Digital Traveller

I’ve just spent a pleasant weekend away in Ford, near Leek, Staffordshire with family (Sharon’s). We had great weather in great countryside but with no connectivity whatsoever.

i.e. No Internet connection and no phone connection: With all the consequent ‘no’s: no text, no emails, no checking crossword answers on Google, no checking facts for any of my blogs (e.g. Food blog; Saturday blog; Blogger blog amongst irregular others), no researching #SugSnips. It was bliss. Although, that’s quite glib, it WAS bliss, but for how long could I (we) have managed?

I’m writing my notes for this on the Sunday; we got here on Friday and we’ll return home tomorrow – and for me, that’s quite long enough thank you. I’ve managed to turn myself into an information junkie. I always feel that there is always too much information ‘noise’ out there, but when I want to know something – it’s the Internet I turn to. When I want to contact someone, it’s their mobile phone or their email I use – I rarely pick up the land-line ‘for chat’.

That’s me and that’s my problem (and to a lesser extent Sharon’s). But what about the others?

Two sisters in law say they are quite okay without any of the connectivity I crave and with Joanne, that’s more than likely true as she’s not a texter and rarely has her mobile phone with her – but she does use the Internet well for research. And she’s a big time Kindle user. Rosie on the other hand, despite her joking derision of my ‘loss’, has greatly missed her ‘text’ connectivity, having to make several walks up the field behind our cottage to get the sliver of connectivity she needed to keep in touch with her extended family. Unlike me, neither of them ‘need’ connectivity for their work.

We are all of us (society in general) digitally connected, yet we all have different communication needs. From those that have my all-encompassing need to access to the Internet 24/7, through Joanne’s need to have people available on the end of a land-line, to Rosie’s preference to letter writing (with pen and paper).

But we cannot be a completely digital society without complete digital coverage. So, come on service providers – you must do better.

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A quiet month

April never promised to be the busiest month in this year’s calendar and work-wise, that has been particularly true because of the way in which Easter has fallen this year. However, on a social, family and learning front – it has been non-stop rock and roll. See http://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com for more about the social side of April (and especially, Easter).

I started the month by finishing off some City and Guilds Functional Skills ICT marking; all done and dusted by 7th. Earlier, on the 4th, I went into Leeds to meet Lilian Soon, James Clay, John Whalley and Ron Mitchell for a meal and a chat – a fabulous F2F! We talked about all sorts and as always, it’s great to meet these creative friends.

On the 6th, I met Lilian and Ron again (along with many other fun and ‘e’ type chums) at a special Techdis (no longer TechDis) meeting for Accredited Trainers. Then on the 7th, I went over to the Salford TEN centre to join the RM team at a day-long LEGO training session. This session concerned a grown up version of LEGO, not the WeDo version I’ve been playing with in-between everything else this last few weeks.

On the 9th, we realised that the good weather which had started earlier in the week, just wasn’t going to go away – which was good because Sharon and I had to drive up to Glasgow to retrieve her mum Pat. Pat lives in Dothan, Alabama and had been staying up near Plockton, Kyle of Lockalsh visiting her terminally ill sister (Sharon’s aunt). Sadly, her sister had passed away and her nephew David agreed to bring her down to Glasgow for the ‘exchange’. It was a beautiful day and the journey was an absolute delight.

w/c 11th was spent playing with LEGO and carrying out some preparation for work I have coming up in June and July. I have a small piece of work to carry out for RM on their learning platform on the 28th and that’s that for April. Remember to look at http://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com for more ‘Easter’ blogging.

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Snowy Wales

What an unusual and interesting few days we have had.

Sharon and I had originally been invited to Steven and Rosie’s for Christmas: just the four of us with a turkey and lots of trimmings. However, this arrangement had to be altered early in December so we decided to come down and spend time with them a week earlier as Sharon would finish work at lunchtime on Wednesday, in plenty of time for us to set off.

Readers of my Saturday Walks blog will know that we stopped off at Karen and Dave’s en route and that we eventually arrived here at Ty Llwyd on Thursday 16th December. Our plan was to return home Sunday 19th or Monday 20th at the latest. This became impossible because of the weather.

