Wednesday, March 29, 2017

890th blog post! . . . Car Problem . . . Solved!

I rang O.K. Garage just after 9 this morning. I described the noise and the lady said that someone would come to see the car later during the morning. As good as her word she rang again to say that someone was on their way. A van drew up abut ten minutes later and I tried the car to let them hear the unpleasant grinding noise. They said they'd take it away and find out what the problem was. I wasn't sure that they heard the sound, but as soon as they drove out of the drive I heard it quite distinctly. About half-an-hour later they called me to say they'd found the problem. The front coil-springs were corroded or something. The same things that were replaced when the car was Mot's a few weeks ago. I'm now a bit annoyed that these weren't spotted needing attention at that time. It's going to cost around £200, but I told them to go ahead and do the work, even though we wouldn't be able to pay for the work until Friday. There's no rush for the car to come back as we can manage without it until then. At least if it's roadworthy again we can get out and about next week when Carol is on Holiday for Easter. We have some trips organised so at least we can use the car, hopefully. Just another expense we don't need, but it's one of the things you have to contend with when you have a car. 

On Friday I can walk down to Peartree Bridge where O.K. Garage is situated to collect the car. It is about a ten-minute walk along the Redway from home. At least having a garage so close, it's easy to reach without to many problems.

The last couple of days have started off foggy and cold, but as the days have continued we've had some sunshine. It was like that yesterday, but it's a good deal more over-cast this morning. I think the sun is making a vain attempt to shine as I write this.

Daniel is returning home tomorrow. I have been clearing space in the spare room, which has been used as something of a dumping ground for all manner of items. We'll have to collect him from the bus station as he's coming back from Newcastle by coach. Carol says we can order a taxi cab and go over to collect him then. Not entirely sure what time he's due in.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Fresh problems with car

Another foggy morning. It doesn't look as if it's going to clear up. I was hoping the sun was going to come out. Really no sign of that, unfortunately.  The past couple of days have been really warm and pleasant. You just have to make the most of the warm weather when we get it. I was supposed to go to Sainsbury's this morning  to collect my repeat prescription which has been on order for a week. It got to 9 o'clock and I was getting ready to drive there, I got in the car which was parked on the drive in front of the house, but unfortunately, as I'm trying to start the car, there was a really unpleasant sound coming from underneath the car. It sounded like a sort of grating noise. I'm not sure what it was, but it was certainly not pleasant. It could possibly be the brake system but I'm not sure. Considering we had the car MOTd only a few weeks ago and we had some work done to replace some part which I forget what it was at this particular moment, and considering the facts that we had used the car over the weekend, driving all that way to Kinver Rocks on Saturday, as well as me driving to church and then shopping at Aldi, it's annoying that the car should develop yet another fault. As my medication was running out, particularly one of the several medications I take called Bisoprolol, which is one of the major ones I take which is a beta-blocker, I couldn't really afford not to take it as i'm not sure what would happen if I didn't take it. I was now stuck not being able to get to Sainsburys, so I had to come up with an alternative method of transport to get there. I considered catching the bus as I have a bus pass which allows me free transport on the buses around this area. Then I thought, if I go next door I could ask, if they were in, if they would be able to give me a lift to Sainsburys to collect my medication. I went around and rang the doorbell, but I got no response, so I would have to find an alternative. And it occurred to me to try church, as Milton Keynes Christian Centre is only a short distance away in Oldbrook. Unfortunately I didn't have the phone number immediately to hand, so I had to go online and look on the website. I rang the number and got the reception, and then she put me through to Bev Searle and she told me that someone would come and give me a lift do Sainsbury's. So I went outside Weight to the front of the house. About five minutes later a car drove up driven by Josh Verity who is Youth pastor at Milton Keynes Christian Centre. Very soon we were driving into the centre of Milton Keynes, and I was able to get to Sainsburys and collect the package of medication which I needed. He soon managed to drive me home, mission accomplished. I must say that I very grateful for his help this morning.

When Carol came home from work I told her about the car. We wanted to open the bonnet of the car to try and find out what was causing the noise. More than ever it sounds like something either come adrift or caught underneath the vehicle. I was not over-keen to go out for a drive in it as I wasn't sure whether it was safe. Then we couldn't find the catch which releases the bonnet. Odd, as I've always managed to find it. The flashing inside the car (for want of a better work. I'm not sure that's correct, but the plastic lining which covers the inside of the cabin of the car.) came adrift from it's moorings the other day when I was in the carpark at Waitrose, but it pushed back on without any problems. It makes me wonder what they did with the car when it was at the garage the other week. Not fitted back properly, which is somewhat annoying. Once we got inside the bonnet we couldn't see anything that suggested what was making the unpleasant grinding noise. I'm going to have to get in touch with the garage and get them to check it out as I've a suspicion it has something to do with the work they did to get the car through it's MoT.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Saturday Trip to Kinver Edge

