Thursday, 31 March 2011

Ed's Wedding Venue's Take On Health & Safety

I'm delighted that Ed Milliband has decided to get married and I am sure that those cynics who see it as a  political ploy to satisfy those who have pointed out that he is the first Labour Party Leader to have been cohabiting are wrong. Marriage is a great institution and Ed and his fiancee Justine have chosen a wonderful venue for their nuptials in Langar Hall just outside Nottingham. This is how it looked in March last year when we celebrated our friends' daughter's twenty first at the hall and I blogged that it looked like a Tuscan farmhouse in the balmy early spring sunshine. Our friends' children studied at Nottingham University and they often used Langar Hall as a base for visits and family celebrations.

I noticed this sign in the grounds of the hall on our last visit and wonder if it will still be there when Ed and his party celebrate. It's a bit of a laugh but it's not exactly PC is it? No doubt a party official will ensure that before the wedding it is replaced by full instructions on how to walk in the grounds safely and provide guests with a hard copy for them to read and an acknowledgement to sign.

A few weeks ago I proclaimed on here that we were preparing for a blitz on eBay and getting together a pile of antiques to sell. After last week's unimpressive performance with the first nine pieces and my subsequent decision to abandon eBay the cupboard is bare and now looks like this

I took everything to the auctioneers in Leyland this morning and will just have to keep my fingers crossed that somebody takes a liking to some of it as there was a good £1,000 worth at cost. I will be happy if I get £500, some of the pieces have been sitting on the shelf for years and £500 would pay for some decent meals when we are next on holiday. I acted quickly after my decision to give up on eBay as it's quite addictive and I know that if I hadn't taken the stuff to the auction I might be tempted to start up again.

I didn't quite take everything. This bronze Japanese deity is so finely sculpted that it would be tragic to let him go for a song locally so I'll be sending photos to one of the major auction houses to see if they are interested.

Daughter Sarah is coming to stay with us next week. Her pregnancy is advanced now. This time next year we might be having conversations with the baby. I wonder if he or she will speak this language?

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Boys' Own Stuff

When I was a kid growing up in the sixties "The Eagle" was a boys' own comic so it is quite appropriate that the film of the same name (our Orange Wednesday choice for this week) is very much in the boys' own vein. An old fashioned swashbuckling movie, the story could have been set in the Wild West, Vietnam or the Eastern Front but instead we were whisked back in time to the wild northern frontier of Brittania where Roman commander Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) is on the hunt for the golden eagle standard lost by his father twenty years earlier when he ventured north with 5,000 men and none was ever seen again. He is accompanied by a British slave played by Jamie Bell (of Billy Elliot fame).

The film has all the features we knew and loved in the sixties - a big battle scene (without CGI), a heavy emphasis on honour and comradeship, a good chase and absolutely no sex or love interest whatsoever. Filmed on location in Hungary and on the Coigach Peninsula in Scotland (which should expect a big influx of tourists as it looks stunningly beautiful) the film has its critics who claim it is boring but Marion and I liked it very much. Don't expect anything challenging, just sit back and enjoy a good old fashioned yarn.

We hoped that Submarine would come to VUE in Southport but there's still no sign of it so we're going to have to go to Liverpool where it is on until the weekend when I expect it will finish. Fortunately retirement means that it's no big problem so we'll head off to FACT on Friday afternoon and see if it's as good as everyone says it is.

Which means that we're not going to get to Ken Loach's "Route Irish" which has Liverpool comic John Bishop of "A League Of Their Own" fame in a serious role. But good news on that front as it has been simultaneously released on Sky Box Office so we'll probably catch it on Saturday night now that we are Forbrydelsenless.

Marcus Aquila might have found a metal detector useful in his hunt for that gold eagle. I am afraid that my finds on this week's outing with my detector were a long way from Roman gold or the bronze age axe that my brother found recently. I found all the usual bits of lead, a ring pull and a few buttons but nothing historical at all. On the plus side I found over twenty items in a field that I've searched a few times and any one of these signals could have turned up a Roman coin like the one I found in the same field last week. That coin has been recorded and is now on the national finds database. The new detector arrived today. Cant wait to give it a try. It's a big change on my own machine, uses the very latest technology and, being wireless, it's as light as a feather.  Should be able to get out in a couple of weeks.