Our problem wasn’t the snow that fell heavily on Wales over Thursday night and Friday, but the lane outside the house, which was like an ice-rink. Everyone around Ty Llwyd has 4WD cars and trucks and as a result we were able to get out on Saturday with Steven in his Subaru, but our Ford Focus didn’t have a chance on that surface.

Since Saturday, the road had worsened as tractors, Utes and trailers have driven up and down the lane, moving sheep and feed up around. As it is 1.5 miles to a main road, in either direction and as the top road wasn’t all that clear itself on Saturday, it was with some trepidation that we set off home on Tuesday morning. As suspected, the Focus went about 10 yards and ground to a halt so we had to continue with Stephen towing us up the hill with Rosie’s 4WD Frontera. Half way was as much as it managed before falling foul of the ice. Luckily, a farmer had seen our plight and offered to tow us with his tractor, which was a hairy but successful trip.

So eventually, we got off and on our way home. As we left Aberystwyth and begun to climb into the mountains a light snow started, which made the final drop down towards Newtown fairly hairy too. Nevertheless, from the Red Kite Café, through Llangurig and up as far as Welshpool we saw some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve ever seen. At first the mountains were just brilliantly white, but as the tree line became visible, especially on the lower roads, a combination of hoar frost and snow had made the view even more spectacular. Thank you Wales.

Once home, we found pipes blocked and a topsy turvy central heating system. But we’re on with all that! Isn’t it surprising what a few days of sub-zero temperatures can change?

House for Sale

I live in one of the most beautiful parts of Huddersfield.  Of course that’s a personal and subjective view; yet within seconds I can cross the road and be walking in the countryside. And what a countryside it is.

I live ‘up’ the Colne Valley (we rarely say ‘in’ the Colne Valley), which still bears much evidence of its historical role in the wealth of Great Britain. The A62 trunk road from Huddersfield to Manchester runs along the valley, formerly one of the great Trans-Pennine arteries, often closed in winter, but now superseded by the M62 some miles to the north west. Following the same route from Yorkshire to Lancashire are the twin industrial revolution lifelines, the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Trans-Pennine railway with two stations, at Slaithwaite and Marsden, serving the valley itself.

The Colne Valley is where Thomas Armstrong chose to set his fictional family history, The Crowthers of Bankdam, which detailed the explosion of industrial change in the Yorkshire woollen district: Huddersfield and Ramsfield are hardly distinguishable from each other. Even Kit Ormerod, in Armstrong’s powerful King Cotton, paid a visit.

So, given the cracking location – why can’t I sell my house?

It’s been for sale since Easter now and we’ve had just two viewings. The estate agents say it’s not the price and although they suggest that the market is slow, they cannot fathom why we’re getting so few visits. I know also that many people are worried about next week’s spending review and how that will affect their jobs but my work is already affected (i.e. I have very little) and a four bedroomed house is getting a bit too big for just two of us.

House for sale.

Estate Agent.

Rant over 🙂

The Aussies prepare to leave

It’s hard to believe, but in about 24 hours, I’ll be 24 hours from Tulsa. Another Stateside sojourn is in the offing, but this time I’m taking (a lot of) work with me. Mind you working on the Internet with 25mbit broadband is more appealing than working with my maximum 4mbit but often less than 2mbit BT Broadband at home! I also think that the 35-40c degrees of fine weather will suit me better during my time-off days and evenings (A/C permitting) than the intermittent grey cloud and rain we have here.

So we’re taking my brother and his partner back to the airport on Tuesday evening and staying there ourselves for a first-thing Wednesday morning flight to Tulsa via Dusseldorf and Chicago. It really doesn’t seem like a month since they arrived here from Australia.

The last two weeks have passed in a frantic haze. First of all work, and my preparations for the work I must do whilst in the States, took up a lot of my time and then, because Andrew and Debbie (especially Debbie) had wanted to experience France, we took off last Wednesday for a three night stay in Boulogne. Now, I’ve been to Boulogne before and I’ve stayed there overnight before, but have never toured the area surrounding Boulogne and Calais. So that led to an interesting two days driving around.

