Sunday, 29 July 2018

What do you want to do for your birthday?

It's a question I was asked as a child, and when I was small I always had the same answer "visit the London zoo".

As a family we were poor as church mice, but somehow my parents always found the money to manage the trip, plus on a couple of occasions in included travelling on a boat, right into the zoo itself. Having just enjoyed a little remembering back to childhood, it was natural to spend 30sec in google, and lo & behold, it's still possible.

We never did this for my son, and at this point in time I sorely regret it (we were dirt-poor too at that stage) although he might never have actually been interested*, but no matter. Perhaps I'll get to take the grandkids sometime.

*Retrospective regret is a useless fantasy. I frequently beat myself up with it, when the reality is that a) we did the best we could at the time and b) Cadbury world was of greater interest then. I hope he has good memories of those trips, like I do of the trips my mother took me on.

Yesterday my most looked at post was from December

A few years ago *

Back then I was helping lead a church. How different today, when it's really not something I want to do any more.

I still care for people, still want to see truth and righteousness at work, but there's no way I could lead in the way I used to because I have more questions than answers and am sure things aren't like I thought they were. TBH I don't know how you can lead people if you have doubts yourself - it seems dishonest to me. So I'll serve where I can and try to cope with the tension while hoping I'm not just another hypocrite.

* it was this post.

Friday, 27 July 2018

The great photographic session draws close to a finish

Photo finish?

Currently exporting all the images from Lightroom to a USB stick, ready for hand over tomorrow night. There is some good stuff in there and nothing 'bad', but I still hope they go down well.

*export finished!*

Buy me and stop one.

Just seen on Amazon deals: Durex 'surprise me' variety condoms.

My first thought was "She's pregnant - how's that for a surprise?"

Just. Don't. Go. There.

Remove ads in 'real life'?

Another Friday, another Dabbsy article on El Reg.

For years I've heard the objection to the wearing of branded clothes, about people becoming walking advertisements, but it's never bothered me. I see no cache in branding (no woman ever approached me in the street and asked to have my babies because I wore Adidas trainers or Levi Strauss jeans) though I know for some it can make a difference *for them*. I think I've removed brand names a couple of times, but usually because they were a) embarrassingly naff, but even more b) simply large and ugly.

No, the big objection to online ads is that it simply fills the space one withes to view with garbage and consumes available bandwidth and processor cycles.  I like the idea of paying some kind of small subscription in order to view pages ad-free (I'm going to block those ads anyway, so you get NO revenue otherwise) but it's hard to envision how such a system might be managed? Could it be like royalties for music? Probably not a great idea, since the rich b*st*rds who already run the music streaming systems will cream off most of the money instead of giving it to the people actually making it. I know they guys who started the Brave browser were looking at something, but that's gone quiet recently.

There has to be a better system than the non-system presently operated, but it would need to work across borders and legislatures, and it's hard to see how that might pan out, especially given the moronic rush for everything to be free in terms of cash transfer, but expensive in terms of energy, efficiency and giving away of data.

Perhaps the (in)famous GDPR will help?

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Living abroad II* (with retail therapy)

Britain is becoming crowded.

Look, I grew up in London, granted in a relatively spacious street, but just around the corner from '2up-2downs' with a front door that opened directly onto the street. It was fairly crowded, but we knew that 15min drive up the road was countryside, fields, woods, open spaces and very few people. It may have been this way for the last century or so, but it *feels* like this place is disappearing under concrete faster and faster, with the gaps between villages and towns getting ever smaller.

So Brexit.**

No, it won't fix it.

Last night we semi-jokingly talked about retiring somewhere else, as in another country (Brexit may kibosh that, although I am still an Austrian citizen, therefore European) and we talked around where we might go. Italy, where we've just stayed, isn't exactly crowded but I doubt it's terribly affordable on a longer term basis. Then I suggested going all 'Marigold Hotel', and Chris wondered how she would manage to do the shopping.

