Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas dinner with a wine older than me....

... I finally opened it.

I had cooked an amazing fore-rib of roast beef that I knew would be perfect with a very special bottle of wine.

So I took the 1966 Lynch Bages from the wine rack and proceeded to prepare it, bringing it up to room temperature slowly, but when I started to open it the cork broke in half - bugger I thought, I've left it too long, or it wasn't stored correctly..... all the things race through your mind. Luckily I managed to get the rest of the cork out without issue. I had a quick sniff of the cork and the now open bottle. No it didn't smell of vinegar, nor any sign of mustiness or any other off putting whiff.

I left the bottle to rest for a while, then decided to decant it, just incase there were large sediment deposits, which suprisingly there weren't, just a stubborn streak of sediment down the side of the bottle and a little towards the bottom of the bottle.

Then a little taste pre-dinner, just to make sure it was alright.

What an amazing wine! All the tanins mellowed to nothing, blackcurrants and spice with chocolate were all the aromas and flavours I could think of as I tasted it.

I bought this bottle years ago as it was the closest I could get to my year of birth, I chose Lynch Bages as that was the first really good growth Claret I ever tasted at the age of 17 working in a restaurant.

Sadly the 1966 Krug I bought in Bentalls 15+ years ago hasn't survived as the cork gave up the ghost a while ago, and the level is now below the neck label, so this is probably quite expensive vinegar by now. Luckily it looks like the 1967 Port I found a few years ago in Berry Brothers & Rudd is very much intact and the level is well in the neck still. Win some, loose some.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Today I discovered.....

....Costco! A friend took me to the warehouse in Reading by Green Park (next to the big wind turbine you can see from the M4 at J11)

What a place. I've done warehouse shopping in the US before, and Cash 'n Carry in the UK, but never anything quite like this.

Some great deals were to be had, on big ticket items I think a fair amount of research will have to be done, but on everyday household stuff, food & booze it seems that great savings can be had, but everything seems to come in such large quantities!?

Although it was late on a Wednesday and it was cold & snowy & J11 is a nightmare it seemed relatively busy, but still fairly easy to get in, get what you want & get out. Application pending!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

If you drive in the UK.....

.... you should take a look at this article on the BBC News website.

It details the fatal road accidents in the UK from 1999 to 2008.

Some quite staggering statistics.... "On average, some seven people are killed every day on the roads in Great Britain. Hundreds more are injured, many of them seriously, often with life changing consequences.

In 2008 alone, 2,538 people died and nearly a quarter of a million were injured.

In the past 10 years, the death toll has amounted to 32,298. As such road crashes are the largest single cause of accidental death for people aged between 5 and 35 years."

Take a look at the maps and put your postcode in, the level of detail is quite chilling, it really brings home just how dangerous a simple thing that most of us take for granted really is.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mein Mercedes ist defekt!

Yet again the little A-Class is back at Mercedes-Benz of Salisbury with a problem. This time it's either a fuel leak(!?) or a problem with the fuel tank sensor or gauge. I have been told that if it's a wiring problem it's not covered by waranty which seems odd, whilst I understand that "working" parts such as brakes, valves, motors etc wear out or if there is damage to a fuel line because I have driven over something then it's not covered - but wiring is fixed and it's not covered?

The only thing that made the taking of the car to Salisbury interesting was that there is a Maybach 65 in the showroom! Then on the way home another Maybach was heading into Salisbury - two Maybach's in Wiltshire - what's going on?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Armistice Day....

I received this by email today....

The average British soldier is 19 years old…..he is a short haired, well built lad who, under normal circumstances is considered by society as half man, half boy. Not yet dry behind the ears and just old enough to buy a round of drinks but old enough to die for his country – and for you.

He’s not particularly keen on hard work but he’d rather be grafting in Afghanistan than unemployed in the UK . He recently left comprehensive school where he was probably an average student, played some form of sport, drove a ten year old rust bucket, and knew a girl that either broke up with him when he left, or swore to be waiting when he returns home. He moves easily to rock and roll or hip-hop or to the rattle of a 7.62mm machine gun.

He is about a stone lighter than when he left home because he is working or fighting from dawn to dusk and well beyond. He has trouble spelling, so letter writing is a pain for him, but he can strip a rifle in 25 seconds and reassemble it in the dark. He can recite every detail of a machine gun or grenade launcher and use either effectively if he has to. He digs trenches and latrines without the aid of machines and can apply first aid like a professional paramedic. He can march until he is told to stop, or stay dead still until he is told to move.

