31 March, 2009

Lullingstone Roman Villa

Back now! Lots of updates to come, starting with Friday morning...after doing a quick run into Redhill to drop off two thirds of the contents of the spare room to a charity shop (to calls of "Wouldn't you have been better off doing a car boot sale" from the old dears out the back) and one third to the dump (to amazed looks from the dump workers at the bin bags full of jewel cases going into landfill), we threw the weekend bags into the back of the bug, plugged in the tomtom and headed off in the direction of Canterbury -
- first stop, the lovely little village of Lullingstone, just outside Maidstone in Kent, more precisely, Lullingstone Villa, one of the best preserved examples in the country...After begrudgingly parting with £2.50 to park the car, entrance is by way of the gift shop, packed with Roman goods -
- we then parted with another £14 (to get into the building proper) -
- and were immediately impressed at the scale of the structure, "Villa" is a bit of an understatement...the ruins were first discovered back in 1939 when a tree was blown down in a storm, revealing a portion of the central mosaic, it took ten years before the excavation proper got underway, and another ten years before the extent of the site was fully understood, at this stage a (leaky) temporary structure was erected to protect it, the building you see today (paid for by English Heritage) cost just shy of £2 million, but should keep everything they found nice and safe for a few years to come...and the finds were considerable -
- two incredible busts (these were reproductions, the real ones being in the British Museum in London) found in the underground pagan shrine -
- (the lowest room) which had been dedicated to local water deities judging by the wall paintings-
- all sorts of building materials including intact hypocaust bricks -
- no less than three lead coffins (two of which had already been plundered, one of which was intact -
- complete with 24 year old (at time of death) resident -
- buckles, jewelery, gaming pieces -
- even a virtually intact padlock(!)...
Next up were a few things to do, trying on Roman clothing (which was heavy and scratchy) -
- learning to play Roman board games -
- then we climbed up onto the upper level (which affords a much better view of the plan of the house) -
- stopping to note the well (situated handily right next to the extensive bathing area - what is it with Romans and baths?) -
- and admire the detailed mosaic floor -
- depicting the abduction of the princess Europa by the god Jupiter (disguised as a bull, as you do)...
- and then we had a short wait while all the lights around the site turned blue (to indicate that the video was about to start), and then watched the ten minute presentation, explaining how the site was constantly being upgraded and extended right up until the time of it's destruction (by fire - only the foundations were made from rock and concrete, the upper structure was all of wattle and daub) in the early 5th century...

I guess, in all, we were in the place for about 45 minutes, there was a lot to read and see, and the clothes to try on (etc.) but if you are planning a day out, this is really only going to fill a very small portion of it, there is a castle just up the road (about a ten minute walk) -
- but on the occasion of our visit, was closed (it actually just looked like a gate house castle anyway, the main building being much more like just a house)...so make Lullingstone "a morning" in your itinerary, at most...

28 March, 2009

Just in the queue...

Just in the queue...
...for Canterbury tales, having a great time, lots of pics to follow :)

27 March, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Flyingpops here! As we celebrate our wedding day this weekend, we wanted to share some of our links...Happy Reading and Happy Anniversary Fink!

The day before the wedding
Wedding Pictures
Poem (on your wedding day)
All that I have I share with you
Two Gold Rings
Back from the honeymoon

Off to Canterbury soon!

Fink's Links #57

Let's kick things off by watching how the Batman logo has evolved over the last 65 years (who knew there we so many variations?!) [vid]

Do NOT miss Google's Chrome Experiments (go and install Chrome, it's faster than IE and Firefox, and then play away) - the internet is evolving!

Hehe, this one made me laugh out loud, another excellent fake information sticker, this time on the Gatwick Express... [pic]

An extremely clever advert for flea spray... [pic]

Check out this guy, scratch building a turret that fires paintballs...why not? ;) [vids]

Take a look at a hotel where you sleep inside a wine cask (*much* better than it sounds)! [pics]

Discover why jpegs are a referred to as a "lossy" format (although this demonstration is an extreme one, it does show that you must be careful) [vid]

Watch Jupiter moving behind the sun (noting it's moons accompanying it)...awesome... [vid]

Check out the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab (only sold between 1950-1951), yes, a radioactive play set for kids! <:0 [pic] Enjoy some great pictures of the worlds biggest train set (12,380 square feet)...!

Meet Tyrone, a guy with extremely good reflexes...

...and to finish the links for this week, a funny cat toy fail and a good Vatican Fancy dress fail...

The archive of links is here if you still fancy seeing more ...!

Until next week, adieu...! ;)

26 March, 2009

1st Wedding Anniversary

Wow...It's been a year already - our first wedding anniversary is this weekend! I've still got the day so clear in my mind, just as if it were yesterday, I guess things quite so intense and personal get extra weight when the brain is burning them into long time storage...which is nice... ;)

Anyway, by way of celebration we have got Friday and Monday off as holiday and are paying for each other to get away to Canterbury (actually, more specifically a tiny bed and breakfast in a cottage near a nature reserve to the east of Canterbury)...the visits we have planned are to the "Canterbury Tales Experience" (a sort of medieval theme park), the cathedral (and the rest of the town centre), then a little trip to Whitstable, where apparenty they are currently enjoying the start of the local oyster season (not that Flyingpops will be able to join in as shellfish are off the menu for pregnant persons)...and then back home, perhaps, via Dover to check out Dover castle and the secret WW2 tunnels underneath...should be a good weekend (even better if the forecast bad weather doesn't affect us too badly, but a lot of the stuff we had planned was indoors/underground anyway)!

