Saturday 17 December 2005

Gone To Canada

We're off to Canada for the Christmas holidays visiting friends and family in Victoria and Vancouver. I'll be back after New Years but should still find time to blog while we're away. The highlight of the trip will be taking the children skiing for five days up at Mt Washington. Look for us on the snowcam! :-)

Friday 16 December 2005

A Tour Of Provence

I like France. Good weather. Good food. Picturesque towns and
regions. Lots of culture. Lots of activities and it's easy to get to
from the UK. The language isn't too hard to figure out either. All
together, it's a great place for a holiday. Too bad England lost it's
hold on Aquataine!

We've already been to France six times before this. We've seen parts
of Paris, Normandy, Alsace, Charante-Pitou, Garcony, Dordogne, Loire
and the Cote Azure. However, we hadn't seen Provence or the Languedoc
so this became an obvious next choice.

Joining us on this holiday were some old friends from Canada, Daniel
and Una and their five year old daughter Tiana. They had travelled with
us before on two other occasions when we visited Andalucia and Crete.

Tuesday, August 16th

Flew to Nimes on a cheap flight with Ryanair. Rental car from
Europcar was a Seat Toledo 1.9 Diesel. Ugly beast of a car! It drove
like a school bus and sounded like one too! At least it had lots of
trunk space.

We found our villa easily enough. Daniel had a GPS receiver hooked
up to a Pocket PC running Tom Tom routing software. All I had to do was
follow. We were staying just to the east of Avignon. We very carefully
chose the location in order to make it easy to tour the region. We've
made the mistake of renting villa's in the middle of no where and then
taking ages to get anywhere interesting. We were staying in the rather
flat and featureless agricultural region known as the Lower Rhone

La Nesquiere can be found down a long unpaved road past an apple
orchard. It's a large rambling property with several building and
fields. It's run by an energetic lady named Isabelle who, lucky for us,
spoke fluent English.

The Mas was divided into a couple of "houses" and we had three
double rooms at the top of one house. We shared the house with another
triple room on the ground floor which was currently occupied by a
German couple. The house had a shared kitchen and living room.

Exploring the property, I found horses, a barn, rabbits in cages and
a vineyard. Down the centre of the property ran a large brook. A bridge
crossed over it to a swimming pool and an apple orchard. Chickens
roamed all over the property and a couple of dogs and cats lazed about.
It was rustic yet charming enough.

Kids excited to try the pool. Cold!

Dinner al fresco.

Wednesday, August 17th

Lazy day. Breakfast al fresco. Jenny and Una took off to stock up
with food at the local supermarket. Unfortunately, they got lost on the
way home and didn't make it back until four hours later.

We went down to Avignon for dinner. Incredibly narrow streets!
Parking was very difficult to find so we wound up quite a ways from the
centre. We wandered around quite a bit before picking a very touristy
restaurant in the lively square in the center of town. It was great for
watching street performers. Food was so-so.

Before we left, we spent a bit of time admiring the Palace du Pape from the outside as it was all illuminated. Very imposing.

Thursday, August 18th

It was about time we got out and did some proper sightseeing. It was
almost noon by the time we were ready to leave so we decided not to go
too far. Settled on Pont du Gard.

Pont du Gard is the finest example of a Roman aquaduct in the world.
It's a UN World Heritage site. We parked on one side and walked across
it while taking lots of pictures. On the other side, we had some ice
cream and spent a lot of time at the visitors centre. There's a cinema,
museum and children's area. It's very well organised and educational.

For dinner, Jenny had heard of a good place in Carpentras so we
drove over there and found it. It was indeed good. They served all
kinds of regional specialities.

Friday, August 19th

Late nights. Late mornings. K*'s foot was hurting so I stayed home
with him while everyone else went back to Carpentras to check out the
Friday market that was on. Actually, I decided rather than stay home,
I'd go for a drive to see what some of the nearby countryside was like.

I wanted to find the closest green routes on the Michelin map. Drove
out to St Didier and I started to see lots of vineyards. The scenery
really got beautiful as I drove along the D4. Turned south on the D177
and hugged some very narrow roads with sheer drops on the way to
Gordes. Ice cream break. From there, we looped home passing through
Fountain Vacluse and Isle de la Sourge.

We spent the rest of the day at the villa except for a late run to
the supermarket to find some dinner. The theory was that if we ate at
home and got the kids to bed early, we could be out of the house
earlier the next day.

Saturday, August 20th.

We all managed to get out of the house by 9:15 heading for
Aix-en-Provence in order to catch the Saturday market. Parking was
difficult be we finally found a place and walked down to the market. It
was quite extensive. We mostly explored the food market. No surprises.
Just very fresh and visually appealing produce. Not that much variety.
We meandered the stalls and the kids were soon hungry looking at all
the food. We ended up standing around eating.

Unfortunately, the market packed up at 1pm so we didn't have a
chance see other parts of the market. We left. Daniel and Una headed to
Marseille while we decided to do a slow scenic drive home. K*'s leg was
hurting so we decided to just tour around in the car.

We drove first to Apt. The first half along the D543 was ho-hum but
it got much nicer along the D943 as we drove over the ridge of the
Luberon. Apt isn't anything to write about. We had an ice cream break
and watched a bride arrive for her wedding. I like the flair with which
many French women dress.

We continued up the D4 taking a slight detour to Roussillon. This
small hilltop village was famous for supplying ochre to the Roman
Empire. The hills and cliffs are beautiful coloured in hues from deep
brown, red to a soft yellow. It would be fabulous to walk around here
at sunset.

We continued along the windy D4 across another high ridge where we
caught glimpses of postcard Provence: stone houses nestled within
fields of lavender and orchards. Too bad we were out of season to see
the purple flowers. Still, it was a pretty place. We stopped at a
delightful picnic area just before Murs and enjoyed some nectarines we
had bought at the market.

We detoured to Vanasque and le Beaucet just to see what they were like: both small villages perched in lovely locations.

We stopped for dinner in Pernes-de-Fountaines and discovered that a
street had been blocked off and a smal fair was going on. The kids
played on the bumper cars and tried some of the stalls. Since we were
early, most restaurants weren't open so we wound up in a Chinese
restaurant: something familiar for the kids.

Sunday, August 21st

Today was largely down-time. Jenny and R* did go out to catch the
Sunday market at L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. I had a stupid accident. Poured
a brewing cup of steaming hot tea all over my left hand and scalded it
very badly. Took about eight hours before I could remove the ice pack
without feeling a searing heat blasting my skin. Escaped with only one
heat blister.

Jenny made a lovely meal. The German couple staying in the ground floor room left andthree Italians arrived.

Monday, August 22nd.

Left early for Arles. We took the scenic route driving through
Remy-de-Provence and Le-Baux-de-Provence. Remy didn't look very
interesting although Glanum might deserver a walk through. Le-Baux
would be worth walking around as the view would be excellent. But not
with kids!

We kept going to Arles and easily found parking spots within a short
walk to the amphitheatre which was our first destination. It's like a
mini Colleseum and was fun to explore. From the top of a tower, we had
a great view. It was incredibly windy though. The mistral was blowing

Afterwards, the kids were gunning for ice cream but it was lunch
time so we went to Place de Forum and found the cafe that Vincent Van
Gogh painted and made famous. Nice place but the food turned out to be
rather poor. We'll always associate bad food with that painting from
now on!

After lunch we walked through the Roman theatre but it wasn't that interesting. Little was left of the original structure.

We drove over to the museum as it sound pretty interesting. Lots of
ancient Roman artifacts and stuff about their daily life. I thought it
might interest R*. Unfortunately, there was no English descriptions of
anything and the displays were rather uninspiring.

By now, we were all pretty tired so we called it a day and drove
home. We made to detours. One to Villevenue-de-Avignon to try and get a
view of Avignon. We weren't successfull. The other was to a local
agricultural market in Vellone which was superb. It was just a gather
of all the local farmers selling their produce direct to the local
community. We stocked up on our fruit and veg and went home for dinner.

Tuesday, August 23rd

Chill out day. The girls and R* went out shopping heading to a huge
local fabric shop. Daniel, Tiana, K* and I went out heading for a
nearby cave called Grotte de Thouzon.

The grotto was small but it had some interesting forms. Nothing spectacular by any means but it kept the kids interested.

Afterwards, we headed north to find a "fresh water beach" near
Beaumes-de-Venise that was marked on the map. However, it turned out to
be nothing more than a shabby municipal campsite next to a trickle of a
river. Stuck for something to do, we went for some wine tasting in
Vacqueyras and then on to walk about the tiny hamlet of Seguret. Both
were places recommended by Isabelle.

We then headed home for a adhoc dinner with the girls.

Wednesday, August 24th

Time was running out and I decided there were two things I'd like to
still see in Provence. We drove up to Orange and toured around the
Roman amphitheatre. It's a World Heritage site due to how well
preserved it is. It holds 9000 people and is only one of three Roman
amphitheatres left that still has it's back wall still intact. The
audioguide were excellent and the kids enjoyed listening to the story
of the amphitheatre and learned about Roman theatre in general.

After lunch and an ice cream, we drove back to Avignon and did the
tour of the Palais du Pape. Again, we all had audioguides and this made
it much more interesting for the children.

Overall, I found the Palais du Pape to be very austere and lacking
in ornamentation but I gather that shouldn't be a surprise given it was
built in the 1300's. No doubt, the decor would have been much more
lavish 700 years ago. The view of Avignon from the top terasse was

After the tour we got on one those those little tourist trains that
took us about Avignon for 40 minutes. Good way to sit down and relax
for a little while.

