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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".

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

399: When in Rome .... (part I)

I flew from Barcelona to Rome last Friday and back to Barcelona yesterday. I stayed in Hotel Turner on Via Nomentana - a five minute bus ride from the centre of the 'Eternal city'. It was OK. Once upon a time I'm sure it was very chic and elegant but I think its glory days are in the past - a bit like me really! They pretend that the revolving door doesn't work and funnel guests through a less imposing door into the reception area. My room was in an annex which was reached via 2 lifts! The first lift took me to floor 'A' and then a short walk along a corridor to the second lift which carried me up to the third floor. A bit of a shock on checking out to be presented with a bill for the city's tourist tax: 42 Euros for 4 nights. Luckily I hadn't spent quite all my money.
A couple of pictures from the hotel to try and portray some of the (former) grandeur. And then a picture of a mini which I saw in a car showroom whilst on my way to the Trevi fountain. It reminded me instantly of the 1969 film "The Italian Job" starring Michael Caine. My video clip today has to be "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off".  Part II (note the Latin numbers!) tomorrow if you're (un)lucky.

A fresco on the ceiling above reception

three wise cherubs? 

'A' for Annex I suppose

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

398: The trials and tribulations (of living in a foreign land)

Living in a foreign land can pose enormous challenges, not all of which are immediately apparent. As I try to get a little more comfortable in my little flat then 'tiny' problems crop up which require resolution. One of my bosses, many years ago, said that there are no problems in life, only solutions that haven't been found yet. Well, today I've been looking for four, as yet undiscovered, solutions. 1) I wanted to join the library - they have a good selection of foreign language (including English) books and until I get up to speed on learning Spanish then books in English will do very nicely. 2) Computer and internet problems - never an easy problem to resolve, even for an I.T. literate geek (retired) like me. 3) shelving & cupboards - shall I do it myself? or pay somebody who knows what they're doing?  4) Residence status - need to get it sorted before Brexit comes into play in case they decide to kick out British non-residents
Here's how the day went:
1.  The library
I went prepared, not quite fully prepared as it turned out, but well enough. I took my passport, my N.I.E (a bit like a Spanish National Insurance Number), and an electricity bill as proof of address. Then the nice librarian asked for a photograph, which took me by surprise. Thank goodness I had the foresight to suggest she photocopied the photo on my Russian visa. That was acceptable, for the nugatory cost of 10 cents. She helped me with the paperwork and, hey presto, I became the newest member of Salou's public library. Except they couldn't give me a membership card because their machine wasn't working.
2a.  Computer
I took my desktop PC in for repair a few weeks ago and for the not so nugatory charge of 72 Euros they fixed it for me. Or, as I've since discovered, partially fixed it for me. I can't open the windows store. I went back today to point this out to the man and he said it's probably because it's an unlicensed version of Windows 8.1. and there's nothing he can do about it. This is news to me. It was licensed when I bought it, of course  and I assume it was still licensed when it came out of the Polish repair shop in Warsaw. Now it's going to take time and effort to find a workaround.
2b.  The internet
The most frustrating problem of them all. I'm currently accessing the internet through a SIM card in my mobile wireless router. I thought this would save the cost of renting a landline. I pay 26 Euros for 26 GB. I've had it for a few months now and come to the conclusion that 26GB per month isn't enough. Giving English lessons over Skype soon knocks that into a cocked hat. I will have to bite the bullet and pay extra for a landline and ADSL/Fibre. I found a nice comparison site with different prices for the different providers in Spain. I would love to write and email and ask for what I want. Is there an email address for any of them? Nary a one. They all want you to phone. The last thing I want is a Spaniard talking to me over the phone - I have enough trouble understanding them face-to-face. It is really puzzling and frustrating. There are many thousands of Brits living here. Don't they want our custom? (and our money). I know that living in Spain I should speak Spanish. I'm getting there - slowly but I'm still only at a very basic level - if I want two beers I have to ask for one twice.
3 & 4.
Another time - I wouldn't want to be accused of boring anybody.
I think part of my frustration with life today is that it's been raining almost non-stop for the last 2 days. The rain in Spain falls mainly in the drain, or it would if the drains weren't bunged up with the thousands of tons of confetti thrown during the carnival two days ago. 
Two pictures today - the first shows a 'sludge gulper' which we happened across on the drive from Scotland down to England last week. Take a look at the site address on the door of the vehicle! The second shows the water running down the street - I never thought to bring wellies! N.B. Excuse the unusual angle - I am actually sober.

For a video clip I've decided to show the Goombay Dance Band (I remember them) with their 1981 hit "Rain, Rain, Rain".

