28 February 2011 (Monday) - Spam

When I’m on a late start I usually read the news over brekkie. Would you believe that I was there last Saturday for two of today’s top stories? First of all was the tale of the fox that was living on the seventy-second floor of a skyscraper being built. We could clearly see that skyscraper from the Tower of London two days ago. And then there was the tale of breast milk ice cream, made and sold in the shop in Covent Garden where I got my ice cream last Saturday.

In with my thousands of spam emails this morning I had two emails from my internet provider warning me that two of my email accounts are about to be closed because I’ve not logged into them for months. Or so the internet provider says. The fact my PC logs into them every ten minutes is (presumably) neither here nor there.
On reflection I only ever set up those accounts for the free web space the accounts offered, and I’ve since stopped using that web space anyway. I’m pretty sure I’ve never used either email account for years, and both of them are doing nothing but attracting hundreds of spam emails every day. So I shall let those two accounts expire. If anyone has been emailing me with an email address which has includes the phrases “dansden” or “house2” (note the 2 !!) please contact me to get my current email address, as these two are defunct with immediate effect.

I then spent a little while looking at what email accounts I use to log into things like Blogger, Google, eBay, Wikipedia, Filth-R-Us, Twitter and the like. I then removed all references to my second Freeserve account with a view to getting rid of that one as well.
Having changed my various Internet log-ins, this second Freeserve account isn’t quite redundant. There is still 12Mb worth of web-space associated with this account. Currently I use it for photographs from previous Bat-Camps, and one or two other web-based projects. But I’m sure that if I smile sweetly at one of my loyal readers I can grovel up some web space on another server. I’m hoping to do so because if I can, when the time comes I might be able to let my second Freeserve account go as well.

Hopefully this will reduce the amount of spam I’m getting. If it doesn’t then I shall take further steps. It’s interesting that between the two Freeserve accounts I’m keeping, Yahoo, Facebook, Nokia, Google, work and NHS net I’ve already got eight email addresses. The ones with Freeserve attract hundreds of spam emails every day; the others get maybe one spam email a day at most. Perhaps I should discontinue using my Freeserve email accounts altogether.

And so back to work. I always take a week off work over my birthday. Today I realised that I shall only be doing this twelve more times. Is it too soon to be counting down to retirement? I wouldn’t say that I hate my job, but like the young Vogon guard once commented, the hours are good but ..
Once at work we got the scales out and had the podge-a-thon weigh-in. Having had a week’s pigging out on curry, Wetherspoons (twice), KFC (twice) and McDonalds (twice) my weight is what it was ten days ago. How does that work?

A late start meant a late finish. I came home to a quiet house. The parrot’s gone back to her owners. I really miss her….

27 February 2011 (Sunday) - Photography

I had a quick look in NeverWinter over brekkie – I’ve not been there for a few days and it’s all gone to pot in there. I then set up my telescope in the garden and aligned the spotterscope. The idea is that it’s easier to find things with the spotterscope than the main scope. I got the thing lined up: I just hope it stays aligned after disassembly & reassembly. And once focussed onto a nearby TV aerial I had a go with the imaging software. First of all I made a video of my target object, then used the software to make an image from the video.
I’m not happy with the results, but it strikes me there’s an awful lot of fiddling about to be done to get a half-way decent photograph out of the telescope. Setting up the telescope is a job in itself, as is making sure the thing is pointing in the right direction. And having obtained a video of the target, getting a composite image out of the software is a major undertaking. But I shall persevere with it: possibly some time over the next few weeks I might take the entire setup to the top of a hill somewhere and practice in the daylight.
I saw there was a lady at the astro club who was also looking into having a go at astro-imaging: I might ask if we could set up a self-help group.

Whilst in a photographic frame of mind, Chip suggested we went on a photo-reconnaissance of Winchelsea. It’s quite a scenic village, and it lends itself to being photographed. We spent quite a bit of time at the site of the old windmill overlooking the Brede Valley, then we walked pretty much the entire village. There are information points at the north, east, south and west extremities of the parish boundaries, and we found all of them. And having seen the entire village we went into the churchyard to look for Spike Milligan’s grave. Twice before we’ve been to that graveyard on this very quest, and twice before we failed. Chip had the right idea – look for the grave that’s got all the grass trodden down around it. We found the grave in less than a minute, and paid our respects. Did you know it’s now nine years since Spike Milligan died?

We did think about popping into the New Inn for a crafty half before going home: we actually did pop into the New Inn. Four years ago (23 June 2007) I commented that the place seemed to be somewhat chaotic. Today the place seemed to be just as bad. We couldn’t get near the bar because of the hordes of people attempting (and failing) to pay their bills by credit card. The problem being the staff were unable to operate the credit card apparatus. In the twenty-first century this should surely be a straightforward operation?
We had to go through Rye on the way home, so we stopped off at the Queen’s Head for a pint. ‘er indoors TM  went for the organic stout, and Chip & me plumped for the ale from a new brewery which has started up in Bexhill. This is my second or third visit here, and I think it’s probably my favourite pub in Rye. But it has to be said that they did let themselves down a tad today with their live music.
I realise a lot of my loyal readers are musicians, and I realise that my views are (usually) those of a (very vocal) small minority. It’s been said that I dislike live music. That’s not actually the case. What I dislike are musicians who try to compensate for a lack of ability with an increase in volume. Do they not realise that one usually detracts from the music’s quality by increasing the volume? Sitting in the back bar away from the music was pleasant: the music made for a nice background. However in the actual bar the music was little more than a deafening noise.

