30 April, 2009

Olympic Stadium Update - April 2009

View towards the Olympic Stadium
Okay, so time for a little update on the stadium for the London 2012 Olympics, this, again what a lovely day (not), is my view across East London from One Canada Square, and here is a view at the absolute limit of the zoom on my camera -
Olympic Stadium from Canary Wharf
- and you can see, since my last look on the 2nd of March, quite a lot of activity has actually taken place...the main white structure is now almost complete, and the seating areas appear to be completely finished...everyone here in the office is making comments about how small it appears to be, but I can't begin to imagine that it's some sort of Spinal Tap napkin incident taking place down there (although that would be hilarious), it has to be the perspective... ;)

29 April, 2009

Angelsounds Jumper - Baby heartbeat monitor

Angelsounds Jumper
So Flyingpops splashed out on one of these high-tech foetal dopplers (the gadgets you can use to hear the heartbeat in the womb), specifically an "Angelsounds Jumper"...they retail at about £20, which actually seems quite cheap considering that it arrives (in it's little box) complete with a pair of airline quality headphones, a (.wav capturing ready) 3.5mm male/male jack, and a shrink wrapped 9 volt battery (squashed the wrong way round in the battery slot - one of the contacts was actually bent and needed straightening) as well as the device itself (which is equipped with two female 3.5mm slots so you can either both listen together (aw!), or have one set of headphones and pipe the other output into another device)...the idea is, you turn the power on, select the volume on the control on the front (we have never found any reason to have it anything less than maximum) and then use it to contentedly listen to the little one's tiny heartbeat...in reality, however, our experience was rather more this sort of thing -

Step 1 - Plug it all in, turn it all on, put on the headphones...tap the sensor and hear a corresponding noise...all is well...
Step 2 - Attempt to locate the babies heartbeat, hear something that might be the heartbeat, listen for 20 seconds but then decide that it's probably just breakfast being digested
Steps 3-10 - Try positions all over the entire bump failing to hear anything other than the "thunk" noise when the sensor makes contact with the skin (which annoyingly also sounds a bit like a heartbeat)
Step 11 - Start to worry that something is wrong with the baby
Steps 12-19 - Search again, pushing a bit harder
Step 20 Attempt to find mothers heartbeat and fail
Step 21 Attempt to find mothers heartbeat on the correct side of the chest, and fail again
Step 22 Attempt to find fathers heartbeat, fail, then assume the bloody thing isn't working properly
Step 23 Change the battery, try some different headphones, stick it into the surround sound and turn the volume up to 25, try the same thing with the laptop and fluke a recording of 4 seconds of fluffy sounding heartbeat in between breaths (which stop it working), then loose it again before you can get a decent capture
Step 24 Repeat steps 1 to 19 but this time using some lotion of some form, imagining it might be a bit like the ultrasound machine then clear up the mess you have made, wipe the machine clean and put it back into the box, feeling annoyed...


In fact, having a bit of patience was the key, long after I had assumed that either we were so inept at using it we were never going to get anywhere or that it had been dropped once too often by the postal service on it's way to us, Flyingpops was still to be found, sitting quietly trying different positions, until suddenly, her mouth and eyes opened, a hand shot up to summon me over, I took the airline headphones and held them to my ear, and there it was, the tiny, rapid woosh, woosh, woosh of the babies heart...amazing... ;)

28 April, 2009

Giant Tabasco sauce bottle

Giant Tabasco
Wow, what a surprise! Came in this morning to find a giant bottle of Tabasco pepper sauce had been deposited on my desk! Just over the last few weeks I've been cooking up a roast free range chicken on a Sunday lunchtime, disecting it into handy portions and bringing it in as cold cuts to enjoy for my lunch, everyone around me has been heartily amused at the amount of Tabasco I get through while I eat it (roughly a small 57ml bottle per week, which I suppose is actually quite a lot when you stop to think about it)...
Giant Tabasco unboxed
So Alan from the maths bit of the display advertising department, while he was in Costco over the weekend, spotted this giant one, got one for himself (for home) and one for me (as an early birthday present - he *says* - although rumour has it he has been spotted helping himself to nips from my little bottle from time to time, so I suspect it's as much a present for him as it is for me, and I can share)... ;)

Looking on the back of the box, it's quite clear that bottles of this size are aimed at a completely different audience to the little ones, quoting, as it does, how many teaspoons of the stuff you should add to 30-egg scrambles or gallons of thick soup, or in substitution of a heaped teaspoon of black pepper for the required level of heat...so just for reference, one teaspoon of Tabasco is roughly equal to half a teaspoon of fresh cayenne pepper...so now you know... ;)

Thanks Alan! :)

27 April, 2009

What a morning...

