Saturday, May 27, 2006


Maycon 2006

Had a good time at Maycon down the road near Heathrow. Basically yet another board-game and free-form con for the people who turned up to such events as FurryCon (in the 90s) and more recently Consummation. Over two days we managed to cram in "Roborally", "Take It Easy!", "Loopin' Louie", "6 Nimmt!", "Tarantella", a clockwork zombie game (which I managed to pour a small jug of vinegar over), "Ticket to Ride (USA)" and several others that I can't quite remember now.

In this action-packed shot my poor droid is getting hammered (and burnt and lasered...) in Roborally. This is a great planning game where everything usually goes wrong. You have to program your robot with its next 5 moves and head off for the next checkpoint. Unfortunately everyone else is doing the same and usually are in your way, which means they often bump into you. This results in your carefully thought out (and often danced out...) 5-step program getting screwed and your robot ending up in the firepit. It's also funny game to watch as players move their bodies through the motions of Left-Left-Forward 2-Right-About Turn to make sure their robot is actually going to avoid the lasers and end up facing the right way. £30+ new.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Car park owners are getting sneaky

The practice of drivers passing parking stickers with time left on them to other people was obviously irking them no end. To get round it, they have introduced machines that either need you to type in the numeric part or all of your registration number so the inspector can confirm the car has been paid for.


Ffestiniog Power Station

Here's what you could have won! (according to "Beautiful North Wales")

"Experience the power of hydro-electricity at Edison Mission Energy`s Hydro Centre in Ffestiniog. Enjoy underground tours, an interactive visitor centre or a hair-raising drive up to Stwlan Dam on one of Snowdonia`s highest roads."

Unfortunately the portacabins nearby housing the visitor's centre were closed despite it only being mid-afternoon. Looking on First Hydro's website, there's no visitor centre listed. Further Googling brings up the Gwynedd Council website (from where the text above was obviously taken) and the fact the HydroCentre is only open June-October for random tourists. Pah.

So we looked at the interesting building and the placid reservoir for a while before continuing our adventure to Reading.

[[And the lesson for our Welsh language students: Stwlan is pronounced Stulan. The "w" is spoken as a short oo as in pull; a longer sound, like the oo in fool, would be shown by "ŵ"]]


I would love to know where this goes...

although it is bound to be somewhere boring and dull.

Also, I'd love to know HOW you can get up it.

((The cave mouth would be just above the Ffestiniog railway, overlooking Tan-y-Grisiau Reservoir))


Lechwedd Slate Caverns

The thought of returning to the Lechwedd slate mine at Blenau Ffestiniog brought back memories of the gamers-on-tour trip in 1982. I think I had barely turned 18 and was invited to see the world (or Wales, as it was known then) in the company of Craig Cartmell (who's family owned the cottage in Dolgellau where we stayed), Jim Tolley, Mark Byng and Ian Notter. I remember that the Deep Mine Tour included an underground cavern with a large lake where, if you make Gollum noises long enough, Mark Byng will beat you most severely with his guide book. Ah, happy days of youth. Sadly I was unable to relive those memories ...

The Tramway Tour was educational but disappointingly short. The exhibits are starting to show their age - the mannequins especially could do with being replaced. I had the feeling that they hadn't invested in anything non-essential (i.e. not safety-related) for quite a while. The tourist award certificates on display looked very old and faded. On the plus side, the guide book was current as it mentioned the recent absorption of the Royal Welch Fusiliers into the new Royal Welsh Regiment.

When I was young, my parents had the slate tiles on the roof replaced with new rugged, interlocking factory-moulded clay ones. I always found it weird that you used to nail sheets of slate to your roof to keep out the rain. Just seemed so primitive, easy to break and definitely slippery when wet! Admittedly, slippery slate roofs could be a boon if you wanted to deter burglars (although what a burglar would be doing on the roof of a terraced house when they should be going in through the window...) but a real bugger when you needed to fix the TV aerial. Anyway, here's how it's done:

As with any trade, there's always an interesting collection of names for what you make. Here various slate sizes (in inches) are named after positions within the nobility and royalty (and still in use). Although the sizes are standard but come in flavours - for example, a "Duchess" (not shown) is 24"x12" but a "Wide Duchess" is 2 inches wider and a "Small Duchess" is 2 inches shorter (which makes it 1 inch wider than a "Marchioness"!)

There are some seriously large tiles there - 32x26 is huge for something that goes on your roof.

