds, mostly black-headed gulls but also swans, geese, oystercatchers, lapwings and a heron. The water was also teeming with small jellyfish. Alice was most indignant because she spotted them before anyone else, and I pooh-poohed her, telling her that jellyfish were only found in the sea. So what do I know?

Keeping Fit

After canoeing we took the easy route to Bucklers Hard (i.e. we drove!) and took a chilled-out afternoon tea in the hotel there. An excellent way to rebuild our strength! Very weary, we took a short stroll before Jaqcueline chauffeur'd us home (accompanied by the sound of Alice and I snoring away!)

Friday, 19 June 2009

YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS

My Fathers' Day present arrived yesterday, a couple of days early.

Since I'd actually paid half towards it myself, I felt it gave me the right to try it out before Sunday. So, for the last two evenings there has been lots of shouting from in front of the TV, as I am struggling to get to grips with EA Sports new Tennis game for the Wii. Complete with the all new wizzy plug-in motion sensor.

Looks very promising, but I wish the bloody computer wouldn't cheat so much!

Another perfectly sunny day today, looking forward to the weekend as we're going canoeing in the Forest on Sunday, although I really need to get some stuff done in the garden tomorrow.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Lazy Bones

Really beautiful morning today, with picture-perfect blue skies and sunshine from an early hour. What a pity that I enjoyed it mostly from the train up to London.
Not so last Saturday, when we went out on an RSPB cruise along the Purbeck coast in very murky conditions. Fortunately however the rain, for the most part, held off and despite poor light I did manage to take some decent-enough photographs of the sea birds we saw along the way. All in all, a lovely way to spend an evening.


Click on either of the photos above to go across to Flickr and view some more photos.

Although weekdays are still spent in London (the taxman will be very happy on Thursday when he receives the £3000 I've just sent him!), we're starting to pick up a little on out weekend activities. Its a shame really that I haven't got my act a little more together and written a little more frequently recently. The weekend before, the weather wasn't so brilliant, so I made good on my promise to take Alice over to Splashdown in Poole, something she'd been asking about for a while. What can I say? For me it wore quite thin quite quickly (although I did like the ride on the rubber tyres), but Alice loved it.

Then, the weekend before that, we took a trip out to Hurst Castle for the day, somewhere I've been wanting to visit for a while. Again, picture-perfect weather and an excellent little boat trip from Keyhaven to boot! (Jacqueline in particular is a sucker for these little boat trips.) We finished that particular day with a brief drive over to Lymington for a stroll and some end-of-day tea. Again, some decent photographs:


Finally, the weekend before that (I think we're back to the late May Bank Holiday now!), we had a weekend close to home, but we did take advantage of some more beautiful weather to go on a nice 5-or-so-mile walk around the village. We've lived in Downton over ten years now, but this was the first time we'd ever walked over to Charlton and back. Beautiful, walking through the meadows along the Avon, and with the heat of the day it was all we could do to keep ourselves from jumping in! And yes, you guessed it, I took some photographs here also. In particular there is a view across the meadows to the village, with the river in the foreground and the parish church (St Laurence's) in the background - this stuff really is picture-postcard-typical-English-village material. Check it out:


Oh, and since I'm writing anyway, we also went to the New Forest Reptile Centre that weekend. Good views of the reptiles and a lovely stroll through the forest.


...and did I mention that the weekend before we headed across to the RSPB reserve at Arne? Where we saw a variety of birds (and heard, but didn't see, an osprey), and also loads of Sika deer? I would definitely recommend a visit.


Lastly, a thought for the mighty Blues, who despite a brilliant effort succumbed to Abramovich's superstars in the FA Cup final. Fortunately from my perspective, nothing in the house got broken! And poor Alice is off school at the moment with an ear infection. This means Jacqueline is also off work and is herself developing an ear infection!

So you can see, although I've been total rubbish at typing blog entries, I have at least been busy both outside and on Flickr. But I'll make this a one-off entry now since I don't want my blog to turn into just a commentary on my Flickr account.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Weekend Break

Ah well, this entry has come a bit sooner than the last. In between the work, work, work we spent a very enjoyable weekend just gone at Centerparcs in Longleat.

It was good to renew our acquaintance with Centerparcs, since we haven't been now for a couple of years. I travelled straight from the clients on Friday, met up with Jacqueline and Alice, who'd spent the day there. Time for a brief swim (unbelievably quiet) then supper in a Tapas restaurant on site. I have to say I've always thought Centerparcs food was highly-priced and poor quality, but this particular meal was excellent, as in fact were the other meals we had during the weekend. They've obviously got their act together somewhat, they've obviously taken a decision to bring in franchises (for example there are now a Strada, a Café Rouge and a couple of Starbucks outlets) and the effect has been good. For all I know, the Tapas place may have been a franchise, though I didn't recognise the name.