Anyone been to this part of the country? Any suggestions for cool things to do over a long weekend?

25 March, 2009

Ad Placement Fail

Ad Placement fail
Sorry for the terrible photo quality, only had my phone and fluorescent light to help me snap, however, the subject is rather a good ad placement cock-up (well spotted mother!) by the guys that put together the local paper for Oxted...in fact, they probably couldn't have done it any worse if they had tried to sabotage it deliberately... ;)
I love apprenticeships
Oh and tonight, the next season of "The Apprentice" kicks off, giving me an excuse to show you this badge I was given, without any explanation, at London Bridge a couple of weeks ago...and yes, I'm still a little confused as to exactly what they thought I was going to do with it, certainly not put it on my coat...had it been something *useful*, like a ticket holder, then I would have probably helped them virally convey their "message", but if I actually wore this I would just look like a bit of a prat...so (sorry people who want to promote apprenticeships) an advertising fail here too...

24 March, 2009

Google Street View UK - Horrific industrial accident?

View Larger Map
Heheh, spotted this the other day, better look at it if you click here -
Google Street View UK - Horrific Industrial Accident?
- almost looks like the very split (if you'll pardon my use of the word) second of a terrible industrial accident taking place... ;)

Tell you what though, apart from just tickling the inner voyeur in me, this is actually going to be one of the most useful things ever to come out of Google's industrious labs...it marks out absolutely the last time Flyingpops will ever ring me up for directions, and the last time I will ever emerge from an unfamiliar tube station and feel a bit lost, as now, in preparation for any impending visit, instead of just printing out or drawing a little map we will be able to zoom into it and actually do the required walk, right there in the browser, picking out the landmarks, counting the turnings so we will already know exactly where we are going...it's just genius!

Not everyone is happy though, someone here in the office pointed out that as the data is only a year old, if anyone were interested in stealing a car to order, it would be a much simpler matter to search the well-to-do streets of London from a web browser than to drive around the place looking shifty and perhaps attracting unwanted attention from residents/police, and as if to prove his point (as he has quite a nice car), he navigated to his home address, and lo and behold, there was his pride and joy, sat in his drive, advertising itself to the potential carjacker (although he contented himself with the fact that Google had, at least, managed to blur out his number plate)...

I'm not going to let that bother me though (I don't have an extremely valuable car anyway), I just think you should kiss goodbye to any claim for privacy the minute you step out of the front door (becoming "in public")...although I do extend some pity to the poor guy clearly pictured emerging from a sex shop (who promptly made the newspapers)...that would be a bit tough... ;)

More amusing captures over at Street View Fun... ;)

23 March, 2009

Horley Police Neighbourhood Watch Alert Feb 2009

Found a little sheet of paper posted through the front door late last week which made for rather interesting reading...it was a list of all the reported crimes in the local area that took place during February 2009, distributed for the dual purposes of neighbourly awareness and crime prevention...

Apart from our resident flasher (who managed to expose himself only the once (managing to make the headline in the Surrey Mirror) before being arrested and handed over for psychiatric evaluation after claiming he was a torture victim in his native Sri Lanka)-
Earlswood Flasher on the prowl
-and our resident arsonist (who has been twice as busy as the flasher, appearing to have something against motorbikes, although currently still on Earlswood's "most wanted" list) the *vast* majority of "serious" unsolved crimes in our area seem to be "theft from a vehicle" (there were six), next most common were examples of criminal damage (mostly to vehicles, which one would imagine *usually* go hand-in-hand with the aforementioned theft)...following those were (and I'm struggling now to use the word "crime") incidents like "Kids knocked on door and ran away", "Kids rowdy nuisance behaviour" (yes, a little annoying, but I'm sure I did a little bit of that when I was young, to no lasting harm), kid "threw lemonade on a car", "Kids playing football in road" (Whatever NEXT!  Summon the SWAT team!) and the slightly bewildering "youths changing(sic) sheep in field" (which must be some sort of error, as I can't quite imagine what they may have been managing to change them in to)...dressing them up as lamb?  Turning them into slightly alarmed sheep?  All fairly temporary (well, I hope so anyway)...oh and then (of course), the rather intriguing "inappropriate use of a vehicle in fast food car park" (must have missed that one in Law class) on the Brighton Road (Doughnuts and burn outs?  Dogging?  Using it as a novelty toilet?) - the mind boggles... ;)

Anyway, the sagely advice offered to us (off the back of all this) is simply to stop leaving anything of value in view in your vehicle (which should surely be common sense), then also taking the time to make sure it is securely locked (and all the windows are closed) - do people really need to be told these things?  Anyway, if everyone manages to do these simple things, then I guess the police will have little else to do other than corral feral youths, confiscating their lemonade and footballs and making sure that sheep everywhere are kept just the way they are... ;)

20 March, 2009

Multiple Signal Failure Canary Wharf

Grrr!  Just spent almost 50 minutes underground stuck squashed onto a packed Jubilee line train...the ever-so kind driver was doing his best to keep us up to date - every 3 or 4 minutes he came back on the public address system to tell us that he *still* hadn't managed to get in touch with anyone from the control centre and had "no further information"...I suppose at least that sort of counts as communication...turns out it was multiple signal failure at Canary Wharf (for what it's worth)...I do wonder, when this happens why they can't just count the trains in and out of stations by radio communication, it's not like they don't have them, and it should be quite easy for the drivers to report their location, like a sort of "Train 3, now move up one stop and wait for further instructions" kind of thing?  Or am I missing something?

