Saturday, March 25, 2006


Kev F Draws The Crowds

Just returned from "Kev F Draws The Crowds" at Bracknell's South Hill Park. I had decided to take the family along because I knew of Kev Sutherland from his time organising the Bristol Comics Fairs. I wanted to see what he was like outside the stressful organiser role and also off the Internet (as no-one is really like their on-line persona).

The overall feel was of a sharing platter at a restaurant where they put in something from all the other starters - each tasty in their own way but not always perfect partners and never enough! 

So you have Kev on stage telling us some stories, then armed with a flip chart and marker pen showing us how easy it is to draw cartoons, and not forgetting his metamorphosis into the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre performing King Lear in five minutes.

His stand-up today was modified to take into account the fact that half the 40 people in the audience were Beano target audience age. That's fine - I don't see much of a need for swearing in comedy anyway - there aren't too many classic punch lines with "Feck" in them, for example. He was definitely good with the kids and it was amusing to hear the suggestions they come out with. Their focus is very much on self or school and it was interesting to see how they were thinking.

At the end, Kev delivers on the show's titles and drew a caricature of everybody that turned up. I think Samantha's is spot on - the slightly sleepy eyelids give her face a relaxed look and the lips are the right size. Kev has Sue's eyes done really well with a sort of focused stare. I'm not too sure about mine as I can't see anything that jumps out as "me" but then I don't get to see my face as much as Sue's and Samantha's.



This is True

For many years I have been receiving free "Quirky" news clips from Randy Cassingham. There is a Premium service (more of the same for US$24 per annum) but if I can get half the fun for free...

I thought I'd carry an advert for him to drive more readers his way. He already has "more than 120,000 readers in over 200 countries" so you'll be in good company.

Unfortunately I can't use scripting in my Blog so the story won't update every day with a new story so here's a static ad:

This is True®

by Randy Cassingham

Stories from Our Archives ©1994-2004

Jailhouse, Sweet Jailhouse
In August, a dozen inmates in a Danish prison escaped when a bulldozer cut through the security perimeter. But one of the escapees, Kim Steven Kyed, 27, apparently didn’t enjoy life on the outside: he recently showed up at the prison gates and asked to be let back in. At the time of the breakout, a number of inmates were enjoying an outdoor steak picnic, and didn’t even bother to attempt escaping. (Reuters) ...He left before dessert, and just couldn’t get it out of his mind.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006


Rubbish on the pitch

Sadly today's Reading v Wolves League fixture is unlikely to be repeated for a while as Reading will be in the Premiership next season. Wolves in 2005/6 have been very disappointing - pretty par for the course, really. The expectation amongst many Wolves fans is that the club should be able to reach the top tier and stay there. The fan base is large enough - the ground capacity of 28,525 is comparable to Bolton, Birmingham, West Brom and Wigan while both Fulham and Portsmouth hold less than 20,000. The Hayward years, though, are becoming a nightmare. Sir Jack bought his toy way back in 1990 about a month before his 67 birthday and has ensured the club has failed to succeed so many times. First he did nothing which meant middle-table obscurity for three seasons. Then twelve seasons of fiddling - "spending" money, not spending money and sacking managers:

None of the seasons have seen a really solid push for promotion, unlike Reading this time round. Even when Wolves were promoted, we weren't champion material and once we were in the Premiership no money was spent to ensure we stayed there. So, the best photo I took during the match was this one - self-explanatory:

Monday, March 13, 2006

Here's a rare shot as I'm usually the person taking the photos so there are very few of me. Marvellous things, cameras with timers. This is us waiting at the departure gate for the BA/Iberia flight back to ice-bound England. Sammy's sunburn shows up better now - mine seemed to go from red to pink overnight and looks well on the way to recovery.


Gran Via Grafitti

From the bus back to the airport we managed to see quite a few works of art - some official, such as the "Woman and Bird" sculpture near Parc Joan Miro...

and some not-so-official...


Gorgeous Mountains

On the morning that we had to leave, the sun came out and melted the snow away from around the hotel and shops. The sound of running water was starting to drive me crazy. If it's raining then the water stops with the rain; but when snow starts melting, the water pours from rooves, guttering, pipes without pause (nowhere near as annoying as aluminium masts, though).