Carol has had a really bad couple of weeks at work at Milton Keynes Academy. It seemed only reasonable that we go out for the day, mainly to get away from the stresses of life. Also, Alfie deserved a day out. He's always up for a walk and doesn't need a great deal of encouragement. I think, if you've read any of my earlier blog posts, you'll have discovered how a small Yorkshire Terrier can behave, from one minute being a quiet, sensible little bundle and the next, with the slightest hint of the word 'walk,' or going near his lead, he becomes a raging little Tasmanian Devil-type character, growing and yapping madly. We didn't actually utter the word 'walk' within ear-shot so it was a surprise to us that he had picked up our intentions of going out. It was bright and sunny, having been quite cold for the past few day, although generally fine. We'd looked on-line for somewhere suitable for dogs and Carol had said she'd seen something on the Sunday evening BBC1 television programme 'Countryfile' about Kinver Edge and the rock houses there. I might have seen it on there or mentioned on one of the many and various television programmes we watch. For all that, it did seem an intriguing sort of place to visit. We had to get Alfie ensconced within the cage in the back of the car first, set up the satnav to allow us to find 'Kinver Edge' and then first fill up with petrol at the Shell station along Grafton Street and check the tyre pressures. Something that is necessary before we go on a long journey. I'm glad my dad always told me to check this sort of thing on every car I've owned, from filling the radiator with water, or at least checking the level, the windscreen washer water level, tyres, lights, oil etc etc. It's somehow inculcated within me from the first car I owned way back when I had passed my driving test in 1969 and had an ancient Ford Anglia which my parents bought me for the princely sum of £75. That's another story for another day and mentioned in fairly full detail in an earlier blog post.

So we set off, taking the directions as given by Dora (the name we've christened our Gamin SatNav.) Perhaps it's a bit stupid to give a gadget a name, but it does have a female voice and so-named after the children's television show character 'Dora The Explorer.' She generally does a good job, and tells you fairly well in advance when to turn left, right or whatever. But somehow we didn't do exactly what she advised and ended up in not quite the right place at one point. Actually going very near Claines, the village outside Worcester where my daughter and son-in-law live with my grandson, George. We could have dropped in, but we thought as we hadn't given them notice, it wasn't such a good idea. So we drove on until we got to Stourbridge. I was under the impression it was closer to Birmingham than it was. We eventually arrived at Kinver Edge, which is a range of rocky outcrops and we were making for Holy Austin Rock Houses. We couldn't immediately find a car-parking space along the side of the road, it was that busy almost every space was occupied by a car, but we eventually arrived at the dedicated National Trust carpark which seemed better as it was off the road.

Kinver Rocks

Having got Alfie out of the back of the car, by which time he had begun to let the whole neighbourhood know that he was about by barking and yapping very loudly (I suppose you would, if you had been imprisoned within a cage in the back of a car for near enough two hours.) we set off to walk towards the rock outcrop. It was a good 20-minute walk and we were able to let Alfie run, which was great as that was basically all he want to do. Running ahead of us, through an attractive wood, some of the path having a gradient and in places we came across carved seats where we stopped to take photographs and catch our breath. Eventually we came out in an open area with the rock outcrop before us, rising up perhaps a hundred and fifty feet, with a path cut into the side and with buildings perched on the summit.

Holy Austin Rock Houses, on top of the rocky out-crop at Kinver.

It was quite a walk, with steps some of the way, a sheer drop down on one side and the rock face on the other. Then turning a corner, a set of further steps, little terraces cut into the rock side, which had been made into gardens, complete with fences, lawns and everything you would expect with a garden, but certainly not at this sort of height off the ground. Looking down, I could see lots of grass, but at a fairly steep angle, which must have taken a great deal of skill to mow with any sort of mechanical device. Further steps, at even more of a steep angle, leading eventually to the very top of the rock. It was a real surprise to find a set of neat cottages, cut into the rocks, one having a room which had been made into a café, where we bought some filled rolls to eat, sitting on a terraced-area, with tables and chairs and views down to the village below and further, to the open valley and the horizon. I think the view was as far as the Malvern Hills, but I'm not sure exactly. But it was worth the effort with such a magnificent view. This is called Holy Austin Rock Houses, but I'm not sure why 'holy' exactly. Anything which has either an artistic or historical connection is interesting to us and I have to say it was very quirky and interesting. We had a look in some of the caves, some which had been part of dwellings at some stage or another. Also, there are toilets hidden quite discreetly behind one of the houses, a definite necessity for some of us, unfortunately. Very well kept and I wonder how on earth they got the water up there! Also, if you were to live there, what about deliveries, such as post? I'd feel sorry for the poor old postman, having to labour up and down those steps, particularly if you were carrying a heavy bag with letters in it.

Anyway, having had a good look around the place, we began our careful decent and walked back towards the carpark. We bought ice cream from a van parked along the side of the road and then began the walk back to the car. It's a good deal more of a climb back than you realise when you are walking in the other direction, but it was certainly good exercise for the two of us and even more so for Alfie who is only little. Once back at the car we soon drove home and on the way stopped off at a retail park we could see from the Motorway near Banbury as there was a Marks and Spencer's in there where we bought salad which we had for our meal when we got home. So, if you want somewhere to visit which is unusual, then I can recommend Kinver Edge. Since looking on the National Trust website we discovered that there are many more rock houses in the area, so we'll have to make a further visit and explore these other houses.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Shopping in IKEA

Daniel is returning home next week. He's got a job-interview in Milton Keynes. He's only here for a day or two and will return afterwards. He's been at university in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. It seems crazy to think he has to come back a good 200 miles for a job on our doorstep. I'm not sure exactly where the company is or what they're called, but never mind. We have to get the spare bedroom prepared as it's currently being used as a storeroom and you can barely see the bed as it's covered in all manner of things, books mainly. I had spent some of the morning cleaning it ready and had to go out and buy a mop and bucket as the floor was in something of a state. On the way to Homebase in Winterhill I took a load of stuff to the tidy tip in Bleak Hall. Old bit of carpet and a bean bag which had definitely seen better days. I think it would have crawled there itself given half a chance, it was so battered and torn and unmentionable. Also a load of cartons, the packaging for some large-scale item we'd had delivered from Amazon or another on-line company or other. Well, I was prompted to do all this because it was bright and sunny, and if the weather is fine it's a good excuse to do some clearing out. I'm not sure what happens when it's dull, overcast or raining. Probably has the opposite effect.