He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation but he is not without a rebellious spirit or a sense of personal dignity. He is confidently self-sufficient. He has two sets of uniform with him: he washes one and wears the other. He keeps his water bottle full and his feet dry. He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth, but never forgets to clean his rifle. He can cook his own meals, mend his own clothes and fix his own hurts. If you are thirsty, he'll share his water with you, if you are hungry, his food is your food. He'll even share his life-saving ammunition with you in the heat of a firefight if you run low.

He has learned to use his hands like weapons and regards his weapon as an extension of his own hands. He can save your life or he can take it, because that is his job - it's what a soldier does. He often works twice as long and hard as a civilian, draw half the pay and have nowhere to spend it, and can still find black ironic humour in it all. There's an old saying in the British Army: 'If you can't take a joke, you shouldn't have joined!'

He has seen more suffering and death than he should have in his short lifetime. He has wept in public and in private, for friends who have fallen in combat and he is unashamed to show it or admit it. He feels every bugle note of the 'Last Post' or 'Sunset' vibrate through his body while standing rigidly to attention. He's not afraid to 'Bollock' anyone who shows disrespect when the Regimental Colours are on display or the National Anthem is played; yet in an odd twist, he would defend anyone's right to be an individual. Just as with generations of young people before him, he is paying the price for our freedom. Clean shaven and baby faced he may be, but be prepared to defend yourself if you treat him like a kid.

He is the latest in a long thin line of British Fighting Men that have kept this country free for hundreds of years. He asks for nothing from us except our respect, friendship and understanding. We may not like what he does, but sometimes he doesn't like it either - he just has it to do.. Remember him always, for he has earned our respect and admiration with his blood.

And now we even have brave young women putting themselves in harm's way, doing their part in this tradition of going to war when our nation's politicians call on us to do so.

So tomorrow at some point and maybe every day, please stop for a moment and if you are so inclined, reflect on the plight of our armed forces in the trouble spots of the world.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

IKEA - the only good thing.....

..... is the meatballs.

Why on earth I suggested(!?) then agreed to go in half term week beats me.

Meatballs for lunch in the restaurant\canteen and then buying a bag of mini Dime bars and some Cloudberry conserve in the shop were the highlights of the day.

I don't like any of the furniture or furnishings, the cookware is average, the tableware is below par, the lighting is at best quirky and the customer service is pretty poor - apart from the woman on the food checkout who was a. Swedish & b. very helpful.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cleaner car....

... I have been wanting to get my car valeted properly for a while. I keep it fairly clean, but of late have thrown it through the car wash occasionally just to keep it tidy, I know the damage they can do to paintwork, but I thought a decent car wash would do less damage.

I had noticed that some of the paint had gone slightly flat in places, so I tried waxing the bonnet, even with Autoglym Super Resin polish & Autoglym Paint Restorer nothing worked.

Years ago I saw some work a chap had done to a friends Range Rover - it was stunning, it came back as new. He was based in Weyhill, so when I tried looking him up he had moved... twice. I persisted and eventually found him and got him to do my car last Friday & Saturday - yes it takes him 2 days. He is not cheap, but he works wonders - he has brought up the flat paint shining like new, the interior is just as when it came off the production line and the leather is soft & supple.

I cannot recommend him highly enough - Mike McPhee - Auto Valeting Services - Unit 135, The Commercial Centre, Picket Piece, Andover, SP11 6RU. Tel. 01264 335000‎. Mike is a busy man, so it might take you a while to get a booking date, but if you want your car looking super smart, it is well worth the wait.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Another gardening success.....

.... in the Strawberry department.

After the success of the Pear crop, I let the Strawberry plants run a bit in the last month or so and have managed to get 20 new plants so far from the runners. I should have another 10 or so by the weekend, so a bumper crop should be had next year with 10 x 2nd year plants and 30+ of 1st year growth plants.

It's easy when you know how!

This weekend it is apple harvest time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A day out in London....

..... was had today.
Just strolling around doing the tourist thing. Southbank first for breakfast in the excellent Le Pain Quotidien.

Just outside the Royal Festival Hall was this structure, made of paper tubes.

Then along the Southbank for a while, then over Westminster Bridge and a wander about Whitehall, Horseguards & St James's in time for lunch at Fortnum & Mason.

Then at 2pm I embarked on a guided walk - The Intelligence Trail. At 2.5 hours it's a bit longer than I expected, but a very interesting and informative time was had.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


... of the Pear variety, made by me. Pastry was a bit chunky, but I threw it together in 5 mins.

