Friday, December 31, 2010

Hippo Gnu Deer

Aargh, nightmare couple of weeks of flu and general unwellness but Christmas was great so that's OK.

Anyway, nothing special to say, just Happy New Year to all who have read and commented in 2010. I'm hoping to keep waffling in 2011 so you have been warned!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Resting my ears

Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Normally about now I would be posting my top songs of the year, but as mentioned in the post below I have hardly heard anything new at all. In fact, looking at the shelves this morning I counted a grand total of two 2010 CDs. Plenty of re-issues and stuff bought cheap in sales, but only those two day of release jobs.

Personally, I blame the BBC. Ever since they stopped showing Top Of The Pops I have become completely ignorant of what's in the charts. And on Radio Suffolk I only really listen to the Breakfast Show (which is all talk) and the Flashback Year on a Sunday. But I have also not been enthusiastic about discovering anything new either.

It has been a year of cosy sentimentality and wallowing in the familiar.

Reading other blogs has kicked me up the backside somewhat though and when Christmas is out of the way and I can spend money on myself without feeling guilty I'm off to find some new musical horizons. Suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Questionable Behaviour 1

You've seen them no doubt, perhaps even sought them out to see who the victim is this time. Tucked away in boxouts in the news section, front or back page features or just propping up the small ads pages. Regular question and answer features with celebrities or just readers of the magazine. Always the same questions but often wildly different answers. So in an attempt to bare my soul in a different manner from my normal waffling I thought I'd tackle some of these myself from time to time. Some of them will need a little tweaking as I'm not an international jet-setting rock star, actor from a series you watched as a child or, er, slimming club organiser but I hope to stay true to the spirit of the originals. No idea if this will actually work or I'll kepp going, but I do intend to...

First up, All Back To My Place from Mojo:

What music are you currently grooving to?
2010 has been a year of catching up with bands I've neglected for years thanks to re-releases and a bit of digging around on the sale shelves so lots of Saxon, Megadeth, Sigur Ros and The Beatles recently. Also been enjoying some Hayseed Dixie concerts from the Internet Archive.

What, if push comes to shove, is your all-time favourite album?
Possibly the trickiest question known to man! There are many that I turn to over and over again when I want to drop myself into something familiar and just go along with the music. Iron Maiden's Somewhere In Time, Chumbawamba's WYSIWYG, the first All About Eve album and Ned's Atomic Dustbin's God Fodder to name just four.

What was the first record you ever bought? And where did you buy it?
This was an unofficial version of the Star Wars soundtrack in the Welwyn Department Store (Welwyn Garden City - now a John Lewis) which was in constant rotation after seeing the film. I got a lot of stuff in there in my early record purchasing days before discovering Our Price a few streets away and really going mad.

Which musician have you ever wanted to be?
Nobody in particular, I'd just like to be able to get a tune out of somethng well enough to entertain people.

What do you sing in the shower?
Whatever I've heard most recently as a rule. Which is one reason we listen to the Radio Suffolk breakfast show as they don't play music, meaning I'm less likely to scare the neighbourhood with out of tune screeching.

What is your favourite Saturday night record?
Back before I met MrsB if ever I was going out on an evening I would try to fire myself up with somethng heavy while getting ready. Particular favourites were Slayer's Reign In Blood and the first Wildhearts e.p. Mondo-Akimbo-A-Go-Go. I felt ready for anything after those, particularly if I knew the night to come was going to feature insipid chart music as a background.

And your Sunday morning record?
A perfect time for ambient electronica - The Orb, System 7, Drum Club and that ilk.

So there you have it, one down - more to follow!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Unravelling the branches

Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
After a year or so of general bumbling about in the library, grabbing research done by others in the family and banging our heads against the wall in frustration we are going for a session with a genealogist this weekend. MrsB has been wanting to plot out her family tree for years (blame Who Do You Think You Are) but has been hampered by a lack of any useful information to kick us off with.

Like many other so called free resources, a lot of the census details and birth records available online only give you a brief summary for free and request payment for the full story. The trouble is we have been reluctant to part with good cold cash without knowing whether the end product will have been worth the investment. And while a couple of her cousin's have gone back five or six generations on their branches, we have a big black hole when it comes to her Dad's family. This is not helped by the fact that her Dad is no longer with us and even the surviving aunts and uncles don't seem to know much about their own parents, never mind further back.

I'm hoping a bit of professional help will guide us to some useful sources and show us whether it is worth signing up to some proper sites or not. Of course I have a feeling that we will need to devote some proper time to a trip up north to rummage in physical records, which will be emotional as we've not been back since the funeral.

For my part I'm not really bothered about where I come from. As with the good lady, one of my relatives has done a fair bit on one side of the family and we have a big gap on the other that will need a trip or two to Denmark to sort out, but I don't really feel the need to know. Maybe I'll get bitten by the bug properly when I'm older, but for now am happy to act as detective for the Mrs.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Too much information

I've seen the packets of nuts that say "may contain nuts" and the "caution, hot" messages on cups of tea and apple pies but I think ridiculous information labels have reached a new low with this one. To save anyone having to enlarge the text, this comes from a packet of Wafer Thin salt beef slices from Marks & Spencer: "Wafer thin slices can vary in appearance and may break. This is natural and will not affect the eating quality."

How crazy is that?

There can surely only be two reasons for such a notice to exist, and I'm not sure which option is the worst. Either enough people have complained to M&S about uneven, snappling slices that they felt it justified or someone high up is worried that such complaints might come in so decided to pre-empt them. The former just shows how stupid some people can be, while the latter means that people sit and think about stupidity. Whichever, it is surely a sign that the end times are coming.

Oh, and no idea why it contains celery or why people may need to be warned about that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Strange delight on seeing local stuff on telly

A bit of idle channel hopping last night found us watching an old episode of Coast on BBC2, covering the edges of Norfolk and Suffolk. Although we had seen this one before, it had to be watched purely for the local recognition factor. The trip ended in Felixstowe and included a nice aerial shot over the town (missing our house by a matter of a few hundred metres, blast!) as well as some shots of the docks.

I can't decide which is stranger for people when seeing the place you live on tv. Being somewhere like Felixstowe where we get shown once in a blue moon, and then generally only on a specialist show like this (local news doesn't count) seeing stuff from just down the road gives a bit of a thrill. But I can't imagine what it must be like as a Londoner to see familiar stomping grounds in every other detective show, documentary or just as establishing shots in Masterchef. Does the thrill remain or is it "oh, there's another murder at my bus stop"?

Anyway, what I had completely forgotten from the previous viewing was an article about the Cobra Mist radar early warning system tried up at Orford Ness in the 70s from the building in that photo up there (now a BBC World Service transmission site). As it happens, I am reading a history of the Ness and the various clandestine activities undertaken there so it was great to see some of it in living colour. One thing I have always liked in Coast is the selective use of CGI to overlay historical views on the present scene, and they did a great job with the aerial arrays no longer standing on the beach by this block house.