All our married lives, we've shopped in a supermarket, and India, very sensibly for their local traders, has effectively banned supermarkets as we know them.

But there was a time when supermarkets like that didn't exist. When we were children.

I have distinct memories of being taken around Caters in Croydon by my mother (memories from the pushchair - so probably 1964ish) but I have many more memories of the local (as in South Norwood) fishmongers with live eels and crabs, butchers with fake grass and porcelain statues of bullocks, bakers, grocers, hardware etc shops. Yes, there was a small Tesco in the town, even then, but it wouldn't even qualify as a mini-market now, with just a single set of shelves of good running the length of the small store and an aisle that looped around it from the front door to the rear & then up the other side to the tills. There was a shop that sold working cloths and teddy-boy gear (Wolfs) in Portland road, several sweet shops (the nearest was Foucaulds - pronounced foldcards by us higgerant locals) and a toyshop (one of 3 in the town) called Noteus (which local pronunciation mangled into notice's).

I mention this lot because Bicester has no toy shops and 1 chocolatier (a Thorntons franchise) which might possibly be classed a sweet shop. It's not that I'm being nostalgic for those businesses that have closed since we moved here in 1990, but as a nation we probably have no idea how to 'go to the shops' any more.

And then, once shopping was done you would have to carry your goods home, often long distances, instead of loading it into the back of the car. I bet if this was the only way to shop, our houses would have a LOT less junk in them.

I wonder how difficult it would be to move to Jaipur?

*This has nothing to do with previous post, apart from the title.

**that's another post.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

I seem to be living abroad

While I can remember long periods of sunny, dry weather here in the UK, most of those memories are childhood ones and therefore slightly suspect. Yesterday was another day of 29-30 degrees, blue skies, beating sun.

Because of the heat, Chris didn't want to do aerobics in the village hall, so I cancelled running & we walked for a couple of hours in the evening after dinner. The fields round here really are 'white for harvest' in a way that we've not seen before, and the wheat and barley or definitely not golden this year. Even more curious, although many of the fields looked really dry & the ears a little shrivelled, in fact they were still somewhat tender and had not finished groing.

The farmers are hard at the harvesting in some parts, clouds of dust rising like smoke in the air. I hope harvest is good this year, and not blighted by drought.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Living life on the edge

well, maybe near it, anyway.

There's a game that it's difficult not to play with cars, where one tries to get the maximum mileage from a tank full of fuel (the other option, minimum mileage, is neither wallet, nor license friendly). Apparently I had 4 miles remaining, although just before getting to the petrol station it estimated only 1 mile, however it's the other figure of 510 miles on a single tankful that I'm pleased about.

And this reminds me of the first time we filled the car in Italy. The 'self service' petrol station wouldn't, so the attendant wandered over and we got a mutual understanding of 'full'. And he took it as a personal challenge. He rocked the car several times, went slowly with the filling speed, all to get a full 60 euros into the Fiesta. I've never seen anyone so determined to squeeze every last drop from a sale.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Final thoughts.

Cleaning the house & subsequent journey back was relatively uneventful, flights were OK and pretty much on time, and our car was delivered by the parking people in exactly 15 minutes after making the call to say we were ready.

Italian drivers have 2 speeds: too slow and too fast, plus no inhibitions about overtaking multiple cars on short straights with blind bends coming up.

The Ford Fiesta we had as a hire car was really great on the tight, twisty and even unmade roads where we stayed, with supple suspension that absorbed small potholes yet remained flat with little body roll on tight corners. It was completely ideal for this driving and so pleasant to drive that I wondered whether it might be a good consideration as a next car. However driving back to the airport on the motorway was a completely different experience - what worked well between 30kph and 90kph became a slightly white-knuckle experience around the speed limit of 130kph, with the car feeling like a frightened cat trying to walk on ice and spreading it’s legs wide to cling on tight around motorway curves. While my mini would have been much harsher on the bumpy roads, I really appreciated the assured and safe driving experience on the 2 hours back from the airport.