Thames Clipper in the Rain
Delays on the main line thanks to a signal failure at East Croydon, Jubilee line severely delayed by "an obstruction on the track at Westminster" (a dismayed commuter perhaps?) plus it was sunny when I set off, so I left my coat at home and by the time I got into town it was pouring with rain...I ended up having to get the boat and then trudge overland dismally towards the tower through the downpour...and when I got in I wished I hadn't made it...nothing is working properly... :(

24 April, 2009

MJ at Week 20 from Flyingpops

2 weeks ago (week 18) I felt MJ move.. it was very light, like a butterfly at first but as the weeks have gone on, its more pronounced and can even hurt sometimes.  On Easter Monday, MJ was tickling me, something that I found very entertaining and just sat in the chair laughing to myself.  I had just finished hovering and eating an easter egg, so maybe he was reacting to the loud noise and  sugar rush (poor thing).  He stopped when I stood up to drive to mums for dinner.  Fink puts his hand on my belly more now and I really want him to be able to feel the movement.  Fink felt the pulse the other day, although I’m sure he thinks I’m crazy every night when I say ... quick...MJ is really kicking, and grab his hand... only for him to feel absolutely nothing!  Last night I discovered that MJ has started reacting to Fink's voice, so if he talks loudly,MJ will give me a little kick – as if saying hello to his daddy... What does MJ like?  Popcorn, chocolate and ice cream... guaranteed to give me a few minutes of entertainment!  Although, I am beginning to get different feelings, So i’m wondering if some are hiccups and some are kicks.... I think its the hiccups that tickle me!

Today is the second scan.. something i’m very excited about, but also very emotional and scared.  The excitement comes from getting to see MJ, I can’t wait and he is so active now that it should be good to see him on screen.  In fact, maybe I should have a naughty lunch so he is really active and they can’t measure and i’ll have to go back!?!?  Then comes the anxiety.. it dawned on my earlier this week reading a forum on www.bounty.com that this scan is a medical examination and so  they are checking for abnormalities and running tests.  I’m really hoping it’s ok, but can’t stop moments of doubt, tears and some genuine uneasiness filter through.  I have developed such a strong bond with MJ and feel an immense love, even though I have not met him yet.  They say a mummy is born the moment she falls pregnant, and I have to agree.  My entire life is now about MJ, whats best for him, providing protection and a stable happy home to bring him up.

Pictures and an update later... i'm just doing a little work from home before heading off to the hospital at 3.40

- update - 

just back from hospital... were there for just under 2 hours and MJ is camera shy... they got most of the measurements and everything is exactly as it should be - heart beating, brain ok, etc etc however they couldn't get 1 measurement and so we have to go back in 2 weeks... no problem as I can't wait to see MJ again... the only downside is that we didn't get any pictures as he was facing my spine (so no chance of seeing the gender either, not that we were going to find out!)... off to Brighton for Fish and Chips and Fink deserves a cold beer on the seafront, so see you later

Finks Links #61

It's link time again, so let's kick things off this week with the story of beer (an excellent infographic)...

Read about Jill Price, the woman with total recall...

Sticking with Wired - April 16, 1947: Ship Explosion Ignites 3-Day Rain of Fire and Death (woah)...!

Stop motion animation - Wolf and Pig...

Worried about getting caught up in a terrorist attrocity underground? Buy a Subivor kit...(sadly I'm actually thinking one of those masks might not be a bad thing to have in my rucksack, just in case)... <:S Meet Haminal - your new plush, canned meat friend!

Rotterdam zoo's Gorilla viewing glasses (to prevent accidental eye contact and subsequent attack - as has previously happened)...! Ulp!

