Thursday, April 27, 2017

Better Together Campaign

Last Sunday Milton Keynes Christian Centre began a campaign called "Better Together." It's actually based on Rick Warren's campaign. He's an American pastor at Saddleback Church in California. It's aimed at getting church out into the community. Each Sunday for six weeks we'll have a message from one of the Elders which is the basis for a weekly small group in homes all over Milton Keynes. I signed up on the first Sunday, with the intention of eventually having my own Life Group (called 'Cells' or 'House Groups' in other churches. They meet once a week, or sometimes monthly or bi-monthly, to do Bible studies and usually connected to what we've heard in church the previous Sunday. A good way to build fellowship with other Christians.) Unfortunately most of these groups are in the evening, usually starting at 7-7.30 p.m. As Carol and I get up at around 6 a.m. each morning, and Carol finishes work at 4.45 each evening, it is very difficult, if not totally impossible, to get to one of these groups. I'm generally unwinding and wouldn't manage to stay awake for a 2-hour session, what with my heart condition as well as the effects my medication has on me. So this was a good opportunity to set up a day-time course of some sort, to hopefully attract other retired people, or, at least, those who do shift work and can't possibly get to a Life Group due to work commitments. I'd signed up to run mine mid-week, on a Wednesday, and beginning at 2.30. The Better Together campaign uses video messages, recorded by Rick Warren, and members of the group can follow using a book, similar in some ways to the Alpha Course, which we had running at M.K.C.C.C. last September (in actual fact, I've now done the course twice at M.K.C.C., first time round as a helper, setting up the evening, and dismantling, and the second time, last year, as a participant. But I have done the course several times before, a couple of times at Rutland Road Church in Bedford, and once at Brickhill Baptist Church.)

I wasn't sure whether I was going to get anyone to join a group. I wasn't really that sure whether there was any demand for a group to be run during the day. I then had an email from church informing me that a lady called Maria had signed up. I then attempted to contact her, just to let her know I'd received her inquiry. It took some while before I get a response. I had emailed and got nothing back and then I sent a text message. Some people had this technology, computers, smartphones etc etc and are on them constantly. Then there are those who have them, sign up to have email, text etc etc but hardly use them. They don't check their emails or text messages regularly. I know that some people are addicted to these things. You see it out on the street, some people who don't communicate with the world around them, constantly looking at their mobiles. Obsessive-Compulsive in some cases. Sad, really. But there again, the technology has it's uses.

Anyway, after a few days I decided to ring Maria's phone number. I didn't get a response. not even a voicemail service, so I couldn't even leave a recorded message. There again, it's no use having this technology if you don't listen to it. So I had to leave things for a little longer. It was beginning to get closer to the day (yesterday) when the course was going to begin. I had been given the DVD with all the video talks on it as well as the book which goes with the course. Because I was hosting the course in my home I wasn't expected to pay for the materials.

I decided to have another go at phoning Maria. On this occasion she did answer, thank goodness. She had to pass the call over to her husband, Ted so he could write down my address. So, at least that was set up and I didn't have to concern myself with non-communication.

I had a second prospective attendee. I had their name and mobile number in an email from church, but when I called she didn't realise the starting-time of the group was during the day, so she couldn't come along, unfortunately. There is, of course, a good chance that more people might join, but it would have to be within the first couple of weeks, otherwise they wouldn't be able to catch up with the video talks.

Yesterday I got myself all ready for the first session at 2.30. I had cleaned the lounge, got some biscuits in for refreshment and got the kettle filled and ready. It got closer and closer to the time. If I'd been going to someone's house for the first time I would have got there a good ten minutes before the time the session was due to begin. 2.30 came and went. I thought, 'she's not going to come now.' Then it was 2.40 or there about and then Josh, from M.K.C.C. (It was him who gave me the lift to Sainsbury's a month or so ago when our car broke down, you might remember, if you read these posts on a regular basis.) He said that he had Maria and her husband there at church. They had got to my door and were knocking, but I wasn't answering. Well, they couldn't have done, because if they had, I would have seen them. I had been standing in the kitchen, looking out of the window, and no car had drawn outside and no one had got out and certainly hadn't knocked on the door. If I had seen them and they'd been there, I would obviously have let them in. It turned out that they'd been knocking on the wrong door, another house entirely, further along the road! I couldn't believe it. He asked for my house number, so I gave it (which I clearly gave to them when they'd rung a few days previously.) Josh said that they'd be with me in about 15 minutes.

So they turned up and parked on the drive at the front of the house. Maria was initially set to attend the session on her own, but Ted, her husband, came in and we ran through the session together, so I hope they are both able to come for the next five weeks of the course. Unfortunately, because they had been around 20 minutes late, we didn't manage to get through all the questions in the book, but at least we managed to run the two videos on the DVD. My television set has a built-in DVD player and we had a problem getting the videos to run as we wanted. It was difficult finding the first session on the disc, but we eventually got it running correctly after a few false starts.

I had to keep Alfie, our Yorkie, in the kitchen. It was clear that Maria wasn't that fond of dogs, and I would never expect to have him in with us as we did the course. Unfortunately Alfie doesn't like being shut in on his own, perhaps even more since Poppy has died. He kept scratching on the door, so I gave in and let him in. He becomes very determined to get attention and can manipulate you to get what he wants. So he sat with us, mostly sitting on Ted's knee. Not what I would have wanted, but it was far better than him constantly scratching on the door and doing more damage to the paintwork and apart from anything else, making it quite difficult to concentrate on the video talks.

So, all in all a positive afternoon and I hope it builds over the next few weeks. Keep watching my blog posts for further details as the weeks progress.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sky Q Box Fixed

I had booked a Sky engineer to visit to sort out the problems with the SkyQ box. He (or, indeed, she. Not to be sexist. I bet they employ female engineers.) was due between 8 and 1 today. One of those annoying time-frames. You don't know quite what to do. You can't go out. No point starting anything, just in case they turn up. I had a text reminding me that they were due, on Saturday morning. You had to text back YES if you still wanted them to come and NO if you wanted to cancel the appointment. I texted YES, mainly because it took so long the other morning to even get through to the Sky helpline. The thought of re-booking an appointment was not on the radar.

