Friday, January 30, 2009

Another busy week

I'm posting photos of my other grandchildren, Shibby and Drake,
whom we visited earlier this week. Mrs C and I spent a few hours
with them ~ so I had plenty of time to snap a few more photos of

(to see a larger version, just click on one)

You'll see that the photos are slightly out of focus, and the middle one
slightly over-exposed, but I think they're great all the same.

I've spent well over a week preparing a Powerpoint talk on various ways
of backing up stuff on your computer, with emphasis on using a DVD/CD writer
in both Windows XP and Vista ~ this was for the Computer Club I help run
for my local U3A. About 25 people turned up for the talk ~ my highest
attendance so far, helped by my advertising the talk a few days in advance
by email (I have 160+ members on my email list).

Today I went to a newly formed county-wide U3A network group ~ its inaugural
meeting, where we all talked about simple constitutional matters and what we
wanted out of the group. I've been invited to create a website for this group
in due course ~ I think I'll use the free services of to set up a
simple one.

With the help of an accountant friend, we managed to send off our first
online tax return yesterday (for Mrs C) ~ filling in all the forms was
surprisingly easy ~ the hardest bit was getting all the info together,
beforehand ~ something which I loathe doing, and which puts me off
starting my own business or doing some part-time work for a company.
Instead I offer my admin/website services for free - to Mrs C and to my
two musician daughters, and to my local U3A (which is a charity).

I have wondered about making some pocket money as a photographer, but
I'm not good as the professionals (and the amateur photographers at my
nearest camera club), and there's too much competition around. Nottingham
Trent University runs a photography course, and a lot of its graduates
will be looking for work in the area.

More freezing cold weather is coming our way this weekend, and snow is
forecast for Monday ~ perhaps another photo-opportunity? :)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Last weekend

Last Friday, Mrs C and I motored down the M1 in very cold, wintery
conditions - it was snowing at times - to attend a funeral in East
Finchley in London.

Mrs C's Auntie M had died in her sleep in hospital, the week before
- she was 87.

To our dear Auntie M ... may you rest in peace.

It feels strange to think of how some people seem to peg on and on,
in life, as if you expect them to live for ever. And then, rather
suddenly they're not there any more. Followed by a funeral, a lot
of tears, and then the family home disappears ~ the focal point of
the family disappears... for good.

It seemed to me, when my parents died and when their house was sold,
that it was like a huge chapter in my life had come to an end. I felt
sad and yet at the same time, somewhat relieved that it was all over.

I look back now at the good times we all had together, but occasionally
feel sad that they're not around to share our present lives and our
grandchildren with us.


And talking of grandchildren, we spent the rest of the weekend
celebrating Mini's second birthday, with another big family gathering,
and another yummy chocolate cake - this one made by her mum.

I've put this little photo-montage together of Mini blowing out the
candles, and one of her sitting between Iggy and Sheepy.

(Click to see a larger image)

To end on, here's a little conversation between mother and daughter
(aka Sausage & Cutie-La-La) the other day...

L. called her through to the kitchen encouragingly: "Mini, Mini, come
and see the stars on this (poo) chart ~ there are lots of stars to see.
Mini, Mini, come and have a look!"

Mini, who was drawing a picture at the time, replied: "Sausage too busy!"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More stories about the grandchildren

We look after Little A for a day, about once a week now,
to give her mum a break. It's something we enjoy very much.
(I missed out on a lot of the child care while our girls
were growing up, apart from at weekends and during my
holidays, so it's great to have young children around the

We have one of those funny notices hanging up in our
kitchen, which proudly announces: "Grandchildren are spoilt
in this house!" However, we don't like to go "over the top"
with Little A, just in case she gets used to the idea that
she can have just whatever she likes. It can be difficult
not to spoil the litte 'uns, don't you think?

Anyway, Litte A is used to eating some kind of pudding or
sweet after her main meal (which is around 4pm every day).
So the verbal routine she goes through, is that her mum/dad
ask her if she'd like some yoghurt (etc), to which she replies
"yes" or "no". "No" is her usual answer, unless it's some
form of treat such as chocolate or crisp.