Pear puree in the base of a part blind baked pastry case, topped with half pears and filled with sugar\cream\egg\vanilla mix.

Twas very nice with a scoop of Green & Blacks Vanilla Ice Cream!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Underneath the seat of power...

Over lunchtime today, I had a tour of the Palace of Westminster, hugely interesting and many thanks to the friend who took me around. Wandering through both Houses was fascinating.... Underneath the palace though is this hidden gem.

St Mary Undercroft is just off St Stephens Hall.

The day got off to a bad start when the trains through Andover were disrupted as one had hit a car on a level crossing at 5.30AM. So I drove to Basingstoke in the hope of getting parked in the works car park and then a choice of trains. Sadly concrete repairs in the multi-storey works car park meant I had to squeeze the A8 into a teeny tiny space next to a fat arsed 911, which I did but with about an inch to spare either side. The trains were then ram packed full of grumpy, smelly & hung over commuters who were generally bemoaning the fact that interlopers had come onto their normally quiet Southampton Parkway to Waterloo train.

To add insult to injury the customer meeting today got cancelled when I was in the office just getting ready to go. So the morning chat to old friends from Lotus days in IBM Southbank, the tour of Westminster (with another old friend from Lotus days) & beer (with old friend from Lotus days + ex boss from Lotus days!) made my day rather better than it looked like being early on.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What a lovely pear.....

.... or really what a lovely glut of pears!

I harvested the cordoned pear tree today, best crop ever of juicy sweet perfect pears. I am convinced that the addition of a leaf cutter bee (or Mason bee) shelter for the last 2 years has paid dividends in the fruit tree pollenation stakes, all of the fruit trees have done so much better this year, providing an abundance of lovely apples & pears.

So tonight (and tomorrow) I have pears for my dessert. A stewed compote made from peeled, cored & diced pears, butter, sugar, a little lemon juice & a fat Madagascan vanilla pod. I've allowed that to cool & then beaten 2 egg yolks through it. Put into ramekins and topped with meringue and then baked until golden brown. The rest of the fruit will be eaten fresh or made into compote & frozen.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

First day back and all that...

I snuck last week off to use up some leave, still have loads to fit in, so the occassional week will be had between now & March. So today felt like first day back at school (sort of - but without the preceeding 6 weeks off!)

TTT (Train To Town), interesting conversation on train with a Corporate Lawyer, amazing who you bump into - last month it was a private investigator who I twigged was following someone back to Basingstoke!? A quick Latte & Blueberry Muffin in Starbucks at Triton Square was had before a couple of meetings about things we can do together with potential Business Partner. Agreed to meet up at a conference next week and discuss more.

Diverted on way back to Waterloo to M&S Marble Arch as I thought they would have bigger range of suits than other branches - I was wrong - Hedge End has better selection\more stock. Yes, I still buy M&S suits for work, they last a year & then get thrown out, saving my better suits from the wear & tear of commuting to town too often.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

In my mind....

.... tomorrow is the last day of summer. No more Bank Holidays until Christmas, a month of Q3, then the slog that is Q4 where more than a weeks vacation is frowned upon, plus the clocks going back on October 25th.

After a day of miserable grey skies and drizzle whilst working in the garden, I hope that tomorrow brings some sunshine at least.

The garden is almost ready for winter with most of the veg. harvested, nearly all the garden lights fixed, pots weeded and shuffled, bark renewed (20 bags worth!), trees pruned, lawn fed, watered, edged and weeded. Luckily haven't had to put BBQ away as it never came out this year! Just a few more odds & sods left to do outside plus a little tidying in the garage and it should all be finished.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

It's just dawned on me.....

.... how small the world is now communications terms.

Phone calls, emails, Twitter & Facebook from all over the world this weekend. Brother in Sydney, friends in Boston, Abu Dhabi, Spain & France all been in [very easy] contact.

Plus the devices I'm using to stay in touch are many and varied too from Blackberry to PC with Skype or browser and best of all... apart from ISP costs all of what I am doing is FoC.

Slingbox is next on the technology acquisition list, then Internet enabled LCD TV for living room.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A weekend of nothingness.....

... I did the sum total of f*ck all this weekend. No gardening, no DIY, no retail therapy, nothing. I didn't even get to watch some DVD's that I had planned to view. Don't know where the weekend went....

Let's hope next week is more productive.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Life in a parallel universe?

Uncanny isn't it? It could be a scene from work.