The engineer turned up at around 12. I had to scoop up Alfie, because he's likely to get out on the road if the front door is open. He's also a bit strange with anyone in the house he doesn't know. It turned out that the problem was something to do with the dish outside on the wall at the back of the house. This was after the engineer ran a few tests. I don't quite know what it was that caused the problems we've been having, but at the completion of the work, the 'touch' remote now works. Apparently, he told me, when you put new batteries in the thing you have to press the '1' and '2' keys to re-set the thing. Sort of does an initialisation or something, so that it will work with the Sky Q box. Well, at least the thing is working as it should and we shouldn't now have to go through the re-booting process every time we turn on the thing, particularly in the morning when we get up.

Fence Repair and Other Matters

The sound of D.I.Y. had almost disappeared yesterday, thankfully. On returning from church mid-morning we were expecting to hear more hammering and sawing, which wouldn't have been surprising as it was a very mild and sunny day over-all. We had considered going for a swim but we didn't in the end. 

During the afternoon we were settled down for a rest when there was a knock at the door. It's usually whenever we are settled and quiet that we get either a phone call or someone comes to the door and disturbs things. I ran downstairs and found Shelley, Gary's wife (our neighbour on one side.) she said she wanted to speak to us. It appears that Gary is going to replace the fence which divides our gardens. As it's on our left, it is actually our responsibility, and our landlord should legally deal with this. But if we contact him he will make so much fuss and would no doubt get a cowboy builder to to the work, that in the end it's easier for us to get the work done. Gary will do the work and we'll pay for half of the work. At £40 it seems cheap. As it cost around £200 to have the fence at the end of the garden replaced (nearly two years ago I suspect, but it might have been less than that.) definitely a good deal. He will do the work over the next weekend. Having looked at that section of fence, it doesn't look as if it would survive much longer. It's very wobbly and definitely unstable and if you were to touch it it would most likely just crumble into a heap of sawdust or shavings. I don't think the fence around the garden has been replaced since the house was constructed, which I imagine would have been in the late 1970's. So it must be well over 40 years old. I notice that a lot of fences in the Eaglestone area have recently been replaced, so if that's a sign of how old the fences are, it's no surprise that ours needed replacing. Our landlord is somewhat of a skinflint, as you will have realised if you've read my earlier posts. He certainly doesn't like spending money (well, who does, in all honesty?) It's just if he does get someone to do any work they are never properly qualified and don't do a decent job. A case of 'make-do and mend. But if you get a cowboy to do the work you end up with poor-quality workmanship which then needs further work doing and it will cost more to remedy the problem. Just not a cost-effective method of repair.

I have seen the large yellow signs dotted about along the Gridroads and within Eaglesone, telling us that there's going to be yet another marathon running through here next Sunday as well as Monday, which is the  May Bank Holiday. All very well and nice for the runners, but yet again we won't be able to get out with the car when this is on. I know there's people out there who get all hot and bothered if you even dare to suggest that this event is re-routed along the Redway. But I bet if I was to go and park my car immediately outside their homes so they couldn't get out, they wouldn't be over-pleased. The last time I wrote about this matter on here it seemed that I'd made a rude suggestion. It's just that some people don't like it when someone disagrees with them, sadly. Not allowed to have a contrary opinion. Oh dear, I'd better end here before I get a brick thrown through my front window! Oh well, I suppose if we want to go out on either day we'll have to leave well before this event takes place.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Noisy D.I.Y. Obsessed Neighbour

We've had to endure our neighbour Gary making noises all day today. I've commented on this in earlier posts, but today it was pushing things too far. It's getting to the point where we will go out for the day to get away from the noise. He has been hammering, sawing, using an electric saw to cut blocks of concrete, and generally interrupting things. It's usually when we want a bit of peace and quiet that he starts up. We went shopping early this morning, about 9 o'clock. We went to Aldi over at Westcroft. We had to go to Sainsbury's on the way back as I had my repeat prescription to collect and when we got home we put the groceries away and then had a rest. Carol went to lay on the bed and it was then that we heard hammering. And the noises went on until around mid-afternoon. The D.I.Y. noises ceased and then we had pop music playing the rest of the afternoon until we had our evening meal (at around 6 o'clock.) At one point there was the sound of a circular saw. I had to go upstairs and look out of our bedroom window to see what he was up too. You could see nothing as there was a cloud of dust being produced by the sawing. I think he is putting down a patio or something and he's cutting up the tiles. But you could see nothing, through the cloud of dust. It was like some sort of dust-storm in the desert. It was just as well we didn't go out and sit in our garden, otherwise we'd have been covered in this dust. Or we hadn't hung any washing out on the line, which we might have done as it's been sunny and dry all day, really great for drying washing. The problem is, I don't think he realises that it's disturbing other people. We generally get on with our neighbours, and don't want to cause any friction, but to be honest, this noise is beginning to have an impact on our lives. We could go out to get away from it, but I don't really see why we should. After the building of the shed, what else are we going to see spring up in next door's garden? There can't be much more he can build there. He put up a sort of lean-too (for want of a better description) a sort of roofed area at the rear of the house. It seemed to go on for ever being built last year. Now he has his shed and last, constructing a sort of patio out of tiles. It gets worse and worse.

Sky Q Box playing Up

We up-graded our Sky package some while ago and have SkyQ. The Sky Q box has a far greater hard-drive capacity. You can record something like 300 hours of material if you are that way inclined. You can also record around 4 programmes on at the same time, which can be useful. Ours came with two remotes, one the more traditional remote, but the second one works with a sort of 'touch' facility and a large central section which works in a similar way to a 'touch pad' on a laptop computer, in the place of a traditional computer mouse. The 'touch' remote ceased functioning a couple of weeks ago. We assumed it must have required new batteries, as all these gadgets require their batteries replacing regularly. Usually AAA sized batteries, which be got in Morrison's a couple of weeks ago when we did our usual weekly shop. I put them in the remote, but the thing still didn't work. The remote hasn't been dropped or damaged in any way, so there's no real reason for it not to work. We've also had problems getting the SkyQ box to start when it's initially turned on, most particularly when we want to see BBC Breakfast first thing in the morning. We have a mini box in our bedroom which feeds the smaller television we bought from Sainsbury's. It's supposed to work via the wifi router in the hall downstairs but it never seems to do that and needs re-booting. You have to turn on the main box in the lounge and then it's meant to 'talk' to the mini box in our bedroom. 