And then home to find  “My Boy TMcleaning up the parrot’s cage. All must be in readiness for tomorrow, as her holiday is ending, and she’s going back to her real home….

26 February 2011 (Saturday) - The Tower of London

A very restless night – I woke several times convinced I could hear crashing noises. At one point (5.30am) I think it might have been next door’s dogs having a scrap, but I could have been dreaming. I’m sure that I was dreaming about ‘er indoors TM renting out the back bedroom as a delivery suite to itinerant midwives, and I’m hoping that I was dreaming about ‘er indoors TM swapping the parrot for four assorted mangy mutts, all of which were continually biting me on the chuff.
So when finally got up at 7.30am I was feeling less than refreshed. I quickly checked my emails before the Rear Admiral arrived, and then the two of us set off to the Kiln Café for a spot of fry-up. Very nice!

And then to the train station where we met up with Matt. ‘er indoors TM showed up whilst we were queuing for tickets. You have to admire the staff selling tickets. If you ask for four tickets to London on the high-speed train, that’s what they will sell you. If however you ask for four *saver* tickets to London on the high-speed train, that’s what they will sell you at half the price. They are quite happy to give the discount – they just won’t tell you that it exists. You have to ask for it.
Suitable equipped with half price train tickets we made our way to St Pancreas’ (the patron saint of endocrine glands) station where we went for the underground trains. Lacking any instructions, I made my way to the Northern line because that’s the one I go on the most. Matt then asked if I knew where I was going. My answer was “Yes – the Tower of London”. However Matt had asked the wrong question. He should have asked if I was getting the right underground line to the Tower of London. It didn’t take us long to find we needed the Circle line and despite a pair of mating duckies on the train (how sweet!) we were soon at Tower Bridge station. The Rear Admiral had a fag, I had an ice cream, and we made our way to the ticket office.

There’s money to be saved at the Tower of London’s ticket office too. Read the prices carefully. Then read them again. The prices they were quoting included a “voluntary” donation of £1.70. Once you know that you can opt not to pay it. We did exactly that; not because we begrudged the £1.70, but because we thought it a cheek on their part. Also, if you go to the Tower on the train and wave your train tickets at the staff selling tickets to the Tower of London, they give you half price admission if you ask for it. They won’t offer it or suggest it to you, but if you ask for it, they’ll let you have it.
Having so far saved nearly seventeen quid each, sometimes it pays to be a cheapskate.

And so into the Tower. In many ways it was like any other castle or historic monument. But it was *so* crowded. If it was that busy on a wet day in February, I’d hate to be there in the summer.
First of all we walked around the walls, and popped into various towers on the way. It was relatively interesting, but every step of the way I could imagine the reaction that the place would have evoked from the most recent fruit of my loin (who had chosen to give the day a miss). She wouldn’t have liked it.
As we walked round, I overheard an interesting conversation between two rather dim Americans. They were studying a diagram of the genealogy of the Royal Family. “Hi-ram” was explaining to “Hoi-but” that the forthcoming Royal Wedding wasn’t a Royal Wedding at all, but a ruse by the Middleton family to usurp the Crown. Having gone into detail in outlining his theory to anyone who could hear, “Hi-ram” then announced that he didn’t understand the rules of succession. That didn’t come as a surprise.
We met “Hi-ram” and “Hoi-but” later when they were astonished (and rather offended) to find that a Norman eleventh century map of the known world didn’t have the Americas on it at all. Bless!

We then joined the queue to see the Crown Jewels. Here we exemplified what being British is all about: queuing in the rain for hours without a word of complaint whilst all sorts of foreigners push in front of you. As the queue slowly moved on we saw no end of signs forbidding photography. Why on Earth could we not take photographs? After all, there are pictures of all the stuff freely available in Google images.
We eventually got to see the crowns and orbs and sceptres and the anointing spoon, and whilst they were impressive, I don’t think they were worth the wait. Whilst going past the Imperial State Crown we were moved along on a travelator. I can’t help but think the Tower should have those everywhere – it would certainly chivvy people along.

We then paused to photograph a raven before vooming round the White tower and the Bloody tower. The Bloody tower was rather disappointing. And then we were peckish, so we left the Tower and walked up the road to the nearest Wetherspoons – the “Liberty Bounds” where we met up with Terry and a pint of porter. We chatted over a dinner of meat pudding and another dark beer, and then I made the mistake of having jam roly-poly for dessert. Oh, I felt stuffed. As we all chatted I dozed a bit.

Seeing how our train tickets were also valid on the buses we took a bus to Covent Garden. I shamelessly played tourist, enjoying all the sights. Once at Covent Garden we said goodbye to Terry, and almost immediately bumped into another pair of friends.
We then went to the “colonial shop”: a wonderful place selling stuff from what was once parts of the British Empire. I very nearly bought a box of Fruit Loops – I remembered those from two Canadian holidays. But at over six quid for a box of cereals, I thought better of the idea. I consoled myself with a rather good seasonal fruits ice-cream from the nearby ice-cream shop. We then mooched round Covent Garden for a while before making our way slowly back to St Pancras. On our way we found a very good model shop, and utterly failed to find the Bree Louise (my current favourite London pub).

