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Thursday, 21 June 2018

412: Defence Discount Service

This particular blog is exclusively aimed at my UK military colleagues (serving or retired). At the risk of 'teaching grandmother to suck eggs' I wanted to draw your attention to the Defence Discount Service. Just in case you weren't aware of it.

The card has been around for a few years but I had always discarded the notion of applying for one because it isn't free! Recently I came to my senses and applied. It costs £4.99 and lasts for 5 years. Come on, what's £4.99. That can be recouped in very short order having nabbed a few discounts. Recently I finally decided to apply. They didn't accept the initial proof of service that I sent so I reinforced it with an Army Identity Card dated 1984 and a picture of me with Her Majesty the Queen. Between them those two pieces of evidence did the trick!
The 'big' stores, Debenhams, M&S etc don't accept the card - surprise, surprise, but there are a few hundred others that do. I was particularly pleased to see Patisserie Valerie on the list - who doesn't like to stop for a coffee and cake whilst out shopping.
Finally, Oxford Street having exhausted me, I went for a liquid lunch with my sister and we ended up sharing another goldfish bowl sized G&T.
Scrolling through Face Book this morning I was amused by a comment from another military veteran about his time in the service "it was all a game, to make you the person you are today".

Monday, 11 June 2018

411: Three Queens in three days

Saturday's Queen: 
On Saturday evening I watched highlights on television of Her Majesty the Queen taking part in the Trooping the Colour ceremony. This takes place every year to celebrate her official birthday and, if I remember correctly from 2 days ago, this is the 63rd Trooping the Colour ceremony she has attended. Incredible! Nobody in the world does pomp and pageantry as well as we Brits.

Sunday's Queen: 
I went to Barcelona to watch Queen (+ Alan Lambert) in concert in the Palau Sant Jordi. Turned out to be not such a good idea and I left after 15 minutes. Turns out that in such an enormous stadium the stage was that far away it was like watching ants performing. 

 But hearing was a different story. It seemed to me that they were shouting instead of singing. I have absolutely no idea why the volume needs to be so loud. A bit of a paradox really - old people sometimes need to be shouted at so they can hear. Younger people, the majority of the audience, can, in theory, hear perfectly well. Why do they need to be shouted at? I don't understand. Call me an old fogey if you will, (all right, you're an old fogey), but I found myself wishing I was at an Andre Rieu concert or listening to some light classics in the Royal Albert Hall. I love all the old Queen songs but in future I shall watch them on You Tube with me choosing the volume.
A couple more gripes, while I'm in the mood! I had thought about buying some 'merchandise', a Queen T-shirt or something similar. I nearly fell over when I saw the prices. 40-50 Euros. Almost a twelfth of my pension, just for a T-shirt! I don't think so. How can they justify that? They charge what the market will bear, I suppose. I paid 7.50 for a hot dog and a bottle of water. Excessive but not unexpected for somewhere with a captive audience. Next, and final, probably, grumble: I had gone early to do a recce of the joint (time spent on reconnaissance  is never wasted). The plan was to buy some food at a roadside cafe before I went into the stadium proper. The plan was dashed as there were no roadside cafes, no roadside anything for that matter. Palau Sant Jordi was built for the 1992 Spanish Olympic games. It is the largest indoor stadium in Spain with  seating capacity of 17,960. It is part of the Olympic complex, located on Montjuic hill in splendid isolation. 30 minutes walk from my hotel, and 45 minutes back, in the dark when you head off in the wrong direction looking for a bus stop. Plenty bus stops, very few buses. Having arrived there early I discovered the outer gates to the complex weren't going to be opened until 7.30. It completely slipped my mind that this was a Spanish 7.30 i.e nearly 7.50. Then, once we got into the grounds, we had to stand around, in lose formation, for almost another hour until they opened the doors to the building. Thank God I'm not currently disabled and Thank God it wasn't raining, as it had been earlier. This is another aspect of the evening I don't understand: if they had opened the doors earlier then the cash tills could have been ringing earlier. OK, last moan: the concert was due to start at 9.30. It was 9.55 before Queen deigned to make an appearance. How dare they, with the money we had paid for the seats. Surely he who pays the piper calls the tune. Or so it was once upon a time.  Can I get on with my day now I've got all that off my chest?
Monday's Queen
On this day, in 2013, my dear old Mum passed away. God bless her. Here is a picture of her on her wedding day (1945?) being given a traditional rolling pin by her Mum to keep Dad in order. Rest in Peace Mum (and Dad, and Nan).