Food was good value to eat out, but not in the supermarkets. It was a relief to get back to a diet not based on wheat products (i.e. pasta or pizza). Since returning I’ve eaten 3 Indian-style meals, 2 Chinese style, plus fish & chips (home cooked) and are due for more Indian-style food tonight. Such is the traditional British diet. ;-)

I'm gradually cranking my way through the photos. Including Chris's there were >2200, first cull dropped that to 800, second cull to about 300. Some are challenging to process because of the considerable mistiness present at times, while others are completely simple with just a few tweaks to levels. Overall pleased with some of the landscapes so far, but the next set to do are the interiors.


Tuesday, 17 July 2018

2 days for the price of one.

Yesterday was really busy, so I didn't get time to post, again.


So we went to Podesa on Monday.

It’s a nice seaside town, let down a little by the railway line that runs directly behind the beach and separates the town, but that’s also a good thing, because it inhibits the place being developed into one of those obscene tourist cities with colossal hotels and destruction of all that’s natural for hectares around the beachfront.

Parking was free.


The beach isn’t overly impressive either, with a mix of smaller stones and some sand that becomes mud a little further out in the water. Large rocks have been set up as a barrier parallel to the beach, providing a safe bathing area, but with the result that the water changes less frequently & so the mud makes it a little murky. This isn’t the med with crystal-clear waters and interesting fish, but it wasn’t cold either, and was quite acceptable for a quick cooling dip.

Our time at the beach started with some tension, because Chris’s burns needed shade, meaning we had to hire a parasol & loungers to stay out of the sun. When we’ve done this in Turkey it was simply a case of buying food & drink at the café that owned the kit and it was yours to use. So we wandered down to the beach, chose a free set and simply popped up a brolly, sat on the loungers and waited for someone to turn up & ask what we’d like to drink.

After about 25min we realised it wasn’t going to happen, although there was a chap walking around putting up umbrellas and collecting money from people. In the UK we would simply call him over and ask what the deal was, but here that was impossible. In the end we worked out that he was operating from a café of the same name as on the kit we were sat on, so we wandered over and asked how much (12 euros for the day) paid and then finally relaxed.

And we idled the day away on the beach.

Before we left home I’d planned to download some kindle books to the Xiaomi phone while we were away if I needed reading material, but of course that didn’t work, and neither did the Kindle app on the Lumia. Of course there were other reading apps available too, so it was the work of moments to grab a couple, choose the first that worked (which was actually the second downloaded) and then download a book or 2 onto that.

Screen time from 65% to shutdown on the Lumia is about 3 hours. :-p

A brief divertimento – the Xiaomi has been sat here on flight mode since the day after we arrived. Even though I spent several hours reading stuff, it went from around 50% to 23% between Wednesday night and Sunday night. Also FWIW I installed a couple of translator apps on it a few weeks back and noticed it lost nearly a day of battery life afterwards. I’m impressed with the battery life once again, and quite appreciate why people want to root & flash their phones with an OS that lets you control whether applications can ‘phone home’ when not in use.

We swam a little, had lunch, read several hours, had another swim, sunbathed a bit, changed & had dinner, finally buying ice creams (Cornetto – meh) and sat by the sea as light levels dropped and the sky changed colour. Sounds pretty idyllic.

And around 50min later we were back here again.

One of our conversations stemmed from the pleasure of just being by a large body of water, with a warm clean-smelling breeze gently blowing around us, having eaten pleasant food and enjoying each others company. In contrast to the start of this part of the blog series, we love mountain holidays, we love beach holidays. When we got to the beach today, what I REALLY wanted to do was to find a river at the bottom of a gorge that ran over rocks and between wooded banks in little waterfalls. It took a while to refocus on the good things in front of me and enjoy them for what they were.

So to the ‘what if’ game, we’d now like a house between the mountains and the beach*, please. If that’s not being greedy.