I'm a mug for anything new on the technology front. I'm going to have a look at those new Nintendo 3D portable games machines soon.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Goodbye eBay, Goodbye Liverpool, Goodbye Betfair, Goodbye Forbrydelsen

All good things come to an end and the time has come for me to pull the plug on my dabbling on eBay. When I started out full of optimism in 1999 with the ludicrously optimistic user name LFCChampions (forged from the misguided belief that the Mighty Reds were once more on the verge of greatness), I had great fun trawling local antique fairs, auctions and even the odd car boot sale in search of bargains to resell on the exciting new auction site. As well as being fun it was a rare hobby that actually made money rather than being the usual drain on resources and, at its height, even after bank charges, tax and accountants' fees I was making several hundred pounds a week which I used to fund my collection of antique pottery. Those heady days are now in the past as this week I sold nine excellent antique ceramic pieces and made a princely profit of under £80. Pieces that would once have sold for £60 fetched nearer £20 and, but for one item that I bought very cheaply, the nine sales could easily have brought a loss. With the financial year ending soon it won't be worth preparing the accounts for the accountant as, if he charges me for checking them, I will end up with a hefty loss.

With all the antique shows on TV and attendances at antiques fairs up as a result I would have expected to see prices rise in reflection of all this interest. But on all the TV shows the emphasis is on driving a hard bargain and I will have to accept that interest in my specialist area (c18 and c19 English ceramics) is not what it was or there are simply too many people on the eBay bandwagon. In addition, the site used to bring high prices and charge low commissions but today it is exactly the reverse with high commissions and low prices. I've got about thirty items left that cost me around £1,000 so I've decided to take them to a local auction and see what happens. I imagine that after fees I will end up with maybe half that but £500 in the hand is better for me than a load of pots on a shelf. So farewell eBay. It was good while it lasted.

Another thing that's going the same way as eBay for me is my season ticket on the Kop. I've held season tickets at Anfield for most of the years from around 1970 to today (apart from when the kids were young and I couldn't afford it) but since the megabucks of the Premier League started to filter into the game,boy has it suffered. Today it's a big deal if a club breaks into the "big four" whereas I can remember seeing Swansea City top the First Division and on opening day at least 75% of teams' supporters thought that they had a chance of winning the league. I now feel the same for footballers and the money men in football as I do for the likes of Bob Diamond and Rich Ricci of Barclays who think that £14m is a justifiable wage packet (mind you, that's hardly surprising as it is the Barclays Premier League) Of course there are exceptions. Not all footballers are greedy bastards and some still feel passionately about their clubs but for every one who does there are half a dozen who couldn't give a toss. Few supporters today think that their team has any chance of winning anything and, whilst I wholeheartedly agree that winning isn't everything we are not far away from the situation in Scotland where one of the same two teams has won the league for as long as anyone can remember. In fact I just had a quick look at the statistics and only four teams have won the English Premier League since its inception and one of two has won it for the past six years.

It isn't going to change. We used to know that we had a match on Saturday at 3pm and maybe the odd midweek game. Now Sky and ESPN expect us to turn up on Monday nights, Saturday evenings at 5.30pm - sometimes at noon - and Sundays when they feel like it. I might as well watch the games from the comfort of home and save myself the hassle of the travel as it's no pleasure to be at the match where the main aim of those running the sport appears to be to milk the mugs who go of as much of their hard earned cash as possible and give them as little as they can in return. Would you pay a quid for a KitKat? The people running Anfield clearly think it a fair price. Forty four years or more of supporting the Reds will be hard to give up but I honestly don't think that I will miss it for a moment.

I'll be putting the £700 I save on the season ticket towards a new metal detector as the old one, although still working, has seen better days and is getting a bit heavy for an old bloke like me. They've got lightweight detectors on the market now that use wireless technology and make detecting for people with hip replacements more manageable. I haven't found anything like the cost of the detector in "treasure" over the eleven years that I have owned my current machine but fortunately I'm not in the hobby for money (although I'm not saying that I wouldn't love to have a valuable find) and anybody who takes it up in the hope of riches is likely to be very disappointed. I'll also give up my weekly flutter on Betfair to contribute to the detector. No criticism of Betfair - a great gambling site and one that I will return to as soon as I've paid for the new machine.

