Friday, 30 October 2009

A weekend away with TRAINS and DRAGONS

After our dealing with spontaneity we did book a B&B and went away. We ended up choosing Caernarfon because we decided on the Welsh Highland Railway for a train to ride.

We have taken long weekends before and stayed away only one night, but found that with a B&B and having to get up and moving, it can make the break feel much longer.

We also set an itinerary of things we plan to do so that we don't spend time in making spontaneous decisions!

We decided on two nights rather than one but were offered a 3 for 2 deal which we would have been daft to refuse.  We stopped at Chirk Castle on the way there and were grossly disappointed that much of the building was empty while the building fabric was being restored and we certainly felt it wasn't twenty pounds worth.

We arrived at the B&B and struggled with parking. Increasingly towns and cities are trying to keep cars off the streets and while this is laudable it does make it difficult for the tourist industry. However Mary and Roger (our hosts) pointed us to a place on the harbour wall where we could park unrestricted, and it was only 3 minutes walk.

The second day away was to be train day and so after breakfast we set off. Wifey and myself do not eat a cooked breakfast while we are away and often wonder 'How many people in B&Bs would eat a cooked breakfast at home?'. We suspect very few, but when someone else has the cooking to do and is prepared to wash up then they will have one. We don't change our habits so easily but did indulge in both cereal and toast where normally it would be one or the other. (Wifey mainly has toast when I take her breakfast in bed at weekends.)

Our engine was to be a South African Railways Garrat engine. A 2-6-2+2-6-2 articulated engine of two feet gauge. Originally built in Belgium and shipped to South Africa and when decommissioned from SA it was returned to the UK for restoration.

On the train we bought brochures announcing 'New for 2009' the line would go right through to Ffestiniog but it doesn't yet. This brochure and announcement are unfulfilled ambition and the link will now be complete in 2011. We will see about that though...

We were due back at Caernarfon at 18:35 and had arranged dinner at the B&B. The train arrived back about 20 minutes late, which I found disappointing as you expect these small lines to be punctual as a matter of pride. However on the way back we stopped at 'Snowdon Ranger' - a station close to Snowdon - and were intrigued by the fact that you can clearly see the lights of the cafe at the summit from miles away from Snowdon itself. (The clocks had gone back and we were starting the dark nights!) We thoroughly enjoyed the day and have too many tales to tell!

One item worth recounting though is that in Beddgelert is a wooden gifts shop which specialises in wooden items. Outside this shop are a few very fine carvings and this dragon is one such magnificent specimen. It was a little sad to read though, that the story of Gelert is now, almost certainly a tale made up by an eighteenth century innkeeper to boost tourism!

Second day was another castle day and we 'did' Caernarfon Castle before lunch and Plas Newydd in the afternoon.

We had been to Caernarfon before and found that half a day is not enough and were left wondering 'Why don't they have a teashop?' and had to leave to get lunch. In the afternoon we headed to Plas Newydd which is more a house than a castle but none the less very interesting and enjoyable.

On the third day we had a trip to Beaumaris Castle planned as we believe that we are on holiday until we cross the threshold of our house again and did not need to hurry home. We had been to Beaumaris before with both FOC and SOC on the same trip, while FOC was at Uni in Aberystwyth. We knew it to have opportunities for the two children to chase in long corridors and to be quite a complete castle. Sorry - not two children - Wifey and Daughter (SOC). Another important feature of this castle are the back to back toilets! Impressed? Me neither. But it is an extremely nice castle and worthy of a visit.

After lunch we went to Penrhyn Castle which is more a house in that it was not a defensible structure, but was designed to look like a castle. It was built on the site of an old castle but could really now only claim the name by it's geographic location. It is a beautiful house with huge amounts of carvings in both wood and stone and lots and lots of moulded plaster. The real shame of this house - and it is shame - is it was built from the three 'S's - Slate, Sugar and Slavery. The builder had 2 daughters, one called Slate and one called Sugar - what if he had a third? We will never know. To think that the house's legacy was paid for in blood though does make you stop and think and regret it's building. We arrived at 15:00 and had insufficient time to see many of the 'extras' like a railway museum, doll museum and much more.

Sunday, 25 October 2009


We make a lot of spontaneous decisions in our family. But we are careful about giving them long and hard deliberation first.

I have a friend who I worked with for more than 20 years who could finish work on a Friday having booked time off from work and with nowhere to go. He would return from holiday to inform us he had gone to Mexico or the Caribbean. I always joked that he packed his bags, went to the airport and asked where they had two seats on a plane for and got on the first plane!

