Wednesday 5th March – A day at the shops

A quiet day today, but sunny outside, so we went down town and a quick trip around the shops for a few small household items.  I also picked up a DVD from The Library on the way home (Riddick), which I watched this evening – it wasn’t too bad as these things go – and in between I have glued up the first section of the show rack, so it is ready for varnish.

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Tuesday 25th February–An allsorts day

I got up around 9 am today, early for us, because there was a chance of a parcel delivery that we had rearranged – it actually came in the early afternoon.  After a quick breakfast (no milk so no cereal) I potted around in the garage finishing the current work on the shoe rack.  Also I sent a text asking the Sky Engineer when he might arrive – he didn’t arrive until late afternoon!  So, before I knew it the morning had gone and the online shop arrived from Sainsbury, but at least there were no substitutes.

After lunch it was a case of silly little jobs – make a fruit salad, prepare dinner and take the ladders upstairs for the engineer to access the satellite dish.  Then it was a bit more work on the shoe rack, but now I have run out of wood due to the problem with the split wood, which will be replaced on Thursday.  However, we are going to Wickes tomorrow to order some extra wood to make sure I have enough to finish the job.Manchester_United_FC_crest_svg

The guy fixed the alignment on the satellite dish tonight, but we were both of the opinion i need a second bracket to stiffen the movement of the rod holding the dish – for now I am going to try to improvise something in wood.

Tonight I watched the worst European performance I have ever seen from Manchester United.  They looked like they couldn’t be bothered, or were exhausted.  Of course, we are unaware of any instructions from the manager, such as take the sting out of the opposition by slowing the game down, but they took any such instruction too far.  In addition, there passing was abysmal and the time they wanted on the ball was far too long.  Loosing 2-0 was the best they could hope for as they barely made any chances until the end of the game.  I think there was some influence on the performance from Moyes as I have never seen Manchester united make so many horizontal or back passes.  They really were negative and slow in this game and deserved everything they got.

Prague – Czech Republic and my favourite city

I think one of my earliest memories of “The News and Politics” involves the uprising in Prague and tanks in Wencelas Square, but what I didn’t expect was to visit this most beautiful of cities.  We first visited Prague in October 1991 as part of the development of a three-way research collaboration with Russia, The Czech republic and The UK.  It rained really heavily and all I remember was rushing across town in what seemed a maze of streets to a wonderful cheap bar, where we spent all afternoon drinking and eating with a Russian colleague.  The bill came to £10, which made me reaslise this city was going to something special for me, haha!

The funding for the collaboration with The Czech Republic was successful, as were several other grants, and I was able to visit Prague almost every year between 1991 and 2009.  I fell in love with this city and I must remember I am writing a Blog and not a book!  So, where do I start?  I suppose my first thing must be to thank everyone who I met and who made my viisits so pleasent.  I better apologise to all those who attended my seminars and didn’t quite follow my Geordie accent, or my arm waving approach to lecturing!  If you recognise yourself in the picture thanks for attending!

The city of Prague came through the second world war almost unscathed, despite an American bombing campaign and has something in common with Paris in that respect; although, I think it is more beautiful!  It sits on the Vltava river, which provides a beautiful centrepiece for the city, with the castle sitting at the top of the hill over-looking the whole of the city.  In turn, the centrepiece to the river is Charles Bridge, which dates back to the 14th Century and is one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever walked across.  However, this also provides a rapid introoduction to the biggest problem that Prague faces – its own popularity!  Charles Bridge is always a river of tourists, with local artists and sovenier sellers lining the edges of the bridge, it has lost some of its early appeal during that first visit in 1991.  But every visitor must stroll across Charles Bridge (early in the morning is a good idea) and into Malá Strana (“the Lesser Quarter”), which is full of bars and good restaurants.  A challenge is to find the restaurant with two hearts on the door, worth a visit for good Czech food if it is still there – they got badly damaged during the floods of 2002, but I believe it is still there.  Sadly the bar we ate in during our first visit has long disappeared, but there are so many other places to visit for good food.  My own preference is to try some the hospodas as these simple bar/restaurants are much more authentic.  The Institute, where I gave my seminars, is lucky enough to have two close by (the “Green House” and “The Black Swan”), but in the city centre near the Old Town Square there is “Futball”, which serves good food and genuine Czech cuisine.