Our first morning’s objective was to amble over to Watten, on the canal just north of St. Omer. First of all, I hadn’t realised that there was such a network of canals in this part of France, nor that the back roads were so beautiful. We passed through Ardres, where it was market day, so we stopped and had our first ‘real’ coffee. St. Omer was the eventual destination for the day (a place from which you need a compass, SatNav and informed passengers to get out of) before touring the valley just south east of Boulogne (I’ve forgotten the name) and finishing in Montreuil-Sur-Mer.

Our second day saw us on the coast just inside Normandy, at Cayeux-sur-Mer (which is just next door to Brighton!) and in Abbeyville. It had rained fairly hard before we got to Abbeyville, so it was a damp walk around the town – which is probably worth a longer look some day. Cayeaux was a complete surprise as it was quiet, clean, warm (we had lunch in the town square) and easy to park. Once again, the trip was a real taste of France, something I’d not expected this far north.

None of the food we ate on the trip was worth writing about, we just had the usual stuff which is served up for tourists (along with the derision one often feels the French reserve for the English in this part of the world – I don’t feel to be an inconvenience elsewhere in France).

The worst part of our trip was the journey through England. En route, it took 40 minutes to get from the back of the queue for the Dartford Crossing to the toll booth and coming back, about 20 minutes. But then we had roadworks on the M25 which sucked up 40 minutes and a queue to get out of Bishop Stortford services that lasted for 20 minutes. Does anyone think we’re over populated (bearing in mind that France is five times the size and has roughly the same population)?

iPad in France

[This wouldn’t ‘send’ from the WordPress iPad App – grrrr]

I’m writing this on the iPad. We’re home now from our short sojourn in France and I can start using it properly again. I still don’t have 3G but I suspect that that’s just because I’ve not been here to rattle anyone’s cage yet. Monday!

So it wasn’t much use on France. The hotel had free WiFi but the login procedure required me to enter a mixture of letters and numbers each time I wanted use it during a 24 hour period – which was a real pain (because on the iPad keypad, like all the other ‘i’ products, you flip between letter and number keypads). Without 3G it is very much like a house cat – not much use outdoors!

Anyway, as I say, I’m typing this into WordPress on the iPad and it’s really cool, I’m managing a fair rate or words that don’t need re-spelling or correcting Unlike my typing on the iPhone, I can do it with two fingers too which speeds things  nicely.

I’ll blog about Boulogne and my next few weeks later – on the Mac.

Easter frogs

I know that Easter itself was last week and that it’s not actually Easter at the moment  but I feel the need to reminisce about a previous time I remember Easter being this hot and sunny.

Easter can fall on any one of 35 different dates according to western tradition but generally, early April is about the average. The latest possible Easter date seems to be disputed but it would fall towards the end of April for sure.

I’m fairly certain that there have been other pleasant Easters (usually those which fall after the first week of April) but the one where we took the children to Germany, in 1979 was memorable.

My first wife Sue, had a German penfriend, Mecky, who lived in Burgsteinfurt near Munster and we arranged to visit them that Easter. Ben was 3.5 years old and Emma just 18 months. Our visit to Munster Zoo therefore, on a glorious Easter Sunday (or Monday – I can’t remember which) was a real family day out. Ben had been ill and pretty much stuck by us all day and we had to keep pointing things out to keep him interested. Our “Oh look Ben, a squashed frog!” and “Oh dear, another squashed frog ..” will stay with me until my dying day. As we walked around the zoo there certainly seemed to have been some kind of frog flattening event prior to our arrival.

The park ponds at first seemed pretty lifeless until we heard Ben point and shout “Mummy, look … a not-squashed frog“. Sure enough – a real-life frog jumped out of our way and (probably) into the path of oncoming traffic.

Ben’s amusing phrase ‘not-squashed frog’ has stuck with me all this time and I was reminded of it yesterday as Sharon and I sat by our own pond (in the gratefully received sunshine) watching the two goldfish slowly disturb the torpid frogs from the bottom of the water. One frog seemed a little different from the rest. It was a very dark pinky-red colour, so it stood out from the others and made it easier for us to notice. It took a while to realise that it was even more different than we’d thought.

It only had three legs.

It seems I am to be plagued by Easter frog deformity of one type or another for eternity. Note also that I used to visit my students in France at this time of year when the Comte region restaurants served up fresh versions of their national dish. I dare not be more graphic than that.