Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

Doesn’t time fly! Christmas Eve is here already and it only feels like 5 minutes ago we were over in Georgia celebrating Thanksgiving. We have spent the last few days completing our final preparations for the festive season. We have even braved the local supermarkets on a couple of occasions, where you would think that people were buying in readiness for a month’s hibernation rather than just a couple of days worth of celebration!

Yesterday we went up to London to see a play in the West End. It really made it feel like Christmas. We spent the train journey up to the city looking out at the snow-covered countryside as we sped by. The snow and frost that we have had over the last week has made this the nearest thing to a White Christmas that I can remember for a long time. Unfortunately it looks as though it will all be gone around where we live by tomorrow. Anyway, the blanket of snow over all the fields, barns and houses made for a very Christmassy scene as we travelled towards Paddington Station.

Our day in London was wonderful. We took the Tube to Covent Garden and had a bite to eat before going to the Novello Theatre to see “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” starring James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Adrian Lester and Sanaa Lathan as directed by Debbie Allen. The play was tremendous with exceptional performances all round. We had great tickets slap-bang in the middle of the 8th row – just perfect. The show lasts for 2 hours and 45 minutes, but that time simply flew by – a sure sign that you are having a good time! After the show we went to have a meal at a nearby restaurant, which was buzzing with people enjoying a pre-Christmas night out. The food was great and served very promptly, which was a relief as we had a train to catch back to Wiltshire. We decided as were sat in that restaurant that we will have to make trips like this our new Christmas tradition, every year on December 23rd. Anything else we go to see though will have to go some in order to match that production of “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” though!

Today we have had to stay in and wait for the washing machine engineer who is supposed to be bringing us a new machine as the last one died just after we returned from our trip to the States. We are, however, still waiting as I write these notes! Hopefully he will be here very soon as we have some Christmas movies to watch and some cards still left to finish off. I hate having to wait for deliveries and the like.

Anyway, yuletide is upon us and I wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. I hope that you all have a great holiday season.

PS The new washing machine has just arrived – who said that Santa doesn’t bring exactly what you want at Christmas?!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Christmas Creations

Christmas is so very nearly upon us now. Amazingly, we are all but ready for the festivities with still 6 days to go until the Big Day. We have all the presents bought and wrapped, the Yellow House is also fully decorated and the tree has been up in place for 2 weeks now.

We have also written and sent most of our Christmas cards. When we went over to the States for Thanksgiving, we took the presents and cards for our family and friends over there. Both the gifts and the cards were manufactured by ourselves and we thought that you would like to see what we have made. Dori will be talking about the gifts in a future post, but here are some pictures of a few of the cards that we made.

We obtained all the various materials from different sources and then had a small assembly line going to get all the cards made. We used small sticky pads to make some of the elements on the cards stand out, and give a 3D effect to them. The envelopes were not lined when we bought them – Dori lined them all herself using some patterned paper. And then when the cards were all complete, we put them in envelopes and then sealed the envelopes with a wax seal. This involved melting some wax onto the envelopes and then pressing the wax with a metal stamp.

Don’t worry that I am spoiling any surprises here – we handed out the cards when we were in Georgia and everyone was very pleased to receive them. Sometimes something that is handmade can be so much more personal, and shows that some real thought has gone into it, as time rather than just money has been spent on it.

It was an enjoyable process, and we definitely got better at it as time went on! This may well be the way of the future. I can definitely see us producing more homemade products in the upcoming years. If we do, then I know we will share it all with you here.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

It's Been A While

You may have noticed that I haven’t been around for a while; in fact it is three weeks since my last post here. Firstly, of course, there was our trip over to the States for Thanksgiving, which was wonderful, and since our return back to these shores we have had to contend with jetlag, a broken washing machine, illness and an internet-phobic laptop! Life has been upside down for the last two weeks, and still isn’t yet fully righted.

Anyway, all of this means that there is some catching up to do. Dori is posting a full documentation of our Thanksgiving trip over at her blog, but here are my own brief thoughts. We were in Georgia for 9 days and that time simply flew by. We had a great time while we were there and we were able to catch-up with both friends and family. We did regular stuff like visiting the mall and going to the movies, and we also ate some extremely tasty meals – both restaurant produced and home-cooked. The weather was great, for the most part, and we enjoyed a couple of walks along the local nature trail. As Dori said a number of times, it was just like our own spa retreat! :-)

As I said earlier, the time flew by and we were barely able to believe it when the time rolled around for us to fly back to the UK. It was like we had only been there for a couple of days or something. Naturally, when we arrived back at Heathrow the weather was exactly how we had left it – cold and extremely wet. But we were happy in the knowledge that the trip “back home” had been so enjoyable. We had a fantastic time and really enjoyed kicking back for a short while.

My laptop died, or at least refused to do anything internet related, just before we flew out to the States. It is now three years old, which seems to be about the most you can hope for as the useful lifetime of a modern computer. So, we had to take the plunge and order a new laptop, which finally arrived three days ago. It is a shiny black Compaq complete with Windows 7 and all. Right now I am enjoying the novel feeling of things actually working in a timely manner and not freezing up every few minutes or so. Long may that continue!

So, what else has happened during my hiatus? Oh yes, the World Cup Draw. The general view is that the draw was very favourable to England, as far as their group is concerned, although I can see some tricky obstacles further along the path should they progress. But as Fabio Capello said himself, you have to beat the best teams if you are seriously considering yourself to be in with a shout of becoming World Champions. One interesting aspect of the draw is that England find themselves in the same group as the United States. That will make for a very fascinating match-day in the Yellow House come June!! :-) Trevor is already having panic attacks about which team he should support!

Well, I think I’ve covered more than enough ground for one post – and I haven’t even got around to talking about Christmas yet! That will have to wait for another day. Have a good weekend everybody.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Bye For a Bit

We are off early tomorrow morning to head up to Heathrow ready for our flight over to Georgia. We are both so looking forward to our break away. When we get back we will no doubt both be blogging about our adventures. Until then Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I'll see you all in December.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Sunday Snaps 8 - Georgia On My Mind

It’s Sunday and so it must be Sunday Snaps time! Today I am going back to some photos taken in Dori’s home state of Georgia.

These pics were all taken at Stone Mountain Park, which is said to be home to the world’s largest piece of exposed granite. The first picture shows one side of the top of the mountain which features a relief carving of three figures – Generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. It is the largest bas-relief in the world, measuring 90 by 190 feet.

This second shot was taken from the top of the mountain, which can be reached either by foot or, for the less adventurous smarter, via a cable car which provides a great close-up view of the relief carving on the way up. If you look really closely at the photo you may just be able to see the Atlanta skyline some 16 miles in the distance.

Stone Mountain Park is some 3200 acres in size and has a number of attractions other than the mountain itself, including a railroad that encircles the top of the mountain, a riverboat, laser show, woodland walks, a campground, demonstration crafts, a 4D theater and shops and restaurants. This last photo shows the main thoroughfare of Crossroads, a recreation of a small town of yesteryear.

I love this place – do go visit it if you ever get the chance.