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

397: Krasnodar - a quick in and out

After my few days in Istanbul I flew from there to Krasnodar in Southern Russia. Neither Turkey nor Russia concern themselves overmuch with night flights bothering the populace so my flights in and out of Russia were in the middle of the night. I sneaked up on them as it were. Except that you can't sneak up on Russia as you have to apply for a visa beforehand and give them most of your life history. So as soon as you land they know all about you........
I went to Krasnodar to visit an old friend of mine, an English guy who had been teaching English out there. He's really quite ill so I thought a morale-boosting visit from me would be appreciated. And so it turned out. 
One of the first things I wanted to do was change my left-over Turkish Lira into Roubles. I tried all over town but to no avail. The banks in Krasnodar are interested in buying and selling US Dollars or Euros. Nothing else. Not even the once noble Sterling. After I'd tried a few banks I began to lose my temper and called them a Third World country. Well, they might, or might not, be a Third World country but calling the bank staff names wasn't going to change the price of bread. I realized I had gone too far and took the rest of the day off to allow my mood-meter to swing back to its more usual happy(-ish) position. The next day was a different day entirely and I notched up a major success with the Unicredit bank. I had left a little bit of money in there when I left Moscow a few years ago. Then I lost my bank card and from that moment on I had no way of getting at my money from abroad, try as I might. So it was very nice, last Friday, to walk out of the bank with my £150. No great sum, I know, but my sense of achievement knew no bounds. The piece of paper that we filled in to get at the money was signed in several places by me, then by their 'expert', then by their 'senior expert' and then by their cashier. If you want to know about bureaucracy go visit a Russian bank. But not the one shown here. It is defunct. It is no more. The sign says "Attention:the bank doesn't work (closed)" The inference being, closed for ever. This is Russia - banks come and banks go.
Flushed with success, I made my way to the nearest cake shop (пекарня) which happened to be called, somewhat intriguingly, "Patrick and Mary". Here, as well as nice coffee and cake, there was a glass for tips which had a cardboard sign sticking out of it emblazoned with "for our smiles". Surprisingly (?), the glass was empty of coins. I put a couple of coins in out of gratitude for my irony fix. It is possible to make Russian people smile but it is not always easy to do.

I stayed in a cheap (and cheerful) guest house because I hadn't wanted to spend too much money in case my visa was refused. It was strange. There was no dining room so breakfast, such as it was, was brought to your room because there was no dining room.  All part of life's rich tapestry! Please excuse the partial thumb print on the photo!

Today's video clip has to be "back to the USSR"

Sunday, 21 January 2018

396: Do the hustle (Turkish delights). Alternative title: round the horn.

I fell for it - the oldest trick in the book. There was I, earlier this week, walking over Galata bridge in Istanbul, minding my own business, when suddenly I heard something drop to the floor. I turned to look and it was a shoe brush, which had fallen (did it fall or was it pushed?) from the shoe clean boy's kit. Being the gullible soul that I (sometimes) am, I picked it up and called to him. He thanked me profusely and then, somehow, the very next second he was halfway through cleaning my shoes! I was left with no choice but to pay him for the unasked for service. The shoes did look nice I must say, but not for long as it was a wet, dreich, kind of day with lots of puddles everywhere. 
From there I went down to the lower level of the bridge and ordered some lunch from one of the fish restaurants there. You can't visit Istanbul without eating at a fish restaurant on Galata bridge. There are probably 10-20 restaurants on the bridge and they all have hustlers outside inviting you to come inside and try their wares because theirs is the tastiest and the best value. It is the same walking around the restaurants just off Taksim Square - they all seem to have a man standing outside whose only job is to help you part with your money by eating in their august establishment. They have my every sympathy - this time of the year it is rather cold standing outside trying to drum up business, especially in the evenings - they were wrapped up to the nines. 
The map shows Istanbul with the Sea of Marmara to the South (which then leads, past Galipoli and through the Dardanelles, to the Med), the Bosphorus snaking off to the North East to the Black Sea and the Golden Horn to the North West. I took the almost obligatory boat trip on the Bosphorus. Of course, once I got back, everywhere I looked had cheaper prices than I had just paid. That's life.

Istanbul then - rip-off city. But for all its faults I like it very much. The gateway between Europe and Asia. This was my third visit and I may well go back again. 

hot chestnut sellers (the chestnuts were hot, not the sellers)

This pulley was at the top of the funicular up to Taksim

Two video clips today - how could I not? Pan's People dancing to Van McCoy doing the hustle in 1975 and 'Round the Horne' from some time in the 60s!