Friday, October 31, 2008

Portcullis House

Portcullis House, where the Silver Surfer Awards ceremony was held, is the relatively new building on the Parliament Campus where the Members of Parliament have their offices. It is connected to the Houses of Parliament by an underground tunnel. There is plenty about it on the web if you are interested, and this website in particular will give you information about its design.
From the outside it has no charms for me, particularly the heavy industrial looking 'chimneys' on top, which are in fact part of the ventilation system. You enter through glass revolving doors, and have to pass immediately through the security checks: coats and bags on a conveyor belt through a screening frame, and please stand on the footplate while your photo is taken, and printed on a pass which you must wear round your neck.
Once inside, however, you are into a vast atrium, cleverly photographed in a panoramic view below by one calling himself 'Murky'. In this area are cafes and restaurants for the use of the MPs, but visitors like ourselves were required to go up the stairs (seen here) to find the waiting areas on a sort of gallery or mezzanine floor, which goes right round the well of the atrium. On this floor there were a number of conference suites, including the Attlee Suite where the ceremony would be held.
However, we were early, so we walked around the gallery a bit, to look at the brilliant cartoons by Gerald Scarfe, of MPs past and present, which are hung there. The walls were panelled from floor to ceiling, as I remember, with flush fitting doors identical to the panelling, so that it was almost impossible to tell if they opened towards or away from you. Even the loo cubicles were the same, with the result that I thought I was stuck in one for a while, until I realised it opened outwards instead of inwards like most loo doors!
As you walk around the gallery, on the other side from the panelling, there are only floor to ceiling glass walls between you and the atrium below. This creates an unpleasant sensation if your vision is not perfect. Just as the frameless glass doors at the entrance offer unprotected edges to the unwary walking through them, so these glass walls can induce a feeling of vertigo, and we didn't like them much. I stood close to one, and leaned forward to rest my hand for balance on some of the tubular steel structure which appears to support the building, only to find it was on the other side of the glass. I preferred to sit and wait on the benches against the panelled wall - I felt safer that way.
Eventually 2 o'clock came round and we made our way into the Attlee Suite, picked up our name badges, and took our seats ready for the proceedings to begin.
Photography is not allowed on the gallery inside Portcullis House, although it is allowed in the conference rooms. The pictures here are the result of a Google images search. There is a website which will take you on a virtual tour of the inside of Portcullis House, and show you the artworks that are there - that is if you can work out how to use the control - I found that a bit vertiginous too!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My TV interview

Jenny and Hume from BBC2 Working Lunch, who interviewed and filmed me for Wednesday's programme.

Here's something which might work for my readers outside the UK. You will need to work out for yourselves what time 13.30 hours in the UK is going to be where you are. If you can catch the programme, put the following link into your search engine: That will take you to a website page with thumbnail pictures of today's programmes along the top. Scroll to the right until you find the picture for "Working Lunch". When the programme starts a little bllack box saying 'ON' should show in the bottom left corner, and you can then click on the thumbnail to watch.

If you miss it, go to the same website page and click on BBC iPlayer in the big box underneath the thumbnails. This lists the programmes that have been recorded in alphabetical order, and you will need to go to page 3. Then scroll down to Working Lunch and click on it, and the recording should be there in front of you. It may take a while, of course, for them to get today's programme up there in the iPlayer.

UPDATE :: I have had two comments from overseas that the BBC programmes are not available outside the UK. Sorry, chaps, and I thought I was being so clever. Nothing else to show you at present. Don't lose hope!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Snow surprise

I went to put my milk basket out for tomorrow, and this was all I could see!
This morning there was brilliant sunshine.

Wednesday - Snow's still there this morning, as dawn breaks.

This is life 'live' - my TV interview

The day after the Silver Surfer awards, I was asked by the BBC if I would be interviewed for BBC2's Working Lunch programme, and they came along yesterday. The following text is what I wrote while the cameraman filmed me typing something into my blog. I saved it and have not edited it since; I am surprised there are not more typos:

"Today I have a team from the BBC2 Working Lunch programme in my house, interviewing me and taking photographs. It is rather nervewracking, but it seems to be going OK. We have done quite a long interview - well it seemed long to me - and now they are taking pictures from all angles doing all sorts of things. I am always nervous when people are watching me, whether it is typing or driving a car or whatever, and I think this is the most difficult part of the whole thing. As those who know me will not need telling, I do not have any difficulty about talking!!!! They will not let me stop typing enough enought!!!

