Thursday, 19 December 2013

The last post...

Okay here's the big news, New Year (almost) new blog (almost).

I'm moving my blog over to Wordpress. Apparently it's got better features and it's indexed better on Google.

All the old posts can now be found on http://jackbarrowuk.wordpress.com/ If you've commented on posts in the past you should see your comments on the new blog although they'll still point back to your Blogger account and user name that you were logged in as. It'll all become clear.

So this is the last post on this blog, if you've been sent here by a link I've not redirected please let me know so I can put it right. And if you've come via a link from another web site that's nothing to do with me please let the site know so they can change their link to the new blog.

Cheers

Jack

See you on the other side.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Shock! The Black Dog of Bungay - book review



Shock! The Black Dog of Bungay by Dr David Waldron and Christopher Reeve

I read this book as research for a project I'm working on. I could tell you what it is but I'd have to kill you. Needless to say I write in various genres, fiction and non fiction, all sorts of subjects related to the paranormal, the irrational and the downright crazy so you need not be surprised that I might be interested in The Black Dog of Bungay. Also, I play a bit of African percussion, which may not seem that relevant but it does mean that I drive through the Suffolk town of Bungay every summer where, nearby, I attend a percussion camp. So when I heard of the legend of the black dog I was doubly interested.

killing

The story is that in 1577 a large black dog appeared inside St Mary's Church in Bungay, England, during a Sunday service, while a major thunder and lightning storm took place outside. The dog was reported to have attacked members of the congregation, killing two people and leaving marks inside the church while the lightning struck and severely damaged the steeple. You can find out more by reading the book with gives a full account of the story.

The book examines the evidence and explains who said what and when. As well as looking at the basis of the legend, the book examines the historical and sociological background of the people of the time and all the developments of the legend in the centuries since. It also gives you a comprehensive background on the history of Bungay town and its place in the local landscape.

Forteana

If you were making a study of Bungay, the story of the Black Dog, black dog legends in general (which it seems are found across much of Britain), or how folkloric traditions of the paranormal arise in historic towns, then this is just the book for you. The book was written by a local historian in collaboration with a historian and anthropologist so it takes a fairly academic approach to the subject. This is no bad thing though for if you are a student of history, social anthropology, Forteana, or just a collector of ideas for your own purposes, then there's plenty here for you.

Friday, 22 November 2013

A license to bill?

I've long been troubled by the movement towards licensing the software that we all need to do business and, increasingly, to function in the modern world. The rise of the smart phone is only accelerating this with use of multiple devices, cloud services and the like.

I last bought a copy of MS Office in 2003. I bought a copy of Dreamweaver in the late nineties when it was Macromedia and didn't replace it until I bought a copy of CS4 some years ago. Running a limited company I take the same approach as many corporations, in that I buy software infrequently and try to get the maximum value out of it. Frequently the improvements offered by upgrades are not sufficient for me to spend the extra cash. I've never been a consumer in that sense in the rest of my life so I'm not inclined to be so with software. I've recently bought a copy of Office 2010 and only because I was able to find a boxed copy on a CD for which I am very grateful. I simply didn't want to buy a subscription to Office 365 or the other variants that Microsoft seem to be offering today. I don't like subscription services as, being a one man band, you never know what's around the corner so I spend the money upfront and I know I've got the software for life. For the same reason I buy a new phone every four or five years, pay for it upfront, off contract, and put my existing sim-card in the new phone. It's a cautious approach but it has served me well through boom and bust.


artworks

With the massive rise of iTunes we now license music. Okay iTunes will tell us that we license it for life but how long before they decide they want to change that model? Tomorrow they could claim they are saving us money or offering us greater value or convenience, while disguising an attempt to increase revenues. I grew up with vinyl and I liked owning album sleeves, especially the fold-out artworks of the 1970s, so I like to own tangible objects. (Album art was the added value of its age.) Therefore I buy my music on CD and I'm happy to pay for that.

Software companies are rapidly turning into service companies. This has already happened in manufacturing when IBM stopped making computers and turned themselves into a company offering IT services. (Do they even exist as a company now? I've not seen their brand for some time.) A few years ago Xerox sold their manufacturing operations to a company in India and became a provider of document management services. They now run document libraries and associated operations. Chester Carlson, the inventor of Xerography, will be turning in his grave. (There's a joke there about rollers in paper feeders but I just can't seem to think of it.)

action

Naturally these companies will take the view that they are returning shareholder value by this strategy but are they? Today I read an extensive forum thread of Adobe users (subscribers) who don't feel they are being properly served by the fact that the details of 38 million Adobe accounts are now on the web. They are talking of a class action arguing that their personal data hasn't been properly secured.

Much of this seems to be motivated by companies wanting to harvest personal data as this is now seen as the major commodity of the future. Does this mean that there is now something happening to the concept of ownership and should we be concerned? Will we soon have to license the food we eat and what happens when we've finished with it?

Monday, 28 October 2013

The secret life of Robert Peston, super hero crime fighter extraordinaire

I was talking to a friend recently about characters in comic books and it struck me how Robert Peston is really just like Batman.

We were discussing how comic heroes often have sidekicks as a device to help the author establish the detail of a story. It's particularly important for comic book stories as there often isn't enough space for narrative, what with mere speech bubbles, to get the subtleties across. I particularly remember watching an arts programme, probably late night on BBC2, where a member of the panel of pundits who held a particular political perspective suggested that there was a latent gay undercurrent with the presence of Robin in the Batman comics. At this the pundit who really was an expert on comic books laughed out loud and explained that the reason Batman has Robin is so that Robin can ask all the stupid questions that might be in the mind of the audience and so explain the plot. The same thing is true of Inspector Morse with Lewis where they will have a pint in the pub and Morse will explain to Lewis what is really going on. Holmes has Watson, The Lone Ranger has Tonto, Don Quixote has Sancho Panza, etc. Of course sidekicks can perform other functions but in the case of Robert Peston this is what I'm talking about.

stupid

So when Robert Peston appears on the Radio 4 Today Programme or PM (I'm told he's also on the TV news but I don't have a TV) he is usually interviewed by the main presenter such as Evan Davis or Eddie Mair. So in this scenario Robert Peston is the guy with all the knowledge of what's going on with collateralised debt obligations, the fiscal cliff or bonkers bankers' bonuses. So Eddie Mair or Evan Davis get to ask the stupid questions that we, as listeners, might want answered. Of course Eddie or Evan probably know the answer to these questions, after all Evan Davis used to do Robert Peston's job before he decided, in 2008, that nothing interesting ever happened in economics. Clearly Evan's talent doesn't lie in predicting the future. As for Eddie's expertise I'm unsure but it may be stand-up.