I just wish I knew the girl in the red dress, as usual the secretary looks to be a bit bonkers.

Thanks to Cali & Carl for pointing me at the website to create these.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

After staycation, been busy at work...

.... but good busy, rather than just busy or bad busy.

Loads going on, reviewed twice, but all went well. Customers are responding well to suggestions and ideas. Much the same next week, but without the reviews - so I can get more done.

Spent weekend in garden doing loads of stuff, wiring up patio heaters (pictured right), cutting hedge, mowing lawn (twice!), edging lawn, repairing wiring to garden lights (I cut through them with hedge trimmer!) even managed to get a bit of photography in around Longparish and saw 2 Herons, on way back I saw a Bugatti Veyron, 6 Lambo's an Aston and a Nissan Skyline all belting down the A303 at breakneck speed.

I enjoyed the staycation so much I've booked another at the end of the month for a week, so much holiday to use, so little time to use it in!? A little shooting, hunting and fishing is in order I think.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


It appears to be a Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi) common in Europe, and very large!
Noted by the front door light today.
Click on the image for better (full size) view.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Time off.....

.... for good behaviour?

I am taking 2 weeks staycation. Having travelled quite a bit in the past I have to say I liked the idea of staycations way before they became the thing to do in the credit crunch. It allows me to catch up on all the trivial things I never get round to doing, like getting little car niggles fixed, DIY, going shopping off the beaten track, lunching with friends and generally wandering about on day trips.

Various trips to car specialists to get things fixed or tweaked and maybe look at a different car - Bentley GT test drive perhaps? I'll go to Orvis to look at some fishing gear and clothing and maybe Harry Potter beckons on a rainy afternoon. I will also take the Sigmonster out for a walk or two.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


... I have recently ordered and taken delivery of a new pair of trainers from NikeID. Starting with a base product of the Nike Zoom Structure Triax, I had the opportunity to customise the colour scheme of the component parts, and even add a personalised ID on them.

On some of the products you can even choose different widths, so very comfortable they are, and unique to me.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Sigmonster cometh.....

..... done deal. On the way next week is a Sigmonster.

EF600mm has gone - not different enough to lighter EF500mm and the 1Ds Mk III had to go - it's a terrible camera - replaced with a 1D Mk III which will be happier stablemate to existing 1D Mk III.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

free email.....

..... then outage.

It appears I have been receiving a free email service from my provider for a while now - I didn't realise this until my email stopped working overnight when they did a bit of an upgrade, so a quick online chat to Customer Support (where they very strangely asked for my credit card details in a web based online help chat session - they assured me it was quite secure - I declined!) the problem was fixed.

Of course there was a knock on effect to my Blackberry and email client from the Dark Side - as the email provider has changed password policy my numerical string password wasn't acceptable, so I had to change to a more complex one containing upper and lower case characters and at least 5 numerical characters!?

The upgrade by the service provider includes spam filters so good that very little is getting through..... sadly thats very little email at all is getting through.

UPDATE 29/06 : Further interupted service today, the upgrade appears to have had some effect on the ability of the email servers to stay up for any period of time. Fingers crossed they sort their lives out before I name and shame them...

UPDATE 07/07 : no email getting through since last week, I can mail out, but zero coming in. I've been onto support again & again - they are utterly crap and full of empty promises of it being fixed "tomorrow", "soon" and "in hours" - no-one will call me back despite numerous requests for someone to do so. They have several tag lines which are really quite wrong "Experience the difference great service can make" not with this lot & "Don't just make a website - make an impact" in my experience a detremental one.....

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rearrange the following - Insult....

.... Injury, Add to.... I wrote about Audi in May and how they wanted £837.20 to replace my cambelt "One of the hardest working components of the engine...." - oh set my mind off and scare me into replacing a part that doesn't present any symptoms why not!

Well, on the way to a meeting yesterday the car suspension started knocking on the front right whenever I went over anything like an uneven road surface. I took it into Audi on the way home and left it with them to investigate.

At least it is a problem that has presented itself and actually has a symptom, rather than the spectre of the unknown as with the cambelt.

Luckily it appears to be a control arm & rubber bush, so relatively cheap. I thought whilst the car is in I may as well have the cambelt done as well, get the whole lot done and dusted - then they tell me "we recommend that when you get the cambelt done that you replace the water pump at the same time as the renewal of the cambelt can put a strain on an old water pump..." - another £250 please!

Looks like the beer budget for the summer has just been blown away by Audi.

