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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ducks and a showy Robin

I had plans for today and the weather was good enough but somehow I ended up over the Forest.

I reported a week or so ago that one of the Grebes had died frozen in the ice. I had heard that a second had turned up and today two Grebes were displaying and on top of that there was a third!!

After lunch I took my first visit to Rye Meads. It was very bird light, there wasn't even a Green Sandpiper!! Highlight were 4 common gulls.

Well that isn't true, the highlight was this chap. They look better opened up.

Friday, January 30, 2009

And your opinions

I'd like your opinion on the following pictures.

I am not looking for comments on the artistic merit or composition or of the the subject matter. I just want to know if you can see a discernable difference in quality (when opened up) between the two batches. Nothing has been done to the pics. They were taken in JPEG in landscape / scenery mode and resized for loading to the blog. I know that this isn't a scientific test but I'd be interested.



Oh puhlease

The excellent photography website The Online Photographer has pointed out a story where US Representative Peter King has introduced a bill

To require mobile phones containing digital cameras to make a sound when a photograph is taken.

I guess the idea is to warn people in case some nasty person was taking a photo of you in secret. I don't know about you but the world, and especially the mobile phone, is noisy enough already. Also there are compact cameras the size of a mobile, will these be the next target?

Frankly I think Mr King has a tadge too much time on his hands.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Earthquake Moment

Every year since 1997 I have spent a long weekend at the excellent Briarfields Hotel in North Norfolk. Well that's not quite true, the infamous year of 2002 I was unemployed and so didn't go.

I can tell you that I hated being unemployed, I have paid my taxes every year and so I claimed my jobseekers allowance of approx £54 per week and signed on (and I HATED it). Two of the most satisfying events of my life were

  • going into the job centre and telling the bloke I would not be able to come in the following week to sign on as I was going on holiday. This look of disgust came over his face and telling him I had a job and the following week and was going to enjoy myself before starting was WONDERFUL
  • sitting in the hotel the first night of said holiday with a drink and a book and ordering dinner.
Anyway with the exception of that time I've been to Briarfields. This year I am not!!

I am going to spend a long weekend in North Devon at the beginning of October.

I am unsure whether to go to the George Hotel at South Molton, a colleague in-laws say the food is excellent or do I head for the West Down guest house just down the road.

Pros and cons? The George is £65 bed breakfast and evening meal, seems to have a lovely menu and has wifi (so I can add photos for OC ;) ) the West Down seems simpler food wise and costs £55 bed, breakfast and evening meal. NO WIFI!!


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The world according to me

One of the things that bothers me about the "credit crunch" is people's reaction to it.

The natural reaction is to blame "greedy" bankers, but is this right?

I heard someone ask if "they" cared about the results of their actions. ie ordinary families losing their jobs and homes and the impact on the economy.

Now many of these people don't inhabit the world that you and I do, I heard one woman who had lost her job discuss how she spent her money "well I refused to spend a £1000 a night on a hotel for a long weekend in Prague...." I mean come on! I suspect many of those who lost well paid jobs are no better off than you and I when the axe falls. £250k per year is a lot of money but if you live the lifestyle when the axe falls it's just as painful.

But what if you are one of the real big earners? You've been earning a high 6 figure some and you lose your job? Well if that person has 4 or 5 million in the bank does it matter to them that a steel worker at Rotherham has lost his job?

Before you say it should (and they should), think about it for a mo. Do you care about someone starving in Africa? Nope you don't. No honestly you don't, not really. We in the west GENERALLY live a lifestyle well beyond what we "need". "Oh dahling did you see comic relief, I'll dress up in stupid clothes and get people to sponsor me won't that me good of me. Oh pass me a glass of that very nice Chateau....."

And I suspect that is what happens in the city. If you employ someone to maximise profits and stick them on hefty short term bonuses what are they going to do? Personally I'd rack the money up, why? because the paternalist system we had whereby if you worked hard you were protected has gone. Its all about today. The capitalist system needs to have checks and balances. One can hope that the current cock up will convince governments of all colours that the city is important but they are not gods.

But bear in mind the guilt goes beyond the city. People who borrowed against the equity of their houses are guilty, those who believe its their right to have an overdraft are guilty (out of interest, do you have for an agreed overdraft? I've NEVER had one, my Mum and Dad taught me the rules of Mr Micawber well, they've never heard of him but they understand him). We need to go back to proper credit that people can expect to afford, we have to be responsible, I am so fed up of adults who blame banks for lending them cheap money. FFS you are adults not 5 year olds. "It's his fault he MADE me do it".