Last Friday I had to go into the main Milton Keynes shopping centre as I needed to go to NatWest. Having some time spare before I went to the bank (as they open at 9.30) I happened to walk past the Sky display and asked the man on duty there about the Sky Q touch remote not working, so he said if I rang the Sky helpline I could order a new one. Well, as we pay a fair amount monthly for our Sky package, which includes telephone, internet and television, it it seemed only fair that we have all our equipment working as it should. I had to look for the telephone number on the Sky website when I got home and then had to endure the wait when I eventually got through, a voice telling me that 'all agents are busy. Your call is important to us. Please hold and one of our agents will speak to you.' Some hope. You have to go through the usual list of numbers and options. 1- Change your package 2- Make a payment 3- Complaints etc etc. A lot of it is done with automated machinery. You put in a key password or voice-activated, speak 'yes' or 'no' to some of the questions. Ingenious, I know, but I'm not over-keen. I gave up after about ten minutes as I really wanted to speak to a human.

I had another go at ringing the Sky helpline. No success at getting through at the next attempt, but I eventually go through, having made it through the menu selection and eventually got to speak to a really lovely lady who knew what she was doing. She took me through the re-booting process a couple of times and I mentioned the fact that the touch remote wasn't working and that I'd tried it with new batteries, but still it didn't work. She had a definite sense of humour. Some of the people who work in call centres, answering the phone and helping people with their queries, are generally a dull set of folk. But she was different, I have to say. I could hear a strange clanking sound in the background. I mentioned it, and she said it was due to a campaign going on regarding Sky Mobile. In the office they were making tin-can phones, the sort of thing children made when I was a child, cocoa tins with string attached and you drew the string tight, and, over a considerable distance, you talked into the tin and could hear one another speak. Crazy thing to do in an office, I thought. But that was going on besides trying to get our SkyQ box sorted as well as the touch remote. It might have something to do with the remote not working which is my the Sky Q box is playing up. It couldn't be fixed there and then, with her giving me instructions, re-booting the thing by turning it off at the wall socket and so on and on. It was getting annoying that it couldn't be fixed. She said that a Sky engineer could come and fix it and made an appointment for next Monday morning. So hopefully, once the engineer has been, things will return to normal. Whether this fixes the touch remote it wasn't clear, but if it doesn't then we'll be given a new one to replace it.

Friday, April 21, 2017

New iPhone and other Computer Technology

We recently invested in a new iPhone. I say 'we' because we both decided it was a necessity. I would be using it. It was a necessity, really. I'd had a Samsung Galaxy J1 for over a year, purchased from Sainsbury's. It started out as a reasonable smart phone. Not too difficult to use. But it didn't really live up to expectations. I realise that, for what it cost, it wasn't going to be exactly a state-of-the-art model. I wasn't expecting it to. I had held off for a long time getting a smart phone, having only needed a mobile phone for the occasional voice call or text message. Carol has a basic model, almost a 'retro' model. Easy to use, for text and phoning. You can't put apps on it. It suits her for what she needs it for. Texting me and so I can text her.

Back to the Samsung. It was a SIM free model, meaning we could select the provider it would be connected to. We went for 02, with a 'bundled' package, so many texts, calls and data for internet connection and it costs £10 per month. All fine for a while. Then we realised the mobile wasn't up to much. It cost around £70. Not bad I suppose. But Android, the operating system, isn't that good. After a year and a few months of putting up with the Samsung's strange little quirks (I won't go into them too much) and the fact that you can't download many useful apps onto it, due to the lack of memory, we decided to go with a new iPhone. Not the latest model, but an iPhone 5, purchased from Very. And what a difference it has made, moving onto that phone! I have always used Apple Macintosh computers for years. I've never used anything else. Ever since I did my degree course, and learning IT. I had never used a computer before. Although I lie through my teeth. I had an early Amstrad word processor many years ago, when they first came out, I suppose in the early 1990's. The machine cost around £200. No such thing as the internet in  those days. A screen with black background and green text. Strange little floppy disks, sort of lozenge-shaped, not the square sort that came out and became very popular as time went on. Infact, these disks couldn't be used in other machines, only in Amstrad computers. But it did teach me how to use a computer, even though it was very basic.

We joined the A.A. after we had trouble with our car and broke down on he M1 and needed rescuing (actually we had a breakdown service with our Swinton car insurance package which rescued us on this occasion and bought us home.) But we then moved to the A.A. as we took our an insurance package which meant, if we broke down, we would not only get rescued, but any car maintenance problems would be covered which meant we didn't have to pay any more than £35. Also, if we had the A.A. app on our smartphone, it would allow the breakdown service to find us easier. Which is great, because if you do breakdown, and you can't tell them exactly where you are, it would be more difficult to find you. So, this app was put on the Samsung and now transferred on to the iPhone.

Let's just say that the new iPhone works like a dream. It does what it is supposed to. As for the Samsung, well, it's definitely not fit for purpose. I realise the iPhone cost a good deal more, but I do expect a thing to work as it's supposed to when I buy whatever it is. So, no going back to using substandard equipment. Nothing further for me to report.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Motorised Television Comedy

We currently have three comedies on television which use the basic format of a journey as it's set-up. The first one I enjoy is "The Trip To Spain," which is on Sky Atlantic. It has Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden as two friends who are on a trip to Spain (well, that's original, considering the thing is called 'The Trip To Spain.") Coogan is a food writer for a paper. In the first series (Incidentally, shown on BBC2) they journey around the north of England, mostly in the Lake District, and the second, they go to Italy, (also on BBC2)It intrigues me as to why the BBC didn't go with this third series. Surely it can't be due to cost. It can't be a particularly big-budget series. I was under the impression that they had some sort of production deal with Coogan's company, Baby Cow. What I love about this is the free-wheeling style (not surprising, considering it's set mainly within a car on the road.) and the way it's hard to decide whether it's 'real' or 'fiction.' What I mean is, Coogan and Bryden play themselves. Coogan has spent many years as another character, Alan Partridge, but in this he is himself. Where does the line end? It's difficult to tell. I'm interested to know how much is actually scripted and how much is improvised.