If you look closely at the final picture, you may just be able to make out some Christmas decorations and trimmings on some of the buildings. This is because I took that photo when I was visiting Dori for Thanksgiving, back when we used to live on either side of the Atlantic before we got married. Which brings me to the reason for posting these pictures today – we are going back for Thanksgiving again this year! Woo Hoo! We are both so excited to be going back “home” for a week. Be sure that we will both be blogging about our trip in the upcoming weeks. Now, got to go – got plenty of packing to do!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Sunday Snaps 7 - Royal Kensington

This is another in my occasional Sunday Snaps series. Today I am staying closer to home and sharing some of the pictures we have taken during our many trips up to London.

The first is of Kensington Palace, which lies within the boundary of Kensington Gardens, which itself borders onto Hyde Park. The palace is a working palace to this day, currently the official residence of several minor royals. It is perhaps most famous today for being the former home of Diana, Princess of Wales following her separation from Prince Charles.

Lying just outside of Kensington Gardens is the Royal Albert Hall. It was built in 1871 and named, at the behest of Queen Victoria, after her beloved husband Prince Albert, who had died 10 years previously. It is a wonderful building and hosts many concerts, including the BBC Proms, as well as some sporting events. Dori and I are hoping to get the chance to attend a concert there sometime in the future.

Just across the road from the Albert Hall, back within Kensington Gardens, is the Albert Memorial. Completed a year after the Royal Albert Hall was opened, it is the official memorial for Prince Albert. The statue of Prince Albert at the centre of the memorial faces south towards the Royal Albert Hall, and is surrounded by a number of other sculptures that represent Agriculture, Commerce, Engineering, Manufactures, Asia, Africa, America and Europe. It is a wonderful memorial, and is certainly much more fitting than the abomination that is the Diana memorial which lies just a few hundred yards away!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Price of Progress ....Part Two

Dori and I have been watching an interesting programme on the BBC over the last week or so. Produced in conjunction with the Open University, it examines the effect of modern technology on today’s society. A family have volunteered to live their lives as though they were living through the 70s, 80s and 90s with each day of the month representing one day of the three decades, starting off in 1970 on day one.

Dori and I often remark on how much has changed during our lifetimes, which isn’t a huge amount of time – no, really, it’s not – and this programme brought that fact home. You really do forget exactly what life was like back then. Most houses didn’t have central heating or double glazing, no freezers, no microwaves, no dishwashers, no colour TV, no CDs, no mobile/cell phones and, of course, no computers let alone the world wide web! Cars had no power steering, air conditioning, or power assisted braking systems. You couldn’t listen to music on the go as the walkman was still years away in the future. We lived in the Stone Age!

The production crew also decorated the family’s house to suit each decade complete with vivid 70s wallpaper, or chintzy 80s furniture. As each day (year) went by so more technology was introduced into the house. At the start of the project the family found that the parents spent much longer doing housework as they had none of the modern conveniences, and had to shop for food just about daily as freezers were yet to reach most houses. The children, in contrast, had more time on their hands than they knew what to do with, without any game consoles, cell phones, mp3 players or much TV to watch – there were just 3 stations, all in black and white and were only showing a test-card for the great majority of the day. So, they ended up spending time together, playing board games or even actually getting out of the house and playing in the great outdoors. Of course, back in the 70s, parents were also more likely to let their kids play out for just about the whole day without worrying too much – a complete contrast to today.

The 70s brought music centres, colour TV, calculators and, at the end of the decade, Pong! The 80s brought primitive computers into the house, slightly more sophisticated games consoles, the walkman, video recorders, CDs and microwaves. During this decade the family started to drift away from their communal activities and found that they had the technology to allow them to entertain themselves more. When the 90s came around so did the Sony Playstation, satellite TVs, mp3 players, mobile phones, digital cameras and, of course, the World Wide Web. The pace of change was ever increasing and the throw-away culture became more evident. The children would be alone in their rooms watching their own TVs, playing on a games console or listening to an mp3 player. And the adults would be doing something similar downstairs. Technology had rent the family unit completely apart.

Modern convenience has given us so much more leisure time but we spend it in such different ways now – more often than not in more individual pursuits and not in enjoying the company of those we love. We surf the net, blog even, we play on games consoles, or we listen to our own music on mp3 players. The price of “progress” indeed.

The BBC and Open University have created a website to go along with this series which is worth a look at, if only to remember how “bad” things really used to be!

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Price of Progess ....Part One

So, as Dori mentions in her blog post today, it was a relaxing weekend in the Yellow House this week. We watched some DVDs, worked on a project, and did a bit more organizing of a couple of trips we have coming up before the year’s end. We got some things done that needed doing, but they were done at our own pace and without any self-imposed pressure or timelines. It was a good weekend – despite the weather!

I was also able to watch the highlights of the Ukraine v England World Cup qualifier on Saturday evening. You may not think that is anything remarkable, but there has been a controversy raging here for the past week or so concerning this match. To cut a long story short, the TV company who had the rights for this match went bust a couple of months back, and no other UK TV companies were either able or wanted to step into the breach. As a result, the company to whom the TV rights had reverted decided to screen the match live on the internet with no live TV coverage at all, and charged up to £12 (about $20) for the privilege.

Thankfully, England have already qualified for the World Cup, and so there was no burning need for most people to fork out a portion of their hard-earned dosh to view the game. But the thought of this being the way of the future is not at all appealing. I would certainly not appreciate paying £12 only to spend two hours watching a message say “please wait....buffering”. And, whilst having an option to watch sport online is a good thing, restricting live sport to only the internet is far from it. I hope this isn’t the start of a slippery slope. Anyhoo, the highlights of the game were screened on Saturday night by the BBC, but they had been prevented from advertising the fact that they would do so until after the end of the game (just two hours before their show started). Presumably this was to ensure that everybody who may be tempted to pay for the live coverage would do so and not just wait for the free-to-air highlights on the BBC a couple of hours later. So, it was only by pure luck that I saw the listing for the game on the Electronic Programme Guide as we were flicking through to see what was on.

As it happens, all of this fuss was for nothing as England had their goalkeeper sent-off after 15 minutes and went on to lose the game 1-0. Ho hum.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Sunday Snaps 6 - A Town Called Helen

Over at From a Yellow House, Dori has posted many a photo of our travels around Wiltshire and other parts of England. So I thought it was high time that I did the reverse and posted some pictures of Georgia, taken during my visits over there.

These snaps are of a small town called Helen in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North-East Georgia. As you can see, Helen is a recreation of a Bavarian Alpine town. It felt quite surreal when I first went there to find this little piece of Europe thousands of miles away!

It even comes complete with it's own windmill.

Helen is a cute little town, which I enjoyed visiting tremendously.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Fifty Things About Brit Boy

Dori posted this meme on her blog back in August, and invited whoever wanted to take it to do so. So I have (even if I have taken my time about it!) :-) I have changed 3 or 4 of the questions - because they weren't really relevant - and swapped them with other questions from other memes. I know you are not supposed to do that and the meme police will probably be knocking at my door in the morning, but hey, it's my blog and I'll do whatever I want with it!

If you want to take this meme and use it yourself, then please do.

1. What time did you get up this morning?
6:20. I had a lie-in as it is the weekend! The alarm goes off at 6:10 during the working week. I’ve not been sleeping in lately at the weekends. Don’t know why.

