Both kids have abandoned wearing PJ's to sleep in for the time being. Instead, they've both acquired old T-shirts of mine and keep on trying to get more. Of course, they're way too big. They look like medieval street urchins running around in them but they really like it. Luckily, I have a big supply of old T-shirts thanks to the computer industry!
Sunday, 29 June 2003
Jenny and I recently finished listening to the audio cassettes of this book. It's the second book in the series again read aloud by Nathaneil Parker who is excellent at doing a variety of voices. Good but not as good as the first book. It's a simple crime adventure story using the same characters. Fun and enjoyable but don't expect too much. Meanwhile, I've started reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Today we went to R*'s Schools' Summer Fayre. (yes, takes a while to get used to them spelling it fayre rather than fair just like tire is tyre here). The kids loved it. We gave them some money and they ran off and spent it on all the little amusements - donkey ride, tambola, bouncy castle, etc. We spent most of our time picking over the second hand toys and books. Jenny did a shift manning the toy tables and selling items. There was a huge amount of stuff and all of it going for a song. We used this event ourselves to clear out a whole lot of old toys that the kids had outgrown. Jenny was rather distressed at how cheap it was sold for given that we had paid full retail for most of it. Even then, much of it didn't get sold and we left it to get hauled away for free to a charity shop. In the UK, it's definitely the cheapest way to pick up toys for young children.
Saturday, 28 June 2003
Thursday, 26 June 2003
We've been making medieval sheilds for the kids. We started with white cardboard and I cut them to the right shape. They painted them. Jenny finished them off with gold emblems. They look quite good so they both took them to school today to show them off. Now they want swords! Hmmm. That will only end in tears so they have to make swords themselves out of paper. Even then, we've got to stop them stabbing each other in the head!
Went down to London to visit the Delamar Academy Open House today. Kind of a long story but basically, I've always been kind of interested in the way they can make-up someone into aliens and monsters in shows. So a few weeks ago I was cruising around the net reading about the latex foam they use to do this and found this great site called Monster Makers. Essentially, it's a shop that will provide you with everything you need to do it yourself; the same stuff they use in Hollywood. But it seems trickier than reading a book and following instructions so I said to myself, "self, wouldn't it be cool to go on a monster making course". So I started looking and lo and behold, I found the Delamar Academy Make-up School. They have a week long workshop on how to make casualties (burns, cuts, stabs, bruises, etc). They will also have a two week workshop on prosthetics which teaches you how to use that foam latex. In fact, in one year you can get trained to be a professional make-up artist! Now there's an interesting alternative career! I think it would be a riot to do something like this just for fun and then dress the kids next Halloween! I very tempted by the casuality workshop. So I went to the open house to check it out and see the portfolio's of the students. Yep, looks fun.
As part of getting back to dancing, I've been wanting to have refresher lessons of all the modern and latin ballroom stuff we used to know. Today we had our first private lesson with Suzanne Lear at a local church hall. She's a dance teacher I found through the Internet like everything else I find. The handy thing is that we can take R* and K* with us rather than find babysitting. We kind of hope that by watching us, they might get interested in dancing.
The lesson went well. We showed her some of what we remembered (embarrasing how little) and then proceeded to work on Social Foxtrot, Quickstep and Slow Foxtrot. The body remembers better than the mind. A lot of "Oh yeah! We've done that before!". Don't think it will take too long to get a lot of it back.
Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Can some kind soul explain what it means to describe something as "a complete Horlicks"? I know Horlicks is a drink but what does it mean as an adjective? I found the reference in this news article with the following quote:
He admitted the whole "dodgy dossier" affair was "a complete Horlicks".
I've been reading lately about low carb diets. I heard about them sometime ago and read a little on the net before buying "Atkins for Life" from Costco. Makes a lot of sense to me - I've known that bakeries are evil for a long time - sugar and white flour are the big killers. The big controversy with Atkins is that he goes against the dominate low calorie/low fat diet and just restricts carbohydrates and uses ketosis. You can eat lots of protein and fat. If you read the book though, you'll find the diet is very balanced.