When we got back, we found a quiet yet superb place for dinner. The
dessert was the best I had yet: peaches, figs, ice cream with sangria
and balsamic vinegar reductions.

Thursday, August 25th

The kids wanted a day at home and with not much else that I wanted
to do, I capitulated. Our travels certainly haven't been whinge-free.
Jenny went off to cruise the morning markets in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
and L'Isle-la-Sorgue. We needed to pack up for our drive to the
campsite the next day.


Well, I can't say I'm overly impressed with Provence. It's nice all
right but not in a wow kind of way. I'm sure it is much more prettier
when the sunflowers are at their peak and the lavender fields are in
full bloom. If you're going to come to Provence, seasonal timing is

Provence is a ever changing collage of stone houses, olive groves,
vineyards, lavender fields, sunflower fields and fruit orchards nestled
in gentle valleys studded with rocky outcrops. The markets don't have a
lot of variety but the produce of the region is superb.

Most of shops were closed during our visit. At first, I just thought
I wasn't around at the right time but gradually I realised that it's
just that France shuts down in August. It makes the towns seem sleepy
and dead. Most of the festivals are earlier in the summer; catching one
would have made the place seem more alive.

The Roman heritage of Provence is outstanding so if you're
interested in antiquities and history, there's plenty to see and read
about. Of course, it's also great for art history buffs and followers
of Impressionism.

As for where to stay in Provence, I think we got it just about
right. Stay east of Avignon but west of Apt. Stay south of Carpentras
but not further than the Luberon. This puts you in a nice area from
which it's easy to tour the region. There may be prettier places in the
hinterland but then it would take longer to get anywhere.

Monday 12 December 2005

Microsoft Atlantic Challenge 2005

I used to work with some of the guys who completed this Microsoft Atlantic Challenge 2005. Read the daily logs and check out the pictures for an insight to crossing the Atlantic. Part of me is envious; part of me thinks it's nuts. Nevertheless, my hearty congratulations to them!

Monday 5 December 2005

Christmas Cards

I still haven't sent any Christmas cards this year. I procrastinate about it every year and then always send them late. Honestly, it's one of the those Christmas chores I don't like even though I admit I like receiving cards.

This year, I figure it makes more sense to take the money I usually spend on about fifty cards and stamps and just give it to charity instead. I can then send a personal Christmas greetings by email.

Christmas cards are soooo last century.

Christmas cards started when Sir Henry Cole commissioned John Calcott Horsley in 1843 to create a card he could send out to his friends to make them aware of the needs of the poor during the holiday season. By the 1860's, Christmas cards had become a business. It does seem a bit pointless in this day and age to spend money sending bits of paper to each other with little more than a generic picture and a printed greeting. Image how much money could be raised if everyone gave their card and postage budget to a good cause. That was the original purpose in the first place.

So chances are, you won't get any dead wood fibre with my handwriting on it this year. To reciprocate, you're more than welcome to strike me off your Christmas card list and drop a few more coins in a charity box. Just send an email instead.

Thursday 1 December 2005

Jenny Graduates!

Jenny did it! She graduated yesterday from the Tante Marie School of Cookery with a Cordon Bleu diploma. She even got a pass with distinction! All that hard work paid off and hence the big, big smile. May I introduce to you, Chef Jenny!

Monday 28 November 2005

Baby On Board

It's not uncommon, at least where I drive, to see a "Baby On Board" sign stuck to a car's rear window. I've been wondering. What does this sign really mean?

I've somewhat assumed up to now that it means, "Please don't tailgate me as I have a fragile occupant in the car". In that case, the sign has no effect on my driving as I don't tend to tailgate anyone. Doesn't seem to effect anyone else's either.

Or does it mean, "Watchout for random things thrown out the windows?". Not too helpful. More likely it means, "Driver hasn't slept well and may drive erratically". However, in that case, the sign should be on the front window. It could mean, "I have a baby in the car and that's why I'm driving so friggin' slow". But in my experience, cars displaying "Baby On Board" don't drive slow. They're usually on hatchbacks with a harried mother stepping hard on the gas pedal. Maybe "Baby On Board" is just a form of proud display by new parents? Misguided but harmless I guess. It could also mean "Don't park close to me as I might bash my door into your side trying to get my baby in and out of the car". This seems to be the most useful meaning and I certainly avoid parking next to anyone with the "Baby On Board" sign.

Tuesday 22 November 2005

Energy Security

I predict that "Energy Security" is going to be one of the big political and media catch-phrases over the next decade. It's inevitable as the oil supply can no longer meet market demands and energy prices keep rising. It will become paramount for each country to establish stable sources in order to protect its economy.

You could argue that the US occupation of Iraq is a move to ensure energy security. Chinese corporations are beginning to buy foreign energy companies. The UK is edging towards a pro-nuclear policy. Dirty fuels are back on the table as an option. And no where will be off-limits when it comes to searching for the last patches of oil.

And no one knows how much oil is left. Certainly the UK has run out of North Sea oil and will soon be a net importer.

Be ready for some nasty politics as competition between nations increases. And in a world based on globalisation, if you don't have energy security, you don't have food security either.

Thursday 17 November 2005

Food Poisoning

Arrgghh! The kids and I are down with food poisoning. Been sick for two days; what a pain. We believe it was some chicken I bought last Monday. Definitely fowl play!

Friday 11 November 2005

Learning for Sustainability School Conference 2005

I attended the Learning for Sustainability School Conference put on by a local education authority yesterday. It was aimed at people in various local educational roles and since I'm a school governor, I got an invitation. There are many groups promoting sustainability and the conference was an effort to bring these many groups together.

Sustainability is all very well and good but I was very sceptical about how it could be integrated into a learning environment. If we want to achieve sustainability, I believe it needs some pretty radical changes and not just some greenwash in a classroom. How far were they willing to go?

Turns out that Education for Sustainability is already defined as part of the UK National Curriculum :

Education for sustainable development enables people to develop the knowledge, values and skills to participate in decisions about the way we do things individually and collectively, both locally and globally, that will improve the quality of life now without damaging the planet for the future. (The National Curriculum, 1999)

Not bad. Can't really argue with that.

The proposition at the conference is that Education for Sustainability must be pursued by a whole school approach where the entire ethos of the school is based on seven principles:

  • Interdependence

  • Citizenship and stewardship

  • Needs and rights of future generations

  • Diversity

  • Quality of life

  • Sustainable change

  • Uncertainty and precaution.

It's not just a taught subject. It's a way of threading together multiple topics. It's a perspective at which to look at everything that's done. It's an ethos and organisation prinple for the whole school.

The WWF has developed a useful education framework called Pathways. In their workshop, there was some inspiring case studies of schools that had fully embrassed this sustainability ethos (St Crispin's). It provided a nice roadmap for how to move a school forward. Meanwhile, the local borough is trying to embrace and extended this framework and promote it to the local schools. I need to read it still. There are some other interesting initiatives such as EcoSchools and FACE.

I even had a chat with a Senior Countryside Ranger about natural play and that article I had read in the Ecologist. He basically agreed that school grounds were generally not be used effectively.

I warmed up to this entire effort but had one concern. I raised the issue of ethical consumption with one of the speakers from Ofsted, Leszek Iwaskow. Was teaching about ethical consumption part of the sustainability agenda? I was impressed that he was all for it and even used it as an example in a later talk. It would be a great way to engage kids in secondary schools.

Sometimes, I do feel that Education for Sustainability smacks of "here, kids, we've had a party, spent your inheritance and don't have the political will to do anything about it so you better start thinking about how you might fix it". But it's better than the status quo and might raise a generation that has the political will to make the difficult decisions ahead.

Meanwhile, maybe they should add survivalist courses to the National Curriculum. If it's all too little, too late then they might just need it.

Tuesday 8 November 2005

Bonfire Night at Windsor Race Course

Guy Fawkes Day was last Saturday; there were fireworks displays all over the neighbourhood. We took the kids to the Fireworks Extravaganza at Windsor Racecourse. They had a big funfair which was outrageously expensive. The bonfire was huge and so far away you couldn't even feel the heat. The fireworks were good but I've been spoilt after being a regular at the Vancouver Fireworks Festival.

I wouldn't go to it again. I've decided Bonfire night is more fun at a smaller local level. You should be able to get close to the fire, light sparkerlers or maybe a firework or two yourself. The point is to be a participant rather than a spectator.

Actually, after watching the Timewatch show on the gunpowder plot, I now realise how un-PC this 400 year old celebration is and the burning of the Guy is a real anachronism.  He wasn't even the ring leader; just the first to be caught and tortured. You could call them terrorists that committed treason. However, the state was viciously persecuting Catholics taking innocent lives along the way. You could call them freedom fighters striking at their oppressors who refused them any political engagement. Same old story.

Kids With Mobiles

My daughter recently turned 10. Her big present was a mobile phone I bought second-hand off ebay (a Nokia 6100). Needless to say, she's been over the moon having acquired such a "grown-up" device. I'm sure it gives her bragging rights with some of her friends but she's not allowed to take it to school - school rules.

Honestly I'm not a big fan of raising techno-kids despite being a geek myself. I've refused to buy any of the handheld gaming platforms no matter how cool they are. The tamagotchi's were a mistake but thankfully their batteries have died. There are better things kids should do with their time and imagination. A mobile phone was previously out of the question too.

