Friday, December 18, 2009

And so this is Christmas

As we head of for Canada on Sunday this will be my last post of the year and while I thought of several topics I could cover (snow!, Christmas telly, chiropodists, cameras) I am instead leaving this year with some random reminiscences from Christmas past...

Delight at finding the biggest parcel under the tree was for me - and even more delight on finding it to contain a set of dropped handlebars for my bike!

Sharing a room with my brother every Christmas Eve for years due to a grandmother stopping over.

Waking up to find the future MrsB making a cooked breakfast on our first Christmas together.

The family stories of Christmas events that come out every year - Uncle David with a big red circle on his forehead after being hit by a sucker arrow, baby me crawling round the tree removing the labels from all the presents leading to much guesswork, how the Danish side of the family wouldn't put their tree up until Christmas Eve - and have real candles on it and so on and so forth.

Being slightly creeped out by my Dad dancing to Sade with my cousin.

Uncle Mick slouching so low in his chair that only his head was vertical, party hat askew and glass of wine dangling perilously.

The first time MrsB and I hosted Christmas dinner - taking the empty plates back to the kitchen and coming back with the desert to find her family had put the telly on in the two minutes we were occupied.

Lengths of string bearing a zillion cards crashing down in the night.

Spending hours licking and sticking paper chains together.

Working late-night shopping when still at Argos.

The joy on the face of an Australian Christmas temp when she saw her first snow at the age of 23.

So, have a great Christmas and New Year. Thanks to everyone who has read my ramblings, look out for more in 2010!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Music for the masses

Well, as much as I get frustrated by things being sealed before they are ready*, I have just cast my votes in the YakYak Dancing About Architecture Festive Fifty to add my views on the music of the year.

So, for what it is worth, here are my favourite songs of the year:

1 – The Prodigy: Omen. This was destined to be my number one for the year as soon as I heard it, just top notch stuff.
2 – The Wildhearts: You Took The Sunshine From New York. Would have been number one if not for the Prodge. A sad song when you listen to it, but I find it quite uplifting musically and as some of my flickr contacts have been to the big apple this year I have some great images to go withi this.
3 – The Black Crowes: I Ain’t Hiding. The Crowes get funky in a 70s disco.
4 – Bruce Springsteen: Queen of The Supermarket. He can still do beautiful stuff about the ordinary world, although I wonder when he was last in a supermarket.
5 – Heaven And Hell: Eating The Cannibals. Dio/Iommi/Butler/Appice - Metal majesty!
6 – Jem: I Want You To… Not sure why, but this song has been stuck in my head all year so had to go on the list.
7 – Go Home Productions: Everybody’s Looking Rosy In My Garden. Home grown fun.
8 – Iron Maiden: Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (Live). A cheat really, but having loved the song since the 80s the live album gives me an excuse to vote for it.
9 – Pixie Lott: Girls And Boys. Fun pop and very catchy.
10 – Slayer: Americon. Maximum heaviosity.

Not expecting much from my selection to make the final fifty as I seem to be quite wide of the beam from many other forumites, but participation is the name of the game.

Other lists of things I liked this year to follow after it finishes!

* I can still recall being gobsmacked at seeing the book "The Chronicle Of The 20th Century" in the shops in the late '80s and thinking stuff might still happen that was worth putting in. Given that a few months later the Berlin Wall came down, communism collapsed etc I think I was ight to never buy the thing.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Moving Swiftly Along

I've just noticed that my phone now believes me to have walked over 1,000 miles this year and that I will pass the 2,000,000 step mark next week. And that's without trying at all over the last couple of months since dark evenings and generally wet lunchtimes set in. Now I suppose I will have to use that as a target to beat next year.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Register this

There is something about number/registration/licence plates that has always seemed to catch my attention. We used to make up words or sentences from them on long family journeys and eagerly looked for the first new car whenever the year letters changed. I can remember my Dad's old cars (CBM130T and FTM252Y spring immediately to mind), ones that made me laugh when we were out as a family (BOO36T had us in hysterics for no real reason) or other prominent vehicles (ADX1 is the first Ipswich motor bus, now in the Ipswich transport museum).

Maybe it was Lady Penelope's FAB1 in Thunderbirds that grabbed me early on, but I seem to spend half my life scanning plates as I pass them or they overtake me (usually the latter as I have this annoying habit of keeping within the speed limit). I used to judge whether I was early or late for work by where on the road into Ipswich I would see L15ETT coming the other way - never considering that she might have been the one not running to time - and could pick out other members of staff in the car park from their plates rather than the type of car (well, there were always duplicates of model and colour).

So when I stumbled across Richard Herring's Consecutive Number Plate Spotting (where you look for 1-999 in order) I had no choice but to give it a go.

After over a year of looking, last week I finally passed the 100 milestone (which was becoming something of a Millstone). I'd been dedicated enough not to count the new style 02, 03, 04... and 53, 53, 54... seeking instead older plates with those digits, but that didn't really slow me down. In fact both runs that could have been got through "cheating" actually fell to me each within a single day when I reached them numerically. No, I don't believe it either, but it is the truth. No point playing this game if you can't be honest about it.

The scrappage scheme which is taking older cars off the road has made me wonder if I will ever get to 999 (there are at least three 999 cars in Felixstowe that I know of, but they can't be counted until their time) but I am aware of myself enough to know that I will never give up.

Oh, the picture was one I saw in Canada two years ago, and one day I might post my American States plates collection...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mixed feelings on news from the past

Just had a text from MrsB - one of our former managers from the Argos days has died, and another ex-employee I didn't know has killed himself. Not got any details, and we haven't been in contact with the manager in question for 10 years or so. But, not sure how I feel or ought to be feeling about it.

On the one hand he was actually quite an inspiring manager for me, helped me out with applications and encouraged me to go for promotions, gave me more responsibility than I should have had in store. But on the other he definitely scuppered MrsB's chances of a promotion in favour of another, was against our relationship (claiming it would never work, yet here we are 14 years of married life later) and, in theory the extra responsibilities I had could be seen as others dumping stuff on me they should have been doing themselves.

I don't know whether there is a family for my thoughts to be with or anything like that, but all told feel a little bit odd just now.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

...of little brain

I have just seen a woman in the corridor clutching some sort of stuffed dog, and across the office from me I can see Paddington propped up against a monitor.

Turns out it is Bring Your Bear To Work day. Oh what joy.

I hope nobody brings one to the meeting I have later and expects me to take them seriously. Not meaning to be a grump, but I think this is one charity thing too far. I wore it pink last week for Breast Cancer (well, I have two pink shirts and wear them to work anyway), I've donned my Jeans for Genes and will no doubt come casual for Children in Need but I'm not lugging Mr Fox around with me all day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Read me a story

As I think I have mentioned, I do like a nice audio book. Since getting a phone with built in MP3 player I have become particularly addicted to them, but this is an interest going back as far as I can remember. Maybe it links back to Mum and Dad reading to us, then story time at school and Jackanory on the tv but there really is nothing like having a tale read out to you while driving around, sitting on the bus or just wandering aimlessly around town. Non-fiction can also work well too, I hasten to add.

The first ones I can recall hearing over and over again were four LPs of the Rev Awdry's railway stories narrated by Johnny Morris, complete with whistles and brilliant voices as per Animal Magic. The disappointment when the TV series got Ringo to do them... I now have copies of these on CD for occasional nostalgia blasts. Other childhood favourites were an LP of Swallows and Amazons (not exactly a book that one, but the dialogue from the film version with added narration), Alice in Wonderland and, er, The Guns of Navarone.

Yesterday I finished another lot of Terry Brooks Shanarra tales. I know I have been troubled by the continuity in those before, but you would think that a writer would remember chopping the arm off one of his own creations and not have him later place both palms against a door etc. It may only be a fantasy epic but still needs to pass a few tests for rigour!

Time for something meatier now I think, and I've got Simon Schama's history of Britain lined up for when I have time to update my memory card.

(Uncanny Update - on publishing this post Blogger found me an advert for Audible. Why, you could almost believe they search for key words and line things up to match!)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sister Act and other diversions

Sister Act
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
As foreshadowed, Saturday saw our visit to London to see Sister Act. It was absolutely superb - definitely the best west end production we have seen so far. OK, so perhaps they have an advantage at the Palladium with revolving stage, trapdoors etc that you may not see in other venues, but by 'eck do they make the most of it. Acting, singing, dancing and the scenery all superb.