So I've been thinking about trying it and losing a bit of extra weight I can do without. I've been experimenting with having no-carb meals but I haven't gone all out yet. Still have to work out exactly what the diet entails but I know that sugar in my tea is out and of course pasta, rice and potatoes are out too.
Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Sunday, 22 June 2003
The Harry Potter phenomena continues. We were in Oxford today and saw lots of people sitting around reading it. Of course I'll get a copy as well but I haven't read the fourth book yet and we're still in the middle of listening to the third book so no great hurry. Amazing event though - it's broken all kinds of records for book selling and ecommerce. There have been 13 million copies printed and JK Rowling is set to make £30 million from it. It's simply amazing how she went from being nearly broke to being richer than the Queen. It's hard to imagine what it must be like having that many people reading what you're writing. The big question is "who dies?" and I sure hope someone doesn't spoil it for me before I get to read it.
My friend Willy and his family are visiting from Vancouver and staying at our place this weekend. After much discussion over the numerous things that we could do we decided to spend the day in Oxford. We started at St Marys Church and the children climbed up the tower stairs to get a view of the town. Next we grabbed a picnic at the covered market which is a great place to explore if you have time but we didn't. Instead we went into the Botanical Gardens and had a relaxed picnic there under a tree and the kids ran amok. It was a beautiful hot sunny day. The garden was full of people reading their newly acquired Harry Potter books. Then we headed for the primary thing we had all agreed we wanted to do that day: punting. We rented two long shallow punting boats and Willy and I stood on the back of one each and made our foray into the busy river life pushing our boats along with a very long metal pole. Jenny and Iona (Willy's wife) also took their turns at the stern. Of course we all had plenty of minor collisions with other floating craft but that is pretty much the inevitable. The river is narrow and flows slowly through cool woods. Most of the boats are laiden with drink and people of pretty high spirits. If you're not doing the pushing, it's a very pleasant activity otherwise it's a good deal of work! We had a great time.
We ended the day as most days in the British summer might end. A drink in a local pub and then a trip out to a lovely country pub. In this case, The Bull And Butcher in Turville which I highly recommend. If you've visited us before, there's a good chance I've taken you out there.
Friday, 20 June 2003
Had my second horse riding lesson this morning. Unfortunately, Jenny wasn't up to it with her cold. The lesson went well. My horse was Cypress and she was much better than Mulberry. More sensitive. That's means you don't have to kick her much to move her forward. Not emotional. No biting. Cypress was also less bouncy and much more comfortable to ride when trotting. Maybe the tight underwear also helped! Started getting the knack of the rising trot - essentially you stand up in your seat every other "beat" of the horses gait and bounce up and down as you ride. I also learned to steer which was easy enough. By the end of the lesson I rode Cypress untethered around the arena doing a rising trot. Hey, this is pretty cool.
So walking is first gear. Trot is second gear. Canter is third gear and gallop is forth.
Thursday, 19 June 2003
Wednesday, 18 June 2003
Tuesday, 17 June 2003
Jenny and I had our first horse riding lesson this morning. Went well. Of course, we started with basics and just managed to try the rising trot at the end. The sitting trot is not fun as you essentially just have to relax and absorb all the bouncing in the lower half of your body. You're at a definite disadvantage if you happen to have testicles; no wonder more women seem to be into horses! Tight underwear is definitely a good idea. The rising trot is better but is obviously going to require a lot of work from the thigh muscles. So for women, horse riding might be good for their sex life but for men, it's probably a form of contraception.
My horse was Mulberry and Mulberry, according to Judy my trainer, was in a bit of a strop. Not too good for one's confidence getting on a large animal with emotional problems but she seemed well behaved enough. She only tried to bite Judy once. Meanwhile, I learned there are multiple styles of horse control. Polo horses are taught much differently from classic style so what I learned at Ascot last week wasn't applicable. Horses in Australia and the Western USA are taught Western style which is closer to Polo than to classic style. This is all relevant if we ever do a horse riding holiday. Next lesson is Friday.