However, the mobile phone is more for myself really. I figure I can now feel more at ease letting her roam out of sight knowing I can call her anytime. I'm not sure that's freedom or just a really long leash.

As an aside, I lost my mobile a few weeks ago and have now got another one I bought off of ebay (yeah, I'm shopping on ebay a lot now). I'm on the same number as before. If you want R*'s number, drop an email to me.

Tuesday 1 November 2005

Battery or free-range children? A generation supervised.

Tim Gill published an excellent article in the October 2005 Ecologist magazine entitled "If You Go Down To The Woods Today" that I found very thought provoking. Can you recall your favourite place to play as a child? I've asked quite a few people this question and the answer is almost invariably somewhere outside and away from adult supervision. It was just somewhere you mucked about.

The article goes on to attack the current status quo of tight supervision of children in highly structured play environments. The underlying concern is that if the current generation is not so engaged with nature in childhood, how well will they fight to protect the environment? It's an interesting question and the article concludes with stories of communities that have ripped up playgrounds to plant natural play areas for kids to play in. It makes me wonder what other ramifications there might be with this kind of childhood.

Two issues raised by this article have really resonated with me: 1) freedom to roam and 2) unstructured outdoor play.

It's totally true that my kids have had far, far less freedom to roam than I did growing up. I roamed the neighbourhood far and wide. My kids stay within our property. I grew up playing around ponds, woods, creeks and hills. My kids have a small landscaped backgarden. It's rather boring so they play inside instead. Sad isn't it? I feel guily that it's my fault.

Of course it's not only my kids that are raised like this. All their friends are much the same. Some might have the advantage of a larger property or local streets with very little traffic. It does seem to mark the whole generation. Maybe what we have is a generation of paranoid parents fed fear by the media. I don't think the streets are less safe than before.

So now I'm struggling with thoughts about how to give back some freedom to my kids and get them outside just mucking about. It's worth reading the article and Tim Gill's website on rethinking childhood.

Saturday 29 October 2005

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Nick Park, Steve Box, 2005)

Wallace & Gromit rule! Great movie - everything you've come to expect from Nick Park. Will have to watch it on DVD to catch more of the in-jokes. Don't miss it.

Tuesday 25 October 2005

Windsor Great Park

Went out with the kids and a friend today and made our first stab at geocaching. We were heading for an Autumn walk in Windsor Great Park anyway when we figured we might as well try and locate this geocache. It wasn't there but it was a fun challenge. Will have to try again sometime and maybe put our own cache together.

The kids also practised firing a slingshot with crab apples and searched for conkers. It's half-term and I'm looking for projects to keep them occupied.

Rosa Parks

It was Rosa Parks whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955 triggered the start of the Civil Rights Movement. She died a few days ago on Oct 24, age 92. A truly inspiring story. Amazing that racism was so deeply entrenched only fifty years ago.

Thursday 13 October 2005

Canadians not so different from Americans

Horror of horrors but that's the conclusion of a study published in Science Magazine this month comparing perceptions of national stereotypes to the results of averaging countrymen personality tests. The study was conducted by the U.S. National Institute on Aging by 87 researchers across 49 countries by gathering NEO-PI-R self-reports from 3,989 people.

I haven't got ahold of the original study but it's being widely reported around the 'net.

Canadians have always had a problem defining a national identy and part of the Canadian myth building is "we're not American". The perception is widely agreed upon across Canada but it doesn't hold up to measurement. There are certainly cultural differences but those differences aren't due to personality traits. It would be interesting to test whether there's a measurable difference in the average West Coast and East Coast personality.

It's also turns out the British stereotype is completely unfounded. Rather than reserved, stalwart and conventional, they're measured to be extrovert and generally open to new experiences. Meanwhile Germans think that they're conscientious and industrious and they measured out as conscientious and industrious. However, it's the Poles that turn out to be the people that know themselves the best. 

This article has more details on the methodology and takes a look at it from the perspective of ethnic jokes...

 “Heaven is where the police are English, the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and everything is organized by the Swiss. Hell is where the police are German, the cooks are English, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and everything is organized by the Italians.”

Tuesday 11 October 2005

Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (David Miller, 2003)

I love the "Very Short Introduction" series put out by Oxford University Press. I've just finished reading the one on Political Philosophy. The topic sounds daunting but it's written in a very clear readable manner. The chapters covered are:

  • Why do we need political philosophy?
  • Political authority
  • Democracy
  • Freedom and the limits of government
  • Justice
  • Feminism and multiculturism
  • Nations, states and global justice

I found the last chapter on global justice particularly interesting. In contrast to cosmopolitanism, which is admittedly utopian, he outlines what I would consider a realistic vision of a world built on global justice:

"Political authority would rest primarily with nation-states, but they would collaborate to ensure that the costs and benefits of international cooperation were fairly distributed. Each political community would govern itself according to its own political traditions, and schemes of social justice would likewise vary somewhat from place to place. But everywhere human rights would be respected, and in cases where they were threatened, either by natural disasters such as drought or by oppressive regimes, other states would work together to ward off the threat. Some states would be richer than others; this would not be unjust provided that it resulted from political choice and cultural decisions rather than from economic exploitation. Some states would also be more democratic than others, but even those peoples who did not control their governors directly would identify with their government and feel that it represented their interests and values." (p130)

Sounds promising to me. I believe this vision has its roots in the political liberalism of John Rawls. Looks like it would be worth reading more about his ideas (e.g Original position).

I find books like these are very good at helping you test and strengthen your own opinions. I've been taking a closer look at where I stand on political issues and political philosophy gets right to the fundamentals.

Monday 10 October 2005

Apple Day

Yesterday we dropped by the annual Orchard Open Day at Cross Lanes Fruit Farm in Mapledurham (just north of Reading). The kids tried the traditional apple peeler, saw the displays on apple growing and bee keeping, tasted lots of apples and had a go at the games. We also tagged along on a tour of the orchard by the owner, Gill Franklin, who is obviously very passionate about apples (trivia: the Romans introduced apples to England).

What makes Cross Lanes special is that they grow 60 different obscure British apple varieties (and some pears and plums) and take tremendous care to get the greatest flavour from them. It's a bastion of good practice and does its best to help keep local production alive.

Each apple variety peaks at a different time and are usually on sale for just a few weeks. The rolling harvest means that the apple season is stretched out from  August to December and then that's the end. There's no gassing of the apples and putting them in storage for 10 months. These apples aren't covered with pesticide residues and are truly flavourful.

The kids tried a dozen varities and settled on a bag of Red Devils that they're now taking to school. Next month, I'll have to remember to pick up a bag of Jesters when Cross Lanes show up at the local farmers' market.

Friday 7 October 2005

Shopping Rights

Nice article on your shopping rights in the UK. There's also the DTI Fact Sheet on the Sale of Faulty Goods. No, haven't had any problems lately. I was just following links from the latest issue of Money Saving Expert.

Tuesday 4 October 2005

The Yes Men (2003)

A comedy/documentary following some activists that impersonate the World Trade Organisation and work to correct their identity through outrageous presentations at conferences and to the media.

It's low-budget and not particularly hard hitting but it is great fun to watch. I truly admire people with the gall to do stuff life this. I had a great laugh over the re:burger and the economic analysis of slavery was good too.

Don't buy the DVD. Either rent it or download it off the 'net. It's worth watching.

The Yes Men website is also a good browse. There are links to parody corporate websites of Dow and Cargill and you can buy US Regime Change Playing Cards.

Yep, the world could use a lot of identity correction.

Bride & Prejudice (Gurinder Chadha, 2004)

A unique fusion of Indian and Western traditions in this retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as a Bollywood film. It's fun and a bit corny - a snuggle-up-with-your-other-half movie. Aishwarya Rai is drop dead gorgeous.

One of the director's comments has stuck in my mind. Bollywood films, with their singing, dancing and fantasy sequences, are a celebration of life. I think that's true compared to other film traditions.

Sunday 25 September 2005

Southampton Boat Show

Spent today at the Southampton Boat Show with some friends. It's an absolutely massive event with every kind of vendor there is that has something to do with boats showing off their wares. The best part is going onboard all the different kinds of yachts and checking them out.

Sunseeker had a massive stand so I climbed aboard one of their baby luxuy powerboats since it had almost no line-up. It was a Predator 55 and sold for a cool £576,000. Yep, it was nice for the bottom of the range. Very comfy. Even had a small garage for a speedboat. The top of the range is around £5,000,000!

I stuck mostly to checking out 40' sailboats. It's the size I like. Not too big; not too small. Of the ones I looked at, my favourites were the Elan Impression 384 and 434 distributed by Moody. Excellent layout, comfortable, light and airy. No idea about how they perform. Base price of the 384 is £103,000. Reasonable compared to the cost of similiar size yachts.

No, I'm not about to buy a yacht but it's fun to think about it. If I was seriously going to try to do a lot of sailing, I would rather buy into a syndicate of some kind and share the expense with others.

Friday 23 September 2005

Back to Schedule

We're finally back to a regular schedule for the rest of term. Kids are in school and all their activities and transport sorted out. K* has piano lessons, beavers, swimming and kindermusik. He's also signed up for football although I still have to check with the hospital whether that's ok with his leg still mending. R* has school play, cornet lessons and swimming. She's quit brownies because it's just too girlie and is currently deciding between either St. John's Ambulance Cadets or Sea Cadets.