Find out what it's like to live in a converted cold war missile silo... [excellent pics]

A picture entitled "the commentor has a point"...

Discover the incredible "Antelope canyon" in the USA... [pics]

...and last but not least an amusing slogan fail and a brilliant warning fail... ;)

More next week, have an awesome weekend...!

23 April, 2009

Redhill bus station - Patterns of Squares

Redhill Bus Station perspective squares
Believe it or not I actually saw something I liked about Redhill bus station the other day (while I was sat around awaiting transportation)...the clever arrangement of white dots on the various glass surfaces means that from certain angles they line up into neat little perspective enhancing patterns...for some reason that pleased me (or the borderline autistic bit of me anyway) a very great deal...someone definitely put the 3D preview mode on their shiny CAD machine to good use... ;)

I'll go back into the corner of my padded room now...

21 April, 2009

Top Gear Filming Canary Wharf

Jeremy Clarkson and film crew
Wow, it seems like *ages* since anything interesting awaited me upon exiting the tube station at Canary Wharf, but today, a big crowd had formed around a selection of small cars, wherein (you can just see him leaning by the door of this one) Jeremy Clarkson was interviewing whoever was driving it -
Jeremy Clarkson and film crew
- and behind him, if you look carefully, is the tiny Richard Hammond (looking bored)-
Richard Hammond and Film Crew
- so (and I'm just guessing here), it looks like they were busy filming a feature for the BBC show Top Gear...
Film crew
So keep an eye out for me if you watch the show, I was in the background (taking these pictures) in a number of shots with my trusty(ish) Nokia N73... ;)

20 April, 2009

Pregnancy - Twenty Weeks

So, a little landmark has been reached, Flyingpops is now *20* weeks pregnant with "MJ" (this is officially the *half-way* stage)...the sickness that was such a problem at the start of pregnancy is now an extremely rare occurrence (hurrah!), the nagging tiredness has also vanished (Flyingpops first daytime nap in weeks was a 30 minute stint yesterday afternoon), and the moods seem to have largely stabilized too (what a relief)...

The baby is now surprisingly large, looking in the baby book (that we *still* haven't returned to the library) reveals it's about the same size (end to end) as a PSP (good analogy eh?), upcoming developments are things like difficulty breathing for mum (as the baby starts to push upwards on the lungs) and it's also around now that the baby starts to follow regular sleep patterns (meaning Flyingpops and MJ will be able to wake each other up)...I am also *supposed* to be able to hear the heart beat with the help of a cardboard tube, however I couldn't even pick up *Flyingpops* heartbeat, let alone MJ's when we had a try over the weekend...Anyway, the second (and last) ultrasound scan is scheduled for this Friday, this is the one where we may (or may not) be able to tell the gender...neither of us particularly want to know one way or the other, but for some odd reason right from the start, Flyingpops has been referring to MJ as a male...and it would be interesting to know if her instincts have been right... ;)

17 April, 2009

Finks Links #60

Friday again (already!), got to love these short bank holiday weeks (hehe...and two more to come next month)...so it's time, once again, to share a few of the things from the web that have engaged me over the last few days... ;)

So lets start with the 53 new (old) tombs uncovered in Fayoum, Egypt, including some of the best preserved mummies ever found!

An incredible illustration entitled "Holy Sh*t - We are *small*" [pic]

Some amazing laser etched stacks of dollar bills... [pics]

Some rather cool Tetris inspired furniture...

The worst cosplay costumes...evar...(the Gundam one is hilarious)... ;) [pics]

Some incredible surreal art...

Wil Wheaton urges us to whip out our old console hardware...

"Just zoom it all the way in"...quite clever... ;) [animated GIF]

Meet the worlds strangest research lab - "FLIP"... [video]

Check out the biggest aquarium window in Asia (in Okinawa, Japan)... [pic]

Check out some pictures from an incredible make - mini arcade machines! [pics]

Discover that in 2003 an honest proposal for how to get a probe into the centre of the Earth was published in Nature magazine, only bad bit was trying to find a country who didn't mind scientists blowing a 984-foot deep hole in their back garden with a nuke to get things started...!

