Thursday, December 24, 2009

A game for Christmas

When you are feeling sated and dull-witted after eating your Christmas dinner, try this little test to wake up your brain cells. Save the picture and print it (preferably on card). Then cut the image up into its four separate rectangles, and follow the instructions given.

Best of luck!

Seasonal greetings ...

... to all my readers. No time this year to create a special Christmas message, I'm sorry to say, so here are a couple of seasonal pictures from my biographical collection. In the first one I am the one kneeling, and the picture was taken at Oberlech in Austria in March 1955. The second was was taken at Megeve in France in March 1954. It's sad to relate that I never learned to ski - I was too much afraid of hurting myself!


I hope to be here more often in 2010.

Salut!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Big bully State?

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Martha Lane Fox, Government Champion for Digital Inclusion, is quoted today as saying that the government should make its services such as Council Tax payments, TV licensing and so on, only available on line, to force people to use the internet. The argument is that it would save millions of pounds if these transactions could all be conducted on line.


I read this in the Digital Unite blog as I ate my breakfast, and it made my hackles rise. I don't like getting angry so early in the day, so I immediately wrote a comment, since the blog post was inviting our views. I shall share share them with you here as well.

Those who know me (a runner-up in Digital Unite's 2008 Silver Surfer Awards), will know that I started to use a computer 10 years ago aged 71, and that now I could not live without it - it is my magic carpet. But that does not mean that I want to see non-users forced to go on line, at risk if they don’t of being in default on payments or licenses that are legal requirements.

In addition to training, would government provide an adequate and reliable broadband service, buy computers for all those who don’t have them, pay for their ISP and security subscriptions, and for printers and the peripherals. My guess is that, like me, many older users would be confused and daunted by online billing, form filling etc, and would want to print everything off. Indeed, I think many people would be panicked by the mere idea of it.

It doesn’t sound like a nanny state to me (as Ms Fox suggested it might), it sounds like a big bully state. Government has a duty to provide the services that people need, not to coerce them into using services they do not want. For goodness sake, at least where the retired are concerned, leave us in peace to embrace such technologies as, individually, we feel able for and are comfortable with. If some of us feel that a computer would be an alien and unfriendly presence in our lives, we are entitled to be allowed to live without them. When our generation has gone, and those who remain have all been familiar with computers from childhood, perhaps that will be the time for Martha Lane Fox to wield her stick.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Postscript to last post

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When I agreed to lead a group to set up a new website, I set up a special mailbox in which I keep all email correspondence about the website. At this very moment I have noticed that, since the first mail in January asking me if I would take it on, there have been 1000 emails passing into and out of my computer on this topic. Did I say busy?!

I have a ghost writer

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Somebody else must be writing my blog. I have absolutely no recollection of actually writing the last three. I remember thinking about them - thinking that I must get on and write them before they get out of date....... Oh well, at least that makes it easier for me to pick up now, since I don't have to start at the beginning again.

First, an up-date on scones. By about the fourth attempt I had achieved something quite acceptable with butter and jam, and my grandson actually asked for a second one. At the sixth attempt, my first one with fruit scones, I reckoned I could now call myself a scone maker. The trouble is that every recipe makes about 12-15 scones, and I eat most of them myself! Perhaps I shall be brave enough soon to offer some at the Women's Institute stall on Fridays.


Apart from baking I have practically nothing else to write about except my continuing work on our Growing Old Disgracefully website. It has just reached an exciting point, as the designers have put the partially finished design up on the web now, with a special URL which enables us to look at it and comment, correct, and complain if things are not right. We really are getting to the end at last, but there are still bits of information which we have to supply, and which we are unable to clarify. An organisation run by volunteers from their own homes is a very different matter from a business, I realise.


One of the problems is that, as you search out the right information for the website content, you tend to discover that records need updating, or people have dropped out, or resonsibilities are just changing hands, and a deal of peripheral work becomes necessary in addition to that directly involved in the website.


So in these last few weeks I tend to be in a haze of exhaustion much of the time, knowing it is worth while, but wishing I'd never stuck my arm in the air!
~

Art is exhausting

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

BLOG ACTION DAY - CLIMATE CHANGE

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Today is Blog Action Day. Apparently this happens every year on October 15th, when bloggers are encouraged to blog in unison on some important issue which we feel is not getting the creative attention it needs. I have not done this before, but now that I know about it I think it is worth doing. This year it is about CLIMATE CHANGE.



I have no special angle on climate change. Like most people, I suppose, I believe in global warming, because the evidence seems undeniable. My own experience tells me that the weather is changing for the worse - but don't we always think that? I checked in on the Blog Action Day website and had a look at the Top 100 effects of global warming. Alright, most of them are quoted from newspapers and newscasts, and may not yet be fully attested scientifically - but can we afford to disbelieve them? Many of them are long-term effects which I am unlikely to see:



Ice melting, waters rising, sunamis and hurricanes, rivers drying up, more fires.

Loss of trees, plants, animals and fish. An increase in noxious plants and insects.

