Sunday 29 August 2004

"Yee-Ha" is not a foreign policy

Sums up Bush quite well doesn't it? It's a one of the great placards at the protest rally against Bush in New York - so heart-warming to hear of such a massive protest. I can't wait to see the Republican's kicked out of power. It can't happen soon enough.

Friday 27 August 2004

Olympics 2004

We've been watching quite a bit of the Olympics. In fact, I gave the kids pretty much free rein to turn on the TV and watch as much as the Olympics as they want! They've been watching mornings, afternoons and evenings. I figure it's about the only chance they get to see such a huge array of sports performed by world class atheletes. And as a bonus they get to learn the names and flags of various countries.

I also hoped it would inspire some interest in a particular sport. R* enjoyed watching the Judo and showing off her knowledge of the sport. She was quite intrigued by gymnastics and expressed an interest in trying it. K* liked the boxing. No, I don't think I want him to try that yet!

Naturally, the kids love to choose sides in any contest which leads to debates about who to support. Personally, I support Canada, Malaysia, Britain or the poorest country competing. The BBC only really shows the British atheletes and don't tell you much about the atheletes of other countries and their stories. It's a shame really.

I think it's great to see China doing so well. Of course, they're building up to hosting the Olympics in 2008 and proving themselves to the world. Obviously Beijing takes sport seriously. But where is India? Such a vast country is so poorly represented. And why is the South African team almost all white? And why are there so few women from Middle Eastern countries? The Olympics isn't free from politics or economics. It makes it all the more remarkable whenever someone from a poorer country wins a medal as they've had that much more to overcome.

While it's nice to sit and watch this on the TV, you should also know there's a dark side to the Olympics.

Tuesday 24 August 2004

Monbiot: Goodbye, Kind World

George Monbiots article Goodbye, Kind World concludes:

"We live in the happiest, healthiest and most peaceful era in human history. And it will not last long."

Interesting read and I'm inclined to agree. He has another excellent article entitled The Age Of Consent which looks at how we might develop a better system of world governance.

Sunday 22 August 2004

Darwin Centre Live

At the request of the kids, I took them last Thursday to the Natural History Museum in London. Jenny stayed at home to catch up on things. Since it was their day, I left it to them to figure out the building map and lead us around the museum.

We stumbled upon the Darwin Centre which is housed in a new building and connected to the rest of the museum. There was a scientist explaining how fish swim quickly including a close examination of shark skin. He had specimens with him projected onto three video screens and live link to a room below where another scientist could display specimens they had. Quizzing him was a show host and of course, the audience could ask questions. It was very well done. This is part of the Darwin Centre Live programme and is well worth attending. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to go on a tour of the world class specimen collection.

I also learned you can go visit Charles Darwin's house - Down House - and it's not far away.

Thursday 19 August 2004

The Quiet American (Phillip Noyce, 2002)

It's described in the IMDB review as a "moderately interesting drama" and that's a pretty good summary. Would be interesting to compare this to the 1958 version but I haven't seen it. Michael Caine certainly carries the film. If you like his movies, you'll probably enjoy this film. It inspired me to quickly read up on Vietnamese history (since 1885) and it's just stunning what the country has been through over the last 100 years.

Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004)

It's rare that a sequel is better than the first movie but it's certainly true with Spider-Man 2. It's a great summer movie that finally has a bit more substance than just special effects by delving deeper into the dilema of being a super hero. Great entertainment.

Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002)

Fantastic and deliciously self-referential film. A screenplay that you could talk about for hours in a film studies class. I need to watch it a second time. I've never cared much for Nicolas Cage but his performance is superb in this film. Highly recommended.

Peter Pan (P.J. Hogan, 2003)

I thoroughly enjoyed this retelling of the classic fairy tale. Bright and fun for both adults and the kids. Its cast particularly well. Recommended.