We were both impressed by Patina Miller in the lead role and Sheila Hancock as the Mother Superior with perfect comic timing. For our show we got the understudy for the priest, instead of the anticipated Ian Lavender* but he was really good anyway, and somehow the thought of Private Pike with an American accent would have been wrong anyway.

As we arrived with four hours to kill we had a bit of a mooch around Oxford Street, Soho and the general area. No real intentions other than seeing some of the back streets and bits we've not wandered around before. Plus it wasn't enough time to get to and then do justice to a museum or gallery as well as fitting in a bite of lunch. Some more pics gradually making their way up onto flickr.

* This was not such a disappointment for me as I have actually met him. We were holding a bus users forum in Bury St Edmunds which he attended with some questions for us. Nice to see someone with a modicum of fame using public transport. Anyway, one of my colleagues got the job of taking down his details and had no idea who he was talking to. When he asked for his name I had to bite my tongue to not shout out "Don't tell him, Pike". I'm sure he must get that all the time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sweet Emulsion

Some comedian I can't recall once said that you know you are getting old/turning into your Dad when you see a stick and think "I'll keep that for stirring paint" or something along those lines. In my case it is a strip of plastic edging from when we had the kitchen refitted, but the idea is much the same. And it got a fair bit of use this weekend as I chose to recover from my cold by repainting the bathroom. Again.

Can anyone tell me what a normal level of decoration rotation should be?

We've been in this house thirteen years now and have so far done:

Kitchen, Bathroom, Lounge - four times each
Bedroom, Dining Room - three times
Stairs/Landing, Spare Room, Study - twice

Those totals seem a bit extreme to me, when compared with my nearest point of reference - my parents. They have been in their current house twenty years now and only got round to redoing each room for the first time since taking possession about two or three years ago. And only then because they had an extension built which meant some walls got moved around. In the one we lived in for eighteen years before that I can't remember any room being done more than twice.

I know it isn't constant, but it seems like we are always thinking about colours and how to do each room next. And I just can't say no to MrsB when she starts hinting that a freshen up is in order. I think she may be obsessed with change. And its not that I object to the actual slapping on of paint, it is just all the preparation, living with a room out of use and all the contents distributed everywhere else for a few days etc that gets me down.

And there are a couple of pots of Moroccan red waiting for the kitchen to get a fifth look this side of Christmas too...

Friday, October 09, 2009


So, this week I have mostly been off work with a cold. Sounds pathetic really, doesn't it? I felt a bit grotty and did lots of sneezing on Sunday, struggled in on Monday then gave up half way through the day and haven't been back. I always feel guilty when I'm off sick whatever the cause, but this really does feel a bit stupid to be home with. The trouble is, when I do get a bad cold I get dizzy and have trouble staying upright.

What with hayfever and a dust-mite allergy I sneeze pretty much all year round, so can cope with that side of the business just fine. But when I can't more than a dozen steps without feeling like I could fall over or throw up, it kind of makes being in an office all day a bit tricky. And the thought of driving with it was just too much.

As such, I've done lots of sleeping, a bit of reading and watched a few old video tapes that have been sitting around waiting for me (no Sky+ here you know!). Oh, I've also consumed lots of Lemsip and done some general feeling sorry for myself. Feel almost back to normal again now so hopefully back to the real world on Monday.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mixing with the gricers

Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Took a trip to Duxford yesterday for the Showbus event. Went four years in a row when I first started at the council due to free bus journeys and reduced entry being offered, but this was my first visit since 2001.

A glorious day in terms of weather (they normally call it Showerbus) and I quite enjoyed getting back into the old buses as art kind of thing. And of course I like to see the planes as well. Lots of pictures which will gradually make their way onto the usual place.

OK, so the buses do bring out the bus enthusiasts, some of whom can be a little scary in their obsessions (and in need of a good wash/spray down with Sure), and there really was no need for wooly hats yesterday, but a generally harmless crowd. Some of whom I know of old, and some of whom drive me to work on a regular basis. Good to bump into some of them.

Funniest moment was two women I overheard. As they reached the end of a line of buses one said "Oh no, not more of them" and the other responded with "Aye, there's not much here for them of us as don't like buses or planes". Which tickled me. I assume they had husbands off jotting down chassis numbers somewhere.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Eagle-eyed readers will already have spotted what greeted me when we left the house this morning. It seems that somewhere on the way home last night my car got screwed (click pick to go through the Flickr and you can see the actual screw in the next image - top class photo reporting here!). And of course this particular tyre has only been on for two weeks. Fortunately I bought some with a lifetime guarantee which includes accidental damage so it was repaired OK at no cost.

This is only my second puncture in 21 years behind the wheel, so I guess I've been pretty lucky. The first was within days of having moved up to Felixstowe. Mum and I were heading in to Ipswich to meet Dad for lunch, taking some rubbish to the tip on the way. I was still on L plates at that point. Having turned off the A45 onto the road up to the tip we immediately noticed a real rumble, limped a bit further up to the next village and pulled over. As this was 1989 we weren't equipped with mobiles so while I started emptying the boot to get the spare Mum went in search of a phoen to warn that we would be late.

She was able to flag down a passing police motorbike before I had finished unloading. Turned out not to be a copper but a mechanic taking the bike for a test ride so he gallantly did the tyre change for us in about thrity seconds flat.

My only other experience of a flat tyre was at the age of 10 or 11 on the way back from a chess tournament (I wasn't playing, just supporting my friend Howard). His dad had to do a change in the dark with us two far enough away from the edge of the road to be safe but near enough to hold a torch for him.

Here's hoping it can be another 10 or more years until the next one.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sources of annoyance

Came home tonight to find the third charity bag through the door in as many days. Whay have they all decided to target us this week? Something to do with the distributors having been off over the school hols perhaps? They have all gone straight back outside where they will no douibt sit on the drive for a week before we give up and thrown them in the bin. I've never known an empty one be picked up for re-use despite them promising to. When we have clothes to get rid of they are generally in no fit state to go on to anyone so these bags really are a waste of time. So on that note, here are a few more things annoying me riight now...

Masterchef - The Professionals. Who the hell thought up the broadcast format for this? Having 45 minutes per group of hopefuls rather than 30 is great, but why is the first show split over two days? Makes no sense at all. Loving the show though, nice to see people who think they can do it all making the same mistakes as the amateurs.

People phoning up to complain about bus shelters. Especially the ones who see a pole or kerb go in and assume we will follow it up with a shelter. If only I had the budget. (OK, that's a pretty specific moan that won't be relevant to most people!)

Dark evenings. Autumn isn't supposed to come on this quickly. When I come home from work I want to enjoy a nice light evening still, not be thinking about putting the lights on to make the drive. It is still only September after all.

The Beatles remasters being yet again full-price discs. Haven't they had enough money off us all over the years? They should have done the decent thing and made them bargains. Especially when the first three albums would probably fit together on one CD.

Not being able to remember the other thing I was going to moan about!

Monday, September 07, 2009

'Orrible Grizzly Murder

Watching You
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
So we came home one day last week to find the living room full of flies. A little searching found a mouldering bird under the sofa. No need to guess as to the culprit, as this was the second little brown job that Tawny had brought in in a week or so.

The question is, why has she suddenly taken up hunting again after a break of at least seven years?

When we first got her (and late lamented brother Barney) she was a regular hunter, bringing in mice, shrews, voles, frogs and, er, twigs and stems. We didn't mind the twigs (although how she got them through the cat flap remains a mystery) - some of them even had flowers attached, but as the wildlife was generally still alive and kicking it tended to enliven the day somewhat more than necessary. And we had to start keeping her in at night after being forced to dismantle our bed at 3am on several occasions to remove presents.

So when she seemed to give up all that stalking for a sedentary life we were a tad relieved all told. And now she seems to have been bitten by teh bug again. Nice to know she's still got the moves (after all, she is pushing 14 years now) but I really don't need any corpses under the furniture.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Drumming up trade

Bannatyne 2
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB

So, how do you get people to come and visit your town on a sunny bank holiday? We had an event every day over the weekend and only one of them was as a result of having a Dragon available.