The second series is on BBC Four, although, with BBC iPlayer and 'catch-up' television, it really makes no difference which channel it's on. The show is called 'Bucket' which isn't much of a name and wouldn't draw me to it if I was unaware of it's theme, the actors in it and so on. It stars Miriam Margolyes as a 70-something woman, who goes on a journey with her daughter with who she has a strange sort of relationship. The 'bucket' refers to the bucket list of things she wants to do before she dies. She reveals as the first episode progresses that she has cancer and the daughter (played by Frog Stone, who also wrote the series. Is that a genuine name or is it a pseudonym? Just odd. Who'd call a child Frog?) It's certainly off-the-wall and worth a look, even if it's just to see the great Margolyes who is a fine character actor who doesn't seem to fit any particular mould, thankfully. Great to have something which allows an older character to be presented in a non-stereotypical way. There are only four episodes, which is a shame. I suspect the good old BBC got cold feet. They didn't want to commit to more, for whatever reason. Cost. Hardly. Not particularly big budget drama, this. No C.G.I. or expensive locations or sets. Not sure it wouldn't find an audience. If it's on BBC Four, surely it would appeal to a different sort of demographic to the one you'd have if it was shown on BBC1 or BBC2. It's certainly different and original. I'll be watching the remaining three episodes. It seems that none of the 'traditional' television channels (referring to 'live' broadcast, such as BBC, ITV etc.) don't want to take too many risks. The other platforms, i.e.. Sky, Netflix, Amazon etc etc., seem more likely to take risks with more episodes and more what I'd call contentious or dangerous material. The BBC  and ITV seem far too concerned with things being either 'non politically correct or just steering clear of anything that might be considered offensive in any way. I don't agree with upsetting anyone, either racial, religious or whatever, but if you're just going to produce things that are easy, non-demanding, you just end up with bland, flat material that has no purpose, other than being ratings fodder, which is a shame, because, in the past, the BBC, in particular, has produced shows which have been sharp, funny and extremely clever, think, 'Fawlty Towers,' Blackadder,' 'Not The Nine O'Clock News and so on. Or ITV with things such as 'Spitting Image.' 

The third series I want to mention is 'Car Share.' This is now in it's second series. It's written, as well as stars and directed, by Peter Kay. It has a very simple format, a manager of a North of England supermarket 'car-shares' with a co-worker, played by Sian Gibson, who co-writes the show. It's set almost completely within the confines of a car, driven by Kay. It must have made production of such a show extremely difficult. Having been a huge success when the first series was aired, it's great to have this second season. It was originally first only available on iPlayer but then all episodes were broadcast weekly on BBC1 and proved one of the most downloaded shows ever, apparently. This second season seems to be doing equally well. The one advantage of being able to download via catch-up and other services, is that you can have all current episodes or entire 'box-sets' of series available and you can watch when you want without having to wait for the next episode.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Eerie Birds, Building Sheds and Banks

I had to go into the main Milton Keynes shopping centre this morning. I was going to NatWest to close down some direct debits we had for things we no longer needed. It's always a good idea to review such things in an attempt to save some cash. I had parked the car near The Point and as I walked towards the shopping centre I could not help but notice a large amount of big black crows sitting in the trees. I'm not one to take notice of omens, but it was similar to the famous Hitchcock film 'The Birds.' I suppose they are used in film to present something ominous about to happen and are a bit of a cliché in that respect, but for all that they are rather scary.

I was far to early to get into Nationwide building society and I had to sit outside as the shutters were down. A good excuse to check my emails on my new iPhone. I wasn't in there too long and sorted out some direct debits on that account and then had to cross the road to visit the NatWest bank which is under the Milton Keynes Council offices. Unfortunately they weren't due to open until 10.00, so I had to go away and waste a good 20 minutes in the shopping centre. A lot of new work going on in the centre, it's being up-graded with new entrances and given a real smart look. I suppose it must be a good 40 years old and was certainly beginning to look it's age. 

The toilets ar being up-graded. Not such a bad thing I suppose. Then I walked back to the NatWest and found them open, but I then had to queue up for a good 10 minutes. The door squeaked horribly and it was annoying as I stood and waited. You'd think they could get an oil can out and give it a squirt, just to stop the irritating noise, but never mind. The place is gradually being taken over by automation. You can take money out via 'hole-in-the-wall- machines, or A.T.M.'s, but you can also pay money in, cheques as well as notes. So the job of tellers must be on the line. I suppose it gives you an alternative to standing in line to pay in by the traditional method, and they aren't that difficult to use. They can even give a receipt, a copy of a cheque if you pay in that way. Both my banks have them now. How on earth they manage to read the cheque without you having to key in the amount is beyond me. Just goes to show how clever technology is becoming.

Our dearly-beloved neighbour is making hammering noises once again. Over the last weekend we had to contend with him working on his new shed. Well, I call it 'new' in the sense that it's new to the garden next door, but from viewing it from our bedroom window and slight glimpses when I've looked over the fence, it looks ancient. I can't for the life of me think where he got it. Someone else no doubt wanted to be rid of it and he took it off them. Then I'm wondering, how on earth did he get it here? Was it taken apart and then re-assembled in next door's garden? That can be the only answer, but we never saw any of this work. But now he's nailing wood all over the thing as the edge of the roof was somewhat rotten, or at least that's how it looked to me. The whole of their garden looks for all the world like a building site, with bricks, wood and other material stacked up all over the place. No doubt Shelley (Gary's wife) got sick to death of all his tools and bits and pieces and told him he needed a shed to store it all. Which is my only suggestion. Unfortunately it is us who have to contend with the hammering and other extraneous noises as he builds the confounded thing.