Of course those of you who are socialists will go on and on about fairness and how we should all get the same for doing the same job. CRAP!! Honestly crap. We are not all equal. Why should someone who busts his guts out get paid the same as the bloke next to him who goes through the motions?

When we come out of this mess we have to get a system that rewards people who work hard and those who take reasonable risks. We need to reward those, ESPECIALLY those on modest incomes who try to better themselves and want to avoid reliance on the state. We need to take responsibility for our own actions.

For my own part I have immense sympathy for those losing their jobs. I've been made redundant twice and it is not nice.

I'd like to stress that the finance industry does bear a lot / the majority of the blame for what goes on. I just think we should look at ourselves and how we run our lives.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I was at the other office today, outside the window there is a tree and there is the remains of a crows nest.

I was sat at my desk and heard a Crow calling. I looked out and there was a Crow on the nest calling, he then flew off. A bit later he was back calling and then another flew in chased him from the nest to a nearby and branch. The new one sat on the nest and they crowed at each other.

I hope I may get to see some babies crows!

Monday, January 26, 2009

There must be a better way

I am not a fan of these automated call centres. With the recent problems with the internet and the boiler I have had to use these lately.

My upstairs phone is an old one and modern IVR's don't recognize when I press a button so if I want to be on the PC as well I have to bring the donwstairs phone upstairs.

Anyway a typical IVR goes something like this.

This call is being recorded for training, and 4000 other reasons which we will tell you about before we let you proceed.

Press 1 if you are opening a new account
press 2 if you wish to request some literature
press 3 if you want make a payement
Press 4 if you have a problem or need to talk to somebody

you then get ANOTHER set of options

THEN you will be asked (if you are lucky and don't get another set of options)

after the tone say your name

if you are lucky they'll recognize your name

after the tone say your postcode

after the tone say your date of birth

using your phone enter your account number followed by the hash key.

after the say tell us your inside leg measurement

now without revealing your password.......

EVENTUALLY you'll here the phrase

"thank you we are transferring you to an operator"

you'll then hear the original greeting and then be told that all operators are busy as they are experiencing unusual demands (WHY IS IT AT WHATEVER TIME YOU ARE RINGING EVERY EFFING COMPANY IS EXPERIENCING UNUSUAL DEMANDS??)

after 10 minutes of being told "all our operators are busy as we are experiencing unusual demands" and get the odd sales message you'll
a) feel like you want to scream at the phone (I often do)
b) talk to some poor sod who has had a bad day because he has had a load of fed up customers like you!!

And you know what? He'll take you through the same set of EFFING questions you've already answerd.

One day I'll meet a company that has enough people to answer the phone and doesn't make me want to drive down and hit the head of customer sales and marketing with a large brick.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wittering away

Apparently last Monday was the most depressing day of the year. Well if I may say so it was not, it was today. I can live with grey wet cold days on a Monday morning, I am in an office looking at a computer screen but today!!!

It's a Sunday I am not in the office and I'd like to get out with my binoculars and camera and see some wildlife and take some photos but can I? well I could but it is cold grey and wet so if you don't mind I am going to stay in and read a book. I have JUST started a Miss Marple.

Right some technobabble :D

Oh and by the way I've decided I want to buy a new compact camera (I am awaiting snorts of derision from twitchi-birder) BUT I'm not going to. Why you ask? well no one makes the camera I want.

What I here you say? there are loads of compacts out there! Yeah there are and some are quite decent except no one makes the one I want.

What do I want? Well stick an APS-C sized sensor used in most consumer dSLR's in a compact body give it a very modest zoom range and I'll be happy. I don't want a lot of MEGAPIXELS if, for instance, Nikon was to put the 6mp sensor from the d40 into the body of a P6000 give it a 35mm range of 28-80 and charge me £350-£400 and I'd buy it (Hell I'd even forgive them if it was easier to not give it a zoom but a fixed lens or one with 28mm 50mm and 80mm settings.). They could scrap all the stupid scene modes (auto and PSAM will do) cut out all the video stuff and the GPS. Just give me a compact camera which takes good photos.

