Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Royal Spots

I am not particularly a celebrity watcher, and would be a bit hard pressed to recount whom I’ve seen over the years. Actors and singers, ha, I could do what they do, so it holds little sway. I have had good luck with billionaire spotting, and have had a few fascinating chats over the years. I can’t yet do what they do, but want to, so they do hold my interest. Royals though, they are literally a breed apart. No doing what they do without the right match of sperm and egg. I quite distinctly remember all my royal encounters, and a few times have even gone out of my way to see them.

Its surprisingly easy to arrange a royal encounter, especially if, like me, you’re one of those colonial types (even today I still occasionally called a colonial, with a tone of voice like its an unknown disease (always makes me laugh too, I know who's the superior one in the meeting)). Also, its rather good to be involved in good works. I don’t do that to meet royals, but it can be one of the perks of the job (so to speak). So far in my life I’ve rubbed up against her maj twice, her hubby three times, Anne once (but in very close proximity), Di twice and Chuck no less than six times. Andy I’ve seen loads of times, but he doesn’t really count does he? I did spot Will and Harry flash past in a convoy once when they were kids, but I’m not sure that counts either.

So, here are the boys top tips to royal spotting:
  1. If you are lucky and privileged enough to be a colonial there are loads of opportunities to get up close and personal. Not many people know that the embassies and high commissions get allocations of invites for things like the garden parties and royal events like Ascot. I’ve been to a garden party at Hollirood, and twice to Ascot (had to take the wife you know). Its dead easy, all you do is ask.
  2. Charity events are a prime opportunity for royal spotting. I sat no more than 8 rows away from Chuck and Di at a concert years ago (when they were still officially an item). Sometimes their attendance is advertised, but often not, especially if they’re a patron of the charity.
  3. Getting involved in a charity is a very good way of meeting royals. Not that I did (of course), but checking if a royal is a patron is a sure fire ticket to an eventual meet up. Worm your way on to a charity board and you can gaurentee a royal handshake. My right hand has touched the right hand of HRH Chuck (I still wash it though).
  4. Go to a university where one of ‘em is the honorary Chancellor. Anne handed me my slip of paper declaring me a master of the universe. Afterwards she had the very good grace to wander around the reception with a glass of champers and chat. I hit it lucky. “Oh, you ‘do’ computers? Isn’t the world changing so, and how do you keep it all in your head, and must be off now.” I’ve dined many times on that story, though I am still mystified how she has a relationship with a business school.
  5. Read the Times. I once had a bet that I could have a certified sighting of a Royal within one week (had to have a picture with both me and whomever in the frame). Tis simplicity itself. Read the Royal Circular in the times. Of a week at least one of them is off doing something public. Usually more than one of them, more than once. Get yourself there, et voila!
So, go to it. I want reports of all Royal sightings back here please.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A new dawn...

So, day one. I arrived at the specified hour to be met, toured and shown my new office. Temporary dig likely, but good enough and the local IT team has everything in bang up order (a very good sign, next stop the computer rooms (another tell tale sign I always check out).

I've got a long list of meet and great appointments, but none start for a couple days. Everyone and their dog is on holiday! Rather nice to have a slow gentle start, though I have no doubt it will turn manic shortly.

Friday was an odd old day. I always hate the good bye stage, its inevitably awkward. This one wasn't too bad all told. I had lunch with a good friend there that was suitably boozy. The rest of the day was spent walking about saying good bye and reminiscing. In the last part of the day I was ushered into the requisite "surprise" good bye drinks. A couple of people had even baked cakes, which was lovely.

The usual mushy speeches and I was handed over a large card full of piss take comments and touching thank yous. Then the real surprise, a very large gift certificate for a wine merchant. They knew me well, though not well enough to know I would have loved a surprise box of wine even better than a gift certificate. I was told afterwards everyone was terrified of "getting it wrong", which of course you can't do with wine, that’s half the fun.

Then, I had to break away for a final meeting with one of my bosses. He'd seemingly deliberately set it for my last hour of my last day. I didn't really know what to expect, and he ended up being borderline rude and insulting. It wasn't pleasant, and was completely unnecessary. Left me angry, especially as the drinks party had wilted away when I left, which it would do.

Ah well, I'm gone now, and now for a fresh start!