When Carol came in from work I showed her my efforts with the spare room and she was pleased with the results. We usually get a take-away on a Friday and go to the Brother's Fish Bar in Eaglestone. But before going there Carol suggested we visit IKEA to have a look at book shelves as the one's we have currently in our lounge are not really in a particularly fit state and we could do with a new television unit. She said there was one we could have which was a sort of -all-in-one design, having a television unit at the centre with book shelves around it. You get my meaning. Well, I imagine you do. Also, it was a good excuse to replace the bit of rug I'd taken to the tidy-tip. 

I quite like wandering around IKEA. Not everybody's idea of a pleasant outing. I rather like the stupid names the come up with for their products. I'm not so sure of the amount of walking you have to do within their store. If you've never visited an IKEA store, you won't know how strange the layout of the different departments is. You walk in a sort of strange seeming labyrinth of inter-locking rooms or departments and have to go through each to reach the next. It's as well to remember to take a trolley with you and to collect items you want to buy as you go along, otherwise, if you suddenly decide to buy whatever it is that takes your fancy and want to go back, it's not each to remember where that item was and end up walking miles, or what seem like miles.

We started off in the restaurant/café. Carol is diabetic and she said she thought her blood sugar was low so she would need something to eat and drink. We queued in the self-service section of the café and I had a piece of apple pie and Carol had a sort of chocolaty confection-thing made with butterscotch or what looked like butterscotch. We had to get drinks, as you pay once and can fill up your glass or mug several times if you have an IKEA Family card, which we have. Unfortunately we have so many of these loyalty cards that when you get to the till to pay it can take some time to find the correct card. You get points for shopping in Tesco with a Clubcard, another in Sainsbury's if you have a Nectar card, and another in Waterstone's. Every store has one now. Boots has their Advantage card, Costa has one, Holland and Barratt's and so on. My wallet is stuffed full of the things and it gets to the point that we have to leave a lot of them at home or in the glove compartment in the car. They are a good idea and can be good especially when you get money off on certain products or a free paper when you spend so much in Waitrose or a free coffee or tea. We had to spend a couple of minutes searching for the confounded IKEA card.

We sat in an area in the café which had IKEA furniture in it. Well, nothing like being able to try out what a company sells by actually using it. We bought a chair to replace the armchair I used to sit in some while ago. It came with us from the house in Crownhill. It had not worn well; the springs in the seat were coming through and the arms were hanging off and it had been patched up with tape and was certainly past it's best. We went to IKEA to look at a replacement and the one I chose isn't actually as comfortable as it might be, which is a pity. Not something to sit in for any length of time. With my shoulder and neck problem I really need something with a bit more back support. We tried a new model which is more like a traditional wing-back chair and has a good deal more back support and a more padded seat. We'll come back when we have been paid to buy one next month.

Carol went off to find the toilet and I was left with the trolley in the café. There was an older couple sitting nearby, I don't think they spoke one word to each other in all the time I was sitting in there. They looked so miserable. I don't think he wanted to be there. No doubt taken there against his will and wanted to be somewhere else. Quite a few other husbands with wives looking just as miserable. Well, they must have had odd relationships or something to be so grumpy and miserable.

We spent some time looking at rugs in the rug and carpet section. A great many to choose from in every shape and size imaginable in in an absolutely enormous range of designs and colours. We choose a round rug for the spare-room with a sort of spotty design in a radiating pattern and door mats from the front door and the patio door as the old ones had become really dirty and tatty. On the way through the children's section we saw lots of stuffed animal toys. Over the years we have bought all manner of birds, animals and assorted strange stuffed toys, more than one or two mice and rats which the dogs have played with, a couple ending up in the bin due to being over-shaken or sucked by both Alfie and Poppy. We have a rabbit-toy which sits near the television and a few other assorted creatures but Carol saw a puffin toy which we had to buy.

So, we wended our way through the remaining departments and ended up at the checkout where we paid and ended up back at the carpark. We had to decide where to get out Friday-night take-out. We had to drive back towards Eaglestone and the traffic was building up along the road near the football stadium. It took about ten minutes to reach the roundabout where Saxon Street meets Groveway and then near Beanhill, near the junction into the road where Ashfield Medical Centre is located. Not surprising as the time was around 5 o'clock, going-home for most businesses in and around Milton Keynes. We were making for Brother's fish and chip shop and it took us some while to get through the heavy traffic. We parked near the shops in Eaglestone and took some cash out of the A.T.M. machine near the shop and then  noticed that the fish and chip shop was closed, with the shutters down. There was a notice stuck to the shutter. 'Closed due to family bereavement.' Sad to read this, but there was no way we were going to get our weekly fish and chip supper. So we decided we would have to go back the way we'd just come and go to get a meal from the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet near the stadium, which we had only just driven past about twenty minutes earlier. Having collected our K.F.C. meal we drove back home and were glad that we had completed our evening's travels.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Another Annoying and Totally Pointless Phone call