Do not teach your grandmother to suck eggs. Not techedy gramyum eggery suckery. O dear what can the matter be two old ladies got stuck in the lavatory they've been there a month on Saturday, nobody knew they were there."

The cameraman, with his camera almost resting on my shoulder, was particularly delighted with the first lot of exclamation marks. "Ooh! Can you do that again?" he said. "Just delete the last few words and type them again, so I can film the exclamation marks coming up".

Miraculously, my fingers worked more surely than they usually do these days, and did not produce gobbledy-gook. Any appearance of gobbledy-gookiness in the second paragraph of my text is due to my father's sense of humour when repeating old sayings and rhymes to his children.

The BBC team (of two) was here for two hours. The programme, in which my bit will be about one and a half minutes, goes out Wednesday (tomorrow) on BBC2 at 1.30 pm. I hope eventually to have a digital recording of it to put here on my blog.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saturday Night Fever

The BBC Electric Proms are not something I have ever thought of listening to, because I imagined them to be all electric guitars, and probably too loud for me. But something made me stop and look at the programme for last Wednesday's prom being broadcast from the Roundhouse in Camden, London. It was going to be a programme of Burt Bacharach's music, and more, he would be there playing the piano himself, accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra, while various artists covered his songs. I decided to record the programme - (11.20 pm is way past my bedtime these days) - and yesterday, as I tried to recover my cool after the excitement of the Awards, I listened, relaxed and enchanted to 45 minutes of Bacharach.

So, it seemed worth looking to see what else was coming up. Oh my! another nostalgic winner for me. This year is the 30th anniversary of the time when Saturday Night Fever was heading the charts in the UK, and last night's programme included much of the film music, with a personal visit from Robin Gibb of The Bee Gees to sing one of the numbers. I searched through my stash of old vinyls and came up with my treasured double album, which I have just been able to fit onto my scanner.

Now Saturday Night Fever is intimately bound up with a time in my life when I took on a new challenge - namely to learn to dance properly. I have always loved social dancing, but the opportunity did not come up very often, and anyway, my husband didn't do more than kind of hop round the floor in a rather jerky way. So I signed up at a local dance school for lessons in Ballroom and Latin American, and began to work my way through the medals: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Since my husband was not interested in learning, I always had to dance with an instructor, and never got any practice between lessons, but I enjoyed myself and did make progress.

Then John Travolta burst upon the dance scene, and the man who ran the dance school took himself off to London to learn the dances from the film, so that he could teach them in his classes. Now disco dancing was something else again for me. I loved the freedom of moving entirely by myself, and putting all the energy and feeling into it that I wanted to. It was liberation to music, and to achieve that at 50 was quite something! Remember this is 30 years ago, and solo dancing was not universal as it is today. (An added bonus was that the disco dancing strengthened my rather weak knee joints amazingly, an effect which didn't last unfortunately after I stopped dancing.)

I kept it up for about three years, achieving Bronze, Silver and Gold in Ballroom, Latin and Disco, but then my aunt became seriously ill and I no longer had time for it. After she died I had a hysterectomy, and by the time I got over that, which was not soon, I wasn't thinking of dancing any more. But that's the way it goes, isn't it? However, I had developed a love of all kinds of dancing as an art form to watch, and have derived a great deal of pleasure from it over the years. And the music of Saturday Night Fever continues to stir me whenever I hear it.

Oh yes! and my husband was very good at Scottish Country Dancing, and together we worked our way up to Gold Medals for that too.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Silver Surfer of The Year Awards - Pictures & Video

Portcullis House, Westminster, where the ceremony took place

Waiting with my sponsor, Stephen Bell, for the proceedings to begin

Chatting with my MP, The Rt Hon Peter Lilley

Video interview in front of Big Ben

Photographs by Sheila Joynes, and video by Stephen Bell, to both of whom my grateful and loving thanks for all their support and encouragement

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Silver Surfer of the Year Awards [continued]

And here is the certificate in larger format to prove it. It is a pity that the silver lettering they have used for the title makes a rather disappointing scan. I have suggested to Digital Unite that they might design a digital award logo that winners and runners-up could download onto their own websites. If that came with a link to their website, it would help to widen their publicity.