Jenny started back full-time at the Tante Marie cooking school last Wednesday. It will keep her very busy until the end of November when she graduates. We celebrated her birthday yesterday at home.

So that leaves me at home mucking about with various projects and being a house hubby. I'm thinking about going back to work after we return from Christmas in Canada. TBD.

Tuesday 13 September 2005

Our New Kitten

PixelLast Friday we brought home our new kitten. He's a moggy we got for free from R*'s friend. He was born on July 9th which makes him 9 weeks old.

I've always wanted a cat and with R*'s gerbils gone it seemed like an obvious next pet for the family. R* would much rather have a dog and as much as we all like dogs, neither Jenny or I want to commit to daily dog walks. Cats are just so much easier to look after. Our only concern is whether K* will turn out to be allergic to him; it may turn out that we can't keep him. (the kitten that is although it's a close call).

The kitten was, in fact, my birthday present but we couldn't pick him up until after our holidays. R*'s been hounding me about what the cat name should be all summer as I reserved the right to make the final decision. R* wanted to call him Mewcus. No, definitely not! Chairman Meow was tempting. So was Elvis Catstello. It's been very tough and looking through Kessel's 15,000+ cat names didn't make it much easier. At the moment, it's either "Bobo" or "Pixel" as it's still a topic of family discussion.

Of course you never really "own" a cat.  It's just a cohabitation arrangement for mutual benifit.

Friday 9 September 2005

Hog Day

Daniel's HogMe and my Hog

While on holiday in France, Daniel and I were looking for motorcycles to hire but we never found any. We were told by one business that new insurance changes had made the business unviable. It's too bad I hadn't discovered Ride The World before we went on holiday as they list a few companies still renting bikes there. Anyway, we managed to rent some Harley's yesterday just before Daniel headed back to Canada.

Both bikes were 1200cc Sportsters rented from Thames Valley Harley-Davidson for £69. For me, this was my first ride after getting my motorcycle license seven months ago and by far the biggest bike I had ever ridden. I was a bit nervous but at some point you just have to get out and do it.

It was a perfect warm sunny and dry day to go for a ride. We skirted around south of Oxford and rode around the Cotswolds. Fabulous open windy roads out there. By the time we headed home through the Chilterns, I was much more relaxed and enjoying the ride. My hands stopped being numb from gripping the handles so hard! Altogether we covered 185 miles.

The Harley was really easy to ride. For such a big bike, it's not at all twitchy. The power comes on smooth and slowly and just keep coming on as much as you want. No big jolt of power. It definitely prefers to rumble along at low revs. The sound is terrific as you go down narrow streets between buildings on a high street.

After a pub dinner, we rode home at night which was not fun. With oncoming cars, you're obliged to use a low beam and if there's no street lighting, it's really hard to see what the next corner is like or where the road is turning! Freaky.

We returned the bikes this morning after going for another short ride. Definitely felt good swinging around the bends on the local backroads on a crisp sunny morning. I really should get myself some proper biking gear. I wouldn't mind trying out some of their other Harley's too!

While hunting for bike rentals in the UK, I also discovered Raceways in London. They look like a great place to hire a bike for the weekend.

Tuesday 6 September 2005

Back From France

GoKart RacingBoy it sure is nice to get home after a few weeks away! All-in-all, we had a good trip. Yes, Provence is pretty although it would be much better at the right time of year - late June/early July. Jenny loved the markets. I thought the Roman ruins were outstanding. The campsite further south near Perpignan was less than thrilling but more fun for the kids. It was less culture; more holiday suburbia.

Here's a picture of Jenny and I after racing some gokarts. It was a heap of fun. It was a first time for Jenny so she wasn't very speedy. The kids also got to try some real petrol-powered karts too but on a smaller track. One of a number of things we did.

Travelogue coming soon!

Monday 15 August 2005

Gone to the South of France

We fly off tomorrow to Nimes with a couple of friends and their daughter. We're staying at La Nesquiere (near Avignon) for ten days exploring Provence before driving down the coast and staying at the La Sirene Campsite  at Argeles-sur-Mer (south of Perpignan) for another ten days. It's a compromise between something for the adults and something for the children.

I'm certainly looking forward to touring Provence. It's been on my list of places to go for a long time. I'm also hoping R* will get a chance to make use of her french and be motivated to learn more. I'm also sure the Languedoc will be pretty interesting as there's lots of activities we can do there like horse riding, climbing and kayaking. I also discovered only yesterday that we'll be very close to Cap de Creus on the Spanish Costa Brava which is reputed to be a great place to scuba dive. Fab! I've packed my dive gear with the plan of getting down there for a day.

I'll be back in September!

Sliding Doors (Peter Howitt, 1998)

A chick flick, the whole chick flick and nothing but a chick flick. Nice fuzzy romantic comedy that explores the idea of two timelines. Decent acting. I particularly liked John Hannah. But I'm really not sure what point the film is trying to make. It's probably not the kind of film one should expect a point from!

Saturday 13 August 2005

Sailing Bodrum

Last year I decided that a sailing holiday would be a great thing to try. I imagined it would be idyllic to sail around picturesque bays with a warm breeze at your back and new vista's constantly sliding into view. You're free to stop and explore wherever you wish and you're always off to somewhere new each day. It's convenient with your own food and accommodation readily at hand. There's also the exhiliration of a good sail and fun team work of running the yacht. Talking to various people and completing my RYA Competent Crew in August 2004 convinced me it was something I had to give a chance.

I booked this holiday six months earlier while working towards my RYA Day Skipper qualification. With a holiday booked, it was imperative I finish the course. Well, in truth, it wasn't that critical since another couple were coming with us: Karen and James. Karen had just finished the RYA Yachtmaster qualification and James had plenty of dinghy sailing experience. Between the three of us, we would have no trouble sailing the yacht.

After much research and consultation, we had settled on going the flotilla route. A flotilla gives you peace of mind that help is at hand if something goes wrong. It was our first charter for all of us so it just seemed the most practical thing to do. A flotilla doesn't mean you all follow each other; you just meet up at a common place at the end of each day.

It took a long time to settle on the sailing area. Short haul to the Med made sense to keep costs down and flottila's are simply more popular in the region. Greece and Turkey were recommended as good sailing area's for beginners. We chose Turkey over Greece primarily because from our previous experiences, the food is better. Bodrum was easy to fly to and had a reputation for good consistent winds.

So we settled on booking a flotilla out of Bodrum through Nautilus Yachting as they seemed to have a good reputation and the price was right. Our 40ft yacht for one week cost £1700 including all fee's, insurance and taxes. Nautilus is just a brokerage company. The yachting company we actually sailed with was Yildiz Yachting.

On August 1st, 2005, the six of us flew out to Bodrum. K*'s right leg was broken and still in a cast but we hoped that wouldn't cause us too much difficulty.

Day 1

We arrived in Bodrum at 20:30 and caught our transfer to the marina. The airport transfer is a racket. Taxi drivers have grouped together and created political pressure to reduce the bus service. Our travel agent wanted £20 per person for the two way transfer for a total of £120 for all six of us. For a thirty minute transfer, it's outrageous. Through the Internet, I found a company, called Proper Car, that did it for £70 which is still too expensive in my books. Essentially, the airport transfer is a form of tourist tax.

Anyway, we got to the marina by about 10:00 and found our yacht by ourselves since the Yildiz Yachting office was closed. Joining instructions were clear enough. I was very pleased that the yacht was exactly as we were led to believe - a 2005 Sun Odyssey 40.3 named "Serap". I've read of lots of bait 'n' switch yacht charter horror stories and half-expected to get a different yacht. The yacht was immaculant.

After checking out the yacht and unpacking our bags, we went out for a walk to get some water and money from a bank machine. It was very warm - low thirties - and despite it being late, there were plenty of people about. The marina was surrounded by nightclubs pumping out loud music but I didn't find it hard to fall asleep.

Day 2

Flotilla Route

We had our first briefing at 9:30. All together, there were 13 yachts in the flotilla ranging from 32ft to 44ft. Teddy and James were our flottila leaders. Teddy was a quite young and seemed pretty new to the job. He gave us the basic information we needed but he was downright uninspiring as a group leader.

After the briefing, we trucked off to buy provisions for the week: wine, beer, water, melons, yoghurt, cheese, tomatoes, bread, olives, crisps, grapes, nectarines, honey, peppers, etc. The plan was to have simple cold foods for breakfast and lunch since for dinner, we would be mooring near restaurants.

I sorted out some paperwork and then we had a technical briefing of the yacht. Nothing really surprising as we were shown where everything was. It was all clean, tidy and new. The yacht was well equipped: furling genoa, furling main, GPS, autopilot, holding tanks, etc.

With Karen as the official skipper of the day, we soon slipped our mooring lines and headed out. The wind was gusting around force 5 so it was going to be a good sail. We only put up sails to the third reef with the idea of keeping the sailing gentle for Jenny and the kids. This was, after all, their first real experience of sailing.

So why, you may wonder, did R* shout "this is the WoRST HOLIDAY EVER!!" only a few hours later?

Well, it started well as we sailed around Karaada Island but our passage took us on a long run/broad reach across the Bay of Gokova to Kormen. The wind started gusting up to force 7 and the swell got up to two metres in height. The resulting rolling corkscrew motion of the boat soon had R* feeling sick and she threw up into a plastic bag. Minutes later, Jenny violently threw up into the same bag before R* could move away. Not all of contents of Jenny's stomach made it into the bag.