So Robert Peston really is Batman, I've heard he has a cape and everything. Next week I'll be pointing out the similarities between Kirsty Wark and Cinderella.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Google have your granny in their computer



I'm a little disturbed. Those of you who have met me might suggest that's an understatement. It seems Google and others have been harvesting phone numbers and addresses of people from all over the world and the data they are harvesting is for people who do not even own computers. That might include your Granny and it probably includes you and me. If your dog has a land line then it's entirely likely that it has been harvested too.

Back in the spring, when I was preparing to go on the Travelogue Tour I bought myself a tablet computer. I didn't want an Apple so I bought a Samsung tablet that runs the Android operating system. I liked the idea of Android (developed by Google) as it's similar to Apple's operating system in that you can download loads of useful free apps. In May I went off on my trip around the country, visited the 39 historic counties of England, had a good time and realised by the end that I should have done it differently. Still that's life.

speed

One thing I learned was that I would have been better off buying a miniature laptop to write the book while I was on the road. The typing speed on the tablet, even with an external keyboard, was so awful that it generated endless typos that were impossible to correct due to the speed of the whole thing. The other thing I realised was that I should have bought an Android phone (rather than a tablet) to use the apps, as the tablet was too bulky for the purpose. So by the time I got back, six weeks later, I was fairly convinced that one day I would buy an Android phone.

I've been using smartphones for years. I've had a Nokia Communicator many years ago and in recent years an HTC TyTnII. A week ago I bought a Samsung Galaxy, so I'm not new to the issues of owning such devices. One of those issues is that you have an address book and a calendar on the phone and another on your computer at home. Naturally you don't want to type every contact and appointment in twice so you need to be able to synchronize your calendar and address books across the two devices. (Today you might have more than two devices so the issue is more significant.) I've been doing this for years by connecting a cable between the phone and computer, with hardly a hitch so it's not difficult. The cable is secure and private.

fluffy

So when I bought an Android phone recently I decided to buy one from the same manufacturer as made the tablet, that way it would be easier to sync the two calendars and address books. I soon discovered that the way this works on a Samsung product is via their Kies software which you install on all your devices, including your PC. However, the software uses the Google cloud service to store the data and make it available to your other devices. The cloud, for the uninitiated, is a nice, fluffy, inoffensive way to describe massive servers around the world which are offered as storage space for Internet users. (There is a non cloud based version of Kies but it's not very easy to use and it didn't seem to work at all when I tried it.) In a nutshell it's very difficult to sync your Samsung devices without using the cloud. I suspect it's pretty much the same whatever devices you have be they Apple, Microsoft or whoever.

Of course this isn't news. The cloud has been in existence since the nineties and people have been choosing to use it or not use it for years. If you are worried about your privacy you keep your data on your local hard disk. Some people are saying that computing is going to go away from the local storage model and that all data will eventually be on the cloud but up until now we have had some choice.

personal

However, for name and address data it's different. Smartphones create address books with much more than phone numbers. The chances are that you are already in half a dozen of these phones, possibly including your name, address, phone number, employer, job title, perhaps your birthday, etc. It really depends how much use the person you know chooses to make of these facilities on their phone. That's the point, I'm not talking about your phone, I'm talking about the phones of people you know. If you know lots of smartphone users then you are probably on lots of them. Granted many people which such phones won't make full use of such facilities, not bothering to fill them in. However, even if a few people do this—perhaps geeks, smartphone enthusiasts or young people who are early adopters of technology—then many of the people on their phones will be recorded in this way. So if each one of us knows one person with such a phone, then you are recorded in as much personal detail as they care to type in. All it takes then, is for them to avail themselves of these could services for backup purposes or to duplicate their addresses across multiple devices and Google, Apple, whoever, has your data. You didn't give permission, you haven't been told and you may not even have been aware that this was possible.

penetration

With the growing ubiquity of theses cloud services and the with the current penetration of smartphones already in existence, it's entirely likely that large swathes of the population of the developed world have their name, address, email address, phone number and shoe size stored on servers unregulated by anybody.

I feel myself looking around and wondering when we decided to do this. For all those people you know who refuse to be on Facebook because they don't want to be recorded, it's too late, it's already happened.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Into The Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story - book review

Into The Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke

Ostensibly this is a book about story structure in film rather than books, but the lessons are the same so it’s useful to writers of any sort, be they scriptwriters or novelists.

Most writers of fiction will have come across the concept of the three act structure which is largely what this book covers, although Yorke divides the three acts into five. That is itself isn’t original. He admits that he’s collected ideas on story structure from theorists and writers both alive and dead. As such it’s a pretty good introduction to the field for someone, like me, who has not really studied story structure in detail.

references

If I had to make a criticism I’d make two. The first is that, having chosen most of his examples from film, he is very reliant on the reader having seen the films he talks about. If you haven’t seen Thelma & Louise then I urge you to see it (perhaps twice) before reading the book. There are probably others, perhaps three or four films that you would benefit from seeing to understand the references that he makes. (Unfortunately I can’t remember them all as it’s a while since I finished the book.) However he has drawn from so many film references that nobody will have seen all of them but most readers will have seen enough to benefit from what he says.