Friday, July 27, 2007


Last day. Time to tidy the office, go for a long lunch with my best mate here (my other best mate being on hols), walk around saying good bye, let myself be surprised by the card and requisite naff gift, then off I go.

Normally I have to arrange drinks, but my ever so kind boss, who's been unavailable all week for a final meeting, sent me an invite for 5pm today to close off all we have to (git...)

But never mind, I've been doing drinks and lunches all week, so am well and truly relaxed and ready to go. Here's hoping the weather holds this weekend!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

In Heaven the Brits are the Police

The Germans are the mechanics, the Italians the lovers and the French do the cooking. In Hell, the Germans are the police, the Italians are the mechanics, the French the lovers, and the poor old Brits are the cooks…

An oldie, but a goodie. Thing is, at least one small bit isn’t true any more. The food in England was pretty appalling post war, and I remember a trip here in the ‘80s where the fair was only just palatable. Now though, food has moved to the centre of English consciousness. English shops and supermarkets supposedly have the greatest variety and quality in the world. Cooking dominates the telly (well, perhaps next to DIY and Gardening), and even average restaurants are good.

Though you can eat the cuisine of any nation in London, and Chicken Tikka is England’s favourite food, there is a unique style of food here. This holiday we ate English, and boy did we eat well.

Take a cream tea for example. Quaint, even a bit twee, but done right it is heaven. I had quite a few, too many LL kept grumbling. Its just soooo good. First a scone. It’s a humble bun, but done right, freshly baked, is light and scrumpcious. With it you need a really good strawberry jam, must be home made and heavy on the fruit. Then there is the clotted cream. I’ve not seen this in any other place. It’s a cream that’s been allowed to settle and form a crust. Thick and luscious. The scone, jam and cream are a combination that just melts in the mouth.

Or take fish and chips. Out on the South West coast the fish will be fresh. The batter will likely be mixed with a local ale. The chips in the better shops will come from a farmer known to the shop, and may well have been picked from the ground and delvered that morning. Finally, to get the best taste you don’t use oil but beef dripping. (rendered down beef fat). It is an artery clogging meal, to be sure. Yet with salt, vinegar and a home made tartar sauce, yum.

Perhaps a humble Cornish Pastie? By local legend anything can go in a pastie,a nd often did. Supposedly the devil doesn’t visit Cornwall for fear a housewife will chop him up and add him in. The most traditional though is steak, onion and potatoe wrapped up in a lard pastry. Its pretty hard to beat, especially if its warm from the oven.

Or fish pies or meat pies topped with a crisp crust. Or ploughman’s lunches with a hunk of fresh bread, whatever the local cheese or ham is, a pile of salad and a mound of different pickles. Perhaps just a grilled fillet of whatever came off the boat that morning, or a local saltwater crayfish (like lobster, just without the claws), or a mound of muscles steamed with a bit of garlic…

I could go on about the food we ate, but almost without exception, it was good. Better than good often. I think I could be happy in a hell that had Brits doing the cooking…

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Things that I liked

Other than the beds, there was much I liked on this holiday. First and foremost was just being with my family. Some days we didn’t do much at all, and there is a pleasure in not doing much at all with those you love. Reading a story, watching a movie (even if for the 40th time), making a sand castle, playing fairy princess (I got to be a knight, a cook and a guard depending), it is what it is.

We did do a lot of day trips though. Some better than others, there are a few days I’m already struggling to remember much detail of. Some I remember vividly. I really enjoyed the Lost Gardens of Heligon. It’s a high Victorian garden that got abandoned after the first world war. It was revived in the 90’s to much publicity, but is so very worth it. Even the kids liked it.

They are trying to maintain the garden with Victorian techniques, which means over 40 gardeners. The result is stunning. There are ponds, jungles, formal flower beds, chicken coops and a massive kitchen garden. LL and I wandered and enjoyed, the kids just ran about. The old ladies which flock to the place enjoyed my Princess. She was a subject of much photos when she decided to do an impromptu dance in the middle of a lawn.

Though the kids where amazingly blaze about it, LL and I really liked a Plymouth harbour tour. The chappie at the end of the microphone was good, so we had pointed out the sub which sunk the Belgrano, which Frigate just got off duty in the gulf, how the massive assault ships did drug running duty in the Caribean. The boys looked, and did a bit of oooing, but then went back to playing star wars and blowing everything in sight up.