Saturday was the annual Custom/American car run. There have been four or five of these now to my knowledge. Unlike the historic vehicle run in May (organised by the Ipswich Transport Museum and running for 30 years now) this is linked in with a commercial event - namely the NASC gathering at the Suffolk Showground/Trinity Park. But just as in May we get several hundred cars of varying interest passing the end of the road and gathering on the sea front. I enjoy the spectacle and had a nice walk along the entire length of the prom and back in the sunshice taking pictures and generally dreaming of a new car. And so do hundreds of others - the prom was heaving and many of the cars I would have liked to photograph were so surrounded by onlookers that I gave up.

Sunday was Art On The Prom - another comparatively recent happening but at the very least in its fourth or fifth year. I enjoyed that spectacle as well, walking half the prom and back gawping at the pictures, sculpture etc on display. MrsB even bought a painting this year (OK, a cheap one from a 9-year old artist, but it was still a sale). Again, the prom was thronged with bodies and some of the stalls were three or four deep in bodies. Again the sun shone, although it was a bit windy (leading to at least one girl experiencing a Marilyn Monroe moment as I passed - black lace if you must know).

Then Monday we had tv's Duncan Bannatyne and his Edwardian Extravaganza. This was part of a show he is filming for Virgin TV trying to inject life into flagging towns or something (I don't know the full details as yet - it is due to be shown next year). Working on the assumption that Felixstowe needs something extra to bring people in he treated us to a Land Train (well, it made the third walk along the prom in a row a bit easier!), a bathing beauty contest (co-judged with Zoe Salmon from Blue Peter - we missed that but did see her heading back to the hotel), a tug of war contest and a skiffle band (very Edwardian!) among other amusements. Not very Dragonish. For the third day we had lovely weather and people flocked to the sea.

But did we really need him? The two established events had just as many people out and about (if not more) and the beach hasn't exactly been quiet on other days I've ambled along either. I'll buy that anything to help the town is good, and the gift shops and food outlets were doing a roaring trade all three days, but I have a feeling they would have done just fine on Monday anyway. Maybe I'm being oversensitive and there is suffering in the town I don't know about, but I'd rather we were able to get on with it ourselves rather than relying on someone jetting in from his villa in the south of France for the day.

Now all I need to do is find the after sun - three days on the beach and my forehead is peeling nicely! Plus 10,000+ steps for three in a row as well. 4-weekly average has topped 9k for the first time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Smile for the Camera

I'm not sure what triggered it, but I seem to have become re-obsessed with photography over the last couple of months. It was always something I enjoyed, but from the files just on this hard drive there have been big gaps when I haven't had the camera out at all over the years, never mind back in the pre-digital days.

Parlty this has come about through Flickr - having a few positive comments (especially from people I don't know in the real world), invites to groups and favouritising of shots is a natural boost to the ego. And of course that then spurs me on to try and do better or be more interesting next time. I'm also looking for more and different subjects to train the lens on - partly through browsing the groups or other people's photos randomly in search of inspiration.

But then I have tried to be a bit creative with my camera for as long as I've had one. Which I guess will be 20 years this Christmas for one of reasonable quality (OK, so that was only a cheap Halina point and shoot 35mm jobby, but it did at least take full-size pics in colour!). I also tend to overshoot compared to others.

When we went on a college field-trip to Morocco I used three rolls compared to the one averaged by most of the others. It seemed extravagant at the time (after all, three films and processing was a lot on a grant) but I did then have the luxury of choosing good shots for the essays and stuff when we got home. And the day after we first went to Canada and I took ten rolls in for developing still sticks in the mind too.

Of course now with digital cameras and memory cards cheaper than real film it is easy for me to whip off several hundred shots in a matter of days. Maybe quality is preferable to quantity, but at least I can weed out the good ones from the mundane before sharing them with the world.

But now I face a real choice - where do I go now? If you don't count phones, I am now on my third point & shoot digicam. The first lasted a good six years, the second a mere six weeks or so before dying and now number three is approaching its birthday. And I want something more powerful. So should I go for one of the new superzoom compacts (up to 24x zoom has a certain appeal) or move on up to a digital SLR?

I really fancy the latter, but am not sure I can justify the expense. Especially as I know I will want extra lenses which puts the cost up immensely (after all, I do love my macro shots, and also want to get that telephoto ability too). I just can't decide.

Of course, being able to stuff the current Samsung in my pocket is a big advantage too. Plus living in such a lovely County and having a job that takes me out into it on a regualr basis is also handy - especially as I have to get pictures of bus shelters/stops etc for work. So if there is something just as photogenic next door it isn't really any worse for me to stop and snap that as it is for the desk-bound taking a fag break every half hour.

Oh yes, and being out today has taken me over 16,000 steps in one day for the first time!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

August hols three and four

OK, lets get this holiday wrapped up so I can talk about something else next time.

Thursday: You're Bard.

So we went on down to Stratford Upon Avon to do the Shalespeare thing. Well, three fifths of the houses and no play at any rate. Another Park & Ride visit (well, got to keep my hand in) and a journey into town through an unexpected industrial area.

Of the houses we visited, I think I enjoyed the Birthplace the most in terms of content, but if pushed to live in one of them would choose Hall's Croft, purely for the interior layout with the "consulting room" on a sort of mezzanine overlooking the front door. All three town houses have beautiful gardens - in fact the knot gardens on display put the Garden Museum to shame, frankly. Nash's house/New Place large garden also has a wonderful set of sculptures relating to the plays and as it is free to enter is well worth stopping for a few minutes in should you happen to be in town. Now all i need to do is read Bill Bryson's biography of the man, which is sat awaiting me on a shelf downstairs, and maybe have another go at seeing the plays. I haven't really given him any attention since O-level Romeo & Juliet in 1987.

The rest of Stratford is also a nice place to wander around. Lots of interesting buildings, many of which play up their Shakespeare connections (we had lunch in Crabtree and Evelyn of all places, and that building turned out to have housed one of his daughters for a time) but I do wonder how much of what we see now is original. All three of the Shakespeare houses in town have been "restored" to the conditions he would have known them in, having had various facades slapped on them over the years. I guess architectural history is something else I will have to delve into one of these days. We also managed to continue a holiday tradition by purchasing a Christmas decoration in the height of summer - there is a Christmas shop opposite the birthplace. Previously we have bought decorations up a mountain in Switzerland, by Niagara Falls and even in Yorkshire. Not that we will be in the country this year, but that's for another time.

Friday: Ruined splendour.

We finished the holiday with a morning at Kenilworth Castle. This one is operated by English Heritage and very much the ancient monument rather than a medieaval theme park. If forced to choose between the two I would pick this over Warwick, but then I prefer ruins to re-enactment. This is one of the sites deliberately destroyed by Cromwell after the Civil War and so much of the former splendour resides in the imagination. Mind you, mine can be pretty vivid so I have no problem mentally rebuilding the walls and populating the place with knights and queens (Elizabeth 1 visited four times). They also have a very good audio tour which fills in many of the gaps. Highly recommended.

Then it was home along the A14 and back to reality. All told a good relaxing break and just what we needed. Roll on the next one.

Ohm and for anyone counting, 10,000 steps acheived on three out of four days (somehow I managed it on the way there but not the way home, despite about equal time split between driving and mooching about).

Monday, August 17, 2009

August hols 2

Day Two: A-Warwick A-Warwick!

We hadn't decided what order to do days two and three (if you see what I mean) before arriving, but waking up to rain on Wednesday made the decision for us to stay local. OK, partly I wanted a day off from driving, but we figured that we could duck in and out of different bits of Warwick castle and stay reasonably dry better than trying to get between different Shakespeare houses. And it was forecast to dry up later anyway, which it did.

One advantage of Audrey's strict 0800-0845 breakfast rule meant we were up and about and in town nice and early. Warwick has a nice mix of medieaval and Regency architecture throughout the town centre and had more to offer than we had time to visit. We will definitely go back some time as I really want to look around Lord Leycester's Hospital which we had to miss.

The rain had eased off to a drizzle but before we went down to the castle we had a look around the Warwickshire museum. I got the impression that most of it was last updated in the early 80s and it could use a bit of a refresh. Not that anything was wrong, it just gave me a feeling of being a museum about a museum rather than about the county as such. Still, there was some intereseting stuff on display including a nice model of the town before the great fire and also a temporary 40 years of the moon landing exhibition which naturally grabbed my attention.