Having been over on to the Ness some 20 years ago (when we had a trip up the lighthouse) and taken a river trip past a few weeks back it was once more a case of "ooh, I've been there" for me on seeing the place in the living room. Hopefully the sense of delight will remain next time something Suffolk hits the screen.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Signing the register

15 Years ago today and still as happy as ever.

That is all.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I'm scared

I'm scared
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Why do we so like to scare ourselves for entertainment? Not just the obvious (well, obvious this weekend anyway) horror films/books imagery etc but also stuff like rollercoasters or murder mysteries that get the pulse racing and leave you with a great sense of still being alive/relief that it didn't happen to you at the end. Hmm, probably just answered the question there anyway.

I started wondering this at the beginning of the week when we were watching the last episode of Whitechapel. Partly I was debating whether I should enjoy a tale of murder and violence, especially with the emphasis on gangs (the Krays etc) and what is generally the nastier side of life. But I do - and also enjoy lots of other crime series too. Maybe it is because my real life is so far removed from most of that sort of thing - after all, where would the entertainment be in a six part drama about someone driving round beautiful villages deciding where to put bus stops and then doing a bit of paperwork back in the office?

But as the night of ghosts and ghouls and trick or treaters got closer it has developed into a more general curiosity about why scares are often craved. I know most of what happens on Halloween these days isn't exactly scary in the true sense but once upon a time these witches, bats etc had the power to frighten.

I'm therefore, over the next few weeks, going to have a stab at some scary stories that have been lying around the house unread and see whether I actually like them or not. Both in the ghost and the "crime so horrific ut counts as horror" areas. Which brings me neatly on to books (you knew it would be in here somewhere!).

The rather wonderful writer Neil Gaiman has had the rather wonderful idea of starting a new Halloween tradition. All Hallows Read is the name, and giving people scary books for Halloween presents is the game. So I have given MrsB a copy of Haunted Ipswich by Pete Jennings - which is a look at all the supposed ghosts of our county town. Maybe not as scary as actual tales but a good start I thought. And I also treated myself to Gaiman's The Graveyard Book which I have just not got round to buying until now.

So, off you go and give someone a paper-based scare yourself (and I don't mean show them a bank statement or credit card bill) and see how it goes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What colour christmas are you having?

This may surprise some, but I don't actually mind the build-up to Christmas starting as soon as the kids go back to school. I'd prefer it if things were delayed a bit after that (f'rinstance as we now do Halloween over here then perhaps waiting until that was over would be better), but having worked in retail can see why they like to get things up and running as soon as possible. It always kept life interesting back in the Argos days, having to juggle stockroom space for garden furniture and Christmas trees at the same time.

We spent a good half hour looking at baubles, lights and miscellaneous hanging things on Sunday after cake at a Garden Centre and I didn't want to run screaming from the room once. Unlike when we were looking at the plants before the cake. But that was more due to the call of the cake rather than any particular negative vibes over gardening. Not my favourite pass time, but better than decorating. Plus, I have to be organised when it comes to the festive season as Joan's birthday is only a few days after Christmas so I need to start buying stuff in advance to spread the cost and make sure each even gets the proper treatment.

Anyhoo, we'll be having a real tree this year if I'm still gainfully employed, rather than one of these plastic efforts.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Park And Reflect

Since I restarted this blogging malarky I've tried not to write about work too much. Not through any fear of people finding out, reprisals or whatever but simply because I think I did too much of that first time around and no-ne else is interested. You can read the archives if you really like.

But today I have to get stuff off my chest because I am not a happy bunny.

I've moved around within my team/department over the last 12 years and every time have had to bite my tongue about what the people who come after me have done to and with the legacy I left behind.

So, for example, highly praised timetable books have been dropped, maps are no longer geographically accurate, connecting routes don't meet up any more, newlsetters have been dropped, awards have not been re-won. It is hard to see things I put time and effort into disappear, especially when they have been well received in the real world and people still contact me rather than my successors in the hope of getting a straight answer.

Now we have a new Government slashing our budgets, and a major casualty is one of the three Park & Ride sites I did my best to build, run and develop. For a county committed to going green I can only see this as a short-sighted blow. Where other departments get "invest to save" money we just seem to lose out. I am sure a bit of decent marketing and genuine customer focus could do wonders, bring in more punters and cut the costs in the medium term, but it seems that is not an option.

But what annoys me most is reading about it in the local paper before being told internally. That really is not on.

If our bosses want us to stick with them through these troubled times then communications have to be sorted out and staff have to know before Joe public.

Too late for them to change their minds now, but I hope that future cuts and changes will be reflected on a bit more and those of us who actually care about getting things done can be kept a bit more in the loop.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Small bird?

Ah, I've given in and am now on twitter as TheSimonb - maybe see you there.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pages have been turned

So here I am a week into a fortnight away from work and finally getting fingers to keys. MrsB has come down with Sinusitis and spent the last couple of days in bed, so we haven't been out and about as much as planned, but that does mean I've got through a couple of books which I am going to waffle on about today. Site reports from where we have managed to go another time.

Following the Fiction Fatigue mentioned previously, I decided to try something out of my normal comfort zone. Grey Area, a collection of short stories by Will Self has been sat on the shelf for a number of years (MrsB bought it for me when he first became a team captain on Shooting Stars) and part of me kind of wishes it was still there untouched. At least then I'd still have a reason to be unsure if I liked it or not! As it is, I just don't know. I have tended to shy away from what I call "literary fiction" over the years as the bits I have dipped into just don't seem to go anywhere. I want my books to engage me and give me something to look forward to beyond my life. But when I have to stop to look words up, or people just sit around not doing much I tend to lose interest. It is the same reason I don't watch certain films or tv shows.

Here we meet junkies, researchers, office workers, school kids and more - all of whom have been given enough of a tale to stop me skipping any of the stories, but not enough to have me jumping ahead to make sure they come out OK or to want to meet them again. So, nothing that really engaged me and I wouldn't agree with the rave review quotes on the jacket either. I'll maybe try something else of his if I see it cheap (or venture into the Library) but I'm not exactly rushing to Amazon.

Far more enjoyable (and back in the real world of non-fiction) was Seb Hunter's memoir Hell Bent For Leather. As may have been made obvious by posts about music, I do like a bit of the old heavy metal and Seb lived the lifestyle to the full. Born the same year as me, he picked up a guitar and made use of it rather than just listening in from the sides. Never made it big, so I can't comment on whether any of his bands were any good, but a real page-turner to find out what happened next. (And I've just spotted his website here which has MP3s, so will have to investigate those later - and he has more books I will now have to order). My only problem was that I bought this in Canada so it is a North American edition, edited for that market. Surely they can cope with the London Underground being referred to as that (or the Tube) and don't need every reference changing to the Subway? And other such cross-culturalism.

Anyhow, this brought back loads of memories for me relating how I felt about the same bands, clothes, magazines etc that Hunter mentions and has also made me dig out several old tapes to add to the "find this on CD or at least digitise it" pile. Recommended for anyone who has ever liked a guitar played loud.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dangerous Reading

Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
We watched the first part of choir-master Gareth Malone's new TV series last night - the Dangerous School For Boys. A fairly laudible attempt to improve the literacy levels of primary school boys who are lagging behind the girls across the country. He has taken over the boys from two year groups at an Essex primary school and is attmpting to get them more engaged with each other and the contents of books, poems etc with the aim of boosting the overall reading age by six months in the space of 8 weeks.