We could do that given enough time to plan it!

We decided a fortnight ago if not longer we would go away and give SOC a ride on a mainline train, probably LLandudno Junction to Betws-y-Coed. I sent off 25 emails trying to find B&B. Got them back and started to choose. "Hang on there's a long tunnel on that route" says Wifey, "Great" says SOC "Oh" says Wifey. Wifey can be a bit claustrophobic. "What are tunnels like?" says Wifey. I explain. "I think I can go with that." says Wifey. "I thought we weren't going to go there now?" says SOC.

You have to understand that that simple conversation took 2 days!

"Anyway" says SOC "I thought that route wasn't as pretty as the 19.5 mile one?". The route to which she referred was the Welsh Highland Railway - Caernarfon to Beddgelert.

I send out 25 more emails and the responses pour back in. I respond to a few for a few more details and one of them refers us to another B&B that does evening meals.  OK we enter into a week long protracted email exchange with the new suitor about B&B, B&B and evening meals, their menus, their photos on the web site, their parking facilities and other major essential items of information needed for a spontaneous decision. My father-in-law then has a health issue which means all spontaneous plans go on hold.

After a lengthy day at the hospital we then find that we can go away and finally book.

All things being equal we finally go in a few hours time. I wish I could get used to spontaneity.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A day less enjoyed

I had a phone called from the father-in-law wanting a lift to the hospital at short notice. He doesn't drive very far now and we discourage his driving when we can because his eyesight is not what it was anyway and obviously his reactions are not as razor sharp as they were. It meant taking him early the next day. OK! Plans immediately went on hold. We were planning and about to book a couple of days away at half term. Arrived at his house bright(?) and early to find him discussing hospital transport with a neighbour. His neighbour has had a heart attack and his wife is having health problems at the moment.

It seems very sad, in a way, that my life is increasingly becoming hospital centric at times and wifey keeps saying to me at the moment 'get it fixed' and I don't want another round of hospital visits.

Any way he explained that I could park about 5 miles from the hospital - for free! - and catch a free! bus to the hospital and the bus runs every 10 minutes. We catch this and I am impressed by Nottingham's approach to parking and traffic. The hospital is QMC but I have very little experience of this hospital, my experience being limited to the death of my father - so not a happy experience.

We arrive about 9:30 and immediately get lost! A League of Friends person sent us in the right direction, whereupon we got lost again and a nurse took us to the appropriate place. This is one of my first impressions of the hospital. We were not the only little lost patients - the hospital seemed to be crawling with them!

The two derby hospitals have different approaches to help patients.

(1) Both have far more signs telling you where to find X-Ray 92 or MAU or whatever.
(2) The City in derby has maps available and sent out labelling the campus in a fair amount of detail.
(3) The DRI has a single line painted throughout the hospital and each 'junction' is labelled 'Junction 1' or 'Junction 12' etc and your appointment card will say 'X-Ray 12 off Junction 17'. At Junction 17 the signage will be enough to help you find it.
(4) And when you get there there will be a BIG sign saying 'X-Ray 12 Reception'.

You can argue that these labels make it feel more like a hospital than QMC but duh isn't it a hospital? Isn't it supposed to be one of the leading hospitals in the UK?

Also there are far more signs in Derby telling you that the consultants on duty today are Dr ABC and Dr EFG and the sister in charge is Sister ZYX and the wait you can expect is R minutes.

All these things are missing and it does not make the QMC a pleasant place.

We finally left at about one fifteen after a feeling of having been forgotten, but have to go back next week - after we had planned to return from our few days away - but we go back with an expectation of one hour there.

Having returned home at about 2:30 I felt I could go to the gym and did so, but regretted it quite early on as on the mill my heart rate touched 170 and it didn't want to come down too easily. I ended up doing a measly 9 kph before giving up at 4k again. Things continued to go down hill in the gym and in part I wish I hadn't gone.

The day was crowned by a small success though with an Excel VB Script that worked pretty well first time out, and just needed a few cosmetic tweaks of extra spaces and spelling corrections.

Look for the positives! Now we can book our days away.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Peer pressure?

It was to be a school friends birthday. Always a problem at this age. Are they still children, young adults or teenagers (as they should be)? What to get for a present?

SOC came in and said that they had discussed it on the way home from school and she was going to have a riding lesson! No objection really except before she spends our money we like to be involved in the decision. We are just old fashioned like that.

I made all the arrangements with the riding school and the day came around. Her friend had ridden before but several years ago and for several more years than SOC and so had outgrown all her gear. Her mum had spoken to friends and relatives and come up with boots, gloves, whip, boots and a hat for the day. The hat didn't contain the sticker for the correct BS standard and so could not be used in the school but one was borrowed and everything was OK.