Thank goodness I was on the super early train into London Bridge, that meant (despite the delay) I only walked into the (completely empty) office 4 minutes late...there will be an awful lot of people crunched up behind me, hope the Thames Clipper has more than one ticket person working this morning...!

Way to ruin my happy, sunny Friday feeling, TFL! >:(

Fink's Links #56

Goodness me, what a week, so little time for blogging and so much to say, I've just been way too busy, links have gone just a tiny bit to the wayside...!  Still some quality items, just not as many as usual... ;)

First up this week read the incredible untold story of the World's Biggest Diamond Heist...(the loot was never found, and the mastermind behind it got out of prison last week)!

An incredible ski-jump themed japanese toilet! [pic]

Discover electric lasers are ready for war!

The Arcology is coming...

Some school kids manage to take images of space using a £56 camera and a £43 weather balloon! [pic]

Seven ways to fool your sense of touch (via New Scientist)...

A visit to the lightning lab (check out the pictures too) where they test out lightning hits on (models of) commercial airliners... [vid]

Check out some spooky stick figure aliens caught on CCTV (from various countries around the world)...the start of an invasion, or Adobe After Effects? You decide... ;) [vids]

Discover that the Russians had mobile (self powered) nuclear power stations they could drive around the place! [pics]

Meet Beer2-D2... [pic]

The best Star Wars figure ever... ;)

Check out some really hot chicks...SORRY! ;) [pic]

...and to finish the links for this week, a very nasty Extreme spelling fail and a hilarious Breakfast fail

The archive is over here if you still need to see more, and more links next week... ;)

19 March, 2009

Strange Flickr traffic spikes

I usually check my Flickr stats 2 or 3 times a week, just to see what pictures are being popular with visitors...I like doing that because it's a good excuse to look back through my shots (which I am otherwise a little guilty of neglecting)...It helps to remind me of good times I've had and good memories too (which is always nice), for example a couple of weeks back there were quite a few hits on shots of food from the honeymoon -
Mexico #37
- which took me back to those amazing breakfasts we had, and at this time of year, with people planning their summer holidays, pictures from other resorts get a bit of a spike as organic visitors arrive from the search engines looking for reviews...
Corfu 2007 - #54
All this "organic" traffic is quite normal, I get between 500 and 700 hits on my photos per day (from various sources), and have done for a few years now (just ticking over gently and comfortably)...that is, until the 8th of March this year (check out the graph from Flickr stats) -
Flickr Graph
- when I guessed I had been properly cyber stalked, over a thousand individual views, sequentially, covering absolutely everything I had flickr'd for about the last 2 years...fair enough, bit unusual, I even think I mentioned it to Flyingpops (and promptly forgot about it)...but then it happened again on the 16th of March, except this time it was over 2000 extra views...and now I check my stats this morning and yesterday I got over 10,000 (sorry, that's a meme thing) extra views! That's one view on every single picture, and then a third of them over again for good measure!

Most odd... :S

18 March, 2009

Baby and Pregnancy Magazines

Baby & Pregnancy Magazine April 2009 Cover
A lot of this sort of thing has started to appear around the house alongside the tomes that have been practically stolen (we have had them withdrawn for so long) from the library...I had a quick flick through a few of them, and what a brilliant caper!

Keep recycling the same old core material/advice (carefully re-worded, slightly updated when required) that already exists in the library books, but do so over a 9 month period (throwing in the odd "my story" and a picture of the latest Mothercare crib) and then just rinse and repeat, safe in the knowledge that the audience is going to be, by it's very nature totally transient...meanwhile, employ a couple of sales guys to just sit around answering the telephone to all the regular advertising re-bookings from Cow and Gate, Johnsons, Fairy non-bio and Pampers - it's genius!

I'm not saying it's a bad thing to constantly republish (basically) the same information (it's obviously critical for other mums-to-be  in our area as we have all the pregancy related library books reserved for the next six weeks so they would have to look elsewhere for advice), I just think it would be terminally dull to actually work on a magazine like that - "What feature are we running this month?", "Urm, let me check the schedule...yes, here we go - nappies again"..."Ah...nappies, anything new in the field?", "Ah...nope, not really...well Pampers have a new one with a slightly different name? It's pretty much just a nappy though", "Ok - lets run that on the front page"...!