It looked like an interesting project, and what he has done so far did appear to be helping towards self confidence and expression for most of the lads involved. There was some negativity from the teachers, but I do feel he will be hampered mostly by the parents of the boys if anyone is going to drag the work down.

Now I know that when I was that age there were only three tv channels and all we had in the way of a computer was a ZX81, which when compared to the amount and quality of distractions available today may as well not have even existed. But the few parental interviews we saw appeared to back up the theory expressed by the boys themselves that reading and writing is boring. My view at that age was the polar opposite.

The first time my Mum pushed me into town in the pram she called in at the Library and I got my first membership card at less than a month old, never looking back. I would read and read all the time from as soon as I could get through a book on my own. In fact our primary school had "infant" and "junior" libraries and I was into the junior one a year or more before being old enough.

Yes I still watched tv, yes I played about on the computer, but there was always a book waiting for me. From Thomas the Tank Engine through Arthur Ransome and on to WIllard Price and more I have no idea how many books I devoured and re-read countless times before the age of 11.

Maybe it was parents and teachers who encouraged me, maybe I was just naturally a reader, but that's what I did whenever I had a spare moment. Which is why although I will watch the rest of the series, I'm not sure I'll be able to fully understand why those youngsters don't read.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Clacton Pier and other diversions

Clacton Pier
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Just had a week or so off to host MrsB's sister and hubby over from Canada. Always good to see them and we really don't mind putting them up and ferrying them about as they always do the same for us when we head west. But the phrase "back to work for a rest" has never seemed more appropriate!

Unfortunately Stuart weas suffering from a dreadful cold/cough/throat infection which did limit our activities a bit but we did manage to squeeze in a trip to Norwich (pastures new for them) as well as the regular places they like to visit. I'm not sure why, but Clacton is one of these. We end up there quite often anyway as we friends nearby, and I even did a couple of weeks holiday cover at the Argos branch however many years ago that was, but I'm still not certain what it is that draws us back. Other than a pier you can still walk out on I can't think of anything they have that you can't get or do in Felixstowe.

Maybe it is just that - a day out but to somewhere with a familiar feel and no worries.

Anyway, they are now up in Scotland, we are getting used to a house with just the two of us again and I'm not really sure where else this post is going, so will stop!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thunder God

Thunder God
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
As a result of staff sickness and holidays I got called up at short notice to help run our stall at the Lowestoft air festival last Friday. What a real blow that was to go back to my old publicity routes and deal with the public face to face!

Actually, we only had quite straightforward questions to deal with - nobody shouting about poor service or wasting public money (which I was expecting) or things not working etc. But to counter that it did chuck it down most of the afternoon (luckily we have an awning on our publicity van) with three other attendees getting struck by lightning.

So, I got to see quite a bit of the show as well as an incredible cross-section of the general public who came to see it. (Some of them can be seen on flickr by clicking on the Vulcan and wandering around the airshow set) . And jolly good it was too. This seems to be becoming my year of sky-watching as this now makes three events already attended with the prospect of one or two more to come. But that wasn't what I was going to waffle about. Yes this is the intro to another list...

The Vulcan up there is possibly the loudest thing I have ever heard. Even half a mile out to sea those four Olympus engines were still enough to make the ground shake and rattle the fillings. I've been trying to think of anything I've experienced that has come close, and come up with:

Other planes - obviously enough. I have been at the business end of the runway at RAF Lakenheath, been overflown by Concorde and other jets but don't recall the racket being quite that awesome.

Iron Maiden in concert.

Standing next to the actual bell known as Big Ben (not just from the street below) at the striking of the hour. Which was strangely muted - I think it needs to surrounding buildings and air to amplify and echo the famous bongs into what you hear from outside.

The cat, snoring.

Various roadworks.

Next door doing DIY (or indeed going up and down the stairs).

Downstairs neighbours at our old flat in the throes of passion...

But nothing like that gorgeous piece of flying technology, so recently brought back to life.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Toy Stories

When we were shopping at the weekend there was a child absolutely breaking his heart and sobbing for England because he wasn't allowed a Buzz Lightyear figure. While I can remember desperately wanting similar stuff around that age (especially when "everybody else" had one) I don't recall ever having hysterics in public over them. I could be wrong of course, probably the mind blocks that sort of thing out in the child, while the parents will recall the grief and embarrasment of dragging a screaming child away away from something plastic.

Right now, while I would give a lot for a computer that just worked (an update to our anti-virus software seems to have buggered up the ability to connect to the interwebs) I'm not about to have a tantrum over it. And I can happily live with the knowledge that there will be a new Iron Maiden album out on Monday without having to be at HMV for the store opening (of course, if I get the computer sorted I coukld order it to arrive on Monday!). Maybe that's just an age thing, but even the stuff I really wanted as a kid I could generally wait for rather than having to own it right now.

I don't think we were hard done by at all, but here are some of the things I really wanted when younger that I never did get to own...

Lego Railways - We had an old Hornby 3-rail system that had been Dad's and was got out from time to time but at some point he sold it. I can't recall why now, and am sure the intention was to update with a modern set but this never happened. At the same time Lego started doing their train sets and these seemed like the absolute business to me. Not only could you do what you liked with the track, but you could make your own trains as well. Mind you, I also used to read Railway Modeller magazine every month (they got it in the school library - I wasn't bad enough to buy it myself) and would have been just as happy with a non re-buildable system.

Scalextric - My brother had a rip-off slot racing thing with blue track that was great fun for what it was, but there was no way of buying extra track so we were limited to a couple of different layouts. And it was battery powered rather than mains, so never lasted long before the cars were slowing down of their own accord.

Radio control cars - Again, little brother had one or two that were fun enough in their own way, but what I really wanted was a Tamiya kit jobby. High performance, fast and dangerous! Assorted friends had their Superchamp, Wild WIlly, Audio Quattro and Opel something or other models which were great for the half hour or so the batteries lasted when I could get a go, but to have my own would have been bliss.

Hmmm, something of a transport theme here. I also craved some Star Wars space ships to go with the action figures that we did manage to collect but these were all out of our price range. I'm sure there was other stuff, but that's another post...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fiction Fatigue

Oh, go on then
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Just finished reading Julian May's "Boreal Moon" trilogy and it has been a bit of an effort. OK, so the three books total over 1500 pages and I have kept to the fiction/non-fiction rotation for my main reading (thus not counting "breakfast books", audio and other general page turning) but they seemd to take an age to get through. I've always enjoyed a good fantasy epic, and a whole new world from an author I have enjoyed for many eyars should have been a treat that would normally be raced through.

And yet, I found myself struggling to stay interested at times and even considered dropping written fiction for a while. The "world" felt right, had some novel twists on use of magic and didn't rely on a novice or suchlike to guide the reader through the system, simply got on with things without too much explanation. Normally that would have me racing through to find out what happened next, but more times than I care to admit I left the book alone and read something else instead for a day or two.