Sunday, 15 June 2003
Today we drove over to Colchester to see the History Fayre at Castle Park. It's a living history kind of fayre set primarily in the 15th to 16th century. It seems quite a lot of people are into historical re-enactment. There were maybe thirty or so medieval tents with either craft people, traders or just folks demonstrating what medieval life would have been like. Of course everyone dresses the part and many of the visitors too. We watched a puppet show, knights demonstrating sword fighting and a falconry display. I learned about the cittern. R* tried her hand at archery. Both kids tried out the "splat the rat" game. We had quite a few interesting conversations with the people there since everyone is pretty much by nature an amatuer historian and is there for the fun of it. It was a nice day out.
The best thing about this kind of historical re-enactment is that it's a great way to interest children in history since they can be part of it rather than look at museum displays, ruins or watch TV. Here's a list of other historical events coming up.
Before leaving, Jenny purchased a dress pattern design book for 12th to 13th century costumes and some clothe as well. Some of us might be in costume next time!
Saturday, 14 June 2003
Interesting read of people receiving honours from the Queen. There were 509 in all and over half came from public nominations. Here's a description of the British honours system or even more detail at Debrett's. The more common honours were invented by King George V in 1917 to recognize non-combatants in World War I as the war dragged on. Within "The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire" are five classes:
Knights or Dames Grand Cross, (GBE)
Knights or Dames Commanders, (KBE or DBE)
There's a link to the full list and what they do. Nice to have this kind of recognition system. I wonder what other countries have similiar systems?
My web/email hosting company had a little accident and lost all our email accounts and mailing lists. I was one of the unlucky 10% that weren't recovered. Still some hope of a restore but it's not really a big deal. If you just happened to have sent email to me on Friday/Saturday, I might not have seen it. Unfortunately, Jenny hasn't checked her email for much longer so if you sent her anything in the last week, you should probably resend it.
Thursday, 12 June 2003
Wednesday, 11 June 2003
Tuesday, 10 June 2003
Friday morning (6 June 2003) saw us packing and loading up the MPV for our next short weekend trip. This time it was to the Peak District in Derbyshire. I was hoping it could all fit in the Porsche so the drive would be more fun but no such luck; there was simply too much stuff to take. K* packed a big box of lego. After stowing it away, I checked with Jenny to make sure she had sanctioned it and found out that she had thought that I had sanctioned it. Nope. But we let K* get his way and packed it anyway.
We left at 2:30 pulling R* out of school early and wound our way up north around Birmingham, Burton-on-Trent and Derby hoping not to get stuck in the Friday rush. Jenny had never been past Warwick so this was new territory for her. I've driven as far north as York for work trips. Our goal was Yeldersley farmhouse B&B just outside of Ashbourne which is on the southern outskirts of the Peak district.
The farm is also in the middle of nowhere. After leaving the main road, you drive for a few miles down a winding single track lane with high hedges on either side. You silently pray that no car is speeding the other way and about to crash into you. After only one panic stop, we arrived safely.
It had taken four hours to get there but the kids soon sprang into action. R* was thrilled to count nine cats wandering around outside the house. There were also two hundred dairy cows. However, we only stayed long enough to drop our bags and check in before heading out for dinner.
The landlady recommended The Knockerdown pub and it turned out be perfect. It's a family pub with ostriches, donkeys, fish and a rooster. They also have a large playground. Food was alright; certainly good value. And they served Marston Pedigree which is one of my favourite beers. No surpise they've won a few awards. It was a good place to lose the stress from the days drive. It was still daylight and sunny too. At this time of year, the sun doesn't set until quarter past nine.
We had a good nights sleep and started the next day at nine with a full English breakfast which Jenny just loves. We got on the road by 10:30 and meandered our way across the dales to Cromford. The countryside is indeed very picturesque in this region. Gentle rolling hills and small valleys. Copses of trees. Stone walls. All the elements of the heavily stereotyped English countryside. Unfortunately, this lovely countryside was also playing havoc with Jennys hay fever so she suffered quite a bit.
