31 January 2008

It's not that often that I find myself Blogging during the week but here we go, again...

The weather, and light, had me starting to think that Spring was just a little closer than it actually is for a few days this week. It didn't last!

For three days I rode to and from work on the bike; the mornings were light enough for me to see, and be seen, without using lights, the birds were singing their hearts out at first light each day and I even heard two Great Spotted Woodpeckers "drumming" yesterday morning. The ride home in an evening was also rather pleasant, even if it is still dark when I leave work.

Today saw things turned on their head somewhat. The rain was pouring down, the wind was blowing a gale - literally - and the temperature had taken a dive again. Add to that the very heavy cloud, that meant it was much darker on the way to work, and the Winter Blues had certainly returned. I chose the cowards way out and left the bike at home! Tonight, and tomorrow, we may be in for a few scattered snow showers. Depending on how Friday dawns I may give the bike another outing - maybe!

Tomorrow evening Lynda and I are going to see The Battlefield Band play at the Derby Assembly Rooms. This is the first time I will have seen this band, and they will certainly be something different from the bands I've seen so far this year, but I've read some very good reviews about them and I'm looking forward to what should be a great evening. I'll report back over the weekend!

One last little snippet... Derby came to a standstill today for a "bomb alert"! In the end, everything turned out to be okay but it did close parts of the city off for much of the day.

BBC News report on the bomb scare.

28 January 2008

Dare you look up?

I heard an interesting story on the news this evening - an out of control American satellite could be heading our way, meaning Earth! Now, wouldn't that get your day off to a bad start if it landed in your breakfast cereal? I can't even start to imagine just how far the milk would splash, and as for the muesli, well, it doesn't bear thinking about!

Anyway, if you haven't heard about how we are going to be squashed to a pulp by this latest piece of space debris, take a look at... Satellite could plummet to Earth!

Once upon a time, all we had to worry about was being hit by a bus as we crossed the road, now we have to be aware that that "bus" may well fall on us from above, at warp speed!

Oh, how times change!

27 January 2008

It’s been a busy old weekend, for saying I’ve not really done much!

Our Burns Night Supper on Friday was delicious. We had Haggis, of course, mashed potato and Sweet Chestnuts. Add to that a couple of rather large measures of Glenmorangie and the night was enjoyable to say the least!

Whisky and Haggis!

Saturday morning was spent at work, which wasn’t too busy, so I managed to catch up on a lot of paperwork. Straight after work I went off to get my hair cut - bit of a mistake that as it took me almost an hour and a half to get it done. The shop was packed and everyone was working flat out.

On Saturday evening, Lynda and I met up with our friend Mike for a few drinks. We started in the Rose & Crown in Chellaston but after a pint of cider and a very nice, and rather large, bacon, lettuce, and tomato baguette, I started to feel that maybe this wasn’t the best of places for us to spend the evening. The food was great and the cider was fine but we had chosen Karaoke Night! The final straw for me was when a young boy started to murder a Kate Nash song (Foundations)… time for us to make a quick exit!

The rest of the evening was spent in the much more pleasant surroundings of The Coopers Arms, in Weston on Trent. This pub used to be a regular haunt for Lynda and I, while she still lived in the village, and it was good to see that the place hasn’t lost any of its character over the years. The place also had a good “buzz” about it but without being so loud that you couldn’t hold a conversation without shouting. The drinks continued to flow until last orders were called at around 11:15PM. At that point double measure of Talisker whisky finished off my evening rather well! Needless to say… Lynda was doing the driving last night and spent the evening enjoying soft drinks!

This morning I was out of bed at just after 8:00AM so that I could take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. This annual survey of the UK’s garden birds sees participants counting the number of birds that land in their garden, or local park, at any one time in a single hour. Our tiny patch of garden didn’t come up with any surprises in terms of species or numbers but it was good to be able to sit and see just what would turn up. My bird count for the hour between 8:30AM and 9:30AM was…

House Sparrow 10
Starling 8
Blackbird 4
Collared Dove 4
Wood Pigeon 3
Carrion Crow 2
Dunnock 2
Blue Tit 1
Robin 1

After a late breakfast, Lynda and I headed off in search of a new car. We’ve been looking at changing ours for a good few months now but have struggled to find just the right one. Today, we came close enough to ticking all the right boxes to finally make a purchase. The car we’ve chosen is a four-month-old Ford Fiesta Zetec. It has everything we wanted and a couple of things that I didn’t really want, namely two extra doors!