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

410: An Englishman abroad

I have to confess to being a bit of a stereotypical Englishman abroad - at least as far as food is concerned. Yesterday I had two language exchange lessons, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Being 'in the mood for food' after the first lesson and before the second I opted for a 'full English' in my favourite Indian restaurant here in Salou and a Burger King 'meal' for an early 'dinner'. It was an almost full English, there being a distinct lack of black pudding & hash brown but it still hit the spot. It's not that I don't try local Spanish food, I had some 'Salpicon de Marisco' at the Freesia group lunch last Thursday. And then I had the pleasure of a light bout of diarrhoea on Saturday. Did my British bacteria take exception to the Spanish food? I shall never know. All I know is I had my own personal Brexit on Saturday!

Talking about toilet paper, which I suppose I was, albeit indirectly, I noticed recently that Salou local council has had to take appropriate steps to stop its toilet paper being misappropriated. How desperate must some people be to steal the bog roll? Of course, if you're really desperate you just unroll it all and leave the empty tube padlocked. I have no idea what nationality these potential miscreants are, in fact I think all nationalities have their share of poor people. How sad.

Friday, 4 May 2018

409: Prim and proper

prim and proper: (of a person) very correctly behaved and easily shocked by anything that is rude. Perhaps that was me once but that would have been a long time ago.
What prompted me to write this particular heading? I was in Reus the other day and walked past the statue of General Prim. He was born in Reus in 1814 and shot by unknown assassin(s) in Madrid in 1870, aged 56.
I liked not just the statue but the Spanish architecture in the background.Reus is full of narrow streets and I often get lost, Wednesday was no exception. In a way it was deliberate because that's the best way of finding new and interesting things. (Short of going into a tourist office and asking!). The tourist office is just next to another interesting statue in Reus "the statue of the giant Indian"
The architecture in the background is not quite so impressive. 
My last picture today was taken in another square in Reus. The yellow ribbons, in loops, and the new Catalonian flags with one star, show that Catalunya has certainly not abandoned its claim for independence from the rest of Spain.
And finally, May the fourth be with you... Here is a trailer for the new Star Wars film:

Sunday, 29 April 2018

408: Learning to live with 'minor' upsets!

After an enjoyable week in UK I flew from Stansted to Barcelona yesterday with Ryanair. My journey from Ramsey to the airport went swimmingly: there is a 7:12 bus which goes to Cambridge railway station and from there it is a 30 minute train ride to the airport. Got to the business lounge in good time to knock back a couple of G&Ts before having to report to the departure gate and stand in line to be processed.
A pleasant enough flight as I had paid extra for an emergency exit seat so could stretch my long legs. But we were late taking off and late landing. My problems snowballed from there. They opened the front and rear doors and passengers began disembarking. Unfortunately there were only two buses to convey three bus-loads of people. Those of us who were sitting in the middle of the plane were held on the plane until a bus came back for us. That, of course, put us at the end of a very long queue to have passports checked and I think a couple of other flights had arrived just before us. I finally got through passport control and picked up my baggage. Walked over the bridge to the train station. I could see the train at the platform. I knew it would be a forlorn attempt to reach it in time but felt I should try anyway. If only the guy in front of me at the ticket office hadn't wanted to talk quite so much I might have managed but by the time I got my ticket and fed it into the machine at the barrier I heard the whistle and knew that I would have to watch the train pulling out. 


30 minutes wait for the next train. What to do but go for a beer. The next train, unfortunately, pulled out on time but was late into Barcelona Sants, causing me to miss my connection. 90 minutes to wait for the next train to Salou. When I finally arrived at Salou it was after 9 p.m. and to cap it all there was a fine drizzle during the 10 minute walk home from the railway station.

None of this really matters. Why? Let me put things into perspective. I heard yesterday that an army colleague, I had never met him but knew of him and he was a contemporary of mine, had keeled over and died suddenly of a massive heart attack. A fit guy, a sportsman all his life. RIP Paul Lenny Fairclough. Condolences to his family. It is such a tenuous thread holding us to this life that the thread can be severed at any time. (Especially when you get to my age!) What does it matter that I was 2 hours late getting home. At least I woke up this morning.  Enjoy life, everybody. While you still can.

Really strange weather today. Thunder rolling around the sky. One minute bright sunshine and the next rain and then hailstones. We are having power cuts and if I were sensible I would turn off this laptop before it gets fried with a power surge.  Hope it hasn't knocked out the router. Fingers crossed.

I was listening to Russian radio Retro FM this morning when what should I hear but the Goombay Dance band singing "Marrakesh". You can't get much more retro than that! The rain this afternoon reminded me that they also recorded "Rain, rain, rain". So here it is:

Sunday, 22 April 2018

407: Sensible drinking....