Sunday 15 August 2004

Knowl Hill Steam Fair

Knowl Hill Steam FairTook the kids to the Knowl Hill Steam Rally and Country Fair. It's the largest local country fair featuring a huge number of steam driven machinery as well as lots of fun fair rides. We've been attending this for many years and it's always a good day out.

Besides other rides, both kids got to try out bungie assisted trampolening and shooting air rifles. Neither Jenny nor I are keen on guns. They don't get them except for ones that look like toys and shoot water. However, it does make me wonder whether at some point they should learn marksmanship.

Friday 13 August 2004

Stagecoach Workshop

The kids have been spending every morning this week at a Stagecoach holiday workshop. The format of each day was one hour dance, one hour singing and one hour theatre. Today, as a finale, they performed a short play - Little Red Hen.

We weren't sure how they would take to it since both of them shy away from dressing up and performing but it went down well. You can tell because they got up early in the morning and got ready all by themselves without any yelling from either of us. It also didn't take any pushing from us for them to practice their parts. Phew! There was a possibility that one of them might have refused any participation at all. I think it helped that they were doing it together.

There's some hope we can lower their resistance to the performing arts after all. I certainly think there are valuable skills for them to learn by taking part in it.

Thursday 12 August 2004

Motorcycle Lesson #2

I'm now back onto my motorcycle lessons. Had my first two lessons this week after passing my CBT last month. Each lessons consists of a quick warm up on a private circuit and then onto the public roads wired up with a radio so you can hear directions from the instructor.

The first lesson was a private lesson. It was raining and I felt a bit tense but didn't feel I did too badly until at the end of the lesson the instructor told me I was too erratic and unpredictable and an accident waiting to happen. Gulp. I used the brake too much and didn't position myself early enough to avoid potential hazards.

During the lesson I got a massive headache from a badly fitting helmet so afterwards I did some quick research on the Internet and then went helmet shopping. I eventually bought an Arai SV at Hein Gericke in Slough. Arai seems to have a very good reputation and this is their entry level helmet. It certainly is much more comfortable.

The next day was my second lesson but this time in a group with two other riders and a different instructor. He thought the ride went well except I was too tense and missed some of my shoulder checks. However, the road was wet and I slipped the bike twice. Once by going over a metal drain cover on a bend and second by turning and braking at the same time (dumb, I know) when trying to make an earlier than expected turn. Really, I do intend to only be a fair weather rider but the British "summer" weather isn't co-operating!

Sunday 8 August 2004

RYA Competent Crew

Lone StarHere's a quick write up of Sailing The Solent about my RYA Competent Crew course. I'm very relieved that I didn't get sun burnt and we had great weather over the five days of the course. The picture is of our 42ft yacht moored in Yarmouth. There's a few more pictures in the article.

Over all, I had a great time and I'm convinced sailing is fun enough that I hope to eventually earn my Day Skipper qualification.

Saturday 7 August 2004

Sailing The Solent

I've just completed the five day RYA Competent Crew sailing course with Five Star Sailing based in Warsash, Southampton. We mostly sailed in the Solent which is the channel between the UK mainland and the Isle of Wight but we ranged as far as Poole and Chichester. The course is the first step in the RYA Sail Cruising scheme. It's a practical introduction to sailing with the goal of making you a useful crew member.

My real goal in taking this course was to decide whether I'd like to attempt taking the family on a sailing holiday some time in the future. I'm now convinced it would be a lot of fun though I haven't figured out exactly how I'm going to attempt it. Anyway, this is how the course went.

Sunday, August 1st.

