Creating...learning...enjoying - are we having fun yet?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

What's happened recently?

It took a request from a reader of my blog to remind me that I have not updated recently, and I was surprised to see it was January the last time- I thought it was more recent than that!

I have been working at my old company for odd days per week as a consultant after my retirement last year. I always said I was available for work if they wanted me to, for up to two years after retiring. (This would mean up until the "normal" retirement date)

Some work was done in December after returning from a China holiday, and this was picked up again at the end of January.
I did not want to go back to five days a week and 9 to 5 working, but was happy to do up to three days in any one week. (and no paperwork or politics to deal with!)

So far this has worked OK, some of it has been spent in the building working at a laboratory bench and I was let out for a few days to support some project work in France, near Bordeaux.

As a 16 year old,  I had vacationed nearby with my parents, but was left in charge of my brother and two other boys of friends of the family, whilst both sets of parents went in to Bordeaux for the day (basically to get away from us) and I was personally disappointed not to see the city then- Some 48 years later, I got to see the city!

It is a very pleasant setting on the river Gironde. A lot of old warehouses have been demolished on the river frontage and this has opened up a great vista for the citizens of Bordeaux. They were wine warehouses for storage prior to shipping out to other cities/countries. Now more transport is direct the warehouses are no longer needed.

Today I was able to act as a mentor to a "colleague" from Hong Kong as we worked on the lab bench on a project, so that was a pleasant task.

Our latest granddaughter had her first birthday, so both sets of grandparents and an Aunt/Uncle with cousins, descended on the family, to find that the birthday girl was unwell and she went back to bed for most of the day. She did revive for present opening and cutting the cake, which was made by hand by her mother in the "Hello Kitty"style as shown in the photograph below.

Once this was done the energy level dropped again and she went back to sleep, but has recovered well in the meantime.

We have redecorated a bedroom that used to have a small window in one wall, but this was filled in when the house was extended on that side, and had a neat rectangular plastered area in the middle of the wallpaper! It was about time as we had left it a year before tackling the job.

In an earlier blog I put a photo of a mosaic piece I was doing, but not finished. This is now complete and shown below. I ended up wax polishing the marble part of the mosaic, with stone wax kindly supplied by Lawrence Payne of Roman Mosaic Workshops                                                       
 as I realised that the grouting had taken the shine off the stone.

I also treated myself to a new DSLR camera- we have a camcorder that also takes still shots, but unfortunately a fault has developed which makes it unreliable and co-incidentally E's digital compact also developed a fault so a new one was obtained for her as well.

This new DSLR takes pictures at an amazing 18 mega pixels so the level of detail in the pictures is amazing- I am still getting used to it, so have been out and about taking pictures under different conditions. Luckily as it is a Canon camera and I previously owned, and still have,an old Canon film camera, the lenses I had, fitted the new camera, and do work, but need a bit of fiddling with in between shots, so will supplement the standard lens until I can trade them in for a more up to date one.
The Cake picture above was taken using the new camera.

Our dog, Rosie,  had her second birthday, and in our house we always celebrate this with a cake (according to Blue peter it should be a savoury one) which we can all eat- the dog has a slice cut up on a plate and we have a piece as well. This is our fourth family dog, and each one has had a cake on their birthday. Below piccie of her relaxing after eating!

Sasha lived for 14 years, Matt for 11 years and Homer for at least 10 years with us (and up to two years before we rescued him) and Rosie is the latest. All have been rescue dogs. Homer was the only one without a known history as he was picked up from the side of a motorway in Scotland, and the other three were to much for the owners to cope with, had not been mistreated and turned out to be lovely family pets.
A bit of a gallop through the last few months and I have probably missed some things out which I will remember later!

Monday, 16 January 2012

More of China holiday

More pictures from China

Speed of the Maglev train from Shanghai centre to Pudong airport. Max speed 431km/h (267.5 mph)- this journey took just over 7 mins. Once the maximum speed is reached the train starts to slow down again . The train going the other way and this one pass each other at about 340km/h each, approx 680km/h (423 mph) closing speed and there is a momentary shake of the carriage and a whumping noise. There is a competion to win money for the first person to photograph the front of the approaching train whilst on the other train - a bit mission impossible I think.

Vertigo inducing view down the inside of the tallest tower in Shanghai-the Jin Mao tower,  the top 35 floors (of 88) are a Hilton hotel. and all the rooms are on the outside of the building leaving an atrium in the middle- if you look carefully, you can see the reception at the bottom.

As well as the normal black and white Panda, the Chengdu sanctuary has red pandas- they are much more active, and smaller than the Giant Pandas.