Now I have said before i don't use my current compact much but I do know there are times I'd like a compact in my pocket. If I'm birding a scope, dSLR (With 80-400 lens) and bins is enough so i don't want to carry a second camera or to have to switch lenses. I'd like something that has dSLR capabilities that I can slip into a pocket.

I'd not use it exclusively but it would be handy. Sometimes a dSLR is too big and conspicuous.

As it is all the good compacts around at the moment are a bit flawed image wise (especially high iso, I shoot in churches folks they're dark) and have other flaws. Panasonic LX3? (stupid lens cap idea, its a compact I want it to be easy), Canon G10? to big.... The Nikon P6000 seems to fit most of my criteria (and it will take my snazzy SB-400 flash) but its image quality isn't up there.

Sigma have attempted to put a dSLR sensor in a compact body and then made it a camera from 1999 in terms of responsiveness!!

The Panasonic G1? Its too big for a compact (stick the sensor in a LX3 body give it a built in lens cap and I'll buy it). It would seem this ugly looking thing from Olympus may be the best hope in the immediate future. I don't really want interchangeable though, its a compact I want convenience as well as image quality!!

Come on Nikon and Canon just stick an APS-C centre in a relatively compact body for goodness sake. We want it, give it to us.

If I'm honest I reckon it'll be Panasonic who'll make the camera I want first. They actually seem to be innovative (shame on Nikon and Canon). And Fuji's new sensor may be interesting.

I can but hope.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lets Quack

I looked out of the window and found it was a tadge frosty.

I decided that I'd stay local and headed to the Forest. It all seemed a bit quiet somehow. There were birds but not in great numbers, perhaps I just missed the flocks. Still I saw Bullfinches and a treecreeper which were nice.

The lake had partially frozen over again

but there was enough open water to support loads of Mallards, shoveler, teal, lots of Gadwall, Tufties, Canada Geese, Coots and Moorhen and alas the loan Great Crested Grebe.

I stopped for breakfast at the cafe and was joined by this chap.

Suitably refreshed I spotted a Kingfisher flash over the lake.

So it was early, I considered my first trip of the year to Rye Meads but instead went to Connaught Water in Epping Forest. Its a small lake well frequented by families, I had heard the ducks were friendly and I know it is home to a bird difficult to tick. The bird is the Mandarin Duck and though I saw them they were playing hard to get and were sitting on Islands. There was also a Red Crested Pochard but this is an escape and been there 4 years I believe. This lake too was partially frozen but it also had a Great Crested Grebe (may be two) and I spotted a Little Grebe as well.

Nothing out of the ordinary but a nice stroll and a chance to appreciate the dapper little Tufted Duck.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Time to listen to Mr Micawber

I was sitting in the Barbers having my hair cut. They were chatting about the recession when this old boy said "well there's no recession if you are a pensioner, we've got a guaranteed income".

Now this is contrary to what you normally hear. Most pensioners will tell you how they are struggling and it's a choice of paying for heat or food. This old boy said "well most of 'em don't pay rent or council tax" ... "they expect to much".

I asked if my Dad had walked through the door! He's always moaning about his fellow pensioners. "You hear them on the bus moaning about how short they are of money, but you also see them buying loads of scratch cards".

That's the thing if you've made no provision for your old age then all you can expect is to your ctax and rent paid and you have a some of money for food etc. As my dad says don't complain about it, it was your choice very often. Mum and Dad were never well paid but they worked hard and "cut their cloth accordingly". They had a decent retirement with 4 holidays a year until Mum was ill.

Anyway you may have noticed we are in recession. Things are pretty bad. But the thing is it we are in danger of talking ourselves in to a damn sight worse. Obviously if you have lost your job (and I do sympathise, happened to me twice) things are tough but for the rest of us? What's the point of stopping spending? Companies will have less profit and will lay off staff, banks will see companies as less profitable and refuse to loan money etc etc.

Its very simple don't spend more than you have!! Its a philosophy my folks drummed into me.

As Mr Micawber would say:
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wasting time talking to BT

I had the telly on (it was Dr Who - Midnight, a bit shouty for my liking) and the laptop was on and I was playing scrabble. Suddenly all the pages acted as if I had been disconnected.

I checked nothing had come unplugged and then rebooted PC. When I attempted to connect I got an error message, I tried this a couple of times and nothing. So I got hold of the helpline and off we go.

Some guy in India (Calcutta I believe) tried various things (I forget how long we were talking) and he gave up and passed me back to the UK who advised me to try another number.