Check-in at the sailing school was 7 pm but I got down there early in order to do some last minute shopping at the nearby shops. It's a bit tricky trying to figure out what to pack on a trip like this but the critical items were:

  • sun protection - hat with wind clip and high factor sun cream
  • sailing gloves to protect your hands while pulling ropes
  • polo shirts, shorts and a wind proof jacket

Sun glasses would have been good but I don't have any and I couldn't find any clip-on's at the last minute. Something to get for the proper sailing "look". :-)

So I got down to the school early and after a little waiting, I was greeted and invited to load my stuff on the boat. I was very pleasantly suprised when I got to the the yacht. It was a lovely Beneteau Oceanis Clipper 411. I also met my two fellow students, Gerhardt and Bruno, both Germans somewhere in their thirties who were also loading up. Normally the course is run with five students so it was fantastic that there were only three of us. The other fellow's were doing the Day Skipper course at the same time I was doing the Competent Crew course.

We soon met Paul, our skipper, and started getting briefed and settled. We had to draw match sticks to decide who got the worse cabin and yours truly lost. I was stuck with a tiny cabin with bunk beds that seemed like large bookshelves. Honestly, I was a bit dubious about how I was going to sleep.

We then headed to the pub for dinner but drinking was out of the question since the plan was to set sail that night for Cowes on the Isle of Wight. Sailing itineraries revolve around tides and this was our first taste of it. Either we left that night or we wouldn't be able to get out until late the next morning. It's also part of the Competent Crew syllabus for me to get a taste of night sailing.

It was a gorgeous crossing with a full moon hanging low in a starry sky and a warm breeze sending us on our way. Brilliant. I manned the helm for the whole crossing. It was also rather hairy watching out for all the signalling buoys and directions of other vessels. It basically proved the point that night sailing is an advanced skill not to be taken on lightly.

We moored at Cowes and congratulated ourselves on our first sail. It was 1 am by then so I wriggled into my cabin and slid onto my bookshelf. It felt like sleeping in a coffin.

Monday, August 2nd.

After such a late night, we were in no rush the following morning but it didn't take long to get out into the Solent and start learning. We were blessed with a sunny afternoon and a good breeze. Basically, Gehardt and Bruno took turns being the skipper which was primarily about navigation while I was the crew. I literally learned the ropes that day. I also learned that sailing isn't necessarily relaxing and can be a lot of work!

One of the key things we learned that day and practiced every day afterwards were "man overboard drills". This was primarily part of the Day Skipper syllabus.

  • Assign someone to constantly point at the man overboard (we used a fender)
  • Hove To (tack across and trap the genoa)
  • Start the engine
  • Pull in the mainsheet
  • Drive around to the person in the water and drop a life ring
  • Keep driving and get downwind of the person
  • Furl the genoa
  • Drive slowly back to the person in the water
  • Pick them up on the leeward side

Picking up the fender is simple but a real person could be very difficult. They would probably need to be winched aboard with the spinnaker sheet. Falling overboard in a rough cold sea is serious enough that you should send out a May Day on the VHF if it happens.

YarmouthWe moored in Yarmouth against a harbour wall right where people wait to board the ferry. It's a tiny place but it had a pub and great shower facilities. Great facilities is a real consideration with sailing since you really don't want to use the onboard shower.

Tuesday, August 3rd.

It rained that night and we had a soggy grey start in the morning.

The yacht was fully provisioned with food and we had a menu that we were supposed to stick to. Everyone shared in the cooking and cleaning and that includes preparing hot drinks and lunch while under full sail. I had my first turn at frying bacon and making tea at precarious angles that day. It's all part and parcel of learning to sail.

After a short break in Lymington Harbour, we sailed down to Poole. The wind picked up and it turned sunny for some exciting sailing. I had the yacht heeling hard over doing 8 knots and careening through some waves. Superb! I love that feeling of a bucking yacht blown over by the wind. It's hard work manning the helm and keeping the sails full.

Paul and GerhardtPoole harbour was busy so we moored along a raft of power boats. To get to the shore you step from boat to boat going across their bows. It makes for a great social lifestyle as you soon meet the neighbours. The quay itself was lively with a huge gathering of motorcyclists. Since harbours are generally near the center of towns, you're immediately in the heart of any hustle and bustle. Paul and I settled in a pub for a drink.

Wednesday, August 4th.