This has been the case with a few other works of fiction of late, but not all. Maybe I'm finally growing up and getting more discerning (I hope not!) but I haven't found myself bored when listening to stuff of much the same ilk. I certainly don't want to give up stories just yet - I do still love a good tale, however it is told (case in point, I thought the new version of Sherlock on the BBC last night was excellent, and am thinking I need to read the originals one of these days as while I have dipped in from time to time, and experienced assorted adaptations I haven't really spent proper time with the source material).

Perhaps I just need to throw some shorter books into the mix for the summer, then go back to the epics when I can curl up by the fire and not feel guilty about time I could be out and about/in the garden/washing the car etc.

Oh, and yes, the picture is a section of our collectionm, not one found just to illustrate the post!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Advertiser of plays.

Better late than never, I can recall that we did manage to experience the Eastern Angles production "Bentwater Roads" last week and thoroughly enjoyed it. If it hadn't now finished I would recommend anyone within range snapping up tickets, but I'm afraid I rather missed the boat with that idea.

Anyway, the plot concerned a girl returning home to Suffolk on inheriting the family house along with vignettes from history of the location (Pagan, Middle Ages, Cold War). Which is what I really want to write about.

Billed as a site-specific production, the play was performed in the Hush House at the former Bentwaters Air Base. This being a hanger used for testing jet engines by the USAF during their years on site. It is a very distinctive space - part hanger, part tunnel of corrugated metal and I really would like the chance to wander around it with a camera and without the added scenery, lights, seats etc that made it usable for the drama. The tunnel made a good additional stage entrance, allowing dramatic processions etc to appear from the rear while using the hanger floor rather than adding a raised stage meant the camper van (as pictured on promotional duties) was also able to make an appearance. It also had the advantage of being effectively in the middle of nowhere by virtue of being on the far side of the airfield from the main gate, and also very close to Wantisden church, which also featured in the story, and looked lovely lit up when we cmae out. Must try to visit there in the day time. An actual review here.

Having said that though, I guess the show would work almost as well elsewhere as the location and natural features of the building could be glossed over. Unlike a site-specific play we saw at Landguard Fort in Felixstowe which used several rooms and the courtyard and had the audience moving between them with the actors.

Now to book tickets for the Christmas show.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Back in business

Just a quick picture from the free air display we had on Sunday to commemorate various RAF anniverseries, which provided a good hour of entertainment at a price we could hardly refuse.

And also to make sure this is working after a week with no broadband...

Thursday, July 08, 2010

New motor

New motor
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
As intimated in the last post, we finally took the plunge that had been threatening for a year or so and consigned the Escort to the great scrap heap in the sky. A pity we couldn't afford a brand new car while the scrappage scheme was still running, but such are the whims of finance. But having hummed and ha'd since February when the annual road tax came along I finally got my act in gear to have a proper look a couple of weeks ago when a spot of vigourous washing caused bits to fall off.

And now we have jumped from the ship of Ford (three Escorts and a Fiesta have ferried me from A to B since I passed my test) and hitched ourselves to a Citroen C3. That one in the picture there. OK, so it's no supercar but it gets me around just fine, and I do like the looks. Plus I'm quite pleased with the £30 road tax and lack of thirst. A little bit noisy from the tyres at speed, but that's easy to live with compared to the money we were blowing just to keep the old one going.

My only worry now is that I seem to have chosen a car based on economy and value and reliability and, well, boring stuff. Yes, it is quite curvy but we still have a small hatchback on our hands not some fire breathing monster you need a shoehorn to get in and out of. Having finally reached the stage in life where I could afford to have a serious go at a nippy two-seater convertible I've gone all sensible. And I've still got 7½ months until my 40th Birthday.

What next? Blue Harbour slacks with an elasticated waistband here I come.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pungency of cleanliness

Why do bag-using vaccuum cleaners have such a distinctive smell? The cleaner has just come and sucked up rubbish from my desk area and the whiff of the cleaner takes me straight back to my Mum's old Hoover. Which was actually a hoover and not just a case of us using the generic name for floor sucking devices. That was a venerable old upright with a green cloth bag that the paper dust bags went into and had the same distinctive odour when in use that has just filled the office. We had one in a shared-house at college that also emanated the same noxious essences. Not something I particularly miss from our Dyson.

All very quiet here at the moment with loads of projects sitting in limbo while public sector finances get sorted out so nothing else thrilling to write just now. Although I am also waiting for the phone to ring and a chap to tell me when I can pick my new car up as we finally took the plunge last night and signed on the dotted line to replace the rusting Escort. More on that another day.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Holiday thoughts

OK, so I had a week off and never got round to writing anything. But I did think about what to write now that I do make it happen.

MrsB had a week in Spain with her sister and a couple of friends while I stayed at home (but did at least take the time off work, unlike last year when she went to the same place). I also had some days out which we won't mention other than pointing to the pictures of Maldon, Norwich and the Bentwaters Airshow...

Anyway, I'd been thinking about holidays past for a couple of weeks after a day out with friends saw us up on the North Norfolk Coast at Sherringham (as pictured here). Not the most exciting of places, and indeed this is not the most exciting of photos either (but click it for more on flickr if you like) but it brought back a flood of memories for me.

We had several holidays in the vicinity when I was small (see the evidence) and seeing this archway to the beach made me remember:

Hours digging in the sand creating what we termed Water Works. Lots of interconnected pools that we would send water scurrting around from a bucket.

Eating and enjoying fresh prawns in a pub garden, but I can't bring myself to eat them at all these days.

A summer house/shed affair in the garden of the place we stayed at a couple of times. It seemed much more exciting than any shed has reason to be and was a great place to play on rainy days.

Berol pens.

Those shops you only got at seaside resorts in the 70s, where you could buy buckets and spades, anything you like covered in sea shells, toys and sweets composed entriely of e numbers. I know similar ones exist today, but they aren't the same.

Walking through country lanes without worrying about traffic.

Seeing a mole scurrying down one of those lanes in broad daylight.

Seemingly endless journeys in the back of the car to get there (hello Ford Cortina, Hillman Minx, Chrysler 180 and Alpine) with a pile of comics to keep us entertained.

And more that has escaped me in the last few days.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Nothing to say, just wanting to celebrate custard creams.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


Beach Hut view
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
So the episode of Duncan Bannatyne's Seaside Rescue filmed last year in Felixstowe finally hit our screens courtesy of Virgin 1 this week. Up against the first episode of Luther and amid the election overload I have no idea how many people managed to watch it, but there was a reasonable reaction on radio Suffolk the next morning. In the end I was pleasantly surprised by the result, not nearly as horrendous as it could have been.

Previous episodes in the series have tried to turn around the fortunes of struggling attractions elsewhere, many of which have really been on their last legs and in need of serious investment. And it was not made clear in any of the shows we have seen where the investment actually came from - Duncan himself, the production company, the owners of the sites or what. There was a bit of a hint in the suggestion that Charlie Manning repaint his main building, and he did refer on the show and post-broadcast to the cost of that being too great as well as being a bit difficult to acheive during the season.

