Monday, 29 November 2010

Snow , snow. and more snow

Pretty it may be, but I booked Thursday and Friday as holiday to play golf for the first time in two years or so. Once again, to roughly paraphrase one Edmund Blackadder, it would seem I am forever fated to step in the cowpats of the devill's own satanic herd.
If I was to play golf at would have needed orange balls and quite possibly full mountain walking kit. Perhaps next year!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Re-visiting Glencoe this December

My favourite weekend destination used to be Glencoe. About 25 years ago I moved from Aylesbury to Glasgow so as to be nearer to mountains. I guess this must be in protest at being born in Norfolk, the flatest English county. From Glasgow it was an hour and a half to either Glencoe or the Lake District. The weather forecast would dictate if the journey was north or south.
So, after years and years in South East Asia, I felt I should re-visit the Highlands of Scotland. I've had fun planning a trip with my wife and the two girls. We have to drop someone off at Manchester airport, then we're heading north to Fort William via an overnight in Carlisle. Three days off exploring and relaxing then along the Great Glen and Loch Ness to look for Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. One day in Inverness then down to mum's for Christmas.
I'm looking forward to it and am doubly pleased I don't have to change any sterling to another currency this time. The downside is that after such a successful trip to Paris this August we are duplicating it with a group of Thai students next April.

Monday, 30 August 2010

My favourite quote

"One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies, and the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies."

 (C. A. R. Hoare)

I wonder which end of the continuum Bill Gates subscribes to.

What a parcel of rouges in a nation

I visited Hanoi and Ha Long bay in northern Vietnam a few years ago. The holiday was eye-opening to say the least. Vietnam is a beautiful country and full of interesting places to visit. The scenery is really quite stunning. It is with a small section of the Vitenamese population I take issue, though I wonder if it is quite as small a section as I would like to think. I have visited more than 60 countries and consider I have a traveller's radar for trouble such as pickpockets, scams, and cheats. Vietnam, however, takes dishonesty to a new plane, I was cheated and scammed by consummate professionals. I had put the annoyance of this to the back of my mind, but was reminded of the plethora of lies, cheating and all round scoundrelry of some Vietnamese during my departure from France. France was, of course, the colonial power in Vietnam or French Indochina as they called it. Many Vietnamese have dual nationality or have adopted full French citizenship.

It is therefore no surprise that our mini-bus driver from our hotel, in the 7th arrondissement, to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was Vietnamese. He was an oily individual, reminiscent of Ugatti in 'Casablanca'. He had been pre-booked for us by the charming receptionist at our hotel. We clearly stated that we had a party of 3 adults and 2 children of 3 and 8 years old. The receptionist said the 3 year old could travel free and I heard him confirming this with the transport company on the phone. On arrival 'uncle Ho' started complaining that there were 5 people, but we had only booked 4 seats. I told him (in French for the removal of doubt) that it was not our problem and that he should speak to the hotel. He was so disconsolate about not getting any extra from me that he drove away from the hotel without shutting the rear door of the mini-bus. He kept grumbling about losing 12 Euros for the seat. He then picked up 3 more passengers (A Belgian husband and wife plus teenage son) from another hotel and off we set for the airport, with 2 seats still spare. After a few kilometres he had thought of another way to cheat us. He tried to extract 2 Euros per head from his passengers, which he said was payable to the airport authority to enter the terminal area and drop people off. Both the Belgian man and myself told him in French that he could forget it and I was impolite in Vietnamese to him. He then resigned himself to finishing the journey and we heard no more from him. Needless to say, he got no tip from either party.

I would like to think that this was a one off but I fear it was not. Has anyone else had similar experience with Vietnamese people?

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Why oh why won't the UK adopt the Euro?

I have just returned from a short trip to Paris. Apart from the fact that it rained for the first few days; not just showers - real torrential, monsoon-like, rain for 3 days non-stop, it was quite an enjoyable trip.

The main annoyance was the extortionate rate of exchange and commission charge to rub salt into the wound. I had to laugh when I saw a poster inviting me to change back my costly Euros to Sterling. No thanks, I'll be keeping them in a shoebox until next time. What about the lost interest? I hear you cry. Not worth bothering about these days, but that's another story.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

It was a slow day down by the river

It was a slow day down by the river; at first he didn’t see them

Content to feel the breeze fan off the cool clear water

Presently, from the corner of his eye he spied a glint of copper

Next, gold, then, bronze and myriad, as yet unnamed, metallic hues

Ranks of shimmering fish, each the brother to one another

Yet all unique, no two of like metallic sheen and glint

It was a slow day down by the river; and then he didn’t see them

(Written in response to a challenge by a colleague.)