So this brings us on to the castle itself and the first obstacle to an fun-packed day of knights and princesses: getting in. Physically not a problem, you just join a queue, pay up and wander through the turnstiles. Mentally, however, it is quite a challenge. Walk up admission for an adult is a kibblesworth under £20. Now, that's a fair bit in my book and quite how the enormous family groups we saw inside can justify the cost is beyond me. Entry to the dungeon was another £7.50 on top. Fortunately MrsB has a pass that gets her into many things free (or at least cheap), what with her being a tourist information officer, so that was a bit of a saving for us. The second obstacle was, as previously mentioned, the weather but that was clearing up by now. And the final obstacle were the huge family groups (I'm really painting myself as a boring old fart here, but too many screaming kids and I just want to run for the hills. I know, I know, don't go to a family attraction then complain about the families!).

Having made it through the gates we headed to the Dungeon bit first as that was a timed entry ticket. It still took us half an hour (standing in the rain) to get inside from joining the queue - mainly due to them only letting in small groups at a time and also insisting on taking everyone's picture in an execution pose first. We did like the resulting photo but declined to pay £5 for it. Anyway, that was really the end of the negativity and things got better from then on.

We went to the London Dungeon a few years ago and this was much like a cut-down version of that - lots of grizzly torture instruments and people dressed up with a loose degree of authenticity to do a bit of acting in each new chamber. There was also a fair bit about the plague, which I'm not sure quite fitted the torture theme, but I guess it was better there than elsewhere in the castle. In fact, I got volunteered to have my head cut open and a cure effected - all done very nicely with curtains and shadows which definitely made it look realistic from where I was sitting. I'm not aware that there was any communication between the denizens of the dungeon, but they managed to pick different victims in each instance of requiring one so nobody in our group ended up feeling like they stood out too much.

Interactivity was a theme of much of the rest of the day as well. There are numerous static exhibits with rooms done out in the style of various eras of the castle's history (we felt these could have done with a few more interpretation boards, and while we saw people carrying audio guides at no point were we offered the use of them) but there was also a continual stream of things happening around the grounds, in various rooms etc. As well as looking through the exhibits and climbing the walls we witnessed a fire breathing jester attempting to entertain the mob (he succeeded), jousting, falconry, general hand to hand combat and the firing of a Trebuchet. All accompanied by subtle use of facts and folklore to get the crowd involved and fired up for one side or the other in the various combats without them realising they were getting a bit of a history lesson thrown in with the spectacle.

Despite my misgivings caused by the cost, the crowds and the theme-park atmosphere (the Castle is run by the Merlin Group who also operate Madam Tussauds, Legoland Windsor, the Sea Life Centres, Alton Towers and much more so that was understandable) I ended up having a great day out.

We walked a mile or so the other way that night for dinner at a recommended pub. OK, but nothing special in my book. Staggered the locals when we told them we had walked it though (to be fair, we did get a taxi back but only because the rain had returned)...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

August hols one

A few words about our little break in the midlands.

Day One: Home - Coventry - Warwick

Unexpectedly leaving home within a few minutes of our intended departure time, we hit the A14 and had a breeze of a drive to Coventry. The weather was overcast enough to make driving easy in terms of not having to battle with bright lights, rain or anything else untowards. Traffic was sparse and we were on the Park & Ride bus into the city centre by 1130 or thereabouts. Not the most impressive of P&R sites but the bus got us into town and the car was still where we left it and
undamaged when we came back so that's all you really need to worry about.

I'd been to Coventry twice before back in 1990/91. Both just fleeting visits from Derby - once to try and get tickets to see the Quireboys (failed) and once to escort a friend who didn't fancy making the trip alone to visit another friend who was at the universtiy there. I had some vague recollections of the cathedral from those but nothing else stuck in my mind. MrsB had never been before so it was basically a fresh experience for both of us.

While suffering from the same problems of closing shops and too many smilarities with everywhere else, it has to be said the City Centre is really quite nice. They have obviously spent a fait bit of money over the last few years cleaning up and re-paving and so forth, and if we had been there to shop I think we could have quite easily spent our money. Of course that wasn't what we were there for so we went off to gawp at the sights instead.

The cathedral was just as fantastic as I remembered. The contrast between the bombed ruins of the old and the mid-century modernity of the new makes for an unsettling and yet calming experience. If that makes any kind of sense. I'm not a religious person, but I do appreciate the varying styles of ecclesiastical architecture on offer in this country, and in this case found them both to be equally as appropriate as each other. Climbing the tower of the old cathedral (remarkably undamaged when compared with the rest of the structure) gives a great perspective on the sheer scale of the building which you don't always get from other such vantage points. I think the lack of roof makes it clear how big the place was, and experience of other churches helps interpret how the space would have been enclosed in times gone by. The newer building is just as magnificent in its own way, especially the stained glass curtain window (as pictured above - click through to Flickr for more views) and the way it spreads flashes of colour across what could otherwise be quite a dull interior. Some of the smaller spaces inside manage to capture the intimacy and feel of similar nooks and crannies in older churches and yet still reflect the hope of the new. I think in some ways I was most impressed that it was built at all, especially on such a grand scale. It is nice to know that we can still build "old fashioned" church stuff - such as the new tower put on Bury St Edmunds Cathedral for the millennium - but the fact that a city and the church was willing to go forward with something so radical is just great. I know there was opposition and controversy at the time, but I think know it fits in as a link between the different eras of construction.

After a spot of lunch the sun came out and we had a wander through a bit more of the town centre, ending up at Spon Street which wasn't quite the medieaval theme street implied by the signange but still nice to look at in parts. Most of the old buildings appear to now be bars and weren't open so we headed on to the Transport Museum instead.

Not having grown up in a town with a focus on manufacturing it is hard for me to comprehend just how dominated Coventry and surrounding towns were by the motor trade in its heyday, but the museum certainly gives a flavour of those times. Wandering past exhibit after exhibit built
within a 10-20 mile radius of the site did kind of bring it home a bit how much the town must have depended on the factories and how it must have suffered since their decline. Plus of course I'm a sucker for a nice bit of polished bodywork and a good old British marque. It was also good to see them give space to a number of concept cars - even if they are just plaster and mdf models some of the ideas that get touted at motor shows as "design studies" and so forth do give me interesting thoughts about what we could or should be driving by now.

The museum is also home to Land Speed Record breaking Thrust 2 and Thrust SSC, both of which I remember following eagerly as they screeched their way across the desert. A somewhat pointless exercise really, but fun to watch and both cars are impressive in the flesh.

Having used up the afternoon we then wound our way to Warwick and our B&B for the next three nights. The Seven Stars was lovely, the room was comfy, breakfasts tasty, Landlady Audrey and her helper Sue nice (we never did meet Audrey's husband John) and overall well worth the price. It would perhaps have been nice to have had the option of eating in at night rather than heading back into town but you can't have everything. What we saw of Warwick that night was also very attractive (more tomorrow) and we had a nice Italian dinner which went
down very well!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Major and Minorettes

Urp, where did that last week go?

Anyway, summer is now making a proper appearance and to go with it the carnival season is upon us. A much shorter procession than in previous years and no "extras" in the form of firework displays or concerts etc owing to the main sponsor pulling out. But then it would have been hard for them to justify pumping cash into this when staff are losing shifts.

Despite the lack of floats the majorettes were out in force. What is it that attracts girls (and indeed the occasional nervous looking young lad) to join these outfits? Most of the activities youngsters can get involved with I can sort of see a point to - cubs, scouts, brownies, even normal dance classes can add skills and things that might come in handy in later life. But what can shaking some pom poms or twirling a baton prepare you for? All the troupes have their lead car bedecked with trophies - presumably earnt through out-twirling their rivals - and lurid matching uniforms but I'm not sure why they exist other than to pad out processions and fill a ten minute slot at summer fetes.

Answers on a postcard!

And if you want to see more from Saturday just click on the girls to go through to Flickr.


Now off to Warwickshire for a few days. Travelogue when I get back.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Public grief

I've been thinking long and hard over the weekend about what to write here. Nor especially on the topic of Bobby Robson, but more the way we choose to mark the passing of someone in the public eye these days.