Hence, R* got a bit upset.

I was a bit worried that this was not a good start but was still hopeful that we had six more days to prove that sailing was fun and to get the crew ship shape. Soon K* wasn't feelin well either but he never threw up.


We made it inside the man-made harbour of Kormen and the boat finally stopped rolling making everyone felt much better. There is nothing at Kormen except the little harbour and one fish restaurant. It's really just a place for the ferry from Bodrum to land. R* tried her luck at a bit of fishing and we ate dinner at the pleasant restaurant.

Despite the strong wind whistling through the shrouds and backstays, I found the air stifling in the yacht. It was hard to sleep in the cramped stern cabin.

Day 3

Today was my turn to be skipper. Again, we had our uninspiring briefing at 9:30 followed by a simple breakfast before setting off. With a decent breeze off our stern, we had a good run down the coast heading for Amazon Creek. Jenny and the kids had learned not to go down below into the cabin while sailing and to look out towards the horizon. We had lunch enroute but Jenny quietly lost hers later that afternoon. Oh dear!

We rafted late that afternoon at Amazon Creek with the rest of the flottila. I swam a stern line ashore and then stayed in the water to snorkell. Everyone went swimming except for K* who had to avoid getting his cast wet. R* didn't like the salt water and quickly got out. Later on, she rowed around the flotilla raft in the tender.

Swimming at East Creek

That evening, we used to the tender to get ashore and walk down to the restaurant at the nearby holiday camp. The holiday camp had a pool so R* spent most of the evening splashing about in it.

The night was much cooler and it was easier to sleep.

Day 4

No wind! With Karen as skipper, we motored down the coast looking for a nice place to moor and swim. Amongst Seven Islands (Yedi Adalari), we found a nice sheltered bay at East Creek. Karen saw something large and black jump out of the water but none of us saw it again. We were hoping to encounter some dolphins. A couple of other yachts were also in the bay with the same idea of having a long lazy lunch and swim.

Some Turkish children in a speedboat found us and sold us some expensive ice creams. Very entrepreneurial.

With the afternoon getting on, we motored out of the bay to find that the wind had picked up. We had a great sail to English Harbour (Degirmen Buku) with a force 5 wind off our beam. It's known as English Harbour as some British torpedo boats hid here during WWII. We rounded a point with a statue of a mermaid and prepared to moor on the jetty. Unfortunately, James lost a T-shirt over the side by not holding it before removing the clothes pegs. Oops! It sunk within seconds. Upon mooring we put up a bimini to shade the deck. It helped keep the boat much cooler.

English Harbour

English Harbour is an beautiful location. Pines covered the surrounding hills which snuggled around the bay. A few Turkish gullets were also moored up. The restaurant was good but extremely slow.

Yacht Serap

Day 5

Flotilla Route

I was skipper again. At the briefing we learned that we were to moor up back at East Creek for the evening. However, we could embark on a sailing excursion to Snake and Castle Island before going back to East Creek. After breakfast we set off with a good breeze from the West. Didn't take long to get to the tiny islands. Castle island was only maybe ten acres all together. It has a beach called "Cleopatra" beach which is popular with day tripper. It was supposedly made by Cleopatra on one of her journeys for the benefit of Mark Anthony.

We circumnaviagted the island and decided to moor free swinging just off the south shore well away from the crowds. We had our lunch and afterwards, Karen, James and I swam to the island and had a look about. There was a remarkable amphitheatre and the ruins of a walled settlement. It was all part of the ancient town of Cedrae.

We swam back to the yacht and Jenny joined us in the water. James towed the kids about in the tender since R* didn't want to get in the water and K* couldn't.

We left around 3:30 to get back to East Creek beating upwind in a force 5/6 wind. The sailing was excellent but progress was slow. While adjusting the mainsail, the kicker broke. So much for a new yacht! The lug on the mast had broken. Luckily, we had Karen who pulled out her trusty Leatherman and fixed it onto a spare lug. But by about 5:00 we had to furl the sails and start motoring just to get back in time. We were the last yacht to join the flotilla raft at 7:00. The sun sets at 8pm.

There's no restaurant in East Creek so Jenny had a go at cooking in the galley. Jenny made pasta and tuna, cheese rolls and a watermelon salad. It was excellent but boy did it ever get hot in the cabin!

That night, we lowered the bimini that covered the pushpit and enjoyed a spectacular night sky complete with shooting stars.

Day 6

Serap Push Pit

James was skipper today and the brief was to cross over the Bay to the northern shore and raft up in Cokertme. The wind was between a force 2 and 4 coming out of the West. With no where to stop, we just set the sails for a close haul and headed across.

Passage Across Gokova

There weren't any interesting bays on the other side so by 2:30 we were rafted up in Cokertme in a hefty swell. Jenny didn't look to well but held up. Sleepy from beer and the rocking, we had a lazy afternoon chilling out. It wasn't an attractive place to swim.

Some speedboats ferried us to Kaptain Imbrahims Restaurant that night where they had live music and put on a bit of a show. Very touristy. Luckily the sea calmed down that evening and we had a good sleep.

Day 7

I was the nominal skipper again for the easy sail home. We motored up the coast at Pukuc and moored free swinging in the middle of the bay for lunch. Enroute, I spotted three dolphins that breached the surface just in front of our bow but they didn't stick around. Too bad. I was the only one who saw them.

Jenny And I

We had a our lunch and then about 2pm the wind had picked up and we headed out to do a last bit of sailing before going back to Bodrum. We all took turns trying a man-overboard drill rescuing a buoy under sail only. Jenny and James did well considering it was their very first attempt at the exercise. We were due back in Bodrum by 4pm so is wasn't long before we had to start sailing back. We got up to 6.5 knots and became a bit competitive with a yacht that was sailing close to us. Yeah, I think it would be fun to try yacht racing one day.

In Bodrum Marina, I got some practice with some tight manuevering. We filled up with diesel and moored up for the last time. In one week, we had only used 36 litres of diesel in the 120 miles we had covered.

That evening, everyone on the flotilla met one last time for a meal at a nearby restaurant. Over the week we had all had various chit-chats with others on the flotilla but in generally people kept to themselves. There were several other children but all of them were older than ours except for one German girl who was R*'s age. They never befriended each other.

My one main criticism of the holiday is that the flotilla leaders made no effort to circulate around the group, introduce people or organise anything beyond the evening meal. They could have done a much better job.

Day 8

We were off the boat by 10am and spent most of the day hanging around a pool at a nearby hotel. Jenny, Karen and James did a spot of shopping while I looked after the kids. Later that evening, our 21:30 flight home got canceled so we arrived back in Bodrum around midnight. At least we were put up in a very nice five star hotel.

Day 9

Got a wake-up call at 4:45am and we again went to the airport where we managed to catch a flight home.

Home Again

While the start of the holiday was a bit rough, everyone agreed it was good fun in the end. The flotilla leaders were rubbish but we didn't really need them. What would have been nice is some good sandy beaches for the children to play on and some interesting excursions ashore. More marine life or interesting places to snorkel would really make it great.

So a sailing holiday is a excellent way to spend a vacation. I wouldn't hesitate doing it again although I'd be choosy about the sailing area and itinerary. In fact, I'm already looking into it!

By the way, K* got around the yacht just fine with his leg cast. No problem at all!

Exxon Exxposed

Exxon Mobile is one of the world largest and most profitable companies. There's a couple of websites that expose some of the nasty practices behind them. Download a damming report from ExxposeExxon or explore ExxonSecrets to see the influence Exxon has. According to ExxonSecrets, Exxon Mobile has funded the climate change lobbyists with $12,000,000 since 1998.


Give it a thought when you pull into an Esso station.

Friday 12 August 2005

The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001)

The Piano Teacher is a french movie. A very french movie. It's deep, intellectual and metaphorical. Haneke likes to create the most emotionally disturbing  scenes with the absolute minimum of movement and dialogue.

Erika is a repressed, harsh and icy piano teacher teaching at a famous conservatory. She has no friends or lovers, lives with her demanding mother, and finds relief through various sadomachoistic practices. Walter, a gifted student, enters her life and her world of perverse sexuality that rejects seduction.

To understad the film, you definitely have to listen to the DVD commentary afterwards. I wouldn't recommend it unless you're really into disturbing arthouse films. It's certainly not erotica.

Thursday 11 August 2005

BodyBurden: The Pollution in Newborns

I've become increasingly aware of the stunning chemical stew that we all live in and the lack of governance in controlling the release of chemicals into the environment. U.S. industries use 75,000 different chemicals. Our exposure is pervasive from pesticides, food additives, cleaners, bodycare products, furniture, and numerous other ordinary products. It really can be no surprise that health problems are on the rise and that the majority of us will die from degenerative diseases.

Sadly, a recent report by the Environmental Working Group in the US documents that they found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in the ubilical cord blood of the 10 new borns that they tested. Of the 287 chemicals detected, 180 were carcinogenic, 217 were toxic to the nervous system and 208 cause abnormal development.

Not a great start to life is it?

Wednesday 10 August 2005

Pesticide residue levels detected in bread

Isn't it annoying when you try to be healthy and find out it's worse for you? The UK Pesticide Residues Committee reports that "wholemeal bread contains more pesticide residues than any other bread type".

The report revealed that pesticide residues were detected in 53 of the 72 ‘ordinary breads’ tested, which included white (37), wholemeal (26) and ‘other’ (9) bread types.

