Saturday, 17 April 2010

Clear skies

The weather is ideal and there is a high-pressure system holding the weather pattern so that we can expect good weather for several more days. The sky is the clearest I can remember for many years, not a vapour trail in sight, and the lovely weather is also bringing the volcanic dust that has grounded all the flights in northern Europe for the last few days. We live under the westbound flight path for Heathrow and normally the sky is crisscrossed with vapour trails but this week the sky is totally trail free. We live near a military airfield too where practice flights and repatriated soldiers are brought in regularly but no sound from there either.
I am no spring chicken, and pre-date the introduction of jet passenger aircraft and recall when it happened but this is the first time I have known a total ban on air traffic for so long.
It should be slightly warmer today too because vapour trails reflect sunlight and therefore even on the sunniest days we never get all the sunshine down at ground level, but so does volcanic dust. The dust is not apparent and so far we have not experienced any fallout that may occur, but it is possible we would not even notice it, not being a jet engine. I wonder what the long term effect of this ban will be because the Greens keep telling us how much oxygen is used by aircraft and how much CO2 they generate, although the first effect will be a shortage of imported food stuffs, but will it eventually get colder because there is less CO2 around? We just have had the coldest winter for thirty years or so, so I hope not. Mind you no doubt the warm weather will result in a huge number of barbeques being lit, which may compensate for the missing CO2 emissions from the aircraft. I must remember to close the windows around mealtimes or our house will fill with the smell of burning fat.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

A visit to the bank

Some time ago, my friendly building society with whom I have saved since just before I first got married in 19..mumbley mumble, got taken over by a large bank. My two accounts immediately went into the lowest interest saving scheme they owned and my nest egg began to evaporate faster then the rate of inflation. I was not too delighted about this, first because of the obvious and second because I had boycotted the large bank due to its international political affiliations many years before and did not trust it. So about three years ago I re-distributed my money into a better company at much better interest rates and closed the two accounts they had instigated. This was not an unusual request, and when you tell a Bank to close an account and it has no money in it, you kind of assume it is closed, but no. The larger of the two accounts went smoothly enough, because it was an ISA and that has very strict rules about how it is moved from bank to bank. The other account apparently did not close and unknown to me had had some outstanding interest paid into it totalling about four pounds. I was not informed until at the end of the year they sent me a statement. I did nothing for some while, but recently after the BIG bank crisis, it was suggested that banks would start to reintroduce bank charges unless you have a considerable amount in the bank. I felt that four pounds would not make me eligible for no bank charges so one afternoon I went to the bank to re-close my account. On asking at the enquiries desk, I was ushered upstairs and told that I would have about a thirty minute wait. I sat and waited – and waited – and waited – and waited and after an hour and ten minutes I felt that I had better things to do and left.
This was about a year ago and because we were going to that part of town again yesterday, I decided to give it another go.
In the mean time the bank has been refurbished, very swish, but why are there ceramic toilets placed at intervals around the room? It soon dawns on me that these are contemporary style tables that were made in white plastic that some strange, and to my mind in need of psychiatric help, artist/designer had created. By association of ideas, they must exacerbate the urgency experienced for anyone in their presence that needed to visit the bathroom, and would only need a seat on the top to complete the likeness.

On arriving at the Bank I had been through the same procedure but this time I was told I would only have a fifteen minute wait. Since there were only three people in this spacious waiting area already and there were about ten booths with Bank staff industriously typing away on computers, I assumed that along with the refurbishment, service had got better but even if it had not, I was well ahead of the crowd. Once seated with my gaze constantly being drawn to these atrocious things, acting as tables, that I noticed no one actually used all the time I was there. I waited and Waited and Waited and several people joined me. Some of the late arrivals were called into empty booths, so I looked around and the three people who were there before me were still waiting. A lady came in and sat down between me and one of these unfortunate original customers, a rather elderly lady whom I noticed had a crutch. Within three minutes, the new lady was called into a booth. The elderly lady began to look rather agitated, so
I turned to her and asked her how long she had been waiting. ‘Just coming up to an hour’ she told me, ‘and I was the second one here.’
We had a short but satisfyingly loud conversation about rotten service, which was cut short when she was called into a booth.
Soon after I was called to another booth. The Bank lady who had called me over, without trying to keep me on as a customer went through the motions of closing my account. Only time will tell if this has really happened.
I then went and had my hair cut. This was not because I had closed an account, you understand, but it was one of the reasons that The Better Half and I had gone into town.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Digital Switchover

