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.

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.

A Busy Birthday weekend

Well, it was my birthday on Monday. Celebrations started on Friday last when Sharon took me to Leeds for the night. We’d decided to go on Friday because many of the Last Minute hotels in Leeds were booked up on Saturday. Even our recently favourited Ibis.

We stayed at the Hilton which was surprisingly dour and second rate. Sharon worried constantly about the 1″ plus gap beneath the fire door but I had more positive views about the likelihood of fire anyway (Positive in the sense that there wouldn’t be one). We had no towels and two phone calls plus a face to face request at reception failed to make these appear. In the end I had to visit the housekeepers myself (as they ‘sorted’ a room down the corridor). Then having been out and bought a bottle of wine, we noticed that there were no glasses! Sharon sorted that one with the same housekeepers. And, to finish, the room was noisy – all night. Cheap but hardly cheerful.

We had no luck with our planned meal either, at Strada, Red Chilli or La Tasca as they all professed to have hour long waiting lists – but this turned out to be a good thing as we ended up at Anthony’s, one of the finest restaurants in the north of England. I suspect that this was down to timing: At 9.15pm they had probably ‘sat’ all their bookings and could see just enough room for two more. I believe that an hour earlier our cold call would have received a ‘no’. The food was delightful. Each morsel had flavour, taste and texture and the ‘service’ was unobtrusive – which is, in itself a delight and far from the normal “is everything ok?” you get as you sit there with a mouth full of food, listening to your co-diner tell you something really interesting. All restaurants should take a leaf out of Anthony’s book and teach their waiters to hover – wait – watch – be invited to talk.

On Saturday, we had a nice relaxed breakfast at Bagel Nash. Their coffee turned out to be the best I’ve tasted in England this year and coupled with an ‘everything’ bagel (with butter and jam) was a great surprise. We went to Gill and Tony’s on Saturday night, a last minute invitation which, once again, turned out to be gem. We’re always relaxed in their company and it was a nice addition to a stretching birthday weekend. Emma and Charlie brought the girls around on Saturday afternoon – which is always  nice. Ben and Shiv came around on Sunday. It’s so great to see my kids from time to time – but like the old song by Harry Chapin suggests http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zH46SmVv8SU time is always tight.

Then I began one of the busiest weeks of recent months. On my actual birthday, Monday, I travelled to London to meet my colleagues and friends before our delivery of the Advanced e-Guide/PDA programme Day 2 on Tuesday. I went early so that  could attend the MoLeNET event being held at the Apple Store on Regent Street. I learned lots of things here – one of which I will pursue at some time in the future – the iPhone accessibility features. I think I need to reflect on the week a little more.

Anyway – many many thanks to everyone who sent me birthday greetings and best wishes. I like to think that my electronic replies of gratitude reached you – but as I can never be sure: Thanks you again. 🙂

Wembley

“Hey – call that a purse? – THIS is a purse! said the guy next to me in the Moon something or other pub in Leicester Square. Normally, this sort of conversation might result in some kind of contretemps but on this occasion the retort was a benign “Yes mate, you’re right, THAT is a purse – a real purse.” Then we spent five minutes discussing the relative merits of our respective purses!

I had my leather purse [http://snipurl.com/ri2xj – pic] out on the bar with a fiver, ready to pay for my round (I was with four other people) and I’d never met this guy before. He had a tiny purse [http://snipurl.com/ri2yr – similar, but his was black] with clasps. He jokingly said that his wife only let him have as much money as would fit in the purse and he had been allowed out for the day.

Earlier, I’d been stood with my friends in a different bar (a fairly makeshift bar as it happens, but at least we were in the sunshine). Different groups of people were gathered around chatting to each other when one chap pointed out that a wasp had landed in his beer. Despite being from another group, we (and the two be-kilted Scotsmen who had joined us, fresh down from Glasgow) offered all sorts of impromptu comments on how to remove the wasp (or more usually how long to leave it until it drunk itself to death) and in the end (with a silent tear I’m sure as he was from Leeds) he threw half his pint on the floor. A lady just outside the group shouted, “It’s a good job the bugger didn’t land in my beer (she had a pint) or you’d all have been wearing it!!!” – and everyone laughed.

This prompted the guy nearest to me (also from Leeds) to tell me more about his own wife’s aversion to insects and about how his dad and he nearly clubbed (they set off to do so – but didn’t in the end) a stray (and therefore very rare and much sought after) Russian bird that had taken to nesting with the Barn Owl in his dad’s pony stable.