Dartsmouth was probably my favourite town. It is such a gorgeous location, I could well imagine living there with a sail boat in the harbour. Didn’t hurt that we had a fabulous lunch there too. The kids are finally at the point of behaving themselves and even enjoying good restaurants. Ali Babi positively raved about a roasted Chicken Breast with wild mushroom linguini (to be fair, it was bloody good).

There was also a stupendous tiny little zoo in Shaldon. On no more than an acre of land, it has a collection of small animals. There were Meer Cats, tiny Monkeys and Lemurs, Porcupines and Parrots. We went back three times it was so good. I enjoyed it much more than the far bigger Paignton Zoo. It didn’t hurt that it was en route to a good beach (hidden on the other side of an old smugglers tunnel (which itself was fab)).

We did do the Eden Project as well. It is pretty stunning, but you’re enjoying it in a crowd (which always takes and edge off for me). Though the planting and location really are amazing, by the end I just found it a tiny bit too full of itself. Still, if you’re in the area its well worth going to. However, if you’re in the area Heligon is only about five miles away, and I personally enjoyed far more.

The final contrast was aquariums. We did the big new National Aquarium in Plymouth. I had really mixed feelings about it. Clearly a huge amount of money has been poured into it. There are three absolutely massive tanks, one for temperate waters, one for the Med, and a final Tropical one. Thing is, there isn’t much else. There is such a huge amount of wasted space, and a lot of the educational stuff is too gimiky (didn’t keep my kids occupied for more than a few seconds). The one thing I really enjoyed was the Tropical tank. All of us, yes the kids too, spent a good half hour just sitting there gazing at the pretty fishies.

The aquarium I enjoyed far more was a tiny little one in Fowey. It was built in the fifties by the local fish monger, and is just fine. Its very simple, there’s no complicated filters, it just pumps fresh sea water in from the harbour. All the fish have been caught in local waters, and many are returned to the sea at the end of the season. Like Shaldon, it was really really good. You got up close to the animals, and we enjoyed a good long time in there moving back and forth between the tanks.

So, all in all, a good holiday. We’ll definitely go back, though perhaps wait until we’ve got the kids sailing then do it by boat. We shall just have to see

Monday, July 23, 2007

I'm back...

We had a lovely holiday. A week first in Shaldon in Devon, and a second week in Fowey in Cornwall. Even the weather was good. We only had one drizzly day, and a few overcast days, but mostly it was fine. Three whole days where spent in the sun on the beach, so can’t complain at all.

All the usual amusements where had. We did crazy golf, visited museums, did steam trains and boat trips, and hit a couple gardens. Didn't find the gnome museum, but did see an alarming number of gnomes. We started to keep count, they are taking over you know.

The kids got to watch enough telly to fill them up for a year, ate too many chips and ice creams and generally had a grand old time. The adults got to see at least a few things they liked, had children who behaved well enough when we went out to eat at nice restaurants and got to do things like read books at watch movies.

I can highly recommend both Shaldon and Fowey, both are great villages to stay in. Both had really good bakeries, and the French have nothing on a good warm roll or Danish for breakfast in the morning. There where pubs galore, and some truly fine restaurants.

The only real downside was beds. We where renting cottages, both of which were frankly pretty nice. The place they skipped on cost was mattresses. The beds where abysmal. So, despite ending the two weeks feeling pretty relaxed and good, I’m tired and have a sore back, as does LL. Can’t have everything I suppose, but it’s the only mild complaint on a generally really good holiday.

I’ve got a last week of work at the old job, then straight into the new next week. A bit of a shame that, I was hoping to take this week off, but my current employers wanted me back for a last bit of handover, and I’m keen to start the new job, so off I go.

Friday, July 06, 2007

See you soon!

I’ve had two boring days at work, and fully expect another one today.


I haven’t had many boring days. Its all been a life of crisis and controversy and politics, and frankly, it all gets a but much after a while. I fully expect I’m jumping from one frying pan into another, but this time I have one less boss above me, and will have pretty free rein. Quite looking forward to it really.

Now though, another boring day, then holidays! LL was bemoaning the fact we decided to do England again this year, but we had a really good time last year. True, the rain may have put paid to the idea of lazing on the beach making sand castles (though I still hold hope that we’ll have at least a couple sunny days), but there will be other things to do.

