Archive for June, 2009

Up Steve

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

May I be permitted to give a “big up” to m’chum Steve?

For once that isn’t a pseudonym, it’s his real name. Steve is one of my church chums, and starting this Thursday is going to be riding his bicycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats, staying at Youth Hostels, B&Bs and sleeping on church floors on the way. He’ll also be talking to the churches as he goes, about his work as one of the voluntary leaders of the youth work in the church and in the parish.

It’s all in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust, and Steve’s hoping to raise 5000 for the cause. He’s done really well so far and we’re all behind him.

Steve is going to be blogging his trip, and there’s some interesting background reading already: Go and have a look and leave messages of support – he’s going to need them!
Steve’s Land’s End – John O’Groats Blog

Neat Freak

Monday, June 29th, 2009

As regular readers will know, I usually go out from work at lunchtime to buy my lunch (or sometimes to get it on the way in, if I want something that will survive a morning in the fridge).

Some of m’colleagues bring a packed lunch in from home, partly to save money and partly to have some control over what they’re eating. In Don’s case, he has loads of food allergies so he needs to know what’s in his lunch box – normally carrot sticks and rich tea biscuits.

Don now has an apprentice called Jimmy: Jimmy is obviously following in the Master’s foodsteps:

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Notice how his lunch isn’t just healthy, it’s obscenely neat as well. I don’t suppose I need to tell you that Jimmy used to be in the Army?

Sveden. Tiring, very Tiring

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

The lovely PF and I spent the weekend building Swedish flatpack furniture. It was knackering and we both feel a bit past it – but I think the results are worth it…(and yes, we know it still needs doors)

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And then the lovely Purple Fred – whom I love more and more all the time, and I’m not teasing when I say that – put everything that was worn out and no longer any use, out for the council rubbish men to collect…

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And then we went caching and had a lovely time :-)

Mikey!

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Apparently Michael Jackson has died.

When I say “apparently”, what I really mean is that it’s the only thing that’s been on Sky News all day. He died sometime last night and at four o’clock this afternoon it was still “breaking news”. OK, it’s sad when anyone dies, and whatever you think of his music and his lifestyle, he had a sad childhood, and in his desperate attempts to recover what he’d lost, he didn’t have much of an adulthood either.

And now he’s died, allegedly of a heart attack (at the time of writing). And he’s only five years older than me.

But surely it’s not the most important thing that’s happened in the world today? Important enough to eclipse every other news item?

Farrah Fawcett died yesterday as well. Where’s all the fuss about her?

Fire!

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

We had a fire at work today.

Total building evacuation, loads of firefighters swarming all over the place, smoke, you name it. OK, it was only a burned-out water heater in the basement that set off the smoke detectors, but it still counts. As Chief Fire Warden for our two floors, I was the last of us out of the building – and as that meant escorting someone on crutches down seven flights of stairs, I have to say I was in there for a bit longer than I was comfortable with. There’s a learning point there, and we have to look at how we deal with that situation. My favourite is for me NOT to be the last out, but I suspect that bit of the plan isn’t going to change.

With everyone – including me – safely out, our fire wardens have a secondary duty: Our assembly point is in a small park with roads all around, and we have to marshall the people to stop them getting run over. With 450 people and a small park, that’s quite a challenge – 20% want to get back into the office, 15% are thinking of sneaking off for a fag and another 15% are wondering if they can get away with going to the pub. The remainder are queuing for a cup of tea in Mungo’s Tea Caravan, oblivious to the fact that there’s no going to the loo until the fire brigade let us back in the building.

I think after an hour of that, I’m now fully qualified to herd cats.

Can I Get an AMEN?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

M’chum Jaypee emailed me this yesterday and I thought it was a bit amusing:

There were 3 good arguments that Jesus was Black:
1. He called everyone brother
2. He liked Gospel
3. He didn’t get a fair trial

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:
1. He went into His Father’s business
2. He lived at home until he was 33
3. He was sure his Mother was a virgin and his Mother was sure He was God

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:
1. He talked with His hands
2. He had wine with His meals
3. He used olive oil

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:
1. He never cut His hair
2. He walked around barefoot all the time
3. He started a new religion

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was an American Indian:
1. He was at peace with nature
2. He ate a lot of fish
3. He talked about the Great Spirit

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Irish:
1. He never got married.
2. He was always telling stories.
3. He loved green pastures.