Saturday saw us on the edge of our seats for the final episode of BBC4's Danish import "The Killing" or "Forbrydelsen" as we afficionados have come to know it. I know that there are still plenty who haven't viewed the denouement and don't know whodunit yet so I won't give it away here. It was a masterpiece of storytelling with great acting, great filming, great lighting and the best woolies ever to appear on TV. It appears that almost everyone on Twitter has been following the show and it was on Twitter that @Glinner  (Graham Linehan) sent his followers this fun link.

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Sad Demise Of The Paperboy

I got a sad letter this morning. David, our local newsagent, gave us notice that, with effect from 16th April, he will no longer be able to deliver our daily papers. Paperboys have been a regular fixture of our lives for donkeys' years, waking us up at six forty five during school terms, turning up after we had gone to work during school holidays, leaving wheelie marks on the drive and making sure that we got a neat Christmas card every year as a mercenary reminder that there was a tip box on the shop counter. But alas no longer. It appears that the paperboy has gone the way of the milkman.

When I was a kid, everyone wanted a paper round. You could tell the lucky sods who got one as they were the ones with the shiniest bikes and spare cash to spend on iced buns in the tuck shop. I applied but failed and ended up instead as a paraffin boy lugging five gallon drums of that noxious and lethal fluid on the front of a bike for one hour, five days a week, after school plus Saturday morning for the princely sum of 50p. Brake too hard and the weight of the drum would send me flying over the handlebars - a lesson I learnt the hard way. I don't want to sound like one of the Pythons' Yorkshire men but it was such a lousy job that you could smell me coming from a hundred yards and by the end of each shift my clothes were lethally soaked - there was no way that I was ever going to take up smoking. 

You would have thought that in these austere times of redundancies and unemployment that plenty of kids would be taking a cut in their pocket money and getting told by their parents to get themselves a paper round. But no, it seems that the reason that David is stopping deliveries (and with it a big chunk of turnover -£600 a year from us alone so multiply that by a hundred or more customers) is that he just can't find the staff. It seems that our youth don't want to get up with the lark to earn themselves a bit of extra dosh and the paperboy is a dying breed. I went along to David's nearest competitor to place my order with him. "Do you do deliveries?" I asked. "No" was the reply "we just can't get the kids to do it".

As my days never start without an attempt on my record for the Guardian Quick Crossword (3 minutes 25 seconds) I am faced with major upheaval if I don't get my daily Guardian fix. I will travel a bit further afield tomorrow in the hope that someone out there still does deliveries.

Until then, as it's weekend, I'll leave you with a super little romantic viral video. Whether it's genuine or not I couldn't say but it will warm the coldest heart.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

A Visit To FLO, Another Ancient Find And Two Super Films

I visited FLO yesterday. No she isn't my sordid little secret , she is Dot Boughton, the North West's Finds Liaison Officer responsible for recording historic finds made by the public. She works out of Preston's, Carlisle's and Lancaster's museums and has regular meetings with metal detector users. I took my brother Peter's Bronze Age axe head to her for recording and thought that I might as well take all of my own significant finds made in her area of over the past twenty years before FLO's existed. Dot was delighted with the small collection of Roman and later artifacts and over almost two hours she painstakingly photographed and recorded everything including measurements and weight. I should get a copy of her report on them all in about eight weeks. As I had travelled all the way to Lancaster and the sun was shining brightly I thought that I might as well travel on a little further to where the bronze axe was found and do a little more searching.

It's good to be getting back into the hobby of metal detecting now that I have both the time afforded me by retirement and the new hip which makes walking more than a few yards possible. Here are yesterday's finds. As usual there are the shotgun cartridge cases and bits of foil that litter most fields in the area but in addition to those, the tiny washer and the old bulb, I found three coins. A 1960's threepence, a Victorian sixpence and a beautiful Roman coin.