2. How do you like your steak?
Well Done. Although the steak we had in Paris on our 1st anniversary was still pink but tasted gorgeous. I guess it depends more on whether the person cooking it is actually a good chef or not, as well as the quality of the meat.

3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
Julie and Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. Really enjoyed it, even though I had never heard of Julia Child before the film was released.

4. What is your favorite TV show?
The West Wing. The most intelligently written, entertaining show on TV ever a mile. And very prophetic too, as it turned out! Gonna talk more about The West Wing on here in a few days time.

5. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
Near a beach, somewhere warm

6. What did you have for breakfast?
Skipped breakfast today (slap on wrist ...naughty boy!)

7. What is your favorite cuisine?
Italian or French, I guess. Not really a foodie, just like food that’s been well prepared.

8. What foods do you dislike?
Nuts, cherries, olives, ...I won’t bore you with the full list!

9. Favorite Place to Eat?
Frankie & Benny’s is my current fave. I’m a cheap date.

10. Favorite dressing?
Uhhh, ranch?

11.What kind of vehicle do you drive?
Rover 45

12. What are your favorite clothes?
Casual. Hate wearing suits or anything formal. Spend most of my time in jeans and t-shirts

13. Where would you visit if you had the chance?
Whoo, where to start?!! Lapland is on our list for a Christmas break one year. Australia, Rome, New York, Washington, California, Paris (again), Scotland (never been up there despite living only a few hundred miles away),.........

14. Cup 1/2 empty or 1/2 full
Half full ....mostly.

15. Where would you want to retire?
To that beach house I mentioned earlier.

16. Favorite time of day?
Early morning, just after the sun has risen from it’s bed.

17. Where were you born?
Wiltshire, England

18. What is your favorite sport to watch?
Football (soccer).

19. Would you move for the person you loved?
Yes. Dori has already done it, and we intend to move again - back to the States in a few years time.

20. Where did you live in 1987?
Bath, England.

21. What is your favourite film?
The Shawshank Redemption – love that film.

22. Are you a bird watcher?
Not really. Birds scare me.

23. Are you a morning person or a night person?
Definitely a morning person, which is a switch from my younger days. But if I don’t get what I need to get done in the early part of the day now, then chances are it won’t get done!

24. Do you have any pets?
No. Not unless you count Trevor!

25. Any new and exciting news you'd like to share?
Yes. I recently passed the course I have been taking on Web Design at the Open University, and can now put a whole sentence of letters after my name.

26. What did you want to be when you were little?
A rock-climber, a doctor (I even had the stethoscope and a little bag for all the equipment!), a magician, the Six Million Dollar Man, grown-up, ....

27. What is your best childhood memory?
Family holidays (vacations) in Cornwall.

28. Are you a cat or dog person?
I guess a dog person, cos I really don’t like cats. We used to have a dog when I was growing up, but I can’t say I have any great urge to go out and buy one now. Unless it was a robotic dog of course.

29. Are you married?
Very happily so, to the wonderful and beautiful Dori.

30. Always wear your seat belt?
Certainly do.

31. Been in a car accident?
Yes, yes and thrice yes. I’ve been hit by a car, a lorry and a van ...and aquaplaned into the back of a van myself on a very wet surface. I sometimes think our car must have a target painted on the back somewhere!

32. Any pet peeves?
People who stand in shop doorways, or who stop dead in front of you when you are walking along. Shopping. Bad drivers.

33. Favorite pizza topping?

34. Favorite Flower?

34b. How much cash do you have on you?

35. Favorite ice cream?
Not a big fan of ice cream. If I do ever have it then it is usually a “99” – thats a soft ice cream with a flake for the unitiated.

36. Favorite fast food restaurant?
Steak n Shake. Thank you Dori for introducing me!

37. How many times did you fail your driver's test?
I passed first time – much to both my own and my instructor’s surprise! Never been so nervous in my whole life.

38. From whom did you get your last email?
The National Lottery to tell me that our syndicate had won a massive £13 in Friday’s Euromillions draw. So near to that £89million jackpot and yet so, so, so far away.

39. Which store would you choose to max out your credit card?
Gotta think about this one.... Ummm.......Ah, I know! The merchandise store at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Loved it. Can’t wait to get back there - that's to the KSC not the store!

40. Do anything spontaneous lately?
Not great at spontaneity. Oh no, hang on. I bought Dori flowers for our proposal anniversary a few weeks back. That was a sort of spur-of-the-moment thing.

41. Like your job?
No. And yes. But mainly No.

42. Do you like broccoli?
It’s OK. Wouldn’t nominate myself as the leader of the Broccoli Lovers Association, but yeah, it’s okay.

43. What was your favorite vacation?
Paris for our first anniversary. We were only there for a few short days but the whole time was magical, including a virtual private audience for us of the Eiffel Tower doing it’s night time lights thing.

44. Last person you went out to dinner with?

45. What are you listening to right now?
Swindon Town playing against Walsall. It’s 1-1 at the moment if you are interested. :-)

46. What is your favorite colour?
Don’t think I’ve got one. Always struggled with this question ever since I was a kid. I’ll say RED, cos that’s the colour of Swindon Town’s shirts. (Grabbing at straws here)

47. How many tattoos do you have?

48. How many are you tagging for this meme?
I’m not. If anyone wants to take it forward then they are more than welcome to do so.

49. What time did you finish this meme?

50. Are you a coffee drinker?
What? Hold on, the previous question asked what time I had finished this, and then you go and ask me another question!? What kind of **** is that? Uhh, yes I am but only if it is not instant coffee, and then only sometimes. And now it’s 8:35pm and I’m being made out to look like a liar....... you can’t get the staff these days ....grumble grumble...

Thursday, 10 September 2009

South African Dreams

Yesterday evening Dori and I went our separate ways as Dori had some study to do for her course, and I settled down in front of the TV to watch the World Cup qualifier between England and Croatia at Wembley Stadium. This qualifying campaign for the England national team has been somewhat unusual in that they have not had any of their usual mishaps or freak results. In fact, prior to last night’s game, they had won all 7 of their group matches in the quest to qualify for next summer’s tournament in South Africa. Victory in the match against Croatia would guarantee England their place at the World Cup Finals, which, as you can see from the Countdown Timer on this page, starts on June 11th 2010.

There was a little history to this fixture too, as just two years ago England were again lining up against Croatia in a match that, if they had won it, would have meant they had qualified for the European Championships of 2008. In a bizarre performance that night, England somehow contrived to slip to a 3-2 defeat and hence failed to qualify for a major tournament for the first time in 14 years. That result also led to the sacking of manager Steve McClaren who was later replaced by Italian Fabio Capello. So, last night was an opportunity to put things right and re-establish England as a major force in world football.

Wembley Stadium

And the match could not have gone any more smoothly, from an English point of view. The team went ahead after just 8 minutes when Aaron Lennon was tripped in the penalty box and Frank Lampard smacked home the resulting penalty. Then, just 10 minutes later, it was Lennon again who played a crucial role, this time providing the inch perfect cross for Steven Gerrard to power home a header to make the score 2-0. Although the score remained the same for the rest of the first half, England were dominating the play and the result was already looking a foregone conclusion. The second half saw England score another three goals (Lampard again, Gerrard again and Wayne Rooney). David Beckham made a cameo appearance to notch up his 114th International cap. The only blot on an otherwise flawless performance was a momentary lapse in the England defence, allowing Croatia to score. But a resounding 5-1 victory meant that England have now qualified in some style for next year’s World Cup Finals, with two qualifying group matches still left to play. It is the first time ever that the national team have qualified so early for a World Cup, and they have scored 31 goals on their way to doing so – more than any other European team.