Little snippets of information like the following really bring home how complicated the world can be. You're standing in a mine where everything is so simple - generations of men doing the same job, day after day, year after year, shifting sheets of rock to the surface and off to the docks. And then one day your world is turned upside-down by what some politicians many miles away in Germany decide to do.

Something that was very difficult to come to terms with was the sheer volume of scrap slate that had to be taken to the surface and dumped, or was generated as part of the finishing process for the sheets. You don't get to see how many caverns there are underground, or how big they are, but just looking around at the landscape gives you an idea. If I remember the tour guide right, every tonne of usable slate meant 16 tonnes of rubble (slate and chert).


Sunday, May 21, 2006



An aspect of shops that I find intriguing and miss when it's not there is traditional signs, such as the red/white striped barber's pole. I've noticed (in Reading, at least) that Pawnbrokers have no balls any more so was delighted to see some golden spheres in Rhyl. For extra value, the financial operations seem to be within what must have been a church at some time. Oh, the irony of it is delicious.


Mountain Zoo

It's raining on a Sunday afternoon - it must be time to go to the zoo! The Welsh Mountain Zoo is high above Colwyn Bay (and therefore nearer the rain clouds). Despite it being the weekend, the place was not overrun with people which meant you could have as much time to watch the animals as you wanted without people getting in your way.

After lunch in their restaurant we set out to make as much of the remaining hours as we could.

The Chimp encounter was worth a visit. Inside there is a small auditorium for the visitors where they can watch a number of chimps through big windows. During the session, a pair of animatronics (professor and chimp) discuss what you need to know about these apes. Usually part of the show is where the chimps use sticks to find ants in anthills to eat (or 'jam' in reality) but the keeper explained that as it was raining he didn't think it would be easy for him to shoo the chimps out so he could load up the anthills. I took some video footage of one of the chimps as it seemed perfect for money-for-funny-tapes shows - she was getting someone in the front row to keep raising and lowering their umbrella. Up went the finger, up went the brolley; down went the finger, down went the brolley; repeat over and over again. The humans certainly kept going longer than I expected but not as long as the chimp required. Must dump the tape to a file so I can put it on the blog...

Next was the really sweet Penguin Parade where a horde of small Humboldt Penguins - or a class of prep school children in disguise, difficult to tell - waddled behind a keeper with a magic bucket of fish. They really did look lovely.

The Californian Sealions were just along the path from Pingu and pals where we learned how difficult it is to train them. Most impressive was how well the keeper with the head microphone was doing - it was pouring with rain and she couldn't wear a hood because of the noise it would make. We all had umbrellas and the sealions didn't seem to care.

And now some photos:

One of the problems with making zoos interesting is that a wet horse standing in the rain in a soggy field is not a huge hit with the kids.

And don't get me started on the "synchronised staring" event we stumbled upon.

Here's a novel idea. Flamingos are used to living in vast flocks so the zoo has built a curved mirror so that - just like in mirror-walled restaurants with inferiority complexes - there seem to be a lot more of everybody.

Another highlight of the day was watching the snakes getting fed. Some of the reptiles were not in the slightest bit interested in a dead mouse being waved in front of its nose whilst others were definitely up for a light snack - or keeper's hand, whichever came first. The snake attacks on the swinging did seem a bit hit-and-miss. I could imagine that in the wild they probably had to go through quite a few failed lunges to get a decent meal. Nothing like on the TV where snakes are unerring killers.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Snowboarding in Llandudno

As you can see from the picture, the artificial ski slope at Llandudno is much more picturesque than our local at Bracknell.

The slope, though, still uses Dendix (the unpopular stiff brush style) instead of Permasnow (John Nike's "Velcro" matting). I'd never snowboarded on Dendix before and it was pretty weird, especially when you travelled over the join between two large sheets which felt like yards of tiny speedbumps. It was difficult to see where you were going with your eyeballs bouncing up and down!

Also not visible is the wildlife that lives on the slopes. The grid of brushes meant that a whole range of debris collected on the slope - soil, grass, sheep and rabbit droppings - which gave you an incentive not to fall over.


Llanwrst - Home Front Experience

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Maybe I could work here...

