Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My holiday in Norfolk.

I was due to go away on holiday to Egypt but unfortuneately I was poorly and was admitted to hospital. The cost of the Egyptian holiday will be reclaimed from our travel insurance and having booked my time off work I hoped to still be able to go away. Gail and I had a brain storming session and decided to have a holiday in Britain. We knew what sort of holiday experience we were looking for and it was just a case of choosing a region of our lovely island. We decided on Norfolk and a quick look on the internet gave us 3 good value hotels to stay in. We chose the Travelodge at Norwich Cringleford, the Premier Inn at Lowestoft and the Swan Inn at Horning. Okay, we all know that Lowestoft is in Suffolk but it is close to the Norfolk boundary and the price at the Premier Inn is right.

 A Travelodge is basic accomodation, you just pay for the room, no breakfast or dinner. The price is per room whether you are on your own or are a married man. We paid just £99.50 to stay 3 nights at the Travelodge Norwich Cringleford which is just off the A11/A47 junction adjacent to the Park and Ride. This is an out of town location with good main road access. For our money it gave us just what we wanted and gave us the freedom to eat out anywhere at any time.

Our first night was Sunday and we went out for a drive around the area. We ended up having a meal in the centre of Norwich, along the river near the railway station. It was a pub chain we had not come across before and I doubt they have any outlets in south Wales. The pub was called the Compleat Angler and is a branch of the Original Pub Company. The menu offered good value regular meals and the style was similar to Wetherspoons.

On Monday we went for a long drive and had breakfast at Tesco in Thetford. We parked in the bus station and surveyed the damaged wall on the exit where a coach from the nationwide company had crashed into a while ago. We also had a lovely stroll along the river as far as Nuns Bridges. Then we drove through Thetford forest and all the way to Downham Market. A couple of miles north along the A10 was the reason for this long drive. We fancied Church Farm at Stow Bardolph, a hands on rare breed centre. Admission is £7.20 each and is well worth a visit for all townies who enjoy eating meat! The work they do at Church Farm is to be praised because these are not commercial farm animals bred purely to enter the food chain and maximise profit but breeds of chicken, goats, pigs and sheep that would disappear as their yield is low. It is both educational and fun for all the family. From Church Farm I continued up the A10 to Garage Lane in Setchey, where there is a shop selling a range of over 1600 beers. Beers of Europe claims to be Britain's biggest beer shop and I have never seen anything like it before. The range of beers is simply amazing and I always like to try beers that I have never heard of before. I was spoilt for choice, which was great and I chose beers from brewers who I had never heard of. Gail liked the look of a particular cider and put it in the trolley. Where was this cider produced? Llantwit Fardre of all places, talk about taking coals to Newcastle. We had a nice drive back over the marshes and the Welney Wildlife Trust. We bought our evening meal at the Castle Carvery, in a building called the Clocktower, at Bowthorpe in Norwich.

On Tuesday we had an all you can eat breakfast for £8.25 each at the Oaks Brewers Fayre, near Norwich Airport. This is a very good deal, just help yourself to unlimited cold and hot buffet breakfasts plus fruit juices, tea and coffee. Then we drove up the A140 to Cromer and along the A149 to the Hillside Shire Horse Sanctuary on Sandy Lane at West Runton. Normally admission is £5.95 an Adult but sadly due to the recent heavy rain and localised flooding the general public is not allowed onto the grass areas in case they slip and try to put in a claim against the sanctuary. Rather than close the sanctuary to the public, they have allowed visitors to look around for free provided they do not go over the farm gate and onto the grass. We had a lovely look around the concrete paddocks and saw some chickens, deer, goats, horses, lambs and rabbits. But there is more to see as there is a very interesting museum of carts, wagons, caravans and farm
machinery. I could not get over a horse drawn "wagon" that was a very early Public Service Vehicle. This very basic bus had solid tyres, leaf spring suspension and a very rudimentary rod operated braking system. They also had a good display of really old farm tractors. After our visit we had a look at West Runton beach before moving onto Cromer. The beach at Cromer is not dog friendly at this time of year and dogs are not allowed near the pier. Further along owners can walk their dogs but under the local Dog Leads Order of 2007 they must at all times be on a lead of less than 1.8 metres (6 foot) or risk a fixed penalty fine of £80. As we enjoyed our breakfast so much at the Oaks Brewers Fayre, we returned for a good value evening meal. Before 18.30 you can have 2 main course dinners for £10 and 2 deserts for £2.