The second criticism is also really a recommendation. If anything there is too much in this book. I wouldn’t say it’s repetitive as he makes a point in enough ways for the reader to grasp a concept if they didn’t get the point from the first example (or they hadn’t seen the example film). However he does go into a lot of detail and as such it’s a bit much to pick all that up from a single reading. Perhaps it’s not intended as a light read as it’s really a text book. Film script students would probably refer back to it throughout a course.

tosh

Whether he is correct in his analysis is something I can’t say, but to understand the structuralist’s perspective it’s a good place to start. He suggests that even those who do not believe in structural story still write in this form without knowing it. I’ve looked at my own work and tried to identify the ‘mid-point’ and I’m not entirely convinced the séance scene is that mid-point (is being half way through enough?), but he may be right. How my acts are defined from there is anybody’s guess. What I can’t tell, having read Into the Woods, is whether my work is a load of old tosh, but I suspect that my next book will be better for having read it.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

To be philosophical or not to be philosophical

I've finally started working on the manuscript for the book of the great travelogue tour. So far I've got 39 documents of rough notes that need a lot of editing. The plan is to put another layer of thoughts over the top using ideas that developed later thus filling in the boring bits where not much happened. So far I've reviewed the first ten days and I don't seem to have had any days where not much happened. I'm wondering if I'll either have to cut stuff out or not add the extra material as I'd hoped.

As I travelled around the country I'd found myself mulling over some ideas that I'd had for some time regarding the perception of irrational ideas in the modern world and how much of the satisfaction of life comes from a contact with the irrational. These ideas include art, humour, moments of sudden self actualisation (described by Maslow as peak experiences), love, spirituality (whatever that is), etc. After stopping half way around the country and discussing the project with some pagan friends in Derbyshire I came to the conclusion that I should include these ideas in the story of the journey. Over a few days I came up with the idea of using these ideas to fill in the boring days and, perhaps, draw some parallels with things that happened on the way.

I estimated that I was writing about 1000 words a day in note form, which would give me about 40,000 words once it was tidied up. If I added another 30-40,000 words it would make a book of about the right length. Now I'm expecting I'll have about 50-60,000 words before I add the philosophical stuff. It's either going to be longer than I'd thought or I'm going to have to leave the philosophical stuff out.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

A journey through the 39 historic counties of England

Starting on May 1st 2013 I embarked on a travelogue tour of the 39 historic counties of England. The plan was (and still is) to write a book about the journey. The list below is an index of the journey and the date for each county. These are short blog posts giving an idea of what I got up. At the time of creating this post I'm still editing the full manuscript. Keep coming back for news of the trip in detail and the development of the book.

May 1st Oxfordshire 43 miles
May 2nd Buckinghamshire 73 miles
May 3rd Bedfordshire 119 miles
May 4th Huntingdonshire 161 miles
May 5th Cambridgeshire 216 miles
May 6th Suffolk 235 miles
May 7th Norfolk 298 miles
May 8th Rutland 513 miles
May 9th Lincolnshire 629 miles
May 10th Yorkshire 742 miles
May 11th County Durham 811 miles
May 12th Northumberland 953 miles
May 13th Cumberland 1113 miles
May 14th Westmorland 1174 miles
May 15th Lancashire 1238 miles
May 16th Cheshire 1315 miles
May 17th Staffordshire 1350 miles
May 18th Derbyshire 1384 miles
May 19th Nottinghamshire 1442 miles
May 20th Leicestershire 1534 miles
May 21st Northamptonshire 1580 miles
May 22nd Warwickshire 1648 miles
May 23rd Worcestershire 1699 miles
May 24th Shropshire 1776 miles
May 25th Herefordshire 1841 miles
May 26th Gloucestershire 1889 miles
May 27th Somerset 1988 miles
May 28th Devon 2090 miles
May 29th Cornwall 2248 miles
May 30th Dorset 2441 miles
May 31st Wiltshire 2553 miles
June 1st Berkshire 2629 miles
June 2nd Hampshire 2711 miles
June 3rd Sussex 2763 miles
June 4th Kent 2852 miles
June 5th Surrey 2956 miles
June 6th Middlesex 3015 miles
June 7th Essex 3083 miles
June 8th Hertfordshire 3128 miles

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

From castles to bunkers via salty sea dogs and the wastes of London

Day 35 to 39 - Kent, Surrey, Middlesex, Essex, Hertfordshire

My plans for Kent were twofold. For a few years I'd wanted to visit Dungeoness, particularly after a friend told me that it is the only place in Britain that is officially a desert (on account of its low rain fall rather than the temperature). I also imagined that it might hold some interesting landscapes. The other location that I had heard of was Bodiam Castle and it was said to be the quintessential symmetrical castle with round corner towers and all the features so beloved of schoolboy adventures of knights in shining armour. Had I thought before that I would see Bodiam then I might have seen less castles on the rest of the trip but it was a classic so perhaps it was appropriate that it should be the last.

Arriving at Bodiam at about midday it really was everything it was said to be. Not only is it the classic symmetrical design, it's also largely intact. Check out the photos on Instagram and go see it if you are interested. The only thing wrong with Bodiam Castle, is that it's not in Kent. Somehow I thought it was in Kent but it turns out to be just inside Sussex but what the hell.

To make up for the lack of my time spent in Kent I decided that I should head for Dungeoness so at about 4pm I set off. People had asked why I'd want to go there but those people clearly have no soul. (Either that or they haven't heard the song by Athlete.) It really is unlike anywhere else. The flat landscape, combined with the sea and shingle, give it a character that is almost haunting. You'd think it run down what with the shabby state of things but you soon realise that's a condition of the environment rather than an issue of prosperity.

I made my way to the Britannia Inn, as far down the bumpy road across the shingle as you can go and had a fairly mediocre fish and chips (compared to those I'd had in Dorset and Berkshire) and headed back to my tent on a surprisingly sheltered camp site (2852 total miles). It's amazing what a few earth banks can do.

I really wasn't sure what I would find to do in Surrey and, sure enough, I didn't find anything. Had I not started from Dungeoness I might have made it to Kew Gardens but I decided it wasn't worth the effort so I found my way to something described as Surrey's best kept tourist secret at a canal boat yard and tea shop. It wasn't really worth it and I can see why they keep it a secret. However, finding a camp site serendipity struck again.