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Another online course draws to an end

I can't believe it's nearly the end of July! I've been so busy this last month. I'm just putting the finishing touches to a portfolio of evidence for the latest online course I've completed. Regular readers may recall that I did the Oxford University certificate in 'Effective Online Tutoring' late last year. This time Instead of tutoring it was the backroom stuff about how to design administer and generally keep a course running smoothly.
Not, this time though, Oxford, but a somewhat lowlier institution - Sheffield College. The course is called 'Getting to Grips with Moodle'. Moodle is an open source programme used by literally thousands of education establishments and businesses as a virtual learning environment (VLE). I've really enjoyed it and now feel confident enough to start looking for employment in online course delivery, either from the tutoring angle or design and admin. More details on the course below. I've also included a link to Moodle's homepage.
Another reason not to have done much posting for the past month or so is that I've just taken possession of a new house. More about that later.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Disneyland - after holding out for all those years

Finally, after successfully dodging it for years, I am due to visit Disneyland. I will probably enjoy it and wonder why I held out so long but the inevitable happens in August. I say inevitable because two kids (8 and 3) and a wife who loves the cartoons almost as much as the little ones have voted against all the other destinations I have tried to entice them with. These included, Norway, Switzerland, Madeira, Holland - all to no avail - Paris or tears!

My eldest is already a veteran of Disneyland Hong Kong, I managed to stay in Macau the day she and my wife went there. We had run out of time during our stay in Hong Kong  and as my elderly mother was with us it was felt another trip on the Macau-HK hydrofoil would be too much coupled with Mickey and Goofy. Mum and I had a delightful lunch in a Portuguese restaurant with not a hotdog in sight.

I am busily researching some reasonably priced restaurants to visit while in Paris. It's years since I was in Paris. Not since a spur of the moment trip to see the 24 hour race at Le Mans in 1982. It was expensive then and Franc or Euro it won't be any cheaper now.

Talking of Euros, I've never even seen one, 10 years in Thailand taking holidays in Asia or Australia and New Zealand meant I have never been in a Euro using country since it was introduced.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Police Cyclists in York

The fastest way across town is by bicycle as the ambulance service already know. The police too have realised this and there are a number of rugged all terrain bikes (ATBs) to be seen in York decked out in police livery. I must say I'd prefer a z-cars type mark 2 Jaguar but these look pretty cool.

A day in the life of George, a railway engine driver

Another piece of creative writing.

Four thirty in the morning, dark, cold, it’s November. George’s alarm has just jolted him from slumber. He shuffles to the kitchen; tea, a slice of toast.

‘Where’s that new marmalade? I like that.”
No paper yet, he’ll get one in Birmingham. The 5.37 to New Street awaits George. A second cup of tea while constructing the sarnies.
Into the car, streets deserted, an uneventful drive to the depot to pick up his train, Cherry red, two doors, 3,800 horse power, 50,000 pounds plus of tractive effort;16 years old but well maintained.

5.24, he pulls the train up to platform 8. Just enough time for a quick smoke before the off. He has a green, the guard has belled him, ease off, gently does it, public on board now. George is thinking about his allotment, some flowers but mostly vegetables; leeks, cabbages, carrots.
“Potatoes will need lifting this weekend”, he thought. “I’ll do it Sunday, I’m on cover but Pete is fit as a fiddle, never off sick.”
Kings Junction, check the clock, bang on time. Kingsbridge in 3 minutes.
“I’ll have pie and peas for lunch, at the Shipwrights Arms, a glass of lemon and lime too.” He decided, “I’ll have the sarnies on the flip run.”

A shrill whistle from the dapper looking stationmaster at Kingsbridge and another green. Smoothly off, and George pulls away for the long straight towards the summit, not much of a summit but enough to slow the old girl down a bit.

“Bugger! I can’t go to the allotment Sunday” he realized, “Promised Elsie I’d paper the living room.”
Garret’s Green in 4 minutes, past the pretty signal box.
“I wish my allotment looked like the garden around it”, thought George, more than a little jealously.

Half an hour later he was snugging up the loco to the buffers on platform 6 at New Street; an hour and forty minutes before the reverse leg of his day. Pie and peas, read the paper, back to the station.

George was pulling on the car handbrake in his drive at 3.28 in the afternoon. He realized he had not spoken a word to another soul all day, other than to order his lunch; and that only by chance. He could have eaten the sarnies in the drivers den, never a body in there weekdays.