Anyway, Saturday I'd booked a birdwatching walk, and I thought I may have been stretching my popularity somewhat when I had the family up and out for 8am. As it happened we all thought it was excellent, the ranger taking us around was a really nice chap, and any doubts (or hunger pangs) were firmly dispelled when I bought us all a nice cooked breakfast afterwards.

Even then, the fun wasn't over, because I'd arranged for us to go on a treasure trail that afternoon too. Very disorganised and not much good, we missed one clue completely, and I rode straight past another, so missed that one too. Annoying, at least they gave Alice a medal for taking part.

Saturday evening Jacqueline had a spa session booked, so Alice and I headed off to the dome. Again, very quiet, and therefore very pleasant. Took Alice to supper - there were queues everywhere in the dome so we ended up cycling to their "posh" restaurant. I had a pretty good calf's liver, followed by a rubbish lemon tart. Cycled on back to the villa, well and truly ready for bed.

Sunday started off beautifully, I woke early and was out with my camera by 7:30am. Some nice photos in there. Went on a lovely walk and ended up at the dome, where I get some fresh bread, fresh coffee, and was just in time to catch the first shuttle of the day back to the villa. In the meantime Jacqueline had been busy, cooking breakfast for us. So she was grateful for a decent coffee, and I had a lovely, fresh bacon baguette.

More activity Sunday morning, I'd entered us into an orienteering event. Very easy, they gave us all GPS units which had had waypoints programmed into them, plus they gave us pretty obvious clues. Despite the fact that other people did the course on bikes (we walked), still more people used mobile phones to cheat quite easily, we came quite a creditable fourth, though unfortunately no badge for Alice this time!

After a short nap (far too short!) we were back off to the dome for a swim, this was the only time in the weekend when Alice gave us jip. After a mere 90 minutes swim, we told her we had to get out, and she went straight into a strop. The thing was, we did have to get out because I'd arranged another event for us - the family quiz! I'm very good at quizzes generally, though this one took me by surprise. Very interactive, the host was pretty good and all three of us had to get up and do things to earn bonus points (I happened to give an excellent rendition of Bare Necessities, even though I say so myself.) Anyway, could you believe it, we came joint first! A miracle! By the time we'd finished we were all quizzed out, so we just split the prize between us. The prize itself was immediately useable - Centerparcs vouchers that we immediately put towards supper.

Back to the villa once again, and I was once again out with my camera, this time taking some photographs in the dark. Again, a couple of good ones.

Monday, of course, was home day. However because we'd only been there for the weekend it was pretty easy to pack everything away. Because Longleat isn't too far from us, once we packed we headed back to the dome for one last swim, followed by lunch at the Café Rouge (moules frites, yummy!). And that, as they say, was that. Back home via the supermarket.

And from that point to this, it has all been work!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

No news

Okay, I know I'm no good at blogging, so I've got to force myself...

Life has been work, work, work. Even the recent Easter break was tainted because I caught a cold just beforehand (something from which I still haven't recovered two weeks later) so I spent the four-day break mainly sitting on the sofa, coughing.

Despite my catching a cold, the weather in general has become warmer and everything in the garden is going full steam ahead. Ironically Jacqueline has been the more active of us, planting some hanging baskets and generally tackling brambles. Fortunately I put so much effort in last year cutting back the big stuff that the thing I really need to get on top of this year are the weeds.

Alice and I went to visit my mum for the weekend, unfortunately my mum is quite poorly and needs to go into hospital shortly for an operation. She's been generally healthy throughout her life (despite what she says) so I think the prospect has knocked her for six. I can't help wondering whether I will end up visiting more often, but running my own business makes this a problem as this year in particular it looks like I need every penny I can lay my hands on. Up there, we took the opportunity to visit my dad, which always depresses me. His quality of life is really shitty, his brain has long since packed up and he's just idling his time now in a home until his body follows suit. His expression can be almost "pleading" at times, it is very sad to see. We also visited my grandmother - Alice's great-grandma - who will be 96 this year. She's a lot deafer than I remember from last time, so communication was difficult. Fortunately, she does appear to have most of her brain in good working order, though she seems to spend her days sitting in a chair watching TV.

