Sunday, 29 September 2013

London Shine 2013

London Shine 2013 took place last night/early this morning.  I've not done many sponsored charity events before - only the London to Cambridge and London to Southend (cycle rides).  The spirit of the participants and organisers was great and it was interesting to see how busy and active London is in the small hours of the morning.  We used night buses to get home and they worked reasonably well - the service is so much better than in the bad old days.

We only did the half-marathon.  Yes, I know 13 miles is not far, but it is hard pavements all the way and I think this is the longest city walk I've ever done.  I've walked much further in a day - the furthest being 37 miles - but that was some years ago.  Since then I've had a knee replacement, cancer and a herniated disc and this  is the longest distance I've worked since my knee started to be problematic.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Eperlecques Blockhaus

On the way back towards Calais, we visited the Eperlecques Blockhaus at the edge of the Eperlecques Forest between St Omer and Calais.

The bunker was constructed for the main launch site for one of Hilter's terror weapons, the V2 rocket.  After partial destruction by repeated allied bombing, it was never completed and used for this purpose.  However it was used for liquid oxygen production for other V2 launch sites.

It was declared a monument historique by the French government in 1986 and is open to the public as a museum.

The site is both fascinating and evocative.  The owners have provided interpretative material about the slave labour force who worked there, many of whom perished when the site was bombed. Other WW2 artifacts are display including tanks, jeeps and a V1 doodlebug with its ski launcher.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Beauty beyond the hype

Many of Claude Monet's most famous pictures were painted at his garden of Giverny.  Now I've been there I can see why.  Here is beauty beyond the hype, beauty despite the crowds, a dreamlike beauty.

Flip gets 5 stars

I've just finished reading Flip by Martyn Bedford.  An excellent read and I will add it to my top 100 children's books.

Fourteen year old Alex wakes up one morning in strange bed in a strange house and everyone is calling him Philip.  Not only that but time has moved forward 6 months.  When he looks into the mirror, he sees a stranger.  Somehow Alex has become Philip, in body if not in mind.

The idea of waking up with a new body or in a world where everyone thinks you are someone else has been the subject of several other novels including Charlotte Sometimes, The Tightrope Men and, of course, the film Freaky Friday.  Flip is about the impact of this switch on a sensitive adolescent and his family and friends, and how he deals with the resulting difficulties, emotional and practical.

The characterisation is excellent.  The book takes you into the world of modern teenagers or back to that critical stage in your own life when everything matters too much, but you feel powerless to influence anything.

More than this, the books is a real page-turner.  How and why did the switch occur? What happened to the real Philip?  Can Alex ever go back into his real body or will he be forever trapped in Philip's?

I'm not going to spoil the book for you by giving too much away here.  You'll have to read it for yourself.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Messing around in boats: The Great River Race 2013

The Great River Race is an annual event on the Thames. We'd not seen it before, so this year we stood on Hungerford Bridge and watched the boats go through. It was brilliant!  Boats of every shape and size, propelled by rowers with vastly different levels of experience.

The distance is 21 miles, but they are travelling with the incoming tide which must make a huge difference.

After most of the boats had gone past we caught the train to Barnes Bridge and watched them all again.  It looks great fun and the rowers were all enjoying themselves immensely.

According to the website it is possible for even novices to take part.  You can hire out the boats as a package along with some basic training.

I want to do it next year!

We then walked along the Thames to Richmond and caught the tube home.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Hitler's Angel: Fast paced action, but some POV issues

I've just finished reading Hitler's Angel by William Osborne - a page-turning World War II action-adventure novel about 2 teenagers sent by London as agents on a perilous secret mission.

After a slowish start, the action and tension ratcheted up, until there seemed to be a new danger or narrow escape every few pages.  The author made good use of foreshadowing, which can be a great plot device if it is done well.  The descriptions of places and situations were vivid and engaging.

The likeable protagonists appeared distant from the reader in the few few chapters, but soon became real to the reader.  They were brave, resourceful but also vulnerable.

I have a couple of criticisms though.  Firstly there were a few scenes where the POV was unclear or rapidly shifting which was rather disorienting.  Secondly very modern terms (or Americanisms) were used for certain things which was jarring, especially when a more traditional (even just British) term would have been appropriate - for example a rucksac rather than pack, goods train rather than cargo train.

Overall a recommended read - the story would also make a good film.  I've given it 4 stars.

The secret of tinned potatoes

I like potatoes, but I'm a bit particular about type and quality.  For some reason, I don't like those yellow types such as Desiree. Perhaps I just think potatoes should be white and fluffy. My favorites are King Edward and Maris Piper, but I can still be happy with anything just labelled "White Potatoes".

One of the big problems with potatoes is that they go rubbery very quickly in hot weather.  I'd almost given up buying spuds in summer until I discovered Tinned Potatoes.  We used them a couple of times on our last camping trip.  We took a couple of tins of Asda Smartprice and - guess what - they are actually quite nice.  Perhaps not as nice as fresh new potatoes, but tons nicer than potatoes that have gone rubbery.  We also bought some Co-op ones while we were away as this was the nearest supermarket, and these were nice too.

When we got back, we tried the Sainsbury's Basics ones, but these looked a bit yellower and had a slightly funny taste.  So we went back to the Asda ones.  At 13p a 550g tin containing about 350g of drained potatoes, this works out around half the price of fresh potatoes.  And there is no peeling, no wasted bits, and no throwing away potatoes gone green or rubbery.

I will probably go back to fresh potatoes in the winter when they keep longer, as they are a little nicer, but the discovery of tinned potatoes has revolutionised my summer eating habits.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Getting rid of annoying adverts on Google and Facebook

It's great when you discover something really useful.

In recent weeks I've noticed that Facebook ads have become more intrusive - some of them even masquerading as Newsfeed!  So I Googled around and discovered that is really simple to remove/block them.  Here's what to do:

1/  Click that Cogwheel symbol on the upper right of the page.

2/  Choose Account Settings, then Adverts (in left hand column)

3/  Third Party sites - choose Edit and select No one and Save Changes

4/  You can do the same for Adverts&Friends if you wish - this also removes adverts of products your Friends have Liked.

Facebooking now becomes a happier experience.

But what about those annoying adverts you see when surfing?  You know the ones that show up on unrelated webpages but somehow reflecting your recent purchases or searches.  These are also pretty annoying.  I've also found out how to banish them as well.

Just get a free ad-on/extension/thingy for Google Chrome (also available for Firefox which I also use) called Adblock Plus, and voila, no more ads.  There are alternatives to Adblock Plus that seem to do something similar, but it is the only one I've actually tried.

It is amazing what you can discover just by putting the right phrase into Google...