“Never mind, Elsie always says I’m an anti-social, old git anyway.” He chuckled to himself and made up his mind to lift the potatoes that afternoon.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Of tea mugs, steam engines and VW microbuses

I recently bought a new mug for my cups of tea at work. It featured that work horse of surfers, the Kiwi's home from home, the 60s icon that is the VW microbus. I popped a teabag in and poured in boiling water. A loud 'crack' emanated from the vessel and brown liquid began to ooze onto the work surface. Disaster, the mug had cracked almost severing itself into two pieces. I took it back to the shop; the parsimonious Scots half of me I guess; well it had cost nearly four whole English pounds! The lady in the shop, so demure and helpful while I was a purchaser turned harridan when confronted with a complaint. Result: no refund, no replacement and a warning about using ornamental display pieces with handles for real tea.

Still mugless, I left York for the North York Moors Railway with a party of Thai students who had managed to find a window in between Bangkok violence and Icelandic ash clouds. At the souvenir shop on Grosmont station platform I found the answer to my needs. A dishwasher and microwave approved tea drinking crock complete with aforementioned railway company logo and witty comment: 'Return to footplate for washout and refill'. A whisper under 5 pounds and it was mine. I've been using it for a week now and can firmly recommend the British railway carriage over a cramped German self-propelled caravan.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Writing for fifteen minutes

Hello: welcome to my latest jigsaw piece for the blogosphere. According to Boswell Dr Johnson is reputed to have said no one should write anything unless it be paid for. "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." I guess the Internet shows that his dictat has been well and truly blown out of the water.

I have no figures but I get the feeling that a greater part of the web is unpaid writing. Andy Warhol predicted that everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. I suppose it depends on how many people it takes to be following you in some way that warrants the fame tag, but the Internet may well be the showcase that some have been craving.

I don't write for others, only myself. If others then want to read a little of what I clumsily type on my ageing laptop then I have no objections, indeed I cannot have any, because I have unzipped my flies, as it were, by choosing to 'publish' in a publicly accessible place.

A livewire on a creative writing course in 2008 said everyone has a book inside them - unfortunately, they are for the greater part deadly dull and should remain in dusty lofts or damp cellars forever. I have no pretentions towards creative writing as a means to support myself, but a textbook or two to pay the heating or air-conditioning bills, the nature of the electronic comfort dependant on wherever I end up grumbling away my final years, might be acceptable. So, perhaps I'll buck the trend and follow Dr Johnson's sagacity, incidentally fulfilling Warhol's oft-quoted maxim into the bargain.

Monday, 12 April 2010

My favourite photo

I thought I'd share my favourite photograph this week. It was taken with my mobile phone so the quality is not fantastic. However, I think the lighting and the Lowryesque figures work well. The bright red old-fashioned phone box works too, helping to add atmosphere, and has always reminded me of the little girl's coat in Schindler's List. It always strikes me as being from a much earlier era than it actually is.  Posted by Picasa
Where was it taken? A little way from Drury Lane in London. When? November 2008

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Abstract of Presentation at IATEFL conference in Harrogate 7-11th April

An easier approach? - Basic English revisited

Ian Paul (English Language Centre, York)

Earlier last century, attempts were made to simplify English and produce a basic vocabulary. The most famous of these attempts were 'Basic English' and the closely allied 'General Service List'.

This poster argues the rationale for devising a modern, 21st Century replacement for the list. The many sound reasons, pedagogical and commercial, for adopting such a move will be illustrated.

Monday, 1 March 2010

The Decision - Please comment on this, I value your opinions.

Here it is - my final assessed creative writing exercise. Please let me know what you think of it. Don't hold back, I have broad shoulders.

Francesca Peterson was thirty-eight years old the day she made her decision. Thirty-eight years of life, and now, a day to change all that had gone before. All the heartache, so many broken hearts along the way. The debt; credit really had been much too easy to obtain. The daily drudgery that was her work, so many wrong decisions taken there too. Today would change all that.

She had thought about this day for a considerable time now, how she would feel, would it hurt? At last, on the bridge now, she looked down to the water, slowly churning its way to the sea; a pretty blue, almost like duck eggs; glacial melt-water she presumed. Would she feel the cold? Would other thoughts steal her mind? Soon she’d find out.

The bridge was high, a wonder of engineering; a product of that wandering band of technical superiority the Scottish civil engineer. It had been built one hundred and twenty-five years ago to span a gorge. The bridge was of the suspension variety, fairly elegant as far as bridges go; the institutional green paint, so different a shade to the surrounding foliage, provided a visual contrast to the blue water below, so far below.

Francesca knew that soon, very soon, she’d have to take her decision. A myriad of thoughts coursed through her brain, would her bra keep her modesty? She wanted to be decent, afterwards – when they fished her out of that cold, blue water so far below. It really was a long way down, she panicked.