Cromford is home to the the first Awkwright Mill which is famous for being the first powered cotton spinning mill. In this case, it was water-powered and it began production in 1775. This mill and it's technology revolutionized the textile industry worldwide and was a significant milestone in the Industrial Revolution. It's still undergoing restoration but has a great sense of place. It also gave us a chance to shock R* with tales of child labour. We bought an autobiography of a childs account of his worklife which I'm looking forward to reading to her.
After the mill we headed to the National Tramway Museum which came with many recommendations. Here they've recreated a Victorian street with original components from all over the UK complete with shops. They've also assembled together old trams from all over the world which have been refurbished and are run along the street and up to a picturesque lookout point. As predicted, K* quite enjoyed this. We wandered around the museum, had a couple of rides, did a woodland walk and a stopped at the playground. Despite a lousy lunch, it's a pretty good place to visit.
Next we drove down to the Denby pottery factory which was a real treat for Jenny. They have a huge seconds store which she poked around in for a good hour and filled four bags with bowls and mugs. Unfortunately the line of Denby mugs that we currently have has been discontinued.
Time was getting on and we had an important dinner date so we drove home to rest and then got all dressed up. Unfortunately K* suffered a rebuff from a farm cat's very sharp claw before we left and needed a lot of consoling. We patched him up and he now understands cats a bit better.
I had been warning the children for days that we were taking them to the most exclusive restaurant we've ever taken them yet and that their behaviour had to be top notch or they would suffer dire consequences. We drove up to Callow Hall Country House Hotel and Restaurant and met up with our friends Gareth and Denise. Gareth is an ex-colleague of mine from Microsoft who grew up in Derby. Denise is a textile artist. The hotel is small and elegant; check the website for pictures. It's one of those places where you get seated in a lounge for drinks and you place your order from there. You then go into a fancy and very, very red dining room. The British love red dining rooms. Check the website pictures.
We all had a five course dinner and the children were great. A little moaning perhaps but very good manners and great patience given that we spent three hours there. K* befriended a young woman at another table and spent most of the evening chatting her up (Rachel - a nanny turned lawyer). She knows everything there is to know about us now and probably so do a lot of other guests given K* complete inability to speak quietly. Generally the food was very good but we were not overly impressed with the main courses.
The next day, we finished another full English breakfast and then checked out. Gareth and Denise arrived to join us on a little jaunt around the area.
We drove up to Buxton getting into the heart of the Peak District. Lovely scenery. Buxton is famous as a Roman spa town and it's drinking water. You can buy bottled Buxton water all around the UK. But we didn't go there for the water, our destination was Poole's Cavern.
There's lots of detail on the website. Suffice it to say, we spent about an hour on a guided tour of the cave and the kids seemed to enjoy it. It was a different experience for them. Certainly was cold in there and it felt almost tropical coming out.
After that we drove down to Bakewell to find a late lunch. Bakewell is famouse for the Bakewell tart among other things. We found a nice enough place and eventually shared a Bakewell tart (and custard - you *always* have to have custard) for four. After lunch we poked around the shops but soon found it was getting late and we had a long drive ahead. We said good-bye to Gareth and Denise and headed home. The kids fell asleep which helped make the long trip seem shorter.
There's certainly many more things to do in Derbyshire and it's a shame we didn't manage to get to the high peak area where the scenery gets even more dramatic. Indeed the UK is littered with lots of places to see and visit so we're trying to do more of these short trips when we can get around to arranging them. More to come.
Monday, 9 June 2003
Friday, 6 June 2003
Thursday, 5 June 2003
Nice to read some good news for a change - 105 blue flag beaches. It's interesting to read the criteria for a blue flag. And the BBC provided a follow up UK guide to the best beaches. Nice and timely as the weather has been excellent and its time to get down to a beach. We're off to Cornwall for our summer holidays later in the summer to experience the quintenssential British holiday.