Tuesday, 21 August 2012


I have fast Wifi at home because I live a short distance from the telephone exchange.

I benefit from good 3G and phone reception coverage because I live in a large town.

I couldn't live on the shores of Loch Achray because, as a location, it benefits from none of these things.

On much of the literature for local attractions there was the encouragement to "follow on Twitter", "like on Facebook" or "download our app."   The most ironic of these was the "Scotland" app: the app for tourists.  In the weak 3G signal available in the nearest town I found the app and clicked to install.  An error message told me I needed to download the app via Wifi.  I waited until I returned to base and the weak Wifi on site.  I tried again via Wifi which was laughable as the Wifi here is slower than the worst 3G signal.  I've been in Scotland for a fortnight and will only be able to download the app when I get back home, in Essex.

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Ironically even if I had been able to download the app at home before coming on holiday I might not have been able to use it.  I've seen a lot of Olympics coverage promoting the Olympics app which I was able to download over the pitifully slow local Wifi.  The trouble is that this app requires a 3G signal or Wifi in order to update with news.  Without 3G it is useless.


Sunday, 19 August 2012

Police vs Facebook

The weather was hotter than hot and Dave chose to go for a bike ride.  He overdid it and came home with legs of jelly and a couple of other things too: a passport and a pair of sunglasses.

He found these in woods near Shenfield Common and that's a strange place to find a passport.  He looked around for a body because you never know.  (He didn't find one.)

When he got home we discussed what to do with the passport.

In "the old days" you'd take it to the police station, but these days that's less of an option.  The police station isn't always open, in fact I don't know what the opening hours are so I don't bother to try and hand anything in anymore.  Even if I were to look up the opening times I can guarantee there won't be any parking space near the station so the incentive to "bother" is small.  The last thing that I found was a beautiful silver earring.  I drove round to the police station four times before I gave up.  The earring is now somewhere in Dagenham because I left it in my car and it was still in the car when it was returned to the Ford Car Conditioning Centre in Dagenham.  They called me to tell me I'd left an earring in the car and I said they could keep it.  Somebody, somewhere, has lost an earring.  My only consolation when I think about my inability to reunite her with the earring is that she will have experienced the same trouble I did trying to visit the police station so she will have probably given up too.

In a passport there are no contact details for the passport holder.  There is a space for emergency contact details but this isn't always completed.  In our discovered passport there were emergency contact details but just a first name and an address.  This could have been an ex-girlfriend so we decided it would be wrong to pop round an hand over the passport, especially as the passport holder was quite young and likely to have young friends who might change address regularly.

We looked for our passport holder in the phone book but this contains the billpayer's details and only BT customers who aren't ex-directory. It's a lot slimmer than the phone book I remember from childhood too.

I thought it might be worth checking Facebook.  We did a search and found someone with the same name and date of birth.  Bizarrely we had a mutual friend.  I sent a Facebook message and, as a result, he will be collecting his passport and sunglasses tomorrow.  Good job too as he goes on holiday in a fortnight.

Police 0, Facebook 1.


Are breasts a barrier?

We've just witnessed the spectacle that was the Olympics and we are soon to enjoy the Paralympics.

There's one thing I noticed about all female competitors; they don't have breasts of significance.

Can you think of any female Olympian with a cup size bigger than B?

If one is genetically endowed with the average British breast size of 36D then is the top of the sporting tree inaccessible?

Maybe women considering breast implants should be encouraged to consider taking up a sport instead.  Just a thought.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Scrummy fudge recipe

Fudge is, I think, an expensive thing.  It always seems to cost an amount out of proportion to the humble ingredients of milk, condensed milk, sugar and butter.
The last time I made fudge I think I was about 16 years old.  I was in Rachel Thomas's kitchen and I think it was the summer holidays after 'O' Levels.  I know that recipe used skimmed milk powder and I would love to find that recipe but I fear it might be lost forever.  It seemed so easy.
I promised Hannah that we would make some fudge and found a random recipe on the web.  Most recipes recommended using a sugar thermometer so I bought this.
It's a thermospatula (rubbish name but does what it says on the tin) and you can buy from Lakeland.
You can make fudge without a thermometer but if you get it wrong there's a lot of wasted time, effort and ingredients.
  • 400g tin of condensed milk (we used Carnation Light)
  • 450g brown sugar (we used light brown sugar)
  • 150ml milk (we used skimmed)
  • 115g butter (we used unsalted)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence (optional and can be substituted with other flavours)
  • Grease and line something roughly 20cm square.
  • Heat together the milk, butter and sugar over a low heat in a non stick saucepan for 10-15 minutes.  After this time your bubbling mixture should have reached 115°C and, as the thermometer will show, it is scaldingly hot and needs to be treated with great care.
  • If you don't have a thermometer then you will have to test your mixture to see if it has been cooked enough.  This is done by spooning a small amount of the mixture into a cup of cold water.  If it retains its shape then it is ready.  If it just sinks and becomes a blob in the bottom of the cup then it isn't ready.
  • Add the vanilla or your choice of flavour and beat for ten minutes until it becomes thick and grainy.  I cheated and put the fudge in the Kenwood and let it take the strain.  If you are going to use a mixer then just be sure you aren't going to spray the scolding mixture anywhere near anyone.
  • Ten minutes in the Kenwood is far more effective than ten minutes of beating by hand and by the time I went back to my fudge it was quite thick and stiff but scrapable.  Whether your fudge is scrapable or pourable, transfer it to the prepared container to cool.
  • Cool it at room temperature and not in the fridge.
  • Once cooled cut or break ready to scoff or share.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Did you know?