Later – walking through Leicester Square, we were accosted by all those guys trying to get you to go to the comedy club – a passerby nonchalantly said: “You’re having a laff!” .. and so on … Where else would you get this kind of public, unintroduced comment?

Every year, 75,000 or more ‘northerners’ descend upon London over the August Bank Holiday weekend. They come to drink beer, to watch sport, to remind ‘southerners’ that there is a population north of Birmingham and to enjoy themselves. They come in all ages: this is not a male orientated invasion. Family groups mix with groups of men who may be dressed as nuns or possibly as ‘118’ moustachioed stick men and with groups of women dressed all in pink or lilac – or even groups of men dressed as women, dressed all in pink or lilac

And every year, despite congregating in the same place – there is no trouble.

This last weekend was the Rugby League Challenge Cup final. The cup final used to be held in May, at the end of a winter season but over the last twenty years Rugby League has become a more vibrant game with a Super League that competes throughout the summer. Teams from many parts of England, from Wales and from France (and Russia and Scotland!) take part in the cup race (in 2007, a French team reached the final) and this year Warrington Wolves defeated Huddersfield Giants 25-16.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Challenge_Cup

The occasion is unique. The majority of supporters, from all over the north of England, arrange to attend the final not knowing (or caring) who will be in the final. There will often be a Yorkshire v Lancashire divide which helps the atmosphere – but essentially everyone comes along to enjoy the spectacle, to watch the match and to tease each other mercilessly. The tube to Wembley is a blaze of different coloured scarves. If you’re lucky enough to be supporting one of the finalists, you receive a lot of comment – otherwise, you make it!

We finished our day at Chop Chop – the little ‘Oriental’ restaurant across from Kings Cross Station. Yummy – see pictures on Flickr.  We stayed in St Albans – as did a fair amount of other visitors to the final. We didn’t do much in St Albans as it poured down on Friday night, so we stayed in the same pub until the rain stopped.  That’s it.

Where will June go?

Laptop, garden and pond - early Sunday morning

Laptop, garden and pond - early Sunday morning

Sunday: I’m writing this in the garden, under the shade of our willow, listening to the calming sound of our (newly installed- last week) cascade of water. And it’s only 10.00am. Brilliant. Why can’t all work (half work, half play today) be like this? Because I’ve decided to learn how to properly use the Mac Book Pro before it becomes my main machine, I’m using the Vista jobbie today. Which was confusing to start with because the touch pad (like all touch pads before it and for the entirety of my laptop experience) needs to be ‘double-tapped’ to replicate the left-mouse-click. Because the Mac Book Pro has a sweet ‘click‘ feature, where the entire touch pad becomes a left-click, I’d forgotten to double-click and was (doh) confused when the pad wouldn’t depress (double doh!).  However, there are many ‘Apple’ idiosyncrasies I need to master too. Like – why is there no delete button (the forward-delete I mean, not the back-delete – which exists)? Only last Friday did I find the shortcut (Fn+backspace) to delete to the right one character at a time. Hey ho.

Another noticable feature of the Vista laptop today is just how tenuous its connection is to the WiFi. V. Slow, whereas the Mac ‘just does it’.

Tomorrow sees the beginning of a very hectic period for me. It starts tomorrow with a fairly long Skype meeting about material development and hopefully future work, then there’s the RSC Yorkshire and Humberside summer conferecne on Tuesday – where I’m helping Lilian to ‘man’ the ‘interactive corner’ (or something like that). We’re both working together then on the Wednesday (if that’s ever confirmed) and on Thursday I’m working at Ashton 6th Form College. Friday is a ‘phew, where did the week go?’ day. Next Sunday I begin my week-long European venture with Khawar Iqbal. That week fills me with some trepidation because I’ve never delivered to non-native English speakers before. Much of my delivery is based on anecdotal humour (along with sound common sense and good training techniques) and it’s a worry that I can’t easily fall back on that skill (?) But Khawar assures me that I will be fine. Watch this space.

The rest of the month would need me to look at my diary but I know that I am going to be at the RSC Northwest conferecne in Southport and at the RSC Southwest conference in Weston-Super-Mare, where I am working with Weston’s Super-James Clay!

Yesterday was a fabulous day too. Because the weather forcast had been so good we decided to invite the family round for a BBQ. Ben couldn’t make it because he was going to a stag party in Manchester but my mum and dad, Emma, Charlies and the girls and a couple of friends came along. We had a brilliant time.

Amy and Charlotte with their babies

Amy and Charlotte with their babies