But the most compelling evidence of all – 3 proofs that Jesus was a WOMAN:
1. He fed a crowd at a moment’s notice when there was virtually no food
2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn’t get it
3. And even when He was dead, He had to get up because there was still work to do.

Can I get an AMEN!!

Stress (But it’s OK in the End)

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

I still find towing the caravan a bit stressful.

Those of you who’ve known me for a while will know that years ago, I was a passenger in a car that was towing a caravan, and was involved in a pretty serious accident: Then a few years back I was towing my own mini-caravan when one of the tyres blew out. That incident should’ve reassured me that I’m quite capable of safely resolving a potentially very serious incident (tyre blowouts are one of the two main causes of caravan-towing accidents), but it’s just left me with a tyre-safety obsession.

In light of this, consider last Friday: I already knew that the caravan tyres were well under pressure, and I knew that my footpump was broken, so – having taken the day off work so I could spend the morning on stress-free caravan preparation, I took my brand-new electric compressor and digital tyre pressure gauge and headed to the other side of town to where the caravan lives.

The brand new compressor didn’t work. It’s broken. Useless. It doesn’t compress.

So I did what preparation tasks I could, went to M&S to collect my new trousers and to Sainsbos for food shopping for the weekend, and home for lunch, before returning with my Dad’s electric compressor which I’d found in the back of the shed. Before using it, I thought I’d better just check the starting pressure. I’m already running late to pick up Purple Fred and MiniFred, but this won’t take long…

The digital tyre pressure gauge broke. So I now have a working compressor but no way of knowing when the pressure’s right.

So I went and collected the Freds and had a good cry on Purple Fred’s shoulder – and she, of course, provided the voice of reason and suggested that we tow the caravan the short distance to Tesco’s garage and use their airline. She even went into Tesco while we were there and bought me a pac-a-mac, me in my stressed state having left my coat at home.

So we drove to Dorset without incident, had a super weekend that featured fossil hunting at Kimmeridge, a couple of caches, being silly in a playpark and rather too much eating, and drove home without incident.

I’m determined to get over this towing stress thing: The lovely PF says all I need is to keep towing and give it time, and of course she’s right: I predict lots of fabby caravan weekends to come :-)

Misplaced Punctuation

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

A lovely caravan weekend in Daaaaar-set with Purple Fred and Mini Fred: I’ll tell you all about it when I’ve woken up, but in the meantime I thought you’d enjoy this signpost, which is attempting to help tourists find Corfe Castle:

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Arty Farty

Friday, June 19th, 2009

The Lady PF and I went to a private viewing of the Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition.

It was some sort of jolly organised by the National Association of People Who Do the Same Job as Purple Fred – or something like that, anyway. We’d seen it on the telly the night before, so we had a rough idea what to expect, but as stated it was all very arty. There was pretentious twaddle, including something that Tracy Emin had knocked up in about thirty seconds and had already sold for some ridiculous price; There was one picture that we both agreed should’ve been called “What it Feels Like to Have a Migraine”, and at least a few things that we’d have bought, had the price been about a thousandth of what it was.

The statue of St Bartholomew by Damien Hirst was absolutely stunning, although incredibly gruesome, and interesting in that even though he’d been flayed alive, he hadn’t been circumcised. But my favourite was a postcard to the selection committee from an artist who’d been constantly rejected, and had written to ask them to grant her her dream of being exhibited – so they exhibited the postcard! It had already sold as well, for an amazing one pound ninety pees.

Other than that there was a chamber quartet happily tootling away in one corner, an amazing amount of free champagne and incredibly sweet wine, and a selection of nibbles that was even more pretentious than the art – although rather more enjoyable, as well.

And then we found our way – rather squiffily, it must be said – back to Waterloo for the train home :-)

Sofa, so good

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

…and carrying on from yesterday’s update, here’s the new sofa in its proper setting, with its blankie to keep it warm, and in a rather better picture (taken with a camera, not a crap cam phone!).

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Flat-pack

Monday, June 15th, 2009

I was going to treat you to a blog about the trauma of flat-pack purgatory that is Ikea. I’ll have a go, but I might burst into tears and have to give up half way through…

I took my luvvly Mum and my beloved Purple Fred to Ikea. PF bought us all lunch, and then we bought a wardrobe and a sofa. We hired a van, delivered our new purchases to PF’s and my Mum respectively, and took the van back.