A very important T-shirt to be wearing if you are thinking about experimenting with time travel...

Some excellent fast food advertising vs reality shots...(amazingly some of the reality shots actually look better)! [pics]

...and just to finish the week off, a funny Pram fail and a hilarious bomb blast fail... ;)

More next week, have a great weekend...and be careful out there!

16 April, 2009

Super Busy Easter weekend

Just to recap, not quite sure why I haven't got round to speaking about it before, but we have had one hell of a busy bank holiday weekend (and that definitely merits a mention), Friday morning was spent (in the pouring rain), smashing up -
Breaking up Sheds
- and skipping the content and structure of two garden sheds at Flyingpops folks' house -
Skip
- it took five of us four and a half hours (or 22.5 man-hours) to heave everything out of the garden, force it to fall into small pieces (with extreme prejudice) and then stack it neatly, and if that wasn't quite enough effort to go to for one weekend, we then packed all the baby stuff lurking in Dorking into Poppy the Beetle, that afternoon we returned to our house, moved the old freezer into the living room, moved the washing machine into the cupboard in the hall (where we had new plumbing installed last week to accomodate it), moved the dishwasher into the space left by the washing machine, brought in and installed a new tumble drier (an absolute revelation! No more, heaps of wet clothes all over the upstairs of the house!) on top of the washing machine in the cupboard (venting through a newly drilled hole in the brickwork), and then put our new freezer (front opening, three drawers) where the dishwasher used to be...the last job of the day (and one, that thanks to us being so tired, took about four times longer than it should have done) was re-hanging the door to the cupboard where the washing machine/tumble drier now live, so it opens in such a way that you aren't left trapped by the front door when you do so (why it wasn't like that in the first place I will never know)...and after all that, none of us could be bothered to cook, so we had a Chinese takeaway... ;)

Saturday we went and did the Tesco shopping early in the morning and then I spent the rest of the day moaning about my feet hurting thanks to the wellies I was wearing on Friday being about two sizes too small (got six blisters), Flyingpops and I went through all the kitchen cupboards throwing one in three items out (mostly extremely old soft drinks bought for parties and never disposed of, but also lots of out of date cans, bottles and packets, and the odd bit of ironwork or supurfluous container) then Flyingpops baked 60 fairy cakes and decorated them with icing, chocolate and sprinkles (eating 10% of them in the process)...Easter Sunday we went to my folks for an Easter chick hunt (a play on the theme - my "egg" was a lovely herb garden my Mum had planted up for me - thanks Mum!) lunch of lamb shanks in mint gravy with delicious sweet German beer on the side, and then we lugged all the baby stuff up to my folks' spare room (where we assembled everything, without instructions) to make sure it was okay, and went through bagfulls of clothes sorting out what we wanted/needed and what we didn't), and popped to Dorking Halls that night to watch Slumdog Millionaire (they got the volume wrong at the start and nearly deafened the audience - several groups of people actually walked out)...

Easter Monday we went to the local plumbers supply store to buy a part to fix a minor leak we had sprung during the move around on Friday (which I fitted when we got home), then popped to the dump to drop off the third of the kitchen we had stacked outside the front door on Saturday afternoon, and then we popped over to the local car boot sale looking for a baby monitor of some description (we failed, but I did score components to try and get my headphones working on my new flat panel TV - I gave up and ordered the bits from Maplin after about 20 minutes scraping wire, testing connections and straining to hear precisely zip coming out of the earbuds)...then we went *back* to Flyingpops folks place, this time for a lunch of roast beef and all the trimmings...

Feel like I need a holiday now! ;)

15 April, 2009

Volkswagen Beetle Pram - Bugaboo Frog

Okay, here we go, proof positive, the Bugaboo Frog (or "Chameleon" as the slightly newer version is called) fits perfectly in the boot of the VW Beetle -
Bugaboo Frog in VW Beetle
Bugaboo Frog in VW Beetle
- there is even space left over to stash a few bags of shopping...Phew (you won't believe how much of a concern this has been)! :)