So, now the countdown to June 11th really starts, when the world’s best football teams will gather again to battle it out to become World Champions. England have won the World Cup just once before – in 1966, before I was born. Every four years, when the World Cup rolls around again, the expectation that England might just do it this time is ramped up, and each time they fail to live up to that expectation – more often than not going out at the quarter-final stage. But could this time be THE time? Capello has got the team playing impressively, and he is a manager with a proven track record. I am not going to predict an England win, as there are teams such as Spain and Brazil who have much stronger claims to be favourites for the crown. But this qualifying campaign has renewed belief in the national team and given me, and several million other long-suffering England fans, that little bit of optimism that means we dare to dream once again.

Just 273 days to go! Yay!

Monday, 31 August 2009

Bank Holiday Films

As Dori mentioned in her post earlier, it is a Bank Holiday here today. It is the last Bank Holiday until Christmas here, and marks the end of the summer. It doesn’t seem like five minutes ago when we were making plans to go to Trooping the Colour, or to the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, but here we are fast heading towards Autumn.

We have had a lazy day today as it is also the last day of my time off from work. For much of this afternoon we had the TV on in the background showing a countdown of the “100 Best Family Movies”. How they decided on this list I have no idea - it has seemed very arbitrary at times. I mean, how can “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” not be in the top 10, when "Pirates of the Caribbean" is? For the record, the Top 10 Best Family Films, as suggested by this programme, are:

10 – Wizard of Oz
9 – Star Wars
8 – Charlie & the Chocolate Factory
7 – Back to the Future
6 – The Lion King
5 – Toy Story
4 – Pirates of the Caribbean
3 – Mary Poppins
2 – Shrek
1 – ET:The Extra-Terrestrial

A lot of the films that were mentioned brought back a lot of memories for one or both of us, such as “The Amazing Mr Blunden” which used to be shown here almost every Christmas but which I haven’t seen for years now. But what this show really made us think about was why don’t they actually show these films anymore rather than just having interminable countdown lists about them?!

Anyhoo, what are your thoughts about the final list? What would your favourite family film be?

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A Time Travelling Tuesday

This week is my last bit of vacation time for a few months. As seems usual for the times when I am off work, the weather has been a bit dodgy all week. In fact we are “enjoying” the last remnants of Hurricane Bill as I write this – nothing too extreme, it’s just been a bit windy with constant drizzle all day long. So, as a consequence we have been spending most of our time pottering about the Yellow House rather than going on days out.

Yesterday, however, we did venture out a little, and decided to go to the movies. We went to see “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, the film based on a novel by Audrey Niffenegger. Dori had read the book a couple of years back, and was keen to see how they would adapt it for the movies. The premise of the story is of a man who suffers from a genetic disorder which causes him to involuntarily travel through time. He has no forewarning of when this will happen, and no way of controlling it – he just disappears from one time period and appears in another. The focus of the story though is, as the title would suggest, the wife of this time traveller and the effect that his random disappearances have on their relationship.

This is certainly not a sci-fi film - it is a romance story and an examination of how this unusual “illness” affects the life of those around Henry (the time traveler). Starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana, it is a wonderful picture that I enjoyed thoroughly. This could have been a real mess of a movie, with all the different timelines involved, but director Robert Schwentke has done a superb job in keeping the audience aware of when they are and the pacing of the plot is absolutely perfect.

I won’t go into any more detail regarding the storyline, as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anybody who has yet to see the film – or read the book. I will, however, highly recommend this movie if you fancy going to see a grown-up love story that will have you searching for your tissues by the end. As I mentioned earlier, Dori had read the book previously, which can sometimes colour your perception of the movie when it comes out. But she tells me that she was in no way disappointed with the film version. And as for me, I enjoyed it so much that I have already lined the book up as my next read!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Sunday Snaps 5 - Natural History Museum

Earlier this week, Dori and I went up to London for a day-trip. We decided that we would go to the Natural History Museum in Kensington. The museum is housed inside one of the most beautiful buildings in the whole of London. We took a few photos while we were up there, and so I thought that I would share them with you today. The first two pics show the outside of the museum. When we arrived there were long queues to go into both entrances - we had forgotten that the schools were still out for the summer! Anyhoo, we joined the shorter of the two lines and were inside soon enough.

There are some great exhibits in the NHM, a lot of which are interactive. We were a little reluctant to try too many of the interactive elements though, due to the current Swine Flu outbreak. You never know what germs the person before you may have!! The main entrance to the museum opens up into the Central Hall, which is overlooked by a statue of Charles Darwin. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth.

We didn't have time to see everything in the museum, especially as the queue for the dinosaur exhibit was over 45 minutes long, so we have already decided to go back another day - when all the kids are back at school. But we enjoyed our day out. Have a look at this little quirky video that Dori filmed during our day. It shows a bit of our train journey there and back, as well as some views of the museum itself. It is the latest in Dori's new Mini Cam Moments Series. I hope you like it.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Sunday Snaps - 4

This weekend saw the start of the football season here in England. The Premier League teams don't play until next week, but the Football League kicked off with one match on Friday, and then everyone else playing yesterday.

My team are Swindon Town, and their first match was away at Gillingham. And what a disaster it was! The Town were on the end of a 5-0 drubbing - their worst start to a season in living memory. It means they are already in the relegation zone of League One, and they've got some tough matches coming up too. It is looking like it may be a long season ahead :-/

Anyhoo, in honour of the new season, here are a few pics of the County Ground, home of the not-so-mighty Swindon Town.

The season can only get better from here (says he hopefully).

Friday, 7 August 2009

Summer Memories

It has been a relaxing week here at the Yellow House. I am enjoying my summer break from work for a couple of weeks and I can hardly believe that we are already half-way through that time. We are saving our pennies right now, with the hope that we may be able to get away later in the year, so the week has been spent doing a few of those jobs that always get put to the side to complete “when I have the time”. We also took a trip to the movies to see the remake of “The Taking of Pelham 123” on Wednesday, which was an entertaining way to spend a wet weekday afternoon.

This morning Dori had some school work to complete, so I left her in peace to do that and headed outside to wash the car. It was the first opportunity I have had all week to do that as the weather has been typical of the English summer – i.e. raining! :-) When I have finished this post I will be heading back out to vacuum the inside of the car too. It will be like having a whole new vehicle!

As I said, it is amazing how quickly the time passes when you are away from work and it reminded me of how different it felt as a kid in the summer when you had weeks and weeks in front of you that seemed to last forever. The weather seemed better back then too :-/ And the days seemed longer as well. We would watch some TV in the early morning, then head outside and play for the rest of the day until it was time to eat, before heading back out for a while before it got dark.

