What happens when you break down in France (10 things I learnt)

364-2012-08-16 16.13.08-thumb-300x251-363.jpgWhen you go on a family holiday and your car gets a longer holiday than you do, you just know something didn’t go to plan.

This year our camping trip to france had a little ‘incident’ that left me pushing my French skills to the limit, learning new words concerning vehicle parts, pleading with insurance companies and waiting, lots and lots and lots of waiting.

Still, it was a great holiday! Read on to discover what happened when we broke down and what we learnt.

Continue reading “What happens when you break down in France (10 things I learnt)”

Memories of Nan Root

Taking Nicola to swimming club tonight we were talking about memories of her Nan and that reminded me of my Nan. Two things immediately sprung to mind, the first was going to Nan’s for lunch.

She’d always lay on a huge spread of food, filling a table that to a 6 year old as as big as I was (so, I imagine, about 1.5m diameter?). It had fresh bloomer bread thick cut and spread with real butter (at home we had margarine so it was always a treat). New potatoes that always tasted unique (I later discovered, it was the salt. Nan always added lots of salt whereas mum didn’t, which is why it always tasted so different at Nan’s). Fine bone china bowls with pastel colour flower patterns spring to mind, though not in any detail. Runner beans and peas, fresh from Granddad’s flower bed. Happy days of childhood.

305-marsmilkbottle (Custom).jpgI then remembered the ‘Mars Milk’. I guess I was staying at Nan and Granddad’s for a weekend. We’d gone shopping and I asked if we could buy the ‘Mars Milk’. I didn’t understand what Nan was trying to tell me at the time, that the Mars chocolate bar was an advert for Mars and the milk was normal milk. I liked it enough to ask for it again though. Several years later, and Mars flavoured milk appeared on the supermarket shelves.

I don’t claim that any of the above is of interest to anyone but me, but the memories are wonderfully tasty in my mind.

Our Sydney holiday photo (after a little CGI…)

In June 2004 we went on holiday to Australia. The photos were shared on my web site, crafted hand coded pages in the days before I used movable-type to blog. One day, I may move them into the main blog but for now they still live in their own little folder at http://www.steveroot.co.uk/australia/. Amongst the requisite family holiday photos is an aerial photo of Sydney taken from a helicopter flight.

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This is ‘Deco by Night’, an image created by visual designer Albert Keifer. If you look really closely you can see our holiday picture in that image…. no I struggled too. The nice chap emailed a series of images to show me…

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So here’s our original holiday photo. The city of Sydney, it’s wide blue river, Opera House, distinctive bridge and some of the email Albert sent asking if he could use the image.

I am an illustrator, visualiser and I was approached yesterday to enter in this contest. I had the shape lying around and started working on rendering it from different angles and see how I could build an atmosphere. I was coming to a stage where I felt it needed some nice atmospheric background city to put this monumental shape in its correct feel of ‘being very big and aloft’.

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So I started a Google Image search on birds eye view and that’s how I came across your Sydney image. It immediately struck a chord and I went on to integrate it into the picture. I did not want recogniseable features since this is supposed to be a futuristich ‘somewhere’ place and a landmark building like the opera house would immediately distract from that and root it back to a well known place. That’s why I started to do a quick manipulation (which is also part of what I do for a living) and that’s how this image ended up the way it is now.

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I asked nicely if I could post it on my blog (OK, it’s taken almost 2 years for me to post, but I’ve finally got to it!) so he emailed me some of the interim images to show how the steps used to crate the image.
Click on the images to see them full size, you’ll probably need to do that to see the detail of the changes

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The first image is ‘the-beach’ which is used for the skyline and low sun.

The second image is ‘the-city-base-added’, click and see the full size image and you can see how it’s been flipped, cropped and laid on top of the first image.

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In the third image ‘city-remodeled’ you can see how Sydney has been transformed into a generic city, losing the landmarks of the harbour bridge and opera house.

Finally, the computer generated image of futuristic chrome petal shapes is the top layer.

Goodbye Alicia

Sad news.

My mother in law, Alicia, died on Tuesday morning at 4am from Cancer. She was 53.

The whole family were with her, we’d all travelled to the hospital in London to be there.

Robert Robertson, talented young singer

Continuing from previous writings, I went to the Alexandra Hotel bar in the evening to use their free wi-fi to catch up on things using my laptop. The only downside of the arrangement was having to drive there from the camp site – diet coke only for me!

When I got there I noticed the microphone and speaker setup in the corner and found out there was live music on that night. Decisions decisions…. should I stay or should I go? If the music was really loud or the bar became packed I wouldn’t be able to work. I stayed, very glad I did.