I couldn't identify the coin but the metal detecting fraternity are a helpful bunch and a quick posting on one of their forums revealed that it is a Sestertius of the Emperor Trajan and it dates to c100AD. It's quite rare to find a brass coin from this period in such nice condition so it was a worthwhile trip. Funnily enough it was only a couple of inches deep whereas some of the shotgun cartridges were a foot down. I emailed a photo to Dot and she's recording it without me having to travel back to Lancaster.

The beauty of the hobby is that you really never know what you are going to find. On holiday last week in the Lake District I turned up this old tinplate model of the royal coach. It's a worthless piece of junk but interesting all the same.

An altogether different type of vehicle featured in The Lincoln Lawyer last night's Orange Wednesday offering at the local VUE. Matthew McConaughey plays a Californian lawyer who works from the back of his classic Lincoln. It's an excellent courtroom drama starring McConaughey as Mickey Haller,  a hard drinking but brilliant attorney who gets results. When hired to defend a wealthy young man who is accused of assault and attempted rape, Haller faces a tough assignment. The way that he oozes "cool" as he handles the case is a joy to watch. We both enjoyed the film very much. It's pacey, well directed, full of good performances and has a cool soundtrack to boot. Give it a try.

We had another cinema outing this week when we went to FACT to see the new Herzog film Cave Of Forgotten Dreams. Herzog got access to the magnificent Chauvet Cave in France. It was discovered in 1994 and contains the oldest art works known in the world at over 30,000 years old. Such is the fragility of the environment, only a handful of people have ever been inside and very few every will. The paintings are quite stunning and, although on one level the film could be seen as "just a documentary", with Herzog directing, there is a sense of humour and character that only he could achieve - the archaeologist who was once a circus performer, the perfumer who sniffs the hillside for signs of more hidden caves and the enormously mustachioed historian who demonstrates the stone age art of bison hunting in a wonderfully inept and endearing fashion.  An added bonus at FACT was the live link up by satellite to a Q&A session hosted by Jason Solomons in which Herzog showed himself to be as charming and enigmatic as his wonderful films. 

So many films to see at the moment ( we've still not seen Submarine and want to try The Eagle) but at least with retirement there's plenty of time to get to them. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

In Praise Of The Lazy Fish

We're back from our week in the Lake District. We had a great time and I want to dedicate today's blog to Mark and Rachel the owners of the wonderful barn conversion that we stayed in for their attention to detail that makes their property -The Lazy Fish- a (pretty big) cut above the competition. 

The scenery is magnificent throughout the whole National Park so few could be disappointed on that front wherever they stayed. And I think that this beauty can lead to an air of complacency amongst those involved in the tourist industry. Even now, in March, the roads were busy at times and we passed scores of places proclaiming "No Vacancies". In such a sellers' market there must be a temptation not to put in too much effort -why bother?

Because, as you can see from this photo (pinched from Lake District Now. Net), the popular sites can be jam packed in high season even on the fell tops. 

Fortunately for their clients, Mark and Rachel have not taken that laissez faire attitude and the property - a few miles outside the pleasant Georgian town of Cockermouth - is an object lesson on how to get things right.

Located less than a mile off the A66, the trunk road that connects the North West to the North East coast, the barn is easy to find and well positioned for discovering Cockermouth, Keswick and many of the beautiful lakes such as Derwent Water and Buttermere, which are just a short drive away.

Uninspiring and unprepossessing from the outside, the building has been converted to the very highest standards and it is these high standards that make the property stand out. Despite its great height, the building is kept at a comfortable temperature by underfloor heating powered by a very green ground source heat pump.

And to boost that comfortable heat there is a magnificent wood burner with an endless supply of logs - at no extra charge. We were greeted with a welcoming hamper containing the usual basics like bread,jam, milk and eggs but with the welcome addition of the not so usual bottle of champagne, chocolate and delicious home made muffins.

As I said at the start of the blog, attention to detail like this makes The Lazy Fish stand out and other little touches that you don't often find in holiday lets include.

A hammock for lazing away those inevitable rainy afternoons.