I’ve never been a fan of five door cars but I’m sure I’ll come around to the idea quickly enough. At least everything else on my shopping list is there… alloy wheels, air con, ABS brakes, heated front screen, CD player (with MP3 player connection), rear spoiler and low mileage. It even has black privacy glass that looks pretty smart seeing as the car has metallic black paint. As Lynda put it “it’s proper pimped up”! Photos of the new “toy” will appear here sometime after we pick it up next Friday.

25 January 2008

Burns Night

January 25th – a night I look forward to almost as much as Christmas Day! No, it’s not my birthday and no I don’t get gifts like at Christmas! What I do get is Haggis and Whisky! You knew there had to be food involved, didn’t you?!

I can’t claim to be a big Burns fan; I can’t claim to be a big fan of any of the classic writers, but as far as Scottish cultural history goes then Burns is one of the most famous and important characters.

Tonight, one of his most famous works, Address To A Haggis, will be read at Burns Night Suppers around the world.

If you are joining in the celebrations then have a great night – and enjoy the whisky!


Address To A Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn,
they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve,
Are bent lyke drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
"Bethankit!" 'hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

The Translation

Fair is your honest happy face
Great chieftain of the pudding race
Above them all you take your place
Stomach, tripe or guts
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm

The groaning platter there you fill
Your buttocks like a distant hill
Your skewer would help to repair a mill
In time of need
While through your pores the juices emerge
Like amber beads

His knife having seen hard labour wipes
And cuts you up with great skill
Digging into your gushing insides bright
Like any ditch
And then oh what a glorious sight
Warm steaming, rich

Then spoon for spoon
They stretch and strive
Devil take the last man, on they drive
Until all their well swollen bellies
Are bent like drums
Then, the old gent most likely to rift (burp)
Be thanked, mumbles

Is there that over his French Ragout
Or olio that would sicken a pig
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust
Looks down with a sneering scornful opinion
On such a dinner

Poor devil, see him over his trash
As week as a withered rush (reed)
His spindle-shank a good whiplash
His clenched fist.the size of a nut.
Through a bloody flood and battle field to dash
Oh how unfit

But take note of the strong haggis fed Scot
The trembling earth resounds his tread
Clasped in his large fist a blade
He'll make it whistle
And legs and arms and heads he will cut off
Like the tops of thistles

You powers who make mankind your care
And dish them out their meals
Old Scotland wants no watery food
That splashes in dishes
But if you wish her grateful prayer
Give her a haggis!

22 January 2008

Sunday at The Robin...

Sunday at The Robin turned out to be a great gig, as I expected, and I was also very pleased to be joined by my good friend Mike, who was attending his first gig in something like 10 years! If I hadn't been to a gig in that long then I'd have been more than happy with Sunday's two bands - Breathing Space and The Reasoning.

It was the first time I'd seen Breathing Space play but it will not be the last. They played a great set of tracks and had the large crowd on their side from the moment they took to the stage. I guess having names such as Ian Jennings and Olivia Sparnenn (who is also rather pleasing on the eye) in the line-up does help a little when it comes to creating good music and also pulling in a crowd.

Straight after they had finished their support slot I went and purchased their latest CD - Coming Up For Air - but as yet I haven't had time to give it a listen. If Sunday night is anything to go by then it's going to be a great album.

The Reasoning played an outstanding set - more or less the same as at Crewe but with a couple of changes to the running order, which made things flow even better. The full track listing was...

Within Cold Glass (Intro)
Talk To Me
Fallen Angels
Aching Hunger
Playing The Game
Chasing Rainbows - Part 1
Billie Jean
Chasing Rainbows - Part 2
Breaking The 4th Wall
Sacred Shape
Sharp Sea
Shadows Of The Mind

Encores were...

Dark Angel

The sound at The Robin was excellent, as usual, and the light show was the best I've seen at a club venue for a number of years. Even the use of a smoke machine got my seal of approval for a change - I hate the things usually - as it wasn't used to the point of the crowd, and band, not being able to breath! Well done to everyone involved at The Robin.