Snap General Election and Other Matters

So, Teresa May has called a snap General Election for 8th June. I'm not sure how I feel about this. If it's to get her the 'mandate' she needs to allow her to get the authority regarding Brexit (I do so hate this word.) then I suppose I can see the reasoning, but I think the British public must be heartily sick of votes of one kind or another. I still think the politicians who set up the E.U. Referendum in June last year, those who framed the legislation which allowed it, should be ashamed of themselves, for not making the size of the majority, either for or against, large enough before a decision was made for remaining in the E.U., or leaving it. The fact that the majority to leave was far too small, barely I% to leave, was far too small for  Brexit to go ahead. There should have been a second referendum on the subject. Also, most people who voted probably had not the slightest idea what the E.U. was. I blame politicians for this, not making it clear what the benefits of our membership were or, on the opposite side, what the de-benefits were (if, indeed, there is such a term. But you get my idea. Or, at least, I hope you do.)

Well, enough of politics. I'm just glad that the General Election will be over in around 7 weeks. At least we don't have to have it going on relentlessly the way the American electoral system works. 

It's been fairly sunny for the past few days, but even so, it's not all that warm. There was a slight frosting on the car windscreen this morning. We're continuing to walk to the Academy each morning and we're still taking Alfie with us. He seems to be getting a good deal better at walking on his lead. I think just taking him regularly is improving his behaviour.

Yesterday morning I cut the grass. I did it really early, taking advantage of the fact that it was sunny. If you don't cut it regularly the machine won't do it's job properly. I don't think it's really up to cutting very long grass. Infact, it's really designed for a really nice manicured lawn, made of decent turf. Our bit of grass (I still refuse to term it 'lawn' as it doesn't in the last resemble a 'lawn.') It's all uneven humps and bumps. We saw some really nice turf the other day when we visited Frost's garden centre in Worburn Sands, when we went for a coffee and really nice scones and cream in their restaurant. Carol's last outing of the Easter holiday.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

My Ancestors, Going On A Journey of Discovery: The Ascott Martyrs

For the past couple of years, infact, since I gave up work (oh the joy of retirement) I have been doing some research into my family history. With the advent of the internet it's now possible to do quite a considerable amount of this research without leaving the comfort of your home. I've enjoyed enormously the BBC1 television series "Who Do You Think You Are?" It's not so much the fact that we follow the journey of some celebrity or other, I think it's what they discover about their ancestors. Some manage to delve no more than a few generations back, perhaps to the time of the Second World War, whilst others manage to find out about their forebears going back several hundred years. This sort of research builds on my fascination with history and the 'discovery' aspect of things, uncovering bits of history and then connecting these 'snippets' to my family history. The same can be said of another interest,  archaeology,which, as a teenager I would have found thoroughly dull and boring, but as a much older person, I find thoroughly intriguing. All that stuff, buried only feet below the ground, just waiting to be unearthed and explained. That was sparked off by the Channel 4 series "Time Team." Amazing when television has this sort of ability, good-quality documentaries about real things, not trivial such as a 'reality' show, not 'Big Brother,' idiotic non-entities sitting around in a house, doing nothing in particular, or 'celebrities' making fools of themselves in stupid shows such as "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here." What television executive came up with that idea for a show? Desperation chasing after viewing figures and nothing more.  

I began my quest for my maternal and paternal line by subscribing to a site with the original name of Ancestry and then I discovered a site called My Heritage. I was on a free membership of that for a couple of years and then I decided to pay for a subscription. With a free membership of these sites you have a limited amount you can search for and begin to build a basic family tree. Then last year i decided to go the full thing and buy a membership package, which meant I could not only build up the family tree but to then join forces with other people on the site who were doing similar research. I was really surprised how many others were doing research of different areas of my ancestry. I could use what research others had managed to do and add to my family tree. I'm just surprised how far I have been able to get, to around 1520.

I had done the barest minimum of research on my Murdoch forebears and can only get back around 200 years. Perhaps it's because they lived in Scotland but it's perhaps that there are that there aren't many other people doing research which I can add to my own research. The maternal side of my family, the Ferriman side, is far easier to research as there are a great many other people who are out there doing similar research. As a result I have got back to around 1520, as I have already mentioned. There are connections to several families, the Eddons, Pursers and mostly the Pratleys. My grandfather and grandmother came from across The Cotswolds, both Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. Mostly around Stow-On-The-Wold and Burford. A small village close to Burford called Leafield. I have done quite a bit of research by merely using Google searches. I recently Googles 'Leafield' and found a site which bought up a great many details of the Pratley family who lived and worked in that area. I then came across something which has really caught my attention. I may have found the names, dates and basic facts of many of my ancestors, but no real details or what they did. This is what makes the television show "Who Do You Think You Are?" when the subjects of these programmes discover something extra-interesting about them, some incident which stands out. In this case I came across a historic even regarding "The Ascott Martyrs." There is a  chestnut tree on the village green in a village in Oxfordshire called Ascott-Under-Wychwood. Around this tree are four steel seats painted black and bolted together around this tree. Each bear an inscription. One has the words "Ascott Martyrs imprisoned 1873." The next lists the names of "Amelia Moss, Caroline Moss, Jane Moss, Martha Moss, Mary Moss, Ellen Pratley, Elizabeth Pratley, Mary Pratley." These Partly ladies are my ancestors, through my Ferriman line of the family. I will not go into too much detail on here, as it's possible to find out far more by Googling 'Ascott Martyrs.' The incident very much has similarities to a far more famous incident called 'The Tolpuddle Martyrs.' All about setting up unions. As a result we visited this place so I could at least put the places I've researched into some sort of context. I shall continue with my research but this historic incident has made the whole experience far more interesting. At least someone did something which was rebellious and exciting, in an attempt to change things.

Plaque on bench on the green at Ascott-Under-Wychwood

Me on bench. (Sorry, I do look miserable in this photograph!)