This chap tested my line (Again) and did the same things the chap in India did. He then asked if I had the CD with the BT Broadband drivers. Well yes but I had no idea where it was. Apparently without trying to reinstall the drivers an engineer wouldn't come out and I'd have to get it sent to me and he gave me a number to call to get one.

Well I did have a look and, wow, found it virtually straight away. Giving that the room it is in looks like a rubbish tip that is impressive.

I phoned backand spoke to someone else and we reinstalled the drivers and went through it again. This chap said he thought it was a fault on the line and he'd report it. He said the engineers would contact me within two working days and if not to call another number.

It was now 10:30pm and so I watched the end of Mock the Week and turned the light out.

At 4:30 am I woke up I decided to try the computer, and guess what, we are back!

So that was a wasted evening.

Not good

I'm a bit fed up. I've just found out that one of the two Great Crested Grebe's that is overwintering on Hatfield Forest lake was found dead frozen in ice.

I know that obviously all birds are suffering at the mo but it is quite sad when it is a star bird on your local patch. Lets hope that a pair continue to breed there (there were two breeding pairs last summer).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Do we accept this?

When I was at school I was a "Saturday Boy" at Sainsbury's (a supermarket for those from outside the UK). My responsibilities involved pricing frozen chickens, collecting trolleys (which I liked) and occasionally the checkout.

I remember one day being offered a Scottish Banknote and asking the supervisor if we accepted it. The gentleman was a little upset and commented it was legal tender, it didn't matter as apparently we did.

However Scottish notes are not legal tender in England and shops in England (and I guess Wales) can refuse to accept Scottish notes and there is nothing that the person with the note can do.

Shadow Scottish Secretary David Mundell is launching a private member's bill in the House of Commons which would require all providers of goods or services in the UK which accept Bank of England notes to take Scottish bank notes on an equal basis.

In Scotland three banks retain the right to print their own money: the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Bank of Scotland and the Clydesdale Bank. However NOWHERE in the UK are these notes backed by law. Indeed even in Scotland the only notes with legal force are those printed by the Bank of England.

On and Channel Island and Isle of Man currency is only legal tender in those jurisdictions. A right pain when you come back from Guernsey for instance.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I don't think I am overly tight but I am beginning to wonder.

As you may have noticed I do partake of the odd holiday in the UK so I stay in a fair view B&B's per year.

I don't ask much. My requirements are:
Must Haves
  • Clean
  • En-suite
  • Television
  • Tea making facilities
  • serves an evening meal.

Nice to haves
  • wifi

I think you'll agree that I don't ask for much. The evening meal bit rules out many pure B&B's so I often end up at small hotels or pubs.

I tend to use the AA website to track down somewhere to stay, for no other reason than it'll give me a fair selection and SOME idea as to quality. In booking my recent round of holidays I've had real problems finding places. There seemed to be a dearth of places that I considered acceptable. Or perhaps I should say met my pricing requirements.

Now excuse but HOW can a pub justify charging me £75 a night to sleep!! Yes sleep, breakfast was extra!! North Wales wasn't too bad but South Wales was difficult. Sussex was a flipping nightmare!! The place I'm going to in East Sussex is actually charging me the same per night (£48 including breakfast) as it did 7 years ago! But West Sussex was a right pain. I know prices are going up but most pubs want £70 and upwards for B&B!!

And please don't get me on single supplements. Ok I am "happy" to pay a supplement if I have a twin or double bed but if there is a single bed only in my room I would like to know why I am being charged a supplement. Are you paying attention the Mayfield House Hotel, Crudwell near Malmesbury!!

I try to budget for £75 a night which allows for accomodation , my meal and a couple of pints/glasss of wine. I think I have to revise this I reckon this is running to nearer £80 nowadays.

To be honest i'm not certain what I get for my money for B&B, there's a bit of electricity, someone sticks some tea and coffee in my room of a morning and makes the bed. Oh they cook me breakfast and for this I pay them £48 (and let me add that this isn't pricey these days, actually its pretty good).

I am not a demanding guest. Frankly all I ask is that the telly works, I can get a breakfast and the room is serviced and I can make a cuppa. I don't demand adequate seating in my room (which is good because I won't get it) just a bed to lie on and watch the telly. When I have asked you to reserve me a table please reserve it! Just give me a seat to sit in, a pint of beer/wine and a light to read my book. All you have to do of an evening is take my order and stick food under my nose.