Some friends of ours kept to a rule down in Cornwall of heading off in random directions then also randomly choosing in advance if they’d turn off for the 2nd, 5th or 8th tourist direction sign. Said they came across all sorts of weird and wonderful things from owl sanctuaries to a Gnome collection (god save the British eccentric). I think we will do some of the same. There may even be a day or two with our feet up, popped corn and a movie or two.

Not having the stress of airports and transfers will do me just fine this time. A good down time holiday is just what’s called for. So, I won’t be posting for a while. Enjoy yourselves, don’t do anything I wouldn’t, and we shall catch up in a couple weeks.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Moan moan moan

Sorry, can’t help myself, a right old moan is required.

Bloody work. Here I am, supposed to be having my feet up. I’m about to bloomin quit, and things keep happening. This to fix, that to sort, suppliers to be calmed, or whipped depending, staff who are upset or not performing or or or. A million and one things to do. I am leaving the office at six instead of eight or nine, but its not exactly stress free.

You know what’s the worst bit? I’ve had to cancel days out to Goodwood, Wimbledon and Henley! Lots of suppliers doing a nice last thank you (well, and to keep the relationship going in the new job). Every time I get close something lands and I have to cancel. Mind you, one of those invites was from a supplier I had to then ask a favour of, and sort something out for, so they understood.

How’s a man to get his snout well and truly into the trough if things keep getting in the way? Hmm? Good thing there’s a lot of protestant guilt in the background to keep me motivated and working, else I’d just walk out. Bring on Saturday and a holiday.

Though its going to rain the whole time, just you wait. Bloomin weather…

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Broken Collarbones

I’ve been doing a lot of reading up on broken collarbones. Fascinating and oddly re-assuring at the same time. In a way, doctors have an overly blasé attitude towards them. Its not unwarranted though. Multiple types of treatments have been devised and tried, but research shows the old method of the arm placed in a sling for a few weeks is actually highly effective.

It is the most common fracture, caused by a multitude of accidents. Oddly enough the collar bone is almost redundant in modern man. People born with a congenital illness and don’t have them, lead perfectly normal lives. Pirate Pete’s breakage was the most common, a clean snap right in the middle of the bone. His is somewhat complicated in that the two ends are offset. That is, one bone end is below the other.

There is a mode of thought that says the bone should be re-set, then held in place as with other bone injuries. The problem is this particular bone is very difficult to hold in place. There have been numerous devices tried, from complex figure of eight harnesses to things called collar circles. None is hugely effective as unless you completely immobilise the arm and shoulder, there is movement. They are also fairly painful, as they keep the shoulder in an unnatural position, plus they leave the bone ends moving against each other, both of which can be very uncomfortable.

The human body is a wondrous thing. It uses some of the same techniques as other breaks, but with a few differences. The two bone ends bleed both blood, and bone marrow. This forms a jelly around the breakage. This is fairly flexible, and allows some measure of movement which ideally allows the bone ends to pull back into the correct straight shape. Over time the bone marrow & white blood cells turns this jelly into a fibrous mass, then builds new bone. Eventually this bone knot will dissolve at the edges and form a fairly clean straight bone.

It is particularly effective with children. As my pirate is heading into a high growth phase of his life, he will likely end up with a good bone possibly stronger than the previous one. It may have a bump, but even that might heal completely.

There can be complications. Sometimes the bone ends don’t heal. It is possible the won’t straighten and will leave a kink or protrusion. This is more likely the older you get. Also, the break is still at a delicate stage. It is easy to rebreak, and worse case have the bone break the skin.

We shall have to wait and see. At the moment Pirate Pete is coping just fine. He chose not to have pain killers this morning, and is quite bright and chirpy. My family have a history of a high tolerance for pain, which he seems to have inherited. Already he’s starting to move the arm about, so it looks like the break has stabilised. In a way the timing is both good and bad.

He’s in his last week of school, so it means he doesn’t have to miss out much on his sport. However, we’re off on holiday this Saturday, so its also not the best of timing. We won’t be able to do some of the more active things we like. Given the weather though, it might end up being a bit of an indoors holiday anyway! We shall see, at least he’s happy and out of pain at the moment.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Cracking Cake

What a funny old weekend. Both pleasant and miserable at the same time. Though my princess doesn’t have her birthday for a couple weeks yet, we had it early so that it would be easier to get her nursery school friends to come. My dear little girl is going through a fairy and princess stage at the moment, so it was castles and pink all the way.