All things considered we had a very good day in the wicked city. We should do it again….

25 February 2010 (Friday) - Astro Club

With the ongoing setting up of my sexy new laptop, I felt that whilst I was at it, I'd do a hatchet job on my Facebook account. Yesterday I had nearly two hundred applications on the thing. Now I've got it down to about twenty. I decided that anything I hadn't accessed in the last six months could get the chop.
I also went through my friends list. Some people on my list have only the most tenuous connection to me. I removed the brother of a friend of my nephew (whom I’ve never met), and several people who live half the world away and have only added me to their lists because I occasionally fly a kite.  Mind you, I did find myself getting rather keen whilst deleting. I'm not sure I haven't mistakenly chopped out people I actually want to have on my list. If any of my loyal readers find they've been removed from my list, please accept my apologies.

I then loaded up You-Tube and Yahoo. Both opened up and logged me in without me needing to give the passwords. Would the sexy new PC have picked up the passwords from elsewhere on the network? Or did I log in the other day and have since forgotten that I did so?

On the last day of my week’s holiday I went shopping. Lugging my sexy new telescope around in a cardboard box isn't going to be practical, and the manufacturers don’t give away telescope cases for free. I had an idea that the fishing tackle shop might help - they often have second-hand tackle bags, and I got a bag for the tripod for a fiver. B&Q had a box for the telescope, and I found a shop in Challlock that does foam cut to size. None of these carriers I've bodged are perfect, but they are better than the cardboard box I had before.

Home (via McDonalds) where I slept through several episodes of "Gavin and Stacey", and then awoke to find the phone ringing. Ewan from Orange was offering a deal whereby my internet provider will supply both phone and internet services for the price of what I'm spending on just the phone. Effectively I would get the Internet for free. Bargain!! So I immediately squandered this month's saving on a folding garden table for when I'm astro-imaging outside.
I squandered the money at Argos, having used their on-line ordering system. There was a minor hiccup when I got to the store to find that they had no record of my order. And then I realised I’d ordered it at the wrong store. They town centre branch had my reservation, and I’d got to the branch at the Orbital Park. But they had the table I wanted in stock, so all was (eventually) well.

Seeing how it was the last Friday of the month, today was astro club. As usual I made of point of arriving early so’s I could help get the hall ready. After the success of the “Stargazing Live” event and an attendance of over eight people last month, I decided it would pay to be prepared. I put out seventy-five chairs, and not quite all of them got used. But the evening went well – I got to meet and greet loads of people; several people joined and renewed their membership for another year. The introductory talk on solar flares was interesting, and the end talk on the winter/spring sky was excellent. I enjoyed hawking the raffle, and again I made a respectable profit for the club. Not millions, but enough to cover the evening’s running costs. If I can do that every month I feel I’ve done my bit for the club. I also got some of the resident experts to give my telescope the once-over. All seemed well: I just need to use the thing in anger now. Tonight was too cloudy to stargaze.
The main talk of the evening was done by a guest speaker. A chap I’d not seen before. I really don’t want to sound negative, but I’ve spent ages re-writing this, and deleting it, and re-wording it. And (surprisingly) upsetting myself. So I’ll say it as it is. I didn’t like this talk.

Billed as “Pluto - An enigmatic world”, the talk ranged far and wide over all sorts of astronomical subjects. The speaker leapt from solar system formation to extra-solar comets to gas giant migration to tides and ocean formation with (as far as I could make out) very little actual structure to his talk. The structure must have been there: it’s just that I couldn’t follow it. Perhaps I was put off by his lecture technique of stomping all around and up and down the hall, sometimes whispering, sometimes shouting, and seemingly continually going off on tangents. He was clearly very knowledgeable on all sorts of astronomical topics, but at least twice I felt he was touting his personal theories as established facts.
It didn’t help that whereas most lectures are accompanied by slides which illustrate salient points the lecturer is trying to convey, this evening’s slides were (mostly) irrelevant to what the speaker was talking about. In fact he boasted that the slides were deliberately “retro”, but I couldn’t figure out why he’d decided to do this.
On conversations with others it would seem that I was in the minority: most people seemed to have been happy with the presentation. Perhaps I was put off by the fact that the chap was very different to what we’ve had before. I hear he’s being invited back next year. I shall give him another chance. I’m sure that the fault (if any) is entirely mine… but I must admit to being a bit concerned.

I was there when the astro club first started on 26 March 2007. It was rubbish! For over a year the club struggled to get a membership of over ten people. Reading my blogs from that time, I was very negative about the club for over a year. But following the AGM and committee election in June 2008 the club started getting better. And since the astro club moved to Woodchurch in January 2009 it’s gone from strength to strength.
This is my first blog entry about the astro club in over two and a half years when I’ve done anything but other than gush praise on the club. I don’t like this change ….

24 February 2011 (Thursday) - Another Day Off...

The weather was decent for a change, so I thought I’d do some tidying-up in the garden. First of all I needed to clean out the pond filter. On reflection I should have cleaned this out last October when I closed the pond down for the winter. This morning the filter stunk to high heaven, (and I can still smell the stench of months old fish poo on my hands twelve hours later, despite the use of various soaps, hand washes, creams, and bleach).
With the filter cleaned out I reassembled it and installed the light tube I’d bought on Tuesday. Once the ambient temperature is a little higher I shall reactivate the pump and we’ll see how the fish have done over the winter.