So yesterday, after her meal, Mrs C ran through a list of
several things we had in the house, to which she said: "No".

"I know, Grandma," she said, "chocolate cake!"
"Sorry, A, but I haven't made any"
"I know, Grandma ~ chocolate!"

Mrs C fibbed when she said we hadn't any, but A agreed to
have some yoghurt, followed by some potato nibbles.

Little A has become very adept at changing a CD of nursery
rhymes for another in our CD player, including opening a CD
case (which I find difficult at times), and pressing the
correct button for "play". Her dad's jaw dropped in amazement
when he saw her do this a week or so ago. What an amazing kid.

Her younger cousin Mini, is coming up for her 2nd birthday,
and has learned to say the word: "Absolutely!"

Last week, her mum said to her at her mealtime:
"Aren't you a clever girl, eating all your sweetcorn?"
(one of those mini-corn-on-the-cobs)
"Absoloootely!" said Mini.

Her mum said on the phone to us: "I wonder where she got
that word from?" ... as if she didn't know. :)


I read a joke today, about what it's like to be getting older:

"The future ain't what it used to be."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's Obama Day, just in case you didn't notice

I do feel excited at the prospect of a breath of fresh air in
US politics. I do hope that amazing things will happen under Obama's
leadership, for American citizens and for people living in the
Middle East.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pottering around

I’ve been busy in the past few days, beavering away at my next talk
for my U3A Computer Club. The talk is all about how to store / back
up your stuff … about the range of options available, including
burning a CD. I’ve spent most time on the latter, as there are
differences between various programs and also between Windows XP d
and Windows Vista.

I’ve had to learn how to use this programs (over the years) by trial
and error … a bit like feeling my way around a dark room, taking care
not to crash into anything. I suppose I could have gone and bought a
book on how to use a computer, but then I’m a tight bastard, as one
of my neighbours frequently says about me. I tend to get books out of
our local library, rather than buy them.

Last Friday, a couple of friends and I got together for a “jam session”
on our electric guitars ~ we meet up every 3-4 weeks and play through
(and sing along to) hits of the 50s and 60s. One of my pals is a
Bob Dylan devotee, so we play a lot of his songs ~ BD is known as
“His Bobness” in the folk clubs in Nottingham. We went to see him
“live” at the Nottingham Arena a few years ago, when he was on tour in
the UK. We were sitting on the second row from the stage, and the
atmosphere was electric. I was very impressed by his musicianship,
but not by his manner ~ he didn’t smile at all at the end of the show,
despite the huge applause he got from the audience. Perhaps he was
just having an “off” day.

I spent an hour or two later that day, helping someone (who lives
nearby) download photos from her camera. And I spent a few hours in
Derby on Saturday with my sister-in-law, K, sorting through several
years’ worth of photos and then showing her how to burn them onto
a CD. Formerly, she was a keen photographer with an SLR camera.
Currently she’s using a compact Canon digital camera which produces
images about 0.7MB in size ~ not top quality unfortunately.

Mrs C was away this weekend, meeting up with a group of friends in
York, so I had the house to myself. So I just spent today mainly on
the computers, polishing up my talk (Powerpoint), and having a look
at some photography and Photoshop sites.

I invite you to have a look at the brilliant video-tutorials on
this site ..

This evening, we had kippers with Julienne potatoes and a selection
of steamed green veg and carrots, which I cooked in time for
Mrs C’s arrival home. We had this together with some lovely chilled
wine ~ the Wine Society’s Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Delicious.

The Julienne potato recipe we use is dead easy (I think we might
have got it from Delia Smith originally).

For 2 people, cut 2-3 potatoes into thin strips (smaller than
chips but slightly bigger than French Fries). Pat dry with a tea
towel. Put a small amount of sunflower oil into a small frying
pan, and turn on the heat. (Mrs C sometimes adds a small amount
of butter too).

When the oil is hot (but not smoking), add the potato, season
with a little salt and freshly ground pepper, and add 2 cloves
of garlic finely chopped (that’s my variation).