17 March, 2009

Choosing a Pram - Volkswagen Beetle

Cot arrives
Well, it's all starting to come together, items are being checked off Flyingpops' baby checklist with frightening rapidity - the cot arrived over the weekend (came from a friend of Flyingpops' sister and looks like it's never been used), that's now stashed up in the spare room behind the freshly reassembled futon/sofa bed, two boot-sale bargain brand new, still boxed (£35 in the shop) stair gates (for a fiver each) are now sitting behind the sofa in the living room-
Pregnancy Cushion
- pregnancy cushions have materialised, the assorted parts of a (as my mother dubbed it) "baby torturer" -
Baby activity centre
- or (sit in) activity centre are upstairs in the nursery-to-be - this sort of thing- absolutely heaps of clothes next to it and more are overflowing from the baby bath (that I already mentioned)...and soon to come is the pram/push chair...

Before all this started I had heard Flyingpops talking about the Bugaboo range and remained completely neutral on the matter - surely, a pram is a pram? - however, when (a few weeks back) we took a little trip out to the A3 Baby Barn to physically check some out (and more importantly see if we could find one that would actually fit in the boot of Poppy the Beetle), it quickly became apparent that not all prams and pushchairs are equal. Some of them barely fold up at all, being just as clumsy, heavy and bulky whatever button you push, or catch disengage...perfectly alright if you have a MPV to heave it's massive bulk into the cavernous depths of, but totally impossible with the space we have to work with (getting the weekly shop home can be a tetris-like exercise)...

It was impressive, not only was the Bugaboo extremely light, while feeling unshakably sturdy and almost impossibly maneuverable it also folds up into an incredibly tiny space (even the wheels pop easily off, if required, and the whole thing goes flat)...In fact the package was so well thought out (it actually feels like playing with a transformer toy!) I would have said "Go for it" straight away...apart from one tiny little sticking point - the £900 price tag - oh and the wait while they hand-make the thing especially for you (you even pick the colours)...it's the Rolls Royce of the pram world but how on Earth could we justify paying all that money for a pram? I mean, that's almost one month's rent, and before long we are only going to have one salary to count on (for a while, at least)...

We continued discontentedly looking at, and half-heartedly pushing around a succession of other prams, all of which felt like they weighed a ton and steered like a wonky shopping trolley (in comparison), none of which would allow you to position the seat backwards or forwards with a flick of a switch, all the while spotting yummy mummies (apparently everywhere) dining al-fresco swivelling their little ones around in their transforming seats and adjusting their coffee cup holders and then effortlessly gliding off over the uneven pavement with their gel-filled wheels and active suspension...The word "compromise" seems awfully difficult to form on the lips when the difference is so pronounced...

So Flyingpops started watching ebay and they did come up for sale, frequently already serviced (yes, like a car, except they go back to the manufacturer), if you were lucky you could get one for £400 or so...still rather expensive...we were almost to the point of biting the bullet and actually bidding on one (as we were saving so much money everywhere else), when Flyingpops went to visit a friend of hers (who had the pleasure of using one for her "first") just to get an honest opinion as to whether it really was worth the extra cash (although, if I am honest, I think we both were really only seeking someone (anyone!) else's permission to spend so much money)...

If this comes to pass MJ is going to enjoy being taken on quite the most upmarket of strolls in all of merry Earlswood... ;)

Update - We got a Bugaboo Frog, fits perfectly, see here...

13 March, 2009

Fink's Links #55 - and Red Nose Day!

Happy Red Nose day!
Poppy's other nose!
Here in the office everyone has to wear something red (I'm wearing a red Cotton traders short sleeved shirt) or they must pay either £2 or £5 (they haven't quite decided yet) towards the charity...if you did manage to wear red then it's only £1...I guess about 20% of people have managed to remember, so that's quite a lot of money already! ;)

Anyway, it being Friday it's also link time, so let's kick this session off by learning that humanity has spent (between them) over 64,000 man-years playing Halo 3 online...WTF?

Read the absolutely facinating transcript of the Raiders of the Lost Arc story conference...reveals a *lot* about the movie making process...

Being bother by a spooky ghost? Who you gonna call? Urm, well how about avoiding all those damaging particle streams and buying a Trisaksri ghost repeller? *sigh* ;)

Have a nose around IBM's "antique atic"... [pics]

A nice tube map (of where the lines *really* run) built using google map technology...

A very interesting article about genetic algorhythms and picture compression (promising)...!

The very worst "good luck" card EVER...

Creepy Tree is creepy, but it's okay because Fish Cloud is fishy... [pics]

Let's do some urban exploration now, this time round Pripyat, Ukraine (abandoned since the Chernobyl disaster)... [pics]

Learn about "playbouring", the £700+ million per year "gold farming" industry in China...

Discover chimps can plan ahead (no sh*t Sherlock)...

Explore the Amadee Coral Reef in beautiful 360 degree panoramas (click the arrows in the top left to peer around and the arrows in the display to move around)

Discover a company that comes into your house, makes a hole in the floor, digs a big hole and then inserts a spiral stair/wine rack beneath your kitchen...! [pics]

Play Tetris HD (har har har)...

...and just to round things off for another week, a funny "Bike Ownership fail" and a rather amusing "Fire Engine fail"...

The archive is over this way if you still need to see some more ...!

Good Weekend all!