A wide selection of CDs with a top quality sound system powerful enough to blast away the cobwebs.

Flat screen TV and DVD player with a selection of films to please film buffs like us including some great but lesser known classics such as "Finding Eric" and "Cinema Paradiso"as well as blockbusters like "Avatar".

The option to have an excellent three course dinner served in the cottage. One of the biggest drawbacks of self catering is the catering but Mark enjoys cooking and he and Rachel, who live in the adjacent farm house, cooked for us on three of our seven nights allowing us to enjoy restaurant quality food without the argument about who was going to do the driving. Being able to drink our own quality bottles of wine with our meals without the typical 200% restaurant mark up was an added bonus.

Luxurious bedrooms and bathrooms. Both bathrooms in the property are fitted to a boutique hotel standard. One has a deep bath and the other a powerful shower. I remember my very first Lake District self catering holiday when the toilet was outside and the water was drawn from a well at the end of a field - it was a long time ago. The beds are comfortable and attractively dressed with throws and cushions. 

And finally, a real rarity for a holiday "cottage", the use of an outdoor hot tub. After a long walk  on the fells this outdoor jacuzzi was the perfect tonic for aching limbs and it was great to sit in it in the dark for half an hour and wind down from our already wound down state to being near comatose.

We didn't bother going out at night, preferring the home comforts of the barn but if you do fancy dining out, there are plenty of pubs and restaurants within easy driving distance and the ancient coaching inn, the highly praised Pheasant where we enjoyed a decent Sunday lunch is a pleasant and comfortable walk away (Mark was even kind enough to offer to drive us there). 

I am lucky in having Marion to discover places like this. They don't just turn up at the first click of a mouse. Marion is an avid reader of holiday magazines and the travel sections of the Saturday and Sunday supplements and she catalogues everything that catches her eye and files it away for the future. She found The Lazy Fish reviewed in the Guardian a few years ago and, like so many of the places that she finds, her painstaking thoroughness has proved well worthwhile. We normally have a rule that,as life is short, we don't visit the same place twice but this could be one place to prove the exception to that rule. 

Click on this for more information, prices and bookings.  but don't book for March next year!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Putting The New Hip Through Its Paces

 Our break in the Lakes continues. We're having a great time. On Wednesday I wrote about our walk around Derwent Water and , encouraged by the lack of ill effects on the hip, we planned a more strenuous walk for Thursday. Unfortunately we are fine weather walkers and when we arrived at base camp for the walk near Buttermere, the fells were thick with cloud so we had a change of plan and visited the attractions of Maryport - don't ask

However, the sun was back in the ascendency today and we returned to Buttermere for our attempt on the summit of Hay Stacks which, at 597 metres was classed as the "easiest" walk in our book of Lakeland rambles.

And we made it to the top in exactly the time suggested by the book although "easy" was not the first word to cross our minds as we got there. There's something magical about being out on the fells at this time of year. The light across the valleys (you can see several from the summit) and the shadows cast by the peaks create an ever changing landscape that is quite captivating. The path was clearly a well trodden one but we saw less than thirty other walkers in the four and a half hours that we were on it - another plus for visiting now. As I was happy with the photos taken on the iPhone on Wednesday I left the digital SLR camera at home today and used just the phone. Once again I was very pleased with the results. The weather was obviously a huge bonus but I can see the day coming when phones will replace cameras for all but the professionals and the keenest enthusiasts.

Once again, the hip passed with flying colours but I think that today's walk was about the limit that I will be able to manage now and in the future. We've got a hot tub in the garden here at the cottage so we're going to sit and soak our weary bodies in that for half an hour tonight and sip a glass of wine while we look for the special moon that is forecast. It seems that tonight's full moon coincides with the perigee (the time it is closest to earth). I won't try to blind you with science but the upshot is that tonight's super moon should appear about 14% larger than usual. Look out for it.

We've got friends joining us here tomorrow evening. Like us they are expecting to be grandparents in the very near future so no doubt there will be plenty of baby talk in the conversation. And who can blame us when grandchildren can bring moments like this?

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Photos for eBay

I am using this just to show photos for a dinner service I am selling on eBay.