On Wednesday we checked out of the Travelodge and had a breakfast at a Morrisons along the A146 at Beccles. We continued along the A146 and drove to Kessingland beach. After our picnic lunch we moved to Parkfield Cliffs which is a headland and beach to the south of Lowestoft. Our next hotel for 4 nights was the Premier Inn at Lowestoft where we had paid £282 for a room plus £22 each per day for their meal deal of a breakfast and a 3 course evening meal.This breakfast is an all-you-can-eat-and-drink affair so that the diner leaves the restaurant with full stomach and a full bladder, ready to enjoy their day. The 3 course evening meal gives you a choice of a prawn cocktail, a soup, breaded mushrooms, potato skins or chicken liver pate as a starter. The main courses are gammon and pineapple, chicken breast, beef burger, salmon fillet, chicken and bacon salad, chilli con carne, pepper and creme fraiche tart, rump steak or a vegetable risotto. The deserts are apple crumble pie, profiteroles, chocolate fudge brownie, lemon sundae or banoffee sundae. The drinks are a bottle of J20, large pepsi or lemonade, pint of Carling, pint of Tetley's or a glass of red or white wine.  All in all this is very good value for our £458.

On Thursday after our all-you-can-eat breakfast we spent a lot of time at Gorleston Cliffs and the south beach at Gorleston on Sea. Later in the afternoon we drove into Great Yarmouth and parked at the far north end of the beach, shown as North Denes on the map.

On Friday we went to the Redwings Horse Sanctuary at Fritton. It is a very good charity that saves horses and educates the public. I learned a lot about horses by reading the information boards and strolling around the paddocks and stables. In the afternoon we spent some time at the North Denes picnic area and park at Great Yarmouth which runs alongside the River Bure.

On Saturday we spent the morning at the North Beach in Lowestoft before moving onto the Parkfield Cliffs to the south of Lowestoft in the afternoon.

On Sunday we went to Winterton-on-Sea beach and nature reserve. Later in the afternoon we moved onto our next hotel, which was an Inn Keepers Lodge called the Swan Inn at Horning. We paid £187 for 3 nights accomodation and this included an all-you-can-eat-and-drink continental breakfast. The Swan Inn is part of the Vintage Inns group and as such their menu is rather pricey for what food is on your plate. Therefore we had the complimentary continental breakfast at the Swan Inn but bought our main meal elsewhere. Later that afternoon we had a lovely carvery at the Lodge in Salhouse. The Lodge is a privately run free house and their food is simply top rate, traditional British cooking at it's best.

On Monday we had a drive around the Norfolk broads, the weather was poor with the odd shower, so we did not go on a boat trip. In the evening we had dinner at the Bridge Inn in Burgh St. Michael near Arcle.

On Tuesday we returned to the North Beach at Lowestoft which we enjoyed so much on Saturday. The other reason we went to Lowestoft was because I was buying a new toy that was being delivered to a store in the town. After picking up my new gadget we drove to the Captain Manby at Great Yarmouth for a carvery meal. The Captain Manby is a Toby Carvery, so you know exactly what you are getting for your money before you walk in.

On Wednesday we left the Swan Inn at Horning and drove back home.

All in all it was a good holiday and we made the most of our time away. The best accomodation was the Premier Inn at Lowestoft but we could not have afforded 10 nights there. I was surprised at how much pub meals cost in the sticks compared to urban areas. It was a refreshing break but was not as refreshing as a holiday in Egypt would have been had I not been admitted into hospital 2 days before we were due to fly out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Are traditional 101 button keyboards dying out?

I read the other day that there are 10 million Twitter users in the UK. That is 1 in 6 Britons using Twitter and that 80% of their tweets are made using a mobile phone. These figures are quite surprising and they made me wonder.

These statistics mean that 8 million people a day in the UK are using smartphones to connect to Twitter and the internet plus email. That is a lot of people using smartphones with either tiny little buttons like on a Blackberry or a virtual keyboard on a touch screen like on an Android phone.