Determining what mountains I was photographing was initially a problem but the terrain feature in Google Earth means I can create a 3D representation of the valley which I can then tilt until my point-of-view is looking down the valley just like the camera I used. These (below) are the peaks further up the valley from our hotel - Basses del Ruf and Estanys Forcats.

The next photo shows (I assume) how they have invested in avalanche protection. As you can imagine, this steep groove between the two peaks must make a perfect route for the snow on the peak at the back to slip down. Note the lack of trees... At the bottom of the photo is a white strip of snow. This is actually a concrete Toblerone bar 30 metres thick and 300 metres long which fits right across the valley bottom. I think this is an obstacle that stops avalanches flattening our hotel and neighbouring buildings.

Off in the distance are more lovely, snow-covered peaks (Estany de la Nou and Basses Roges, 13km to the SE of Arinsal and almost over the border into Spain).

Friday, March 10, 2006


Ancient and Modern

In the foreground, an olive grove, symbol of the Mediterranean for centuries; on the hill, a windfarm, icon for alternative energy sources of the 21st century.


We are cruising at an altitude of 20,000 feet and out of the starboard window you will see...

It wasn't until I downloaded the photo to my PC and had a good look that I realised what piece of coastline we were flying over. It's Hayling and Portsea Islands (Portsmouth to you) as seen from above Selsey Bill. If you use the tilt function in Google Earth, you can match up the photo with the satellite shots to get a rough height of 20,000 feet. I love Google Earth - I'm so glad they don't charge for the basic product.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Snowboard level D

Samantha has been complaining for ages that she is waiting for me to catch up so that she can take her level E lesson. Level E is 1:1 (no group tuition) but that's £50 so we will get them to do 1:2 to get the costs down. So I had to complete my level D and thought it would be a good idea to get it out of the way before our 'boarding break in Andorra. Tiff (pink trousers, yellow top in the photos) was my instructor (as usual) - I remember that for one for my first "C" lesson she was shadowing my instructor as part of HER training. Then she was instructor for my next lessons. She has the sort of job that Samantha would like to like to do - work her way up from kit room slave to slope tutor.

Thanks to Sue and Sam for sitting through the lesson and taking the photos

I would like to point out that I was happily stationary on the slope when some lump of a 'boarder slid down the slope into me.

Those plastic slopes certainly make your boots dusty.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Your name's not down, you're not coming in

With a "thou shalt not pass" approach, I've put grills over the airbricks into the house to prevent mice getting in through them. I know they can as I've seen them do it before, many years ago at my parent's old house.

The job doesn't look too bad - folded in edges to minimise the sharp snags and screwed into the bricks. No doubt it will quickly rust and look terrible but hopefully it will have been worth it. Just need the number of mice appearing in the traps to drop off now.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Lovely building colours

One thing I really love about the southern European countries is their use of colours in brightening up towns. The pastel shades of yellow, peach and red contrast so much with the drab colours in the UK.



Exploring the "Estufa Fria"

The greenhouses on the "Parque Eduardo VII" were very relaxing, especially after a hard morning working on the customer site. Only €1.50 - bargain. I wish I actually knew some botanical terms to make this post more informative than a photo shoot of random plants but never mind. Of course, if you recognise a plant then please comment.

The first section is the Cold Greenhouse where the slatted roof lets in air, water and warmth but cuts out the direct sunlight, except for those trees high enough to burst through it.

Not too many weird and wonderful plants here except for what I shall call the "Egyptian Boat Plant":

Still, a lovely place just to walk through and relax. In the early afternoon when I went, there were hardly any visitors - I must have seen about 10 people the whole time - which I think helped. In other similar places I have been to there have been vocal birds adding some background noise to the greenery. Although there were birds here, they seemed to be quietly huddling in grilled caves and not enjoying life. There were no signs around so I couldn't tell what the birds were or what they were doing there - maybe they were injured birds recovering in peace before being released?