I ended up camping at the Springbok Estate Merchant's Seaman's Mission or some such (2956 miles). They have a camping field and allow guests to use the bar in return for a quid to pay for temporary membership. I spent a splendid evening talking to salty old sea dogs, listening to shaggy dog stories and generally getting pissed amongst blokes with white beards not dissimilar to Captain Birdseye

What can you say about Middlesex? It's now North and West London, I camped near the Thames in West London (3015 miles), it was sunny and the whole place looked the same as I drove through it. Nothing to report.

Essex was a surprise. I had no plans of what to do, I certainly didn't want to look at any more ruins so I didn't bother with the English Heritage book. Instead I decided to head for Essex and follow the first brown sign I came across. Unfortunately the first brown sign was for a golf club so I ignored it, although it occurred to me that I could have gone for a game or a lesson or whatever if they were promoting themselves to passing tourists. The second sign was also a golf club and the third was an old church or something so I ignored those too. However, the next one couldn't be ignored.

Approaching a roundabout I saw a big white sign with the three possible directions each declaring a list of destinations. The third option indicated three or four destinations one of them against a brown background and it read "Secret Nuclear Bunker". Clearly someone in Essex has a delicious sense of irony so I followed the signs.

Kelvedon Hatch is the location of a three story nuclear bunker that was the location of a regional government headquarters in the event of the cold war becoming hot. It was a total surprise to find it as I grew up hearing about these places but never dreamed I'd get to see the inside of one. I'll not go into the details other than to say that if you lived through the cold war or are interested in this part of our history then you should really go see for yourself. The place is, to say the least, a bit shabby, being peppered with shop window dummies dressed in military uniforms to try to give it a bit of extra something. Many of the artefacts are real, as left by the government when it was decommissioned and many more artefacts have probably been added to give it flavour but that doesn't really matter. The point about the place is the architecture. Walking down the 100 metre entrance tunnel, seeing the tonne and a half blast doors, seeing the room full of tele-printers, hearing the tannoy announcements, it's all done rather well. You have to understand that this place is now back in the hands of the farmer from whom the land was originally requisitioned and as such they probably have very little in the way of funds so the fact that it is open to the public is something of a miracle. Apparently there are other bunkers open as museums but this one is privately owned and they are clearly operating on a shoestring. If you do go make sure you get the audio tour as it gives a lot of explanation and you'd miss a great deal without it (3083 miles)

Being my home county I wasn't sure if I'd bother with Hertfordshire at all. I certainly wasn't going to camp in Hertfordshire when I had a perfectly comfortable bed to sleep in. In the end I did the same trick as in Essex and headed for the first likely looking brown sign. In the end this turned out to be the de Haviland Museum just outside St Albans. They have fine collection of de Haviland aircraft ranging from WWI a Tiger Moth, through the fully restored Mosquito and a Sea Vixen fighter jet. They've got bits of comets and part restored aircraft all over the place as well as a Chipmunk, the 1950s trainer that was the first aircraft I ever flew in.

Total miles door to door Hertfordshire to Hertfordshire via Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Rutland, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, County Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Sussex, Kent, Surrey, Middlesex, Essex, 3128 miles.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Four days in the south of England

Day 31 to 34 - Wiltshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Sussex

The day in Wiltshire was hot and sunny. I escaped Dorset s quickly as possible via Weymouth and headed to Salisbury and on to Amesbury. I've been to Stonehenge loads of times, usually for the summer solstice, so I thought I'd give that a miss this time. However I'd never been to Woodhenge so I thought I'd give that a go. Woodhenge is basically a bunch of concrete posts indicating where post holes were excavated some time ago. The posts make up a series of concentric ovals (is there such a thing as concentric ovals?) around a central space. They've gone to the trouble of colour coding the ovals so you can see how they relate to each other. I Know that they say they are not roof supports for a large hall but I can't help thinking that if you only had small spans you might need this many posts (2553 total miles).

Berkshire was a bit empty of things to do so after checking the tourist web sites and finding not much apart from things related to the royal family I checked the English Heritage book and found the only thing I could do was visit the only castle they list for Berkshire. Donnington Castle, not to be confused with Castle Donnington in Derbyshire where there's also a race track, is a medieval gatehouse, all that remains of a castle on a hill near Newbury. Interestingly the ruin is from the late 14th century, the same date as Bodiam Castle in Surrey that I visited later and apparently a similar size. Bodiam is much more complete, though, and prettier to boot. I ended up camping in Lambourne (2629 miles) where I spent the night in a stable on a previous trip some 25 years ago. Oddly I had always thought Lambourne was in Wiltshire.

After needing a jump start to get the truck started in Lambourne (details to follow in the book) it took me most of the day to get to Hampshire so my plan to visit the new Mary Rose exhibition was scuppered by lack of time. My plan to visit the Isle of Wights was scuppered by a lack of a spare 70 quid for the return fare. A friend had suggested I visit Porchester Castle so at the risk of castle overload I discovered it was ten minutes away so I headed over there.

Porchester Castle is a Roman fortress adapted into a medieval castle and then into a prison during the Napoleonic wars. The interesting thing about the place is that they have replaced some of the floors in the keep so you can see what it was really like in the great hall and other parts of the keep.

After camping within yards of the nudist beach in Southsea (2711 miles) I set off for Sussex. I'd thought to head for Hastings but it was just a bit too far and the roads along the south cost just a bit too like motorways, so at Chichester I dropped off the motorway to take a look at the cathedral. Cathedrals are always a good reserve option and I spent a fine couple of hours wandering around and looking for the entrance to the crypt. I didn't find it. Leaving Chichester I ended up on the sea front at Worthing with my ukulele slung across my back hoping to find some place on the beach where I could sit and practice my three chords. Unfortunately the sea breeze was so strong that there was nowhere suitable that would have been out of earshot of the public. Call me a romantic, I wanted to sit away from everybody, in splendid isolation away from people on the beach, not where people were walking thinking I was a bad unlicensed busker (2763 miles).