The pesticides detected in the bread tested were chlormequat (a plant growth regulator used on various crops, including cereals), glyphosate (used as a desiccant on cereal crops), malathion (an insecticide) and pirimiphos-methyl (an insecticide used to control pests of stored grain).

One wholemeal sample was found to contain three residues, while 13 other samples (10 wholemeal, 2 white and 1 ‘other’) contained two residues.

The two organic samples tested contained no residues.

Read more about it at and buy organic bread.

No More Leg Cast

K* had his leg cast removed yesterday. We missed our appointment at the clinic due to the flight delay but Jenny waited around with K* at the hospital and they eventually found time to remove it. K* is still hopping about on one leg as he doesn't trust using his healed leg yet. He managed getting around the yacht just brilliantly this last week.

While reading about casts I discovered some people have a fetish for them. Check out Cast Fetish. Whatever floats your boat!

Tuesday 9 August 2005

Avoid Excel Airways

Avoid flying with Excel Airways! This is the airline we flew to get to Bodrum and back.

As I've written before this trip, we had the problem with K*'s broken leg and their unreasonable insistence that we split his cast.

Check-in at Gatwick was quick. However the agent told us that there was no onboard meal. We bought overpriced airport sandwiches to take onboard but it turned out later that there was an onboard meal after all. We were also misdirected to the ServiceAir desk where we were supposed to get assisted tranport for K* to the gate. At least we did eventually get that service after asking a few people.

On the outbound flight to Bodrum, the leg room was abysmal. The most uncomfortable seats ever! For the onboard movie, they tried to sell us headphones but they turned out to be the wrong type so they just played the movie over the regular cabin speakers.

Flying back to Gatwick was terrible. We got to the airport by 19:15 for a 21:30 flight. The checkin desk was stupendously slow but we made it through the line happy to be heading home. We then learned the flight was cancelled! The ground staff did a very poor job of keeping us informed and directing us to where we should be. We waited for ages. We eventually got our bags back and by midnight we were bussed to a five star hotel back in Bodrum.

We were shattered. Hotel was excellent and we were given a meal after waiting all evening. However, we had no idea when we were going to fly home.

Got a call at 4:45am telling us we had 20 minutes to get to the front of the hotel to catch a bus to the the airport. Goaded the kids out of their sleep and scrambled out the door only to wait around for a second bus. Check-in at Bodrum and the flight went smooth after that. Legroom was cramped again but the plane wasn't full so we could spread out. We didn't get the assisted transport for K* so he hobbled all the way to the car park bus.

So I'm not impressed with the service from Excel Airways. Never did find out what caused the delay.

Sunday 31 July 2005

Gone To Bodrum

I'm dead tired from lack of sleep but we're pretty much all packed and ready to leave tomorrow. I've really been looking foward to this sailing trip for many months. I'll be back in a week!

Barcelona Stag

Had a brilliant time in Barcelona but three late nights in a row sure takes its toll. The weekend was arranged by Senor Stag and they did a great job. My favourite part was the jet skiing. Definitely something I'd like to do again when I get a chance. Meanwhile, the show at Bagdad was quite..err...something.

Unfortunately, I was a victim of some pickpockets in the subway Friday night. This guy in front of me at the top of an escalator dropped a pack of cigarettes and then kept stepping backwards while fumbling for the pack. While I was tangled up behind him, another guy opened the zip on my front right pocket and nicked my wallet without me knowing. I figured it out about thirty seconds later but by then they were gone. Very clever. Lost some cash and my credit and debit cards. I called Jenny within about 10 minutes and got them all cancelled.

Luckily, I had some sterling notes back in my hotel room so I changed them to euro's and tried not let the incident spoil the rest of my time. So far, in all my travels in Spain, I've lost a laptop, camera, passport and now wallet to thieves! I'm careful too!

Wednesday 27 July 2005

Gone To Barcelona

I'm off to Barcelona tomorrow for a few days. I'm joining sixteen other lads on a stag weekend doing some sailing, jet skiing and gokarting. We may even visit a bar or two or three or four or...more. Back Sunday.

Forty Two

Or 101010 in binary.

Of course, forty two will forever be known as the answer to "life, the universe and everything"  (Douglas Adams). But today, it happens to be the age I'm turning.

It's not as bad as turning forty. By now, I've accepted that youth has been spent and I have to live on credit. And I'll spend all the credit I can get before the great banker in the sky calls in the loan...

Wayward Artists

The Internet is great for discovering artists who are really "out there". Check out Mark McGowan. Is it art? Well, I'd rather call it "colourful protest" or some such thing. I do like what Spencer Tunick is up to. You can sign-up to join in too....

Tuesday 26 July 2005

Marvellous Festival 2005

Had an excellent time at the Marvellous Festival last Saturday.

First, we lucked out with the parking. As K* had a wheelchair, we got in early and parked in the backstage VIP area. Next, we scooped up prime real estate to unfold our garden chairs and lay down the picnic blankets: center stage near the mixing desk. Then our friends arrived and joined us picnicing while we waited for the concert to start. To top it off, the weather cleared up as the clouds made way for some clear sky. Perfect!

Cavern Beatles Voulez Vous

The first band was the Cavern Beatles and they did a good set. They weren't dynamic enough to rowse the audience to dance much but they had them singing along to plenty of favourites. When Voulez Vous (Abba cover band) started their set, plenty of people got up and started dancing. The energy level definitely shot up. The Counterfiet Stones carried the energy along with the best showmanship of the lot. I had R* on my shoulders some of the time and she really seemed to get into the atmosphere of the show. Finally, there was a fireworks display to the "Live And Let Die" theme.

The only drawback of the festival is that it's a major bottleneck to leave the park. We hung about after the concert finished and then joined the queue out. It didn't take us too long.

It's the best family friendly festival I know of and I'll be keen to go back next year if the lineup is good.

Saturday 23 July 2005

Skool's Out 4 Sumer!

Yesterday was the last day of school for the kids. Here in the UK children get out much later than in North America but they get longer holidays at Easter. All the kids activities have ended as well. Yeeehaaa! No more school runs, taxi runs and hanging around waiting for lessons to end!! I'm free!!!! ....for six weeks at any rate.

I'm off for a few days to Barcelona with some mates next week, then it's to Turkey for a week of sailing and then some friends from Canada are coming over and we're off to the South of France for three weeks.

K* has a new light-weight synthetic cast on and he's hobbling about quite well. We had a major kerfuffle with Excel Airlines who are flying us to Turkey. They were refusing to allow K* on the aircraft unless his caste was split and the doctor was saying it shouldn't be split. Insurance wasn't about to cover any cancellation since it's not a medical problem but a failure of the airline. Meanwhile, British Airways and Turkish Airlines were willing to fly him but it was going to cost a packet. Well, Jenny eventually got a compromise with the doctor willing to split the cast just before we go, or if we don't split it, the airline willing to accept a letter from the doctor guaranteeing that his leg won't swell during the flight.

So we're taking K* sailing with a full leg cast on. It's a bit crazy but there you go. Hopefully, he will be out of the cast before we fly to France.

Meanwhile, if I hear the "I'm bored" whinge this summer, I'm going to assign housework tasks to the offender!

Friday 22 July 2005

Single Sex Education?

I read a great book a few months ago entitled "Why Gender Matters" by Leonard Sax (2005). It's subtitle is "What parents and teachers need to know about the merging science of sex differences". I tried writing a book summary in my wiki but I haven't got around to finishing it.

It makes a very strong case for single sex education by summarizing lots of research about the fundamental differences between boys and girls and how they learn and behave. It's a fascinating read. For example, there's a significant difference between the balance of M cells and P cells in the visual cortex of boys and girls. Supposedly, this gives boys the advantage in seeing movement while girls have the advantage in object discrimination. The author goes further by claiming that young girls draw nouns prefering warm colours while young boys draw verbs prefering cold colours.

There are many, many more differences which all lend a lot of weight to the proposition that the teaching style should be different for the two genders. The key point is that while you want both boys and girls to have the same opportunities, how each gender is engaged should be different. I gather this is a hot topic in education circles.

Since reading the book, I've raised the topic of single sex education in various conversations and there seems to be two main objections:

1) If you don't socialise boys and girls together, they tend to see the opposite sex as another species. You get even worse "boy crazy"/"girl crazy" behaviour in the teenage years. This is particular worse if a child doesn't have a sibing of the opposite gender.

2) In class discussions, the opposite gender will often bring up points of view that would not arise if the class was all one gender.

I guess the ideal compromise would be to have a mixed school with more single sex lessons that just P.E.. However, this has a taint of discrimination and stereotyping so I don't see how this could work in practice. 

It's a pertinent topic to me since we need to start considering what senior school R* will attend and there's an all-girls school and mixed school close to us. It's a few years until we have to choose but it is on my mind.

Friday 15 July 2005

Secret Car Clubs

When you're driving, do you wave to anyone driving the same car as you?

Well, it's not really a wave. You just extended the fingers of the hand closest to the driver's side window in a cool and deliberate manner. Maybe even lift it a little just to make sure the movement is seen. But, heaven forbid, you don't move it back and forth!

It's an interesting phenomena as only drivers of certain brands and models do it. It pretty much defines what an enthusiast car is. If you drive a common, mass market car, there's no waving. The car has to be a bit special for a fraternity to spring up. I expect it's mostly those driving sports cars but Mini's and VW Beetles (the originals) certainly had their own fraternity.