*Technically we already have that, since it’s a couple of hours drive to the Derbyshire peak district, and a couple of hours drive to the coast from where we live, but that really is NOT what I mean.


And so we come to the final day.

An ascent into hell.

Well, strictly speaking, a walk up the Gola del Infernaccio, which is actually a beautiful riverside walk up through a steep gully between 2 mountains. The tourist people like to play up the overtones of necromancy & bad magic in their information. but there’s nothing to suggest that unless the Roman Catholic stuff part-way up is misunderstood. At the top is a hermitage built by a priest in the 1970s, but we didn’t get that far because it’s around 14 kilometers and 4 hours each way, requiring good hiking boots, food and drink and a level of fitness and determination that go beyond a normal holiday walk.

The terrain is fabulous, but seriously challenging, with steep ascents on loose stones and the odd stream to cross.

Winifred the Windows navigator took us (via some ‘interesting’ unmade roads) to within a kilometer of the trail start. We were lucky to get there before 9.30am and found a shady space in the small car park. From there we walked down the gravel trail.

At the start of the canyon the trail passes under an overhanging rock that pours water on the walkers below unless they hug the rockface closely – for those who know it, think of the weeping wall in the Rockies, but undercut with the road passing beneath. When we got to the bottom and crossed the bridge to the start of the trail we were a little damp and starting to get cold. Across from where the trail entered the small flat area at the start was a tunnel with very cold air pouring out of it and chilling the surroundings. Chris ended up feeling so cold that she walked the 1K back up to the car to get her cardigan and back again, only to take it off within minutes of starting up the proper trail.

So we ascended, we viewed, we took many many pictures and walked for a couple of hours before feeling it was time to turn around. I’d say that this and the fields of flowers at Castelluccio were probably the highlights of the trip for us, and if you’re ever in the area are ‘must see’ places. We are fairly well travelled (and grateful for it) and there are few things that wow us, but both these did.

And back we went, in around 90minutes to the car. Less pictures were taken, and we met many others going in the opposite direction. In places descending was quite a bit harder than going up, struggling to find secure footholds on the loose stones of the steepest sections. On the way back we photographed some tiny blue butterflies drinking at a watering hole and noted how the birdsong was unusually present in another section. The car park was now full, with cars parked some way up the road too: busy for a Tuesday morning.

By this time we were quite hungry, so off in search of lunch.

Driving down the mountainside we saw the very smart old town of Montefortino in the distance, but when we got there it was the Marie Celeste thing all over again – we even smelled cooking, but the only restaurant we found was being rebuilt. Amandola, that we previously visited, was only 4km away so off we went there.

Bella Napoli.

Well that may be true, but it’s also the name of a pasta and pizza restaurant just inside the town. As we parked up the scent of food and woodsmoke reached our nostrils, and taking courage in one hand – phrase book in the other – we entered.

And needn’t have feared. They were friendly, had a tiny bit of English and some bi-lingual menus, though we did end up with 2 cokes instead of 1, and the lass serving though us ‘odd’ to only order from the pasta dishes and not from the usual mains or pizzas*, though she didn’t say anything. Italy is a little formal when it comes to eating out, and one is expected to go through starter, first course, second course, dessert. The experience was pleasant enough that we will probably eat there for our final meal out tonight.

So then it was back to the house for a post-prandial nap, put a wash on to ease pressure of time tomorrow, sit around reading and photographing the butterflies that were so hard at work on the lavender. There was a swallowtail there, for the first time that we’ve noticed.

So back to Bella Napoli for dinner. It was pleasant, though I can’t help get the feeling that we couldn’t order food quite right, and that Italians would order in a way that was ‘better’. But  they were helpful, friendly, one of the waitresses spoke English, though we tried to use Italian where possible. It was a nice meal, and I ended up leaving about 1/4 of the 1litre of wine because we had to drive home.