More diseases spreading, people getting sicker.

Increased threats to national security due to migrations, boundary tensions, and conflict over food and water. More wars, more refugees.



I think of my grandchildren. I think of those two girls and four boys, aged between 8 and 17, to whose flesh and blood I have contributed through my own sons; who bear my DNA, and will inherit, to greater or lesser degree, the physical and mental characteristics that I have passed on to them. They are my legacy to the world that I must leave, they are my immortality. But what sort of world will there be for them to inherit? Will it be a world that is still full of natural wonders, magnificent resources, beautiful habitats for man and beast a like. Will it still be possible to live full and satisfying lives, lives of invention, service, caring, and creativity? Or will the basic struggle for survival take all their energies. There are enough suffering peoples in the world already leading such lives. My family has been fortunate ...... will it continue to be through all the generations that will follow me?
I do my best with reducing, reusing and recycling, but we need strong and willing governments to lead us as well.
.

More scones - by special request

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From The Aga Recipe Book for 2 oven Aga Cookers [no publication date but purchased in 1960]


SCONES
Recipe
8 ozs. plain flour
1/2-1 oz. butter
1/4 pt. milk (sour if possible)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
(1/2 teaspoon if sour milk used)
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
.
METHOD
Sift together the dry ingredients. Rub in the butter and mix quickly with the liquid. Turn on to a floured board. Knead lightly and roll to 1/2 inch thickness. Mark into eight, or cut with a shrp round cutter. Bake for 7-10 minutes on the top shelf of the roasting oven, turning once during baking.
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From Mrs Beeton’s Cookery and Household Management, 1960

IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER WHEN MAKING SCONES

1. If the basic proportions are correct they can be varied in many different ways
- see suggestions.

2. It is most essential to be accurate with proportions, e.g. too much soda will ruin
the scones.

3. Whereas yeast mixtures are kept warm, scones etc. made with other raising
agents should be kept as cool as possible. The cold air expands with the heat
and so helps to make the scones lighter.

4. The best utensil for mixing scones is a round-bladed knife; it gets well down to
to the bottom of bowl and can be used for mixing without pressing on the
mixture.

5. The most important rule is to add all the liquid at once and mix lightly to a spongy
dough.

6. The scones should be handled as little and as lightly as possible.

7. Scones should be cooked quickly - 10 minutes in a hot oven for small scones
and 15 minutes for a round of 4 or 6.

8. Cool oven scones on a cooling tray to keep the outside crisp. Girdle scones are
best cooled in a tea towel to keep the skin soft.

NOTE: From Experiment it has been found that better results are obtained if the scones are allowed to stand (after cutting out) for 10 minutes before cooking. This applies to scones raised with bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar.
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

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I baked some scones on Sunday. Now that might not seem like anything special to you, Gentle Readers, but those who know me well will be in wonderment at such an event. I do not bake - indeed, these days, I scarcely even cook. I did succeed in feeding my family reasonably well when they were at home, but I never did any baking.

I was enabled to take this stance, on arrival in our first home, by finding an Aga cooker installed. I don't know how they are today, but in 1960 our solid fuel 2-oven Aga was not an easy project for cake baking. It was recommended to use a special Aga Cake Baker (like an inner oven, I believe), or to reduce the heat of the roasting oven. All this was clearly going to be too complicated and stressful for a young mum with an 18-month-old and another on the way, so I declared or new home a no-bake area. How I survived to be a no-bake wife and mum of four grown sons speaks more for the tolerance of my family than for my housekeeping skills. But I got away with it.
But I love scones, especially small ones, warm from the oven. The older I get the more resentful I become of shops and cafes who only supply great big lumps of scone that are more than I want, and rarely fresh. For some years I have wondered if I might learn to cook scones myself. But circumstances are still against me. I have lost what little culinary skills I have, I have an ancient oven on which the thermostat no longer works - and come to think of it, I don't even have a kitchen table, only worktops. I realised, as I tried to visualise it, that it would be impossible to knead and roll out the mixture at worktop height - it really needs to be done at arms' length.
But suddenly, this time, I was not going to be beaten. I was about to put in an order to Tesco on line, so was able to order some fresh flour. All the other ingredients I had, including bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartare. Are they still used for scone baking? I was using my old Aga recipe book, since their recipes were always nice and simple. The next day I got everything ready, including clearing my dining table of papers and putting a plastic cloth over it. The only thing I forgot was to take the butter out of the fridge to soften. I tried putting some in the microwave, but even 10 seconds, my minimum setting, was too much, and it nearly all went runny. Never mind, press on, and at last I had a dozen scones in my hot (but I didn't know how hot) oven.
They weren't very nice. They were recognisable as scones, just, but their only virtue was that they were a first for me! I got my Mrs Beeton off the bookshelf then, and looked at her "Eight important points to remember when making scones". I had got every one of them wrong. But I had made a beginning.
Later that afternoon I visited my young family on the other side of the village. Walking into the kitchen where my son was preparing dinner, I said to him: "I'm going to tell you something that you will find very hard to believe - I baked some scones this morning." "Now that I DO find hard to believe" he replied. I had taken four in a plastic box as evidence, but although the children showed some interest in the box when they came across it, nobody had suggested trying one by the time I left, after a dinner of roast shoulder of lamb . Can't say I blame them.
I baked some more this morning. There was a marginal improvement, but I've a long way to go.....................................
~

Friday, October 02, 2009

Fragment

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Strange what bits of information will strike you in the course of listening to the news. A few days ago in one bulletin, I learned that I am six years older than the London Lost Property Office, and eight years older than Pinewood Studios.