Here are the photos on Instagram

Day 35

Friday, 31 May 2013

The West Country - the end of the earth and back

Day 27 to 30 - Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset

I had no idea what to do in Somerset but I'd heard of the Cheddar Gorge so I set the sat nav with no idea what to expect. Leaving Gloucestershire after watching the Severn Bore for a second time in the morning, with much snapping of overhanging branches as the surge made it's way along the far bank, I drove down past Gloucester, under the Clifton Bridge and on to Cheddar. I descended through wooded valleys into Cheddar, parked up, had a pub lunch with plenty of cheese and wondered what all the fuss was about.

I organised a camp site at a handy pub in the village of Rodney Stoke nearby (1988 total miles). (Rodney Stoke Arms I think it was but you'll find it if you want to. Nice little camp site with a friendly pub and restaurant on your doorstep.) After setting up I headed back to Cheddar to find this gorge I'd heard of. I can honestly say I was gobsm... No sorry, I can't use that word, I was stunned.

You can't see it from the village but turn right at the roundabout outside the pub and go through the tourist traps and you find yourself in this gorge. There is no other word for it. What is amazing is the transformation from the village landscape to the gorge. You might think it would be further but it's right there, yards from the pub.

I drove up through the gorge and back down again hopping from car park to car park to save me walking back up the steep hill (it is steep), around a series of tight switchbacks up increasingly steep inclines with cliffs towering apparently hundreds of feet above. This is a bucket list location, if you haven't been and you like dramatic landscapes give it ago. I had a friend years ago who moved to the lake district to have access to climbing. I have no idea why he didn't move to Somerset.

The next day I drove down to Devon, across Exmoor, which I was a bit surprised to discover is mostly in Somerset. It was mostly pissing with rain across Exmoor so I didn't really stop other than to buy some great muffins at the general stores in Exford, the self styled heart of Exmoor. Exmoor is surprisingly unspoilt by the tourist industry with no apparent tourist influence at Exford despite it's claims about being the heart of Exmoor. It took me most of the day to get across Exmoor, stopping to take pictures and the like, so I drove onto to Barnstaple, arriving late afternoon to find a camp site (actually at Croyde Bay 2090 miles) full of surfers and overpriced chips. I met a great bunch of guys with Khyam G4 tents in orange with the Land Rover logo, obviously serious surfers and outdoor types.

Cornwall was a more successful day. I was on the impressively named Atlantic Highway travelling down the north coast of Cornwall when I spotted the signs for Tintagel Castle. Tintagel Castle is astonishing. That is astonishibg if you didn't have to build it or carry anything up there to live in it. Just delivering the drinking water must have been a pain in the arse and if they had a well then delivering the food would make the same point. I bet it was great if you were in charge, a pain if you worked there.

After Tintagel I checked out the Witchcraft museum at Boscastle and then motored on down to Land's End where I just had time to take some pictures of the sun setting over the lighthouse (see the Instagram pictures) before finding the last camp site in England (2248 miles).

Dorset meant heading back. Just getting through Cornwall and Devon took all day. Eventually I ended up at a tiny little harbour just near Bridport called West Bay. I watched the tide come in for a couple of hours in the rain as I listened to the radio and I bought the biggest portion of cod and chips I've ever had Honestly the cod must have been a foot or more long. There were a number of fish and chip stalls along the harbour and I went to the second from the right as you face the amusement parlour. If you are in the area I recommend it (2441 miles).

Here are the photos on Instagram

Day 31

Monday, 27 May 2013

A day of rest followed by...

Day 25 and 26 - Herefordshire and Gloucestershire

After Shropshire and the industrial museums at Ironbridge and Colebrookdale, which resulted in some nice photos at least, Herefordshire was a day off. I'd arranged to visit a friend who lives in The county and since he lives in a converted 12th century chapel it seemed silly to insist on camping when I could stay in such a momentous building (1841 total miles). The view of my tent photo was the shot of the church with the truck outside under the ancient yew tree. Instead of taking a photo of the view from my tent I took a shot of the view from my bed which needs to be seen. (See the Instagram link for photos,.)Gloucestershire

From Hereford I had the idea of looking for the Severn Bore. I found the Severn Bore Inn on the net and headed down there on off chance (1889 miles). I had a splendid carvery lunch with (nearly) more meat than I could eat, but I made the effort. The landlord told me that I could camp on the riverbank and that there would, indeed, be a bore that night and again in the morning. Now bear in mind that the timetables on the net for the Severn Bore seem to show about four days a month that seem to be around the time of the full moon. I'd been in Shropshire on the night of the full moon and Herefordshire the night after so to see the bore on the next day was pretty lucky. However, there was more to Gloucestershire than that.

While setting up my tent there was a couple of blokes who had climbed down the bank and out of sight. I went over and instead of the couple of canoes as I expected to see they had a high powered twin engined semi rigid speedboat. Realising that they hadn't untied the rope I offered to untie it for them to save them climbing back up the ladder, in response they offered me a ride.

It was only when I was out on the river with them, after we took off standing the boat on it's stern, that it began to occur to me that these guys were not completely sober. I hadn't noticed that there was a pint of scumpy on top of the dashboard (is it called a dashboard on a boat?) and I hadn't realised that the fact that they'd forgotten to cast off the rope might have been a warning signal.

Within five minutes I was in the driving seat being told that you have to stand it on the stern, gunning both engines, to get the boat 'on the plane' which I understood to mean planing over the water. (This was later disputed by someone else in the pub after I got back.)

Driving the boat was fun until I started to think about the fact that I hadn't planned to go on a boat trip, I was just untying a rope after all, and all my possessions, car keys, wallet, computer, phone, etc., were in my car back at the pub with the windows and tailgate open, the tent was barely pegged down in an exposed position on the river bank and I wasn't confident the guys would be in any hurry to take me back.

Asking about how we turn around was the point at which one of them reached over (I may have been driving but I can't quite remember) and started doing doughnuts at what felt like 45 degrees. Fortunately one of them got an inkling of just how terrified I was and he persuaded his mate to take it easy and we cruised back more at narrowboat speed than power boat speed.

The adventure ended, after a photo was taken of me at the controls but it'll be on his camera, with them realising that the water was now too low for me to get back to the ladder so I had to climb up the muddy bank.