I have now got a new mobile. We bought a Samsung Galaxy just over a year ago. A smart phone. I have never had one before, always having a fairly basic model, but it seemed a reasonably good idea to 'upgrade' to a mobile which meant you can have 'apps' on it, are able to get onto the internet etc etc. So we got a fairly basic model from Sainsbury's and went with a 'sim' card which you put into the mobile yourself, which is great, it means you can change your provider when you want and aren't tied to one particular company. It is an 02 sim and you have a 'bundle' of minutes and data for £10 a month (I'm not exactly sure what amount of data it has or the number of minutes for 'talking.' It's strange that it's referred to as a telephone, but most people seem to use these devices more for texting, going on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc etc than using the thing to actually speak to someone. But the Samsung Galaxy wasn't up to much, unfortunately. It didn't have nearly enough memory (0r whatever.) to allow you to have a whole selection of downloadable 'apps' on it. When we joined the A.A. a year or two back, after we broke down on the M1 when we came back from visiting Calke Abbey, we found that you could have an insurance policy, through the A.A., which meant, if you broke down you would not only get rescued by the A.A. (which they have always done since time immemorial; what the organisation was set up to do.) but also, with a reasonable monthly payment, you could have your car repaired, free, up to the value of £500. Which seemed reasonable. Considering the cost of car repairs and the fact that we broke down when we were up in Newcastle-On-Tyne around two years ago, when we went to move Daniel from one flat to another when he was at university there. And it was around a week later that we broke down- again- this time, as I mentioned earlier- on the return journey from visiting Calke Abbey. It was somewhat traumatic, to say the least. Standing and waiting to be rescued, within the area where there were roadworks going on. We had a free rescue and were then deposited in a layby just off the  Motorway, somewhere near Daventry, or was it Northampton? We were with Swinton Insurance and had additional breakdown cover with them, so they came and took us the rest of the way home. (All this mentioned in an earlier blog post on here.) What I am attempting to say, in a very long-winded and roundabout way, is, that, with the A.A. you can have an 'app' on your phone, which you use when necessary, if you break down, as it will show the service where you are exactly. No doubt using some sort of G.P.S. technology, which is good, because when you breakdown (which, in around 45 years of driving has only happened i think, perhaps twice.) you never always know exactly where you are, in order to let the rescue service find you.

Taking an age to get to the point of this post, but it's coming up in the next bit. I needed to explain the 'how's and why's of things before I got to the main point. A sort of Ronnie Corbett, monologue-moment. If you don't know what I'm on about, just Google 'Two Ronnies' comedy monologue or something.

So, we decided to upgrade the mobile again, this time with an iPhone. Not the latest, an iPhone 5. It has a good deal more reliable and has a good deal more memory than the Samsung has.

I have removed the sim card from the Samsung and put it in the iPhone. I notice that it's easier to get at the sim card as Apple see fit to make this simpler by having a little drawer at the side of the phone which you gain access to by the use of a little metal device, little more than a glorified paper clip. But if you have to remove the sim card from the Samsung you have to remove the back of the phone and then it's not that easy to find where the sim is. I discovered this by going on Google and finding a handy video on YouTube.

Well, no sooner had I got the thing up-and-running (not managing to get the passwords for various apps to work, but that's a completely other story.) I had several phone calls during the afternoon. One just rang and rang and I didn't bother to answer because they're usually just for P.P.I. or at least they don't sound too genuine. Telling me my computer needs up-grading and they're from the Microsoft office or something. Which is crazy, as this is a Macintosh and doesn't use Microsoft software. So they are more than likely just a scam, eager to get into my computer and all manner of nasty things. I saw that I had two calls from Liverpool, I don't know from whom, but they didn't ring for long enough to allow me to reach the phone to answer. Crazy, as it takes long enough if I don't have the mobile within arms length in order to pick the thing up before it rang off. But this afternoon I decided to ring back. I got a bit of music, the Minute Waltz, the music they use on the Radio 4 show 'Just A Minute.' I eventually got an answer, and it was about the accident we had a couple of years ago, when we went to Ascott, the National Trust property outside Leighton Buzzard, and when we drove home we bumped the car into a pot-hole which set the alarm off, something to do with keeping the car on track, I don't know how it worked exactly. But these insurance people think I was injured as a passenger, which I wasn't. I think it's just a crafty way to get people to claim thousands of pounds of compensation so that they can get commission out of it. I was not injured and just wish they'd stop ringing about this incident. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wet Weather

After the warm, almost springlike weather yesterday, it's a really miserable sort of day. I'm really glad I cut the grass yesterday because today it's pouring with rain. Infact it's a good deal colder and we have the central heating on. I refuse to call that patch of grass a 'lawn' because it's nothing of the sort. A lawn is reasonably good quality grass, cut with a mower which makes the traditional stripes. Think Wimbledon tennis (I don't as I'm not a fan, but you know what I mean.) I suppose I mean what we see when we visit a National Trust property and go into the various gardens attached to these properties. Indeed, as a young man living at home, particularly Malting Farm, I was usually in charge of mowing the lawn.  I wasn't over-keen about having the job, but you had no choice. You did what your were told and just got on with it. I can actually think of nothing more boring than mowing a lawn, walking up and down, pushing the benighted thing, which wasn't always eager to start. My father was particular about the thing, making sure you checked it for oil, and then having to fill the engine with two-stroke petrol. To this very day I don't understand what is meant by 'two-stroke' petrol. How does it differ from any other petrol? We had to go to a local petrol station with the can and get it filled before I could put the petrol in the lawn mower before I could even think of mowing the lawn. Then check the oil level with the dip-stick. I suppose it was good that I was instructed on how to properly care for a petrol engine, but it was a bit of a chore, all this fuss and bother. There was a large garden at Malting Farm, Cardington, and my father was somewhat particular about how the lawn was mown. It was done with a traditional lawn mower, you know, petrol-driven, you had to empty the bucket think on the front which caught the grass as it went along. Not many up-and-down lengths before you had to stop and empty the thing into a wheelbarrow and when that was full, push the thing the length of the garden to the pile that grew exponentially at the other end of the garden. Compost heap was the word I was looking for. It gave off a very distinctive odour. I don't know what happened to it. It steamed gently. Mysterious. I expect this compost was used to bed in plants, act as a sort of fertiliser. Anyway, I'm drifting from my main subject. What I'm attempting to say is that the grass patch at the rear of this house is more like a quagmire, particularly when it rains. It's excessively uneven, which makes cutting it much more difficult. It's tusky and difficult to cut, even more so if it's slightly wet. I don't think our electric, rotary mower was made to cut such poor quality grass. More likely intended for even, flat lawns, at those houses with pocket-handkerchief sized gardens and even smaller pieces of lawn, made of nicely rolled, tended turf, purchased for some garden centre such as Frost's at Woburn Sands, or Dobbie's or even Wyevale. The mower at Malting Farm was one of those green Atco models. It had a detachable bucket on the front and you had to pull a cord to get it started, making sure you didn't flood the engine otherwise it wouldn't start. It was something of an effort to pull that cord-thing, which had a sort of wooden cross piece handle and the cord sort of re-coiled itself after you'd pulled it. It began to really hurt every muscle in your pulling arm after the sixth or so attempt.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring is in the Air!