24/06 UPDATE : Picked up car today, and not as bad as I thought it might have been, in the end they didn't replace water pump and a few F.O.C. items appeared on bill, so a few beers can be had this summer! I will also probably be able to afford the Audi wheel that has appeared on ebay to replace the one I buckled earlier in the year! Hopefully getting car back to 100% as I want it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

ISIHAC - It's back!

Long awaited, with some feelings that it wouldn't be anything like as good as when Humph was at the helm. With Stephen Fry as guest chairman, it was no suprise that Samantha was otherwise occupied, so the rippling (if not somewhat effeminate perhaps?) Sven was sat on Mr Fry's left hand keeping score.

Overall very good, with the same writing team still in place, with quite a few laugh out loud moments in the 30 minute programme. I did miss the dead-pan delivery of Humph though.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

My wheel man.....

.... has been.

A little bubble of corrosion on the two rear wheels and a small kerb mark (unusually for me) on the front left wheel on the Audi have been fixed by my wheel man.

He was gainfully employed all day on mine and my neighbours cars, restoring the alloys back to perfection. The cars always look so much better when the wheels are 100%. If you live in north Hampshire - I can highly recommend him.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Not quite as good as Springwatch footage....

.... but it will do as a start for me.

Seen over the airfield at Thruxton today, one of three Red Kite's in the summer sunshine, hunting on the abundant dead rabbit population, it was a nice sight to behold.

The place gets a bit congested sometimes, not with aircraft but with a huge number of raptors like the Red Kite & Buzzards galore.

I will re-visit and take a more prepared approach to photographing them soon.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Big bird....

... well birds actually. About 6 or 7 of these gulls (I think they are probably Herring Gulls) were circling over the house today.

After a bit of reading, it seems that it's not unusual to see them inland, they are Ominivorous - aka a scavenger. Acording to the RSPB website they are to be seen inland all year round "especially at rubbish tips, playing fields and reservoir roosts" As they were circling as high as they were, about 800ft or more, it was probably all of the above.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Hanging Baskets.....

.... of Hampshire have arrived.

The annual splurge on hanging baskets from Choice Plants at Romsey has resulted in them arriving today, instant gardening!

They are looking quite good already with the early heatwave, much better than last year when they were knocked about by the rain within days of being put up. Here's hoping for a good display of summer colour for 4 or so months.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

One of those days....

.... a good day, but a long day. Sadly the M3 wasn't at it's best this afternoon, just when I thought I would get away at a reasonable hour and a quick zip down the motorway [it's half term and things are normally quiet on the roads] an accident closed 2 lanes of the M3 near Fleet services, so the journey home was slow, long and arduous.

Stayed awake just long enough to see the disappointing football match, then retired to bed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A day of plotting and planning.....

... back to work, and a day of plotting & planning was had at my office in Basingstoke with a colleague and Industry Expert. A load of good work was completed, but a load more to be done. I let the train take the strain today as I couldn't be bothered to fight for a parking space - they have closed the top floor of the car park as it has concrete rot!?

Came home and did a couple of conference calls that could end up with some decent business as a result and then at 5:00 a local colleague suggested via Sametime that a stroll to the local pub for a beer was in order - who am I to say no? So at 6.02 we converged on the Southampton Arms and I partook of a couple of pints of Irish export. Nice end to a good day.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Troglodytes troglodytes....

.... also known as the Wren. After a better night sleep, I awoke at 6:00 and decided that although it was overcast, it was probably still worthwhile heading for the lakes early to see what wildlife was out & about.

No Kingfisher, but an unusual number of Mute Swan, Mallard Ducks with loads of ducklings, plus the Great Crested Grebe pair - feeding their ever growing youngsters. [How does such a small bird eat such large fish?] A very noisy, but unseen Warbler, Chaffinch and finally this Wren and a youngster flitting about.

Came home at 8:00 for coffee, toast & honey then went to local council tip, sorry Amenity Waste Recycling Centre! to get rid of defunct patio table, then Thruxton to deliver (now redundant, but intact) garden benchs, plus deliver ebay sale to collecting buyer from Plymouth and pick up some cash!

Yet more jet washing of patio was done (nearly finished) and the day was rounded off with yet another Harvey Wallbanger made with Absolut Citron Vodka, then rare fillet of beef Teriyaki & green salad washed down with some very nice La Montesa.

Back to work tommorrow, ho hum.... but luckily only a 4 day week - hurrah!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Happy, Sunny day....