Me standing under signpost showing a lot of the village where many of my  Ferriman ancestors came from

It's odd that I've always has a sort of affinity with the Cotswolds. Knowing that so many of my ancestors came from the area, lived and worked in and around that area makes it even more interesting. The scenery is quite breath-taking. It amazes me that people can say that Britain is boring, that there's nothing much to see. I cannot agree. Why go abroad for a holiday when there is so much history and so much amazing scenery to enjoy? And in such a relatively small space. You don't have to go too far, either, to come across something fascinating to look at and discover, as we've done over the past few years.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Setting up New Canon Printer

Carol had hoped to spend the day doing preparation for lessons before she goes back to work at The Academy next week. It does take some considerable amount of time and energy to plan lessons. Which is why I get annoyed when she comes home and tells me she's had to deal with behaviour issues with the children she teaches. Not all of them, of course. It's usually a very small percentage who play up. They don't care that it's taken so long to plan a lesson and then have it disrupted. Carol uses the internet and her lap-top and needs a printer to produce her resources for the lessons she plans. So, it was somewhat annoying for her to discover that the printer we had was not working properly. I had only bought ink cartridges myself a week or two ago so I could print out material I needed myself. Then the H.P. printer, which is housed in the spare room upstairs, began to make some awful noises. As if something was caught in the paper feed. It wasn't going to stop. So, it was decided that we'd need to buy a new one. It's crazy that the ink cartridges cost more than the actual cost of a brand new printer. We decided to go to Argos and check out prices. We went for a new Canon printer, actually a fairly reliable brand, one that I knew well as I used to own one myself. Also, my digital camera is a Canon, which is good and has no end of features for what it cost. Amazing how technology improves as the years pass. The printer is not only a printer but can scan and copy, so it's actually a 3-in-1 device. Also, it's wi-fi connected so there's no need to plug in bits of cable. The same with our internet connection. This laptop, a MacBook Air, is connected to the internet through our Sky router. We had to download the drivers onto this laptop and Carol's laptop, a Toshiba, because the printer came with a CD ROM with the software on it and neither laptop has a CD drive in which to put the disc. So, we had to download the drivers from the Canon website and then spent a good two hours attempting to get the software to connect to the wi-fi system. I can also link my new iPhone to the printer if I want to print anything off from that, which is actually unlikely.

Mind you, I'm annoyed that the old printer has packed up. It's only a few years old. Having said that, I suppose it has done reasonably well. There is also the fact that technology changes so rapidly and it's quite difficult to keep up with any changes. Generally the changes are for the better. Computer operating systems change so quickly you have to keep things up graded otherwise they don't operate properly or even efficiently. I often think it's a cynical device set up by manufacturers to get you to part with more cash. My MacBook upgrades without any further payment, thankfully. So parting with some more cash for the new printer isn't such a bad idea and the new printer costs a fraction of what one would have cost 15-20 years ago. I remember when I bought my first Macintosh in the mid 1990's the printer, which was only a black-and-white model cost around £400. Today you can print, scan and copy from one machine, on two sides of the paper and in near-perfect quality as well as print photographs and graphics, which that old model wouldn't do.

900th Post: Elephants at Whipsnade

We've been waiting for two new exhibits to open at Whipsnade Zoo. They have been building the new Elephant Care building for about a year. Whenever we've visited over that period we've seen the work going on. Also, the brand new African Hunting Dog's enclosure near where the wolves used to be. This section opened on 1st April and then on Tuesday H.M. Queen visited to open the elephant's centre. There was a mention of this on Facebook, via the Z.S.L. website and their Facebook page and on both local television news programmes, Anglia's About Anglia and BBC1's 'Look East' did items, even though not very long. So on Wednesday we decided to visit.

The journey down the A5 was fine until we reached the outskirts of Dunstable. There was quite a queue of traffic and it moved exceptionally slowly until we reached the set of traffic lights and had to make a right turn towards Dunstable Downs. A rather frustrating journey and it wasn't too clear what was causing such long delays.

We arrived at Whipsnade at around 11, having been shopping at Aldi earlier. The weather has been fine and sunny, but it was actually quite cold, so we had to wear jackets. It can be a good deal colder up on the Downs where Whipsnade is situated. It was probably ideal weather for visiting the zoo because a lot of the animals were more active than usual. If it's too hot they tend to hide away in the shade. The place was very busy, with long queues at the entrance. One advantage of Carol being a Fellow of Z.S.L. is that we not only don't have to pay for entrance, but we can drive in (also without paying) which means we can drive around within the park, thereby reducing the amount of walking we would otherwise have to do as the place is quite large and the enclosures which house the animals are a fair distance apart.

We couldn't park the car where we usually park, near the bears. We drove round the zoo until we got to the area near the tigers. A lot of the paths around that area had been closed off with metal fences. I presume they had been left over from the previous day when the Queen had been to open the Elephant Care Centre. Regardless of whether these fences were in place, people were ignoring them and walking around them. We went towards the elephant enclosures and found a great many people milling around. Whipsnade had been used a few months ago for the BBC1 television programme " The Big Painting Challenge" which was shown on Sunday evenings. The contestants had to do paintings of the flamingos as well as the elephants and we knew, from watching the show, whereabout they had set things up. It's strange how so many of the places we've been to over the years get shown on television. Sky did a similar show on their Arts channel and the locations for their landscape shows were done at a lot of National Trust properties we've been to, such as Stowe Landscape Gardens which is a round a 20-minute drive away from Milton Keynes. Well, if nothing else, these programmes have put these places on the map and no doubt have encouraged people to visit them. No doubt the fact that Her Majesty coming to Whipsnade to open the Elephant Care Centre prompted many of today's visitors to visit the zoo. We then walked over towards the new African Hunting Dogs enclosure which was opened at the beginning of April. It looks somewhat sparce and obviously needs more landscaping. I think they introduced the pack of dogs to get them accustomed to their new home before making to many changes. There is a viewing platform which allows you to see the dogs without having too much obstruction by fencing or screening. We learned that the Elephant Centre wasn't open until 1 o'clock which we didn't realise when we came into the zoo.