I've noticed that residents lounges are being phased out. The excellent one at the Old Black Lion Hay-on-Wye went ages ago. More seats for food, more money. I am not complaining you understand, despite its many changes in ownership over the past 11 years the OBL still serves a good pint and good food. Its why I go back there every two to three years.

Food can be a bit variable on my travels, I was rather lucky that the OBL was the first place I ever stayed at and so I knew that I could get decent food. I am not that demanding, it doesn't have to equal the Starr at Dunmow (stop drooling Jan). I'd rather an excellent Ham Egg and Chips , Gammon Steak or a mixed grill than someone thinking they can cook and providing me something that looks pretty but tastes nowt special. Of courses places I go back regularly to do provide good food.

Another thing is service is never that stunning. I've only had really bad service a couple of times but mostly its ordinary and you are tolerated. I don't expect them to sacrifice the fatted calf but come on !! Its getting to the stage that they throw a key at you and point in a direction. The thing is good service does stick in the memory. I go back to Briarfields in Titchwell because the staff are friendly and the service good. I enjoyed my stay at the Belfry Yarcombe last year not because the room was clean and had good facilities (it was and they were) or that the food was good (it was) but the couple who ran it were friendly and didn't view you as a credit card (they may well have done but they never let it show).

I'll finish this blog with an example of good service. When I go to East Sussex this year I'll be staying at the Olde Forge near Hailsham, I've been before. My first visit was the year the proprietors took it over and the owner was closing to go on holiday. At breakfast on my last full days stay the owner explained this and said I was the only guest for dinner and would I mind ordering in advance? Well I understood his reasons and I selected the beef. He told me that he had assumed I would order that. I explained that I would have ordered the duck if it had been in a peppercorn sauce say instead of the sweet and sour on the menu. And you know what? He offered to cook it for me and it was excellent. So this year I fancied a trip to East Sussex and I'm going back there again and will happily recommend it to you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's Winter we're closed

I am never certain what I should blog about. I'm always intrigued what interests readers, what bores them etc etc so please let me know. Is there anything you'd like me to do (POLITE PLEASE). More/less birds, more/less churches, more/less museums or other heritage stuff. Whatever, i'd be interested.

All in all I had an enjoyable winter break. Yes I was in England in January but the weather was ok. Friday was dull as my rather dreary photos show (oh did the sharp eyed amongst you notice the two b&w photos on Friday? did you like them? I ask because I thought they worked.) but it never hampered me.

As I drove back today with the sun shining I couldn't help but think it would have been good to stop off and visit a "heritage" property. Of course it's January so the vast majority of properties are safely locked up. It strikes me as a missed opportunity, yes parks are open but the houses are securely locked. The National Trust tells us that properties have to be shut for conservation, cost reasons etc etc BUT some properties do have some limited opening times in Winter.

For instance Osterley Park (owned by the National Trust) is open in December. Now I'm not asking the trust to throw open the doors to all properties all years, its just that I suspect there are people out there who do go away for weekends and would visit a property. The trust encourages us to visit its gardens and parks so you can walk, but if the rain comes down you are left with no where to go.

I appreciate that our heritage needs protecting but I am not asking for much. Properties open at weekends only. Not even all weekends, in Kent the Trust could open Chartwell one weekend, Igtham the next etc.

English Heritage has it a little easier since it has few houses in the syle of the National Trust. Private houses have to make a commercial decision (most are closed), yes the Trust does as well but I suspect that a lot less of its properties are dependent on paid staff and where staff are paid (e.g restaurants) they are in profit making areas. Why are all the gardens open do you reckon? To attract punters into the cafe's and restaurants.

Interestly IF I had had my Hudson Historic Houses 2009 in the car (and why wasn't it??) I'd have known that Leeds Castle was open. I'd have popped in and regaled you with pictures instead of heading home! Oh well my car is clean!!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Coming Home

It was a tadge windy last night!! but when I woke the sun was shining.

Trish and I headed off to see if the Night Heron was being a little bit more accomodating.

Well it was showing but it could have chosen a slightly easier spot to sit. Still it's pretty obviously a Night Heron!

I left Trish and headed off for churches. And of course both had services on! Instead of hanging around I decided that my very mucky car could do with a wash. So I've eaten a sarnie, drunk a coffee and am just going to fill the bucket up!