One other feature of our brief trip was Alice's first - and most probably last - visit to Goodison. They did us proud on the day, beating Wigan 4-0, Alice absolutely loved it. Of course for her, it was the first time she had been amongst 40,000 other people at an event. It is also worth noting that last weekend they turned Man Utd over in the FA Cup semi. They're getting unbelievable press following this win, but of course they haven't won the thing just yet.

On the work side, things are very dull but I'm that much closer to paying the mortgage off. In the current climate, the critical thing is to keep earning and everything else really pales into insignificance. I am keeping an eye on the job boards but it is all very quiet - I had trouble enough finding interesting roles when times were good, so even less chance at the moment.

At the office, I finally got my act together and brought a new server into commission - it has been sitting there for I think 18 months waiting for me to do something. So now the office has a domain once again. Ironically, just five minutes surfing the web was enough for me to overcome the stumbling blocks which had earlier convinced me to give up. Swings and roundabouts, though - Alice's PC decided to go bang the day after I got the domain sorted. It looks pretty terminal, plus it was five or so years old, so I've spent the last couple of days scouring eBay for something new. Its all bought now, coming in at just over £200 for a machine that is pretty top-of-the-range.

Must cut this one short as I have to be somewhere. Hopefully it won't be as long until the next entry.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Into March

Well, it's ages since I wrote anything up here. There is a reason for that, unfortunately, and that is basically that I've hardly done anything these last few weeks.

Been working hard to pay my tax bill - even summer holidays, which I generally organise in January/February have been put on hold this year. My clients are terminating the contracts of more consultants, some of those who survived the first round of cuts are now being chopped. The good thing at the moment is that they do seem to be announcing cuts something like three months in advance, whereas contractually they only need give four weeks' notice. But its not good and when I visit the client's site it has a graveyard-type feel. As for my services, they have told me that they'd like me to get involved with two systems this year, which is fine except that if everything gets tougher they're bound to halt new projects and concentrate just on supporting their existing systems. So things aren't entirely safe, certainly I'm very averse to spending money at the moment.

Having said all of this, we're so fed up of not doing anything that I have booked us a weekend away at Centerparcs next month. My tax will be paid by then (although another installment will be due in July) so it should be a nice escape. Of course, this is going to be quite an expensive weekend when we've resolved not to spend any money, but what can you do? I've really been slogging since we went to Ireland, and only took one day off at christmas, I need the break and the only pity is that I couldn't arrange it sooner.
We're also planning a visit up to my mum's at some point, though I expect Jacqueline will duck out of that one. I may even see if I can get some tickets to see Everton play - if I can it'll be my first visit to Goodison since 1997 I think when I saw a truly awful Everton team get beaten 4-1 by Bradford in the FA Cup.
Apart from that? Well, I have my car back and looking good. These insurance people though are very shoddy. Their loan car has been sitting idle on my driveway for over a week, waiting for them to pick up. Fortunately the only think I now need to do is to claim back the excess, then it'll all be closed.
Despite it only being March, I've already started getting out in the garden. I mowed the lawn late in the autumn, and the grass looks really good right now as a result. I've cut both front and back lawns in the last couple of weeks, but really it hasn't started growing yet so I haven't picked much up. I was out there yesterday and have started thinking about things I need to do this year...

The other thing to report is that my Flickr pages are now live. I must update this web site to point there rather to the current "family album" pages at some point, but for the moment I'll just include the link:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/peterhurford/

This basically leads to the Flickr equivalent of the current album.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Update

Haven't written for a while, but this is mainly because of spending a couple of hours every day getting everything sorted on Flickr. Unbelievable - by the time Ii had uploaded everything there were almost 5200 images. This was a mighty task in itself, especially given the flakiness of the Flickr Uploader program. But now comes the really difficult bit - going through each photograph and working out a title for it, tags etc.

As things stand I am just under halfway through this - about 2800 photos to go, which is pretty good but believe me, it definitely feels like I'm putting lots of effort in!

On to other matters, I am still working as much as I can, and it is all going to the taxman. But I have at least paid one of the big bills. Didn't help last week when we had quite severe snowfalls. I had to take a day away from the client's (which admittedly I spent very productively making a snowman with Alice) but of course I am unable to bill for this time, therefore it'll take one more day to pay off HMRC.

Someone hit my car at Salisbury station. Fortunately I was in it and saw everything, and was not injured. Basically the woman admitted liability straight away, which will make life easier, but it really does expose the whole car insurance business for the racket that it is.