One of the shows that we used to watch on summer mornings back in the ‘70s was “The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe”. This was a slightly badly dubbed French black & white version of the old classic, and I know the thought of it will bring back lots of happy memories to anyone of a certain age. Apparently the series was shown here in 13 episodes, but it seemed to go on forever back then. The part of the show that is probably best remembered is the theme tune, and the incidental music. For me, that theme tune is THE tune of summer holidays. Whenever I hear it, it always evokes thoughts of long, lazy summer days when all you had to think about was who was going to be the “cops” and who the “robbers”, or where you had left the Swingball racquets, or how could you convince the ladybirds to race round the Olympic track you had just created on the back of a piece of wood (yes, we really did).

Here is a clip that I found on YouTube that will give you a flavour of the show, and the music.

Aah, memories.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Three Years and Counting

Three years from today will see the start of the London Olympics. The opening ceremony will take place on the evening of Friday July 27th 2012. I, for one, just hope that it will be a little bit better staged than the fiasco that was the handover section of the closing ceremony at last year’s Beijing Olympics. After the spectacular displays put on by the Chinese, it was an embarrassment to see the complete debacle of the London section of the ceremony!

But now is not the time to look back at past ignominy but forward to future successes. The British team had their most successful Olympics for 100 years in Beijing and with the next Olympiad being held in this country, hopes are high that the British team can do even better next time. There hasn’t been an Olympics or a World Cup held in this country during my lifetime, so I am very excited at the prospect of seeing the world’s sporting stars performing on these shores. Dori and I are hoping to get some tickets to see at least one of the events that will take place between July 27th and 12th August 2012.

Only three more years to wait!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Sunday Snaps - 3

Here are 3 more pictures, taken during our travels.

These were all taken during a vacation we took a few years ago in Cornwall. I enjoyed many family holidays in Cornwall during my childhood, but it was Dori's first visit to the area.

This first snap is of the place where we stayed for the week. It was one of three self-catering cottages located at the end of a very bumpy, rural track situated between St Agnes and Perranporth. It is a lovely, secluded and very peaceful location far away from the madding crowd.

The other two pics were taken at Land's End - the most south-westerly point of England. The first photo shows one of the many ships that have ended up being grounded on the rugged, rocky coastline around the area.

The final shot shows, in the distance, the "First and Last House" in England, located on the last few yards of the mainland between England and the United States.

Cornwall is a very beautiful county with a wonderful coastline. I love it. :-)

Monday, 6 July 2009

You Are Not Alone

As MJ's memorial takes place tomorrow, here are the heartbreakingly appropriate lyrics to his song, "You Are Not Alone". MJ may be gone in body, but his spirit and his music will remain with us forever.

Another day has gone
I'm still all alone
How could this be
You're not here with me
You never said goodbye
Someone tell me why
Did you have to go
And leave my world so cold

Everyday I sit and ask myself
How did love slip away
Something whispers in my ear and says
That you are not alone
For I am here with you
Though you're far away
I am here to stay

Just the other night
I thought I heard you cry
Asking me to come
And hold you in my arms
I can hear your prayers
Your burdens I will bear
But first I need your hand
Then forever can begin

We miss you Michael.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Strawberries and Cream

This is my favourite time of year. The evenings are long – not getting truly dark until about 11pm – the mornings are bright, the weather is (sometimes) glorious, the trees and bushes are at their height of greenness and there is Wimbledon on the TV and radio.

As you know, I am a bit of a sports nut. Football is my main game, but I have always loved Wimbledon fortnight. It is something that I have grown up watching, always on the BBC, and I fondly remember listening to the tennis on the radio, in Victoria Park in Bath, after my exams had finished when I was a student in the city. Nowadays I always make a point of taking leave for at least one of the two weeks of Wimbledon, so that I can fully enjoy the vibe of the fortnight.

Last year we were extremely lucky to get tickets on Centre Court for the second day of play, and got to see Venus Williams, Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray all play. It was a dream come true, and the actual experience of being there did not disappoint after all those years of expectation. Of course, we obviously had to do the “Strawberries and Cream” thing while we were there, as seen here:

Dori blogged about our trip to Wimbledon at the time, check out what she had to say here.

As this is Wimbledon fortnight, I have been on leave since last Friday, and we have had a quiet week so far. The untimely passing of Michael Jackson, on Thursday evening, left us both feeling rather flat for a good few days. It has been difficult getting up the enthusiasm for doing much of anything. Over the last couple of days though we have stirred ourselves into action and started to get some of those “I’ll do it when I get time” jobs completed. This morning it was gardening and mowing of the lawns, which we completed earlier in the day as it has been getting quite hot in the afternoons over the last few days. Doing the jobs early in the day also means that the afternoons are free to enjoy the tennis :-)

Today is men’s quarter-finals day, and, as I write this, Roger Federer is already through to the semis and Andy Murray is trying to emulate that feat. Here in the UK there is considerable excitement and anticipation that Murray could become the first British male player to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry way back in 1936. Of course, there is still a good deal of work to do before that could happen, and I think Federer must still remain favourite at this point. But if the first full match to be played under Wimbledon’s new Centre Court roof is anything to go by, Murray could provide a lot more thrills and spills in the coming few days!

Now, back to the tennis.....

Friday, 26 June 2009

Rest in Peace, Michael

I'm going to be unoriginal today. I imagine that three quarters of the blogosphere - if not more - will be blogging today about Michael Jackson, and I am no different.

We heard the news that he had been taken to hospital with a suspected heart attack while we were on Twitter yesterday evening (UK time). That news alone was such a shock, but as we monitored the internet and flicked between CNN, the BBC and Sky News as the night wore on, the news just got worse and worse. It was literally unbelieveable. Not Michael Jackson, it CAN'T be true.

But as we all know, that terrible news was indeed true and we have lost an icon, a musical genius and a true pioneer. Dori and I have been very lucky to see some true greats in concert over the last few years - Prince, Madonna, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder to name a few - artists who have provided the soundtrack to our lives. But Michael Jackson probably did that better than any of them. From his time with the Jackson 5 to his amazingly successful solo career, MJ just churned out iconic song after iconic song. And there aren't many music videos that you can vividly remember seeing for the first time, but that was certainly true of Thriller - shown here late at night on Channel 4 amidst much ballyhoo. He was oft impersonated but never remotely equalled. We have lost a giant of music, of pop culture, who I cannot imagine will ever be equalled.

We hadn't mentioned it here before, but Dori and I had been wonderfully lucky earlier this year when the tickets went on sale for MJ's 50 concerts at the O2 in London, and we were able to get 2 tickets to see him perform on July 24th, just 4 weeks from today. Neither of us had ever seen him in concert before, and obviously now we never will get that chance. We had both been so excited at this too rare an opportnity and were counting down the days til we could be there watching him moonwalk. In a way, that just makes this sad news even more unbelievable. Every time the news programmes show a picture of MJ with the caption "1958 - 2009" it seems so unreal. It just cannot be true.

The music died again this day. Rest in Peace, Michael.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

From one extreme to another. A week ago we were rubbing shoulders with royalty at Trooping the Colour, and then this weekend we decided to take a trip over to Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice.