For Felixstowe the show took a different direction, focusing on three different elements of our south sea front and helping with their image rather than the content or experience on offer. Some of the suggestions worked well, others were not taken up or just not practical but on the whole I think all three have seen a boost in trade. Certainly a lot of what was discussed is still in place eight months on.

I was disappointed that no mention was made of the other events that happen throughout the summer (including the two previous days mentioned in my earlier post) and there was not much discussion of the other parts of the town. I now the "story" of the show was the three businesses, but a bit of context would have been nice - especially if the aim as stated in a talk to various council people was to help put Felixstowe back on the holiday map.

And events are still going on. Sunday was the annual historic vehicle run (also mentioned before) which suffered from dreadful weather but still pulled a few people out. Then on Monday we had a fun run and the launch of a new coastal walk themed on our Martello Towers.

MrsB had to work, but I indulged in a walking tour of the south seafront (intended to be 45 minutes, it lasted over 90 and was fascinating) as well as a trip around Tower P from where the view above was snapped. More picks by clicking through to Flickr if you are so inclined.

My conclusion - Felixstowe is still doing OK!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

(Semi)Traumatic TV

Been wondering for a couple of days what to write about the BBC drama Five Daughters, based on the Ipswich Murders of 2006. Hard to believe it was that long ago and yet still so fresh in the memory.

Being able to see the red light district from the office, and having the court opposite where Steve Wright was tried it was inevitable that we would get caught up in the events much more than if they had happened in a different town or even if we had been in a different office. At various points in both the investigations and the trial there were more TV crews hanging around our place than you could shake a stick at. So it was a bit strange to see it all brought back to life again in the name of entertainment. Because lets face it, no matter how worthy a programme is, TV exists to entertain rather than educate or inform these days.

Saying that both MrsB and I enjoyed the three-parter sounds odd, but hopefully you discerning readers will know what I mean. Trying to see it objectively, it was a compelling piece of viewing, and the fact that we got to see the background rather than the sensation was a superb choice of direction for the series. It did take me a bit of "suspension of disbelief" to fully appreciate the re-telling for what it was and to stop my brain screaming out that the locations were wrong (it was filmed in Bristol, whcih doesn't exactly match what I can see from the window here) or the Police people not being lookalikes of the real ones, but then in some ways that helped me to get beyond the bits I already knew.

Well worth catching up with on i-player while you still can.

And it has also helped refresh people of the great work the charities and other organisations have been doing for the last few years to tackle the issues that lead to the deaths. Hopefully they can keep it up and will benefit from a bit of renewed support.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Haunted by the past

Despite it now being over 12 years since I stopped working there (and indeed at least four now since they chucked Joan out as well), I am still having recurring dreams about going back to work at Argos. These nearly always feature the Felixstowe or Newmarket branches, which are the two where I had the happier moments of that part of my career, rather than say Ipswich or Stowmarket where things were not so rosy. I guess that must be significant one way or another but I'm not sure I want to delve too deply to find out more.

Of course, dreams being what they are, the representations of the stock rooms I used to manage tend to have unexpected extensions, increased floor space or indeed whole other floors attached which would have been very useful when I was trying to squeeze new product lines in each catalogue changeover. And in every case the dream narrative always makes it clear that I am going back to do them a favour/sort out a mess that people after me have made and that whatever crap I suffered in the past won't happen again.

Now I know I left there because my final manager ground me into a quivering wreck, and I guess this is an element of my subconcious trying to make it up to me, but really. Who wants to dream about work at all? Surely I should be flying, or slaying dragons, or living it up or soemthing exciting at night. Not stacking boxes, emptying pallets and counting stock.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sunshine at last!

Well, it sure is nice to have had some proper blue skies again after weeks of interminable greyness whenever I have wanted to go out and exercise my camera muscles. I hope whoever was on that plane in the pic ended up somewhere nice, or they'll be kicking themselves for missing out on our sunshine.

Not that I have restricted myself to only going out with the camera when clouds aren't about, just that it is much nicer to have blue skies in the shots! Anyone wanting to see more recent things can always click on the picture to end up at Flickr for exciting bus pictures and the like!

Mind you, my thoughts have also been turned on to getting out and about by two recent books.

1 - The Tent, the Bucket & Me by Emma Kennedy. Hilarious recollections of childhood camping holidays, all of which feature assorted disasters and serve to remind me how lucky I was growing up. Unlike the Kennedy clan, our holidays were never under canvas (a school sailing trip to the broads and a cub camp don't count) and we generally ended up on the Norfolk coast rather than Wales or France. Makes me want to go for a look around and see how places have changed though.

2 - Map Addict by Mike Parker. This does pretty much what it says on the tin and looks at all sorts of maps of the UK, focussing mainly on the work of the Ordnance Survey, as well as those who collect them, live by them and so forth. Although I'm not a huge owner of maps, I love to look at them and can easily lose a few hours with an atlas or even a humble street map. The addition of the rest of the UK to Google street view recently is killing me with glimpses of places I have only ever seen as a collection of lines and symbols before and I am planning day trips by the score.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Going back in time

Richard Digance
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
So last night we went to see Richard Digance here in Felixstowe. He comes along to the Spa Pavillion every couple of years to take us all back to the mid-80s, when he first came to prominence, with an acoustic guitar and a good sense of humour. Terribly unfashionable of course, and if it wasn't for my brother I'd normally be the youngest person in the audience (although last night there were a couple of mere pups obviously dragged along by parents), but always good value.

Our tastes don't always agree when it comes to comedy, so it is nice to go out with the whole family and have my folks laugh as much as Joan and I do at the same things.

There is never a huge turnout at the Spa Pavillion for his shows, and he often tells us that although the numbers are small, they are at least consistant and he enjoys coming here. I know most entertainers probably say that at most places they play regularly, but I do get the impression that he means it in this case. I don't think I would ever go and see him anywhere else though, as if that is an illusion I don't want it shattered! And yes, I appreciate that this is a terrible picture, but the best I could snatch!

Definitely staying in tonight though for the return of Ashes to Ashes, then Dr Who tomorrow. I may just have to spend all day lying down in a darkened room to stop myself getting too excited.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Which way now?

Which way now?
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Been stuck in a rut of not knowing what to write about that would lift things since the last post's negativity, so here's another post that doesn't know where it is going either!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Things just seem to go wrong

Having replaced the washing machine just after Christmas, in the last couple of weeks we have suffered from a dead dishwasher, dead telly and dead broadband and I've also had terrible toothache and lost the offending gnasher (first casualty in the war against empty gums which I talked about a couple of weeks ago).

Any one of these could have been coped with on its own, but arriving in close proximity was not fun on the old stress levels. And although replacing things (well, not the tooth!) has been expensive we did at least have cash in the bank so haven't got thoughts of repayments to dampen the future.

So, the old JVC 36 inch CRT has been replaced with a really rather nice Sharp 40" LED/LCD flat jobby. Having been generally unimpressed with "New" screens in shops and other people's homes I am pleased to say that with a bit of tweaking on the settings I have got this one to produce a nice, balanced picture with the colours at a suitable level of restraint. And as Mr Murdoch is now giving us a free box and free installation there is a man coming to upgrade us to Sky HD on Saturday. We decided after the trauma of having to upgrade the TV we may as well get the most out of it.