It's a bright and sunny morning. We walked with Alfie, our Yorkie, to the Academy. It might be sunny, but it's very deceptive as there is quite a chill in the air. There is a definite sign of spring all along the Redway, trees beginning to show signs of buds, blossom on the trees opposite our house and the grass at the back of the house is growing to such a length that I'm going to have to get the mower out and cut it, which, at the moment, I am reluctant to do, as you can imagine. Carol has put some fresh food on the bird feeder and we're getting a good variety of birds who come and use it.

A little later . . .

I have made the most of the sunshine and started mowing the lawn. I did the first 'shift' (for want of a better term) during the morning and then did the second bit around midday. It was just as well I did it when I did because the grass was long and the mower was having a real struggle to do it's job properly. I hd to use my G.T.N. spray as I was beginning to get some slight angina pain in my chest, but I'm not letting that get in the way of what I'm doing. I always have a few puffs of this before I go swimming as I am prone to slight twinges of angina pain when I have swum in the past.

I am currently watching the Channel Four documentary series 'Mutiny.' It's a recreation of the epic journey the sailors who were cast adrift after the 'Mutiny on The Bounty' incident in 1789. This documentary series pits 9 relative novices against the full force of the Pacific Ocean as they make the 4000-mile journey from Tonga to Timor. It's about how they manage to not only survive the ocean, but also the confines of the re-created 23-foot long boat, open entirely to the elements, as well as managing to take on board instructions from a 'captain' and manage with the most basic of essentials such as water and food. They follow Captain William Bligh's log which he managed to keep during the voyage. This is definitely 'must see' television, making so-called 'reality' television shows such as 'Big Brother' or 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here' look really tame in comparison. As I enjoy anything with a history element to it, then this is perfect viewing. I enjoy those programmes which put modern people within a historic environment, such as 'Victorian Pharmacy' or 'The Victorian Slum.' 

Free Shakespeare Course on Futurelearn

Anyone who know me well will know I have a real passion for theatre and that I worked in stage management for several years. Also, that I love Shakespeare. I did a course on the free Futurelearn platform a couple of years which I really enjoyed. It is being run again, for those who might be interested. It's very easy to register and if you decide to join you can begin at the beginning very easily and catch up quickly. It began on Monday of this week so you're only a few days behind if you want to join in. It is a joint project run by Warwick University, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Warwick Business School. The lead educator is Jonathan Bate. It's something of a coincidence that I recently bought his book " Soul of The Age: The Life and Mind of William Shakespeare, so I'm reading in in parallel with the course. You get a series of short videos, running for up to 10 minutes, and Jonathan Bate uses objects from the archives of the Birthplace Trust that are relevant to the life of Shakespeare, for example, a  signet ring which was discovered in a field near Stratford-Upon-Avon which may or may not have belonged to Shakespeare, as it has the initials 'W.S.' engraved on it. Also, copies of manuscripts, folios etc etc. As you progress through the course, and you can go at your own pace, there is no need to rush through the course, you can leave comments and discuss with other students on the course, by writing in the spaces provided and so learn as you go along. At the end of each week (the whole course runs for 10 weeks.) there are quizzes so you can see how you are progressing.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

To Five Guys for Burgers 'n Chips

We had a meal out last night. It was a sort of outing for some of Carol's colleagues from the science department where she works at Milton Keynes Academy. I know there's a new burger place called Five Guys in Midsummer Place, next to Debenham's department store. It had recently opened and we had a look at the menu when we were walking past a week or two ago. But it wasn't this one we were going to. It's in the Xcape building, underneath the ski slope, just behind the theatre. Carol finished work at just after 3.30 and came home and we changed ready to go out. I think Alfie picked up the idea that we were going out. He's as sharp as a knife, that little dog. It's amazing that he gets some sort of message in his head that we intend going out. He couldn't come with us. He'd have to stay in the house. A lot of yapping and getting excited. It was far too early to arrive at the restaurant, but we drove into the centre of Milton Keynes and found a parking space at the side of what's called the food centre, where Sainsbury's used to be, before they moved to their new store in Witan Gate. The weather had become very unsettled. It was a good deal colder and there was a strong wind blowing. There were quite a few parking spaces available, but not really close enough for us to avoid a long walk to the Xcape building. A lot of people about. It seemed especially busy for the time of day. We went into the central shopping centre as Carol wanted something from Superdrug. We were really just wasting time until 5 o'clock which is when we were due to meet up at Five Guys. We walked across towards the restaurant and found it was open but nobody from the party was there. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it wasn't what I'd call a 'restaurant' in the accepted sense. Very stripped back. More like a glorified take-away, but with an American feel. It was bright red and white tiles and paintwork. You order at the counter, at bit like at K.F.C., done on a sort of touch-screen computer terminal. You can see the staff flipping burgers and putting together the orders behind the counter. Very efficient. Then your order is put together in brown paper bags and they call your number out when it's ready for you to collect. No plates or cutlery. You get tomato ketchup and all your sides within your package. We sat at long red plastic-topped counter and sat on sort of bar stools. Drinks, or at least soft drinks, are dispensed from a sort of self-service machine. Carol was delighted that she could have a drink that was sugar-free, which was ideal, considering she is diabetic and isn't supposed to have anything with sugar in it. A wide selection of different flavours and it took some while to work out how to use this machine! You can return as many times as you like for more, if you're that way inclined. My only reservation is that the music that was playing was excessively loud which made conversation quite difficult, but I can live with it. The burger I had was very good (I'm not actually a burger sort of person, not used to eating food with my hands. Sorry, I know it's boring, but there you are.) The chips, and we got loads and loads, were perhaps the best I've ever tasted and you got a little tray of peanuts, in their shells. I don't know how they got the flavour on, because they were in their shells, a sort of mild salty taste. The rest of the gang turned up a good deal later but they seemed to enjoy the experience and it seems a good idea for them to meet up outside work like this and perhaps do this again at a later date and on a regular basis.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Alfie Attacked by Stray Dog