She had always been scared, to the point of phobia, of height. She had joked with friends it wasn’t so much the falling that frightened her, rather the landing. She’d find out now how landings felt. Or here, high above the water, should it be waterings? Would the shock of impact kill her, would it be by drowning? Maybe she’d be dead from shock, long before she hit that cold, oh so blue water. She thought of the word ‘long’. She was conscious of using it - ‘long before’. How long? She tried to recall physics lessons, what was the velocity, or was it acceleration, of a falling body? Francesca realized she had no idea of even where to start to calculate how ‘long’ before she hit the icy, churning water below. She added yet another shortcoming to her life of dissatisfaction.

She didn’t know why she had chosen to jump; she only knew it had to be this bridge, this elegant, old bridge: above this particular, cold, blue ribbon of meandering melt-water in this particular gorge. She thought it was as pretty a place as any to do it.

She thought of her mother, far away in England, what would she say if she could see her only child perched high above the water waiting to jump? She wished her mother was there, to hold onto, to comfort her. Had mum ever thought of doing this, she mused, would she support me in my decision or try and talk me out of it?

Then it was time; time to jump. It was easier than she had imagined, just a gentle rolling forward on the balls of her feet, too late for any more thoughts; it was done. Francesca Peterson jumped off the Kawerau Bridge, New Zealand, home of the bungee jump.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Appeal for Sponsorship - however little - it will all help

As an ex-outdoor pursuits instructor I thought I'd do my bit for this year's Sport Relief weekend by running a mile. I ran a 52 mile mountain endurance event over two days in South West Scotland during the nineties but after 10 years in Thailand, not to mention only cycling for exercise for the last few years, I feel I should get back to more strenuous exercise gradually.
My daughter will be baking cakes and biscuits to raise money for her dad's efforts. Please make a donation, however small, via the secure website below:

Thank You

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Suburban Dawn

Here's a little bit of creative writing I wrote for a course in 2008. I may work it up into a fuller story one of these days.

It was another seemingly ordinary day at the station; Cyril had just brought me my second coffee of the day. I had a belter of a hangover, a real humdinger, far too many beers in the police club the previous night. Then a call was put through to me, I didn’t recognise the voice at first but she knew me; that much was obvious. I listened with the detachment of what I was that morning, a jaded, hung-over copper. Then she told me about the scream she’d heard just before dawn; that stung me out of torpor. I noted down her address and got the flash of gestalt, of course, I knew her now. She was a woman I’d taken back to her house for a drunken night of debauchery about two years ago. She’d obviously quite liked the experience, left me messages for a few days; I never returned them. Move on, plenty more fish in the pond, I say.

About twenty minutes later Cyril and I drew up the car outside her house. It was an ordinary house and the neighbours’ houses looked no different, scores of nondescript suburban dwellings; ‘little houses made of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same’, swam into my head. I rang the bell of my one-night-stand and she opened it quickly and ushered us in. Cyril had been moaning about another domestic violence case in the offing; I was unconvinced, too early in the day or too late at night. Peak time for domestics is two in the morning. Lynne, my old conquest’s name, told us about her neighbour, early forties, single, kept himself to himself, no obvious female presence in his life, creepy she described him as. I smiled wryly at Cyril, no domestic this one.

Lynne told us what she’d heard earlier that morning, up at that hour to go to the khazi. Just as she was returning to her bed she’d heard a really desperate, howling scream that went on for about ten seconds, then nothing. She’d been shocked at first but as it didn’t continue, went back to bed. In the morning she looked out of the window and saw her neighbour leaving with a small suitcase, a taxi idling at the end of his drive. She pondered why he wasn’t taking his car and then phoned us a few minutes later, asking to speak to me as I was the only detective she knew.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Flying doctors - nearly

I approve of the idea behind the smart, well-equipped, all-terrain, NHS bikes to be seen around York. As a city that is well used to seeing 7% of its commutes made by bicycle, York has not heralded these life-savers as proudly as it might. The cyclists among you know that the quickest, and most predictable, way around a busy city is by bike. My own commute, to the language school I work at, takes me 17 minutes, rain or shine. By car or bus it has taken anything from 20 to 50 minutes.
Given those figures it makes sense that to get medical aid to a vehicle accident victim, a bicycle will probably be the quickest way. A great many hold-ups are accident linked anyway, so even more reason to use a bike to gain those vital few minutes that might make all the difference.
I for one applaud the introduction and will sleep sounder knowing that a fellow cyclist may one day come to my aid.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The adaptability of humanity

A few weeks ago these three people were wondering how they would be able to survive the winter in England. Eight weeks later and they are seasoned winter sports enthusiasts.

What a difference a sprinkling of snow makes at Christmas time. Most places of interest are shut or operating on reduced programmes so a day or two outdoors was just what was needed.

Even dad had fun - no cycling but sledges can be exciting too.

The sledge cost ten pounds -  best tenner I've spent all year!