I really like live music. I’ve a musical taste that covers something from everything, I know what I like, I know what I don’t, and I rarely ever manage to remember the name of the songs being played, or the person performing them. I was a little nervous at first when the singer arrived. Clearly young, he turned out to be just 14, I had a feeling this was going to be a very amateur performance with a limited range of songs. It brought back memories of me as a young teenager going to events in a white school shirt and black school trousers. How wrong first impressions can be, this lad was superb!

I should expand on superb. To begin with he was playing an instrument I’m not a huge fan of, the accordion. Playing like a professional, singing well along side it. I could appreciate the talent of this young man by the end of the first song, just not my thing. Still, I could carry on typing on my laptop as it certainly wasn’t bad background music. Then the switch to guitar. I hadn’t even seen the guitar hidden in the corner. I much prefer a guitar with some good vocals and as soon as he started playing the work rate on my laptop slowed to a near halt. This was great music. He kept switching from according to guitar, then back again. Playing a range of songs and styles, with a strong flavour of Scottish songs. As the evening progresses he picked up a feel for the audience and managed to get people singing along. Fortunately you’ll be pleased to know I didn’t join in. Aside from the English accent I would introduce thus spoiling the atmosphere, I didn’t know the words.

I recorded one song on my camera phone. The phone doesn’t do any justice to the singer or the song, but if you recognise it maybe you can tell me the songs name. Yes, I recognise it, but as I said earlier I’m very bad at remembering the names of songs

Rotary and it's impact on our family holiday (part 1)

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I’m not writing this quite in chronological order. Now I’ve mentioned one club visit I’ll carry on and write about the other visits before returning to things like our club’s Charter Night. The observant reader (assuming there is a reader of my waffle) will have noticed the title is “Rotary and it’s impact on our family holiday (part1)”. Yes, even on holiday I ended up ‘rotarying’ (I’m sure that’s not a word but I’ll use it anyway).

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Our family holiday this year was based around 2 weeks of camping. Leaving mid week we drove to the Lake District and stayed in a camp site near Lake Windermere. (here come the holiday photos!) Having spent a few days there our next stop was Fort William, the Scotish town next to Ben Nevis. Rhonda walked up Ben Nevis with her parents when she was young and we decided to try walking it with our Children. James made it over half way much to our surprise and when he and Rhonda turned back Nicola and I continued to the summit. Nicola bouncing along as if it was just a small hill, me feeling every metre of gained height in my legs. I’m not as fit as I used to be.

While at Fort William I decided to look for a Rotary Club to see if I could join them in one of their meetings. It turned out the Rotary Club of Lochabber meet in Fort Williams’ Alexandra Hotel just a couple of miles away from our Camp Site. I sent an email to their contact the day before (I know, not a lot of notice!), confirmed the times and went to join them at their lunch time meeting.

Visiting this club became an important part of our family holiday – not just for me, the children were glad I went too. One of the tenets of Rotary is fellowship. Talking and getting to know people can create opportunities that wouldn’t exist without it. For the meal I was sitting on a table with a lady called Mairi. She turned out to be the curator of the West Highland Museum in Fort William. I’d only walked through the high street once before and I hadn’t noticed the museum (despite the huge banner across the pedestrian area). I hadn’t really considered visiting any Museums in the area. Being a small town I imagined a quite small museum with things of minor interest but not quite enough to spend any time in, especially with two hyperactive children in tow. As a result of meeting Mairi we decided to stay an extra day and visit the Museum. I’m so glad we did! We must of spent over 2 hours looking at all the exhibits squeezed into the building. Mairi was talking about plans for an extension over lunch and I can see why the museum needs it. Nicola and James enjoyed it too, Nicola deciding that she’s going to try and create a secret painting just like the one in the museum of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The secret painting is only visible when a reflective cylinder is placed in it’s middle. The image is viewed in the reflection.

There was another reason my family liked this meeting. They weren’t going to the meeting with me, the plan was for them to go swimming in the nearby council pool and for me to walk along and join them after the meeting. Unfortunately the pool was closed due to a strike so they came back to the hotel to leave a message for me. The hotel gave us a free pass to use the nearby Ben Nevis Leisure Club swimming pool instead so despite the strike they still went swimming. I also discovered they had free Wi-Fi internet in the hotel bar so returned that evening to catch up on emails. They had a great (and surprisingly young) singer that evening but more on that in the next post.