As I've mentioned in an earlier blog post, now that it's getting warmer and the days brighter earlier, we walk to Milton Keynes Academy with Alfie on his lead. But this morning it was a good deal colder and there was a slight fog. No sooner had we left the house and were walking along Golden Drive than this small terrier came out of nowhere and started to attack Alfie. It was a Jack Russel terrier, small (about the same size as Alfie) with a lot of white and patches of tan along it back. It was quite intent on getting hold of Alfie, so I immediately picked him up while Carol chased it back into the estate (somewhere within Griffon Close.) It came back a second time, but after that Carol managed to get rid of it somehow and it didn't follow us onto the Redway as we continued on our walk towards the Academy. I was somewhat shaken up by this, as we don't normally get dogs coming at us like that. I'm wondering where it might have come from, did it escape from one of the houses somewhere within Eaglestone? Had the owners let it out and not been aware of where the dog had gone? I like to think not, but you never know what other people do with their dogs. There is a dog which I can hear most days, barking constantly, somewhere in the direction of Griffon Close. if it has escaped, then the owners should take better care of their pet. If it's a danger to other dogs and this little bitch (sorry, but it was such) then it needs to be kept under control. It was certainly going to hurt Alfie which is why I picked him up. Carol was concerned that I was in danger of being bitten, which I wasn't aware of. I was just concerned for Alfie's safety. We'll have to keep a good look-out for that nasty little dog again when we are out with Alfie again. Well, I don't know what Alfie's thoughts on the matter was. He kept yapping as we continued our journey. Probably telling us that he didn't appreciate being attacked. Usually, when we're out and about with Alfie and we meet other dogs they are under control and are friendly and never have we met another dog that wanted to harm either of our dogs. This is particularly unpleasant since we lost Poppy a month or so ago. I must just say that Alfie hasn't received any sort of injury. He wasn't bitten by the attacking dog, thank goodness. I don't know whether he might have if I hadn't managed to scoop him up. I'm just so pleased he hasn't been hurt. As I write this he's currently curled up of the sofa near me fast asleep.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Lord of The Rings- as a book, on radio and as a movie

We are currently listening to the BBC radio adaptation of 'The Hobbit.' I had  the entire Hobbit and Lord of the Rings on CD as a Christmas present two years ago, and have not yet got round to listening to it. As I bought Carol a DAB radio with a CD player in it we decided to start listening. I remember listening to it when it was originally broadcast in 1968. Those were the days before cassette recorders, there was no way to record radio broadcasts, and even if there was, I doubt I would have still had the recording. I did have a reel-to-reel tape recorder, a Grundig, which I bought from a teacher at school. You could record programmes by putting the microphone in front of the radio's speaker and record that way, but it wouldn't have been very good as you'd get all sorts of extraneous noises recorded, if someone spoke at the same time as the programme being aired, or a car went past. I think, later on, I managed to be able to connect a lead somehow to the speaker and use the direct link into the tape recorder which was a good deal better. Today, or course, you can download an MP3 file from the broadcaster's website or record onto CD, but thankfully the BBC has had the good sense to release a good deal of their material onto CD. This complete recording has presumably been re-mastered digitally.

I've read 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of The Rings.' I have to admit to being something of a J.R.R. Fan. I had heard of 'The Hobbit' when I was at school, but never read it until I was a good deal older because I had considered it to be a children's novel. But I read it and loved it. It's got so much going for it. As if you didn't know, it's a sort of prequel to 'The Lord of The Rings.' A teacher was reading that when I was at school, so I knew about it. Being an avid reader for most of my life, I would read anything and everything I could lay my hands on. I think I have always had something or other to read for most of my life, a habit I began at school, where we were expected to have a book to read or to at least get something out of the library and have it to read if we had nothing else to do. I'm so glad to have had that habit. I originally had the paperback of 'The Hobbit' and later got the illustrated edition which was done by Alan Lee. He was the concept artist for the Peter Jackson adaptation of 'The Lord of The Rings.' His illustrations fit quite well with how I imagined the characters and the locations of Middle Earth might look like.