I only managed to get 354 days start on Mickey Mouse, however, who was created by Walt Disney in 1928, and whose birthday is celebrated on the 18th November, eleven days before mine. I wrote about me and Mickey once before.
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Obssession

I have just discovered this draft in my edits, dating from the beginning of October, so I have finished it off and published.

I was so absorbed in what I was doing on the computer today, that I nearly made a cup of 'tea' out of a sachet of laxative powder, instead of a teabag! Oh my! what on earth could I have been doing that would distract me to that pitch? Well, I have been playing with colours.



I wrote recently about the website that I am involved with setting up for Growing Old Disgracefully, my crones' network. A couple of weeks ago we met with the designers for the first time. I had to go up to Manchester, where they are based, and we had an intensive three-hour session, my colleague and I struggling to understand their web-speak and to explain our requirements in our own non-tech language.

Since then I have been thinking about colour schemes for the website, and playing around with colours, trying to learn how they are created on line, and how they are numbered, and what looks good on a website. I've also been creating my own colours in paint and trying to match them to printed colours that I like. I have printed off endless sheets of paper with samples on like these, but it all seems too complex to understand. We'll see what the designers come up with.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Busy, busy, busy

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I promised to write here about what had been keeping me away from blogging for a good while before I went away. I write often about Growing Old Disgracefully, the network for older women to which I belong, and it is working on a job for them that has kept me busy.

We used to have a website for a number of years, a simple brochure on line set up by one of our members, but we ran into problems and a year ago it was closed down permanently by the host. In discussions with the members about setting it up again a lot of interest was shown in enlarging it to include a 'members only' section, in which news and events and reports could be posted.

This would be a much bigger undertaking than before and not all were agreed upon its desirability. In the twenty years since it began, the organisation has only slowly become computer-literate. I believe I was the first to publish my email address in the newsletter in 1999, and now, ten years later, we still have only 50% of our membership on the internet. But there was a strong urge to bring ourselves up-to-date in the world of the web, and a sum of money was voted to allow us to employ professional designers for the job.

A small working group was set up in the spring to explore the possibilities, to establish our requirements, and to approach a number of designers and commission one of them to do the work. Through unforseen circumstances a group which should have been 4 was whittled down to two, of whom I was one. And so began a very sharp learning curve for the two of us, both of us fairly competent computer users, but having no notion about how websites are built. We asked for help wherever we could, and there has been a constant stream of emails - she lives in Oldham and I live in Hertfordshire. We only met once to get to know each other, and to lay out our ideas of what was needed, and how we should go about it.

The next time we met was three weeks ago in Harrogate, when we were able to report to the Annual Business Meeting that we had commissioned the designers - (appropriately a firm of women website designers) - who had set up a temporary holding page for us with contact details, so that Growing Old Disgracefully is once more on the worldwide web. They began work with us straight away on the main website, and on Wednesday next the two of us are having a project meeting with them in Manchester, to firm up the structure of the new website and a whole lot of other matters that need dealing with - more than I could possibly have imagined at the start!

The learning process still goes on, of course, and I find I have to keep very focussed in order not to lose my way. It is really hard work, and there are times when I feel it is making demands on my stamina (physical and mental) which I am barely able to meet. But it is fascinating, and creative in a way that I enjoy, and my colleague and I work very comfortably together. But I do wish at times that we were a business in an office, and not a nationwide organisation in which we all work from home!

Oh, did I forget something?

~
Ah yes, "talking of beautiful young men...."

In Betty's one of the waiters was an exquisite child of no more than 14 or 15 I would say; straight and supple and blond and perfect of feature, he seemed to carry himself like a ballet dancer -calm, poised, never ruffled. I could not stop watching him.

Indeed, I could almost have wished to be Oscar Wilde.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Going to Betty's

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Talking of beautiful young men ..... but I'd better begin at the beginning.

The reason I have not jumped into print here immediately on my return from Harrogate, is that I managed to do something so perversely idiotic that I was pretty much prostrate for nearly a week after getting home.

Our Growing Old Disgracefully annual get-togethers are so arranged as to give us at least one free afternoon for sightseeing, talking or sleeping, according to need or desire. It has long been my ambition to visit the famous Betty's Tearooms in Harrogate (they don't use an apostrophe but I insist on doing so). This free afternoon was a good half way through when I broke away from a small group of Disgracefuls who were sharing scurrilous anecdote and laughter in a comfortable armchair huddle in the lounge. If I didn't go now, I would never get to Betty's. I had been told it was 15 minutes walk - no trouble at all - although at the back of my mind was a feeling that I had passed it on the top of a hill on my way in to the town the day before.