I can't claim to be much of a football fan. Working right next door to the ground (hey, out fire assembly point is on the practice pitch) and listening to local radio a lot means I have picked up a fair bit of interest over the years though. OK, so the only times I have been inside Portman Road are for meetings and to see Bryan Adams back in 1992, but I certainly understand the esteem Sir Bobby was held in by the fans. In fact, when we were clearing out my father-in-law's house I was touched by one old boy I met in a charity shop who, on hearing we were up from Suffolk, took great pains to tell me he had been Robson's first games master and had taught him the basics of football.

What I don't understand is the compulsion to leave flowers or shirts (some purchased especially to do so) or other mementoes in a car park. OK, yes it is by his statue at the ground, but still. Why?

Surely the money could just be given to his charity and an entry be written in the book of condolences without the need to show others what you've done. Because I'm sure half of this is just so people can say they "were there" and gave something up in memory. I just don't understand that at all.

Likewise, why is Michael Jackson still all over the charts just because he has died? Did these people going out in their droves to the record shops not want to own that music when he was alive? Not much of a fan to only support a dead artist.

Maybe I'm just private with my emotions, but I recall people crying in the supermarket on the morning of Diana's death and getting in the way when I was after some cornflakes. Yes it is always sad when someone passes on, but it seems that these days everything has to be out in the open.

And it isn't as if nobody I really admire has met an untimely end either.

Just one of those things where we all have differences that keep the world interesting I guess. A few more shots if you click through to Flickr.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Liking London

Norman's Bridge
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Growing up a mere 25 minute train trip from King's Cross, and with grandparents and aunts within the outer metropolis it was perhaps inevitable that we would spend a fair amount of time in London as children. The fact that I still like to get down there as often as possible for a wander about, nose at the sights and poke around a museum is more a refelection on what the city has to offer than on upbringing though.

Dad always used to take a couple of days off every school holiday to take us down to one museum or another (most often the Science Museum, but we did branch out), and we also went in with the Grandparents from time to time. By sixth form I was an educational member of the Royal Geographical Society and used to go down with friends to lectures which then lead to hitting the shops or a meal afterwards, which was always great fun.

These days we tend to travel down by coach rather than driving to a relative and hopping on the underground or just taking a train. It may take a bit longer that way but it is half the price to get us into central London, gives just as long wandering about and the view is so much better. From the entry into Whitechappel and Stratford past the developing Olympic park there is always something that you just don't get to see from the train. I love cruising past landmarks such as the Bank of England or the Tower and feel set up for the day ahead.

This time we had two objectives in mind but stretched the day into three sections as neither of the first two provided as much entertainment value as we had hoped for.

After a brief squint at the Globe and a short walk along the river we hit our first proper stop at the Oxo Tower. I had only found out about the viewing gallery a couple of weeks ago and it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up on for free. The view from up there isn't as spectacular as some others along the Thames but then you can't help what gets built where. I always like to get an elevated perspective if at all possible - from ground level you don't always appreciate how close differnet parts of the city really are. Particularly if your navigation is done by the tube map rather than the real streets. The weather could have been a bit better - it was a tad overcast meaning my pictures aren't as bright as I would have liked, but still give a feeling of the sprawl stretching away from the river banks.

We didn't dwell in the wharf housing the tower as the design and designer shops were (a) mostly closed and (b) not really our scene, and moved swiftly along to stop two. This was the Garden Museum next to Lambeth Palace.

I'll be the first to admit I'm not much of a gardener, but I do appreciate the works of others in making their little patches of land into something special. The museum itself is housed in the former St Mary's church and was a bit of a let down. I don't object to paying to get into these places but when they have a cafe open to all I'd like to see a bit more effort to ensure that those ostennsibly just going in to eat do just that. In the garden and the exhibition areas there were more people not wearing the little "i've paid" stickers than those who had definitely contributed to the coffers. The garden and exhibition areas were also a bit smaller than expected so did not exactly fill up the entire afternoon we had set aside for them.

Depsite my non-expert status, even I have heard of the great plant discoverer John Tradescant and his son (also John) who happen to be buried within the garden. It was the re-discovery of their tomb that saved the church from demolition and led to the founding of the museum there back in the '70s so I do applaud the establishment in general. I was also thrilled to see the casket there of Captain Bligh of the Bounty (and indeed we passed his house later on) but slabs of stone were not what we went for. Somehow I would have expected the grounds of a garden museum to be a riot of colour and different blooms from around the world, but alas it all seemd a bit hemmed in. Understandable perhaps, given the surroundings of the big city, but still not what we were hoping for. Oh, and the cafe only dig vegetarian food so I suppresed my cravings for a big slab of meat to accompany my leek & fennel gratinade with some nice Suffolk Cider instead.

That left us with most of the afternoon still to fill. As it was only down the road we headed to the Imperial War Museum for a look around. As this is one of the national ventures subsidised to give free entry in recent years it wasn't an issue to only pop in for a couple of hours. I'd not been there since a History O-level field trip which must have been 21 years ago at least so there were plenty of changes from what I recalled.

We concentrated on the second world war and holocaust exhibits as these had the most direct bearing on our various relatives who had seen service. Very moving in parts and somewhere we will be going back to I am sure to catch up on some other exhibits.

So that was our day out, most enjoyable and looking forward to the next one. We are definitley down in October to see Sister Act but may just squeeze in another trip before then. Watch this space.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Seat of Power

Seat of Power
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Did the London day trip yesterday but haven't got time to write much now so a fuller report will come along over the weekend. I'll just say here that it was a south bank day and you can click through parliament for more pictures on flickr.

Oh, 14000+ steps recorded!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Not So Extreme

So yesterday saw Felixstowe's third Xtremefest over on the cliff top just along the road from us. A couple of my cousins and their offspring were up for the day so we all went along to watch people falling off their skateboards, climbing, judoing and so forth whilst being entertained by a number of up and coming local bands. It has to be said that it wasn't quite as interesting for the slightly older observer as last year - the mountain bike display team we saw twelve months ago didn't put in an appearance and we managed to miss the alternative demonstrations of martial arts and street dancing (possibly a blessing in disguise there of course). The wind was a bit fierce at times too, meaning that the water based activities were somewhat restricted.

Still, the music was pretty good at times, with Friendly Misunderstood Rabbits and Alex Body (as pictured) going down well in my ears and with those scattered in front of the stage. I picked up the second Soundwaves CD which features FMR along with nine others and follows on from the first compilation last year. It is great to see our local councils doing things like this to promote local young musicians rather than the usual ignoring of anything vaguely like "fun" for the youf!

It was also great to see the family on a happy occasion and without it being a party or anniversary or such like. Just everyone in the same place at the same time enjoying themselves.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The sounds of today

Don't let that Lastfm list over on the right lull you into a false sense of security about my musical tastes. That just happens to cover what has ended up on this PC through downloads and ripping of choice tracks to use on compilations or as ring tones or just to listen to while I'm up here. There are plenty of artists on the CD shelves not currently starring on this hard drive not to mention the drawers full of cassettes that still get the odd play and even the vinyl sat down to my left comes out once in a while (in fact the turntable has been quite busy of late as I've been sticking my old 12" singles onto the PC to then re-use as CDs). I'll come back to those some other time. Anyway, while I wouldn't go so far as to claim that the internet has revolutionised how I consume music, it has definitely had an impact in helping me find new artists as well as obtaining loads of bootleg concerts, unofficial mixes, mash-ups and the like. But I'm still one for a physical object.

I think I have conquered my past obsessive need to own every song released by certain artists with multiple format purchases of singles and albums (although knowing that there is a 1989 Dogs D'Amour B-side I'm still missing does nag at me in the wee small hours) but still have walls full of discs. It helps that the single has almost died off as a physical format of course, no temptation to wander off to the nearest record emporium every week to see what has come out, even if that does mean the supply of extra tracks to complement an album has gone too. I do still pop out once a week to look at the new albums of course, even if I then go home and order them online. Although not as often as I used to. If you'd told the 22 or 23 year old me that I'd be happy to wait for a new release until it came in the post (or even until the end of the month, or - shock horror - Christmas) I would probably have laughed in your face. With age comes patience and mortgage payments.