Cover the frying pan with a Pyrex-type glass plate (to almost
seal the top of the pan, and weight it down with some heavy
weights (eg several heavy mixing bowls) to compress the potato.
Cook on a fairly low heat for about 20 mins or so (longer if
cooking larger quantities). Check for how well cooked the potato
is before serving. Ideally the base of the potato layer should
be a medium brown/golden colour, and be crisp.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It pays to shop around

Today I renewed our house buildings and contents insurance with
Churchill online, at a bargain price of £79 … this is for fairly
basic insurance cover (and with a £200 excess on any claims), but
even so, the sums insured are well above what we actually need.

Churchill is currently offering a 50% reduction in premiums to new
online customers (who haven’t made a claim in the last 5 years).

Last year’s quote from Churchill was £155, but I chose to stay
with our usual insurers, X**, who matched this quote (when I
asked if they could do so, over the phone).

This year’s renewal premium from X was £556.

I phoned a sales consultant at X, to see if he could match
Churchill’s quote, but he couldn’t do so.

The level of insurance cover on offer with X was much higher,
but we’re satisfied with the cover we’ve got with Churchill.

I did try out one of the online comparison websites, but after
spending ages answering page after page of questions, it
didn’t give me any price comparisons there and then, but
said that these would be emailed to me. So I went straight
to the Churchill website, which was much simpler to use.

So, I’ve saved us nearly £480 (700 US dollars), just by
shopping around on the internet for an hour or two.

** name withheld to avoid possible litigation.


I got up early this morning at about 6.30am, and looking out
through our patio doors, I saw this very misty / foggy scene.
The rooftops nearby were all frosted over -- it was very cold.
The road by our house was very quiet (there were no passing cars),
so I got a strange feeling of stillness, as if everything had
been frozen in time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Heaven on Earth

I had a truly mind-blowing experience last week.

No, I didn't take any special substances or eat some magic
mushrooms. During my time as a campus doctor, I looked after
several students who poisoned themselves eating these - one
of them had severe D&V and stomach cramps, so I keep well
away from any wild mushrooms / toadstools.

I had been given a gift voucher at Xmas for a 30 minute back
massage (plus a short head & neck massage), and so for the first
time in my life, I went for a professional massage.

For those of you who live in or near Nottingham, I can 100%
recommend going to Re-store for this. The premises are small,
but are beautifully fitted out. They are in the middle of a
Georgian shopping lane in Nottingham known as Hurts Yard.

Mrs C and I have given each other back massages from time to
time, using techniques we've picked up from books and videos
on the subject - however I reckon our skills are very amateurish
compared with someone who's been fully trained.

As I've said, this was an out-of-this world experience. I felt
wonderfully pampered, and it was lovely just to lie covered up
in warm towels for a short time after the massage.

I did feel rather spaced-out for the rest of the day - feeling
unusually relaxed and "laid back" about things. Not quite my
usual grumpy self.

Victor Meldrew became Victor Mellowed.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Our daughters ...

E is our eldest ~ she is a harpist, a stage fight director and teacher,
and also is a part-time gardener.

L was the manager of a busy computer help-line desk for a large
company in London. She re-trained as a fashion designer, and is now
a full-time mum.

R is a full-time mum at the moment, but will return to part-time work
soon ~ she's an environmental health officer.

S is a classical guitarist (performer and teacher) and is currently
re-training to become a play therapist.

This is the first time I've tried adding my Flickr photos to Blogger
by substituting the html code, by the way.

Currently I'm filling in forms to claim Gift Aid for the small educational
charity I work for - I hate filling in HMRC forms, but it will generate
an extra £1000 income for us. Boring and very time-consuming work.
This is my fourth day doing it, and I've nearly finished, thank God.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A few of my recent photos

(Click on the pic to see a larger version)

... featuring family members (including our four daughters and
three grandchildren) and friends also, whom we met up with over
the Xmas break.

Here's a quiz for you ... Mini is in square A1, and her Auntie R is
in square D3. So in which squares do you think our other daughters
are? (I'll give you the answers at the end of this week ~ you
will get a few clues by looking at my Flickr site).

The poster for Cinderella, which is on at The New Wimbledon Theatre,
reminds me that I got close up to one of the stars of the show,
Gareth Gates, at the stage door.