The Severn Bore, that night and the next morning, was interesting but not exciting by comparison. I'm glad I saw the Severn Bore as it was probably a 1 in 10 chance of it happening on the day, but better to plan it and go on a four star day rather than a two star day as I did. Still the sight of the tidal surge snapping overhanging branches was quite impressive.

Instagram Photos

Day 27

Friday, 24 May 2013

Northamptonshire and across the south midlands to Shropshire

Day 21 to 24 - Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire

After the news from the tyre people in Leicestershire I decided that I really must get the brakes sorted. So my first priority was to find a brake centre on my way to Northampton so it was a stroke of luck that practically the first place I saw as I drove into Market Harborough was the Tanvic Tyre and Service Centre on the Leicester Road. So taking my life, or rather my wallet in my hands I pulled in. I was also on the look out for a coffee and somewhere to write up my notes so handing them the keys it was handy to get a coffee for 20p and sit down at a table to get some work done. So imagine my surprise when, after quoting a figure I can't remember (but over the 50 or 60 quid range), the guy comes through with my brake pads showing them to be not even half worn out. I think they suggested that they had at least 2/3 of their life left. Now bear in mind that I walked in and asked them directly to replace the front brake pads because I believed they were worn out (as I had been told by the Leicester tyre guy), so they could have just changed them and charged me. I would have been none the wiser. But no, they told me they were fine, checked that I didn't want them changed anyway, had a look at my rear brakes for good measure and told me that they were okay too (but I might be due new disks soon) and they only charged me the 25 quid or so for to set the tracking.

So let me say this clearly, this is Tanvic Tyre and Service Centre, Leicester Road, Market Harborough (Tel: 01858 469934).  One good turn deserves another and their good turn is due to them. They're good guys and you can trust them.

Other than that Northamptonshire seems to have been pretty uneventful. It was a day of getting the Truck ready for the rest of the trip, being about 1500 miles in and about half way through. That night I camped at Billig Aquadrome (1580 total miles), merely because I'd seen the signs from the M1 all those times and I wondered what all the fuss was about. Honestly, it's a trailer park with a caravan and camp site attached with some amusements. (The go karting looked as though it might be fun but then again it always is.) There's a lot of water, lakes and the like and consequently quite a few ducks and geese with the resulting amount of goose poo.

My day in Warwickshire was a proper tourist day. I've got a thing for late mediaeval history and the first thing I found was the Lord Lycester Hospital, built in the 14th and 15th century and well worth a visit. It's all half timbered fantasticness and I can't do it justice in words so check out the pictures on the Instagram link or find them in my instagram folder on my Facebook account, you know I always welcome new friends.

That night I camped in a farmers field (1648 miles) on the Warwickshire/Worcestershire border, a nice little spot for anybody that likes the feel of a hideaway camp but still with all the facilities of a normal site. Oh, that's right, no pot washing, but who cares about pot washing?

The day in Worcestershire was the day they started talking about severe weather warnings so I looked for something to do indoors. Finding it hard to resist a cathedral I spent a good three hours in Worcester Cathedral and the cafe, glad to be out of the weather. Interestingly the 'meet and greet' guy who welcomed me was only the second person to immediately spot that I'm doing this trip with the intention of writing a book. (The editing and spell checking will be better I promise.)

I booked into a little caravan site just outside Malvern (1699 miles), not because I planned to and way too far south for my liking, but they did manage to find me a sheltered spot from the severe weather that was forecast. However, it did mean I got to see the Mountains of Malvern as they will be known henceforth. Such dramatic change in landscape I've never seen and I'm hoping to go back to walk them at some time. I did manage to spill wine on my battery pack which was not a good thing. I'm managing without it and unsure if it's dry yet but it's still full of amps so I'm not sure I want to test it.

Shropshire left me one option, Ironbridge which led to a photofest so check instagram as I suggested for the cathedral pics and others. I did meet a nice lady with a single pentagram earring in the chemist (where they keep the cash machine but this is the heart of the industrial rervoilution wo who am I to judge) who deserves a mention.

I'm currently camped up on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border (1776 miles), a bit further north than I'd planned but without the battery pack I have to have a camp site with electrics so here I am. Still my tent faces south and I'm told there is a brilliant full moon out there so I'm going to see if I can get some pics.

Instagram photos

Day 25

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Peak District and Sherwood can be relied upon, the National Space Centre cannot

Day 17 to 20 - Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire

After leaving Cheshire I headed into the Peak District. One thing I knew about Staffordshire was that that it forms part of the Peak District so I thought go for the impressive landscapes if nothing else. So my criteria was somewhere where the map shows a camp site in that part of Staffordshire that is within the Peak District National Park. After an exciting drive across the high moors (something I thought you had to go to Yorkshire for) I found a nice little camp site on a smallholding called Heathy Roods Farm (1374 total miles). I had the place to myself and, while it was a bit exposed the Khyam Igloo was well up to it, the place was really quite nicely equipped with a country farmhouse whitewashed and quarry tile feel. Heathy Roods farm was just outside a village called Butterton where the pub was absolutely thronging with people and served a wicked lasagne. (No horses were harmed in the writing of this blog.)

In the morning I moved on to Dovedale in Derbyshire as I'd always planned meeting up with some friends, which was a bit of a rest from the daily moving and hunting down of sites and the like. I left Heathy Roods farm at about lunch time and arrived in Dovedale at about 2pm (1384 miles). Having the rest of the day to sit around, drink Old Speckled Hen and Captain Morgan (thank you Eric) sort of put a break in the middle of the trip. We had a great night, many songs were sung and a few were murdered; songs that is.

The next day I moved on to Nottinghamshire where, I'm afraid, I did do the obvious thing and I went to Sherwood Forest and looked at the tacky exhibition, failed to buy a fridge magnet and saw the big oak tree. I had a go on the archery and found it much more difficult than the composite bow I tried once before. That night I stayed in, perhaps the five starest of camp sites I've seen so far (1442), very high spec with mature planting around the pitches whereas some sites can be a bit open.