It always amuses us to see people who insist on taking photographs of themselves rather than the animals. This obsession with taking selfies is crazy. Why do people spend so much time and money visiting these places, and then end up taking photographs of each other and not the place they are visiting? We've seen this so many times at either the zoos or National Trust properties and elsewhere. Just idiotic, to say the least. Just so they can post them on such social media sites as Facebook.

We needed some sort of refreshment so went to the Wild Bite Café. We were more than a little shocked to find it so busy. And noisy, with children screaming and one annoying child creating such a loud noise I felt like leaving immediately. Carol ordered our coffee and sandwiches and I had to find a table to sit at. Not easy. It really seems that they ought to sort this out, build new facilities or at least provide more space for seating. I would imagine the place was busy because of the fact it's the Easter Holidays and people seeing the Queen on television opening the elephant house.

We had a drive around the perimeter of the zoo, visiting the shop at the entrance and having an ice-cream and then left for home. No doubt we'll be returning later in the year.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Visiting Grandson George

It's a good many months since we were at George, my grandson's christening in Claines, near Worcester. We had to wait until the Easter holidays to be able to plan another visit. A good two-hour drive there needs a certain amount of organisation. We'd bought him some clothes in Sainsbury's a few weeks ago as well as a chocolate rabbit in Morrison's on Sunday. A difficult decision as regards an Eater treat of some sort, whether to get him an Easter egg, something made from chocolate, or a rabbit (gold paper wrapped with a little golden bell on a red ribbon around it's neck.) so the bunny won. Duly loaded the car, SatNav installed, camera, mobile phone and all the other paraphernalia. Car fuelled up on Sunday, which saved us some time. Not able to see Chloe or George until after 2 p.m. 

We needed something to eat mid-journey. We needed to find a suitable place to eat something. We needed to go to buy sandwiches or at least something suitable. We went to Asda. As it turned out it wasn't such a good idea, unfortunately. It was around 10.30 when we got there and the place was heaving. What is it that makes people behave in a sort of siege mentality whenever there's any sort of public holiday? Easter, Christmas, New Year, or whatever? We picked up the sandwiches we wanted off the shelves, and a few crisps and other snacks and then went to pay. Every till in what is a really huge supermarket seemed busy, with long queues with customers pushing trolleys which were over-loaded with goods. Most tills had people already being checked through but with large amounts of goods on the conveyor belts. We stood in one queue and it seemed to take forever for it to move. It was no good moving to another or even going to a self-service checkout as all dozen or so were busy, with people waiting. No express tills either (do they have these in Asda? I don't think so. Or a self-scan system which I've seen in Tesco and I know Waitrose have as we've used ourselves. It does cut down on queuing.) Anyway, the woman on the till we were using seemed as if she was on a go-slow. Not making much effort to speed herself up. I don't think she could, even if she tried. By the time we'd paid and walked out, it was near enough 11 o'clock. I would have left a good deal earlier but Carol insisted we leave around 10-11. We followed the SatNav's directions and for some strange reason we went via Buckingham, but made a really different detour and followed a road we'd never been on before. It usually takes us a completely different way. We got to the M40 and then onto the M5. The whole journey was taking a good deal longer than anticipated. We had hoped to arrive at Claines at around 1.45, but we got held up in long queues of traffic and didn't arrive until around 2.40.

Unfortunately we weren't at Claines very long. We did go for a walk with Chloe and George. He's walking well and into everything, as all children of his age.We walked as far as the sports ground, with George exploring everything on the way, mainly drains and inspection covers and putting stones and sticks into various holes he hound on the way. We were surprised when Steve appeared. I wasn't aware that he worked from home. He made us a cup of tea and we sat and chatted while George played. We sat in the garden and saw their newly-laid lawn. Made of decent turf, unlike our uneven excuse for a lawn.

Around 5.15 Chloe announced that they had to go and collect her car from being repaired from the garage. It was by then that we decided on leaving, unfortunately, as we knew it was a long drive home. It was just as well we did leave when we did, because by the time we hit the M5 towards Birmingham the traffic was building up. We journeyed back towards the M6 and the M1 and finally back towards Milton Keynes. We were somewhat surprised that the roadworks along the M1 south near Daventry is still continuing. It was this area where we broke down in the car a year or two ago. A somewhat traumatic experience, as you might expect. We were rescued by a breakdown truck as we had gone into the coned-off area. Not an experience either of us would want to repeat in a hurry. It seems the roadworks have been going on for much too long. What is annoying is that the part of the Motorway which is coned off has no work going on, or at least from what we could see. Why they can't open up more and allow the traffic to flow properly, instead of having such long stretches coned off, and expecting drivers to travel at no more than 50 M.P.H. seems crazy. We arrived home at around 7.15.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Walking Alfie At Stockgrove Park

A pleasant sunny Saturday morning, so what better way to spend the time than walking Alfie at Stockgrove Country Park? We've been many times over the years. Quite sad in some ways, as it's the first time we've visited since our other dog, Poppy, died. It's near Leighton Buzzard, and around a 15-minute drive down the A5. Rushmere Park is part of the same area and was joined to Stockgrove Park  few years ago, making a larger area to explore. I had to get the cage out of the house before Alfie got the least inkling that we intended taking him out in the car. Carol had to keep him in the bedroom whilst I got the cage out of the spare room, but it didn't take him very long to catch on. Most of the neighbourhood was treated to the sound of him barking noisily as we got him into the cage in the back of the car. 

When I first visited Stockgrove Park (I don't exactly remember how many years ago now, but certainly quite a few) you drove into the carpark and then there was a voluntary payment scheme. You could put a £1 coin in the box on the wall, and if there wasn't room to park within the carpark you could always park along the roadside. I notice that now they have put posts all along the road side which would be to stop people parking there and using the carpark.  Now you have to drive in and use the barrier. All well and good. Then, on leaving, you have to pay £2 to get out. I have no problem with this, as long as the cash raised is used to keep the carpark and surrounding area maintained.