Optimistically we ordered in a bouncy castle, that being a mainstay of early year birthday parties in the boy’s house. It was a fairy bouncy castle, of course. However, you may have noticed the weather wasn’t that forgiving. Frankly it couldn’t decide to spit or vomit down the rain. We got the castle in any way, and while LL and I frantically tidied up both house and garden, and LL put the finishing touches on the fairy castle cake (a masterpiece of lemon sponge and whipped cream, I sneaked a bit for breakfast this morning…), the kids went out to play.

This is normal, happens all the time, even when there is a bouncy castle in for a party. Nothing to worry about, they’re just kids, right? Wrong. Pirate Pete comes in sobbing, saying his shoulder hurts. I do the first aid in our house, something about training as a life guard and ambulance tech in my yoof. I suspect he’s broken his collar bone, but want to calm him down. Plus, if I’m right, there’s sweet lot all you can do. I get a bit of a story out of him, about doing a tumble roll down the wet slide. It was probably more than that, but nothing to be done about it.

So I help him upstairs, get him dry (they had been playing in the rain) and into his bed. Got to watch for shock, and getting him lying down is the best thing. I try to give LL coded warnings that this is not good, and that he’ll likely have to go into hospital, but she’s in full on pre-guest stress. In between checking on my boy, who’s much better lying down, we finish up like mad.

However, I call Super Nanny. She was coming to the party anyway, she and her husband always do. I tell you, having another couple around in the raising of your kids is a godsend, it really is. Sure enough, she’ll pop over a bit early to help out. That lets me tell LL that I’m going to have to take Pete into A&E. A message which sinks in, but we do the parental hand off dance, and I take our son while she carries on with the party.

My pirate is starting to hurt now, so I’m very gentle in getting him up, dressed and into a sling. He’s crying, but troops on, a toughy that lad. We get him into the car and I abandon LL to the soon arriving hoards of 4 year olds. It really is a toss up which of us had the worse job.

Once settled into a nice cradling car seat Pete is much calmer. I get him there, park miles away from the A&E and slowly walk with him in. Our local hospital is currently on the endangered list in Gordon Brown’s “the NHS is my highest priority” premiercy (did you know he cut £2b out of the NHS budgets in his last week as chancellor (what do you bet as PM he’ll call his chancellor to account)). This, despite the fact it currently is in the top 20 A&E departments in the country.

Much as everyone complains about the NHS, I personally have nothing but praise for it. Our local surgery is superb, and the one time we needed our hospital in an emergency, the response couldn’t be faulted. Nor could it this time. The A&E department has a separate paediatric ward. We were seen by the duty nurse within the first 15 minutes, and a specialist pediatric nurse within a half hour. Then off for another half hour to get the x-ray. Its all digital. We literally walked the 30 feet from one department to another, and the nurse had the x-ray up on her computer screen. I’d known his collarbone was broken, but this was completely snapped and seperated. No wonder the poor kid was hurting!

A bit of a wait for a conversation with a doctor, then to set an appointment for Tuesday at the Fracture Clinic in the hospital then we’re off back home again. Total duration maybe 2 hours. This despite the fact the A&E department was heaving and it was a Saturday. I dare someone to say the NHS isn’t working.

We’d missed the party, but we both got some of the marvellous cake anyway. My Princess had had a lovely lovely time, and was surrounded by heaps of wrapping paper & presents. Even the bouncy castle saw some use, though under tight supervision.

Some sympathy TV was allowed (both the birthday girl and the injured boy agreed on Star Wars episode II). Thankfully Pirate Pete slept that night OK, and managed to stay on his back. My biggest worry (and I went in a checked numerous times) was that he’d try to roll over. That can be highly dangerous, as the bone ends can be forced through the skin with that type of pressure. He didn’t though (nor did he last night (despite the fact he’s usually a highly active sleeper, we find him all over his bed in odd and wonderful poses)). His brother though, has come down with a nasty hacking cough, so we were also up to check him out and provide cough medicine as required…

Sunday was much quieter. A lazy morning, then I took the kids off to Shrek as a treat. There can be no better review than that of the pirate himself, “It made me laugh, but there where some boring bits”. A nice roast chicken for dinner, including our neighbours kids as they went off to a wedding, and the emotional roller coaster of a weekend ended.