Hmmm…can’t help thinking I’ve missed some of the essential drama, but if I tell you that that lot took seven hours – and the bit with the van only accounts for one of them – you might get the idea. Among the frustrations were:

  • The stupid pay-to-park machine being unable to give change, AND refusing to accept a 20p overpayment (can you see the problem there?)
  • The “helpful” layout of the store, which means that the only route from level one of the car park to level one of the store, is via level four.
  • Helpful Ikea man (who was helping PF with the very heavy trolley while I sorted out van hire) wandering off to chat to his mate, causing PF to run the trolley over her foot.
  • The crap layout of the warehouse where you collect the flat packs for your selections

.

Believe me, I could go on – there’s a week’s worth of ranting just in the car park. But anyway, we completed our mission and then had a really nice evening out with Rob and Sarah at a Thai restaurant, before heading back to PF’s where Rob very kindly helped me carry the two heaviest boxes upstairs :-) .

And on Sunday we demolished the old wardrobe (on purpose!), PF went to rehearsal and then we went geocaching. And tonight – possibly at the very moment you’re reading this – I’m building a self-assembly sofa.

UPDATE:

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Spiky Things

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Here’s another Lanzarote picture. I’m sure one of my clever readers will be able to tell me what this plant is.

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It made me think a bit – when I used to carry an SLR1 around, I took pictures like this all the time: Point, fiddle, shoot, job done. It’s nowhere near as easy with an autofocus compact that doesn’t have a proper manual mode, as well as working out you want to do, you have to work out how to fool the camera into doing it.

Perhaps I ought to add “Some sort of manual mode” to the list of requirements for my next camera?

1 That’s a single-lens reflex camera. I’ve never carried a self-loading rifle around.

Lanzasnotty Sunset

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Partly because I promised to Lanza-pics, and I ought to deliver on that soon. But mainly because I want to enter this pic in Stu’s Tuesday Challenge this week, here’s a sunset from the west coast on Lanzarote.

This week’s challenge was to go through your photo archive, and enter the best picture you’ve ever taken. I suspect I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have time to search their archive, so here’s my best pic from the week commencing 24th May 2009 instead!

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Lanzarote Caches

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

So I’ve now logged all those Lanzarote caches – the delay was getting owner’s permission to log one of the earthcaches, and he was on holiday so it took a while. Anyway, all is now done.

There’re about 35 caches on Lanzarote, we missed quite a few out because of

  1. Daftness (we walked past a couple because I hadn’t got my act together and plotted them on the map properly)
  2. Time – it wasn’t a caching holiday and we had other things we wanted to do
  3. Risk – some of the locations weren’t suitable for people who weren’t experienced and well-equipped climbers

So the ones we did were:
Cueva de los Verdes, an earthcache in some caves formed when volcanic lava forced its way to the surface – very dramatic.

La Bomba, a micro at a volcanic bomb – a rock formed when a lump of molten lava ejected at high speed from a volcano twists and turns in the air, and sets in an ovoid shape before hitting the ground.

Los Hervideros – Lanzarote – Islas Canarias earthcache, an earthcache on the dramatic west coast of the island…

Los Hervideros…and a micro not far away.

El Golfo Earthcache, yet another earthcache at a sea-eroded volcano cone. We got a bit confused finding this one because there’s a village of the same name, not far away…

Olivine Treasure, a traditional cache at the end of one of Lanzarote’s dirt track roads.

White Horses of the Sea on Lanzarote, another one at the end of a dirt track – this was the one where I cracked the sump on the hire car.

and

Tuff but not tough….easy, an earthcache within a five minute walk from the hotel.

There will be photos soon, honest…

Eh?

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

I spent last night in a hotel in the West Midlands.

I was delivering one of my world-renowned Health and Safety training sessions in the hotel this morning, y’see, so they put me up there last night. It was pretty nice – although a twenty-five quid taxi ride from anywhere – and in my explorings I found a safe in the wardrobe. It was a pretty standard hotel room safe, about the size of a shoe box with a set-it-yourself combination and a set of simple instructions. I took a photo to show you…

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But hang on…lets have a closer look at those instructions…

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Now I may be guilty of a lack of imagination here…but under what circumstances can a shoebox-sized safe present a suffocation risk?