I then had a scurry round and gathered up all the loose tat that was lying around the patio. Where does it all come from? Fragments of several paint brushes, broom handles, broken coat-hangers. All just lying about. So they all got bagged up. Together with loads of cardboard and plastic bottles for recycling, I had more than a car-full for a tip run. So I loaded up the car and then swept front and back gardens before setting off to the tip. “Daddies Little Angel TMhad announced she was coming to the tip to help, so that made the job much easier. It’s amazing how long it takes to unload the stuff and chuck it in the correct skip. And that’s having bagged it all at home first. We arrived at the tip to find two “delightful people” who had filled their cars to the brim with loose rubbish, and were carrying it to the skips, one piece at a time.
With the rubbish shifted we went to Sainsbury’s for salads for lunch. One day’s healthy eating this week can’t be bad!

We both then slept through six episodes of “The Young Ones”, waking only to greet the Rear Admiral before dozing off again. For the afternoon, “Daddies Little Angel TMsuggested we took Fia to the reptile shop in Sittingbourne. Bearing in mind my fun with the astro-webcam yesterday, we went to the pet shop via the telescope shop.
At the telescope shop I probably (definitely) spent far too much money on an astronomical webcam, and then at the reptile shop we played with the geckoes. Since our last visit they’ve got a caiman in the shop. He wasn’t for sale: I chatted with the shop keeper about the caiman. In years gone by I had a plan to keep caimans. It’s probably for the best that that plan never came to fruition.

And so home. Mark from Global Capital phoned. He wanted to check he had my details correct on his mailing list. As it happens he did have them right, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. He went on to say that he would be sending me a free no-obligation magazine outlining all of their financial deals, offers and services. And next week he’s planning to phone back so we could talk through which of his deals we’d like to spend our money on.
It’s a shame that the chap’s spoken English was so poor, otherwise he might have registered my disinterest a whole lot sooner.

Once the girls had set off I plugged in my new vastly overpriced webcam. It didn’t work. Half an hour on-line with the manufacturer’s website gave me the fix, and it seems to be working now. Having the first clear night for weeks, I tried out my sexy new telescope. I had a look at Betelgeuse and the Pleiades, but the spotting scope was off, and the images seemed a bit iffy. I’m hoping that having the thing collimated tomorrow night will make all the difference.

23 February 2011 (Wednesday) - Wingham Wildlife Park

With ‘er indoors TM  taking a day's holiday we thought we'd do something special with the day. Despite the rain, we thought we'd have a look-see at Wingham Wildlife Park. It was great – pigs and emus and alpacas and all sorts of beasts. We watched penguin feeding time,and even got to feed the meerkats ourselves. Me – I was quite taken with the caimans and the crocodiles. We arrived at mid day, and despite rushing round because of the rain, we were there for two hours. We will certainly go back when the weather is better, and take a picnic.
Personally I would have liked a pub lunch today, but by the time we'd finished at the wildlife park most pubs' kitchens would have closed. But McDinner is always good,  and is half the price of a pub dinner.

I then spent some time getting angry with my sexy new laptop. Like any new computer it didn't come ready for me to use. For all that the thing could access the data on my desktop PC upstairs,it didn't have the programs loaded to do anything with those files.

Loading up PaintShop Pro and Serif publisher was easy enough; I had the disks and not only did they work, but also Windows didn't have any problems with them.

Office programs were a different story – because Microsoft Office came pre-loaded on my old PC. I had no disks for that. So I phoned the I.T. Department at work. At one point they were selling the latest versions of Microsoft office for less  than twenty quid. Unfortunately they aren't doing that any more. I checked eBay, and then decided that I didn't want the latest version of Microsoft Office anyway. Hoorah for openoffice.org, or so I thought.
Billed as a free shareware version of Microsoft Office,  I found two download sites which, after I'd downloaded 150+Mb then wanted me to text message for a code at a cost of three quid. The third time proved to be lucky. Or free, depending on what one considers to be lucky.

Stellarium was another worry. Really useful shareware that has been used by me and most of the astro club for years set off all sorts of alarms from the antivirus software. Alarms which I ignored. Mind you, the sexy new laptop has only come with one month's antivirus so in three weeks time I shall be going over to AVG which (so far) has been relatively well behaved on my old PC.

And then the fun started. Having waited for over a week to get hold of my webcam, I was rather miffed to find that it didn't simply plug and play. The device manager didn't like it, and flatly refused to find any drivers for it. I had a look on one or two astronomy forums and found that the Toucam Webcams aren't supported by Windows 7. They aren't just "not supported", they don't work in Windows 7 at all.
One chap on one forum did offer a fix in which it was possibly possible to tweak another driver to force it to work. After an hour's getting angry with the thing I re-read the instructions offered by the chap on the astronomy forum. To be fair to him he did say that his fix might not always work.

I suppose the fact that an antique webcam doesn't work in the latest version of Windows isn't really a major issue, but after all is said and done,the only reason I got my sexy new laptop was to use as a webcam eyepiece for my sexy new telescope. I shall phone the nice man in the telescope shop tomorrow and see how much a proper astronomical webcam will cost.

But after all is said and done,the acid test of the sexy new laptop is that I'm using it to create and transmit  this blog entry to the world this evening. Do let me know if it didn't work...