So now Chris is adding stuff to the visitors book and I’m finishing this off, having scanned back through the pictures of butterflies etc from earlier today. I hope they look good on a proper screen instead of the back of the camera.

*Pizzas here have been mixed. running from edible through to nice but not ‘Wow!’. It may be that, like the risotto, a little foreign input was required to get the very best from an otherwise sound idea that needed further development.

Monday, 16 July 2018

And this is how bushed looks

Only 3K, but first time in >2 weeks.

Darn, that's not pretty! 

It couldn't happen here!

No-one would be THAT dumb, surely?

So on Saturday I actually saw someone holding a phone exactly like that shown in the second picture.

Note - the article linked is a bit sweary in places.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

And today, being Sunday*, I worked.

We knew that I needed to set at least half a day aside to photograph the house inside and out, and so because Chris had a dodgy tum this morning it was expedient to make today photo day.

This is a little outside my comfort zone. I’m happy to take a scene as presented by nature and make the best I can of it, but house interiors require arrangement, ideally with careful lighting, sometimes ultra-wide angle lenses that I don’t yet own and the flexibility of a contortionist coupled to the climbing ability of an orangutang to get your head and camera into the right place for it all to come together.

So I tidied & cleared our stuff in the rooms we’d used, made beds, arranged plates of food and fruit, smoothed coverlets, opened windows, placed garden herbs etc. I don’t really know if the shots will be OK, but I hope so. Chimping (checking the image on the back of the camera) is no substitute for viewing properly on a big screen, and I understand why some professionals work tethered to a computer for interior stuff.

After lunch we drove across to one of the villages we can see on the next ridge over – Casale – and went for a walk to explore and take pictures of this house from across the valley. Casale was quite small, much of it inaccessible without going onto private land and semi-deserted, so we carried on up the road, passing through another hamlet and then past an obviously English-owned house, signposted 'Sandersons Casa Flori'.

Eventually the un-made trail went down at a steepness that we didn’t want to walk up again – what goes down must come up – so we turned round and headed back. While passing Casa Flori again, Chris called out to the person in the garden, who turned out to be from California, and along with his wife, renting the place for a number of weeks. We ended up being shown around the house which was lovely inside. In complete contrast to the usual Italian buildings round here, normally 3+ stories, probably because the ground floor is always too damp** to live in, this was a bungalow with upwards pretentions to use the loft space.

As we walked back in the direction of the car, Chris realised she was getting sunburnt on the backs of her legs – a little surprising considering how much time she’s already spent in the sun. Back we went then, with a few photo stops on the way, to spend the rest of the afternoon sat in the shade, reading and listening to the drone of bees working the lavender bushes, plus the occasional rustle from the local lizards.

Having gone all ‘Home and Gardens’ earlier, I ended up making bunches of Lavender to hang from the light fittings, plus a bunch of rosemary for the pan rail. I’m hoping it might help with the ‘scent’ of the place after it’s closed up until the next set of visitors arrive.

Dinner was me again, then off out for a drive down a small road to see where it came out (on the Ascoli Piceno road, that’s where). A quick walk round Roccafortino (mean looking place with a long name, strong reminders of Bosnia in architecture and lack of wealth). We also went for an explore by car, and ended up in a lane so narrow there was barely room to reverse out of it, let alone turn the car round. Home again, just in time to finish off photographing the outside of the house in ‘blue hour’ with the lights on and shutters open for that warm, homely look. The sky obliged nicely with some interesting clouds and a graduated glow behind the building.

Tomorrow we plan a trip to the coast – Podesa is the nearest seaside town, and comes recommended by our hosts, so that’s where we’ll head. If it works out that way. ;-)

*I often work on a Sunday, like anyone else who 'does stuff' in church. Sunday is inherently a day of work, and has been for decades.

**Subsequent information is that houses in that region don't get a conventional damp-proof course because when there's an earthquake the house simply shears along the damp course and falls down. A damp ground floor is all part of the bargain, just like our livingroom.