12 March, 2009

The Ultrasound scan pictures

Scan #1
So here we go, these are the first pictures of the baby, they were snapped by the nurse that was performing the ultrasound scan (for diagnostic purposes) although quite how from what she saw she could judge the due date with such a degree of confidence is quite beyond me...these pictures are also, in fact, the last look we are going to get until the end of April when the second (and final) scan takes place...
Scan #2
I'm not being mean, but whenever any other proud parent-to-be has enthusiastically thrust their scan pictures under my nose, I have rather struggled to actually pick the baby from the static, nodding and smiling (regardless) when a completely randomly shaped blob was introduced to me as their neck/arm/head...so I was rather surprised how clear these pictures are, needing very little in the way of explaination (or is that just me)? ;)
Scan #3
...this also counts (sort of) as the first photograph I have taken of the baby (as no scanner was to hand)... ;)

So there we are - Internet, meet MJ... ;)

11 March, 2009

Free Baby on Board badge - TFL

Baby on Board Badge
This is a really very sensible idea, shortly after Flyingpops contacted TFL (you can get straight to them via email at babyonboard@tube.tfl.gov.uk, or ring up London Underground customer services on 0845 330 9880) and they will post you (for free - yes, don't go poking around on ebay) with a little note of congratulation, this little badge to display on your overcoat, just to let other users of the London transport infrastructure know that you are not (in fact) just being slovenly and putting on a little weight, but actually with "issue", and thus deserving of a priority seat rather than a derisory glare...

They announced this (albeit small) step forward as a result of a survey of pregnant women in 2006 which concluded with the so called "Mind the Bump" report...and it detailed some quite shocking findings -
  • More than two thirds (71 per cent) of pregnant women in the Capital cited rude and discourteous behaviour as a growing source of anxiety and stress during pregnancy
  • One in three (36 per cent) frequently felt they had to avoid public transport for fear of having to stand for the duration of the journey
  • One in five (20 per cent) of expectant mums in the Capital spend more than £100 on taxis and private vehicles during their pregnancy to avoid situations where they may have to stand for long periods of time on the Tube
  • London emerged as the least pregnancy-friendly place in the UK, with 45 per cent of London mums having saddened by the lack of consideration they were shown while pregnant (Wales was the best, just in case you were wondering)
- just at the minute Flyingpops doesn't actually *look* terribly pregnant, and on at least one occasion having the badge has already proved useful to her, but it's still quite shocking to hear her tell me stories of having to yell out "I'm Pregnant" to even get people to let her crush *onto* a full and standing train...let alone get anywhere *near* a priority seat...

Naughty London...still a long way to go to actual civilisation... :(

10 March, 2009

Spring Cleaning - Nursery Required

Let me share with you exactly what happens when you suddenly discover that you need a nursery (in a house you have been occupying for some time)...it's actually quite simple - either you pack up and move to a house with one more room in it (and with the economic climate as it is, very few people are selling houses at the moment - unless they can't help it), or *years* of treasured possessions have to go either into the loft or into the bin...and if your loft is already fairly full, you find yourself just having to be brutal...and I thought I had been pretty aggressive at de-cluttering when we moved into the house - nah-uh... :(
Spring Clean
I'm still coughing and sneezing from the amount of dust we have managed to kick up (and it feels like the process has only just begun), which does indicate that perhaps *some* of those treasured possessions had been a little neglected (meaning I wouldn't miss them too much)...but it's still painful to dump quite so many things that at one stage or another I certainly intended to keep forever (I never imagined the black bin liner hovering inevitably in their distant future, but it was obviously there all along)...
Spring Clean
...and now that bin bag has arrived...well, bags actually...heaps and heaps of books (enough to fill three Oxfam shops), jewel cases enough to build a new Crystal Palace...trinkets and gadgets enough to populate a museum of the history of cool technology - once loved plush toys, their cute eyes appealing (to the very end) for their sentences to be repealed (only to be cruelly denied) - this is a material cull...

Other slightly less amusing parts of this process (if that were possible), have included dismantling (in the nursery to be) and then spending two and a half hours trying to reassemble the (might as well be) cast iron futon in the old office (to become a spare room/den for me) with much sweating, swearing, pinching of fingers in pliers/mechanisms, getting trapped between metal and wall (or metal and floor) and muscle straining hefting of stupidly heavy futon mattress...and there is so much more to come (hopefully some of which will actually be enjoyable, like) repairing, putting shelves up into, then sanding down and painting one of Flyingpops old wardrobes to become storage for baby clothes (and other related goods)...

Oh and of course (how could I forget), we have all the upheaval to look forward to of having pretty much the whole of the upstairs redecorated (i.e. stripped back to the plasterboard redecorated, not just a lick of paint)...still, at least this time a) I don't have to do it all (we are going to pay), and b) all the window frames are plastic rather than crumbling wood (saving a lot of time, effort and gloss paint)...

09 March, 2009

NCT Sale North Holmwood

So this Saturday we went to have a look at the first NCT sale (in our area) of the year, taking place in North Holmwood (near Dorking) -
NCT Sale #1
- we popped over and picked up Nanjan first and then made our way (about half an hour early) to the village hall -
NCT Sale #3
- we formed up with the small queue of about 15 people already there (thinking that some people had been rather keen as we thought we were early) and after a wait of about ten minutes two ladies with official badges started to slowly walk up the queue from the entrance to the hall, collecting our entrance fee (£1 each) and handing over in exchange a large carrier bag -
NCT Sale #2
- lined with promotional material from nurseries, aqua-aerobics instructors, toddler groups and music tutors (oh and a key-ring encouraging one to breast feed, which you could pop open with a coin to replace the message with a picture, if so desired)...