... slept very badly last night, so planned early start didn't happen, ended up spending the majority of the day in the garden power washing the patio (and then re-pointing the cement where I washed it away!), hid from midday sun by watching F1 Monaco GP, deciding to condemn the patio table & chairs when they fell apart as I moved them, mowing lawn and watching bird life in garden.

Finished the day with a couple of Harvey Wallbangers in the evening sun.

Ended the evening listening to newly acquired Gary Numan CD's - mostly live stuff from recent tours such as Replicas Live, Fragment, Telekon Live and the interview series Replicant 1 + 2.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

If they are good enough....

..... to be selected to act as personal protection for a member of the Royal family serving for 10 weeks in Afghanistan, then it's only right that we recognise the entire Regiment as brave as any other soldier that has served in our armed forces and let them live here.

Justice at last for a group of people that has served my country for two centuries.

My father served with some Ghurka's in Malaya, he always told me they were truely fearless fighters who would take no prisoners in combat.

Hat's off to Joanna Lumley, clearly motivated by her family connections, it's good to see people power work for a change.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Talk to Kevin....

.... it's better than being put on hold by a Customer Services Advisor.

I have for years subscribed to Virgin Media Broadband\Telephone\TV services, initially it was ntl: who provided the service, but then Virgin came along and rebranded the services they acquired from Telewest, ntl: and others.

The actual service of broadband\TV\phone is great, very little if any downtime, but their customer service if you have a query is awful.

A couple of things of late have annoyed me, an example being a telesales call to my Virgin phone line offering me a great deal if I took up Virgin TV & phone services to go along with my existing Virgin Broadband service. When I told the caller they were calling me on my Virgin provided phone line and I was sitting in front of my TV watching Sky Sports via my Virgin provided TV services they were somewhat perplexed, needless to say my complaint that they were incompetent idiots fell on deaf and unconcerned ears.

Today tipped me over the edge when I got some mail shots from Virgin offering all sorts of services, sadly to an address in my name, but next door. When I called the Customer Services (haha!) Centre to rectify the address issue (which I thought I had done 5 years ago after many, many attempts) they too were incompetent idiots who put me on hold for minutes at a time, then tried telling me that they were clearly providing the services I pay for to 2 different addresses and that was quite OK.... I got bored after 35 minutes and hung up.

So I decided to call the man who signed the mail shots - Mr Kevin Elliott - MD of Customer Service for Virgin Media on the main switchboard. Now you may think this was a pointless and probably fruitless course of action, surely the MD of Customer Service wouldn't take the call of a mere customer.... well, you are right he didn't. But the switchboard is clearly so well prepared for such calls that I got put through to the UK Executive Group Complaints Dept. where they take ownership of the issue. I actually had a phone conversation with someone who understood what I was talking about, agreed there was a problem, empathised and explained what they were going to do about it.

So my advice, don't bother calling Customer Services, just try calling Kevin - 01256 752000.

19/05 UPDATE : Virgin Media called me back today - twice! To tell me they had fixed the billing\address problems and wanted to give me a discount as I now qualified for a combined tariff! hmmm something I tried last year, but failed miserably at doing, so Virgin have back dated the discount and given me a mega saving on Broadband - more than 50%. They even then gave me a BIG discount on a V+ box as a gesture of goodwill, and agreed an installation date there & then. Amazing difference between calling the normal Customer Services line that should have dealt with my problems and short circuiting the normal channels by calling Kevin directly - even if I didn't get to talk to him.

So, in summary the bog standard Customer Support of Virgin Media sucks, the UK managed Customer Complaint section of Virgin Media are very, very good. So good in fact that they have kept me as a customer, something that wasn't on the cards 24 hours ago. Given my latterly positive statements, I hope they let me off for using their logo!?

Vorsprung Highway Robbery....

... by Audi.

In the post today, a card from Audi UK. Not "Dear Mr Rice as a valued customer we would like to invite you to dinner with Elle McPherson......." instead it just said "Time for a cambelt change on your Audi A8"

Having then read the advice on the Audi UK website "The cambelt is one of the hardest working components in an engine. It should be replaced in good time to avoid damage to the engine. Please refer to your Audi Dealer for guidance."

So I duly call up my local trusty dealer (Dick Turpin Audi) where they merrily advise me that it will set me back £837.20! The thud that Dick heard was me falling on the floor, luckily I fell on my back, that way at least he couldn't come round and take advantage and bugger me at the same time! This could be my last Audi, well maybe an R8 could be tolerated!

Dodging the showers for a walk.....