That brought me to today when I arrived in Leicestershire, had a fine ploughmans in Melton Mowbray with the proper pork pie and stilton, went to the National Space Centre only to find it closed so I bought some tyres for the truck instead. Tomorrow I will go to Northamptonshire and get new break pads as such is the nature of motor touring when you've clocked up 1534 miles with the other half of the country still to go.

All the pictures are here

Day 21

Friday, 17 May 2013

Around the north in eight days

Day 12 to16 - Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire and Cheshire

Well actually it was a few less than eight days going around the north but it's been nearly a week since I last posted a blog so you'll have to excuse the poetic license.

After the blustery night in Whitby I headed up into Northumbria with some trepidation. I really had no idea of where I was going so I looked in the guide books and selected Bamburgh Castle which is quite a long way north, nearly as far as Holy Isle, however it was well worth the trip (953 total miles).

Bamburgh Castle is a massive pile on top of another massive pile of rock on the north sea coast. It seems to be, because I arrived too late to make it worth paying to get in, a collection of developments from the medieval period up to the Napoleonic era.

The next day I moved onto to Cumberland, as it used to be known before all the counties were renamed. I tried a camp site down on the shores of Derwent Water but it was just a bit too wet. They gave me a choice of locations. The first had a magnificent view over the water with the shore just ten or so metres away but on ground that was just too wet and with the wind blowing straight across the water at me. The second was on drier ground with a bit more shelter but a less magnificent view. Both sites would have involved a considerable trek of hundreds of yards to the car. After about ten minutes I went somewhere else and found another camp site (1113 miles), unbelievably, on a hill top which was still exposed but drier. Necessity led me to face my tent into a dry stone wall for shelter and use the truck as a wind break again. However, I met up with a couple of great guys and we managed to organise cars and tents such that we had the best cover possible under the circumstances. IT did also serve to give me some confidence in the stability of the Khyam Igloo against strong winds, not that it was ever in any doubt.

Westmorland was different in that I had trouble finding it. Of course the places are still there but the county no longer exists so finding a place to camp that was definitely in the boundaries of the old county was problematic. I ended having to visit the main library at Kendle but eventually found a really nice caravan and camp site with five star facilities (1174 miles).

The Lancashire day started with a downpoor, probably the remains of the sever weather that hit the south of England that week, not that I knew about it apart from word of mouth up here.

Most of the Lancashire day was spent trying to get to the Blackpool branch of my bank to get my new bank card which turned into a comedy of errors but you'll have to buy the book to read about that. I did manage to dry my tent out in my mates garden which was handy and in the evening we demolished half a bottle of Grouse. Half a bottle wasn't really enough but a full bottle would have been too much. Why don't they sell three quarter bottles? (1238 miles.)

Finally, well so far at least, I arrived in Cheshire, after battling through the towns because of my desire to avoid motorways, and had a look at Beeston Castle which is next door to Peckforten castle that we visited a few years ago. Beeston castle is the original the century castle that probably inspired Peckforten Castle built by a local land owner. Like Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, Beeston Castle is built on a massive pile of rocky outcrop, only the outcrop is much higher. Unlike Bamburgh Castle Beestone Castle is an utter. ruin and it is even suggested that it was never actually finished.

Thursday ended with the usual hunt for a camp site and driving away from Beestone Castle to get a shot of it on its prominence from a distance I stumbled upon a pub, as you do, which turned out to have a camp site (1315 miles) so I spent the evening there lookig out at the Peckforten and Beeston Castles while eating my fish and chips with my pint.

All the pictures are here

Day 17

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Out of the flat lands and across the moors

Day 10 and 11 - Yorkshire and County Durham

Friday saw me leave Lincolnshire for Yorkshire. I've always wanted to cross the Humber Bridge and I was quite happy to pay the 1.50 it costs to get into what for the the sake of my trip counts as Yorkshire.
Bear in mind I'm touring the 39 historic counties, not the ceremonial counties invented by those Johnny-cum-lately Victorians or the nonsense counties that include all the metropolitan counties, boroughs and the god forsaken unitary authorities. I refuse to camp in Greater Manchester or whatever the others are. However, I will happily visit Cheshire, of which Manchester used to be a part. Anyway, rant over.

So I crossed the Humber into Yorkshire and managed to get some great pictures of the bridge. If you want to see the pictures check out my Twitter feed or, easier, go to my Facebook profile. I'm not fussy, I accept anybody who friends me or just visit if you don't have an account (or would rather not be seen to be associated with me), it's all set to public so anybody can see the posts.

On from the Humber I headed for Whitby (742 total miles), by way of Scarborough but I only got out of the car to buy a dreadful coffee so I can't speak for the place. Whitby, however, was delightful. I mooched around the famous Abbey and even visited the house that held the infamous Whitby Conclave of 1981 though few have really heard of it. (Apparently Bram Stoker actually lived next door with all the Gothic turrets and the like rather than in number 55 as we were told years ago.)

Saturday saw me rise from Whitby and head for Durham, from where I write this. On the way I crossed the river Tees by the famous Transporter Bridge that I thought closed down years ago so I was delighted. Again see Twitter of Facebook for pictures of the brilliant contraption.

Later I arrived in Durham (811 miles), set up camp and went out to dinner in Durham City which is glorious, pictures on Facebook, Twitter, yada, yada, ya... Finally the day was topped by a splendid dinner the a fine Italian restaurant Capriccio where I managed to avoid all the cliches and the chicken was better than I've had in a long, long time.

And so to bed with a fleece liner in the sleeping bag I think as it's going to be cold tonight.

Day 12

Thursday, 9 May 2013

East Anglia to Lincolnshire via the smallest county

Day 8 and 9 - Rutland and Lincolnshire

I left Happisburg yesterday morning (what day was that?), probably my favouriute site so far, despite the fact that the camp site is slowly falling off a cliff. There was a pub just behind the site and the combination of the wine I had in the tent and the two pints of Broadside meant I slept well and looked and felt my best in the morning.