22 February 2011 (Tuesday) - A Road Trip

Up with the lark, and off to the dentist for my six-monthly check. As always he warned me that several of my fillings might need replacing soon. But he’s been saying that for years. I came out having had a bit of a scale and polish, and went home to find “Daddies Little Angel TM. Together we set off on a road trip. Over the last few weeks we’ve been talking about Leopard Geckoes and today we thought we’d go look at some.

First of all to Sittingbourne where there’s a half-way decent pond shop, and a very decent reptile shop. “Daddies Little Angel TM was rather taken with the gecko selection, and with the very helpful chap in the shop. They don’t just sell the animals and all the accessories – they put the bits and pieces together for you and check everything is working as well.
I was very taken with the royal pythons, but they had all the expensive colour morphs. Me - *if* I get another royal(s) I just want a bog-standard snake.

Our next port of call was found more through luck than judgement. Being very newly built, the place didn’t appear on my sat-nav’s maps. When we were half way along a country lane the sat-nav announced we’d arrived, and gave up on us. Fortunately we could see the Ark aquatic & reptile centre from where we’d been abandoned. It was OK if you wanted to buy pet food, I suppose. They had some nice animals, but I wasn’t impressed by the staff. Disinterested, and not very knowledgeable.

And then on to pelagic aquatics in Matfield. This was somewhere I’ve never been before, and to be honest it was included in our trip just to break up what would otherwise be a rather long section in our journey. But I’m glad we stopped. The staff were very friendly, and they had some really healthy-looking home-bred geckoes.
It’s a shame this shop is a little off the beaten track for me – I’d certainly go back there.

We then made our way back to familiar territory. Rolvenden’s World of Water is an old haunt of mine. No reptiles, but I needed to replace the bulb for my pond filter. Whilst I was there I looked at replacing the entire pond filter. The current one will (hopefully) do for this year, but over the last five years it’s rather got somewhat bent out of shape. They’ve got some new-design pond filters which seem to be more manageable. I might get one next year. The nice man in the shop mentioned that they would soon be opening a camping section.

And whilst visiting places we’ve been before, Swallow Aquatics was next. This is a place I’ve raved over in the past. When we first set our pond up, all the kit came from Rolvenden, and all the fish came from Swallow. But over the years their Koi section has gone downhill. And today their reptile section wasn’t what it once was.
We just drove past our last planned stop. The Snake Shed in Bethersden might sell good reptiles. It might be run by very knowledgeable people. I don’t know. However I do know that whenever I go past the place it is closed. No matter what time of day, or what day I go past, it is always closed. Perhaps I’m just unlucky in my timings.

And so home for more KFC, and we settled down to watch “Guest House Paradiso” on the DVD. However the DVD didn’t play, so we made do with Monty Python instead. It passed a pleasant couple of hours before cleaning the parrot out. I’ve scraped parrot poop off of quite a bit of the metalwork now. What a nice way to spend my holiday.

I checked my emails. Yesterday I chivvied up the people from whom I’d ordered my new web-cam as it hadn’t arrived. Today I received an email from them they said “If the address is correct and nothing has arrived yet then please contact your local post/sorting office as its likely to be awaiting collection. We receive lots of items each week returned back because royal mail fail to leave cards when they are unable to deliver.
Am I being over-sensitive? I felt this was rather curt of them; for all that I moan about Royal mail, I’ve never known them to not leave a delivery note when they’ve been unable to deliver a parcel. I went up to the office to prove that there was no parcel there before getting back to the seller, and would you believe it? – my parcel was sitting there waiting for me.

And I’ll end today’s drivel with a question. Have you ever noticed that traffic wardens these days actually hide and wait for the thirty seconds in which you are making the most trivial parking violations? And how they only ever appear in residential areas after 10pm at night or on Bank Holidays when the traffic isn't at all bad?
Is this because they are cowardly, or because they will get double time?

21 February 2011 (Monday) - Happy Birthday To Me

In the past I’ve always made a point of doing something special on my birthday. In the last few years I’ve been to the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, had a tour of the Shepherd Neame Brewery, gone to the London Dungeon, and seen an E.L.O. Experience concert. This year was different. And after having had a rather eventful weekend, I was actually glad to have had a lazy day today.

My mother had arranged to phone me at 9am this morning, so for a laugh I thought I’d be on her doorstep before she made the phone call. I was, and she seemed to like my visit. My Dad was there – he’s usually at his boat on Hastings beach, so it was good to see him too. I had this vague plan to see them on the way to Telescope House, an astronomical shop which has recently opened new premises in the Tonbridge area, but when I phoned the shop, it transpired that they didn’t actually open until next Saturday. So I had a cuppa with Mum & Dad, and came home again.

Given that my idea of visiting the telescope shop had gone west, I was expecting to fall back onto Plan “B” for today. Plan “B” being to make a start in the garden. It’s all got rather overgrown and messy over the winter. So bearing in mind I’m off work this week I had hoped to get the yard swept and cleared of rubbish, the overgrowth from next door trimmed back, the lawn mowed and fences painted. And maybe even one or two runs to the tip with the rubbish. I got as far as removing the bulb from the fish pond filter (it needs changing every year) and hoiking a dead fish from the pond before I realised it was just too cold to be mucking around in the garden.
So I scoffed KFC, watched more Gavin & Stacey DVDs, and exchanged insults with “My Boy TMwhilst I made a lego model. And then I popped into town. I still had a WH Smiths voucher from Xmas, and I had a plan that I might be able to use the voucher to get a bag for my sexy new laptop. I got a good one – reduced from thirty quid to £9.99. Can’t be bad. And then I came home and tried to sleep through “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”. Note I said “tried to sleep” – the parrot’s squawking was somewhat excessive.
‘er indoors TM came home, and over tea we tried to watch Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”. Again note the “tried to watch”.