I set off down the hill and soon realised that the further I went down, the further I would have to go up again, before I would reach the tea rooms, which were not yet in sight. Now I have not walked up steep hills for several years, as I get puffed, and my heart is no longer gets the blood supply I was given at birth. I knew, but refused to accept, that the hill was too steep for me. I was going to Betty's. I had not done any sightseeing at these events for several years, and this time I was going to.

Before starting up the hill, I took a couple of prophylactic puffs on my GTNT spray, which helps the heart to keep going if it is struggling somewhat. I stopped several times on the way up, and finally saw that I was reaching the queue which seems to form outside the Tea Rooms most days, so great a demand is there for tables. As I took my place I quickly realised that I would very likely fall down if I didn't sit down soon. When the Table Manager/Hostess person next came out, I explained that I thought I ought to sit down rather quickly, and after taking a look at me she kindly found me a table at once.

I sat drinking a pot of tea for the next hour until I felt strong enough to ask for a taxi to be ordered to take me back to the hotel. This they were happy to do, and also offered me the use of the disabled access toilet on the ground floor. This was a magnificent apartment in heavy oak panelling to match the rest of the decor, but provided with the latest fittings and and automatically sliding door.

So I got to Betty's, as evidenced by my trophy above, the paper d'oyley from under my teacup. But I had to sit upstairs in the street-level cafe, as I didn't the strength to go downstairs to the Spindler Gallery Tearooms, which house a collection of exquisite Marquetry scenes of Yorkshire from the Art Nouveau period, from the studio of Charles Spindler in Alsace. Nor can I find any of those pictures on the web, much to my disgust.
I went straight to bed, and had so frightened myself that I decided to give the rest of the conference a miss and go home early next day. (Ring NHS Direct on 08454647 if you are in a panic in the middle of the night - they can be very reassuring.) And the irony of all that is, that when I eventually went to get myself checked out by the doctor, she told me that with the packet of meds I am taking for my heart it is well supported and quite capable of the effort I had made. What was at fault was my general level of fitness, which obviously leaves something to be desired. So, a useful lesson learned, but the hard way. And my midnight fantasy as illustrated below was not realised!


Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Beatles

I watched 'The Beatles: on Record' last night (BBC2). Oh my god! how they turned my heart over. I think they were the first pop group I took any real notice of. I had three sons under 5 when they made their first album in 1963, so I didn't have much attention to spare for such things, except when washing or ironing in the kitchen with the wireless on (or was it already called 'the radio' in those days?).


I have one particular recollection of the Beatles' sound hitting me: on a day when I had driven on my own to the nearest town (Macclesfield) to shop, and was sitting in my favourite cafe having my favourite meal of mushrooms fried in butter, presumably with an omelette or something else as well.


But I was as much impressed by them for their look as their sound: suddenly, here were young men performing in well-fitting suits in interesting new designs matched by full heads of hair, thick, shiny and groomed. One of my special hates has always been the 'short back and sides', often involving a clipper cut right up the back of the neck, exposing all kinds of unattractive irregularities in the skin which would be better covered up. Nowadays, of course, men seem happy to expose their whole scalp. Personally I have always liked something I could get my hands into!


I used to find it astonishing, the frenzy of the young girls who gathered in screaming, fainting crowds, to listen to their pop idols. I could not imagine myself being so carried away. If The Beatles came my way again today, I think I might scream with the best of them.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Been very busy.....

..... and now I'm just about to go away. Leaving tomorrow, Monday 24th August, for four days in Harrogate. It is the annual get-together of the disgraceful dames of the Growing Old Disgracefully Network. When I get back I will write about what's been keeping me away from blogging for a while.






Who amongst my readers is old enough to remember polyphotos? They were taken by a live photographer, not in a booth, and you got 48 different shots. This gave you plenty of choice for making enlargements, or if you were mean you just cut out one of the small ones (about an inch and a half square), These were taken in 1946 when I was 19.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Stripping on the plinth

Are you one of those people who always seems to miss the really funny moment, or the moment when someone gets egg on their face, and you wish you had been there? I always reckon that I am one of those, but today I caught the moment on my PC screen.


Last November I wrote about Christmas catalogue shopping, and posted this picture of actor Sacha Baron Cohen, not so much in admiration as in astonishment that anyone should want to either buy or wear such a thing. In fact I found the picture so lacking in appeal that I nearly withdrew the post. But I'm glad I didn't. I did comment though that the garment did not look very secure, and I wondered if the shoulder straps went down the back to a sort of g-string between the legs. Well, this morning I found out. It isn't; and they do!