I remember the first few times we walked around the city we soon became aware that an important part of “seeing” Prague is to look up at the buildings, the architecture is always magnificent, but also varied and is also accompanied by beautiful paintings and illustrations.  Hidden away from the city across one of the bridges near the island is one of the most beautiful café/restaurants, which is typical of the type of architecture that is common in Prague.

I could write about so many places around the city, but this will become boring eventually, so, instead a few thoughts about what makes the city special for me (apart from the architecture).  I think the first point is that you can sit in The Old Time Square (either at a bar, or just around the statue) and people watch – the city is always busy, there are jazz bands coming and going, or just the variety in people from all nations.  I have spent many a day sketching out a scientific paper while also people watching!  Tram hoping is one of my favourite ways to see a city and Prague is very good for this.  You can buy a ticket that lasts all week, which allows travel throughout the city and just swap from tram to tram.  You can occasionally jump off to visit the castle or some other passing landmark, but if you do this outside of the rush hour you really get a feel for the Hotel Europalayout of the city.  Live music is the other thing I really like in Prague – usually this means visits to various jazz clubs, but also other types of music are played all over the city.  One example I liked from early visits was The Hotel Europa, which has a very Bohemian bar/restaurant at the front entrance, and we used to sit listening to a violin and piano entertaining the restaurant clientele – very pleasant!

If you have never been to Prague you must go, avoid the weekend if you don’t like crowds and hen/batchelor-parties, but visit the traditional Czech bars and restaurants.

Online shopping – one thought.

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Hearing on the news today that Tesco planned to change their policy about launching hypermarkets, I got to thinking about what would be a good business plan!  Clearly, online shopping is working well and local Tesco Express stores work well, but one problem with online shopping is the occasional need for a few items that are not available in the local store.  Such a situation does not justify the normal delivery charge, and it is clear there is a reluctance to shop in a hypermarket for only a few items.  So, I suggest an online ordering system for up to five items, which could be collected at the local store at a prearranged time!

Anyone think that might be useful?

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The 33rd TOFC Meeting – The Old Custom House, Portsmouth

The Old Custom HouseThis Friday was our first visit to this interesting pub, which is located at the Gunwharf complex near Portsmouth Harbour.  If you have never visited this site it is well worth your time, an old Naval Base that has been converted into a large complex of shops, cinemas, nightclubs and restaurants, The Old Custom House is a genuine pub serving real ale and located just off the heart of the complex.  As the name suggests, this building was the Customs House used by the Navy and it has maintained all of the original rooms (and their names) to provide an unusual atmosphere where every room has a slightly different feel to it.  We decided to book one of the rooms (Department M!) at one end if the pub as we hoped to get a long table to sit around (they always used to have a long table in the room we chose), but it turned out they split us across a number of smaller tables, which was a shame.  Spring is very slow to arrive this year and it was quite cold outside, which is a shame as Gunwharf is a lovely setting when the sun shines and, although this pub does not face the waterfront, outside seating is plentiful for those who enjoy gathering some vitamin D – I will be doing plenty of that next week at the cricket assuming it is not snowed off again!

As usual in Fullers pubs, the food was a good choice, but not cheap and the beer was well looked after and just over £3.50 a pint on average, which is why we had a slightly higher donation to the kitty than usual.  The food arrived reasonably quickly and there were no mistakes, which has become the norm these days (a good sign and an improvement on the early days of these gatherings).  I drank HSB, but I noticed a few different beers were consumed including some ESB, which is a hefty afternoon dink!

After recent meetings, this turned out to be a smaller collection than I anticipated (13 of us this time), which made the room seem a little empty – they are deceptively big rooms.  We also seemed slightly more subdued than normal; although, there was still plenty of chat amongst the two groups that formed around two tables.  It was nice to see faces that haven’t been around for a while and I was glad to hear people still enjoying these gatherings.  Also a surprise was that we broke up earlier than usual, which meant Kathy and I ended up a Patisserie Valerie for a sticky bun (Kathy) before we went for the train.

As you know I don’t mention people’s names here, but I do want to send our best wishes to one of our regular members, whose husband was at this meeting, and who has been in hospital for some time.  I am sure everyone wishes her well and a full recovery.

An evening out – The King Rufus, Chandlers Ford

chandlers-fordYesterday’s weather made it such a wonderful day (for a change) that we got ourselves ready after lunch and took a trip on the Bluestar No1 bus to Chandlers Ford.