The more exotic plants were in the glass greenhouse - I can imagine that this place gets really hot in the summer; in the winter (like such a season exists in Portugal) it was still quite comfortable. Here I saw some cacti and spikey plants that left me scratching my head. Take this one, for example, with the aeroplane wings that alternate at 90 degrees:

Or this lovely flower growing from a vicious spiked creation.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Lisbon late at night

I managed to procrastinate long enough that it wasn't until well past 9 that I ventured out into the night. The free guidebook I'd picked up at the airport indicated that there was a decent amount of history to walk round not too far away. I didn't realise how far I'd end up walking...

First stop was the Praça Marquês de Pombal (blogs passim) but the evening traffic was too light for me to really appreciate the terror that must be this 5-lane roundabout at rush hour.

Next a walk down the Avenida de Liberdade, which is the main avenue of the city. I was impressed how wide it was (over 300 feet) and, because it was still early on my trip, it being a mile long wasn't too much trouble. At the bottom was the Monument to the Heroes of the Great War (a tribute to the 50,000 Portuguese soldiers who fought in World War I).

One thing you notice on such a walk is that almost every piece of pavement is cobbled with small white stones, each a few centimetres across. It shows a lot of effort has gone into making the place look attractive, with occasional patterns of black stone to add variety. Although very nice, such flooring does have a few problems - any slopes (such as Rua Augusto dos Santos) are pretty slippery as the stones are so smooth; if a stone comes out, more soon follow and crippling pot-holes can quickly develop. But then people should always watch where they are going (unless they are blind when Lisbon may be a problem - I'm sure the pedestrian crossings, for example, were silent).

Next was the Praça Restauradores, a large square which commemorates the country's liberation from 60 years of Spanish rule in 1640 (big obelisk, vast areas of patterned cobbles - very impressive) which soon lead onto Rossion Square (properly called Praça Dom Pedro IV). Found a website with a lovely 360 view of the place - behind the fountain in my photo is the Teatro National Dona Maria II (not sure about the language of the graffiti):




This wasn't something I expected to see in Lisbon - a red letter box! I did wonder if it was an ex-UK box bought by Portugal for some gimmick.

Checking the Internet, though, I find that second-class mail (correio normal) goes in red boxes, just like in the UK. First-class mail (correio azul) is posted - as the Portuguese infers - in blue mailboxes.



Oh I do like to be beside the seaside...

Looking out of the hotel window I find that they've given me a sea view without me having to ask. That is so thoughtful of them:

Yes, that is the magnificent Atlantic Ocean just outside my window - you can almost feel the sea spray on your face.



Stroll in the park...

My hotel (and many others) is next to the Eduardo VII Park and it's really nice to have greenery to look at then just more buildings. Originally called Liberty Park, it was renamed in 1903 after the King of England who came to Lisbon to reaffirm the Anglo-Portuguese alliance (which dates back centuries to 1373).

Walking past it on the way back from the bank, I saw a strange wooded floor with some plants growing on it. After a little research, I found that the flooring was actually a huge planked roof to the Cold Greenhouse and the plants were trees growing through it! Must check it out tomorrow if there is time.

This view is from the top of the park (where looking down from in front of João Cutileiro's sculpture/fountain/thingy. Is that the world's easiest maze or the work of a mad topiarist? Half a mile away is the notorious Pombal Marquis Square (notorious from a traffic point-of-view, rather than the Marquis' reputation!). In the centre of this square rises the splendid monument to Pombal, the man who was in charge of Lisbon's reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake. Two miles away is the Lisbon shoreline and then four miles of ocean to Barreiro on the far side.



What a cold day

Well below average for the month (March is High 17°C and Low 9°C) so I'll just have to grin and bear it.



One of the best hotels I've been in

The Portuguese certainly know how to make lovely hotel rooms - check out this mini-bar at Le
Meridien Park Atlantic

And the bathroom even has a set of stylish scales - these reported 94.3kg (14 st 11.5 lbs) and so instantly get into my good books.

Next you can have a Japanese breakfast in the morning! Incredible!

All for just 28 Euros (£19).

I did a quick search to find out what these are and Natto looks like being really scary. I am tempted to order such a breakfast to make this business trip extra special.


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