Which is why I am now listening to a CD I just burnt of The Future, The Past & The Present Tension - the new album from Mark Vidler aka Go Home Productions which is now available as a free download from his site. I first encountered GHP via the mash-up scene (and have several mini-discs featuring his past output, including longer mixes as well as loads of cut & paste stuff) but this is "proper" original music and I'm liking it a lot. Lots of real instruments with smaples and other stuff laced throughout. Well worth the effort of clicking on a download link and then bunging onto a shiny disc. I'm not sure really who to compare him to in terms of style - a bit of Lemon Jelly perhaps, with a smattering of indie guitar and a love of the Beatles. That doesn't really help I'm sure, but as you can find out for free don't let my feeble attempts at categorization put you off.

I have also downloaded a couple of discs worth of stuff from Soundhog tonight for future listening pleasure. Another one I found through mash-ups who has branched out into longer mix sets (which have had radio play) and remixes etc. And while I am recommending music from the interweb you could also try Paul Thorpe in his Braces Tower guise for some fun electronica.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Obligatory anniversary post

So today is the 40th anniversary of Mr Armstrong taking his small step onto the moon and I am quite surprised to note that none of the blogs I regularly read have mentioned it at all. Perhaps I'm the only space freak out there (can't quite believe that) or perhaps everyone else had more thrilling things to write about. After all, it was fourty years ago and who cares these days? Well, I do.
Although I didn't come along until 1971 and the last few gasps of the Apollo programme, I have always been fascinated by the idea of getting off this rock. I'm told that almost as soon as we could walk, my friend Rebecca and I were bouncing up and down the lounge in slow motion imitation of the moonwalkers. So either they were repeating the footage quite a lot or we were pretty precocious in the mobility stakes.
Having read a fair bit on the subject in recent years (particularly since visiting Houston in 2006) I am still staggered by the effort put into the whole space programme and how well they did. The fact that NASA didn't lose any astronauts in flight until the Challenger explosion is just incredible when you think how many people get killed by their work in other fields with a much lower percieved risk. I can also appreciate that the shuttle has done a good job of helping learn the science and medical stuff etc for long term future of space travel, even if mucking about in low earth orbit is one hell of a come-down compared to shooting for the moon. I'd still give my left leg for a ride up out of the atmosphere, that's for sure. Maybe Virgin Galactic will get their act together soon enough for me to try it (if I win the lottery) but I'd rather be up there for my job than as a tourist. And given that we have had British astronauts I might just have made it if I'd put my mind to it 25 years or so ago and applied myself to the right kind of studies. We will never know.
Still, I am lapping up all the documentaries and stuff the BBC have been putting out over the last few weeks. I've seen some of the footage so many times I can follow bits of debris and know where they will fall during a lift off, but it still stirs the emotions. And the fact that stuff I haven't seen before is also cropping up is just fantastic. I could sit and watch that for hours. Even the larking about with blobs of water in zero g (OK, microgravity if you want to get technical) is worth watching to remind ourselves of the possibilities of getting out there.
We are having a day trip to London next week and I might just have to find half an hour or so to pop into the Science Museum to stare at their battered old command module for a bit. It may only have been from the dress rehersal, but it did go to the moon and back, which is pretty impressive for any man-made object.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

And Did Those Feet

Well, my feet anyway.

According to my phone I have now recorded over one million steps this year. OK, so if I was managing my 10,000 a day this milestone would have been passed over a month or so ago, but I still think it's worth noting for posterior. Or posterity!

It reckons that's over 500 miles too, which is not bad going if you ask me.

And now the sun is shining so time to add a few more to the total.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Things I Haven't Done Yet This Summer

Number 1: taken my top off in public

I know I need to loose a bit of weight meaning I have a bit too much belly and budding moobs and am pale of skin, so I keep it all covered up so as not to make people feel ill if they glance my way. Now all I need is to persuade most of the other men in Suffolk to do the same.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The face of Essex?

Another day at a Country show on Saturday, this time the Tendring Hundred one. A really good day out, much better weather than the Suffolk Show although there were a couple of very short sharp showers.

We met up with friends, got to see the whole selection of stalls, animals, arena events etc, ate some great food and generally relaxed and enjoyed ourselves.

And yet despite being on my feet nearly all day I only managed to get 5714 steps recorded! I guess there must have been too much shuffling between stalls and not enough striding about. My average has been rubbish recently, with the 4-week dropping from over 8000 to about 6500. Must try to fit some more wandering in, but who knows how and when.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Faster than the rest

OK, so I've finished another book and want to share the joy. In this case, as the picture may just hint at, it is Mallard by Don Hale.

Not just a simple tale of the loco itself and the attaining of the world steam speed record, but a detailed look at the work of Sir Nigel Gresley and the development of his pacific engines. I've always had a soft spot for Mallard and the A4s (I took the photo above back in 2002 before digital so apologies for the quality of the scan) and this was a lovely nostalgic wallow of a read. Not overly technical, but with enough detail to keep the bits of my brain that worry about that sort of thing amused.

A real story of triumph against the odds in some places and also, when placed against the backdrop of the political tensions building in the late '30s, a good stab of patriotism there too without being overt. My only complaint with the book (other than it not being about five times longer!) is the lack of pictures. There are some, but it could use being a fully-illustrated edition. Still, there's always the internet to plug the gaps.

Interestingly, Don Hale was also the subject of a dramatised version of his struggle to win freedom for a wrongly imprisoned man - In Denial Of Freedom - and played by Stephen Tompkinson. We enjoyed that despite the review there!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Years Of Rice And Salt

Review: Kim Stanley Robinson - The Years Of Rice And Salt

I'll be the first to admit I struggled with this book. Not sure if it
wasn't quite what I was expecting, or if the musings on religion were a bit more than I wanted but some days I found it hard to get through more than a couple of pages. But, I did enjoy it in the end and find the concept to be superb.

As the cover blurb says, imagine a world without Europe. Not
physically of course, just with all those Europeans killed off by the
plague and the rest of the world left to develop without them. What we end up with is a series of connected stories covering over a thousand years of alternate history. Robinson weaves an immense tapestry but focuses on the minor details and everyday lives of those involved. Some the great and the good, others simple village folk but all aspects of the same group of souls undergoing constant re-incarnations. Taken as a whole, they tell a tell of staggering scope, but each individual tale drags you in to a new aspect of the world each of which could probably have been sustained over a longer stand-alone tale. I particularly enjoyed the Alchemist of Sammarkand and think I may well seek out some more Arabian-set fiction in the future.

There are many small insights into the world of the story and the real world scattered through the book. One (which of course I can't find now in order to quote it!) deals with history and what does and doesn't get recorded. The theme there is that only the bigger picture survives, with the mundanity of real life lost in the mists. The book is only a few years old, but that made me wonder if the same thing would apply with millions of people adding their daily doings to the web in blogs.

I don't pretend to have understood all of the deeper passages, particularly on the meanings of religion and philosophy but I will read it again one of these years and maybe I'll have increased my knowledge through other sources by then.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Burn 2009

So it is Summer Burn time again. For those of you who don't know about this then sorry, you've missed out for another year but keep your eyes peeled at for next year. I also organise a copycat burn at the Llamasoft forum ( bringing together a few more people in search of a bit of music-sharing fun. You are too late to jon that one as well, but again it should be back next year.

Anyway, I thought I'd put some waffle on here about my choice of music for this year in case anyone who has received a copy of my selections wants a bit more information or anyone else is just interested.

Disc The First

1 - introduction. Edited down from the welcome message on the NME Cure cover versions CD issued back in February. Robert Smith himself invites us to listen on.

2 - Jerry Keller - Here Comes Summer. I know nothing about Keller, but have this on a rock 'n' roll compilation set and it made a suitable summery start to proceedings.

3 - EMF - Long Summer Days. From the album Schubert Dip. One of my favourite bands it wasn't hip to like when I was at college due to their perceived one-hit wonder status and the ubiquity of Unbelievable. Many people are still surprised to learn they managed three albums before splitting.

4 - The Prodigy - Omen. From this year's superb Invaders Must Die set. Thought this was the best track on the album when I first heard it, and still hold that opinion.

5 - how deep. Dialogue from The Abyss.