The dishwasher, hoever is more of a pain. After the old one died (taking our electricity with it, praise be for trip switches) we ordered a nice new one (Ariston, with a stonking great reduction on it from the same local firm as did us a good deal on the telly). They happily delivered but refused to install as it needed a hole cutting in the cupboard under the sink as this has larger connectors. When this was resolved and turned on the new one began chucking water all over the floor in minutes. Not good. nothing to do with loose pipes, this is a genuine fault with a brand new appliance. Fortunately they concur and are sending another one this week, but not quick enough for our liking. And the hardboard under the lino has warped with the soaking. Grrrr.

The tooth turned out to have shorter than average roots in a bit of bone that has eroded more than anywhere else in my mouth, so had to go. Annoying as it was otherwise perfectly healthy and unfilled. Still, pain all gone and I can eat crusty bread again.

Now the broadband signal has died. 20 minutes on the phone to India last night proved it is nothing to do with our router (or my reserve ADSL modem), micro filters, extension leads etc so definitely a BT problem. Wonder how long they will take to fix that.

And another funeral of a colleague tomorrow.

Not a happy bunny right now, so hopefully better news next time!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Time spent in Bondage

I've gradually re-read (or in some cases read for the first time) the entire Bond series over the last couple of years and loved every word. I did think of blasting through them one after the other (as I will often do with a good ongoing Epic) but as the links from tale to tale are often tenuous or non-existent I decided a steady drip-feed would be more interesting.

Thunderball and Dr No are closest to the films, but they really need to be forgotten about if you have never looked at the books before (Roger Moore in a Safari Suit is as far removed from the original Bond as Adam West as Batman is from Christian Bale). Fleming's Bond in these pages is a much more believeable person, inhabiting a world where the threats are real rather than being designed to draw in the crowds to the cinema and wow people with extravagant set design.

As the series goes on there are more links with the "real" world of the time (unless I just don't recognise the references earlier on) but despite the previous paragraph they are still definitely fantasy rather than full-blown detective procedural. Mind you, I do wonder why a so-called Secret Agent uses his real name so much. To the point that every organisation he comes up against knows his history and weaknesses etc with a full dossier to be slapped onto the head honcho's desk at an appropriate point in the narrative.

The books are also very much of their time when it comes to racial and sexual attitudes, but taking that into account they are gripping page turners and I can highly recomend them to anyone who has never dipped a toe in the waters.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Clary, Clary, Quite Contrary

As mentioned last month, we saw Mr Julian Clary last week in Ipswich. He was, as expected, really rather funny and not a little but rude. From his entrance on roller skates (add your own double entendres throughout!) to a demonstration of psychic powers he was at his campest and seemed pretty much on form. Not sure if he was truly giving us his all, but he certainly gave a good impression of putting everything into his performance. And anyone who can make a few titbits from the local paper that funny has to be worth a round of applause or two.

The only downer on the night was the fact that I had forgotten the Ipswch Corn Exchange does not bring in proper banked seating for events that require bums to be planted. So the view from the middle of the flat floor was not all that impressive. Must remember to go right to the back couple of rows or the balcony another time if seats in the first few are sold out.

Oh, and contrary to what I said in that earlier post, I now remember I have attended a professional comedy gig once before. David Baddiel and Rob Newman in Felixstowe itself back in 1991 or 2. Will try not to leave it 18 years until next time!

Monday, February 22, 2010


Protest 1
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
So how did I spend my birthday yesterday? Mostly getting soaked through to the skin marching along the sea front in order to try and save the Blue Cross centre here in Felixstowe which is threatened with closure. Something to do with the charity wanting to concentrate resources elsewhere and the current site not being suitable for expansion.

As we got our cats from there (Barney RIP and Tawny very much still with us) we felt duty-bound to show our support along with 300 or so others. There is a real feeling in the local press that this shouldn't be allowed to happen, and I hope all the efforts people are going to (not just this one small demonstration) make the decision makers see what a valuable resource our centre is. They may not be able to get bigger, but they do a great job locally and it would be a real shame to lose it.

Oh, we went out for a lovely meal in the evening after drying out again and I got lots of nice presents as well!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My disreputable jaws

Yup, that's a plaster cast of my lower jaw. Taken recently in order to make a custom gumshield to help prevent nocturnal tooth grinding which is making my already unhelpfully deep pockets deeper. That's pockets around the teeth you understand, where stuff can get trapped and erode away at the roots. Although as I seem to spend a fortune on dentists every year they must think I have deep pockets elsewhere too.

Back in the first wave of this blog (2003 late summer to autumn if anyone feels like looking back, I can't be bothered to dig out the entries!) I had my jawbone rebuilt (upper and lower) with bone grafts as I have naturally dissolving issues. It was not fun and set me back over a grand which we could ill afford, but decided to go for it. I was predicted to be full of gaps/false teeth by now otherwise so I think it was worth both the expense and the pain. (Some might say I would at least then end up with straight teeth, as these are a bit wonky!)

Anyway, I now get to see the hygenist every 3 months to be tortured and recently she noticed a new pocket developing which has been put down to pressure caused by teeth clenching and grinding at night. So now there is a plastic layer between my jaws as I snooze (click on the pic to go to flickr if you want to see that too!) which I am slowly getting used to.

Nothing thrilling to add to that, just a glimpse into my life and fulfilling the promise last time to talk about teeth! I hit 39 on Sunday so will no doubt think of something about age for a forthcoming post.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Links where they may not exist

Is it just me or is it totally unsurprising when links turn up between disparate items these days? Maybe I have been sensitised to it by recent media coverage (e.g. the London copper who
yesterday got sentenced for framing an innocent man turned out of have a history of "issues" and blemishes on his record that had been overlooked by him claiming harassment, and an article sent to me about a murder of a black kid by a white one in Seattle) but I am seeing elements of racism and racial politics everywhere I turn at the moment.

I feel totally unqualified to comment on the matter, as apart from my brother-in-law (and son) and the people in the Chinese takeaway at the end of the road my life is whiter than white. Not
through choice, there just isn't anyone else from any other ethnic background living nearby, working in my department, driving my bus, selling me groceries or just hanging around street corners trying to engage with me. It has been the same old story most of my life, and I have a deep ingrained feeling that I ought to do something about it, but then that would just be tokenism.

Anyway, what I meant to say was that the matter has cropped up in three of my latest, totally unconnected books. In the worlds of fiction the last two I read were Terry Pratchett's Nation and Dr Who tie-in Sting Of The Zygons. The former sees a young white girl stranded on a pseudo-Polynesian Island (in a parallel universe) and covers culture clashes, colonial attitudes and differences between religion and science in a generally lighthearted manner. The Who book, sees the Doctor and Martha thrown into 1910 Scotland with Martha receiving backhanded comments and snide looks from establishment figures. Both of these are ostensibly children's books and there is nothing overt or too offensive in the attitudes portrayed, but they both struck a chord.