And actually (the sharp-eyed among you will have noticed) you don't even have to pop the wheels off to get it in (which is a bit of a relief), it really is the cleverest pram/stroller/thingy I have ever set eyes on (as I noted before), folding completely flat (if needs be) -
Bugaboo Frog (collapsed)
- even the cot part collapses to a completley flat state with the removal of two bits of black plastic (one on each end), here it is all ready for the off (with rain cover) -
Bugaboo Frog upright
- and when the baby is big enough, you strip out the bed fabric (it's attached with velcro) and put in the seat fabric and it transforms into a push chair! You can spin the bed or seat around by 180 degrees to allow the baby to either face towards you, or the pleasant view ahead, and the handle flips over to either the front or back (with the push of a button) to allow the highly maneuverable wheels to be at the front (for town driving) or at the back (for off roading), the attachment on the chassis even works with the car seat we have got, so, in theory you could leave the top part at home and just bring the wheels, snapping the car seat in as the push-chair seat...it's all terribly clever... ;)

This isn't the finished article though, Flyingpops is busy shopping for all new, flashy coloured fabrics to customise the sleeping/sitting areas, and I think some new wheels are on the cards also (as the newer Cameleon ones are filled with foam to prevent punctures - and that would never do)...!  

It really is starting to feel like we might be almost ready (and we still aren't even half way through the pregnancy), but then with Flyingpops involved, what did you expect?  ;)

14 April, 2009

Whitstable, Kent

...and so back to the last full day of the Wedding anniversary, next stop was the highly recommended fishing village of Whitstable (literally *everyone* I had spoken to had said "Oh Whitstable is lovely" when asked for places to go in Kent, so it *had* to go on the list)...the only problem (apart from a *complete* lack of available parking - and remember, this was firmly out of season, heaven only knows what it is like in summer) being the absolutely stinky weather, it was blowing an absolute gale, and was freezing cold with it...so when we finally found somewhere to park the car and made our way towards the harbour, it was only the most fleeting of visits (for fear of being blown into the sea and swept away by the tide) -
Whitstable
- if these pictures could move you would see the swell lifting the boats more than a meter(!) with each wave - Flyingpops wouldn't come within fifteen feet of the edge, it looked that scary -
Whitstable
- and for all that I'm not sure the trip was actually even worth it, pretty far from being "lovely" it actually verged on the industrial...certainly not the charming harbour I had been picturing in my mind (after all the glowing testimonials)...
Whitstable
The fish market was quite pretty -
Whitstable
- (on the outside, anyway) -
Whitstable
- but after a quick peep at the beach (sand and stinging sea spray blasting our faces) -
Whitstable
- pebbled and packed with boats (so much so that there wouldn't be anywhere to pop your towel at high tide, although if I had tried on this occasion it certainly would have blown away) -
Whitstable
- we made a dash for the high street, where *thankfully* the wind was less direct, and certainly less bitterly cold, and began a pleasant walk up through the town, stopping in the odd shop (like this old fashioned sweet shop where we loaded up with supplies) -
Whitstable
- and gradually, as the sun came out, we began to see some of the potential charm of the place -
Whitstable
- it was quite nice, certainly not Devon and Cornwall nice, but it did have a charm of it's own...We stopped for lunch in a little pub called the "Royal Naval Reserve" -
Whitstable
- which served me up probably the best fish and chips I have ever eaten (so fresh, tasty and crispy, I did wonder if it perhaps hadn't been landed in the very harbour I had just criticised) -
Whitstable
- with home made tartare sauce and a simple slice of lemon......and I admit, as my tummy filled up, I melted even more... ;)

10 April, 2009

Finks Links #59

Friday again, and a bank holiday with it (woo hoo)! Not sure I'm going to be doing any relaxing, too much preparation for the baby still to do, but I did still manage to note down a few of the cool things I've stumbled across over the last week for your amusement (even though you probably won't be playing on the internets, it's a Friday tradition now, after all) -

Urban exploration - this time the charmingly named Hellingly Insane Asylum... [HDR pics]

A great collection of the worst home-made Star Wars costumes ever made...in someones humble opinion, anyway... [pics]

An insane Japanese baseball stunt [video]

CT Scans of random items that one wouldn't normally put into a medical scanner quite interesting... [pics]

Watch a cannon ball floating in mercury (amazing)! [video]

Scary picture of Lava about to destroy a house (in Hawaii) [pic]

A (fake, but amusing) fossil keyboard spotted in Norwich [pic]

Nine words you might logically conclude originated from one field of science or another but which were really coined by science fiction writers...