6 - Metallica - Cyanide. First track I heard a snippet of from Death Magnetic and it stuck in my brain and wouldn't go away. Particularly attracted to the little bass noodles. Plus this came to me last year around the time my uncle comitted suicide and just resonated lyrically as well.

7 - Heaven & Hell - Rock & Roll Angel. Dio era Sabbath reform, find new name, release killer album. Had to have something on here.

8 - Iron Maiden - Can I Play With Madness. From Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son - reminds me of summer 1988 when it was first released and now of this year in the live version on Flight 666 soundtrack.

9 - Salty Dog - Lonesome Fool. I like a bit on banjo from time to time. From the album Every Dog Has Its Day.

10 - corsets. Angela Rippon helps us to shape up and dance.

11 - Muse - Man Of Mystery. They compiled a cover disc for the NME last year and recorded this Shadows cover especially for it. I like the original but also this verison, and it was time for an instrumental.

12 - Altered Images - I Could Be Happy. Was obsessed by Claire Grogan when I was younger so here's one of her best moments. From Pinky Blue.

13 - Living Colour - Type. 1991, end of the second year at College and I was bribed with a CD to get my hair cut and try to find a summer job. Time's Up was the CD and the summer job at Argos eventually lead to me meeting MrsB so in the end it was worth the sacrifice of a few inches of hair.

14 - The Monkees - Last Train To Clarksville. They may have been manufactured, and not written or even performed most of their hits, but some times the Monkees just can't be topped.

15 - Izzy Stradlin - Surf Roach. From the album 117 degrees, which is perfect for a warm summer afternoon when there's nothing else to do but sit back and play some tunes. Always was my favourite member of Guns N' Roses too.

16 - Monsterworks - Leaving Home. Found these guys on the interweb, not too keen on the vocals but this is a good interlude.

17 - Goat - Everybody Wants To Be There. Another band from my college days that disappeared without a trace. Still enjoy a spin of Medication Time every now and then though.

18 - Bomb The Bass - Liquid Metal (Fantastic 4 Mix). Tim Simenon helped me realise that dance music was not all rubbish. Original version can be found on Unknown Territories but this was a B-side.

19 - Pop Will Eat Itself - PWEIzation. B-side to Karmadrome, and I think it was also on the Very Metal Noise Pollution ep. Part of the Stourbridge trio also featuring Ned's Atomic Dustbin and The Wonder Stuff. Takes me back to Rock City in Nottingham.

20 - Unmen - Also With You. From an issue of Volume. Never found anything else by them, but I do like this.

21 - scruffy looking. I stole this snippet from the Radio Gnome Premix on the Gong rarities CD, no idea where they got it from though.

22 - Levellers - Burn America Burn. To be found on Letters From The Underground, I could listen to something by the Levellers every day and not get tired of them.

23 - Chumbawamba - Add Me. Taken from The Boy Bands Have Won, the Chumblies respond to Facebook and its ilk.

24 - Fleet Foxes - In The Hot, Hot Rays. Biggest find of last year for me, this comes from their debut ep sold at early gigs and, er, lurking on the magical electric intermaweb if you look hard enough. A nice summery tune to end this disc with.

25 - eod1. The end!

Disc The Second

1 - sagging bottoms. Some more sound advice from Angela.

2 - Whapweasel - Aren’t Crisps Brilliant? From a Rock & Reel cover disc, I know nothing more but like it.

3 - The Zutons - Valerie. Because, quite frankly, the original deserves to be heard more than the Amy Winehouse version.

4 - Chumbawamba - All Fur Coat And No Knickers. Another quick visit to the Boy Bands...

5 - Daevid Allen - Captain Shaw & Mr. Gilbert. A brief interlude of silliness before we get back to music.

6 - Angel Brothers - Django. Another Rock & Reel cover disc tune I like.

7 - The Dogs D’Amour - Drunk Like Me. From the Errol Flynn album.

8 - The Cure - Friday I’m In Love. One of those bands where I like everything I've ever heard, but never got round to investigating them properly hence at present I only own the greatest hits album. One of these days I'll invest in the whole set though, I'm sure.

9 - Johnny Marr & Billy Duffy - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Taken from the NME Ruby Trax compilation which is well worth seeking out if you can find a copy second hand. Loads of great cover versions on there.

10 - Black Grape - Kelly’s Heroes. I never really got into the Happy Mondays, but Shaun Ryder's second project and I get on quite well. This one's from It's Great When You're Straight... Yeah!

11 - The Police - Canary In A Coalmine. A bit of light-heartedness from Zenyatta Mondatta. The band I am most likely to return to if I can't decide what to listen to when staring at the wall of CDs.

12 - Jem - I Want You To... From second album Down To Earth, which quite caught me by surprise when I saw it in the shops as I assumed she was doomed to just releasing the one.

13 - Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly - In Between Days. From the NME Cure covers compilation that also provided the introduction. I'm probably far too old to be a fan of Get Cape... but I was intrigued by the name, took a chance of the first album and really found something I like. A
great mix of acoustic guitars and technology.

14 - real men. Dialogue from Torchwood Series One episode Out Of Time.

15 - New Order - Regret. See The Cure above!

16 - Chumbawamba - The Ogre. A final trip to meet the Boy Bands.

17 - Gong - Clarence In Wonderland. This comes from their Peel sessions disc and features Kevin Ayers on vocals.

18 - the world. Dialogue from Dr Who (new) Series Two episode Love & Monsters.

19 - The Prodigy - Omen Reprise. See above - they were very helpful in providing this on the album so I could re-visit the theme here!

20 - The Human League - Tell Me When (Mix 1). My favourite band to come from Sheffield, you can find the original verison on Octopus.

21 - snowball artists. Dialogue from Ghostbuster. Who you gonna call?

22 - The Wildhearts - Vanilla Radio. Single Version, also to be found on The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed.

23 - Steve Hillage - Still Golden. From And Not Or. A sequencing cock-up here, this should have been track 25 but I didn't notice until I'd burnt the discs. Feel free to programme the CD player to make it appear in the right place.

24 - Bananarama - Venus. A feel good single, despite the Stock Aitken Waterman influence I do liek this a lot.

25 - this is an oldie. Dialogue from Back To The Future. As above, this should be swapped with Steve Hillage.

26 - Sarabeth Tucek - Good Night. The closer comes from the Mojo White Album covered set. I like to end these things with something gentle, and this is it.

Hope that tickles your tastebuds.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Im memory

Well, yesterday was the funeral of Peter Fuller, colleague and friend who will be sorely missed by all of us who knew him. Very much a larger than life character who brought a genuine spark of life to the office. Definitely the person I made the most effort to keep up to date with when we got reshuffled last year and ended up at the other end of the building with a couple of doors between us. Always keen to help and go out of his way to make sure things went smoothly or you got the information you needed. Whenever the call went out for volunteers to man stalls at events or go out and wave leaflets at people Peter was always there, and had a great affinity with the travelling public, despite coming late to public transport as a way of life. He was very much the life and soul of social events too, and more than once it was his presence that persuaded me to show my face at functions I would otherwised have cried off from. Unfortunately the love of the good life was what undid him in the end, with his liver not being able to take the strain any longer.
We mustered 15 people for the service, which I think was pretty good - although there were a few notable exceptions of people I thought would have been there. Still, Peter's wife and family bore up incredibly well all things considered and were glad to see so many of us. In fact we were even photographed, which was a bit odd but if it makes Moreen happy to have images of us celebrating Peter's life then that's fine by me. Mr Fuller had certainly packed a lot into his 64 years and if someone is able to stand up and say that much about me when my time comes then I reckon I still won't have lived half as full a life.
Thinking about things, this is the first "death in service" I've experienced and hopefully there won't be too many more over the rest of my working life. Former colleagues have passed on after retirement, or after I've moved jobs but I've not been through the trauma of losing someone this way before. Very strange to pass his desk now and know someone else will be filling it soon, and we can't call up for advice like you would someone who has just retired or gone elsewhere.
Here's one for you, Mr Fuller. Be at peace.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Random updates

Just some bits that need to get out of my head...

So the BBC Springwatch is nearly over for another year (just some round up shows and the web stuff). I have really enjoyed watching it this year. Lots of wonderful shots of nature at its best. And even better, Tawny has watched it too. I've never known her take an interest in the TV before, but she has paid close attention, tried to grab at the birds on screen and generally sat right in front of the telly every night. Almost as interesting to watch her as the show.