With five minutes to go Flyingpops told me to check how long the queue was behind us (as lots of cars and people had been arriving while we were waiting)-
NCT Sale #4
- and the answer was extremely long...and the hall looked like it was quite small...and I started to feel a little bit uncomfortable about what was to come (recalling the chaotic scrum of dusty church/school jumble sales of old)...

When the doors opened and everyone flooded in (every third person either carrying (internally or externally), pushing (on differently sized sets of wheels) or dragging an infrant, at various stages of development) -
NCT Sale #6
- we knew what we wanted, and I duly waded in to try and help search, but I got about half way round (the extremely narrow walkway between stalls) and became completely stuck, trapped between pushchairs being wielded by stern faced mothers using them like weapons (the baffled looking infants quite unaware of what was going on around them or how they were being manipulated), at one stage I honestly thought the tide of people was going to sweep me off my feet - I only stayed upright by gently nudging a pile of teddy bears under a nearby trestle table to make some room for my feet and pushing up against a colossal pile of "0-6 month" baby clothing (nearly new)...when I *finally* escaped, gasping, into the hallway, I threw open a window, shed my (stupidly thick) coat and gulped in air until the claustrophobia had passed...peering back into the fray I could just about pick out Flyingpops bobbing about in a sea of determined bargain hunters, clutching armfuls of spoils with an equally determined look upon her face...when she got back to the entrance she shoved a lot of it (and her coat) into my hands and just had time to utter "We'll just do the middle now" before vanishing again from sight...peering behind me, it quickly became apparent that it was so busy in the hall the ladies from earlier who had been handing out the bags were now blockading the doorway to stop anyone else coming in! It was 50 minutes before we saw the sunshine again...

Some lessons could be learned from this...leave the pushchairs outside and put into place a one way system with signs from the ceiling - 50 people equipped with buggies the size of shopping trolleys moving against one another in a space twice the size of my living room while fighting over bargain baby goods was never going to be a recipe for congeniality...

Anyway, we succeeded in getting a baby bath, a top and tail bowl, some baby towels (the kind with a hood on one of the corners), lots of baby grows (including a Disney one) some things to do with teething and a scattering of toys...and we only spent £15...so, not for the faint hearted, but there are certainly a *lot* of bargains to be had!

06 March, 2009

Fink's Links #54

So as another (rather exceptional) week gets folded up and placed neatly into it's drawer, we wonder - can there possibly still be any good things left on the internets we haven't already seen 10 times? Urm...actually yes!

So here we go, to start with - check if you would be vaporised in a nuclear attack on the major target where you work (or live near) with this handy nuke simulator...pick the location, pick the size of the bomb and hit "Nuke it!"...(just so you know, with the biggest new Chinese bomb on offer, at work I would survive a strike on Central London (but could then have a problem getting home), but would die in radioactive flames from a strike on Gatwick Airport if I were at home at the time)...ho hum... :S

Check out these great experimental gaming t-shirts, I knew all but one of them...the Dom and Cole (etc.) one I had to look up (but rolled my eyes at myself when I realised which game it was)... ;)

Be amazed at the price of 3 eggs in Zimbabwe (obligatory reversed pinkie finger positioned at the side of the mouth)... [pic]

We were driving to broken hill from Wilcannia when we drove into a severe dust storm"... [video]

Heart shaped pizza, not exactly as advertised...just imagine if that had been your romantic plan for (a pizza lovers) Valentines day dinner? Ulp... :( [comparison shots]

Steampunk is starting to influence the mainstream! Check out Samsung's new point and shoot camera... [pics]

Mankind's greatest invention to date (add a bacon griddle and internet access and all science can then comfortably halt - mission complete)... ;) [pic]

Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the green-plastic-death-crocodile that brings total obliteration...now someone please use it to club to death the idiot who attached it to that poor dog! ;) [video]

A geeks tour of Shenzen in China... [pics]

Some incredible shot of venice from the air... [pics]

Urban exploration of Forest Haven - "notorious for its poor conditions and abuse of patients. It was shut down in 1991 by a federal court." [pics]

...and last but not least, a fairly impressive forklift fail and an excellent slogan fail...!

Previous weeks worth of links can be found over this way...!

Good Weekend all!!

05 March, 2009

European Paternity Leave - UK

So I went and spoke to Human Resources to formally tell them about the "The issue" who seemed genuinely pleased and offered hearty congratulations (and hands to shake) - must be one of the more enjoyable aspects of their job I guess, and they passed me the company "Personal and Family leave" pack with all the information I will need (and a nice little form to fill out in the appendix)...

I had done a little research beforehand (which led me, roughly speaking, to conclude that it largely depends on the company themselves to decide how kind to be to the father-to-be)...it turns out that in my case it's going to be one week on full pay and one week on Government SPP (Statutory Paternity Pay) which is the princely sum of £117.18...all they actually have to offer me is the SPP and the time off, so the week off on full pay is a nice bonus...and it's certainly much better than how things were before December 1999, when fathers didn't have any right to expect time off at all, having (in many cases) to use holiday if they wished to be around their new family...