The lesson was mid afternoon unlike SOC's normal time and was in a class of experienced riders - more experienced and capable than SOC.

Her friend gave an excellent show demonstrating her ability and experience and frightening the life out of poor old Benny who normally takes much more junior riders and gets his own way most of the time. The thing that impressed me most though was SOC. From the first trot she was a different rider. She sat taller, rose and fell in the saddle more positively and moved Enoch much more commandingly.

As a more advanced lesson they moved on to canter, something she hadn't really done with Enoch, but she went for it after having been asked if she wanted to have a go and she trotted three sides of the manege!

I was hugely impressed with her, although her friend had had Benny do the same and Benny is a very lazy animal.

We are now going to try a lesson in the same group at the same time, but without her friend and see how things go. It may not have been peer pressure, but the group or the hour of the day. We will see. It may mean we have to give her friend lessons EVERY week!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A light experience

Many moons ago, maybe as much as 20 years, a friend took me to see a man who was very much into the latest 'stuff'. He had a 500 watt security light on the side of his house. These are commonplace now, but unheard of then, and he explained this was to enable his CCTV to get visibility for security. I was sceptical at the time that this was absolutely necessary and that it didn't actually advertise that there was something to steal at this property.

Time moves on and we all have outside lights for 'security' or merely for convenience of seeing around the property at night. I noticed recently that these are still sold as 500w (which as you know is half a kilowatt to put it in context). I have been frustrated and annoyed by this and secretly turn the light off but am told off a day or so later for it. Cats, hedgehogs, foxes and other small mammals set these off and at half a kilowatt they are not good for light pollution or for energy expenditure.

We have been looking around and found that there are now 150 watt versions of the bulb available and have changed the light to a much smaller power. I am pleased to find that the light is still thrown as far as I want it (the bottom of the garden for the compost bins) but not so far outside the garden, thus reducing light pollution. It also has the added benefit that I can go to the bins at night and not get a tan!

My father-in-law is now 90 years old and was complaining that his room was too dark at night. It was faddy, particularly in the 70's and 80's, to have light fittings with lots of low wattage bulbs that gave a 'public bar' type of feel to a sitting room. As you get older you do, however, need more light to see and this is where he found himself, needing more light with a light fitting that won't take more wattage. I asked him to have a look and he turned up 5 energy saving bulbs of 20 watts each and and I explained that more light didn't need more power. We changed 1 and he was amazed at the effect. I changed a second and took the remaining ones out and he was delighted with the light. We had taken the power consumption from 125watts to 40 watts yet tripled the amount of light in the room. The problem remains in that he has 3 empty light sockets and 2 ugly bulbs, but now he can explore the options of what to do next knowing that he wants at least 200 watt equivalent of light in the room.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Ambition achieved?

I have always been a tad jealous of people that can draw something that can be recognised as more that a dead spider squashed by a lorry on the motorway. This week I have picked up some books on crafts for Mary and found one on drawing.No, sadly the above is not anything I've done. It's an out of focus image of a drawing done by wifey of a cyclamen. I like it, but she has always wondered.Sadly the above is not mine either! It was done by SOC before she was school age and she wandered in from the garden having drawn it. We were BOTH amazed. I am sure you can see the fuchsia flower. No it's not a mistake - the fuchsias were in flower and her table was right beside them.

.............. Yes, the above is mine - but I'm getting there!

Told Off

FOC came round last night and it appears she reads my ramblings quite regularly. Didn't know that BUT... She told me that I have insulted her in these ramblings. I have just reviewed the pages (briefly) and cannot see to what she alludes. If I have then I really apologise, it was never my intent - I just say things as I see them. Love you kid. Love SOC too.

Well I went visiting the other day to 'the farm' and was chatting with Paul. I felt a bit guilty, because I hadn't gone for anything more than a chat and he has work to do. He had been out with the Morris to Cromford and coming back it started to misbehave and he had been looking at it. I climbed in the cab and 'helped' him refit one of the diesel filters. Because the cab doesn't lift access is tight and to try to get to both sides of the engine is difficult. I got oily hands but it was great to have my hands inside an engine after so long. Immense thanks to Paul. BUT.... I got home to be told off for smelling of oil. (To be fair a mild ticking off really).

This week has been a week spent on fitting door handles, letterboxes and new locks - simply because the old ones were decaying. But as I started one job, a second became obviously needed to be done and so on. Now to finish the woodwork!