It was busy when we got there this morning. Lots of cars parked, people getting out of cars and others wandering about. We saw lots of families, children and dogs. It seems to be a very popular spot for dog-walking. You are supposed to keep your dog on it's lead. All very well, but Alfie expects to be let off his lead and run. He's sort of pent-up, a bit like a coiled spring, and the moment he's let off, he'll run off, but doesn't go too far and will return to you when you call. Anyway, as soon as we drew up in the carpark, Alfie was barking excitedly. Whenever we go out with him in the car and we arrive home, he seems to know exactly where we are and starts yapping and barking. Even  when we're out with him in the back of the car in the cage, and he quite clearly can't see out, as soon as we stop, at traffic lights or at the petrol station, he starts off barking. I think he has an idea we're at the destination and he'll be let out. He's a sharp little dog and knows exactly that when the car stops we're more than likely going to let him out of the back of the car.

We began walking round the park, walking along the path towards the lake. If we'd had Poppy with us we'd have had to avoid the lake or, indeed, any area of water, because she'd have been in it and swimming. No sort of fear of water. Also, the muddier and smellier the better, a good excuse to dive in, up to her tummy, and covered in the worst mud she could find, definitely the smellier the better. As she had a very thick coat, any mud took some time to get out and more likely we'd have to shove her in the bath to get the mud out of her coat. And taking her home in the car and covering the seats in the mud. Never mind. It was part of her personality. Just try keeping her out of water. Quite impossible and it was better to keep her on her lead and as far away from the water! She's be chasing the ducks on the lake and causing havoc! Alfie, on the other hand, has no interest in water, thank goodness. I think he's got more sense than to get wet and cold! He's been in water before, and he didn't like it, particularly the time we went down to the canal and he jumped over a small, low wall, not realising that there was water on the other side! Carol fished him out, cold and wet, and he had to endure walking home very miserable, so I think he learned his lesson not to get in water when we're out and about.

The first time we took Alfie to Stockgrove, when he was but a small puppy, he didn't enjoy it that much, because he got leaves caught in his coat. It was amusing watching him, stopping every now and again to sit down on the patch and attempt to pull twigs and leaves out of his coat. Even today he managed to get bits of twig caught in his coat. Not quite so particular about this, but he ran back to me to pulls the twigs out of his coat.

We did a circuit of the lake and met several dogs. one large labrador with it's master, chasing a ball he threw into the lake. Alfie just has no manners when he meets other dogs, running about madly. I'm not sure what these dogs think of him,  he moves so fast. We got back to the carpark and Carol suggested we have ice creams, which sounded a good idea. There was an ice-cream van set up in the carpark, engine running, but when we attempted to buy ice-cream the man wasn't there to sell them, so we decided to have bacon baguettes from the café which has a sort of window opening onto the area where there are tables to sit at. Very tasty and just what we needed after our walk around the park. Alfie sat under the table and was very good, no doubt exhausted after the exertions of his running around the lake. Incidentally, we were somewhat surprised to notice an almost complete absence of ducks on the lake. There are notices around telling you to 'Please do not feed the ducks.' I know why, as bread isn't actually the right sort of thing to feed ducks and bits of old bread left in the water goes mouldy. But why no more than a handful of ducks? Probably set up home elsewhere on another stretch of water. Lots of trees have been felled and new growth where the light has got in. Also, other managed coppice and a reed-bed system to deal with the water at the visitor centre.

It was a pleasant morning and definitely a good spot to visit with even more places to walk the other side of the road from the main carpark. We drove home and will return for another trip sometime over the long summer holiday period.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Cutting Grass and Neighbour's Noises

I have today been out and cut the grass. Not something I exactly relish, as the lawnmower is quite hard work to push and the grass is long, but it's no use just thinking about it. You just have to get on and do the job. It's surprising how the rotary mower manages the job so well, when all that actually cuts the grass is a tiny plastic blade. I was surprised when I had to replace the thing when the mower gave up cutting and had to venture out to find a replacement. Not an easy job, but I did manage to eventually buy a packet of these things in our local branch of Homebase. They fit in quite easily into the machine but I'm still surprised by how a piece of plastic manages to cut the grass. Probably not as efficiently as a conventional mower, but not bad, nonetheless. You have to reel our the electric cable and plug the thing into the socket which the fridge/freezer uses (not forgetting to re-plug it afterwards, otherwise we'll have a lot of de-frosted food, which wouldn't be such a good idea.) The reel the cable out into the garden and then retrieve the mower from the shed and then set-to and cut the grass. I still refuse to refer to it as a lawn, as I've mentioned in earlier posts. It's no more a lawn than any other stretch of grass around here. No striped finish, worthy of Wimbledon or a cricket pitch (not that I'm particularly interested in either activity.) Just a rough bit of grass, more ups-and-down than flat and perfect. When it rains, the water runs towards the patio doors into the house. It's best not to attempt to cut after wet. Water and electricity don't mix so it's best to attempt cutting when dry and the sun is out. Generally, if I start the job, I want it done in one go, but it can take no more than 10-15 minutes.

Yesterday I did some washing. It was quite a warm and sunny day, so it was a good excuse to get this job out of the way. Two loads, done fairly quickly and efficiently. Our relatively new machine has an economy cycle which means it does a load in approximately 45 minutes. Quite handy to have the timer on the machine which shows how far into the cycle the machine has got. I must say the machine is far more efficient compared to the old machine we had.

I notice that our neighbour has erected a shed in his garden. There seems to be a great deal of noise going on constantly. I look over the fence and see this construction set up in one corner of the garden. I can't really fail to notice as I'm pegging out washing yesterday morning. Where on earth did our neighbour, Gary, get the shed? It looks somewhat rickety and ancient, certainly not brand new. As they say, every man has to have a shed. Not me, particularly. But this ancient thing looks as if it's had better days. No doubt it was someone's who didn't want it, or replaced it with a new one. It makes me wonder how on earth he got it delivered, on the back of a lorry or something, which would have needed to be quite large as the flat pieces would have been quite large to fit a van or smaller vehicle. Perhaps strapped to a roof-rack or something? I don't know. but I wasn't aware of any building when it was constructed as they make quite a lot of noise next door, hammering and generally making D.I.Y. noises.