Lost

Monday, June 8th, 2009

I’ve blogged before about my amazing talent for losing things: Recently, though, I seem to have taken it to a whole new level.

I haven’t seen my camera since we got back from Lanzasnotty: less of a disaster than it might’ve been, as I’d taken the precaution of backing everything up to a spare card, which made it home safely, so it’s only the camera itself that’s gone. And I was planning to change it soon anyway: the lens mechanism is making a very funny grinding noise, and the LCD screen is starting to die.

Then on Saturday I was in Portsmouth with Purple Fred: I didn’t lose PF (well I did, but only for a few minutes), but before leaving we’d put her camera battery on charge in the in-car charger: when we arrived PF went to check where we needed to be while I paid for parking and got what we needed out of the car. I took the camera battery out of the charger and slipped it in my jeans pocket – and haven’t seen it since :-(

And because these things always go in threes, when I got up Sunday morning I couldn’t find my blood pressure pills: I know I transferred a few into my “keeping pills at PF’s house” pot – when I couldn’t find the pot, I assumed I’d left it at home. But it wasn’t at home either.

It doesn’t really make it any better that I found my camera this morning, since I found it somewhere I’d already looked twice. I think maybe I need to go and lay down in a darkened room.

*Disappears into the distance whistling “I’m Going Slightly Mad”*

UPDATE – see PF’s comments below. The pills were somewhere I’d already looked as well :-(

The Mother of Parliaments

Friday, June 5th, 2009

This appeared on a website I frequent yesterday: to give you a quick break from Lanzarote blogs – and to give me a bit of time to sort through the 351 photos I took – I thought I’d share it with you.

Can you imagine a company that has a little more than 600 employees but has the following statistics?

29 have been accused of spouse abuse
7 have been arrested for fraud
19 have been accused of writing bad cheques
117 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses
3 have done time for assault
71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
14 have been arrested on drug-related charges
8 have been arrested for shoplifting
21 are currently defendants in lawsuits
84 have been arrested for drink driving in the last year

Almost all have been claiming salaries & expenses disproportionate to the impact they have upon the running of the business.

Which organization is this?
The 635 members of the United Kingdom House of Commons; the same group that cranks out hundreds of new laws, some of which impact on our profession, each year the aim of which is to make the UK a better place in which to live.

Surprised? One should be for less than 8% of them have ever held a job outside the academic/public/TU domains and, therefore, have little grasp of the realities of life.

Tourism

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

A lot of our time on Lanzasnotty was taken up with doing the tourist thing. It’s a volcanic island, and a large chunk of the coastline was formed when molten lava was brought to a sudden stop by meeting the sea, and between towns you tend to be either surrounded by desert, mountains or vineyards, the only greenery anywhere is artificially supported apart from a few brave lichen that are establishing footholds here and there.

Considering that the island is Spanish, the main architectural influences are African – although with the coast of Africa only 80km away that isn’t surprising. Most buildings are square, white painted blocks whose beauty s in their simplicity.

Anyway, touristy things we did included:

  • Riding camels – fun to experience, but I won’t be trading Grunty in for one in spite of their superior off-road ability!
  • Visiting Fire Mountain, a volcano in the national park where guides set fire to brushwood, generate impressive steam geysers and cook food, all using natural volcanic heat
  • Wine tasting the local product
  • Riding on a submarine – hugely expensive, but an experience well worth the cost if you like marine life
  • Visiting caves and viewpoints showing off the amazing beauty of the island.
  • Visiting the Cesar Manrique museum – Manrique was the island’s most famous artist and a one-man National Trust for Lanzarote, he designed most of the island’s big public buildings and influenced many more
  • Sitting on the beach and burying PF in the sand, an activity which produced PF’s favourite quote of the week, when I told MiniFred “Don’t pour water on Mummy…pour the water on the sand then put the sludgy sand on Mummy”. It’s lucky she loves me.
  • Riding on a jetski – mmm, vroom vroom!
  • and amazingly, a little bit of…

  • Geocaching – about which, more when I’ve finished logging them all!