This amount of data entry is rather surprising considering these people can't touch type like I can at great speed on a traditional 101 button keyboard attached to a desktop computer. As I rattle off this blog post, I wonder how long it would take Matthew to post the same number of characters on his smartphone.

Will our nation lose the skills to touch type at great speed on traditional keyboards as we become a nation of phone stabbers? These smartphones are great for portability but must be frustrating to type at length on. Maybe that is why Twitter has a 140 character limit for it's posts because the phone stabbers can't go the distance. If this rise in Twitter continues then we could become a nation of phone stabbers that are limited to 140 character soundbites.

Discuss - hopefully with comments greater than 140 characters long.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Beers of Europe

Quite a while ago I had a comment on this blog from. Grumpy Dragon about a shop near his home called Beers of Europe . I rememberd his comment and whilst I was on holiday in Norfolk I decided to visit this store on his recommendation. I am very glad that I did!  Beers of Europe claims to be Britain's biggest beer shop and I have never seen anything like it before. The range of 1600 beers is simply amazing and I always like to try beers that I have never heard of before. I was spoilt for choice, which was great and I had no difficulty in choosing a gallon.  Into the trolley went Ramsbury Gold from the Ramsbury Brewery at Axford, Marlborough - Ridgeway Organic from the Ridgeway Brewing, Oxen - Town Crier from Hobsons at Cleobury Mortimer - Fools Gold from the North Yorkshire Brewing Company near Guisborough - Kelpie Seaweed Ale from the Williams Bros Brewing Co at Kelliebank, Alloa - Pure UBU from the Purity Brewing Co at Gt. Alne, Warwickshire - Hop Garden Gold from the Hogs Back Brewery at Tongham, Surrey and Foundation Stone from the Lymestone Brewery at Stone, Staffordshire.

Gail liked the look of a particular cider and put it in the trolley. Orchard Gold from Llest Farm at Llantwit Fardre of all places, talk about taking coals to Newcastle.

This shop is amazing and if you are in the area it is certainly worth a visit. It looks like a bargain goods warehouse from outside but inside it is a voyage of discovery. So, of the 8 beers I purchased, which one did Stephen like the most? I am a fan of Golden Ales but the beer I liked the most out of the 8 was...

Kelpie Seaweed Ale from the Williams Bros Brewing Co at Kelliebank, Alloa in Scotland.

It is very different from other real ales and I have never had a beer brewed with seaweed before. It does sound odd but it tastes delicious and gets my vote as best of the eight.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Back from my holidays.

Stephen was due to go away on holiday to Egypt but unfortuneately I was poorly and was admitted to hospital. The cost of the Egyptian holiday will be reclaimed from our travel insurance and having booked my time off work I hoped to still be able to go away. Gail and I had a brain storming session and decided to have a holiday in Britain. We knew what sort of holiday experience we were looking for and it was just a case of choosing a region of our lovely island. We decided on Norfolk and a quick look on the internet gave us 3 good value hotels to stay in. We chose the Travelodge at Norwich Cringleford , the Premier Inn at Lowestoft  and the Swan Inn (Inn Keepers Lodge) at Horning . Okay, we all know that Lowestoft is in Suffolk but it is close to the Norfolk boundary and the price at the Premier Inn is right.

We had a good time touring around Norfolk and it was a refreshing break. There was plenty of variety and it brought back memories of driving Leyland Leopards under contract to the nationwide company in the 1980's. I was surprised at the number of roads I came across with a 20 mph speed limit - this seems rather slow and a reflection of the nanny state as opposed to actual hazards or  risk. The further away from large towns we got, the higher the price for pub meals on offer, which made us feel that the Norfolk Broads are a tourist rip-off. We loved the Norfolk beaches and the wind in our hair.

Normally on holiday I have a break away from computers and the internet. Recently I have noticed a lot of places advertising wifi, so I decided to take our laptop along with us. I am not a fan of Widows 7 and prefer the Lubuntu running LXDE on our desktop computer at home. However, I decided to give it a try and was pleased that we took the laptop with us. It proved very useful indeed!