This was a group (probably office) outing spotted in the park near the Little Wild Goose Pagoda in Guillin. They were dancing to music and we stopped and watched them for a while, then they asked us to join in a circular dance, where we all linked hands and danced around and around, much to the hilarity of the Chinese dancers.(we were exhausted and they just carried on after we left!)

Also at the Little Wild Goose pagoda in Guillin- we were given an elementary Tai-Chi lesson.

Cormarant with neck tied to stop it swallowing fish- taken at night on the Li River in Guillin - the traditional cormarant fishing is now mainly for tourists but some does still go on. The fish that were caught when we watched, about four of them, would be given to the cormarants for their evening meal later.

Silk worms eating mulberry leaves. They grow rapidly and are fully grown at about 25 days or so. They basically eat, sleep and grow.

Silk worm cocoons being sorted- some of them are double cocoons and this is the most expensive silk- two silk worms spinning near each other join up to make a bigger cocoon.

A semi automatic silk spinning mill- the coccons are kept in hot water and the strands from 8 cocoons are combined to make one silk thread and wound on to a bobbin.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas potatoes

In the late Autumn, to make use of one of the newly made raised beds, we planted Charlotte seed potatoes, 9 in all, although one was small and did not thrive well.

Due to the warm weather the greenery grew fast and high and outstripped my efforts to earth up the sides. Once the colder weather came along, the potato growth was covered in fleece to help protect the plants.

By the time we had arrived back from China, the growth had all died down, some taken by frost and some died back naturally.

Today I thought I would see if any potatoes actually grew from the seeds- the first plant (the runty one) yielded a few small ones, and as I worked my way along the row more and slightly larger ones came to light.

By the end there were enough to have a meal of new potatoes with the family over Christmas.

                                                       Trug of potatoes fresh from the garden.

So the experiment was worth it!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Scenes from China

A few key pictures from the China trip.

The route we took- 21 days in total

The weather was expected to be cool to cold, instead it was warm and humid in the South, Cooler in the Middle and very cold in the North of China by the time we got to Beijing.

Guillin featured in the HSBC advert with the Cormorant fishing - it was a misty day when we sailed down the Li  river. The river was very shallow as the rainfall in the rainy season was not as much as normal.

Some of the Karst scenery on the Li River

We had a delightful time in Yanshuo the town at the end of our Li river cruise. It is a backpacker mecca and many westerners have settled there.

Chengdu is the home of the Panda sanctuary, where Panda numbers have been increased by artificial insemination as Pandas in the wild breed very rarely being very solitary animals.

Panda without a care in the world.

The highlight of Xi'an is the Terracotta warriors. Part of a mausoleum built for the first Emperor of the United China, Emperor Qin, the warriors are his army in the after life. When first discovered they were vivid in colour with lifelike painting on their body, armour, faces and hands etc. but this faded quickly. Once this was discovered then excavation stopped and it is estimated there are another 6000 or so to still be found. All of them are damaged by a destructive peasant revolt, a fire and the ravages of time, so none are complete and have to be re-built from fragments. Every face is different and so far about 1600 have been uncovered.

Just one of the many warriors found.

In Beijing came Tienanmen square, the forbidden city and outside the city, The Great Wall- first started by Emperor Qin.

Tienanmen square and Forbidden City gate picture

Great Wall and the final tower on a long climb- took 1.5 hours to get this far- only 40 minutes to get back- would have been quicker back but very slippery.

There were many other amazing sights- took 1700 photo's and some video, so plenty still to work through.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Back from China

No posts since November 11th as we set off to China for 3 weeks and no Internet access. What a great place to see- Travelled 5000 km from Shanghai to Beijing passing through Chengdu and the Panda sanctuary and Xi'an , home of the Terracotta warriors and ending on the Great Wall neear Beijing. Just started to download the pictures , so a selection will appear soon.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Memories - make sure you write them down.

Today is a day of remembrances. Both E's and my fathers served in the 2nd World War, mine at sea on an air-craft carrier as a meteorologist, E's was land based in the medical corps. Both of them ended up in similar places, one from the sea and one across continents, Asia, Africa and Southern Europe.

Both came through uninjured, but not unscathed.

E's dad had constant nightmares, so routine that it took a stint away from home for E to realise when she got back that her dad did have nightmares nightly, as he would call out in his sleep.

Mine refused to talk about his experiences- he would answer direct questions like "did you have Kamikaze dive bombers attack your aircraft carrier?" "Yes" was his reply and that was all he would say - he did not collect his campaign medals after they were issued, and eventually my mother made him write in the 1950's and ask for them to be sent to him. I have them now- but I never saw them until he died in his 70's, and my mother passed them on to me.