Lanzarote is a lovely place to do the tourist thing, and there was plenty we didn’t get around to doing. It’s a place where you can knock yourself out visiting places of naural beauty and culture, or if you prefer just laze by the pool or on the beach. A good choice of holiday destination made by m’darling Purple Fred!

LanzaSnotty Hotel

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

So, that hotel, eh?

We stayed at the Papagaya Arena in Playa Blanca, on the southern tip of the island. The hotel’s had a bit of a hammering from people on TripAdvisor.com, but we couldn’t really see any problems. First and foremost, there was a resident population of about eleven cats, who were generally quite happy to be fussed, so they were on to a good thing from the start!

The inclusive food was good and varied (although the lovely PF was a bit unimpressed with the vegetarian selection), and each mealtime had a selection of Canarian or “English” dishes to choose from. There was only about an hour in every twenty four when food and drink weren’t available at one or other of the hotel’s eateries, and we never saw any of the “all you can eat” buffets run short of food (in spite of the best efforts of Purple “Three Puddings” Fred!).

The main criticisms of the TripAdvisor correspondents have related to the staff and the swimming pools: While the staff didn’t seem to go out of their way to be friendly, they were kept pretty busy, and they were always professional enough – and on the one occasion we had a problem (which we’d caused), they were on scene to help us out in pretty quick order: Even then they weren’t particularly cheerful, but they were efficient, and at the time that was all we wanted.

There were five pools, although we only tried one of them: TripAdvisor people complained that they were unheated, which is true – but it’s also made clear in the brochure, so what do they expect? On the occasions we played in and around the water it was tidy and clean, and the layout of the building protected the pools from the worst of the northerly trade winds. All the same, the sea at Playa Dorado just up the road (once we found it!) was warmer!

Our room was well presented, with a nice balcony, a good view towards Fuerteventura, and comfortable – at least, it was once we had the genius idea of turning the air conditioning on at night to cool things down! Having to pay a daily rental to use the in-room safe seemed a bit odd, but for all I know that could be normal for Spain.

So in summary – good things were:

  • Cats!
  • Quality and availability of food and drink
  • Cleanliness of the room and public areas, including the pools
  • The room in general, with balcony and good views
  • Efficiency and professionalism of staff

Things they could’ve done better were:

  • Vegetarian selection
  • Facilities for small people – PF wouldn’t let MiniFred use the kids’ club because she didn’t like the standard and attitude of the staff1
  • Temperature of the pools
  • Persuading the public-facing staff that a smile costs nothing

Overall, the good far outweighed the bad, and we’d happily stay there again :-)

1 Not saying I disagreed with her – I didn’t – just that it wasn’t my decision!

Overview

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

Given that I’ve got so much to say about Lanzarote, I thought I’d break it into manageable chunks, rather than subjecting you to the whole lot in one hit.

It’s the first package holiday I’ve done, so there were plenty of new experiences. Our experience of the travel operator – Thomas Cook – was better than some blog chums have had, although I don’t think I’d choose to use their recommended car hire partner in future: there was no sign that they “try harder”. Our plane was delayed by landing on the wrong island at the first try, so by the time we got to Arrecife the hire desk was closed: in the end it was Wednesday morning before we got the car we’d booked from Sunday night.

Lanzarote roads are a bit interesting: Playa Blanca, where we stayed, has a lovely layout of roads in excellent condition – even where there are no buildings, or even building work. It’s a bit bizarre to be driving on brand-new blacktop with virgin ground either side, and come across a car park, complete with pristine white paint marking the bays, and serving absolutely nothing. In other places the roads are the same virgin ground, with a line of rocks to show where you’re meant to drive: huge fun in a Gruntmobile, not so good in a hired Volkswagen Polo with standard suspension and tyres. Oh, and I think I might have cracked the sump on a rock on the penultimate day, but I won’t tell Avis if you don’t.

Tomorrow: the hotel!

Home Again…

Monday, June 1st, 2009

…from Lanzasnotty!

Can we go again soon please? More details…and a shedload of photos…to follow, but for now we’re safely back, we had a lovely time, and I’m a little bit sunburned.

Without detracting from the fact that we had a lovely holiday, here are three things that are better in Britain:

  1. Driving on the proper side of the road, and road signs that make sense
  2. Drinkable tap water
  3. errrmmm…that’s it, really…