Looking back at the two shows last week I think that The Robin was an even better gig than the one at The Limelight. Breathing Space just got the edge over Mr So & So as the best support band and on Sunday The Reasoning played another brilliant gig to a larger crowd, so the atmosphere was great.

20 January 2008

2008 is up and running...

All of a sudden, 2008 has kicked into action for me. I’ve been to my first gig of the year - The Reasoning, at The Limelight Club, Crewe - I’ve been on my first birding trip of the year - Martin Mere in Lancashire, yesterday - and tonight I’m off to see The Reasoning again, this time at The Robin in Bilston. A little too much travelling in just four days but that’s the way it’s worked out!

The Reasoning.

The Reasoning gig on Thursday was without doubt the best I’ve seen them play so far. The set they played was made up of seven tracks off the Awakening album, another five “new” tracks plus a little bit of Billy Jean, by Michael Jackson, thrown in halfway through Chasing Rainbows. If you think that sounds a strange cover to do then you are probably right, but it worked great. The final encore track was an amazing cover of Deep Purple's Stormbringer.

The Reasoning - Billy Jean/Chasing Rainbows

The support band on Thursday was Mr So & So, a band I’d never seen or heard before. At the time, I didn’t really take to them but, looking back, I think that was more down to the fact that I’d had a terrible journey to the gig - lots of traffic, heavy rain and standing water on the roads - rather than their music. I’ve played some of their stuff again, a time or two since, and am starting to enjoy it. If nothing else, they got me in the right mood for The Reasoning!

Mr So & So.

Yesterday saw Lynda and I on our first birding trip of the year; we went to Martin Mere WWT reserve with the Derby RSPB Group. We should have been going to Slimbridge WWT but, due to the heavy rain and flooding in that part of the country, a change of venue was forced upon us. For me, this was by far the best choice - I love Martin Mere in winter!

The sight, and sound, of the thousands of geese and swans that over-winter around this reserve is one of the best wildlife spectacles this country has to offer, in my opinion. Add to that the chance of seeing owls, harriers and other birds of prey and you have the perfect day out. Just to make it even better; the rain didn’t arrive until we were back on the coach and about to set off for home.

Whooper Swans feeding near one of the hides.

Birds seen during the day included Whooper Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Barnacle Goose, Wigeon (Lynda’s favourite), Pintail, Hen Harrier (my favourite), Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Red-legged Partridge, Water Rail, Barn Owl, Little Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail and Brambling. In total, we saw 57 species.

Two Peregrine. (photo taken through my birding 'scope. These birds were a long way off!)

Lynda and I also took some time out to walk around the captive collection so that we could feed the Hawaiian Geese or Nene as they are known. These friendly little geese are always happy to come and take feed from your hand and will often come running to meet you as you approach.

Lynda with a Nene!

So, that’s the past few days. All that is left of the weekend is a trip down to Bilston to see The Reasoning again later this evening.

16 January 2008

Just a quick fly-by posting...

The home workout sessions have started okay (that means I've actually been doing them) and I feel as though the move away from gym sessions has kick started my enthusiasm again.

Today saw a break in the weather - no rain all day - so I was able to use the mountain bike to get to work again. I'm not a fair weather biker but the amount of rain we've had over the past few days was just too much for me! The route I took to work this morning meant that I avoided the flooded underpass that saw me waterlog my shoes on Saturday - I didn't fancy facing the now much deeper water!

Tomorrow evening, I'm off to Crewe straight after work to see The Reasoning play. It's only a matter of a few weeks since the last gig I went to but it feels like months. I'm so looking forward to this gig!

I've said before that I'm not a big fan of mid-week gigs but the venue tomorrow - The Limelight Club - is a good one and The Reasoning are one of my favourite bands. Getting home in the early hours of Friday morning, and then having to get up for work, is a small price to pay I suppose!

13 January 2008

Another week passes; another week that I haven’t been in the gym. I did manage to get two rides to work on the bike though and then an hour’s ride yesterday afternoon.

Friday saw a lot of rain fall during the day and as a result, the River Derwent reached flood levels again in places. I found one of those places on Saturday morning. My route into work on the bike takes me alongside the river, as it passes under one of the main roads around Derby, and the river had flooded the underpass I use. This left me with a choice… around a mile diversion or try to ride through the floodwater - I chose the latter. Looking back, the extra mile may have been wiser! I managed to waterlog both of my shoes as I rode through the water, which was just a little deeper than I thought!