.... I went to the local nature reserve again this evening and spotted a couple of Buzzard's scouting the area from on high.

Luckily the EF500mm & EF1.4x converter were attached to the EOS 1DIII, so I managed to get this shot, even though they were quite a way above my head.

Not a lot else around, but it's very windy, and a bit colder than expected, so maybe everything (apart from the rabbits!) are in hiding.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Some people have the ugliest kids.....

.... if you compare the beautiful Cygnet I photographed last year to this young Coot photographed today, there really is no contest in the beautiful baby stakes!

Still, it at least it's Mum loves him!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

Haven't been to the lake for a while....

..... and how things have changed.

Everything is overgrown (apart from the foliage that has been hacked back), new benches everywhere and little animals have been produced.

Including this clutch of Great Crested Grebes, on the (very choppy) lake this evening.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Smell the flowers.....

... they, like us are only here for a short while.

The Yellow Azalea in my garden is just about coming to the end of it's flowering season.

It smells amazing, particularly in the late afternoon\early evening. During the month of April it's something I try & do every day - go and have a sniff, it's free, and it's wonderful.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


... still ill, with an ailment the likes I have never had before, never hope to have again (but the re-occurance within 90 days rate is high) and the effects of are grim, painful and generally unpleasant. Have been signed off work for 2 weeks, with another week more than likely.

I have been stuck in front of TV & PC, so I can tell you most of the snooker news and that my helicopter database is 100% up to date. I have pottered in the garden when feeling slightly better (albeit for very short periods of time), taken more paracetamol than is good for me plus a cocktail of various Dr's prescribed medications that I hope never to take again!

I have sort of managed not to fall into the trap of online retail therapy, more through feeling like crap than anything else, but a long desired sniper scope from Blackpool Air Rifles did arrive on the doorstep last week, it is made by Edgar Brothers who made my first parallax scope the 5-20x50 which has been a workhorse since purchase. So I'm now looking at increasing the arsenal with one of the following... a brown laminate stocked Air Arms S510 or a Theoben Rapid Mk II FT but if I can find a mint Theoben Rapid Mk I 17/17 FT with adjustable stock (if you have one for sale and you are in the south of UK, contact me!) I could have yet another expensive dilemma!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Just when I think....

... I have all the gear and no idea!

But I suppose he is at least making a living from photography, which is more than I am.

I have over the years wondered about doing some press\pap work. I watched the TV programme on Big Pictures headed by Darryn Lyons. I saw the mostly feckless camera weilding ex lorry drivers snapping away at celebs at various locations - most memorable was when Madonna jogged past the pap's van with her bodyguards on a road less than a mile away from her (now ex) residence Ashcombe House. The pap's initially couldn't even find the house and weren't ready - the bodyguards came back and offered for Madonna et al to run past them when they were ready with camera's in hand! Whilst I realise it isn't an easy job, a lot of it is based on tip off's and there is a huge amount of rivalry and mis-trust between them, can it really be that hard to do? Sadly, I don't think I've got the balls to give it a go.

Monday, April 27, 2009

THE lens - part II.....

.... about a year or so ago I wrote about the Sigma 200-500mm f2.8 lens.

I knew at the time that Canon had made to special order a fixed focal 1200mm f5.6 lens, but it was so rare that I didn't mention it. I never thought that one would come onto the market, but it did - B&H Photo Video of New York had one last year, the price tag - a cool $99,000 - believe it or not, it sold pretty quickly.

Never again did I think I would see another one available.... but yet again B&H Photo Video have one for sale, this time it's $120,000! It's an amazing lens weighing in at 36lbs, it's 3 feet long. With the current exchange rate and import tax to the UK it would set me back £95,000, I'm not sure if there is one of these in the UK yet - I can but dream!

As usual a brilliant review can be found at The Digital website, looks like B&H got Bryan Carnathan to come and have a day with the lens, a video review is here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Blackberry market dominance....

.... not sure what the big numbers are, but in my mobile phone selection I have become a Blackberry convert. For years and years I was a Nokia fan, they did everything I wanted, the menu structure was familiar, the car kits were good, the battery life was excellent and they were mostly bullet proof.

But, a couple of years ago I was offered a Blackberry Curve as an upgrade on my Vodafone account and I took it, worked out well as it did loads of things that I wanted to do really well (like personal email), the qwerty keyboard was fabulous and little things like the camera\storage were also very useful and useable.

I was then given a Blackberry Pearl with my work contract - crap, big step backwards, shared character non-qwerty keyboard, no email integration (my employer wants me to pay £20 a month for the priveledge of getting work email on my Blackberry - so no thanks!)