One of the 'plinthers' doing his hour-long stint as a live statue in Trafalgar Square, was a young man calling himself Piehead, and describing himself as Cynical, Bewildered and Disorganised. Well, he seemed pretty well organised to me: he took up with him a lavatory bowl and seat (and toilet paper), a bubble blowing device which blew bubbles out of the toilet, a lot of notices on cards, and a small tent. He had dressed himself in combat trousers (over pants), and layers and layers of T-shirts with different slogans on them.

He spent most of his time sitting on the toilet with his trousers round his ankles, and as his hour rolled by he alternated holding up his notices to the cameras with stripping off a T-shirt, until he was down to his last one of each. His final notice was "Do you want to see me put the 'man' into 'mankini?" When he got an affirmative (though not madly enthusiastic) vote, he stood up, said "this is my crowning moment", pulled off the last T-shirt and revealed that he was wearing one of those horrible garments modelled by the actor. Next his hands went to his pants and down they went, only to be be pulled up again at top speed. The young man's personal tackle had become somewhat disarranged and needing restoring to modesty p.d.q.!

I was interested to know whether such an unfortunate moment would be censored by the editors, and this evening I went back to the website to click on the video of Piehead's performance. The joke is that although it appears that they have tried to stop the video just before the awkward moment, they have actually ended it precisely at that moment, so that there is now a still picture of it on the One&Other website. If you don't believe me have a look for yourself here. Tune in at 59.00 minutes through his run.

I should say that aside from that unfortunate accident, the young man comported himself with absolute propriety while I watched him, and provided one of the more interesting performances that I have been able to catch. I am laughing, not at him but with him, in heartfelt sympathy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One and Other

The fourth plinth, Trafalgar Square

I'm in the doldrums again. The winds of inspiration are not filling the sails of my mind, and I am creatively becalmed. I was looking through MyPictures for a shot worth sharing to get me started again, but I could find nothing worthwhile that I've not used before. Then a friend sent me the link to the One & Other live cam transmission of this crazy English expression of 'live art' on the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

There are a number of diversions attached to this show, including, for those who would like to be on the plinth but can't, the possibility of creating a picture of themselves upthere. This seemed like fun, and I thought of putting myself up there, but decided that I would probably suffer from vertigo (yes, even virtually and vicariously!), so I put up my beloved old teddybear, Bruin, instead.

I wanted to add this text to the picture, but every time I tried to edit it, the picture disappeared, so I have had to write a separate post. You can hear Antony Gormley talk about his project if you follow this link to my video blog.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

I don't like heatwaves...

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... they sap my energy, fuddle my wits and make my feet hurt. My policy is to stay indoors, close curtains and shutters, open windows and doors, put on all of my three fans, and drink lots and lots of water. And it goes without saying ..... DO NOTHING!

The media don't help with their constant warnings to those who are most at risk: the elderly - ME; those with chronic health problems - ME; those who don't drink enough - ME, as I have to work really hard to remember. Though I did once feel very weird and unstable during the heatwave in 2003, and was really glad then for the advice that was being given out.

So enough of wingeing. The temperatures have come down below 30 degrees, and I am comfortable again, and can get on with some work. I'll maybe write about that in my next post.
~
~

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Translators

I am trying out three different translators at the moment.

No 1, Yahoo's Babelfish, has a drop-down list and seems efficient, but only has 12 languages. This one is available with flags as an alternative.

No 2, by Google Translate, has flags and 24 languages, and also seems efficient. And it has the advantage of offering a floater (or whatever they are called) with the original text, to read alongside the translation.

No 3, from Widgetbox, has a drop-down list of about 40 languages !!, and takes up the least space (bonus point), but appears the least efficient, as I have not managed to make it translate into German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch or Welsh. I did however get a Latin translation from it, from which I learned that my blog is called NON MORTUUS ETIAMNUNC! in Latin. Sounds impressive, even if it may be rather rough Latin!

I shall be very pleased if anyone cares to try any of them out, and leave an opinion of their relative efficiency and appeal. Eventually I shall have to delete two of them.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Energy bills on line

A year or two ago my lovely son who keeps me and my computer living happily together, did some additional sorting out for me, and transferred my energy and telephone accounts to companies who would charge me less. At the same time I opted for on-line billing, because it seemed a good idea to save some paper, and for paying by direct debit.


I don't think this has been altogether a good thing. The mails drop into my inbox announcing that my bill is ready to be read, but because that means going to their website and logging on, and because as it happens I seem to have a different combination of ID and password for each account, and because I can never remember them, and because payment is automatic so I don't risk being cut off ... (draw a deep breath) ... I tend not to bother looking at them.


Yesterday my carelessness came home to roost. I received a letter (a real space, hard copy letter) announcing that my energy suppliers were going to increase my monthly direct debit by £45 a month, as my account was in debt and my present payment was not enough to cover the amount of electricity and gas "we think you are going to use over the next twelve months". Panic! Stereotypical elderly, confused panic: "Help! I can't understand. I want my son. He'll have to come and sort it out for me. Oh-oh-ohhh!"