Almost every day, it seems, we are being exhorted to live more healthily. To that end I have joined a gym in Salou and try to go three times a week when I'm in the country. Living healthily also includes drinking sensibly and here is just such an example!

This fishbowl sized gin and tonic is available in a variety of flavours at Bronte, which can be found between Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square. I shared it with my sister. Don't ask about the price! As I said to Hazel at the time it is the kind of place where if you need to ask the price you shouldn't be there! We met yesterday for lunch and after a very nice curry wurst at Herman ze German on Villiers Street we went looking for a little something to drink before heading back to our respective corners of the South East of England.  While I was waiting for Hazel to arrive I had a very quick whizz (American English = whiz) around the National Gallery, stopping longer at some of the religiously themed paintings than perhaps I might have done previously. Here are two that quite took my fancy. 

The Dead Christ mourned - Annibale Carracci
The Adoration of the Shepherds - Guido Reni
Here is a link to a virtual tour of the gallery. Enjoy.
I was in London for a reunion of my old Army mates on Friday evening. They hold the reunion every April and it was the first time for a number of years that I had managed to attend. I'd like to say that none of them are looking any older - but I can't. It's only me that hasn't aged at all. Good food, good company and good craic.
I stayed at a nice hotel opposite the Imperial War museum and it was a short bus ride from there to the Union Jack club, where the reunion was held. I had bought a bottle of gin in the airport at Barcelona in the morning and went twice to a local shop near the hotel to buy tonic. The first time, early afternoon, the nice man behind the counter charged me £1.10 for a small bottle of tonic. The second time, late evening, a different man (much nicer) charged me 99p for a bottle exactly the same. That's the trouble with shops that don't have the prices of things shown - there is a tendency for the person at the cash till to charge as much as he/she thinks they can get away with. A sad reflection of Society.

I recently had occasion to renew my Senior Railcard. There was a choice of buying a 1-year version or a 3-year version. I decided that, at my age, it might be safer to buy one year at a time. A bit like not buying green bananas! :)

Today is the London marathon. By now most of them will have finished the course and many will be saying to themselves, as I once did, "never again". That feeling wears off within a few days and the diehards look forward to the next year.  To finish, of course, the theme from Chariots of Fire.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

406: Port out and starboard home

Stayed in London on Monday to celebrate my birthday. As a special treat I stayed in the RAF Club on Piccadilly. It's a bit 'posh' (elegant or stylishly luxurious.) Folk etymology suggests that 'posh' is formed from the initials of port out starboard home (referring to the more comfortable accommodation, out of the heat of the sun, on ships between England and India). That meaning appears to be apocryphal but it does remind me of a story in the book I am currently reading - Jeremy Paxman's Empire. I hope he won't mind me copying a paragraph here: "... the arrival of what later became known as the fishing fleet - young women from the home country out to net themselves a husband from the single men serving in India. 'In the hot weather you took out what was known as the 'B' class girl, usually Anglo-Indians, who were dears in every way and the greatest fun. But the moment the cold weather started they were taboo, because all the young girls from Roedean, Cheltenham and the great schools of Britain came out in the P&O liners'. The women who failed to find anyone suitable went back to England, nicknamed "returned empties" !" I know my dear old grandmother (mum's mum) was in India with her husband, my grandad, and thankfully didn't have to suffer the ignominy of being classed as a "returned empty". Here is the ship she returned from India on, with two of her children. 
I digress. A few pictures from my day in London.

Buckingham Palace.
The flag was flying, albeit limply, so Her Majesty was in residence.

The doorman at the Athenaeum, looking resplendent in top hat and tails.
London, all tastes catered for....

Parked overnight in the Hyde Park/Mayfair underground car park. £49.99! Even with a 25% discount it still made my eyes water! Remind me not to take the car next time!

Enjoy the video "London Girls", Chas and Dave - 1983.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

405: A cock and bull story!

One of the reasons for writing blogs is to help my former students expand their knowledge of the English language. A cock and bull story, according to the Oxford English dictionary, is an implausible story used as an explanation or excuse. Maybe when you're trying to explain to the boss why you're late for work. The rest of the blog, although it may seem implausible, is a true record of my recent, very short, trip to Valencia. Coincidentally, I arrived there at 16:10 on Tuesday and left at 16:10 on Wednesday. On reflection, it was not long enough. I should spend more time there next time. I haven't been to a bull fight in Spain, and have no plans to do so, but the 'sport' (if you can call it that) is certainly part of the Spanish culture.
I bought a 24-hour transport card and spent Tuesday evening wandering about, exploring the town. Valencia is in extended carnival mode, but more of that later.