Still, I am back home now and I have another 2 days before I return back to work. I am fully refreshed and have fully enjoyed the trip away from my usual stomping grounds.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The walled gardens of the internet .

I read a very good article in the Guardian newspaper a last month about how the internet has changed from an anarchic open space to tightly patrolled walled gardens. The article is quite large and you can read it in full by clicking the link above. However the gist of it is this... 

Personal computers are "generative": they can be programmed to do more than they were set up to. Smartphones, on the other hand, generally can't be programmed directly by the user. For the most part, they're appliances, as limited in what they can do as a coffee maker. Facebook does not let Google or any other site index the vast majority of its content; a tiny file called robots.txt on its homepage stops search engines from grabbing details of photos, feeds or other data. 
John Battelle, who runs online advertising network Federated Media, says Facebook poses an existential threat to Google. "The old internet is shrinking and being replaced by walled gardens over which Google's crawlers can't climb," he noted earlier this year, as Facebook prepared its flotation. 
In the same way, Apple's iTunes store is available on the web, and Google can index it, "but all the value creation in the mobile iPhone and iPad app world is behind the walls of Fortress Apple. Google can't see that information, can't crawl it, and can't make it universally available." 
Zittrain has expressed fears about how the devices we use to connect to the net have moved away from being fully capable personal computers – where in theory you can write programs that can use any capability of the computer – towards appliances such as the iPad or iPhone, with tightly limited functionality and access to the underlying operating system software, where only "allowed" programs can be installed from a vendor-maintained store. He calls such a process "tethering". 
Even Microsoft, which ushered in the era of the personal computer running software that in theory could be used to write any program, is heading in the same direction. Versions of Windows 8, to be released in the autumn, will also use Metro Store for apps, which Microsoft will control.
 Media commentator Jeff Jarvis says Apple's iPad is "sweet and pretty but shallow and vapid ... I see danger in moving from the web to apps," he said. "The iPad is retrograde. It tries to turn us back into an audience again." 
The same broad criticism is applied to smartphones, where not just Apple's product, but almost all platforms prevent any sort of easy access to the underlying code; there's no "command line interface" for a smartphone, no black screen and blinking cursor as you can find on a Windows or Apple computer, if you look hard enough.  

...So, what is it that people actually want? A simple, easy to use, safe appliance or the freedom of the internet. You can't have both and as trends catch on it is so easy for vast numbers of users to become residents in these walled gardens that control what content you can view. With this shift of focus by the majority of internet users into these walled gardens we could develop an online society where the average user is afraid to roam the internet and stays totally within the walled gardens. Then the more adventurous and liberal internet users like myself could find that most of the valuable content has migrated to the walled gardens and the only way to get our quality internet fix is to migrate our online life into a walled garden. Trouble is once inside any walled garden your input is closely policed and if anyone can raise an objection to your postings then the moderator of the walled garden can boot you out of the garden for ever. Matthew down on the farm knows this from his own personal experience as he has been booted out from 2 different walled gardens because he posted his opinions frankly, calling a spade a spade.  The general internet has freedom and you can exercise your own freedom of speech and expression. The walled gardens are safe but are open to censorship. What is the point of being in the general internet if the user base is declining and the majority are migrating to the walled gardens? If you want to be in with the action then you may have to join a walled garden but you will lose a lot of freedoms. I do not think that the vast majority of Facebook and Twitter users have thought this through and their continued use of these walled gardens encourages other people to follow rather than to be left out of the party. It is a case of conform to join in or else you will be outlawed to the wilderness of the general internet. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Crime in the Community by Cecilia Peartree .

Amaryllis moves to Pitkirty in Scotland and straight away takes interest in joining the PLIF - Pitkirty Local Improvement Forum, a jolly band of characters who conduct meetings in the Queen of Scots pub. These monthly meetings are rather drab and appear to be just an excuse to go to the pub. But will the newcomer change things?

Crime in the Community is a farce about village life and steering committies. The reader is teased with sinister undertones and you begin to search for some action or a conspiracy. This novel is a classic slow burner that simply nags at possibilities of a plot but just rambles on. There are many jolly conversations between the characters and there is some mild social comment about problems within British society. This book is good at setting the tone of everday life, for example...