An incredible piece from National Geographic about a guy who went to Peru to take ayahuasca (a potent, natively used narcotic) and came away minus his long term mental illness...

Twelve very odd classified ads from newspapers...

Harry Knowles goes on about a surprise screening of the new Star Trek movie he was invited to (sounds awesome, but there are some spoilers in there so beware if you care)!

Amazingly natural looking and extremely creepy (when it isn't walking, then it just looks lame) ant-inspired hexapod robot [video]

And God said "Let there be light"...(quite clever)... ;)

And now, just to finish up with (for another week), a funny "Inflatable fail" and an "overcoming compulsive hoarding fail"...

More next week! Have a lovely Easter!

09 April, 2009

Priority seat card - Southern Trains

Commute - train window
Well well well...Southern trains seem to have actually done something rather insightful and potentially very useful, both for Flyingpops and me (as she is pregnant and I very occasionally require the use of crutches to get around) by introducing a scheme where those genuinely in need of a seat can apply for a priority seat card...yesterday I spotted that this sign has appeared-
Priority seat sign
- at eye-level on seat backs facing all the priority seats on my normal train home (rendering it literally unmissable if you happen to be sitting in one)...Previously the priority seats were marked out only by a small grey sticker only immediately obvious if one were to be (a) standing up, and (b) happened to notice it against the similarly coloured train wall...the idea is, if you are genuinely in need of a seat you can then prove it by just showing your card to whoever is sat in one (and similarly they can flash their card right back if they too have a genuine reason to be sat there)...this will be particularly useful to pregnant women in the early stages, as I'm now painfully aware - some women (Flyingpops included) while they don't *look* pregnant (or even necessarily needy), can suffer horribly with morning sickness, dizziness and tummy pains, this card, if fellow commuters honour it, could be a God send for the shy as it's rather difficult to hide behind your Metro and headphones if someone is holding a card in front of you and you deliberately sat down *knowing* you could be asked to move...

Let's hope the trial is a success...

08 April, 2009

The Canterbury Tales Experience - Review

Canterbury Tales Experience
Back to last Saturday morning now, after our hearty breakfast we headed back into Canterbury proper, had a complete nightmare trying to park the car (eventually settling for a very tight spot right outside the city walls)...it was raining, it was windy, the whole place was *still* packed with foreign students, but this time all decked out in various eye-straining colours of cagoule...we followed the tiny map on the back of our 50% off voucher (you get one when you pay to get into the Cathedral) being battered by the wind -
Canterbury Tales Experience
- and, huddling (when necessary) underneath our umbrella, joined the back of the small queue, which (despite being hearteningly diminutive) didn't move for half an hour)...
Canterbury Tales Experience
Being stood next to this sign, after a while, began to make one wonder if (perhaps) a half-hour queue in an on/off torrential downpour to experience the "smells of Medieval England" might not actually have been the wisest of decisions...Anyway, we persisted (heaven only knows how long one would have to wait on a pleasant day in high tourist season), and were finally granted admittance to the extremely cramped entrance room -
Canterbury Tales Experience
- where some colourful characters were waiting to welcome you, we coughed up our entrance fee, handed our commentary batons and were warned that the first room was going to be extremely dark, then bumbled collectively (with a group of about fifteen people) into the darkness ahead -
Canterbury Tales Experience
- and they certainly weren't kidding, it was pitch black apart from the (pretend) embers of a fire (until the "sun" rose through the "window") and the door sprang open inviting us into the next area -
Canterbury Tales Experience
- which, I was slightly saddened to discover, had a strong aroma of urine (this, disappointingly, being the only evidence of the aforementioned "Medieval smells" (that I noticed anyway), and I can manage to recreate that experience (in modern times) by getting in the lift up to the library in Redhill town centre, thank-you-very-much)-
Canterbury Tales Experience
- they explained their clever (and highly realistic) smell away by introducing ladies emptying their bed pans from above with a loud splashing noise...nice...anyway, I don't wish to ruin the experience or the story (as on the whole it was rather enjoyable) so just a couple more pictures (very hard to shoot in there as firing the flash was frowned upon and it was extremely dark), the stories are animated by a combination of lighting changes, very simple animatronics -
Canterbury Tales Experience
Canterbury Tales Experience
Canterbury Tales Experience
- and the odd automatic door, before (all too quickly) we found ourselves walking out into the traditional brightly lit exit gift shop -
Canterbury Tales Experience
- where 30 different versions of the book were on sale, oh and a huge amount of touristy tat (just for good measure)...I suppose the whole thing took us about half an hour in all (so we actually queued for about the same amount of time as we were in there), the language they used was modern English but with a medieval twist (they do have a special version for young kids, just so they don't get too confused or upset by all the sexual references - there are rather a lot) and actually, it's well worth the visit (but do try and get hold of a voucher, as it seems quite expensive for the amount of time you are in there otherwise)...the good thing is that off the back of this experience I am now tempted to attempt the book (Flyingpops had been forced to study it at school, so I felt a bit left out in that regard), if you want a summing up - consider it an excellent 'introduction' to the text, as when I picked up the book I realised it was going to be another Robinson Crusoe first edition-type read - i.e. enjoyable, but rather challenging...