Back to Rotary, things I observed and learnt from this meeting:

  • The room was surrounded by pennants from other clubs. They were pinned to bigger backgrounds that looked as though they could be rolled up and stored between meetings.
  • I always find it interesting talking to people. At this meeting, aside from Mairi and the West Highland Museum, I also had interesting conversations with several other people. We (the family) almost went to a Highland Country Dancing evening that night which was covered in formal part of the meeting
  • . Despite being part of RIBI, the club is further away than the French club we (Canterbury Sunrise) are working on twinning with. Scotland is another country to England so perhaps this should count as my first international visit too 😉

Cooking with Nanny

Nicola enjoys cooking with Nanny Kathy. She asked if she could have her own show called “Cooking with Nanny” so I got to hold the camera while Nicola and Nanny cooked lamb and vegetables. To put it online for everyone to see (hello Auntie Sharon and Uncle Todd in Australia!) I converted it to DivX format and uploaded it to their video website “stage6“. I did look at uploading it to YouTube but they have a 10 minute limit.

Family trip to Dickens World.. hmmm

Yesterday Nicola and James’ school had a teacher training day, so the four of us drove to Chatham to visit the newly opened Dickens World. My summary: One visit is enough.

The boat ride had audio that couldn’t be heard (I’m assuming there was some meaning to it), and involved getting very wet. So wet that as we got out two members of staff were drying seats for the next person. The saving grace was they were handing out cheap plastic poncho’s, although they ran out after us so people later that day would have been using our wet ones. My impression would be the ride was designed by committee, the splash not big enough for thrill seekers, the other 10 minutes of floating not good enough to be of any interest (for entertainment or education).

Faggins Den is a children’s play area, I can imagine it was packed when the place was full but while we were there it was comfortably quiet. Unfortunately only half a dozen chairs for waiting adults (with what I would guess is a capacity of 50 chilldren) but good fun for the children for a half hour at least.

The haunted house was a projection system of Dickens ‘ghosts’, the characters in many of his stories. It did have some interesting commentary on how the characters had come about though. As our group moved from one screen to the next, we missed the cue to move on and missed half of one presentation.

The Olde Curiosity Shoppe, was the gift shop on the way out. The normal array of theme park souvenirs, more modern shop floor area with plenty of room to expand and not very much of curiosity value.

Dotheboys school was probably more fun if there was a member of staff on hand to control the room. We wandered in, played a game of snakes and ladders on the touch screen desks with the children (they had to answer questions about Dickens novels to go up the ladders or to prevent themselves going down the snakes). Nicola got bored after 5 minutes and went to look at the touch screen on the ‘teachers lectern’, little did we know that one controlled all the others and she stopped all the other players in mid game and restarted their screens – Sorry everyone!

The Britannia Theatre was probably the most informative bit. It’s a 3D glasses cinema screen and it gave a 10 minute run down of Dickens life and works. I didn’t know he’d travelled so far – travelling for months and years at a time across Europe and America. At bit different to travelling now, in the 1840’s the only way to travel to America was by steam ship – not a quick way of travel. Someone compared it to the 3D screens at Eurodisney and the like which have water, steam and vibrations. This is nothing compared to them, only the screen and no physical effects. I liked it, although I’d have liked it for it’s content without the 3D glasses which gave me a little eye strain (Yes, I know, I sound like an old man).

So, one trip with the children is enough for me. I’m glad I went but I (pun alert) won’t saying Please may I have some more (pun ends). Perhaps I had (another pun) too Great Expectations (how predictable was that pun!). The general decor, lighting, theme parkesque leaning buildings were all well done. There’s a large central plaza which I guess handles space for hour long queues, the odd fictitious shop front and creative themed sign – all well done. As for value for money, it cost us as a family of four 40. That’s OK I think, compared to Thorpe Park (88) it’s a shorter day so pretty comparable.

The children have asked to go back to the Canterbury Tales. It’s an attraction in a converted church in Canterbury. We haven’t been there for a few years so it will probably make an interesting contrast. Canterbury Tales is only 26 for a family, although that cost would have to be countered by running the gauntlet of shops with Rhonda. I guess the “Marks and Spencer” experience would double that ticket price….

I jest. Seriously, I’m still reading Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities”. I first started it at the school library in “H” Block as a young teenager. Now, half a time later I have it on my PDA and am a good way into it. I find it a hard style to read (harder still on a PDA screen) but the story itself is …. satisfying. Not sure I can describe my feelings fully. Sometimes heart breaking, sometimes fascinating (the description of leaving Dover by horse drawn carriage), hard work to read but satisfying.

So is it worth visiting Dickens World? Yes, but if you’re travelling a long way plan to visit the Chatham Historic Dockyard too.

I had an offer from a personal trainer to help my fitness training…

LogoGreat! I had an offer from a personal fitness trainer to help me get over my broken foot and fitter than I ever was before! Unfortunately Todd (www.thefitnesselement.com.au) is on the wrong side of the planet from me. For those that don’t read all of this blog on their visit (which is all of you) I ought to explain that Todd is my brother in law. Aussie born and bred, it’s no surprise when he and my sister married they decided to live on the Sunshine coast rather than “rainy but mild Boughton under Blean”. Todd is a fitness trainer and has told me just 5 minutes a day in the sun will help my body process vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body carry calcium around the body which in turn will help my foot heal and prevent osteoo….. something or other. Yeah, I’ll leave the technical bits to the expert and stick with elevating my foot in front of the double glazing.