We were watching the Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics as a family.

Dave asked Hannah and Ethan what the motto of the Olympics was.

I didn't know the answer but the answer Dave was looking for was Faster, Higher, Stronger.

Ethan replied "Sittius, Altius, Fortius." He's eight.  How does he know this?

He also happened to know about Bob Beamon's long jump record which had been held for 23 years and a whole host of other records which I can't remember.

I'm starting to think my primary school was rubbish.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Chucking rocks

This morning we went for a bike ride around Loch Katrine.  Well I say around, but we have different fitness abilities in our family group so we hired bikes for a couple of hours, cycled for an hour, around part of the Loch, then turned around and headed back.

The Loch was beautiful and I'm pretty sure we'll be going back for a two hour trip on the Sir Walter Scott steamer boat.

At one of the points on our route we stopped.  It was a small beach at the side of the Loch and Ethan and Dave couldn't resist chucking stones in the water tempting Hannah to join them.  I, meanwhile, tried to take arty shots with my phone.

IMG 4655

I've never really understood the need to throw stones into any mass of water.  I can understand the skill involved in skimming flat pebbles on water and I can appreciate the sport of aiming stones at a target in water but just mindlessly chucking rocks in water leaves me cold.

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Sunday, 12 August 2012

Monopoly and the Eurozone crisis

As the children entered our holiday apartment they ran from room to room deciding who would have which bed and sussing out where the entertainment was.

In the lounge there was a game of Monopoly and, before bags were unpacked, Monopoly was unpacked and a game commenced.

Four days later and the game is still being played.  Houses have been bought which makes the game a little more interesting.  Normally the purchase of houses means the game is close to its end but not here.

Hannah landed on a property with a couple of houses and she had already mortgaged some of her properties.  The rent demand was high and would have taken her close to bankruptcy.  If Hannah was bankrupt then the game would be over.  This is something that was playing on Ethan's mind because I heard him say "Because of the recent Eurozone crisis the rent is reduced to M720."

Ethan's generosity meant Hannah wasn't bankrupt and the game could continue.

Since this first Eurozone crisis moment I've heard the same phrase quite a lot with Ethan and Hannah both offering a discount to the other, although Hannah was generally in need more then Ethan.  But there's been a change and they've both agreed that come August 1st the Eurozone crisis will be over.  Clearly I'm delighted.




Saturday, 11 August 2012

Boys will be boys

Arthur, resident expert on the local area, took Hannah and Ethan (and their hanger-on parents) out to the Lochside for a lesson in bushcraft.

We found sorrel, wood sorrel and tasted them; sorrel has a lemony taste and wood sorrel tastes like Bramley apple.  We learned how to grasp a nettle without it stinging (although we have yet to do this successfully) and learned that they can be eaten too.  We were taught how to use a rush to make a wick for a lamp as well as how to make a simple shelter and start a fire.  We used a fire steel and beech bark but also saw the method that relies on friction generated between two pieces of wood.

Once the lesson was over we made our way back to Tigh Mor, our temporary home.

Ethan had been behaving for a whole hour and, once the lesson was over, he decided to go a little mad.  He ran through some tall grass that, in places, was taller than him.

We were all heading back to the house and we had lost Ethan; we simply couldn't see him in the grass.  As I called to him to tell him we would head back without him, he emerged from the grass.  He didn't look good.

His arms had been scratched and stung and, in all of these places, his arm had local swelling that looked like an allergic reaction.  I looked at his eyes and they were watering and he was sneezing profusely.

Ethan suffers from hay fever and had just done the most stupid thing a hay fever sufferer could do, deliberately agitate grass and get as close to it as possible.

We gave him a hay fever tablet, a good talking to, a shower and tucked him up in bed.  When he woke up the next morning he couldn't open his eyes and his face was still swollen.  I think he might have learned his lesson but maybe not.  He is a boy after all.


Friday, 10 August 2012

Toe in the … mud

Whenever a walk starts you will find the walkers avoiding puddles and mud.
As the terrain increases in puddles and mud that are unavoidable you will find the hiker accepts that footwear will be getting wet and muddy.
As the walker's footwear becomes soaked and caked in mud the walker will only avoid terrain that is likely to worsen the muddy or wet state of the boots or shoes.
This is of course unless the person concerned is a child, for they are completely oblivious and simply don't care about the state of clothing or footwear.  As witness Ethan, waiting on a rock after discovering that the mud he was stepping on, was as deep as his knee, and he was more stepping into, rather than onto, the mud.
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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Being out of touch

There is an upside to being out of touch.  Without texts, calls and regular requests to the 3G network for data, when the evening arrives I still have over 50% of the iPhone battery charge intact.