The ride yesterday afternoon was somewhat rain affected too. Although the weather was fine and dry, the route I took was rather muddy - I managed to get both myself and the bike covered! The bike needed hosing down, all my clothes needed the washing machine, my shoes still need something but I’m not sure just what!

My route for the ride took me out of Derby to Swarkestone, along the canal to Weston-on-Trent, into Aston-on-Trent, through to Thulston, Elvaston Castle and then back home. I’ve not worked out the mileage yet but it took me exactly an hour.

The flooded River Trent, near Weston-on-Trent.

Weston Church, where Lynda and I were married!

This coming week will see me start my home workout to try to shift a little more of the Christmas excess. Since January 1, I’ve managed to lose 4lb just by keeping an eye on my eating so hopefully I’m moving in the right direction.

08 January 2008

A bug... and a parting of the ways!

Yesterday I hit the first problem with the new laptop... a problematic little bug known as Lynda! Lynda has taken a liking to one of the pre-loaded games on the laptop called Mahjong Titans and last night took control of my new toy! The laptop was even taken to bed with her so that she could try and finish the game off! So, if you have Windows Vista, and a game called Mahjong Titans, watch out... the bug may just get you!

Today - and this has nothing to do with last night's game issue - Lynda and I finally decided to end a long, and often painful, relationship. After months of soul searching, discussion and repeated attempts to get things back on track we have chosen to part company with our gym membership! Much as I enjoy going to the gym I just wasn't going enough to justify the cost, so we have cancelled the membership. We do have to give 3 months notice so I can at least work off my Christmas and New Year food binge - if I actually get to the gym that is!

Over the next few days I will be working out some form of exercise plan that I can do at home so, fingers crossed, I shouldn't turn into a big fat lard ball just yet! Tomorrow, the plan is to ride to work on the bike again; the home work-out regime starts here.

06 January 2008

And another year begins...

So, this is 2008 then - not all that different to 2007 is it really? We still have to go to work; we still haven’t had that big lottery win (though I did win £5 last night) and we still keep getting another year older. Hey ho! Life goes on!

New Year’s Eve was okay. We ate way too much, had a few drinks, ate a little more and then had a drink or two. The midnight firework displays around us were good again - if you weren’t trying to sleep - but the live footage on TV of the London display was amazing. Not sure I’d have been waiting on the banks of the River Thames from 5:00PM like some people though.

New Year’s Day started rather late in our house - we got out of bed just before 11:00AM. My excuse is that the weather forecast for the day had been for rain so we had decided that we would not go on the walk we have done for the past two years. In the end, the day was mainly dry and bright so we could well have gone out after all. I just hope the ducks at Alvaston Park didn’t miss their feed too much.

The quest to try and get fit has started again this week. It’s been a very slow and gentle start, but I have at least thought about shifting some of the weight I’ve put on over the past few weeks - around 8lbs to be exact! I’ve used the mountain bike to get to and from work for three days and will be back at the gym tomorrow night. The cycling wasn’t too bad and I quite enjoyed the cold, frosty mornings. The ride home in the pouring rain on Friday night wasn’t so good though.

On Friday evening, Lynda and I went to visit Paul, Ali and their two daughters Rachel and Bethany. The past 11 months since Bethany was born have just flown by and she is already turning into quite a little character. I’m not sure but I think she must get it from her sister because Rachel was giving me some wicked looks every time I teased her or made some stupid comment about the DVD she was watching! Then again, maybe they get it from mum! Sorry Ali! Paul… see how I didn’t mention the red wine incident?

After work yesterday afternoon I went into Derby shopping yet again. This is becoming too much of a habit now, I usually hate shops. The search for cheap CD’s drew a blank - nothing that caught my eye - but I did splash put on a laptop PC and a Wi-Fi router. I can now sit and surf the web and send out my e-mails from anywhere in the house, or outside when summer arrives.

The whole Wi-Fi thing turned out to be almost painless and the only little outburst from me was a rather pronounced “GREAT!” when nothing worked at the first attempt. Being the technological master that I am, I did the one thing guaranteed to solve 99.9% of all electrical problems… turned everything off and then back on again! Problem solved! I wonder if Bill Gates knows of that little trick?