‘Aye,’ said Big Dave. ‘Never trust a man with a silly looking beard and a filofax.’

... and...

He didn't know what to do about Marina and Faisal. He knew if he took them with him, they would be completely impossible en route, whether the small party travelled by train or bus – they would complain about the journey, they would want to go to the toilet when there was no toilet, they would want to gorge themselves on luminous sweets until they were physically ill, and want Diet Coke when there was only Pepsi, and Pepsi Max when there was only Coca Cola.

...Crime in the Community is a drawn out story that is slow to develop. Things slowly drop into place and your suspicions are confirmed. There are no "WOW!" factors. The ending of this novel is no surprise and this book simply fails. I have taken nothing away from reading this quaint tale of village life. Crime in the Community does poke great fun at people's lives, prejudices and funny little ways - but nothing else. It is an easy read and is available as a 356KB Amazon Kindle eBook that was written in 2011. Crime in the Community is a poor book and I shall vote it only 2 stars on Good Reads .

Thursday, May 10, 2012

How the other half live .

I read a shocking article in the Guardian today. The image of London is one of prosperity and wealth. People are getting on with their lives in this vibrant city. You read that London prices are around 25% higher than in the rest of Britain and you put this down to supply and demand. You think that London is such a wonderful and popular place to live and work that paying premium prices must be worth it. But would you want to pay £350 a month to live in a garden shed? No, this is not a joke but it is what is happening all the time in the London borough of Newham. Have these shed dwellers come on hard times? No, they consider themselves to be the lucky ones with their own front door. The alternative for the shed dwellers is to share a room in an overcrowed multiple occupancy house. 

Jyoti, 30, who has an MBA and worked for an American bank before she left India, is good-humoured but politely incredulous at the conditions she has had to put up with since she joined her husband in London. She thinks there are nine people in the house, as well as the family in the back garden. "This many people, I did not expect. When this many people stay together, sharing, obviously there are problems," Jyoti says. 
Most unpleasant is the amount of rubbish the household generates, which never fits into the dustbins, and the rats the litter has attracted. "The dustbin problem is there. The rat problem is there." Her husband pays £520 a month for the room. She has had to take on the bulk of the cleaning in the house because the other tenants (with the exception of a man from Sri Lanka upstairs) don't bother.  

Jyoti feels most sorry for the neighbours in the shed, who tell her the conditions are very poor: it's damp and the drains seem to be seeping upwards, making an unpleasant smell. "There is a problem with the drains here too. They are not set up for the number of people living here," she says. There are only two toilets, which she says, "is not at all enough". She is looking forward to returning to Hyderabad, where the living conditions will be much better. 

...So forget about the flash houses in Kensington and Chelsea, remember that some people can only afford to live in a garden shed or garage. And the rates these people pay are rather high when you consider rents and mortgages in the rest of Britain. So not you know just how the other half in London live and it is rather grim.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

We have wifi.

My original intention was to go away on holiday and go back online when I got home. On other holidays I have had a break from the internet and I expected this one to be the same. Just in case I changed my mind and as our holiday is in Britain, I brought along our laptop. Okay, it is not my favourite machine as it runs Windows 7 rather than the Lubuntu with LXDE I have on the desktop at home but I can use it. Then we found out that you can buy 7 days unlimited wifi at Premier Inn for just £10 - I can surf on the laptop and Gail can use it or her tablet computer. It is great to be connected and catch up with things. The emails keep coming and Facebook is the usual diet of short updates and jokes.

Oh and what is this on my Google News feed...

Cows on the line 

The cows, which are understood to have been on the tracks in a rural area between Oxford and Banbury, were killed in the accident, but no passengers were injured. Mr Benvie, managing director of Hotwire PR, said: “There’s blood all down the windows of the train. People in the front carriage were in tears, thinking we’d crashed or hit something. You don’t know what it is and obviously fear the worst. The main thing is that everyone is ok. The driver is very shaken and we’re all waiting, hoping we’ll be able to get home.”

Another traveller, Mike Hobson, 53, said: "We started to decelerate very quickly, with cups and bottles falling over on the tables, and felt a juddering." He added passengers in his carriage, towards the back of the train, had reacted in a "stoically British" manner after the accident, at around 5pm today. He wrote on Twitter: "Our train has hit a herd of cows outside Oxford. Soz for all those behind us, just about to tuck into some bbq ribs. Ps no one hurt."