Record crowds were expected this year, due to the fact that the solstice fell on a weekend and because the weather hasn’t been too bad lately. So, we decided to try to avoid the worst of the traffic by leaving on Saturday evening and staying at Stonehenge overnight. The car park was opened at 7pm on Saturday, but we didn’t leave home until 9pm. The drive to Stonehenge was really pleasant. The roads were mainly empty, which made a lovely change in itself, and as we passed through the various villages on our way people were out enjoying their Saturday evenings. At this time of year the evenings stay light until well past 10pm, and people love to make the most of the longer days. We took a slightly different route than I normally would when I am working in the area, as I figured that the main road that goes past Stonehenge would be extremely busy (and I wasn’t wrong!!). It made an enjoyable change to see a few slightly less familiar places, at a time of day when we are rarely out driving.

We were a little surprised at how little traffic there was on the roads, but as it turned out that was mainly because we chose our route wisely. The main route to the Stones was gridlocked for much of the night, but we were able to drive right up to the entrance to the car park without having to queue up at all. The car park was, in fact, a field adjacent to the Stonehenge site that had been opened up just for this one event. We parked up quite quickly and decided to wait in the car for a few hours before heading over to the monument site itself. It was 11pm before the last of the sunlight disappeared, and we were far from alone as we waited out the night hours in the car park.

We had planned ahead for this wait and had brought with us some food and drink as well as a few other home comforts. As night fell so did the temperature! We were a little surprised at quite how cold it got overnight given that we were finally welcoming summer to the Northern hemisphere! :-) As we waited we played a few games, listened to the radio and did some people watching too. We also threw some envious glances over at a nearby camper van that looked the height of cosiness to us as we hunkered down in the chill of our little car. The warm light behind the curtains of the van and the thought of being able to lie down in a “proper bed” seemed like the idea of heaven to us as we struggled to get comfortable and warm! :-)

The hours ticked by and struggle as we might to get some sleep, it was impossible given the cold, cramped quarters and noise from all around us from the other people who also chose to wait in their vehicles. But soon enough we decided to head out towards the Stones and enjoy the atmosphere as everybody waited for the rising of the sun and the arrival of summer. It was supposed to be a half-mile walk over to the site, but it seemed at least twice that long in the dark and over rough ground. Once through the two sets of security checks, we were finally at the Stonehenge site amongst the thousands of other people of all different backgrounds and reasons for being there.

For the solstice, the owners of the site – English Heritage – allow everybody free access to the stones. This resulted in a mad crush around and within the stone circle itself. Of course we couldn’t let the occasion pass without going in the stone circle ourselves, so we braved the masses and pushed and manoeuvred our way through the crowds. Eventually we were right by the stones, and able to touch them – a rare privilege. We took a few photos and some video footage, but eventually the crush of people became just too much and we decided to make a retreat and watch the rising of the sun from a little further back!

Sadly, the weather didn’t cooperate fully, and whilst it stayed dry and eventually started to warm up again as the sun started to rise, the skies were clouded over as dawn finally broke. It was slightly disappointing, as was the behaviour of some of the people there who seemed to view the occasion as an excuse for an all-night drinking session! But, we were not down-hearted as we walked back to our car afterwards. This was an occasion that we have both wanted to experience for a long time, and we are pleased to have done so. We hope to return again in future years in hopefully less cloudy weather and with maybe a few less drunken yobs about.

Apparently there was a record 36,500 people at this year’s solstice and the car park was full up by 3am on Sunday morning. We timed our exit as well as our entrance though, and were able to get out without any problems at all. The drive home was almost as pleasant as the drive down, with even less cars on the roads – though there were plenty parked all over the place by people who weren’t able to get into the car park. We got home before 7 o’clock and went straight to bed to get some well-earned sleep!

Happy (belated) Solstice everybody, and welcome to summer!!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Pomp and Pageantry Plus!

Well, what a day we had on Saturday. As I mentioned a while back, we were going up to London to see the Queen’s Birthday Parade, or Trooping the Colour. We raised ourselves at (almost) the crack of dawn in order to catch an early train into London. The one good thing about travelling at that time of day is that there is much less traffic on the roads! Anyway, the train journey into London went by quite quickly, and before we knew it we were at Paddington Station.

Thankfully the tube strike earlier this week did not last until the weekend, so we hopped onto a tube train to take us to Westminster. It is a great tube station to exit from, because as you do so immediately in front of you is the Houses of Parliament – it is a magnificent scene. Turning right as we came out of Westminster Underground Station, we headed towards St James’s Park. The site of the parade ground is at one end of the park, alongside Horse Guards Road. We timed our arrival perfectly as we had to wait in line for only a few minutes before the barriers were pushed aside and we all went through the security checks and then headed towards the stands.

Our seat was right at the back of one of the stands that back onto the garden of 10 Downing Street. In fact, we were right beneath the TV cameras and just along from the BBC commentary box for the event. Here’s a pic of the cameras as seen from our seats.

We were in place by about 9:20, and the parade was not due to start until 10:30, with the Queen not due on Horse Guards Parade until 11 o’clock. So, we had some time to waste, but we didn’t have the opportunity to get bored. One of the fun games I played was watching the “upper classes” struggling like you wouldn’t believe to find their correct seats!! There were a good dozen or more people who had to move because they had incorrectly identified their seats – I mean, how hard can it be? ;-) They have clearly not been to many football (soccer) matches!

We watched the parade ground being watered, and various guards taking their place at points around the parade ground. Before we knew it we could hear the first musical notes from the Massed Bands of the Guards Division as they marched onto the parade ground. And the ground very quickly filled up with the seven Foot Guards companies that were taking part, as well as the King’s Troop, the Household Cavalry and the Mounted Bands who all lined up in front of the Guards Memorial.

We heard screams coming from the route between Buckingham Palace and Horse Guards Parade, and guessed it was either Princes William and Harry or the Jonas Brothers! The two princes arrived on the ground in a horse-drawn carriage, together with their step-mother Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. After they had taken their positions within the Horse Guards building to watch the ceremony, it was time for the arrival of The Queen and Prince Philip in another carriage, followed by Prince Charles, Princess Anne and the Duke of Kent who were all on horseback in fairly spectacular uniforms.

The Trooping the Colour ceremony takes about 75 minutes from the time of the sovereign’s arrival to her departure, and that time just flew by. The Colour is the name given to the standard of the regiment, used in times past as a rallying point during battle. The Colour is trooped in front of the Guards so that they could recognize it during any such battle. It is an even more amazing spectacle in real-life than it is on TV, and we were both marvelling at how well organized and directed it all was.

After the ceremony was completed, involving much marching back and forth, playing of regimental music and horses drawing artillery guns around the parade ground, the Royal party left to make their way back to Buckingham Palace. Before we knew it the parade ground was filled with people mingling as they discussed the wonderful display we had all just witnessed. Dori and I wandered on to the parade ground and took a few pictures and then decided to head over towards the Palace. The Mall is closed for the day of the Parade, and so we took the rare opportunity to stroll down the middle of the road heading to Buck House. It was a lovely, happy atmosphere and we were enjoying ourselves immensely.

As we neared the Palace, we expected the crowds to be too dense for us to progress but somehow they magically parted and we were able to make our way almost right up to the Palace gates. Just as we got there so the Royal Family emerged onto the balcony to watch the flypast by the Royal Air Force. Several aircraft flew directly down The Mall and over the Palace in salute to the Queen, including a Lancaster Bomber, a Spitfire and a Hurricane as well as more modern fighter jets such as Tornado GR4s and Eurofighter Typhoons. The flypast of 29 aircraft reached its crescendo with the Red Arrows, who trailed red, white and blue smoke as they roared over the crowds below. It was a superb finale to a wonderful day. We waved as the Royal Family moved back inside the Palace and then headed away to get something to eat before we returned home.