 On Wednesday I decided to visit Oceanografic - a large area containing diverse marine environments and housing fish and marine life from different corners of the planet. 

 I spent quite some time enjoying looking at the different aquaria and then sat down to watch the dolphins performing for fish. It was a good show. Trainers and dolphins worked well together. Part of me objects to the fact that we are, perhaps, exploiting the animals for our own gratification, but I watched it anyway. 

And then back to the station with a few hours in hand before my train back to Salou. I'm pleased I had been forewarned that at 2 p.m., every day for quite a few days, there would be a series of enormous bangs. They lasted for a good 5-10 minutes and the whole street was covered in dense smoke. Who pays for all the fireworks I wondered, but there was loud applause from the large crowds when it finished. Perhaps there are more tourist bucks coming in than pyrotechnic bucks going out? 

Here is a link to explain all about the Valencia Fallas and a short video

404: Page not found

The plan is that after I have written my 500th blog I will publish the whole lot as a coffee table book for my great-great grandchildren to read in case they ever feel the need to ask questions about their ancestors. I know I'll have to pay for self-publishing as I do appreciate I don't have the literary flair and style to attract publishers to pay me.
I know I always regret not asking my grandparents more about what they got up to in their lives. This particular blog, short and sweet, is an irreverent poke at the most famous Windows error code of all - 404 - Page not found. "What was Windows", the great-great grandchildren will be asking. 
How everything will have moved on by  then. How things have changed since my grandparent's day. (Yes, these are my grandparents, from a long long time ago).
Enjoy this Renny Gleeson short TED Talk about page 404. I know I did.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

403: A technical blog - especially for Olive

If you're not geeky, or you're not my cousin-in-law Olive, then please read no further. I want to regale you with my Internet problems and how I overcame them. 
When I came Salou, almost a year ago, I compared the prices that various ISPs (Internet Service Providers) wanted and saw that they were much more expensive than in UK - especially when you factor in the cost of a landline. I didn't really want or need a landline so investigated alternative ways of getting internet access here in my flat. 
I hit on the idea of a mobile router, which works using a SIM card. I bought a Huawei LTE CPE model E5186s-22a. I put in a Spanish SIM and found it worked perfectly well, but. Isn't there always a but? The but, in this case, was that there was a maximum entitlement of 26 GB per month. If I went over, as I did most months,  then they billed me even more than what I had signed up for. I soon found that this wasn't enough for my needs - the odd Skype lesson and streaming the 'occasional' UK TV programme soon ate up the gigabytes.(N.B. In UK English programme is used for TV programmes and program for software.)
Image result for huawei lte cpe e5186s-22a 
So, bite the bullet and pay for internet through a landline. 48 Euros per month (roughly £42). There are comparison sites here and you can get cheaper rates ordering on-line rather than visiting a shop but whenever you click on an offer you are asked to telephone somebody. I don't like using the telephone at the best of times but to try and communicate in Spanish when I only have 400-500 words of general Spanish and almost no technical Spanish would have been an absolute nightmare. When I went to a local Orange shop they eventually told me that Movistar had the monopoly on certain numbers, including mine, in the block of flats where I live. That may, or may not, be true but Orange said they weren't in a position to help. So, trog off to the local Movistar shop where I signed a contract for them to provide landline and internet (+ 2 SIM cards).
The technician arrived within a few days and told me, I think, that I had to have their router near to the telephone point. This is nowhere near where the TV and desktop are currently located. Desktop, and notebook and mobile now all worked wirelessly and give me continuous access to the internet without worrying about running over a monthly entitlement, but (and there's that but again) streaming TV from UK paused to reload more often than I liked.
I knew that internet over ethernet would be faster than internet over wi-fi so I have just been out and bought a 7.5 metre telephone extension cable. The router is now on the shelf above the TV and is connected by internet cable to my desktop PC. Download speed is almost 4 times faster. The smart TV in the bedroom also lets me wirelessly listen to music and watch the best that You Tube has to offer. (I had been worried that if I moved the router the bedroom TV would then be out of range but everything is fine).
All's well that ends well. Now I just have to advertise the old mobile router on eBay and move on to the next (technical) problem. And secure the cable around the wall with those little things whose name I have temporarily forgotten.
And finally, for anybody who wants to become a geek......

Thursday, 1 March 2018

402: Having my cake and eating it too!

The blog title fairly accurately reflects my lifestyle, although today I'm able to use it literally! Do please note that the people of Ramsey are very sophisticated - you get a knife and fork to eat your cake. 