Woke up in the middle of the night feeling like I was suffocating in a coffin. Got some more air into the room and went back to bed. I'm not claustraphobic but it takes a little getting used to.

Old HarryBecause of the tides, we had a very early start. We slipped our mooring lines by 6:45am and motored onto a calm sea on a beautiful sunny morning. Unfortunately, we had very little wind the entire day. We used the engines to get us back to the Solent where we had a spell of  cloudy and cooler weather before getting sunny again outside of Yarmouth.

It was rather boring being a motor boat that day. I found helming the yacht gets quite mesmerising as your gaze is fixed on the horizon and you're gently rocked by the waves. Gerhardt managed to catch a mackerel by trawling a fishing line. At lunch, my fellow students went for a swim - too cold for me!

At least the lack of wind gave my hands a break that day. They were both aching and tired from the previous two days of sailing.

That afternoon I got to helm the yacht during a man over board exercise and didn't do too badly. We then headed into Portsmouth to moor. This part of the Solent in incredibly busy with ferries, ocean liners, cargo ships, hovercraft, speedboats and other vessels of all shapes and sizes. It's definitely a good place to learn about rights of way.

  • sailboats have precedent over motorboats unless you're talking about a ship with restricted movement
  • generally, you should stay out of the main shipping channels
  • given two motorboats, the vessel on starboard has the right of way 
  • a vessel on a collision course always maintains a constant bearing from you
  • to avoid a collision, always bear to starboard
  • a vessel being overtaken has right of way
  • given two sailboats, the boat on a starboard tack has right of way (sails on left)
  • a sailboat downwind of another sailboat has right of way

PortsmouthWe also had time this day to cover other parts of the Competent Crew syllabus such as:

  • the eight knots you must know
  • poling the genoa
  • gyb prevention ropes
  • using flares, rockets and smoke
  • how a helicopter rescue works

The marina at Portmouth was fantastic with a large floating lightship converted to a pub with superb shower facilities.

Thursday, August 5th.

Another nice day and some good wind too! After practising mooring manuevers, we sailed up to Chichester harbour for a relaxed lunch before sailing down to Cowes. By now I was feeling pretty comfortable with sailing. We learned about how to do the man over board drill without a motor:

  • Assign someone to constantly point at the man overboard
  • Hove To (tack across and trap the genoa)
  • Pull in the mainsheet
  • Sail around to the person in the water and drop a life ring
  • Get into a beam reach away from the person and get a good distance away
  • Tack around into the opposite beam reach towards the person
  • Release the mainsheet and lose the power in the main sail
  • Release the genoa sheet; consider furling it
  • By hand, pull and release the mainsheets to quickly power up and down the main sail as needed
  • Turn up wind as you get close to the person in the water
  • Pick them up on the leeward side

    That evening we took Paul out for dinner at a nice Italian place. He was a happy with our abilities and we had covered all the course material. Cowes was getting fully decked out for the Cowes Regatta starting on Saturday. This is the largest and oldest regatta in the world. That evening there was a live band playing classic rock and a large beer tent so we took turns buying rounds and got quite tanked.


    Friday, August 6h

    Another nice day with a good wind. It's only a short distance from Cowes back to Warsash so the day was just spent playing around in the Solent tacking and gybing as we wanted. Gerhardt caught another mackeral so we had sashimi for lunch. It was a nice end to the course. We finally moored, cleaned up the yacht and were presented with our certificates.

  • R* In The Newspaper

    There's a big picture of R* in last weeks local weekly newspaper. We were approached by a photographer at the WOMAD festival to take a picture of her holding up a colourful kite. R*'s very pleased with it. We've also explained to her about modelling and she seems keen on the idea now that she knows you can earn money that way. She's even willing to wear a dress!

    Sunday 1 August 2004

    Gone Sailing

    I'm leaving today to go on a five day sailing course with Five Star Sailing so there won't be any posts for a week. Tell you about it when I get back.