Just to put this in perspective, although the Silver Surfer Awards are a national event, they do of course depend on people being nominated. I was lucky enough to have a friend who knew of the awards through his work, and he nominated me. There were 114 nominations this year, which apparently is the most they've ever had. It seems relatively few to me, though, considering what I am sure is a vastly greater number of older people who are using computer skills to enhance their own lives and to benefit others. So I am enjoying this award not only for myself, but on behalf of all those who were not nominated, but could have been.


I hoped to write lots today, but unfortunately, after an almost sleepless night in which the whole buzzing awards scene was churning around in my head, I fell asleep at the last minute, then jumped out of bed too quickly because I was late. This brought on a dizzy spell (blood pressure medication problems) which scrambled my head for about 4 or 5 hours. So I never got to my morning appointment as I was in no state to drive, but I nevertheless had to field phone calls from the local press and the BBC. More about that another day; there will be pictures too. Now, though, it's supper and an early early (that's not a mistype) night for me.

Silver Surfer of the Year Awards

Today is a special day for me. At 2 o'clock this afternoon, Thursday 23rd October, I shall be presenting myself at Portcullis House, the House of Commons, in London, to receive a runner-up certificate in the Silver Surfer of the Year Awards 2008. I was nominated for this by a friend, but never really imagined I would get anywhere near, so I am feeling quite chuffed! I was asked to keep it to myself until the day of the awards, which is why I haven't blogged about it sooner.

Normally there is one winner and two runners-up, but this year, they tell me, entries were so good that they've chosen four runners-up. My local MP has been invited and hopes to attend, and press releases have gone out to the local papers in the winners' areas. I will let you know more when it is all over.

The awards are run annually by a company called Digital Unite, whose aim is to bring digital literacy to older people who might not otherwise find access easy. They work through their network of specialist DU Tutors, their Community Programmes, and their annual outreach campaign, Silver Surfers' Day, which is designed to encourage organisations of every kind, both large and small, to get involved by running their own events. Digital Unite is Britain's specialist in Digital Inclusion for Older People. You can find out more on

From this -

- to this !

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Garden clearance

Every year at about this time I have to have my gardener and his son in for a day's work to clear my garden. I am not a gardener myself, and am generally content for my garden to be a green one, with little in the borders but some flowering shrubs, and anything else that seeds and grows by itself, without much help from anyone. But I have to keep it under control, or it would go completely wild and annoy the neighbours too.

This year I decided to be more ruthless than usual, and ask them to cut my lilac so drastically that it will not flower for two years now. The trouble is, as it grows taller and taller, I can no longer appreciate it from my diningroom, where I spend a lot of time, (doing paperwork on the table, NOT eating!), and can only enjoy its blooms from my spare bedroom window. So now and again I sacrifice a year's blooming to get it down to ground floor level again.

The other drastic job was done on a holly tree, which has been about halved in height. This has produced quite a surprise, which is the rather odd phallic looking growth on the other side of the fence at the bottom of the garden. It was quite obscured by my holly tree and has caused me some amusement. I haven't managed to get a decent close-up of it, as it never seems to get really well lit by the sun, or if it does, it is always at a time when I have forgotten about it. But the picture will enlarge for a closer view.

Also, to my great annoyance, it seems that I am no longer able to hold the camera steady enough to get sharp pictures. I don't think it is shaking hands, so much as a gentle swaying of the whole body, which begins to lose it's balance as I try to focus in the viewfinder. I plan to get a new camera anyway, but I suspect that will not make much difference. It is going to be very frustrating if I can no longer take the pictures I want for my blog, as I believe pictures are very important for it.
Am I right in thinking that digital cameras are going the way of having display screens only, and no viewfinders - or the cheaper ones anyway? I would appreciate any comments from readers who have cameras like this, as to whether it is a disadvantage or not. The only one I can think of is, if the sun is shining directly on the display screen, you can't see the picture of what you are taking.