The question is, would they have registered with me in this way if I hadn't simultaneously been listening to part three of Simon Schama's History of Britain? Throughout the three volumes, as we have seen the empire growing etc, he has covered the appalling treatment Britain inflicted on conquered peoples in a manner that makes me uncomfortable about descending from those times. OK, there is nothing in there I haven't come across before in other texts, lessons, tv shows and so forth but coming across all three references to the subject in close succession has rammed it home once more.

So, is everything interconnected? Do we just see links between things and events when they don't really exist or am I just being a tad sensitive? Answers on a postcard or sealed antelope...

I'll talk about teeth or something less thought-provoking next time!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Mobile test.

Just seeing if I can blog from my phone.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Left on the shelf

As I have now found time to sort out the stats, here are the the surprising number of books I managed to get through last year. Those marked * were audio, which I get through on the way to work, when travelling to meetings or site visits etc which helps the total numbers no end!

A few comments to add along the way, and more on some of the others another day. Oh, and these are in order of finishing them which may go some way to explaining how there are groups of audio or paper together at random. Some weeks I just don't have time for one type or the other.

Ian Fleming - Goldfinger
David Eddings - Enchanter's End Game* (the series wrapped over the year break)
Gareth Roberts - Doctor Who: I Am A Dalek
Stuart Maconie - Pies And Prejudice
Martin Wainwright - Morris Minor: The Biography
David Eddings - Guardians Of The West*
J. K. Rowling - The Tales Of Beedle The Bard (I came to the Potter books after being talked into a group outing to see the first film and while I found the series quite derivative and the later books full of padding did enjoy them)
David Quantick - Grumpy Old Men On Holiday
Andy Summers - One Train Later (possibly the best music book I have yet encountered)
David Eddings - King Of The Murgos*
Ian Fleming - For Your Eyes Only
David Eddings - Demon Lord Of Karanda*
Bill Watterson - There's Treasure Everywhere (Calvin and Hobbes is the greatest comic strip ever created and while I applaud Watterson for dropping out rather than be mega-exploited I'd kill for some more)
Bill Bryson - Neither Here Nor There
David Eddings - Sorceress Of Darshiva*
David Eddings - Seeress Of Kell*
Bill Watterson - It's A Magical World
Douglas Adams & Mark Carwardine - Last Chance To See* (Thought I had best re-visit this one before the Stephen Fry tv series aired)
Bram Stoker - Dracula (this was read in deliberate preparation for Paul Bibeau below)
David & Leigh Eddings - Belgarath The Sorcerer*
Andrew Collins - That's Me In The Corner
Mike Tucker - Doctor Who: The Nightmare Of Black Island (I have no problem with tv tie-ins if the story is gripping enough)
Mike Mullane - Riding Rockets
Ian Fleming - Thunderball (you may have picked up a pattern by now - more in a future post on this)
David & Leigh Eddings - Polgara The Sorceress*
Tim Fountain - Rude Britannia
David & Leigh Eddings - The Rivan Codex (Couldn't get this in audio so had to actually read it myself!)
Bob Kane et al - The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told Vol 2 (along with C&H I started to go back over comic collections as an alternative to magazines to accompany my breakfasts)
Paul Bibeau - Sundays With Vlad
Terry Brooks - First King Of Shannara*
Stephen Cole - Doctor Who: The Art Of Destruction
Nigel Slater - Toast
Ian Fleming - The Spy Who Loved Me
Jeremy Clarkson - Don't Stop Me Now
Terry Brooks - The Sword Of Shannara*
Terry Brooks - The Elfstones Of Shannara*
Bob Kane et al - Batman Vs The Riddler & Two-Face
Kim Stanley Robinson - The Years Of Rice & Salt (a hard slog but worth it)
Terry Brooks - The Wishsong Of Shannara*
Giles Chapman & Richard Porter - Top Gear: My Dad Had One Of Those (these were "Breakfast books" as well)
Don Hale - Mallard
Colin Brake - Doctor Who: The Price Of Paradise
Terry Pratchett - The Colour Of Magic*
Matt Master - Top Gear's Midlife Crisis Cars
Andrew Collins - Where Did It All Go Right?*
Terry Pratchett - The Light Fantastic*
Ben Fogle - The Teatime Islands
David Eddings - The Diamond Throne*
Ian Fleming - On Her Majesty's Secret Service
David Eddings - The Ruby Knight*
Bill Bryson - A Walk In The Woods
David Eddings - The Sapphire Rose*
Brian Augustyn et al - Batman: Gotham By Gaslight
Terry Pratchett - Equal Rites*
Peter Ashley - Pubs And Inns
Bruce Sterling - Schismatrix Plus
Terry Brooks - The Scions Of Shannara*
Terrance Dicks - Doctor Who: Made Of Steel
Terry Brooks - The Druid Of Shannara*
Richard Fortey - Dry Store Room No. 1
Terry Brooks - The Elf Queen Of Shannara*
Alan Witton - ECW Buses And Coaches (As made in Lowestoft, and a crying shame that the factory was replaced by a retail park)
Ian Fleming - You Only Live Twice
Tim Fitzhigham - In The Bath
Frank Miller et al - Batman: Year One
Mike Barr et al - Batman: Year Two
Terry Brooks - The Talismans Of Shannara*
Terry Pratchett - Mort*
Eric Clapton - The Autobiography* (read by Bill Nighy, who has the right sort of voice for the job, but I can't get the hang of something as personal as an autobiography not being read by the author!)
Jacquline Rayner - Doctor Who: The Last Dodo
Charlotte Morgan & Stan Fowler - The Little Book Of Camper Van
Richard Porter - Top Gear: Crap Cars
Simon Schama - A History of Britain I: At the Edge of the World? - 3000 BC-AD 1603*
Christopher Winn - I Never Knew That About London
Neil Oliver - Coast: From The Air
Dan Kieran & Ian Vince - Three Men In A Float (Lowestoft to Land's End in a milk float, absolutely hilarious!)
Simon Schama - A History of Britain II: British Wars 1603-1776*
Brian Minchin - Torchwood: The Sin Eaters* (I took an audio break for a month after this due to being in Canada and having no guaranteed listening time)
Ian Fleming - The Man With The Golden Gun (and so we end the year where we came in...)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Not staying in

Although I'm not really one for New Year's Resolutions, I did decide while we were away that we need to get out and do more things during 2010. Not that we spend all night every night slumped in front of the telly or banging away at the keyboard - it just seems like most of them! I think it was partly realising that while we were in Canada we were out and about a bit more than we would be here. Now, I know some of that is the being on holiday syndrome, or there being more shops open late or just having relatives on hand with ideas of things to do, but we were definitely doing stuff. Here we seem to fall into a routine of, for example, shopping on a Sunday when we could just as easily go of an evening and then have the whole Sunday to do something else, go somewhere etc.

To that end we were out on Saturday night with friends for a nice meal and then to see Mansfield Park And Ride, the Christmas show from local theatre group Eastern Angles. The brief description on their page only gives a very faint flavour of the evening of laughs that awaited us. A quality cast of five managing to squeeze in at least 12 roles between them, song, dance and lots of breaking the fourth wall. Although as we saw them in a venue with seats on two sides of the stage I guess they broke the third one as well. We have heard good reviews of the Christmas shows in the past just never managed to catch them. This year I am very glad we did.