Unfortunately he’s only a personal fitness trainer. While my sister views him like a god (and I have to admit his body is far better toned than mine), the weather systems don’t view him as a god so he can’t help the rays of sunshine get through the UK’s overcast cloudy days.

I have a feeling there will be a training plan in my email box as soon as this plaster cast comes off…. I wonder if will include any running? 😉

Holiday time, Foray en France

i-546af51bd098a01e3e17bfbc2dacfb10-princessnicola.jpgI write this post in EuroDisney’s Seqoia Lodge, Laptop on lap, beer on table. Ahh, Bliss!

It’s been a good holiday so far and I’ve begun writing this on the first night of our stay in EuroDisney. WiFi is slowly covering the world, so I have been able to write this from the bar on my laptop. 10 for 2 hours is not unreasonable I think, though the man in the shop said “C’est trop cher!” (It’s very expensive, though I probably spelt the French words wrong) when I asked how much it cost. The best news – no frightening emails in my in box, no server security alerts, no RAID hard disks failed. It looks like the computers at work are behaving themselves.

I already knew there was nothing major to worry about at work (I had to call in after a week to check my phone was working as no one had called with any questions) so it looks like the business plan is being accomplished (“Aim 1. The business should be able to run day to day without me being there”). Yes, I’m still a key person as the computer set up still isn’t perfect, but perfection (think Homer Simpson is to Donuts as Steve is to 5,000+ Uber Server) would cost lots of money and still need someone to handle our suppliers data and manipulate it into our system. For the moment, it is far better for me to run the computer system than outsource/employ someone else to do it.

So, observations on France;
We started in the south of France at a place called Vias Plage, booked with Homair Vacance at a campsite called “Les Flots Bleu“. The cost was great, my old French A level was sufficient to handle the fact the site manager spoke only French. Wwe were the only English people there (at least with Homair). Fortunately, there were still the camp site’s staff who spoke good English. We had looked at other companies, but Homair were by far the cheapest and I think it is because they handle mainly more local French customers. The site itself had a nice swimming pool and a small private beech but lacked any water sports provision. I had thought that we would be able to walk further along the beech to find windsurfer hire and so on, but the campsite was bordered by a river on one side and a rocky shore to the other. Still, we had fun.

We visited Montpellier and had a wonder round the old town. Also Cap D’Agde. I always remember Cap D’Agde from a wallet some Welsh friends of our bought as a present when I was growing up. They used to go there every year. I didn’t realize it was such a new ‘resort’, built up mainly since 1970 and a mixture of large sandy beaches, mid rise (up to 4 storey) hotels, a large port and an area of private holiday homes. Just 25,000 live there in winter, 200,000 in summer! (amazing the useless facts that stick in my mind). Rhonda took the opportunity to go diving at Cap D’Agde too (just realised, I don’t think I told the world that my wife Recently passed her PADI open water divers qualification). If we ever go back I think I’d like to hire a boat for day or too, but alas we ran out of time and had to drive North to EuroDisney.

The first part of the holiday can also be summarised by two observations:
1) The French society have a serious smoking problem. Even teenagers were frequently smoking. It made me realise just how far Britain has come in it’s anti smoking campaigns. Even at school I never saw as many teenagers smoking as I did around the camp sites and bars of France.
2) My French isn’t so bad, but it’s not so good. I can ask for many things automatically, ask for a table at a restaurant, order a WiFi Card even, but if the response is not quite the words I am expecting I am quickly lost. I don’t think my accent is that good either (being that a 7 year old girl corrected my pronunciation of “Anglais” from ‘onglay’ to ‘onglaze’).

Coming to EuroDisney also changed that 2nd experience. They almost all speak very good English, so although they seem to appreciate my trying to speak in French as soon as their computer shows my name and nationality the immediately revert to a very clear English, allowing my french to get completely mixed up into a type of Franglais in replies of “Oui, yes” and so on.

i-584264ca52b45a9ac7ab9f522b5aadef-lastmile.jpgWe almost got caught out on the way down by a lack of petrol stations. For most of the journey there were petrol stations every 50Km or so and as the Modeo says how many Km worth of fuel you have it was easy to know when to stop. Except for one section in the mountains where there were no petrol stations for 120Km or so. When we finally reached the next petrol station the dashboard told us just how close we had been.

The holiday was a lot of fun.