In about 1971 I went to work at the Liverpool Playhouse as an A.S.M. I took with me the complete paperback edition of the 'Lord of The Rings.' I bought it when I had gone to London with my brother Robert. I can't say I remember what we were doing in London at the time. I think he may have gone with me to an interview for a job. I would have been around 19-20 at the time I suppose. I read the book when I had a spare moment at the theatre, in the Green Room. It certainly made an impression on me. Like 'The Hobbit,' it has a journey (or two, or three, perhaps more.) at the heart of it. A quest. I think I got to really love the central characters, particularly Frodo (the nephew of Bilbo, who is the central character in 'The Hobbit.') He is flawed, like most of us. He gets scared on the way to dispose of The Ring (I won't spoil it for those who have yet to read and enjoy this magical tale.) He is reacquainted with Gollum, whom he first meets in 'The Hobbit.' A more devious and calculating character you won't find in any other book, but he's interesting and it's difficult to not feel a certain amount of sympathy for the little blighter. I have read the whole trilogy at least four more times. I think perhaps every decade (so I think a re-read is about due soon.) I had the three separate books, 'The Fellowship of The Ring,' 'The Two Towers' and 'The Return of The King.' I bought it through one of those book clubs you used to see advertised in magazines such as 'The Sunday Times' and 'The Telegraph.' You had to buy around 6 books for £5 or something, and then buy a further so many within your first year. I don't know what happened to those books. I've moved house so many times, no doubt they got left somewhere or other. Then, a good deal later, I bought the complete trilogy which came out with the Alan Lee illustrations. Again, from one of those book clubs. I think it was called The Softback Preview or something. You can see that I'm a bit of a book freak, so these book clubs were so tempting to me. Unfortunately the copy I had had a fault in it. Part-way through reading it, I discovered that there was a large part missing, one of the 'sets' of pages was missing. It was an expensive edition, selling full-price for around £50. I returned it and got a replacement. Again, another book that has been lost. More like mislaid, unfortunately. I will have to buy it again to read all over again.

Then in the 1980's the BBC did the remarkable Radio Four adaptation. I listened and loved it. It was later bought out on cassette. I was a member of the record library at Bedford Central Library and had the cassettes out to listen to. Then, much more recently, the whole set was published on the far more sophisticated CD system, along with 'The Hobbit.' I saw it for sale in 'The Works' in Milton Keynes and being sold for a ridiculously low price, something like £20. I'm not sure what it full price would have been. Probably around £100 I would imagine. I had it as a Christmas present for Christmas 2015. It has been sitting on our bookshelf ever since and hadn't been played until last night.

There had been a movie version of 'The Lord of The Rings' made in the late 1970's. It was animated and wasn't very good. They attempted to cram two of the books into one movie. Not exactly memorable. I believe that 'The Hobbit' was done a similar way but I have never seen it. Then in around 1999 it was announced that a new trilogy was to be produced, by Peter Jackson, and using the latest computer technology and to be filmed in New Zealand. I was wary of this, as it's a beloved sequence of novels and it was likely to spoil the whole Middle Earth concept. But I saw it and wasn't disappointed. It was as near as perfect as you could make an adaptation of a novel. I'm talking of the first book, 'The Fellowship of The Ring.' I think it came out in 2001. The next year saw the second film, 'The Two Towers' and the following year 'The Return of The King.' Ian McKellen played Gandalf and was, to my way of thinking, almost born to play the part. He gave the character a certain gravitas and his voice a real power and authority the character required. Also, the C.G.I. animated Gollum almost equally perfect. When the character was on screen it was captivating. It was difficult to imagine him being created any other way.

After the success of the Lord of The Rings movies, it was inevitable that a movie version of 'The Hobbit' would be made. Apparently it wasn't so easy to acquire the rights to the book, but soon it was set up and made, with Ian McKellen reprising his role as Gandalf. The only problem I have with the whole idea of this project was when they decided to make three films out of the book. As it is no more than 250 pages long, I could not see how on earth you could possibly get three movies out of it. It only needed to be done as a single movie. No doubt, with the success of the 'Rings' trilogy, the accountants got hold of the thing and realised they could make more money out of three movies instead of just one. Leaving the audience 'wanting more' after parts one and two was too obvious. At the time of writing I have not seen these movies and I'm not sure I want to. Why on earth spin out the plot over around six hours of screen-time when it obviously only required around a third of the time?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Walking Alfie

Instead of using the car to take Carol to work at Milton Keynes Academy in the morning and because the weather is so much better at the moment, we have been walking over. It's only a ten-minute walk and in actual fact far quicker than taking the car, because it could take longer to de-ice the car and get it warm and then merely a two-minute drive. Then, driving back home, the traffic could be heavy after 7.30. You get those drivers who don't care that it's actually a 40 m.p.h. zone along Saxon Street. There used to be a 'slow down' sign fixed to the footbridge, one of those digital displays which shows your speed and then, when you're going the correct speed, a smiley face. I think a good deal more effective than speed cameras, which are used mostly to raise money and some people slow down when they approach them and then speed up once they are past. 

We have begun taking Alfie with us. He's always eager to go out for a walk, and makes a good deal of noise when he realises he's likely to go out. Carol has her lanyard with her pass on a hook in the kitchen, next to where Alfie's lead is kept, and as soon as Carol picked up her lanyard this morning (which is, incidentally, the same colour blue as Alfie's lead.) he started barking and getting excited. Carol put on Alfie's harness, as it's better than fixing his lead to his collar, which he wears all the time, but Alfie was getting more and more excited at the prospect of going out for a walk. Once on, we went outside and all the neighbourhood could hear his yaps and barks, echoing throughout the estate. 