I'm duty cook today so set off for Tesco to buy the ingredients. The raspberry turnovers jumped into my basket as I passed them. Our local Tesco is the other side of town so a brisk walk there and back helps me to reach my daily step goal. Unfortunately, after exercise I often feel that I've earned a little reward - hence the finger doughnut and coffee in the Windmill Bakery on the way home. Walking back across the sports field I noticed that there was nobody in the pensioners' playground. Hardly surprising really!

The idea of sports equipment for the elderly is admirable. If it helps older folk keep fit then it keeps them out of hospital and/or the doctor's surgery, thereby saving the NHS money. Unfortunately I don't think the uptake has been very high. 
Short and sweet today - not like the doughnut, which was long and sweet. Here in UK two snowflakes and the country grinds to a halt. For a video I thought I would give you a link showing how those in the Moscow suburbs cope with the snow. Look at the link to see 'real' snow.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

401: When in Ramsey...

There has been white stuff falling from the sky. I know what it is, having lived in Moscow for 2+6 years, but around these parts it's rarer than rocking-horse s**t. I went gleefully to the loft to search for the cross-country skis that I bought in Moscow from the sports beryozka some 40 years ago. Who remembers beryozki (берёзки)? Special shops scattered around Moscow exclusively for foreigners (and their hard currency). I found the skis and poles and boots underneath a pile of other stuff - the loft is full of things we haven't seen for 25 years. But then - deep disappointment. The boots had been in the loft so long that the rubber has perished so they no longer clip into the studs on the skis. It is not possible to use those ancient skis without clipping ancient boots into them. I was so looking forward to a quick langlauf session  around my estate. Reluctantly I had to abandon the idea and settle for a walk instead.

Donated my 62nd pint of blood in Cambridge on Monday. With 8 pints circulating in the human body, I've almost rejuvenated myself 8 times.
For a video clip I've chosen, for my younger readers, Frosty the Snowman.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

400: When in Rome .. (Part II). I came, I saw, I went home again

The whole world runs on scams. In London, and Moscow, and many other cities, there is a choice of fast train or slow train to get you from the airport to the city centre. In Rome it costs 14 Euros for the Leonardo express or 8 Euros for the slower train, which also involves a change. I went into the train terminal at the airport and the man behind the counter, who probably works for the railways, immediately showed me a glossy flyer that offered airport to hotel minibus shuttle for only 15 Euros. I was tempted to say no to the scam and to buy a train ticket but that would have been cutting off the nose to spite the face. Half a dozen other people also accepted the offer and we were transported into town, at great speed, in a luxury minibus.The (fast) train would have been quicker because the minibus took everybody else to their hotel first but I did get to see some of the sights of Rome - and there are many. Having checked into the hotel I had a look on the map for the nearest sight worth seeing. Turned out to be the Trevi fountain. It was about 20-30 minute walk from the hotel and even at 7 p.m. was packed with tourists.

I grabbed some dinner on the way back to the hotel. "Happy hours" seem to be popular here where you can eat as much as you want but there's only one drink included. 10 Euros. They would have lost out on the deal if I was still a young man. In those days I earned the sobriquet 'Dustbin Des' but I tend not to eat quite as much now. Also on the way back I passed this building and I wanted to take a picture so I could make a comment about passing the red light district. Unfortunately my phone showed only orange. Use your imagination - all the windows were showing red. I'm sure there is a Reeperbahn equivalent in Rome but it wasn't on my list of places to visit.

The next day, after breakfast, I set off for the Vatican. Another country I can tick off the list. I enjoyed a wander, and a wonder, around St Peter's Square. I'm too tight to pay to go into any of the wonderful places around the square and also far too impatient to stand in queues but there are plenty of sites on the internet to allow good close-ups. Click here for a virtual guided tour of the Sistine chapel.

From the Vatican it is but a short bus ride to the Forum and the Coliseum.I forgot to mention yesterday that when I was paying the rather extortionate tourist tax, the hotel receptionist jokingly suggested they needed it because they were building a new coliseum.

 Having traipsed around Rome all day Saturday I wanted something different for Sunday so took a bus to the beautiful medieval city of Siena. Rather than inundate you with photos I thought I would just give a link to the google images page.
I flew back to Barcelona on Tuesday and had to quickly unscrew my (empty) 'Buongiorno' head and screw on my (not quite so empty) 'buenos dias' head. Why didn't we all end up speaking Esperanto. At least I didn't have to faff about exchanging Liras for Pesetas.
I will finish with a video clip of Matt Munro singing "three coins in the fountain".