But then I pulled myself together and decided it was time to get to understand my energy bills, and to check out whether my consumption had really increased, in spite of having cavity wall insulation done in January. I wasted a lot of time noting down the payments I'd been making over the past couple of years, before realising that I should be checking consumption, rather than charges, which we know have gone up substantially here in the UK. And, to my chagrin, it appeared that my consumption had increased over the previous year.


But had it really? I noted that this latest quarterly bill had been based on an estimated reading, and on the strength of this they were also estimating the amount of energy they thought I would use in the coming year. Not good enough. Definitely not good enough. I would have to take readings myself and post them on line. The trouble is that crouching under the stairs where the meters are, is apt to bring on a spell of dizziness nowadays, and I prefer someone else to do it for me. But this was urgent. Needs must when the devil drives, as they say. I discovered that if I let my typing chair down to its lowest level, and wheeled it through to the hall - (or 'walked' it through like a baby walker!) - I could sit at the right level and only have to bend my head slightly to take the readings with a torch. (I wonder if I could have my meters moved? I bet it would cost a bomb.)


I posted my readings on line, and this morning I got an amended bill, knocking off £85 pounds, and withdrawing the notice that they were going to up my monthly direct debit by £45 a month.


I also discovered that my online account details show my average daily consumption of electricity and gas for the billing period, and also the figures for the same period last year, and it does appear to have gone down not up, which is what I was expecting, after having the insulation done.


So I'm really quite chuffed at the end of the day. And I did need to get to understand the billing system for myself. In future, I shall try to do my own readings each quarter and post them on line.



Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Schooldays are the happiest... continued

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Governor representatives in my Education Authority had a very long-running lobby for improving the clerking arrangements for governing bodies, beginning in 1988 as part of an Education Committee review of the clerking service. They campaigned not only for individual clerks for individual governing bodies, but also for their proper training and support. As so often happens when those fighting for a cause feel that they are not being heard through normal channels, we resorted to special measures. County Councillors attending an education meeting in January 1990 to discuss these issues, were each greeted with a copy of a poem laid on the table in front of them. Whether it was significant in bringing about the desired result we shall never know, but as the author of the work I would like to think that it was. At least it was reprinted in the next issue of the LEA's governors' magazine.

School governors' plea for a proper clerking service

We’ve said it before and we say it again:
We’re ready to learn and we’re willing to train;
We’ll read all the papers and sign on for courses;
But what is the use if we have no resources?

We’ve said it before and we’re saying it now:
We’re learning what’s what and we’re finding out how.
We’re eager to put it to work for our schools,
But to do a good job we must have the right tools.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it with flowers:
The government thinks we should delegate powers
To small sub-committees - but then if we do,
Their meetings and work will need servicing too.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it all day:
We cannot work miracles, try how we may;
We have our own jobs, and our families need us.
Must we do the admin? Will nobody heed us?

We’ve said it before and we want you to hear:
Our voluntary service is costing us dear.
We won’t go on strike, and we don’t want to pack up,
But please! don’t abuse us - do give us the back-up.

We’ve said it before and we’re saying it still:
The way is now clear and we do have the will
To play our full part and square up to the task.
Are the means to this end really too much to ask?
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School days are the happiest days ...

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Back in 1991, the secondary school of which I was a governor gave a concert, called 'Music Galore', performed by staff, parents and ex-students. Some talented person adorned the programme with this lively cartoon - it was not, however, captioned in the original.


















When I got it home the temptation proved too much for me, and I set about identifying each of the characters performing before the curtain here. You will note that I have committed a serious error of political correctness, in that I have named the feet of the fallen character in the middle 'headmaster', when I should of course have written 'headteacher'.



At that time PC was regularly taking me by surprise, perhaps most on the occasion when a staff member said to me: "Oh no, don't ring then, because the phone won't be personned". It took me a double take to realise he meant "manned", and I was on the edge of laughing in his face and causing great offense, when I realised he was serious. He could have said "staffed", which would have worked much better.



I should explain that the DEO was the Divisional Education Officer; our Local Education Authority was divided into divisions, and at the time that I became a governor in the late 1980s, the DEO, on behalf of the Chief Education Officer, took the role of Clerk to all the Governing Bodies in his Division. He more or less ruled the roost where the governing body was concerned, but things were changing.



The government had passed new education acts in 1980 and 1986, governing bodies were becoming more powerful, with much heavier responsibilities, and they were beginning to demand their own individual clerks to help them cope with the extra work. In 1990 our Education Department appointed new Deputy Clerks for the purpose, together with a small budget to enable them to be paid. The DEO was still the top man, but didn't get his own way so often. So the Deputy Clerk in my picture was a very welcome novelty to the school at that time.
[I think that I was actually Chairman of Governors when I made this scurrilous addition to the drawing, but I'm not sure I ever had the courage to show it to anyone else!]
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Talking to myself

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It happens more and more as I get older. I don't know whether it is increasing age or living alone that brings it on, or a combination of both, but I do it all the time at home. It's nice to have the sound of a voice, and sometimes I need to encourage, or possibly discourage myself in what I am doing, or even ask myself what the hell it is I think I am doing!