So leave a comment and let's see whether we can uncover these secret car clubs. For example, I'm pretty sure that people who drive Mercedes never acknowledge each other. Period. Or am I wrong? Drivers of Subura Imprezzas almost always wave to each other (that was my last car). As for Porsche, the rule seems to be that you only wave to someone driving the same model as  you. Driving a 993, you only wave to fellow 993 drivers. On a rare occasion, you might get cross-model waves but I'm sure Boxster drivers and 911 drivers don't acknowledge each other.

I suspect the older the car, the higher the percent of waving occurs as you meet fellow drivers less often. When it's old, it doesn't even have to be a sports car. But how old does the car have to be before waving starts? Do drivers of fellow bangers wave to each other?  I doubt BMW driver's wave to each other until you get to some of their classic models.

So, if you do wave to fellow drivers (and they return it!), post a comment and tell me what you drive.

Sunday 10 July 2005

Broken Leg

K* broke his leg today.

We were at a friend's house and he, R* and another friend were bouncing on a trampoline. Suddenly K* crumpled and howled in pain. The pain wouldn't subside and he refused to stretch his leg so eventually we decided to take him to the hospital.

At this point, I must say I'm rather annoyed that I had to carry K* from waiting room to waiting room and try to keep a six-year-old comfortable in my arms. He was whimpering in pain all the time with the jostling. There should have been a trolley or a temporary bed for him to wait on.

Well at least we didn't have to wait long. A doctor checked him out and quickly sent us for x-rays. The verdict was swift. A clean spiral fracture of the right tibia just below the knee. I was surprised since I was just expecting a nasty sprain. It turns out K* was bouncing on his right leg and turning when the break happened. I suppose with more than one child on a trampoline, the surface gets too unpredictable and it caught him at the wrong moment.

K*'s Broken Leg

He now has a full plaster cast on his right leg and his spirits have returned. I've been assured that it should heal very well but he will need to wear a cast for a good six weeks. We're now working out how to deal with it. We're supposed to go sailing in just three weeks!

Saturday 9 July 2005

Guardian: Selling Rapture

Detailed article about how the business of evangelical fiction in booming in the United States. In 2004, it was worth $2 billion so obviously there's a big market.

According to a recent Fairfield University study, there are 159 million adult Americans who now call themselves Christian, of whom 46% label themselves as "born again" and 24% as "evangelical".

As a secularist, I can't say I'm keen to see the rise of a faith-based popular culture. Fiction based on The Rapture is one thing but I hope I don't see Hollywood films where God intervenes in the end.

Guardian: Public provides new dimension to media coverage

Interesting article highlighting this evolution in media coverage of major events. Many of the images, both still and moving, now come from members of the public at the scene of the incident thanks to the ubiquity of cameras. Better yet, with mobile phones, the images get sent to news channels within minutes of the event or they soon show up on blogs. These images often have much more impact that what a reporting crew can capture hours later.

This really is a great evolution in how media is created and consumed. Of course there is still a need for due diligence to make sure images are authentic, but it does change the relationship between the public and broadcasters for the better.

Friday 8 July 2005

London Bombs

We've had a number of emails checking to see whether we're ok so I just want to let everyone know we're fine. Thanks for the concern. Everyone we know is fine too but I'm horrified to say I heard a father of one of the children at a local school was killed.

The bombing was tragic and pointless if you ask me. What was it meant to achieve?

Sunday 3 July 2005

Pssstt! Want to have a Marvellous time?

The Marvellous Festival is coming up July 23rd and we're going on the Saturday with a small crowd of friends. Come along to hear cover bands of The Beatles, Abba and The Rolling Stones. Should be fun and I'll be celebrating my birthday.

Microsoft Summer Party

An ex-colleague invited me along to the Microsoft Summer Party yesterday. After a few years of decline, I must say Microsoft parties seem to be back in top form. It was held on the grounds of Stratfield Saye House near Reading in (allegedly) Europe's largest tent. We were greated by performers on stilts, jugglers and a roaming classical quartet while waiters passed around flutes of champagne and canapes.

The highlight of the evening was performances by Madness and Basement Jaxx. Madness was superb and really pumped up the atmosphere with upbeat ska. I thought the singers of Basement Jaxx were great but I just didn't get into their music much. Between performances there were the Lost and Found DJ's and the DJ Norman Jay did a stint too.

Of course, there were lots of bars - even a coffee bar - and the food spread was the best I've ever seen for a crowd that size. Best of all was seeing everyone I knew at Microsoft but there's fewer and fewer faces I know. It's top marks for Microsoft for a great party.

Oscar Peterson at the Royal Albert Hall

I'm afraid another Canada Day went past pretty quietly but we did go down to the Royal Albert Hall to see a fellow Canadian, Oscar Peterson. Traffic was heavy so we got there late. Never fun tromping over half a row of people and stumbling towards your seat.

It was a simple event. Four old guys on a bare stage playing absolutely fantastic jazz. Oscar doesn't look like he's in the best of health and he stopped to talk about how the death of some of his colleagues really has been a blow to him this year. He has quite a bit of trouble walking but he insisted on walking on the stage unaided after the break. I'm quite amazed he still tours.

But he sure can play! Absolutely fluid. His band was superb too. Jazz doesn't get better.

Wednesday 29 June 2005

Guardian: Research councils back free online access

It's about time! I would go so far as to propose that any distributable artifact that is paid for with goverment (tax payers) money should be made freely available to the tax payer. If the goverrment funds research, the research must be made available for free or at least for only the cost it takes to distribute it. The cost of those research journals are outrageous! Paper journals are useless anyway; it needs to be all online and easy to search.

All that software developed by the government should be published as unsupported Open Source software too!

Monopoly Live!

Yes, now you can play monopoly with real taxi's whizzing around London. You can even win your mortgage or rent paid for one year. Check out Monopoly Live!

Sunday 26 June 2005

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977-2005)

Over last two weeks we watched the first five Star Wars episodes with the kids and today we took in the early show of "Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith" at the cinema. The kids loved it all and are full of Jedi knights and light sabres. Their favourite part is the Ewoks in Episode 6.

For all the faults you can level at the films(the inconsistencies no less), it's still an outstanding achievement in entertainment. Will anyone else ever get the chance to tell an epic story across six feature films? I'm sure it will be a long wait.

Tuesday 21 June 2005


I've been subscribing to Ethical Consumer for just over a year now. It's a great magazine for uncovering what's really behind the products you buy. They've launched a new subscription-based website called Ethiscore which gives you a quick ethical ranking of what the best buys are in numerous product categories. Check out some of the free reports and, if you live in the UK, consider subscribing  (I did).

It's horrendously difficult to shop with ethical criteria. Just try avoiding companies like Nestle, Procter & Gamble or Johnson & Johnson. It's not easy. These kinds of companies dominate traditional retail channels. Ethiscore is an easy way to create a short list of what to buy and then the problem is just where to buy it.

I'm currently looking at all the personal care products littered around the bathroom trying to figure out healthier and more ethical alternatives. Luckily, these two things tend to correlate.

Friday 17 June 2005

Wildlife films fail to tell the truth

Interesting snippet from Wildlife Film News 65 reproduced here:

In a report just published the Wildscreen Festival has stated that broadcasters need to re-think the ways in which they treat environmental issues following comments from the veteran programme-maker who chaired many of the key debates at last year’s Wildscreen festival.

In her review of the Did You See? discussions and screenings held as part of the international nature film and tv festival, Amanda Theunissen, says there's a danger viewers are being treated like children and consequently, maybe misled"

“The standard of films entered for Wildscreen 2004’s competition was impressively high but mostly they show the natural world as we would like it to be, not as it is, or as it is becoming. In the debates, we heard many worrying reports from different quarters about the threats our planet is facing, but with one or two commendable exceptions, the films that make it to the screen aren’t reporting the bad news, the true news.”

“There was a strong sense in the debates that there are difficult decisions to be made about the world’s future, and that, to make them, the public needs the right information. Equally, there was strong feeling that broadcasters are reluctant to air worrying issues, that they treat viewers like children who can’t cope with strong stories.” Ironically one of the films with the strongest messages was the children's Really Wild Show about farming bears for their gall in China. “It didn’t pull any punches and yet ended with a positive message. The film won the Children’s Choice award after being selected by a group of 8 – 13 year olds which just goes to show that children are far less sentimental than we think”

Thursday 16 June 2005

World Naked Bike Ride

Dang! I missed it. Anyone catch the World Nake Bike Ride last Saturday? I'll have to remember to enter next year...

Tom Dies

R*'s pet gerbil Tom died this morning. He was a good five years old and succumbed to a nasty growth on his tummy. I broke the sad news to R* when I picked her up from school and we went home and buried him in the garden next to his brother Tim. She had a good cry. Now Tim and Tom are just two lollipop crosses in the flower bed.

The gerbils were great as a first pet. Soon she'll want another pet but I'm loath to have something in a cage again. I just don't like seeing an animal living out their short life stuck behind bars.

Tuesday 14 June 2005

Store Wars

Store WarsThose clever people who brought us The Meatrix have produced another fabulous short called Store Wars. It's a parody of Star Wars done with live action food puppets and a few computer-aided special effects. I won't give away any of the jokes so go see it now and "Learn The Ways Of The Farm".