Monday, October 06, 2008


When I installed this new gadget - or is it a widget, I hardly know the difference, or even if there is one - I thought it would be interesting to see where in the world my readers were coming from. [You will find it at the bottom of my sidebar.]

My first reaction is that in 11 days from installation, a total of 203 hits doesn't seem much beside the grand total of 25573 on my ordinary hit counter; but that one has been running for a year or so. Isn't it annoying that the technology is not there for these counters to count backwards as well, and give you your overall totals!

The second thing of note is that, not surprisingly, of the 34 countries in all, the US and the UK lead the field, with, as of now, 67 hits from the former and 65 from the latter. Australia and Canada are next with 10 and 9 hits, France with 7, Portugal and India with 3. The rest are all 2s and 1s.

Now then, you blog surfers in the UK: are you going to let the United States keep two hits ahead of you forever, as they have been up to now? It won't do you know. This is a British blog by a British writer and I expect my strongest support to come from the United Kingdom!

Having said which, with my tongue well into my cheek, I hasten to add that I consider myself to be just as much a citizen of the world as I am of the UK, and it gratifies me hugely to find that approximately half my hits are from non-English-speaking countries. I don't get comments from them though -that would be really nice.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


If I do not write often in my blog about my sons and grandchildren, it is not because they are not important to me. On the contrary, they bring colour, drama and joy into my life, and there is so much I would like to write about. But some of them do not care to have their lives exposed on the world wide web, and do not want to have pictures of their young children posted either, and I must respect their wishes. But not writing about them or posting their pictures is a considerable frustration to me.

I think I may allow myself, however, to post this poem about them which I wrote many years ago, but which I would write again today:

They are great big lads
My four boys,
Bonny and brawny.
They have to bend
To hug their Mum.
Such pride I feel
In each of them
For his own specialness.
And when they gather
All at once
To celebrate
Some family event,
Then memory flows
And laughter breaks
In great explosions.
All the past
In which I played
My part
Is laid before me -
And my heart bursts
With joy.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Cats ...

Before sending this greetings card, I thought I would share it with any fellow cat lovers I may have among my readers.

Doom and disaster!

The end of the world is nigh!

I read in the paper the other day that it is being forecast that in two years' time we shall have run out of internet addresses. Just imagine, if nobody else could sign up for email!

I remember, not long after getting a computer, asking naively if cyberspace could ever become full up with the internet and the web; I was more or less laughed at. So if we are not going to run short of cyberspace, what is it that will be in short supply when we run out of internet addresses? Do I really want to know? Could I understand if I was told? Explanations in words of three syllables max please!

For those who do wish to understand, here are a couple of links to articles in the Times and the Guardian.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Don't you just love it ...

... when something goes wrong, and then in the end turns out to be absolutely right?

Yesterday I went to collect two of my mother-in-law's paintings which I had decided to have framed. I had opted for ready-made frames, with added mounts, and for changing the ordinary glass to special protective glass to prevent fading. [The framer was astonished at how good the pictures looked 100 years after painting! "They must have been somewhere with little light" he said, and I replied "They were, they were shut up in a box!"]

I had chosen the size of frame without difficulty, but wanted the gold version, and not the natural wood one's they had in stock in the size I wanted. I was told the gold could be ordered and that was what was agreed - or so I thought.

Strangely enough, on the way there, I began to wonder if the gold had been the right choice, but "Too late now" I told myself. When the pictures were put in front of me, lo and behold, they were framed in the plain wood. A lengthy discussion began as to why they were not framed in gold, and my case eventually fell apart as I saw that 'plain wood' had been written on the invoice, which I had clearly not checked carefully enough before leaving the shop.

To clinch his argument, the framer went and got another frame in the gold, and held it beside the pictures in the plain wood. I knew instantly that I should have hated the gold frames! So although in arguing his case he recalled conversations which I don't believe we ever had, I have to acknowledge that aesthetically he was right, and I end up happy with my newly framed pictures!