07 April, 2009

Undertrees Farm B&B, Kent - Review

Undertrees Farm B&B
So 1730hrs came, we (temporarily) left the pub in Stodmarsh town, and wound our way up the pothole-filled country lane, through the unmistakably flat Kent landscape (great for UFO spotting apparently, the sky seems so *huge* compared to hilly Surrey)-
Undertrees Farm B&B
-to the B&B, where another couple were busy unloading suitcases from their car (giving us confidence that the tomtom had led us to precisely the right place, even though we had noted that it was indeed a house, certainly under some trees and definitely in the middle of farm land, which did match the name we had scribbled on our bit of paper)... ;)
Undertrees Farm B&B
Struggling up to the front door dragging our weekend bags, a little surprise occurred, revealing exactly the sort of place we had booked ourselves in to...the front door had been left unlocked (and, actually, remained so for the duration of our visit) and this note was laying on the doormat, inviting us to come in and make ourselves comfortable, which we did...unfortunately it was more like half an hour we were left waiting, rather than the documented "5 minutes", but when our host arrived (a lovely lady called Jane, whom we instantly forgave) she showed us up to our rooms (we got the one at the front of the house) of the two to choose from (the choice was ours, so I dashed into the slightly larger, brighter one and dumped the bags down, feeling all smug with myself)...
Undertrees Farm B&B
...which actually just looked like someones guest room, not a traditional "room in a B&B" at all (well, apart from the kettle in the corner), complete with (absolutely tiny) en-suite (I could barely turn around in the shower, but then I am quite big, I guess) -
Undertrees Farm B&B
- the other thing we noted was that not one of the windows in the whole house had any curtains, just large wooden shutters, and the windows were single glazed, which meant that it did actually get quite cold when the wind started rattling them (must be a nightmare of a place to keep warm), luckily, on the end of the bed was an old fashioned feather eiderdown (we were obviously not the first people in this room to suffer a little with the chill), and snuggled under that the bed got very cosy, very quickly...which was fine...

Breakfast in the morning was an excellent affair, you can choose when you want it (within reason) and opt for either a full English or a continental, it starts with (what certainly tasted like) freshly squeezed orange juice and a selection of warm bread/croissants/hot cross buns with butter and marmalade, cereal, tea or coffee, and then a very fine example of the classic British invention (really good sausage, free range eggs, mushrooms, tomato, bacon etc.)...dunno why, but at home all I can usually face for breakfast is a small yogurt - something just happens to me when I'm away - I somehow seem to be able to eat like a hungry bulldog without ever really feeling like I've had enough, this meant that Archie (the resident Golden Retriever), who begged *extremely* hard for a morsel, even at one point doing the full one-paw-in-the-air-with-head-cocked-to-the-side manoeuvre (which *very* nearly worked), had to resort to plan B - i.e. stealing leftovers from the dishwasher, which he got away with three times during our meal (to noisy scolds, chasing him from the kitchen by his mum)...quite charming... ;)