...So, that was a nasty shock for the passengers but they reacted in a typical British manner. We get used to Network Rail making statements like "the wrong snow, rain or leaves on the line" but "cows on the line" is something new. I think the driver must feel dreadful as it is an occupational hazard for people to commit suicide in front of your train but nobody can expect a herd of cattle to stray onto the track. Very lucky that the train did not derail and cause injuries to passengers or staff. Unlike coaches, passengers on trains do not wear seat belts and a train derailment would have many fatalities.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The new Glamorgan Wanderer.

We are off on holiday tomorrow and I will be off the internet until Thursday 17th May. Our friends will be looking after our pet dog Barney. He is a 12 year old Jack Russell/Lakeland Terrier crossbreed.

This morning I took him on his final walk around Cardiff Bay whilst Gail was shopping in the ASDA. We have done this same walk many times before and takes 60 minutes. We walked from the ASDA to the Cardiff Bay flyover, then under the flyover and through Hamadryad Park. Then along the Clarence Embankment and crossed the River Taff using Clarence Road Bridge. We followed the path south along the river past the Avondale houses. When I got to the Channel View Centre, a venue for canoe training where the footpath joins Jim Driscoll Way, I paused for Barney to catch up as he had run into the bushes. I waited but there was no sign of Barney. I walked back maybe 200 metres calling his name. Still no sign of Barney. I thought he may be ahead of me and as we have done this walk many times before, he may be going back to ASDA and be waiting for me. Sadly when I got back to our car, he was not there.

So I drove our car to the Channel View Centre on Jim Driscoll Way as this was the last location I had spotted him. Gail stayed in the car hoping Barney would appear and I retraced my steps the exact way Barney and I had walked from the ASDA. But there was no sign of Barney. I returned to our car for the second time without our dog. I had been walking for 120 minutes but Barney was only with me for the first 45 minutes.

We then drove to the Cardiff Dogs Home and reported him missing. Today is my mother's 75th birthday and we went to their flat to take her out for her birthday meal. We were just leaving Mother's sheltered housing complex when Gail's mobile telephone rang. "Have you lost a dog?" asked the caller. "Yes, we have." replied Gail "Where are you?"

"Number xxx South Clive Street" replied our mystery caller. So obviously we drove down to South Clive Street and were re-united with our pet dog.

Later this afternoon I was cutting the grass because with going away on holiday tomorrow it would be to long when we got back. All the grass is done and the gear put back in the garage. Now it was time to take Barney to our friends. I am washing my hands and Gail asks "Is Barney with you?" - "No" I replied, "I thought he was with you".

Barney had sneaked off again, Gail went outside shouting his name but Barney did not come. So I left the house and walked around our estate and down to the local park. I got a telephone call from Gail "Come home Stephen, I have got him".

Gail had looked out of our front room window and there was Barney sitting on the grass between Gail's bushes. He was very happy sitting there minding his own business and was totally unaware of the second dog search of the day. He probably thought when I want to come back in I can bark and Stephen will open the front door. Gail has called him other names than Barney today, I think he should change his name to Glamorgan Wanderer.

Readers of this blog who do not know Cardiff and/or where I live should know that the Glamorgan Wanderers is a rugby club 10 minutes walk away from my home. I am sure that if Barney suddenly took an interest in rugby that he could go to matches on his own and come home when he is ready.

Friday, May 04, 2012

You always get one!

Wonderful news across the country as the Labour party defeats the Coalition parties in the local elections. But you always get one disappointment. Sadly it looks almost certain that the comedian with the floppy, fly away blond hair will be re-elected as London Mayor.

How many service doors do you need on a double decker bus? An amazing 3 according to Boris Johnson as his baby of choice, the New Bus for London goes into revenue earning service as opposed to daft talk from bus enthusiasts when they have a little too much to drink.

Thursday, May 03, 2012


Phew!!! that was a big surprise, I became poorly and the last 7 days have been truly amazing. It is a very long story and I have learned an awful lot.

I am now fit and well. It is great being able to blog again.

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