I’ve asked “My Boy TMto find out when the parrot goes back to her owners. Much as it’s been an experience having a parrot, the novelty has truly worn off, and she’s just too noisy now.
There’s no enjoyment to be had from a pet which simply doesn’t stop screaming…

20 February 2011 (Sunday) - Folkestone

A rather restless night – popping to the loo far more often that I should in the night. I blame the gallon of ale and the curry I had yesterday. The plan for yesterday was to spend an hour or so in the pub; we ended up being in Deal for about nine hours. It has been said that I do tend to organise my life somewhat, and that’s a fair criticism. So often the best days are those that just “sort of happen”, which is what occurred yesterday. A brill day in Deal with friends old and new. I woke this morning feeling a tad under the weather, but then, such is so often life in my world.
I’ve now subscribed to another blog. So far it does seem that 2011 is fast becoming “The Year of the Blog”; a lot of friends and families have started recording what’s going on in their lives. Being a nosey kind of chap, I for one think it’s great. I wish more people would record what they are up to, if only for my vicarious entertainment.

“My Boy TM announced he was off to the market – did I want to go with him? I did: since the market moved half way across the town I rarely go there, and I fancied having a nose around. I also needed to get a gadget to hold my mobile phone in my car for when I’m using it as a Sat-Nav. They were selling those gadgets cheaply so I got one. Whether or not it will do the job remains to be seen. I’ve used Sat-Nav whilst I’ve been driving twice in the past, and both times I found the thing to be a major distraction. But I’ll give it a chance.

And then to Folkestone. Having picked up people along the way, five of us found our way to the Samuel Peto for Sunday lunch. Folkestone is a town in which I love to go drinking: the pubs there are of a particularly high standard. Were I to list my current top ten pubs I suspect half of them would be Folkestone pubs. I’ve not been to the Samuel Peto for some years. How can I describe it? There's two ways of looking at this pub. One can take the traditional method of dismissing it entirely out of hand simply because it's a Wetherspoons. There is a school of thought that anyone who thinks that they know anything about pubs knows that Wetherspoons are totally crap pubs. However one might take the radical step of actually going into the place and trying the food and beer and finding that one might be mistaken in one's preconceptions. I won't say it's the best pub in Folkestone, because it isn't. But it is far from being the worst, and will appear in future pub crawls around Folkestone (and that’s against some pretty stiff competition).
Within minutes of arriving we were sitting up in the balcony area enjoying Hook Norton’s Double Stout, and within minutes of that our dinner had arrived. I won’t pretend it was haute cuisine, but six quid for a decent roast dinner and a pint of very decent stout isn’t to be sniffed at.

Pausing only briefly for two of us to indulge in chocolate pudding and profiteroles, we then wandered down to the harbour to have a look-see. I love Folkestone harbour. We then walked along to the coastal park, the idea being that “Daddies Little Angel TMwas going to play in the zip-lines. However she didn’t want to get grubby, so we contented ourselves with just enjoying the scenery. We then made our way through the caves and a zig-zagging path up to the Leas, and on to Folkestone’s premier bar. And we were disappointed. Chambers is closed on a Sunday, so instead we adjourned to the Pullman for a pint of pudding. The Pullman is not so much a pub as a rather posh bar, but the prices aren’t those that you’d pay in a posh bar and they had a rather decent ale selection too. I’m reliably informed that I’ve been there before, but I have very little recollection of what happened at last year’s Good Friday beer festival.
The Pullman had a fire going, and it was a good place to warm up whilst waiting for girls to do their shopping.

Back to the Admiralty for coffee and cakes, and then home. With ‘er indoors TM gone bowling I settled in front of the telly to watch more “Gavin & Stacey” DVDs…

19 February 2011 (Saturday) - Deal

I spent a little while this morning having a look at my sexy new laptop. It seems to work OK, especially now that I’ve sorted out the networking so’s that I can access all the data on my main PC from the sexy new laptop.
I do need to sort out some software issues – specifically it needs Microsoft Office adding, and Paintshop Pro as well. I also need the webcam I ordered off of eBay over a week ago to arrive as well. I also looked at getting a gmail account. Every day I get between five and seven hundred spam emails, and my spam filter is going flat out. So much so that I feel that emails I actually want may well be going in with the rubbish that the spam filter is deleting. Over the next day or so I might be contacting my loyal readership from a new email address, and retiring the old one.

Whilst ‘er indoors TM  wandered off for the morning on a mission, I watched “Gavin & Stacey” DVDs. “My Boy TMcame home whilst I was asleep watching the telly. I think the lad must be sickening for something – he tidied up the parrot’s mess and then cooked me a fried egg sandwich. Good lad.

And once my beloved had returned home we set off to Deal for the afternoon. Terry & Irene were visiting an old friend, and we thought we’d tag along. The Bohemian is the sort of hidden gem that you’d walk straight past without giving it a second glance, unless you knew what was inside. And I’m glad we’ve found it – helpful friendly staff and an excellent ale selection. We paid the parking meter for three hours – we were in the pub for four hours, and then went for a curry.