With my personal Vodafone contract I have now got a Blackberry Bold, even better than the Curve, and a lot better than the Storm that they sent in error first (and have yet to pick up after a week or so!)

All I have to now is find a good quality 3.5mm over the ear headset - seems more difficult than I imagined!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Some idea's are simple.....

..... and it seems others are making a living from it.

I have said for most of my life "do the small things really well and build success"... reading an ex-colleague [Tony Cocks] blog at Stuff-O-rama it sounds like Seth Godin has similar ideas... "The future is about doing small things really well and growing from there"

Maybe I should become a life coach\mentor\agent of change? Sadly I don't have the mental capability to carry it off and make a few simple lines of knowledge, experience and wisdom into a book or 2 hour presentation. But the basic principles are there - keep things small, simple, easy to understand and then execute - it should then work.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sick, but still laughing.....

.... didn't get to see Barry Cryer last night as I have been off work all week, I really didn't feel up to going out at all. So have spent some of the week finding and listening to ISIHAC downloads from iTunes, some of which I had bought on cassette for the car 10+ years ago when I spent a huge amount of time driving around the UK demonstrating Lotus SmartSuite.

To me they are hugely funny, and the one-liners are brilliant. I have to assume that parts of the show were written well beforehand, but hope that some were genuinely off the cuff lines from very funny people like Willie Rushton, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden & Barry Cryer.

Whoever wrote Humph's lines is\was a genius - I have a sneaky suspicion it may have been Barry Cryer. Some gems can be found here.

The last word has to be the closing line of Humphrey Lyttelton on his last ISIHAC show......... "And so as the loose-bowelled pigeon of time swoops low over the unsuspecting tourist of destiny, and the flatulent skunk of fate wanders into the air-conditioning system of eternity, I notice it's the end of the show..."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Upcoming cultural events....

.... I have seen a couple of upcoming cultural events that I am considering. It's a while since I have been to see anything live, but these might just get me out & about.

April 17th - Barry Cryer at the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke

May 17th - I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue hosted by Jack Dee at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton - as I write I find it's already too late as the show is SOLD OUT [so I may have to trek to London to see Stephen Fry host it, but will probably find that that is SOLD OUT as well]

July 27th - Gary Numan at the City Hall, Salisbury

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Canon admit problem, but they are going to fix it......

Canon have admitted to a problem with their flagship EOS 1Ds Mk III camera, even beyond the initial problems of the sub mirror fix for the 1D Mk III this appears to be a major problem for some users - me included.

I have to confess, I have never been 100% happy with the 1Ds Mk III since I bought one. All of the images were soft, was it me not using the camera properly or was it worth considering sending my lenses in for service and re-calibration at huge expense. Ongoing tests with the same lenses and other bodies such as a 5D & 40D (which I know how to use v well) infuriated me as they were nearly always better and the 40D outperformed both "higher end" bodies.

It wasn't until I tried the same setup of lenses & 1.4x extender with an EOS 1D Mk III that I realised how bad the 1Ds Mk III really was, at about the same time I got an email from Canon offering free collection, repair & delivery back to me of the camera to fix a couple of things - soft focus being one of them - see here for more details.

So, hats off to Canon for addressing the problem, they picked it up yesterday and I look forward to it coming back to me before Easter to try out and finally be happy with it.

UPDATE : arrived back on 9th, so a very quick turnaround - thankyou Canon. Very nice letter, thanking for me for my commitment to Canon products... lets see what the weekend tests bring.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Big Brother has started.... last! As of today European ISP's will start capturing and then store the url's their customers visit as part of an EU security directive.

The BBC reports "All ISPs in the European Union will have to store the records for a year. An EU directive which requires telecoms firms to hold on to telephone records for 12 months is already in force.

The data stored does not include the content of e-mails and websites, nor a recording of a net phone call, but is used to determine connections between individuals.

Authorities can get access to the stored records with a warrant. "

Long overdue IMHO, activists and terrorists have been technology users for a long time, it's about time the bat was put in the other hand to uncover those who appear to be regular people going about their daily business as something else.

If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Spring chores.....

Lawn cut (twice), gutters cleared & cleaned, ponds drained, cleaned and refilled, garage doors washed & polished, plants re-potted, broken pots replaced, plants in border dug out & repositioned, plus visits to tip.... a busy weekend it was.

Still more to do, hope long weekend brings nice weather.