A curious heirloom we do have was from my paternal grandfather, who fought in the First World War and did a stint in Africa, building roads and bridges. He had a photo of him sitting in what must have been a tribal chieftains grand chair, with two native Africans, in costume, standing either side of him that was taken during this period.

He died when I was twelve so I really did not hear anything much about his experiences, but again when my mother was in hospital before she to passed away, she gave us a silver pocket watch which my grandfather gave to her for safe keeping, reckoning that she would look after it better then the rest of the family. It actually was not given to him directly and we don't know the story behind it, how did it come to him, although through genealogy channels and a regimental archive, I have tried to find out.
The watch is very identifiable as it is inscribed "To the best shot in the Regiment" dated 1899 and presented by the Colonel in Chief of the regiment, and had the name of a private engraved upon it. It turns out this was during the Boer War era and finding the privates service record in The National Archives, it was whilst in South Africa that he was awarded it. The trouble is , we don't know how, or if , this private was related to us. It remains a mystery even now.

My maternal Grandfather had what is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder now, but was called shell shock after the First World War. Mother would tell of how, if there was a loud noise outside, say a car backfiring, he would shout "down, under the table" to them, and they would all have to dive for shelter under the table- it so affected him that he eventually took his own life in 1933.

What I would dearly have loved to do was know something about all these men's experiences, and my mothers and grandmothers experiences- it is only when you realise how little you know, or not remember if you were told in the first place, that you realise it is important to record the memories, on paper or tape/film, so that future generations have access to them.

I have in the last few years been researching my family history as best as possible, and found links to relatives all over the world, who are willing to share information and pictures etc in return for what you also know that they did not, so I have more idea of what they did and where they went, but not the stories that go with those recorded facts.

I was fortunate to not be called to do service for the country- National Service was phased out when  I was still at school, so I don't have any idea what it involved myself.

The upshot is that I will be recording my life in some way to pass on as well for others to have (if they are interested to know that is!)

Don't delay- preserve your Blogs and other online stuff as it disappears from the web if you stop contributing, also get you life story down on whatever media works best for you.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Been busy..

Busy time since last posting. Working on developing my mosaic project- on the fiddly stage now, background fill in.

We need an area in the garden for a cold frame and storage that is out of the way, but easy to get at. Decided to put together a honeycomb layout using some six sided paving stones that were the old path stepping stones- will be making a new path in a different place at some time.

Began the preparation of the area ear-marked, it is where four leylandii were before getting the chop, and partially dug over- so many fine and not so fine roots to dig up, and four stumps to deal with. Decided to leave the stumps but grind them down a bit using the chainsaw, which worked, but was quite an effort to do.

Then came the final dig over prior to levelling and I came across a hard object a few inches down- another rock/stone I thought as there were plenty in this area. However it turned out to be a sewer drain cover right beneath the area I was going to cover over.

Over the years this had disappeared under the Leylandii as they grew, and subsequently got buried with debris from needle fall and soil movement and was now 4 or 5 inches below the current soil level.
So next task was to reveal the drain cover, prize it off and inspect the inside for possible root intrusion.

It was a bit corroded but luckily once opened up , no internal damage was done by the trees, but one of the stumps was hard up against the drain.

Decided to raise the sides of the inspection chamber, duly sourced some ready to use mortar, some bricks recycled from the garage wall when we removed an in situ oil tank many years ago. ( I knew they would come in useful one day!) and added another layer of bricks- two layers would have been to much, one was not enough.
After a day to set, installed the frame of the cover - sat on a generous layer of mortar and left to set. (Also covered over with a board to keep the dog out- she is very nosy!).

So after several days of unexpected industry, got to lay the slabs, but not in the pattern originally envisage, had to work around the drain.

Looking out the window just now I can still clearly see the old path outline as there are a series of half metre wide areas of bright green where new grass seed was used to re-grass the leveled holes left by the slabs- it looks quite cheerful. The rest of the lawn is mostly moss and native ground hugging plants- due to the hedges blocking out sunlight, parts of the lawn died back and the ground huggers crept in.

A bonus to that is less grass cutting, the downside is it dies back quickly in summer. But that's a job for next year.

Broad and dwarf beans are now popping through in the raised beds, need protection from the munchies brigade, so fleeced over, but had to resort to slug pellets in the end, as a few mysteriously disappeared overnight.

Potatoes are snug in a tent fleece- looks like a huge moth cocoon on top of the raised bed- shades of the body snatchers! Hoping they will last till Christmas.

Just finished the Village Newsletter- it is a joint production between E and I with a committee setting out the content- got delayed waiting for some info- it should have been out prior to 1st November, but is being handed out to distributors toady so not to late thankfully.