18 February 2011 (Friday) - Not Good....

Not a good day…..

I’ve censored this post….. I’ll uncensor it when I retire….

And then home where “My Boy TMwas rather chirpy. The parrot’s owners have given him loads of tattoo gear as a thank you for looking after their parrot for the last two months. I would have thought that if his parrot-related efforts warranted what he’s received, then I should be treated to a round the world cruise. But life is not fair.

And not wishing to be left out, the parrot climbed off her cage and walked over to me this evening. I fell for it, hook, line and sinker and picked her up. And as I petted her she bit my finger and crapped on me.

I’m hoping for better from tomorrow….

17 February 2011 (Thursday) - A Curry

Last night we had a bottle of wine with our dinner. And as is our way, when having a bottle of wine, we’ll have some cheese with it. Unfortunately the only cheese we had in the house was left over from Xmas, and was over a month past it’s sell by date. For a few weeks I’ve been wondering what the smell in the fridge was, and now I know. The brie smelt and tasted like stilton. And I didn’t dare try the stilton: that walked to the bin on its own. The cheddar wasn’t too bad though – the parrot liked the cheese biscuits, and she even had a bit of cheddar too.
Hardly surprisingly my guts left a lot to be desired this morning.

Despite my innards, listening to the radio on the way to work I realised that today isn’t all doom and gloom. I heard on the radio that the government have abandoned their scheme to get rich from selling off our woodlands. That’s probably for the best.
And then there was an interesting article about the fact that the law is going to be changed to allow same sex marriages to take place in churches. And my piss boiled. Personally I feel that if two men or women want to get married, then as far as I am concerned that is entirely up to them. It is their business and no one else’s. What annoyed me were the crackpot arguments used by the pro- and anti- campaigners. There was some tired old duckie on the radio who tried to take the line that people (like me) have only entered into a “mixed” marriage to spite the gay community. And then there was a religious nut who tried to make out that the sole purpose of getting married was for breeding purposes. Perhaps fertility testing should be a compulsory pre-nuptial prerequisite? 

And then after work the tribes gathered. Seventeen of us descended onto the local Wetherspoons for their curry night. Not only was one of our number over from Guernsey, but another was celebrating his fortieth birthday. It was great to meet up en masse, though I suspect the normal people who had been unlucky enough to be in the pub at the same time as us didn’t think so.
We should do it again – the Wetherspoons Thursday deal isn’t bad – a decent curry, dessert, two pints of ale and change from ten quid can’t be bad. Even if Glenn did spend an inordinate amount of time chatting up the drunken Ghurkha…

16 February 2011 (Wednesday) - The Morning's Post

The first part of my mortgage endowment matured on Monday. I wonder if the building society got their money. I suppose I could ring them up to find out, but on the other hand I’m inclined to let sleeping dogs lie.

I read an interesting statistic – this morning’s post brought a flyer from British Gas claiming that here in the UK a gas boiler breaks down every fifteen seconds. So that’s four every minute – 240 an hour, 5760 every day, and a staggering 2.1 million every year. Now wiki answers told me there are 23.6 million households in the UK. Do all of these have a gas boiler? Probably not, but if they do, from these figures I’d expect a gas boiler to go west after about eleven years use. So seeing our last one lasted for nineteen years, I think we did all right.
British Gas weren’t telling me about boiler breakdowns for fun - they wanted me to insure my boiler with them Unfortunately for them I once had someone on my doorstep trying to sell British Gas to me: the chap was telling blatant lies. I won’t use British Gas on principle now.
However, in the post was some stuff from HomeServe. I’ve got rather confused recently about payments I’ve been making to that company. I’ve got plumbing & drainage insurance with them, but I also found I had a policy to stump up cash should I be hospitalised for any reason. Heaven only knows why I have that policy – after all in my job I get sick pay. I also had various other policies with them for this, that and the other. They suggested I combined the lot into one policy that covers central heating, plumbing, electricals and all manner of household catastrophes for only fifteen quid a month. Probably a tad pricey, but then that’s the gamble you take with insurance. After all, it’s fifteen quid that I know I’m spending rather than waiting for something to break and getting an unexpected bill of thousands of pounds.

The tax office have written to me to tell me of my new tax code. Presumably this is to account for the free laptop I got off of work. So seeing I’m being taxed on it, it’s not that free, really.

I had a letter asking me to vote in the election of governors for the local hospitals governing board. I suppose that if I don’t vote, then I have no right to complain when I don’t like what’s happening. But in the literature I received I was offered a choice of six candidates, all of which were not flattered by their photographs. And all of which spouted the same platitudes in their personal statements. And I can’t help but agree with the sentiments of Douglas Adams when he said that the fact that someone seeks a public office should be a reason against why they should be considered for that office. I can see nothing to choose between the various candidates, and so I shan’t vote for any of them.
But I will reserve the right to complain about what they do. If anything.

The power company wrote to me to tell me they weren’t doing Nectar points any more. That’s no great loss, but it reminded me that a couple of weeks ago I’d given them meter readings and they said that I should get back in touch with them to see if I could get a refund. My leccie account is seventy quid overdrawn, and my gas account isn’t much better. Whilst it’s no immediate cause for concern (the monthly payments will sort it out) they weren’t very inclined to give me a refund. Which was a shame.