The new business park where Microsoft Ibérica is based looks very modern and stylish - large black-glass buildings, paved pathways through neat rows of olive trees, posh restaurants for taking lunch, taxi ranks and even a Starbucks. The Microsoft Limited site is nice enough with its greenery but Thames Valley Park pales in comparison to the people-focus of  the Paseo del Club Deportivo.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Eating out in Madrid

The Spanish certainly know how to dine out! The Restaurante Bolivar is a nice place on the Calle de Manuela Malasaña near central Madrid. The price for our party was ridiculously low (equivalent to £20 ahead?) considering the number of courses and that the bottles of wine were included. There was also an endless supply of bread rolls! No scrimping here - UK restaurants, take note.


Thursday, May 11, 2006


"Once again we're flying colours"

Now that the home shirts have been slashed in the sale to £20 (an amount I'd much rather spend), I'm thinking of getting one but with a name across the back (a little indulgence). Problem is,  what should I have written there?
  • BREAKWELL (bit obvious)
  • MSWOLF (too corporate?)
  • GREENGOBLIN (too silly?)

Any suggestions? Maximum of 16 characters (only A-Z and no punctuation - it is aimed at football fans).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


I'm an SMF...

Wahoo! Twisted Sister 30th Anniversary Tour hits London on June 27th and I've just got my ticket. £25 for the ticket, £3.75 admin fee and £4.95 secure postage. £33.70. Ouch.

Should be a great concert (supported by Hanoi Rocks and Electric Eel Shock) and I hope Dee's voice is up to it - in February he had surgery to remove a non-cancerous vocal cord polyp. I'd rather he cancelled than go on stage without being able to really deliver.


Starslip Crisis

Sci-Fi Humor Comics Daily

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Looks like I'm getting old

I was impressed (and a little shocked) to see that the knocks I received at football last Thursday had a very colourful effect on my leg. Most of the skin protected by the shin pad now shows as purple due to burst blood vessels! Eek!

(webcam image)

Saturday, May 06, 2006


Helen's 40th Birthday

We were lucky enough to be invited to the 40th birthday celebrations for Helen. Sue knows Helen from way back when she was at University studying for her degree and I know her from when she subsequently lodged with us in our new home for a while. She did a marvellous job of putting in flooring in our loft at the time!

The food at the is really good although the staff can be a bit random. Anyway, here's Helen and friends (yes, I know, she doesn't LOOK 40).

 HelenHelenHelen and LynSue and John

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Back to football

After 6 months I've restarted going to the lunchtime kickabout down by the Thames. Not surprisingly, I'm not match fit but then that was never a description often applied to me when I used to play every week.

The game had a great turnout - must have been around 16 people - and I managed to be on the winning side (4-1 to the yellow and blue team). We did manage one man from each team in the Thames to retrieve drifting balls - very brave people. Normally the ball doesn't go in at all and we didn't have a spare so somebody had to get wet to make sure we had a full game.
I managed to avoid injury until the end when a I received a boot right across the top of the shin-pad. Typical.

(Webcam shot)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006



I put the car in to be valeted this morning. To be accurate, I gave money and car keys to reception. The people who run the valeting service in the underground car park collect your car from wherever it is above ground. They're not too great on the communication side of things so I wasn't 100% sure the car would be cleaned today - my booking wasn't on their whiteboard after I'd talked to the guy last week. So, a few hours later, I decided to have a look out the window at my car. I realised that from 3 floors up I wouldn't be able to see if it had been cleaned - even my wife can't get the car THAT dirty - but as I watched the car reversed out!

Monday, May 01, 2006



When Samantha was growing up I took her to the local pool reasonably often. After a while I took the lazy way out and signed her up for swimming lessons so I didn't have to bother getting in the pool - I could instead read newspapers in the viewing room and collect her when she'd finished. Not always easy to get a window seat as they usually went early to chatting mothers.
Samantha is still working up through the classes (although the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease has given her pause for thought) so I haven't really been swimming for quite a while. Apart from the occasional Centerparcs break or when I tried to smash my coccyx in Finland, I haven't been in a swimming pool for years.
For Mayday we let Samantha choose what to do so off we went to Bracknell Leisure Centre and a tough 90 minutes in the pool. I thought that cycling to work meant I used my leg muscles regularly but I was soon to discover how wrong I was. After about 20m of racing down the the pool meant my upper arms and lower legs were burning and cramping respectively. How am I supposed to keep up my Fast Show "Competitive Dad" persona if I can't outstrip my 15-year old daughter?
So we'll all be back (even Sue) in a few weeks for another session of finding which other muscles we haven't been using recently.

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