On the whole I try not to do it when out and about, but the habit is so ingrained by now that it just breaks out from time to time. This evening, as I took my constitutional round the block, I noticed ahead of me a young couple standing beside a shiny black open-top sportscar. Next moment I noticed a tiny blond girl-child sitting behind the wheel."Oh!" I say, as my thoughts push my mouth open "there's a small per......." - but at the first sound of my voice the young man's head has come up and he is looking at me enquiringly.


"Sorry" I say "I was talking to myself. I was going to say 'there is a small person driving a big car'", and I smile in what I hope is a disarming manner. "Hmm - trying to" comes the response from the young man, who has fortunately not taken my remarks amiss.


So all in all quite a pleasant exchange, but supposing I had been passing disagreeable comment on someone? It could have turned nasty! I really must watch myself.


I found this illustration on a fascinating website called verbotomy.com - you really should visit it, especially if you are a lover of words. With great difficulty and some guessing web searches, I managed to decipher the name under the cat's paw, so that I could give them a plug. So I hope they don't mind my using the picture.






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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Writing under pressure

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Ten years ago, at one of our Growing Old Disgracefully gatherings, we did a writing workshop. We were asked - or rather challenged - to write a poem to someone we know well, and to liken that person to:

a colour
a kind of weather
a time of day or year
a sound
a form of transport
a kitchen implement
something eatable
an animal
a speed
We were given about 15 minutes to complete the task. In such circumstances one can hardly help but write from the heart. This was my poem. I seem to have cheated slightly on the last line.