I must say though, the UK isn't exactly "leading the way" for equal rights for fathers, when you compare the legislation in the UK to certain other European countries it's actually quite shocking what counts as normal - the lucky Italians (for example) get 13 weeks off on 80% of their salary, but even that generous allocation pales into insignificance against the Germans and the Swedes, the Germans get 12 months on 67% pay and Swedish fathers can look forward to 16 months off on 80% of their salary! Crazy thoughts about being a benefit tourist are flashing through my mind, how hard can Swedish be, really? ;) Not all of Europe, however, is so forward in their thinking, believe it or not, our close neighbours the Irish get *absolutely nothing* and it's exactly the same in super affluent Switzerland...so a great example of EU consistency all round (and with us tangled up somewhere quite near the bottom)...

Anyway, on top of this I am also entitled to paid time off to take said child to any medical, optical, dental appointments (to be arranged for the beginning or end of the day if at all possible) and 13 weeks unpaid leave to be taken (optionally) before the child's 5th birthday for non-emergencies (child is poorly and mother is away sort of situations)...any emergencies featuring the family are on full pay (at the discretion of the company)...it all seems quite fair and reasonable...the thing that surprised me *greatly* was the bit of the form that *didn't* apply to me - adoption - staggeringly if I had just gone and picked up an abandoned baby (rather than fathering my own) I would now be entitled to 39 weeks leave on full pay! Which seems just a little ridiculous in comparison...

The little form I have to fill in made me raise my eyebrows a little too, admittedly it's got to deal with all sorts of situations, but when, after having filled in my name and department, deleted "as appropriate" everything except "Paternity" and got to the last two fields, I was a little stuck...Dates of leave requested "to" and "from" I had to scribble out and write "two weeks from the date the baby is born - expected early September", and "Reason for Request" had me struggling not to write "Because a Flange of Baboons is attacking the Tower of London - What REASON DO YOU THINK???!"...

Perhaps it's possible I've been watching a little too much "One Foot in the Grave"...

04 March, 2009

First Scan - 19th Feb

Flyingpops posting, this is taken from my diary -

"We’ve got our first scan at 3 today (19th Feb)...how do I feel?  Honestly, nervous, excited, worried, happy... such a jumble of emotions and I really can’t describe it!  For 2 months, I have felt sick, tired, emotional and at some points wondered if M. Junior (MJ, can't be AJ as we already have at least one of them) really does exist... and in about 2 hours I get to see for the first time.  I can’t help but wonder if its a phantom pregnancy - Am I really lucky enough to be bringing a child into the world?  I’m very excited, of course, but keep on thinking – what if it’s not healthy?  Followed closely by - what if its twins...?

I know my hormones are all over the place at the moment....  but I’m a very practical person and have to stay calm.... my mind can’t even think about what we do if something isn’t right!  In fact, my stomach is doing somersaults and I’ve got that feeling before going into a really big meeting that I have butterflies and need the toilet every few minutes...I must stay calm!

So, I’ve read all the books about what to expect, have my pink notes (issued by the hospital) by the door so I don’t forget them...I have £4 in change for the pictures (just hope Fink has a £1 coin) and I’ve just had a text so I know he is on his way home, I’m hoping to see him walk through the door at 2.30 – for us to trot over the road to the hospital at 2.40, for a 3 o'clock appointment...I like to be early!  ;o) 

Just had a thought – what on earth do you wear for a scan?!?  I’ve gone for a white VW T-shirt, jeans and jumper...had a nice bath so I’m clean and feeling fresh...Hopefully after this entry, I will have met MJ and can share with you how cold the jelly feels, what it really looks like on the screen, what the room is like, how the lady treats us and above all else - what it feels like to be a parent!  Oh and my final decision – where will we go to celebrate?!?

Update - Everything is perfect! We went into the scan 10 mins early and within seconds you can see MJ wriggling on the screen...my reaction – I cried!  But this made the machine wobble, so I had to stop!  Fink held my hand very tightly and just watched in amazement.  It’s difficult for me to see, but I could see Fink's smile – it was amazing!  The jelly was warm - What a nice surprise, my voice so nervous I could barely croak my date of birth.  They have to measure a few things, but MJ was lying on his side, so I had to roll over...still no joy! Then stand up and do some dancing, it worked for a minute but then he rolled over again!  So, I did it again and the nurse manages to get the measurements she needed...after she has conducted the test part of the scan, she moved the monitor to me and pointed out his eyes, ears, arm behind his head, legs in the air and another arm waving ‘Leave me alone, I’m comfortable in here’...she then gives us the pictures, a cloth to wipe the jelly from my tum...gives me a due date of 7th Sep – I’m so happy - if it's a bit late, the DOB will be 09-09-09.  Fink and I are on cloud 9 – I’m going now to have a sleep to recover whilst he plays Xbox whilst he still can!"...

...oh and Fink didn't have a £1 coin...we worked it out though... ;o)

02 March, 2009

Flyingpops is Pregnant!