I mentioned to Dori while we were watching the ceremony that it all felt a little surreal – seeing something that I had grown up watching on TV and never once thought I’d ever get to see in the flesh. That surrealism was then surpassed by seeing the Royal Family waving from the Palace balcony, a scene that we have all seen many, many times before. I may have lived in England for over 40 years, but this was the first time that I have seen my monarch or many of the other members of the Royal Family (we had seen William and Harry before, at the Concert for Diana in 2007).

We got home in the evening, tired and weary from our day in London, but very happy that we had been witness to a centuries-old ceremony full of pomp and pageantry. It was a great day.

For even more pics, check out Dori's blog!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Sunday Snaps - 2

This is the second of my occasional Sunday Snaps series. Dori and I spent much of yesterday watching the D-Day commemorations over in Normandy. As always with these events, it was a very moving experience and showed us all that when times are tough we can all work together for the common good. If only that was the case for the rest of the time too!

Anyway, what with the D-Day events, and this weekend's finals of the French Open, it has reminded me of when we went to Paris to celebrate our first anniversary. We had a truly wonderful time there, and I would like to share a couple of photos with you.

This first picture was taken inside the Louvre museum, which is immense in size and so beautiful. There was way too much for us to see in just one day, so we have promised ourselves that we will just have to revisit there sometime in the future. The photo shows some of the sculptures in one of the main atria, with the light coming in from one of the glass pyramids above.

This second photo is of Notre Dame Cathedral, on the banks of the River Seine. It is a gorgeous building, both inside and out, and as you can see the weather was beautiful on that day too.

We have plenty more pictures of our time in Paris, so maybe I will share some more in future weeks. Enjoy the rest of your weekend everybody.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

House of Cards

The news here in the UK has been dominated for the last two or three weeks by just one story – MPs' expenses. Thanks to a whistleblower, it has been revealed by the media exactly how much our Parliamentary representatives are claiming in expenses, and what for.

Some of the things being claimed by various MPs – and if you haven’t heard any of this before I promise you that I’m not making it up! - include : £119 for a trouser press, £380 for horse manure, £600 to trim the hedge around a helipad, £1645 for a “duck island”, and over £2000 for the cleaning of a moat!! Add to this a number of MPs still claiming the payments for their mortgages some 18 months or more after the mortgages had been paid off, some others using dubious rules on second homes to make large profits when they are sold and avoiding paying tax on those profits, some claiming for work done at a house which is neither in London (ie near Parliament) nor in their constituency, and yet some more using taxpayers money to pay various members of their families for an assortment of jobs – whether or not those jobs were carried out.

The scandal, and for once “scandal” is the right word, has already seen a number of casualties in the House of Commons, the most notable of which was Michael Martin, who is the Speaker of the House. He is the first Speaker to be forced out of office for more than three hundred years. The abuse of the system has not been limited to just one political party, it has crossed all political lines from members of the Labour Government’s Cabinet, to “backbenchers” from Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Sinn Fein and other minor parties.

The uproar across the country has been immense, and is worrying the larger parties as European Parliamentary elections are just a week away, and the mood is very much for some kind of change. Although a number of MPs have said they will stand down at the next General Election, which is due sometime in the next year, they still maintain that they have “done nothing wrong” and that everything was “within the rules”. What they don’t seem to realize is that the point isn’t whether they followed the rules – incidentally rules written by MPs themselves – but that what they have been up to is morally reprehensible, and that whilst they are spending literally thousands of taxpayers money on items such as plasma TVs, imported rugs and custom-made bookcases there are millions of people in the country who no longer have a job and are having to survive on a fraction of these amounts.

The attitude of entitlement is alive and well, and living in Westminster.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

On The Run

So, what would you do?

In New Zealand this week a couple who had requested a $10,000 overdraft were mistakenly credited with $10million by their bank instead. Finding that this error had been made, the couple then apparently withdrew a large amount of this in cash and promptly did a runner! Interpol are now chasing them and believe that they have left New Zealand.

So, I repeat – what would YOU do? Would you do like these two and keep quiet and go on a huge spending spree, leaving behind the life you knew and hoping never to get caught? Or would you be honest and tell the bank straight away about their mistake? Or, would you take the middle path and keep quiet and just wait and see if the bank notice, maybe hoping that you might still get to go on that big spending spree?!

I must admit that I am way too much of a coward to go on the run like the couple from New Zealand. I would be forever looking over my shoulder, sure that somebody was about to recognize me and report me to the police! I would be tempted to just wait and see what happens, but again I would be too worried that I would get some grief from the authorities – even though it was the bank’s mistake :-/ So, I guess I would tell the bank that they had messed up – and hope they gave me a nice reward for being honest!! But, would you?

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Sunday Snaps - 1

This is the first of an occasional series, where I will post photos that Dori or I have taken on our travels. As today is also the day when the first match is played under the new roof at Wimbledon's Centre Court, where better place to start than with a couple of snaps that we took when we were lucky enough to get tickets for last year's Championships.

This is a view of the Centre Court, taken from what is colloquially known as 'Henman Hill', named after Britain's former top tennis player Tim Henman. The picture quality isn't brilliant as it was taken towards the sun on my mobile (cell) phone!

And this is a shot taken from our seats in Centre Court before the play began.

As it happened, we were able to see both the eventual men's and women's champions on that day - Rafa Nadal and Venus Williams, as well as current British No.1 Andy Murray. It was a fantastic day and we hope to experience the Wimbledon atmosphere again in the next few years.
Check out Dori's take on the whole day over at her blog.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

To Boldly Go Back to the Beginning

Today has been a lovely day weather-wise down here in Wiltshire. I had to go see a client this morning, and it was a joy to be driving through the rolling countryside as I made my way towards Salisbury. I started out especially early, so that I could clock-off a little earlier once I had finished work. Flexible working hours are a wonderful thing sometimes!

I wanted to finish early today because Dori and I were going to the movies this afternoon to see the new Star Trek film. We prefer to go in the afternoons if we can, because it avoids all of the crowds and happens to be cheaper too, which is a bonus! :-) As it happened, even though we got there in the early PM, there was still almost a full house to see this movie – no wonder it is at the top of the Box Office lists!

I am sure that most of you have already heard about this movie being a “re-imagining” of the Star Trek universe, and that JJ Abrams has “rebooted” the franchise. Well, all of that is true – and more! The casting of the film is superb, with Zachary Quinto in particular looking almost identical to the Spock we remember from the original series. But, the other main characters are also very well cast, with Karl Urban’s portrayal of Dr “Bones” McCoy very reminiscent of that of DeForest Kelly. Simon Pegg does a comic turn as Scotty, without it grating against the action-packed main storyline. And Zoe Saldana, John Cho and Anton Yelchin all do excellent jobs at recreating the roles of Uhura, Sulu and Chekov.