You are my brown earth and my green growth,
You are my light and warmth and the breeze that blows.
You are my springtime and my renewal,
You are birdsong and the chime of bells.
You are the wheels that change my horizons,
You are my top gear, my accelerator.
You are the knife that cuts out waste.
You are my bread and my wine.
You are my best friend and companion.
~~~~~~

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Holiday over

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So what other delights came my way during my northerly tour?


Firstly ~ daffodils :: drifts and swathes and gusts of daffodils everywhere - hardly a stretch of road without them it seemed, in gardens, in fields and on roadsides. My Australian family were particularly delighted with these.


Secondly ~ lambs :: I had not seen any before we left, but they seemed to be in almost every field as we drove, some appearing to have dropped to earth the moment before we passed. Strangely though, by the time we had crossed the Scottish border there were no more. However, by the time we left ten days later Deeside had its own crop of new lambs too.


Thirdly ~ my very first red squirrel, with its cute little tufty ears, feeding outside the window of my daughter-in-law's parents' house. Very difficult to get a shot from inside the house, but I didn't dare even approach the window, in case I startled him. It seems that deer come too to their garden, which is set into the edge of the forest, but sadly I did not see one. Nor did we ever manage to see any real highland cattle, with their shaggy coats, short legs and long horns.











Birds ~ I saw my first oystercatcher too, described from a distance by a friend of my son's who knew no better, as "that big bird with a carrot in its mouth"! Also plenty of buzzards, but no eagles, and only a stuffed capercaillie at the Balmoral Castle museum.


That seems to lead by a natural progression to ...


Food ~ I tried three types of game that I had never eaten before:
  • Roast pheasant, cooked by my son's mother-in-law, which was absolutely scrumptions;
  • Scottish Wood Pigeon en croute which I didn't like at all (very gamey), and passed over to my son to finish; and

  • Loin of Glen Muick Venison, which I found passable, but wouldn't order again.

The last two were ordered at a posh hotel when we went out to dinner one night. I deliberately took a risk, as I felt I should try something both new and local. I'm glad I did, just to be able to say so, but if I ever go there again I shall go for the halibut or the pork! It was all very elegantly cooked and served, and at the start of the meal we were presented with complimentary portions of thick mushroom soup, served in individual mini soup tureens, with a flaky pastry lid over the top. Now that I did like, as well as the Vanilla Pannacotta with cherries soaked in kirsch to finish.


That was at the Darroch Learg Hotel and Restaurant in Ballater. For more ordinary meals with the children as well, we went twice to The Potarch Hotel (more like an Inn) at Banchory. Here everybody could be served rather more quickly, and eat generously and appropriately, and those young enough to be energised by a big meal could go outside afterwards to play on a massive expanse of green field beside the River Dee.

We also went to a delightful farm shop and tearoom at Finzean, off the road from Aboyne to Banchory. Lots of freezers filled not only with farm grown fruit and veg, but also pies and cakes and other goodies. Upstairs in the restaurant were mixed salad platters with various meats and fish, soups and sandwiches. And every spare corner stuffed with attractive books, toys, household goods and accessories. Very difficult to walk away without a shopping bag filled with something. This review is worth reading if you have a chance to go there.


Then there was my favourite bolt-hole right in the middle of Aboyne: the Coffee House and Emporium at The Sign of The Black Faced Sheep. They serve the most delicious cakes, a good variety of drinks, and mixed salad platters that are to die for. I went back there many times, with the whole family and on my own, and even brought one of their salad platters back to the b&b when I wanted a restful day. Strangely enough, although their emporium was stuffed with attractive goods, they didn't actually have any cards or other souvenirs of black faced sheep. This was a pity, as my Australian family were particularly looking for something of the sort to take home to a friend in Sydney.
And finally, the air ~ clean and fresh, blowing in off the North Sea, decidedly brisk when the sun was not warming us, but giving such a clarity to every prospect, from the village green nearby to the forests all around and the distant snowy peaks.
[Pictures from the web]
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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Holiday journal : 10-20 April - Castles of Royal Deeside

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We visited two castles in the ten days I was on Deeside, and I almost made it to a third.


Balmoral Castle


Here you can only go in to the old ballroom, where there is an exhibition, but there are extensive grounds to be visited, including The Queen's kitchen gardens in season, and more exhibitions in the stabling behind the gatehouse, not to mention a substantial cafe and gift shop. The Queen also has her own letterbox on the estate. The public car parks are a long walk away, but all the oldies piled into one car and got permission to drive up much closer to the castle before disembarking.






The gatehouse and the castle








Crathes Castle


It is worth following the link in the title to see pictures of the inside of this ancient castle, built in the last half of the 1500s. It has a worn circular stone staircase giving access to the upper rooms and I began to make my way rather nervously up these. My son's strong arm seemed to have disappeared at this point but the first staircase had a rather thin metail handrail so I managed. The staircase to the next floor had only a rope hold, and when I found that the one above that had no rail at all I got discouraged. Even then I was grateful to pass my heavy handbag to one of the guides, who bravely offered to preceed me down the stairs again, to give me confidence. I was really sorry to miss the top floor.



There was an Easter treasure hunt on offer for the children. They were given a sheet of paper and had to find one item in each room. If they came back with them all ticked off, they got a chocolate egg - which of course they all did (with the help of their parents). They then ran around letting off steam in the gardens, before we made for the inevitable cafe and gift shop.

The castle, and a fine specimen of
Prunus Lusitanicus, or Portuguese Laurel











More garden scenes









The entrance gate for this castle is right on the main road through the village of Aboyne, just opposite the cafe we visited frequently. That is why I decided to look for it when I found myself alone that morning. But it was not a short walk by any means: after I had followed the long drive for 20 minutes the fairytale castle had come into view, but I reckoned there was still at least 10 minutes' walking to do. I had to walk back again to the village, get some lunch then walk back to my b&b, so I decided to settle for some photographs of the castle and then withdraw. But I did not feel I had missed anything, as the castle is not open to the publicanyway, and the walk through the wooded estate on a warm sunny morning was a delight in itself.





The castle drive and the castle







Aspects of the castle grounds






......

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Holiday journal : 11 April - Glen Tanar Estate

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On the first day after our arrival we - and that is three grandparents, two and a half couples, five children and a baby - took a picnic to this lovely private estate not far from Aboyne. After eating we set off to walk across the fields to a small chapel just seen in the distance. This is the Chapel of St Lesmo, who lived in 731.










The Chapel, which is tiny, was built in 1872 with a thatched roof and stained-glass windows, and the spaces between the stones of which the walls are built are dotted with small pebbles (a technique known locally as "cherry-cocking"). Inside, the rafters are fashioned from whole trees and the joists are made from curiously twisted branches of locally grown Scotch Fir. The altar steps are of Glen Tanar granite, a soft but rich coloured granite, as is the floor of the passage. Later, deer antlers were hung from the roof and the seats have deerskin coverings.














It is very popular for weddings, particularly as receptions can be held in the main house. Indeed, a wedding was just finishing as we arrived there, and we were allowed to go inside and look round, before the doors were locked again.


Afterwards we left the fields, and walked slowly back along the bank of the stream, one baby in a push chair, other children being carried by now, and Granny Judith leaning heavily on the arm of her son. (This has been a special pleasure for me, that during this trip I had many opportunities for leaning on the arm of my son. At home my life is arranged so that I don't often need such support!)

Friday, May 08, 2009

Holiday journal : 10-20 April - B&B in Aboyne

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Tigh na Geald - or House on the Hill - is a traditional Victorian house overlooking the village green in the centre of Aboyne on Royal Deeside. The front porch is supported by Scots pine trunks roughly trimmed of their branches, a traditional way of building in Scotland I am told, and the inside of the house is richly and solidly finished with doors, window frames, banister rails, and kitchen units also in pine. The views from the rooms are across the green of Aboyne.


























I had a double room to myself and a most luxurious en suite bathroom with a dressing table and an armchair in it. I was warmly welcomed and looked after with great care. I was even given the freedom of the kitchen and my hostess's laptop, so that I could check my emails while there.


The house is only 10 minutes' walk from the centre of the village, so on the days when the younger members of the family were being too energetic for me, I could make off on my own to have coffee, shop, have lunch, shop some more, and take pictures of Aboyne.






The Church and the Old Station







The War Memorial Building and the Memorial Window









Lamp standard and Red Squirrel (my first!)






Eilidh, my landlady's cat
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