A couple of attractive female fans had asked him for his autograph,
and were chatting with him, as I walked by with my supermarket
shopping bags. A missed photo-opportunity.

A BBC webpage states that he's sold 3.5 million records so far,
which is brilliant.

I would have preferred meeting up with the other two stars ~
Alistair McGowan, and the gorgeous Joanna Page.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Mary Poppins

I imagine most of you will have seen the film, Mary Poppins?

We watched this film yet again on TV over Xmas ~ it seems to
be a perennial favourite with the programme makers ~ perhaps it
still getting high ratings with the general public?

My dad took my younger sister L to see this three times when
she was little ~ something which must have been really trying
for him ~ but he told us towards the end of his life that L was
the only child he really loved (which I was rather hurt by at
the time of his confession, and which explained a lot about why
he was a such a distant figure while I was growing up).

Parents! Who'd have them, really?!

Anyway, we watched the film while our granddaughter, Mini, was
playing with all her new things, but she must have been
impressed with how Ms Poppins tidied up the kids' bedroom, just
with a few clicks of her fingers.

Next day, Mrs C was recounting to Mini how Mary had clicked her
fingers and tidied up all toys and clothes in the room ... this
was while Mrs C was tidying up the main living room / playroom.
Mrs C clicked her fingers a few times, and Mini came out with
the words: "As in Hoppy Poppy!"

Her dad is very keen for her to learn Mandarin Chinese, and has
bought her a set of language DVDs produced by the BBC. We watched
about 10 minutes of this a few times while we were in London.

Some people might query why you should teach a child Chinese ~
why not French / Spanish / German, which are the usual subjects
taught at UK schools? And how much practice is she going to get
speaking Chinese, unless she were to get a job waitressing at a
Chinese restaurant? However, China is becoming one of the top
industrial nations in the world, so job prospects in the business
world are likely to be good for Chinese speakers.

Here are the first two words taught on this course...

Ni hao = Hello.

(say "Knee ha" ... with slight emphasis on the first word).

So there you are, you can now speak a little Chinese when you
order your next take-away.

Her mum, L, told us on the phone us a few days ago, that Mini
could now say 7 words of Chinese. The only problem is that L
had no idea what she was saying, and is now having to watch the
DVD with her.

Mrs C and I are about to start a beginner's German course,
which will be taught by one of our friends, who's just finished
an Open University degree course in the subject.

He'll be teaching us the basics of German conversation for
tourists, such as how to order a cup of coffee, which will be
very handy for future visits.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Friday, January 02, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Well, it is traditionally the time of year to be thinking
about something you'd like to change about your personal
habits or appearance for the better.

I wonder who invented this idea? Perhaps it was a Victorian
journalist, who was so short of news at this time of year
that he/she filled a page with fairly trite but entertaining
stuff like this. We all like to read about celebs who are
keen to shed a few pounds in weight or give up smoking, or
who wish to do some charitable work for the needy / less
well off.... instead of enjoying themselves ~ smoking, drinking,
having sex, and spending loads of money on wonderful houses,
cars and holidays ~ a lifestyle which many would love to have.

In my case, I'd like to add a few pounds in weight, but not
too much or I'd have to go out and buy some new trousers
(possibly ones with elasticated waist bands which are popular
with people of a certain age). I don't know why, but if I do
put on some weight, I tend to put it on round the middle -
I become pot-bellied, which looks most unattractive.
Perhaps this is a male (rather than female) phenomenon?

Excuse me for rambling on about this, but some years ago,
I went along to a meeting for doctors and nurses working in
the community, which was all about giving dietary advice to
obese patients. I was the only GP and the only bloke in the

Anyway, the woman leading the meeting made a joke about men
being so overweight, that they permanently lost sight of their
willies ... everyone laughed including me. The group leader then
half apologised to me for making a sexist joke.

New Year's Resolutions ... they're easy to make but hard to keep,
aren't they?

The usual advice is to keep them simple and do-able.

So my resolution for 2009 is to be more attentive, to chat more
and to spend more time with, the lovely Mrs C.

I spend more time on this computer than with Mrs C, which is
silly really, so I'm going to adjust this balance.