We have now gone digital – whoopee! Well maybe not quite so much enthusiasm, since it has cost us a small fortune and has totally confused The Better Half (TBH). Whilst she is very good with technical things compared to many people I have known, both male and female, and copes well with modern technology, this has overwhelmed her by sheer numbers. We have TVs in nearly every room and all of them but two were Analogue only. We also had the means of recording and timeshifting in the three most often used rooms, Kitchen, Living room and bedroom, also analogue only. We now have digital Freeview boxes attached to three of these as well as Personal Video Recorders (PVRs). The living room has now been equipped with a Freesat + box which has a built in PVR and a Freeview capable Wide screen Digital HDTV. HDTV is unexpectedly good. I was not initially enthusiastic and only got the HDTV because that was more or less all that is on offer in the shops.
Recording via a Freesat or Freeview PVR is a doddle, you select from the program guide and it is done.
Recording from a TV and analogue PVR via a set top box is not so simple. You have to set the Freeview box to the channel you want and then set the timed recording to record from the AV input, not a channel as you did in the past, and then remember to keep the Freeview box switched on and left on the channel that is broadcasting the programme you want to record.
So you can see why TBH has been a little confused, added to this complexity, most of the boxes we have are different manufacturers and there are subtle differences in the controls. Because I am a lifelong geek, and I set all this up, including fitting the Freesat dish, I have grown to understand it but I admit it is messy. Eventually all the TVs and PVRs will be replaced with DTV and it will become less complex,but that is a long term change only happening as the TVs and PVRs need replacing due to, as our leaders would put it, 'natural wastage'. In the meantime poor TBH is struggling up a steep learning curve.

The Digital Switchover in the UK is no less complex than our own personal set up.
Since 2008 the UK has been gradually introducing Digital TV and switching off the old Analogue signals. This has been going on in a seemingly very random manner. The official reason is that because we are a very crowded nation there were never enough channels to run a parallel service everywhere. Most areas had both services and so people living there could set up their digital reception gradually and get used to the new system without losing their familiar signals, but some areas only had the Analogue signals right up to the day of the switchover.
We happened to be in the USA on June the 12th last year when the USA went Digital. This happened right across the nation at 12 noon and went very smoothly as far as I could see. There were a few complaints but that is only to be expected, but they did better than 99% in effectiveness. I do not really understand why we did not do the same here in the UK.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


One of the clever things that Disney managed was an interactive session with the cartoon character Stitch, from the 'Lilo and Stich' movie. The smaller children were asked to sit on a mat in front of a large screen where Stitch appeared in cartoon form. He was able to talk to the children and got them to join in different activities with him. One was to see who could make the scariest face and TG (The Granddaughter) was selected to try. She managed to make a really frightening face and was named 'The most Scary Monster in the Universe' by Stitch, much to her parent's amusement.

Monday, 5 April 2010


Well we have now achieved one of Western civilisation's highest ideals - we have been to Disneyland.
Of course it was not quite the real thing, but Euro Disney. You cannot get to the USA from England by train and since The Granddaughter's (TG's) dad has survived one air crash, he will not risk flying again because, understandably, he believes air travel is unsafe.
So we travelled by Eurostar from Ashford and arrived at the Disney station near Paris on Sunday afternoon.
We checked into the Santa Fe hotel, which is a collection of different sized buildings of the style that you find in New Mexico and which are designed for a warmer drier climate.
Once checked in and divested of our luggage, we caught the shuttle bus and arrived at the park.
TG was thrilled, we managed to corner several Disney characters and she was able to get some twenty-three autographs altogether over the whole three days. We walked our feet off and then some in the process. Each day we arrived back at the Hotel and as soon as TG was asleep, we all crashed out too.
We were tired not just because of the extra walking, but because the UK had just moved forward an hour into summer time and when we arrived in France we had to move on another hour, so we were getting up two hours earlier than we had only a day or so before.


I have not experienced staying at Butlins in the UK, although I have been a day visitor and lived in a town where there was a Butlins Holiday Camp and so saw a fair amount of the way they worked. Disneyland is rather like that, but with more American food. Whatever you do you have to queue for everything and everywhere you go there is 'jolly' music. Since the clientele were from all parts of Europe, we heard many different languages beside the native French and not everyone there seemed to understand the rules of queuing.
The Euro currency has got quite close to the pound, so most things were rather dear, because once you are inside the park, they do not have to be competitive.
TG's highlight was a lunch where all the different princesses from the Disney movies arrive and visit all the tables in the restaurant. Their respective princes accompany each one and so TG was able to talk to nearly all the Disney Royalty and got lots of autographs and photos. The people who play these parts are very good and really act out their respective roles for the children very well.

The weather was not too kind to us but that was not unexpected and there are many indoor activities but one day we did have to shelter from the cold by about eleven by taking refuge in an alpine themed restaurant, where we drank hot drinks in order to return feeling to our near hypothermic bodies to the sound of music tracks from Pinocchio.
Despite getting fairly chilled, we were much luckier than those people in Scotland and Northern Ireland where on that day heavy snow fell and all sorts of problems occurred, including at least one death. We only got the tail end of that and it never fell below freezing, being that much further south.

It was a worthwhile experience particularly seeing TG’s face whenever a new character appeared.