For starters, reporting the crash involved talking through the crash in detail no less than three times, plus a further written version. Then, the seemingly light damage to my car - a light, wing and bumper - will come to approximately £5000 to sort. Above all that, because of the damage to my light, my car was deemed unroadworthy, so a loan car was involved. Now as far as I can tell the act of getting the car to me involved no less than four companies, plus involved my taking out a credit agreement in the process. Can you fathom? And at the end of it all I ended up with a car whose windscreen wipers don't work properly, and which will ultimately be billed to this woman's insurance company at the princely sum of £330 per day - approximately £20 per mile that I travel during a normal day.

Now, I reckon I'll have the car for three weeks or so in total, so there's another £7000 onto the cost of the accident. And I won't go into details of the phone calls from the personal injury lawyers, clearly going into plapatations at the prospect of someone actually admitting liability for once. (But I will say that I sent them away with a flea in their ear!)

In all of this, and I have been told several times how, if the shoe were on the other foot, this woman would claim everything she possibly could against me, I can't help being disgusted at how a simple car park prang can turn into a gravy train for so many people.

I tell you, for all the talk of recession there's easy money to be made if you know where to look!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Geeky Stuff

Very quiet at the moment, working all hours for the taxman.

I was looking at a way of enhancing the Family Album so I could display photos on a map, like Panoramio does. I looked at a route of integrating the site with Google Maps, which would have been fine but which would have meant a load of development work. I figured that everything would just be easier if I could avoid development if at all possible.

I looked at a few ready-made solutions out there and ultimately bought a Flickr account. Ironically, the one thing Flickr is weak on is its map integration. It is based on Yahoo maps rather than Google maps and they just aren't as good (at least, the satellite images aren't - the actual maps are much of a muchness).

Whatever, this has involved embarking on a huge exercise for Geotagging photographs. I did buy a gizmo which supplies the camera with latitude/longitude data, but that's a real-time thing so can't be applied to photographs taken, say, five years ago. Plus, it uses GPS and trust me GPS is unreliable/unobtainable when you're surrounded by tall buildings. Plus, it provides just three bits of data - latitude, longitude and altitude. So, I supplement this by the use of the freeware application GeoSetter. This shows you a Google map and either reads the location from the image, or lets you drop an "x" to specify the location. You can flesh out the location from (55.123456N, 1.123456W) to Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London, UK (for example), plus you can set loads of other tags such as copyright, contact, email etc. Very useful. Very geeky!

Not only that, then, but as well as tagging all my stuff I need to upload it onto Flickr. The way you need to structure stuff fortunately is similar to how I structure it already, but I'm planning on putting something like 20GB of hi-res JPEG files there, so that's going to take some time too...

So basically I'm wasting zillions of hours on this geeky exercise that, in all likelihood, no-one will ever give a monkeys about!

Monday, 12 January 2009

Out with the Old...

Ah, well, I thought I'd better write something at long last to let the world know that 2009 had reached us down in the New Forest.

In fact, I'm witnessing a strange phenomenon this morning - drops of some clod, wet liquid, similar to water, are falling down out of the sky! Yes, we have the first rain of 2009. Right up until yesterday morning, we'd been in a really cold snap, -5 Celsius at its lowest. Must have lasted a good fortnight, too. I can't remember having this much sustained cold weather for a long time.

All change yesterday, however, and last night in particular was very stormy - I got woken at about 4am by the wind and couldn't drop back off, so am feeling very tired now.

Not a great deal happened over the New Year. I took the 2nd off, to make a long weekend of it, although one unexpected thing to crop up was we had to visit jacqueline's mum in hospital. Jacqueline last spoke to her before Christmas, and she was all geared up to go on holiday with her old biddy friends to Malta. Hmmmmm, not a bad job if you can get it! So we'd just assumed there was no point getting in touch. However, it transpired that one of her mates dropped out, so she decided not to go, and instead spent christmas home alone. She says she didn't bother telling anyone because everyone had made their own plans.... Anyway, I guess a couple of days after christmas Jacqueline's sister found out and promptly whisked her off so that she wouldn't be spending New Year on her own. Unfortunately, while at the sister's, she got some really bad stomach pains and ended up being admitted to hospital.

So, that was last Saturday, spent over in Dorchester. Bright day, but freezing cold. One good thing was that after the stuffiness of the hospital I drove down to the Portland Bill Lighthouse for a very bracing breath of fresh air. Some nice photos, since we arrived not long after sunset and the night was clear.

Back to the client's Monday, and of course it is like christmas never happened. I'm back to working for the taxman for the next month or so.

This weekend was just me and Alice, Jacqueline went to visit her mum, who got out of hospital a week ago. All in all, nobody got up to much.