As to the plan to overcome the isolation, there wasn't one unless you count "trying to come to terms with it."

I didn't go to the pathetic Wifi area every night but I did check in sometimes.  I also took advantage of any drives/walks that took me into a 3G area.  But other than driving to try and find a poorly secured private Wifi network that I could access from the street or driving to a decent 3G signal there wasn't anything I could do, was there?

Coming to terms with my situation seemed to be the healthiest approach.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

It's summer!

The last time I checked it was August.

I'm wearing leggings and a long sleeved top and I'm cold.  I could put something on my feet and get a jacket/cardigan/jumper/blanket/sleeping bag but I want to pop the heating on, AND I CAN'T.

We've just had our roof replaced.  While the scaffolding was up, and since I discovered how expensive scaffolding is (very), we decided we'd get the outside of the house decorated and fit new, improved guttering at the same time.

When I say we'd fit new guttering clearly I mean we'd ask the roofer to do it.  And the roofer did fit the guttering, or all the bits the guttering place managed to supply in time.  Going into this week we were four downpipes down out of a total of ten.  This might not seem to be a problem but you are discounting the fact that this is not a good year for us and luck.

One of the hoppers that should have had a downpipe attached happened to be located directly above the flue for the boiler.  For those who don't know what a hopper is (and I confess that dealing with builders and the like is teaching me more than I ever wanted to know about such terminology) then here's a picture.


Clearly it's a thing that collects water as a funnel for the water to be channeled into a downpipe.  There is a fair quantity of water collected by this hopper and apparently it "chucked it down" over the weekend; the period between hopper being fitted and the last four downpipes arriving in stock.

This means a large quantity of water fell from the hopper onto the boiler flue.  A significant  amount of this water made its way into our boiler which has now decided it won't work (and yes, naturally boilers are sentient beings).

The fan at the top of the boiler is soaked and sprays water around before it goes bang and blows a fuse.  I screamed like a girl when this happened today.  The builder who was demolishing our conservatory at the time had to check I was OK.

Apparently we need a new fan, and maybe a valve thingy and a valve lead thingy.  And despite our British Gas Home Cover (or whatever it's called, in old money it was 3 Star Cover) we need to foot the £373 parts bill because the water ingress was our fault.  Fortunately our roofer is contrite and has offered to fund this (without us asking).

The irony is that we plan to replace this boiler in October.  The disappointments about this are threefold: I am clearly too old and too ugly for the British Gas guy to consider trying to "sort it out" so that we don't have to pay for parts (this despite the two cups of tea supplied), I had to endure the sight of large British Gas bum crack for over two hours and will probably have to endure the same tomorrow once the ordered parts are available for fitting AND I'm cold and can't turn the heating on.  I could whine about cold showers but I think you get the gist.

Did I mention it's summer?


We left a Stockton Heath morning that promised to be sunny and warm and headed into heavy and persistent rain.  The further north we drove, the further south the temperature measurement on the instrument cluster sank.

Eventually we arrived at our mini Hogwarts "home for a fortnight".


I know a holiday should be a break from the routine.  One should leave the shackles of work and home and relax.  Sometimes this can be difficult, but not here.  I couldn't check Facebook, Twitter, Google+, e-mail, Instagram; I was in a 3G dead zone.

I knew the holiday complex had Wifi so I resolved to "catch up" later.

After the children went to bed I disappeared off in search of Wifi and found it near reception.  It was painfully slow.  Twitter and Facebook were timing out.  I gave up.

This should have been relaxing but it wasn't.  I didn't have phone reception either.  I was, literally, out of touch.  I needed a plan.



Monday, 6 August 2012

Home again, home again

Home today from holiday and we have a broken boiler.  I've had better welcomes.

We think we know what the problem is.  Something is blowing the fuse so either the pump is having to work too hard or there's a short circuit somewhere.  There's a small amount of water dripping from boiler so my money is on water causing a short circuit.

British Gas have been called and we have an appointment for tomorrow morning which sort of stuffs up a smooth transition back to work, but not a lot seems to be going right this year so I'm just going to shrug it off as a minor inconvenience (even though I hate cold showers and having to boil a kettle to do the washing up).  We've had to dismantle half the kitchen to give the Gas people decent access to the boiler so it had better get fixed tomorrow!

At least I have decent Wifi and that has been lacking for the last fortnight.  So I have a tonne (well a few) blogs that are stored in a drafts folder.  I thought about pretending I was just starting my holiday tomorrow and posting one a night.  Stupid?  Daft?  Irrelevant?  You just don't care?

I'll probably do it anyway because I hate to see effort wasted, but it would be nice to have your views (and sympathy).