MrsB is a huge fan of the costume drama as perfected by the BBC, and I have been known to enjoy them from time to time as well (and sit politely through others!) so a send up of the genre was bound to make us laugh. Unlike any of the works of the Austens, Brontes or Dickens of this world it was set in the Ipswich Area and thus poked gentle fun at the Park & Ride services I look after in my daily life. And of course any play where the characters complain about the lack of production budget has to be worth seeing.

I am now very tempted by a show they are putting on at the old Bentwaters airfield in the summer which I am sure will not be a comedy but still worth investigating. In fact it sounds similar to something we saw at Landguard Fort here in Felixstowe last year which also featured a small cast in numerous roles, acting on the move between different rooms and ghosts.

Oh, and I popped out at lunch time to get tickets for Julian Clary next month. Never seen a proper stand-up in the flesh so this will be a first for both of us. Hopefully not a last.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The glories of the A&W Mama burger

While many people will probably disagree, the North American continent is not generally known for amazing cuisine and is more likely to be associated with fast food, huge steaks and huger people eating them. Although I can't exactly disagree with that general diagnosis we did have some very nice meals over in that Canada so here's a bit about some of the places we ate.

A&W - bill themselves as the home of the burger family, and for a fast food outlet I think they do pretty well. If nothing else they get credit for not putting ice in the drinks (as they reckon they are cold enough to start with) and the burgers have an actual beefiness about them.

Swiss Chalet - no longer have the waitresses dressed as Swiss milk maids, but for a chain restaurant do good quality food at reasonable prices. Their speciality is rotisserie chicken in various formats, my favourite being the gravy smothered classic sandwich, and they have a trademark dipping sauce which I'm not keen on. Part of a group which also includes:

Harveys - a slightly more upmarket burger joint where they take the time to assemble your beef in a bun in front of you, allowing your own choice of pickles, relishes, salad items etc. This was also where I finally got round to having the Canadian speciality Poutine. Which is basically a bowl of chips with gravy and runny cheese on the top. Not a staggering addition to the world of fine dining, but very tasty and warming on a winter's night.

Milestones - also linked to the two above. And a further rung or two up the quality ladder. For example their burgers are made with Kobe beef rather than you average Canadian cow. And they will sell them to you in miniature-slider form as a starter should you so desire. Very nice butternut squash soup as well.

Tim Hortons - the most widespread and successful coffee shop chain in Canada, named for the late Hockey player who started them but now owned by Wendys. Fabulous donuts (mine's a Maple dip), tasty bagels, soup, wraps and so forth. They always seem to have the longest queue of any outlet in a mall food court and there are even a couple of outlets here in the UK now.

I also enjoyed our Greek last supper, cinamon beaver tails (no beaver involved) in Ottawa, Japanese and Chinese lunches and other stuff too.

But the chocolate is still disgusting.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Mountie always gets his reindeer

We went, we saw, we had a Canadian Christmas and we did a lot of shopping. Oh yes, that was an interesting three weeks away. And how come we have been back a week already? Where does the time go? Anyway, we managed to avoid the worst of Britain's Big Freeze (or Snowpocalypse if you prefer) but the start of it did affect our departure...

Travelogue stuff part one!

Ma and Pa very kindly took us down to Gatwick for the flight out, arrival being slightly delayed by frozen screen wash requiring numerous stops in lay-bys and on the hard shoulder to clear vision by hand. Then the plane was delayed by two hours while they cleared the runway and de-iced. Not that I was particularly bothered by that - we had decided to upgrade as a Christmas treat so I was able to sleep through the hanging around in a bit more comfort.

The trip was more intended to be a Christmas celebration with the part of the family we normally only see in warmer months. While my lot are all over here, MrsB has one sister here and the other in Canada. And she has children and grandchildren out there too so we were intending to spend as much time with them as possible rather than necessarily hitting the tourist spots. It certainly started off in fine family form with mother, daughter and grandaughter there to meet us as we fell wearily out of the arrivals gate.

Home for the next three weeks was Sheila and Stuart's house in Burlington. Which for those who have never heard of it is about 45 minutes west of Toronto. And if you keep going west and south another 45 minutes or so you end up staring at Niagara Falls. It is a nice little city with a couple of malls, lots of lovely parks and walks along the lake shore and far too many Canada Geese. S&S's daughter Caroline lives in town as well, with hubby Chris, daughter Bryanna and son Austin so there was lots of catching up with them to do. And from Austin'r point of view meeting us as he was only 6 months last time he was here.

What was missing, however, was snow. When we booked up in August we were told we were mad for going in the winter as there would be so much snow and cold weather that we wouldn't be able to go out half the time and would be stuck in the house. That didn't put us off, of course. And proved to be a false prediction. In fact most of the time we had lovely blue skies, although it struggled to reach freezing most days and lows of up to minus 25 were experienced. Still, Ma and Pa had also given us money for Christmas to buy new coats with, so after a trip to Mapleview Mall and then on to Mark's Work Wearhouse we were sorted for the rest of the trip.

So other than sitting around in various houses what did we get up to?

As intimated, and despite flying out with suitcases full of Christmas present, English sweets, Christmas puddings/cake etc we managed to obtain enough stuff to come back 16kg overweight. So that was the biggest dent on the credit card all holiday. As much as I try to resist when we do end up in the Malls, I seem to have developed a fondness over the years for Old Navy t-shirts. And even with the pound only hitting 1.6 dollars rather than the 2 we have had in the past, the CD prices just make them irresistable.

As can be determined by that photo, we did indeed make it to Niagara Falls for a look at all that unfrozen water. They are always a spectacular sight, especially if you can ignore all the tat up on Clifton Hill and the Casinos. Although Sheila did manage to pocket $1,000+ on the slots while we were wandering around! Even in the sub-zero conditions I could quite happily have spent hours just watching the power of nature at work. Amazing to realise what humble h2o is capable of when left to get on with things. Not that what we see today is all that natural any more with over half of the water running through tunnels and turbine to generate electricity rather than flowing over the top. Still wouldn't fancy the trip over in a barrel though.

A six hour car journey took us up to Ottawa for a few nights with Darrell and Marnie (S&S's son and wife) with their daughter Stevie. That was another first meeting as she was still a bump when we were over there in 2007. Plenty of snow up there (like, 3 or 4 feet in places) so I got to do proper driveway clearing after the snowplough had been past and heaped it all onto the sidewalks. The capital is a lovely city and one of these days we want to go there for a week or more to properly explore it, take in the museums, parliament etc in suitable detail.

We also managed to squeeze in some ice hockey, lots of overdecorated houses, festivals of lights, icewine, more food than was strictly necessary and a brief interlude of bus spotting. Oh, and between us reeled off the best part of 2,000 photos which are slowly being sorted and put up on flickr, so feel free to click on our faces to see more for now and I'll write something else about other parts of the trip next time...