Support Caribbean Bananas

A website explaining the Latin vs Caribbean Banana plight. It's another example of the bad side of globalisation and the race to the bottom through oppressive labour standards.

Friday 10 June 2005

Plymouth-Dakar Rally

You may have heard of the Paris - Dakar Rally. It's parodied by the Plymouth - Dakar Rally which this year is going by the title Plymouth - Banjul Challenge. The goal is to buy a banger for £100 and drive it 3000 miles through France, Spain and along the West Coast of Africa to Senegal. Some teams spend up to £600 on the car and you're only allowed £15 worth of modification. If you make it, the car gets sold at an auction in Banjul and the proceeds given to charity. There's a good write-up in the June/July 2005 issue of Wanderlust of their team's experience and some of the practicalities.

I gotta admit, the challenge and quirkiness has quite a bit of appeal for me. Bottom line is that it takes about £1500 and three weeks in January to pull it off. Anyone what to talk about an automotive adventure? I'm serious!

Ranking Nations

If you sometimes like to see rankings of countries according to some statistic then NationMaster is for you with over 4,000 different stats. Richest? Luxemburg. Longest Lives? Andorra. Most Educated? Norway. Most Trigger Happy? South Africa. Most Car Thefts? United States. Most Murders? India. Most Televisions? Christmas Island. Quite a few surprises.

Wednesday 8 June 2005

Thorpe Park

Took R* to Thorpe Park yesterday - an amusement park where big kids go. It's got two rollercoasters and plenty of rides that attempt to force your stomach to leap out of your mouth or sit at the bottom of your pelvis. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), R* is only 1.3m tall so she didn't meet the minimum height requirement for either rollercoaster and the more "thrilling" rides. I like rollercoasters and would have liked to have gone on them but have no great desire to be shaken, stirred, whipped or dropped in all the other contraptions.


Nevertheless, we did do quite a few rides including getting a bit wet down a log flume. It was a nice hot day. Best of all, it was a school day for most other kids so there were hardly any queues! It made the park so much nicer. We could easily go on rides multiple times.


It's a decent park but you really need to be over 1.4m tall to make the most of it. I don't think it's very good value for money for short people. It was £48 for both of us to get in and then lunch, ice creams and slot machines all pile on to make it a pricey day.

How Exxon influenced Bush on Kyoto stance

Interesting Guardian article based on papers acquired through the Freedom of Information Act that uncover how much influence ExxonMobil had with the stance that the US Administration took over Kyoto. Nasty business. I'll have to make a point of avoiding Esso stations.

Thursday 2 June 2005


Simple idea. Someone hides a box with a logbook and some goodies in it. Then they publish the GPS co-ordinates of it. Everyone else then tries to find the box. Finding the box could be simple or tricky; getting to the box may be quite hard. If they do manage it, they sign the log and exchange goodies leaving the box where they found it.

This geocaching has grown to a bona fida sport with active communities searching for over 171,000 caches hidden in 215 countries! Sound like a brilliant excuse to buy a GPS unit, meet new people and get some exercise (or take the jeep out for a spin). I'm tempted. There's even a UK Geocaching website.

Saturday 28 May 2005

Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon ManorThe Bell in Chearsley

Took my Aunt and the kids out to visit Waddesdon Manor. It's a stunning Renaissance-style chateau built by Baron Ferndinand de Rothschild in 1874 and still filled with a fabulous collection of furniture, porcelain and other decorative arts. It's a definitive example of opulence. To get in, I went ahead and purchased a family membership to the National Trust so we'll be visiting more of these grand houses.

On the way home, my out-of-date but trusty "Good Pub Guide" recommended "The Bell" in Chearsley so we dropped by and had dinner. The recommendation is well deserved. It's an archetypal country pub that's friendly and serves good homely food. The garden is perfect for young children.

Friday 27 May 2005

Amores Perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000)

The title translates to "Love's A Bitch". Appropriate for a downbeat movie set in Mexico City that loosely links three storylines of love and tragic loss. The opening storyline is particularly violent and immediately gets you involved. All three stories are intense and well paced. The acting and filming is all good. If you like pain, this is a movie for you.

However, I found the movie quite fragmented as it tried to weave between storylines without adequately bringing them together by the end. It's confusing and lacks integration as you shift gears when the story switches. The thesis is that "you are also what you have lost" and all the main characters suffer loss of one kind or another. It's the antithesis of most Hollywood films by leaving you drained and depressed at the end.

Warning: the brutal dog fighting scenes might be upsetting.

Blog Time

This blog has been a bit quiet. I've got a house full of guests and the kids are off on half term. While I've got lots to blog about, I haven't found much time to write it up. Stay tuned.

Thursday 19 May 2005

Kiki's Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)

A straight-forward charming animation about a young witch growing up. It's one of the earlier films by Hayao Miyazaki. You can see his trademark of truly life-like child animation developing which he later extends in "Princess Monoke" and "Spirited Away". It's a bit odd in that you have completely Japanese characters in a totally European town and culture. Nevertheless, kids will love it and adults can appreciate the artistry.

Wednesday 18 May 2005

Warburg Nature Reserve

BluebellsWarburg Walk

Last Sunday we went for a picnic and walk around the Warburg Nature Reserve just north of Henley-on-Thames. It's run by the Berkshire Buckinghamshire Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. Very nice place and well organised with a visitor's center, well marked paths and bird watching blinds. We got a chance to catch the last of the bluebells that carpet England this time of year.

Wednesday 11 May 2005

Miracle Jesus Face In Cake

Notch up another bizarre item on ebay. Read the questions and answers too. I've now got a great idea for Jenny's future career...

Musical Milestone

The children's music lessons finally seem to be paying off. Yesterday, both kids worked out the notes to play "Once A Man Fell In A Well" and then played the song together as a piano/cornet duet! No prompting; they just did it. Put a big smile on my face.

Meanwhile, R* is learning to play "God Save The Queen". Getting tired of jumping up to attention all the time. :-)

Tuesday 10 May 2005

Carter's Steam Fair

OctopusEvery year a small fair sets up on the local green and stays for a weekend. It's one of the sure signs that summer isn't far away. We took the kids and a new friend of R*. R* is dead keen on going on all the stomach wrenching rides now but at only 1.3m tall, she's doesn't reach most minimum height restrictions. I'd like to take her on the rollercoasters at Thorpe Park. Meanwhile, K* has summoned up the courage to say he wants to go on the rollercoasters at Legoland. I'm going to try him out this Friday.

Brookleas Trout Farm

Trout FishingA couple of weeks ago, I took the kids trout fishing at the Brookleas Trout Farm over near Wantage. You can hire a rod and tackle for £2.50 and then pay for whatever you catch. No casting needed. Only took about forty minutes to catch four good-sized trout. R* caught two and K* caught two. For bait we just used sweet corn - no wriggling worms! R* didn't like watching me kill the fish with three whacks to the head. I honestly felt a bit bad doing it too and was on the verge of saying prayers to the Great Trout Spirit.

Part of the deal was the kids were now obliged to eat what they had caught. Unfortunately, the fish tasted a bit "muddy". I guess that's what happens when they're raised in a muddy pond. "You are what you swim in".

Friday 6 May 2005

MSN Spaces

I've just set up own MSN Spaces blog site. I'm not planning to blog there much but I like the way the pictures get integrated with MSN Messenger. If we're on each others MSN Messenger contact list and you're running version 7 or higher, you can just click on my picture to see them. Nice integration and secure too.

Thursday 5 May 2005

UK Election Day 2005

I've decided to vote for the Liberal Democrats. It's mostly through a process of elimination. Labour - no. Conservatives - no. Greens not an effective option at this point. My constituency is only a race between Lib Dems and Conservatives so I fall on the side of the Lib Dems. Time to go mark my ballot.

I predict that the voter turn out will be quite poor but that Labour will win but with only a small majority. Opposition parties will be much stronger. Contention between Blair and Brown will increase unless Blair goes within a year.

Wednesday 4 May 2005

The Amber Spyglass (Philip Pullman, 2000)

I always find it a bit sad coming to the end of a novel you really enjoyed. If it's good, you don't want it to end. Even more so when the ending is so traumatic.

I've finished The Amber Spyglass which is last of the Philip Pullman "His Dark Materials" trilogy. It's been a long time since I've been so thoroughly engrossed in a novel. If you've ever enjoyed the fantasy genre, then I would highly recommend it. But it's not a hum drum fantasy story; far more imaginative than that! It blends adventure, modern physics, theology and cosmology. Fabulous.

I've read that the trilogy is an interpretation of Paradise Lost (1667) by John Milton. I don't know it but I know it's something I probably should know more about. Pullman sold the movie rights to New Line Cinema so you might get to see it on the big screen if you don't read the book.

Now  if you're a faithful Christian, there's a good chance you'll find this trilogy offensive. Just check out some of the 700+ comments on Amazon. To me, the story is a humanist fable that promotes the idea that you don't need a God to find meaning in life. Celebrate life here and now in our metaphorical Republic of Heaven (interview). A more interesting theological interview can be found here. In his own words:

So what I’m looking for is a way of thinking of heaven that restores these senses of rightness and goodness and connectedness and meaning and gives us a place in it. But because there ain’t no elsewhere, that has got to exist in the only place we know about for sure which is this earth, and we’ve got to make our world as good as we possibly can for one another and for our descendants. That’s what I mean by a republic of heaven.

So you can read this book as an adventure or a story about growing up or construct deeper interpretations.

Now if only I could find my daemon!