Some days in my life can be quite exciting. Others are on the dull side….

15 February 2011 (Tuesday) - New Laptop

My new laptop has arrived. One of the perks of working for the NHS is that after twenty five years service at any one hospital or establishment you are entitled to three hundred pounds worth of stuff from Argos. But (as always) there are catches. It’s not vouchers that you might use as presents for others. And you can’t add money to buy something more expensive. You tell your boss precisely what you want (you quote the Argos catalogue number) and after a week or so you get a voucher for the specific item you’ve asked for.
Three hundred pounds is an odd amount really. It’s over the top for a lot of things I considered asking for (like sat navs and fishing gear), and not really enough for other things (like computers and tellys). And perhaps I’m being ungrateful, but three hundred quid for twenty five years loyal service isn’t really that much – it works out to twenty five pence for every week I’ve worked. ‘er indoors TM got a really good gold watch after ten years at her work. And she received the watch at a presentation when her efforts over the years were appreciated.
And to add insult to injury, work have written to the tax man so’s he can tax me on this three hundred quid bung.

I’ve been entitled to get this bung for two years now, and it’s taken me this long to decide on what I wanted. I eventually opted for a laptop with a plan to plug the thing into my sexy new telescope to do some astro-photography.
The voucher arrived with no ceremony by recorded delivery whilst we were out on Saturday, and so yesterday I went to the post office collection point to get it. Then I had to go to Argos to arrange the delivery of the thing. I must admit I wasn’t impressed. Argos could deliver it any day I liked – but it would be delivered between 8am and 6pm. They couldn’t (wouldn’t) be more specific than that, and they wouldn’t phone me half an hour before delivery so’s I could go home to meet them on the doorstep. I do think that having to give up a day to wait for a parcel is unreasonable – there are a lot of delivery companies who can do better. When I got my new phone a few months ago I was given a two-hour period when they would arrive. But “Daddies Little Angel TMwas home to accept delivery, so all was well.

I’ve got the thing up and running, and like all new computers it needs quite a bit of tweaking. I shall do that another time. The laptop is nothing special when compared to some laptops. The more I.T. proficient among my loyal readers may well be somewhat scathing about the device, and probably rightly so. But it was something for nothing, and all the time it’s able to do what I want from it, I shall be content with it.  It comes with a month’s free anti-virus, but after a month I will need to get the latest free AVG.
The main problem I foresee is that it’s running Windows 7, so a lot of my current software won’t run on it. I shall see if I can’t take up the NHS on their cheap Microsoft Office deal, and then start downloading all the astronomical programs for “Project Astro-Photography”…

14 February 2011 (Monday) - This 'n' That

Being on a late start I checked the news. I *know* it winds me up. But today I had a sense of reassurance. Last week we were told that our place of work is not treating the forthcoming royal wedding day as a bank holiday. Today I found out that we are not alone. Have a look on Google – lots of councils, local authorities, large and small companies are treating the day as business as usual. It’s a disgrace – I was actually planning on having a houseful and staging a party-cum-booze-up whilst watching the wedding on the telly. And now I can’t. So much for patriotism….
And the same will happen next year with the extra bank holiday supposedly promised for the Queen’s diamond jubilee. It’s all very well for the Prime Minister to announce a bank holiday – he’s not the one who has to deliver on his promises.

On Saturday I mentioned that I was in Jey’s Pets where I was particularly taken by the baby royal pythons. Many years ago I bought my first ever royal python. His name was Snoopy, he didn’t feed (like a lot of royals), and he died whilst in the care of a reptile expert friend of mine. I did better with my second royal python. Ken went on to lay eggs (!), and over the years I built up something of an expertise on the subject of pythons, royal and otherwise. Do I miss having a house full of snakes? No. not at all!
Apropos of nothing I had a look at the prices of vivaria on eBay. Specifically small ones. Ones that would house a couple of royal pythons or a couple of leopard geckoes, to pick a couple of reptile species entirely at random.
There are half a dozen such vivs that are up for auction ending during the week. All of which are currently under a tenner, and all offer free postage. I say “free postage” – they are advertised as “buyer collects”, but they are all within an hour’s drive of home. I don’t really want to get any snakes or lizards again, but it doesn’t hurt to have a look to see what’s available. Does it…

And then I played with the blog’s settings. I had a look at the tracking software: it’s amazing how many people all over the world tune in to my drivel on a regular basis. Yesterday sixty different people from all over the world read what I had to say about Rye Harbour – and I have no idea who many of my loyal readers are.
One thing I have noticed is that my blog entry for 9 December 2009 gets a phenomenal amount of hits. It relates the episode when I had a wisdom tooth taken out, and I can’t work out why this blog entry should be so popular. In the last week alone that blog entry has been read by people in Brighton, Sheffield, Birmingham, Germany, India and Finland. I can’t see how that blog entry has anything unique compared to the other 1000+ entries to recommend itself.
I also added two more blogs to my blogroll (the list of blogs with which I keep myself up to date). All (but one) of my favourite blogs are listed in the panel on the right hand side and I’ve set it so’s that the five most recently updated blogs are visible as links. I was amazed to find that I have thirty three blogs on the list of blogs that I follow. Some are updated almost on a daily basis, some haven’t been touched in a year. Some are by very good friends, some are written by people I’ve never met.
But I do like reading all of them…. Except the one in Russian. I’m glad that one comes with videos…