Apart from the occasional torrential downpour and thunder storm, the weather seems to be finally picking up now, which is nice. Unfortunately it also means the start of the really unsuitable clothes season in Ipswich. While we seem to see someone wearing shorts whenever we go out, whatever time of year, the legs of the world are now coming out to play. And some of them really ought not. Never mind the expansive bellys and other bits and bobs that get revealed to all and sundry by summer clothes. I know I am no oil painting and could lose a pound or two, but I do try to keep the unsightly bits hidden away. Do these people not have mirrors? I'll admit that some of the ladies do suit the summer, but for the majority - put it away, please!

Still, the weather has meant I've been able to get out and about with some walking. Over the last seven days I've managed 69,392 steps - which is a whisker over 9916 per day so almost at the magic 10,000. OK, so those seven include two under 7k and two over 13k but on average things are looking up. The four week rolling average is now at 7865 and the overall has reached 7088 (grand total up to today of 744,247). I might have to start doing some other exercise as well soon in order to start the arduous task of shrinking my stomach. Maybe I'll even eat better one of these years as well...

And finally for today, why do people insist on pushing buttons that are already pushed? Pedestrian crossings, lifts - the button to cross or for the ground floor is already pushed and lit up, yet new comers still insist on giving it another push. It won't speed things up! SIlly fools.

Friday, June 05, 2009

That nasty vet...

Upside Down
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Had to take our Tawny for her annual booster today. She absolutely hates going to the vet and yet they never have anything but praise for her. A struggle to get her in the basket, and then she cries the entire way there (and back again) but is as meek as anything when on the table.

She must be at least 13 years old now (we've had her for 12, and they thought she was a year or so when we got her and brother Barney RIP) and doesn't exactly get much exercise any more but is apparently in great shape for her age. Which was nice to hear. I dread the day when we have to say farewell as I can't imagine life without her around, even if she does get the claws out too often!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Splash! Drip, drip, drip...

So there I am, packing up to leave work tonight, waiting for the PC to shut down etc I grabbed my mug in haste, only to shower my lap and chair with unexpectedly undrunk water. You'd think I'd remember whether I'd finished or not. Luckily it was still quite sunny, so by the time my bus turned up it no longer looked like I'd wet myself on the way. But the ride down in the lift and walk to the bus stop was just a tad embarrassing.

Mind you, that wasn't the dampest I've left the building, having once fallen in the water feature in the cafeteria. That was a real day to forget, and yet somehow I haven't managed to. I have also been soaked by a truck driving through a passing puddle whilst changing a timetable by the roadside. Hopefully that makes my three work-related drenchings and I can live out the rest of my Council life in comfortable dryness.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Grand Day Out

Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Hit the Suffolk show today (more pictures on Flickr if you click through from this).

Didn't get enough time with the beasties, and the weather could have been better but still a good day out. Always fun to see the farmers trying to look smart, the country/horsey types in their matching tweeds and the girls who think they are posh in head to toe Joules clobber. And there are precious few other places to get a glimpse of the hats that come out for this sort of thing. Do these people not look in a mirror at all?

12,000+ steps around the show ground is not to be sneezed at, and any excuse for some fresh local food makes the day a good one.

Thought some of the judges comments in the flower show were a bit harsh, and tended to miss the point on some of the displays (like complaining there was too much top heaviness on an arrangement that was obviously meant to be a hat on a pole). Mind you, what I know about floral design could be written on the back of a postage stamp.

Hopefully they will have better weather laid on for us next year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A thousand years of peace

Apart from the continuity issue (see below) the other thing that bugs me a bit about fantasy fiction is the passage of time. Vast amounts of time.

Take David Eddings' Belgariad/Mallorean saga for instance - we have a central character over 7,000 years old and others who have been around almost as long. In Terry Brook's Shanarra series we have over 500 years between events with, again, thousands of years of history going on in the background. And yet everyone is still living in "medieaval" times. This goes for most of the epic sagas out there on the shelves.

Does no-one in fantasy land ever watch their kettle boiling and have a James Watt moment (yes I know that's probably apocryphal, but you know what I mean)? Do the people who build the sophisticated locks for city gates, construct the siege engines, forge the weapons and armour never tinker with clockwork or wonder how the transport system could be improved?

When you look at how life on Earth has changed over just the last 1000 years, it seems odd to me that people we are supposed to believe to be as intelligent as ourselves would not have come up with a few of the innovations we've seen over that period. Sometimes you get pseudo-explanations such as magical accidents making events repeat themselves rather than progress, or evil wizards stamping out change, but still. It doesn't stop me devouring trilogies by the truckload but at the back of my mind I'm always wondering how life would be better if the hero had a jeep or even a bike at his disposal for those long quests in search of enlightenment or a magical wotsit.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Is there anything in this life more satisfying than a Saturday afternoon snooze on a sunlit sofa?

Or, where did the last two hours go?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

In the way

I was going to write something deep and meaningful tonight, but I'm just getting too much "help" from tawny here.
Another time maybe.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Now wash your hands

Now that the media has found other things to talk about (hoorah for MP's expenses) it seems that we are now "officially" worried about Swine Flu. Not only has our governement issue leaflet plopped onto the doormat today, but notices have appeared in the toliets at work telling us how to wash our hands. While part of me is appalled that we need to have such basic information pointed out in a poster over the sink, I also have to admit how much we really need them.

The number of times I wander into a cubicle to find it unflushed. I really don't want to see other people's bodily wastes thank you very much. So if they can't even be bothered to dispose of the evidence I doubt very much that they are washing their hands either. And I thought we only employed adults.

Still, I am sure they are all better than this guy!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

So, I like birds

Just been watching this Crow in our garden. We have two bird baths and it has been picking up bits of bread from the lawn, soaking them in one or the other while having a drink, then taking the bread off somewhere else. Whether to eat or feed to another bird (probably a bit early for babies I believe) is hard to tell. We seem to have two crows hanging around at the moment so quite likely we might get some babies on the lawn at some point in the year.

Never been a die-hard bird spotter, but do enjoy watching them flutter around the garden. We have a resident Robin as well as the regularly visiting sparrows, wrens, blackbirds, pigeons, collared doves, great/coal/blue tits, starlings and assorted gulls. I have also seen a heron, green woodpecker, jay and one or two others flash through on occasion.

Last Sunday we started the day with a visit to the Trimley Marshes nature reserve - just up the road but we'd never been before and I could defnitiely get more active in the bird watching field after that. Somehow the setting (and good weather) fitted perfectly with my mood to make a bunch of ducks, geese, gulls etc the best show on earth. Was particularly taken by the Avocets and Great Crested Grebes.

Of course now I want a better camera with lots of zoomability...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Continuity and Conformity

Now just take a look at those books there. 8 volumes by David Wingrove making up his Chung Kuo series. All those paperbacks are UK first editions, so you'd think they might all look somewhat similar. But no, someone from the publisher's marketing department decided to change the design twice during the initial publication of the series so I get a mixed looking shelf.

While that is slightly annoying to the pedants out there I'm more concerned about what goes between the covers than what's on them. Not in the case of this series actually (it just made a nice picture to illustrate the point) but of fantasy and science fiction series in general.

When watching a tv series you kind of expect things to alter between episodes as there are generally a whole raft of writers each tackling their own episodes. They all get written in parallel without the benefit of seeing what has come before so mistakes slip in. What bugs me though is when things change between books in a series with only one author.

I'm not just talking minor changes either - the odd spelling change to a character name I can forgive - but wholescale re-writing of history. I'm currently listening to Terry Brooks' Shanarra series and there are numerous examples where he changed the history of the four lands in writing the prequel - which was the eighth book to come out. Fandom has the name Retroactive Continuity for this and I'm not keen on the concept. If you've established a coherent world I do think you should stick with it no matter where in that world's timeline you are working. OK, so it may mean having to reign in some of the wilder imaginings but at then the author also has the challenge of keeping the suspension of disbelief going.

The only example I approve of is RetCon - the memory loss drug in Torchwood which at least makes a joke of the whole thing.

I'll talk about another pet hate of mine in fantasy literature another time (not one that stops me readingit though!)...