So, to sum up, it's not miles away from Canterbury (about ten or fifteen minutes in the car, depending on the traffic), near to an absolutely fantastic pub with great food (well within walking distance on a pleasant summer evening - just wish we had been there on a pleasant summer evening), it's a really quiet place (just fields as far as the eye can see) and it's not being run like a business...imagine staying in a functioning family home as the guest of a friend of a friend and you won't be far off the mark, you won't see any signs saying "Private", and you'll feel inclined to kindly thank your host after you have watched her slaving away at the stove to cook your breakfast, which you eat at the family kitchen table (discussing with the other guests and your host what your coming day will consist of)...perhaps not everyones cup of tea, but for us a very enjoyable, and probably almost unique way to get to see this interesting part of the country...and to think, we were considering the travelodge! ;)

06 April, 2009

The Red Lion pub, Stodmarsh

Red Lion Pub - Stodmarsh
Back to our Anniversary weekend in Canterbury (again), so set wayback machines to last Friday, mid-afternoon, as we left Canterbury town (through heavy traffic), eventually following the tomtom directions down a succession of narrow, pothole filled single-track roads (meeting a steady stream of traffic coming in the other direction and having to swerve into muddy passing places), we had played it safe and left quite a lot of time before check in time at the B&B (1730hrs), so we had decided we would check out the local pub in the village "proper" (the B&B was in the middle of a field right on the periphery, a few minutes drive away) -
Red Lion Pub - Stodmarsh
- we pulled into "town", unable to park outside the pub as there were a number of chickens using the space for grub scratching -
Red Lion Pub - Stodmarsh
- so we parked the bug just across the road, and headed indoors (the plain exterior belying what lay within) -
Red Lion Pub - Stodmarsh
- the first thing that struck me as I walked through the door was the distinct aroma of cigarette smoke, something that is so unfamiliar to me now, that it struck me as extremely out of the ordinary - there was a large roaring log fire though, so I guess I could have been mistaken as to the exact aroma (I peered suspiciously at the coy-looking locals as I passed), the second sign that things weren't quite normal was, upon ordering a drink, to note that fine quality top hats were being utilized as drip trays...the barman, Robert Whigham, made an immediate impression by both strongly resembling Terry Thomas and doing an extremely good impression of him (vocally), "Oh really, your wife is pregnant? That's funny, so am I! And so are all these ladies!", when we enquired about the dinner menu he said "Oh we've got some lovely Tees" (meaning T-bone steaks - they weren't on the menu), and when Flyingpops announced she was a vegetarian he piped up with "Well, I tell you what, how about a lovely bit of salmon, and some risotto, we've got two chefs, sure they'll cope", and then - 3 hours before I was expecting to eat - sat at the bar in the blazing spring sunshine, I actually found myself being asked how I would like my steak cooked...and Robert wrote out our order and passed it to the kitchen, ready for 1915hrs (when we were due to return) -
Red Lion Pub - Stodmarsh
- it was only later, over my (fantastic) steak dinner -
Red Lion Pub - Stodmarsh
- that I noticed that the toilet door was being closed with a trumpet...before I pointed it out to Flyingpops I watched it, slightly hypnotised as it soared up and down when people made their way to and from spending a penny, my mind exploring a hypothetical past for it, purchased by an aspiring musician, lovingly oiled and polished, enduring endless practice sessions until breath and button pushing were perfected, used to play concerts to appreciative crowds, perhaps Jazz, perhaps classical, after applause and elegant bow, tucked away safely each night in it's hard case...would that owner *ever* have imagined that the instrument's final resting place would be on the end of a bit of rope, in a Kent pub, making sure that the toilet door closes neatly after each merry patron has finished doing their business?
Red Lion Pub - Stodmarsh
We got chatting to the patron again, after we had finished our meal, he was busy drinking away his profits (as he had been when we had popped in earlier) and he shared with us that one of his hobbies is flying helicopters, and later in the year he is going to do a helicopter pub crawl with his patrons "The only problem, you see, is that one can't enjoy a drink when flying"...

Robert Whigham...I raise my glass to you, you are unique...