The film tells the story of how Kirk, Spock et al all came together before their famous 5-year mission began. There is plenty within the script to delight any Trek geek (like me!), as well as those totally new to this cosmos (if such a person exists). There are plenty of references that Trek-savvy movie-goers will pick up on, but you really don’t need to be a full-on Trekkie to enjoy this film. There is plenty of action, humour and pathos to go around, and JJ Abrams directs with a light touch to breathe new life back into the 43 year old franchise.

9 stars out of 10 from me. Go see it – Boldly or otherwise!

Monday, 11 May 2009

(Almost) This Day in History

It was 15 years ago yesterday that Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa, and so ended three centuries of white rule in the country. It was an historic day, not just for South Africa, but also for the whole world. The injustices of the hateful apartheid regime were torn away and finally all the people of South Africa were allowed the opportunity to give voice to their hopes and dreams for the future. It was a symbolic day to show the world that we are all one and that nobody should be judged on how they look, or what colour their skin may be.

Dori and I were very privileged last year to be able to see Mr Mandela in the flesh. We had managed to get tickets to the concert in Hyde Park last June to celebrate his 90th birthday. Naturally, we were both extremely excited to get this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When Mr Mandela came out onto the stage to give his speech, there was a wave of love and awe that flowed from all over the concert ground towards the stage. It was a remarkable moment, and it is one that I know neither Dori nor I will ever forget. Nelson Mandela is truly a man of our time, and his name will live long in the history books as a man of great courage, humanity and rare compassion.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

From the Yellow House to ...the Palace?

As Dori mentioned in her blog post yesterday, I have now returned to work after our wonderful anniversary celebrations last week. I never find it easy getting back into the swing of work-life again – who does?! I have heard that going back to work is a little like suffering from jetlag – your body clock has gotten used to a different timetable for a week or two, and now has to readjust to the old routine. Whether that is true or not, I do know that the first day back always seems to last twice as long as any other normal day!

Well, that was yesterday. Today I was able to escape from the office as I had a client to see in Salisbury. It is by far the best part of my job – being able to escape the confines of the office to drive amongst the glorious Wiltshire countryside. :-) I also had to deliver a new printer to a colleague who lives in a small village near to Salisbury. He works from home and asked if I could drop the printer off (not literally!) when I was in the area. It was interesting to see how he had arranged his workspace separate from his living area. Dori and I hope to be working from home ourselves in the future, so I was keen to pick up some tips from somebody who is already treading that path. My colleague said that he didn’t miss the commute at all, and that he saved hundreds on fuel alone. Less time dealing with crazy traffic, and environmentally friendly to boot!

When I returned home, Dori greeted me excitedly with some great news. You may remember that I mentioned in my post on April 19th, that we sent off an item of post that I would elaborate on once we had received the reply. Well, today we did receive that reply – tickets for next month’s Trooping the Colour. For those that don’t know, Trooping the Colour is the Queen’s official birthday parade and takes place every year on one Saturday in June. Her Maj is one of the few people who get to celebrate two birthdays, her real one (in April) and an official one in June. Trooping the Colour is a military ceremony, performed by soldiers of the Household Division in their famous red and black uniforms and bearskin helmets. The troops are inspected by the Queen, and other members of the Royal Family either take part in the parade, or watch the ceremony along with other dignitaries and members of the public. And this year, those members of the public will include Dori & Brit Boy!!

You can watch the procession from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards Parade by turning up on the day and securing a position along The Mall. But, in order to be in the stands on Horse Guards Parade and to get to watch the ceremony itself, you must have tickets. We did some research a few months ago and found that these tickets are partly allocated by means of a public ballot, and so we gave it a go and were amazed when we got the letter to say we had been successful. There is a dress code for those of us that are in the stands, so I will have to root around in the wardrobe to see where I left my suit! Dori is also making plans for what she will wear. We are both very excited by this opportunity and I am sure that we will both be sharing many memories and pictures with you all after the event.

This year’s Trooping the Colour takes place on June 13th.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Markets and Meals

As I mentioned on Monday, I have this week away from the office to spend with Dori. The reason I chose this week is because it is our anniversary. We have spent previous anniversaries in Paris and London, but with the credit crunch ‘n all, times are a little more frugal at the Yellow House :-) So we have spent the week here at home, and have had a few days out to celebrate being together.

On Wednesday we went to the National Arboretum at Westonbirt, just over the Wiltshire/Gloucestershire border. It is a wonderful place for just hanging out and enjoying getting close to nature. We both said that it must have done wonders in lowering our blood pressure! It is good to get back to nature sometimes. For more info on the Arboretum, and some wonderful pictures of the trees and plants there, see Dori’s blog entry for today.

Yesterday we ventured out again. This time we stayed in Wiltshire and started the day off in Devizes. Devizes, apart from famously being part of a limerick – “his ears were of different sizes...”, is a small market town in the centre of Wiltshire. And it was the market that we were heading towards Devizes to see. The main part of the market is in the central Market Place in the town – the largest in the West of England - and has a lot of stalls selling fruit & veg, fresh bread, cheese, clothing and other household items. Right next to the Market Place is The Shambles, which was originally built in 1835 as home to a butter and poultry market. Nowadays it acts as an extension to the main market and there was a good variety of different stalls in there too. We walked around both the outdoor and indoor parts of the market for a while – making our way into The Shambles when the rain got a bit too heavy!

Having not found anything that really grabbed our attention, we crossed the street to the Corn Exchange, which holds its own flea market on Thursdays. This was much more of a treasure trove of fascinating knickknacks. There were stalls selling jewellery, paintings, postcards, toy cars (oh, how I wish I had kept the CASES full of toy cars I had when I was little!), old music sheets, old board games, painting sets and lots and lots of other bric-a-brac. We picked up a few items for ourselves, including this wonderful little jug and teacup set.

...and this mug celebrating the silver jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary.

Some of the items we bought may well end up on eBay, but some will definitely have a home here in the Yellow House.

After we had spent the morning in Devizes we decided to head over to Swindon. We were going to see a film, but first we went to the restaurant next door – Frankie and Benny’s. This is a New York style restaurant and bar, which we had never visited before. We were in for a treat. We had spotted the Frankie & Benny’s restaurant at the O2 on a number of our visits up there, but had never had the time to try it there. So, when we were trying to think of a place to have our anniversary meal, we came up with the idea of the F&B outlet in Swindon. The interior of the restaurant reminded both of us of many restaurants that we have visited in the States and the atmosphere is enhanced by a constant soundtrack from people such as Dean Martin, Billie Holiday, The Drifters, Bobby Darin, etc. And when we found out that they refill your drinks for free, in the American style, we were sold!

We enjoyed a wonderfully delicious meal - I really would recommend an F&B restaurant if there is one near you – and then headed next door to see “The Uninvited”. This is a horror/mystery type thriller of a young girl who has been disturbed by the death of her mother. It was quite enjoyable, with the requisite twist at the end. As you will see on the right hand side here, I gave it 5 stars out of 10, though maybe 5½ would be more accurate. It may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but it was certainly an agreeable way to while away a wet Thursday afternoon. :-)

So, that has been our anniversary week travels. Today we have just chilled out around the house, and did a few odd jobs here and there. Luckily, Monday is a Bank Holiday here in the UK, so I still have three more days until I have to return to normality. Here’s to a great weekend for all of us!
Blog Widget by LinkWithin