You have to keep your wits about you as you walk Alfie along the Redway as some unpleasant individual has thought it necessary to smash some bottles as you approach the Academy gates, so I have to pick Alfie up as I don't want him getting any bits of glass in his feet.  The bit of glass are strewn all along the patch and the tiniest pieces are the one's that are likely to do the most harm and very difficult to see, although most of the bits glitter in the sunlight. He hurt a paw a few weeks ago and has been limping about, and we're still not sure what caused this. Perhaps he tweaked a muscle or caught a nail when out for a walk, but it doesn't seem to be troubling him too much. Yesterday , as I walked back home from the Academy, two children from the school wanted to talk to Alfie when I had picked him up. I think a lot of the children who go there know that Alfie is Carol and my dog. He seems to have built up something of a fan club.

All along the Redway, from where the footbridge over Saxon Street, up as far as the path which approaches the Academy, it's strewn with litter. I'm shocked that it's so dirty. It's crisp packets, plastic drinks bottles and all manner of litter. I'm shocked if it's thrown there by the school children who use the path as they walk to and from school. The worst part is where staff members of the Academy come out to smoke. As it's illegal to smoke cigarettes within the school grounds, those who do smoke have to go outside the school grounds, and we often see people standing outside on the Redway, smoking their cigarettes. But I object strongly to the fact that they throw their cigarette ends on the ground, adding to a larger and larger collection. It looks really nasty. The same can be said to happen at other places, most notably near our doctor's surgery, Ashfield Medical Centre in Beanhill. I don't expect it's just the surgery staff who drop their cigarette ends on the ground (at the side of the building, as you walk round from the carpark at the back of the building.) as there's also a dentist surgery and Cox and Robinson's chemist shop in the same cluster of businesses near the Ashfield Medical Centre. If people must smoke they should at least dispose of their cigarette ends in some sort of bin as it's surely not good for the environment as well as looking really untidy and unpleasant.

As for the litter near the Academy, I have seen Council workmen picking up the litter on a couple of occasions, but I imagine, what with budget cuts, there won't be so much of this sort of work going on. It just annoys me that people think it's fine to throw their litter on the ground and not just take it home with them to dispose of it sensibly. 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Better Weather

Well, it seems that the weather is improving. As I write this post, the sun is shining. It's almost spring-like outside. Alfie is enjoying it. The patio door into the garden is open and he's running in and out, pottering about in the garden. I've bought a brush so that I can attempt to sort out his coat which was beginning to get quite tangled and matted. One of the problems you get with a dog with a fairly long coat. Alfie's is very silky and does need detangling on a regular basis. We had a brush with metal teeth which was effective at removing these tangles, but Alfie doesn't like it because it can snag on these knotty bits and I expect it hurts him to some degree. He growls to tell me he doesn't like it. The new brush, which I got from the newly-opened pet shop, imaginatively called Pet's Corner at Oakgrove, near Waitrose yesterday, is far more gentle and is better as a starting point to a grooming session. Hopefully, once I get the worst of the tangles out of his coat, I can start to use the metal comb and the metal brush. His coat looks really so much better once it's been brushed out. He has some nasty patches under his eyes, which most dogs seem to get, which he will not let me touch. I want to pull these nasty bits off, but he's not going to let me. He's booked in to have a full groom at the end of the month at Pets At Home at Bletchley.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Winding People Up

My comments I made on this blog a couple of days ago is winding up certain individuals via my Facebook link regarding the Milton Keynes Festival of Running. It doesn't obviously take much to do this as they are like cats with mice who come out to play and then run away and hide immediately. Rather makes me think of those clockwork toys you get which you wind up and then let it go. It runs around for a minute or two, clanking and making all sorts of noise and then runs down. Literally wind them up. Some people out there always need to be right, even when they know full well they are wrong, but don't like to admit it.  My little Yorkie gets quite agitated whenever the next door's cat appears on the fence. He barks wildly, but the cat has the upper hand as it knows he can't be reached. Alfie makes a lot of noise and then runs back to the house. My comments have certainly stirred things up. Oh, I do like it! At least it gets people reading my blog, which is what it's there for. No point writing it if nobody reads it.

I notice that Golden Drive is still cluttered up with those awful brightly-coloured signs the organisers of the marathon-thingy had put up on Sunday. They are that garish colour used for things like jackets worn by workmen. You certainly couldn't miss them, not even in a thick fog. Maybe they glow in the dark as well. A hazard to low-flying aircraft. Although, if you were colour blind you might have a problem.  I would have thought by now someone would have come along and removed them. I expect I'll get some sort of comment if I mention it on here. Just goes to show they don't care that they're cluttering up the street with their signs. I expect some vandal will come along and set light to them or something. Why were they never taken away on Sunday evening?

Just goes to show that some people have got nothing better to do. But, I think I'll leave it at that as I've got far better things to do with my time.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Ruffling Feathers

It seems I have ruffled a few feathers with my last post about the Milton Keynes Festival of Running. I got quite a cross response via Facebook that I should just shut up and put up. Well, it seems that some people, (no names, no pack-drill) just don't like it when someone disagrees with them. No wonder I was put off sport of any sort when I was at school, even though it was many many years ago. I have no objection to anything anyone else does, so long as they do it away from me or at least, it doesn't impinge on what I'm doing.  Some people don't like considering other people. It seems to be a failing that seems quite prevalent in society currently. It's the same with all those cycling fanatics out there on the roads in and around Buckinghamshire who like to hog the road and don't seem in the least bit bothered that they are holding up the traffic behind them when we meet hoards of them when we're out and about on the roads. I think, apart from anything else, it's just common sense to keep to one side of the road and to let vehicles which come up behind them pass safely. Riding three abreast is just plain dangerous. Which is what we came across when we went to Salcey forest the other week.  I'm afraid I rather like winding up people, so it just goes to show, that post has certainly done that. I shan't respond further as it's going to get nasty otherwise, which isn't my intention.