Sorry for not saying anything before, but we had to get through the early weeks (during which time all sorts of things can go wrong) and make sure we had told at least the nuclear families (with lots of Champagne and tears and hugs) before posting anything here...I'm sure you understand...although I have taken the very earliest (permitted) opportunity... ;)

So, let's do a quick catch-up...Wayback machines set to the 2nd of January please, and peer down from the evening sky as we drag ourselves (and all our bags of luggage) through the front door having just driven back from our New Year celebrations in Cornwall...Flyingpops vanished upstairs leaving me to sort out all our bits and bobs, so I began unpacking and re-assembling the living room (I had taken the Xbox down to the South West with me), when she returned she walked right over to me (I was on the floor struggling with the optical cable for the surround sound) and said that she loved me...nothing unusual in that, but considering my position I suppose I probably propped myself up on an elbow and peered up, arms covered in dust from the spaghetti behind the TV and gave her a slightly unkind "is this really the moment?" look, but seeing the expression on her face, frowned a little, dropped the cables and stood up, and that's when, as her arms reached out to enclose me, I spotted the pregnancy test in her hand (and I knew, but I waited for her to say it)...

I don't know why, but my mind spends all day long trying to save me from disappointment, I very rarely allow myself the luxury of excited anticipation, preferring to ground myself (just in case)...absolute certainties aside (of course) I'm just extremely cautious with myself, preferring to prepare myself for the worst and then be pleasantly surprised...So I don't know quite what my face looked like, and I don't know quite how the words coming out of my mouth were received by Flyingpops...of *course* I was over the moon, but something told me to keep the emotions carefully in check, just in case anything were to go wrong...and then I really can't remember what we did (so suppressing the emotions definitely did something to my memory), I do remember reassuring Flyingpops (about six times) that the little line on the test really did "mean it was true", and saying at least six times that she needn't worry about all the alcohol and cheese she had eaten in Cornwall, I have a funny sort of feeling we danced and then I know I did some half panicked reading on the internet...I can only remember wondering how on earth were we going to get all the nutrients required to grow a baby into a fussy vegetarian (ever practical)...oh and of course Flyingpops calculating that we had conceived somewhere around the time we picked up Poppy the Beetle...fairly ironic, if you read her blog post from around that time...it turns out that her calculations weren't quite right after all, but it amused me at the time...

That next weekend (she surrendered herself to the sickness *immediately* that it occurred to her that there were a reason for it, and not just in the morning either) I left Flyingpops to be miserable in bed and went to do the Tesco shopping by myself, and I freely admit here, I went a little crazy buying all sorts of pulses, nuts, fish, fruit (fresh and processed) and vegetables...a lot of it ended up in the bin as her tastes changed quite rapidly also, perennial favourites fell by the wayside (largely due to their texture now being deemed unpleasant), leaving us (even now) in a situation where *very* little will actually do...the only really good change is a new desire to consume lots of garlic, whenever we go out for a meal it's always Italian (which is a little annoying)...but one two cannot live off garlic bread alone...so it remains a bit of a problem (in my mind, anyway), not least because it's me that's doing all the cooking...

The other thing is the way the hormones have taken their toll on Flyingpops mood/behaviour, and we are at a "crying havoc" level here...emotional outbursts to rival the very worst ever "time of the month", weeping, bursts of anger, emotions flipping on and off like switches (impossibly positive and negative)...and not only that - extreme fatigue, sleeping nearly all the (available) time, and this constant nagging sickness (not throwing up, just feeling completely dismal), getting on the train to and from London has redefined the word "ordeal", just watching her turning slowly green (or grey) each time the train accelerates or rocks from side to side (even remotely) remains extremely difficult, and each time I take hold of her hand and ask if she is "Okay?" I'm aware it's a completely useless gesture (because I know perfectly well that she isn't)...but how do you stop yourself...?

I can't tell you how difficult it's been for the past few weeks...not being able to tell anyone, let alone forbidding myself from being able to talk about it (even in a roundabout or theoretical way, in case of a slip), nor even being able to vent my resultant frustrations (in my normal way) in this forum...honestly, when I think of all those puerile posts my dizzy brain managed to cobble together when quite different things were screaming around my mind, it sets me reeling...my poor tongue has practically bitten itself all the way through and the zip feels like it's now a permanent fixture...

..and so we get to the day of the first scan, the 19th of February, and the baby, yes... -my baby- ...appears on that little screen...they say a man doesn't become a father until his baby is born, whereas a woman is a mother as soon as she’s pregnant, but after that - it's real...

...and Everything has changed.

Olympic Stadium - London 2012

Building the Olympic Stadium
Here we go, this is the view out of the window just behind my desk (with which you are perhaps already familiar) that peers out over where the Olympic Park is being constructed (up until now just appearing to be 40-odd cranes and hundreds of flashing yellow lights in the distance)...however, excitingly, if I zoom *aaaaaall* the way in, you can start to pick out some rather significant signs of construction, including the beginnings of the (rather impressive looking) main stadium -
Building the Olympic Stadium
- the black part at the back would appear to be the interior seating, and the white section at the front looks like it's going to hold whatever is going to enclose the whole thing (you can click to see bigger versions of the pictures if you like)...Anyway, I'll keep my eyes on it (and the rest of the work), and update you as they continue to build (for the next few years)!  One thing is for sure, we are going to have a great view of the opening ceremony fireworks from here!

Update - Don't miss the webcam they have peering at the work close up!