This is quite an easy journey from where we are as the bus stops just outside the estate and only takes 20 min to get to Chandlers Ford.  We had not been before, so we were unsure what to expect.  Chandlers Ford seems very spread out and the railway station, in particular, is a long way from what is really the town centre – we alighted at the Town Centre.  There is a small shopping area just next to the bus stop and we went around there first, discovering a useful hardware shop, which we will have to revisit, and a lights and furniture shop that is a real treasure trove of items –  we spent a long time in there!  However, we then quickly realised that there wasn’t much else to the town centre, which was a little disappointing, but as we walked along the main road we saw a pub that we had seen before from the bus and decided to visit.

kingrufuschandlersfordThe King Rufus gives the outward appearance of being what I call “an estate pub“, which means an often bland interior and limited real ale, but I was wrong and we discovered a pleasant place for a drink and a bite to eat.  Inside the main entrance you face the bar and a small area from which you can be taken to a table in the restaurant.  We sat in an area that is a part of the bar; although, we were a little separated from the main bar area, which is to the right when you come in.  The bar had two real ales and I drank some of The Old speckled Hen, which was excellent and I note that the pub is Camra rated.  The pub looks very modern inside and this suggests it has been renovated fairly recently.  The restaurant area looked very pleasant indeed and would be a good location for a meal – we ate in the bar area as we decided we liked our seats near the window.  The pub was also warm and comfortable – all very good signs.  The menu was reasonably substantial and offered both a two-4-one meal arrangement and a full a la carte listing.  The food we had, was good and very tasty, so we can recommend this pub.  A nice evening out and the return bus ran on schedule!

Playing music from my laptop – a Bluetooth solution

I readily admit that the technology I am about to describe is nothing new, or anything complicated, but I just wanted to explain how easy this was to set up and how it solved my problem for playing music.

So first, what was the problem?  Well, I digitized all my vinyl and CDs some time ago and I have all of the music on my laptop.  I have set up the music system in the new house with the amplifier attached to a DVD player, which will play CDs, the TV via the Sky box and a record deck (more about that later), but I do not play CDs very often and what I really wanted to do was play music off my laptop through the HiFi amplifier.  Of course, I could buy a new computer dedicated to this job (an a small format system such at the Apple mini would be ideal, but that seemed a waste of money when I already have a laptop with the music on it!  I did originally connect the laptop directly to the amplifier through a docking station, which was OK, but meant when music was playing I couldn’t work on the laptop – too inconvenient for me – so I needed a way to connect to the amplifier remotely.  A quick search of eBay and Amazon led me to a Bluetooth solution available from Logitech.

This small device has both phone and mini-jack connectors and a simple Bluetooth connection system.  It comes supplied with a small power supply and was very easy to set up.  Connecting to the laptop was simply a matter of setting the laptop off to search for a new Bluetooth device, pressing the button on the Logitech Audio link and waiting for them to pair.  Once paired I was able to connect the device to the spare Aux input of my amplifier and listen to music from the laptop on the HiFi speakers while working on the laptop (such as now while I write this Blog).  Pairing each time I bring the laptop to the lounge is easy; although, sometimes needs two goes!  In addition, I have paired it with my phone and I can listen to music from that!  It should also work with iPad and iPhone etc.  One advantage is that I no longer needed the choke filter I had been forced to use when connecting though the docking station and the sound quality is very good while I am in the same room – it falls off as I leave the lounge with the source.  The Bluetooth receiver sits nicely on top of the HiFi amplifier and is very unobtrusive.

So, all-in-all a very good buy, which solved my simple audio problem!

Update – January 2016:

The passage of time always leads to greater demands on equipment and I have recently realised that I would like to routinely play music from more than one source (phone, PC or tablet) through my HiFi system.  This has led me to an “upgrade” of the Logitech Bluetooth Audio Receiver Adapter to the latest version, which pairs with two devices and remembers them.  This makes life a lot easier as I can now play music from my phone or my PC depending which I have with me.  The new version of the adapter is much smaller than the original and could be easily hidden away if you don’t want it on show, but you do need access to the tip button for pairing with new devices.  The charger was also much smaller, but I actually just plugged it onto the lead from the old charger (mercifully the same type of plug is used) and also just plugged in the same audio jack to the HiFi.  All is working well and the sound level is slightly better from this adapter (or at least it appears to be so to me), however, I did find I had to reboot the tablet to get it to connect to the Bluetooth, but after that no problems.

So far so good, I will come back with more information shortly.