On to Rutland (513 miles total) the next day meant a 100+ mile drive with the ambition of camping overlooking Rutland Water, which is a magnificent site. Unfortunately the only place I could find was a farm camp site with noisy animals. At this stage those manicured commercial holiday parks have a lot to recommend them. It was quite exposed and the weather was changing but I managed to tuck my tent behind a hedge and put the truck in the way of the wind in the other direction. It did mean that he photo of the view from my tent this morning was less than scenic. Still I feel I owe no loyalty to Rutland so what the hell. Norfolk treated me well so it got a good recommendation in the photo.

This morning it was on to Lincolnshire and I'm now in Louth (629 miles). I have no idea why. Most of Lincolnshire is very flat and tonight it's going to be windy so I'll not be considering the aesthetics again when I position the tent and the Truck. Fortunately I have a barn in my favour but believe me, there's not an obstacle for bloody miles.

Some people who are reading this aren't on Facebook where the pictures are being pasted so here's the link to my Instagram profile where all the pictures go before they arrive on Facebook. (There will be no pictures of my food!)

Day 10

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Norfolk and chance

Day 5 to 7 - Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk

I've not posted for a few days as I've just been so busy.

Cambridgeshire (216 miles total), I think that was the day before yesterday gave me a chance to visit Ely Cathedral was was a nice break from the whole process of just heading from one camp site to another. The evening saw me arrive in Isleham which was just within Cambridgeshire so it just counted for my stop for that night. This was what was described as an eco camp so it was all recycled everything and the complete opposite to the manicured finish of the Holiday Park in Huntingdon. Still that's what you have to go for if you want electrical hookups.

Yesterday was Suffolk (277 miles) which was a bit rubbish actually as I couldn't find anywhere to get a good signal other than a small village so after sitting in a car park trying to write for an hour or so I drove down to a camp site far to far south just because it looked remote from/main roads (the Huntingdon experience was clearly still affecting me). That was Henry's lake which had electrics and water but was a bit sterile, but I think they cater for the fishing market for which the lake is probably/their USP. Still their loos and showers were brilliant and a real bonus after the eco camp. (Buy the book for the full story.)

Today is Norfolk (357 miles) so getting a signal being one of the big issues with nice remote sites I headed to Thetford, found a pub and a guy recommended I head for Happisburugh where I am now. I just took a chance on finding somewhere to camp as there was a caravan park on the map so I just drove here on spec. Chance has led me to the most spectacular camp site I've had so far. I did think about camping close to the edge of the cliff but with the stories or erosion there was a chance I'd end up at the bottom by the morning. I'm now about 200 to 300 yards from the cliff edge though the cliff might be a few feet closer by the morning.


Sunday, 5 May 2013

Huntingdonshire

Day 4 - 183 miles total

Good morning all, just a quick post this morning as I think I have to be off the camp site by 12.00. Currently in Huntingdon, heading for Cambridgeshire today. All electrics fully charged, okay so it's not wild camping but with the stuff I'm carrying what can you do? At least the travelogue is getting written, I'm writing about two pages of A4 a day, say 1000 words a day, times 40 days, that should be a nice short book of 40,000 words.

The sun is shining and that's really all that matters.

Day 5

Friday, 3 May 2013

Power!

Day 3 - Bedfordshire

Today has been a day of arrival. I've arrived in a part of the country that is relatively unfamiliar to me, which has been the plan all along. (Does that mean leaving rather than arrival?)

After popping home (on the way past Hertfordshire) which travelling from Buckingham,shire to Bedfordshire, I managed to charge all my devices, collect the few things I'd forgotten, and most of all, catch up on the writing that I was way behind on. I'd not written up May Morning and it was in danger of escaping me.

By the time I left home I was up to date and, having arrived at tonight's camp site, I even have an improvised desk in my tent on the tool box that carry all my gear in. I can type at almost full speed and, assuming I can find camp sites with power (at least often enough to charge my mobile power pack) then I can set up a routine of typing up the day's events in the evening. The only minus is that I got a great welcome this evening from the camp site owners who invited me over this evening and it sounded like they had quite a party with a fire and all. Meanwhile I was ensconsed in my tent writing. Sill it's become clear this is not a holiday so I had to do it. Their music went off and the lights went out just as I had finished writing for the night. Next time I'll join in.

Day 4

Thursday, 2 May 2013

SIx weeks and so little time

Day 2 - Buckinghamshire - 96 total miles

Today has been a day of realisations: realisation that I can keep the devices charged if I have the right connectors to plug into caravan hookups, realisations how how expensive that cable is and that the cheaper one might have done the job but I couldn't take the chance, realisation that I'm going to put my tent up and take it down every day for the next six weeks and that is a major use of my time, realisation that I really don't need to find anything to do in each county as I've now realised just how long it takes to write up each day's activities. However, the biggest realisation is just how much writing I have to do in the next six weeks and that I just need to get on with it.

Gotta go!

Day 3

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

May Morning

Day 1 - Oxfordshire - 43 miles

The day started at 6am listening to the choristers in Magdalen Tower in Oxford followed by many Morris Dancers, a brass band playing old blues music and the excellent Hurly Burly Early in the Morning band on Broadstreet.

After that the day turned into one of remembering that which has been forgotten (chopping board, solar charger, can holder on a stick [don't ask], and other things that I can't remember), discovering just how much battery the tablet uses [and consequently how little time it is going to last] and discovering just how bad the Oxford traffic is if you decide to do a run to Halfords in the afternoon.

However, after leaving the yurt at just after lunch time and spending a stressful afternoon chasing down cigarette lighter extensions for the car, I have arrived at Common Leys Farm, I'm fed and typing up my notes for the day. (A routine might be beginning to develop.) However, it's getting a bit chilly so I might just turn in and complete it tomorrow.
Day 2

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Starting a 2.2 Dti Vauxhall Frontera - don't go to Halfords



In keeping with the spirit of the plans for the great travelogue tour of England the crises keep coming. Some of you might have read about the work I had done on the Truck in recent weeks. I've had a dealer service from the main Vauxhall dealer and I've had the enthusiasts change the vacuum tubes and clean out the inlet manifold. They did a sterling job removing a mass of black oily gunk and that seems to make it run very smooth now.

However, since the inlet manifold was cleaned I've had intermittent starting problems. It would start first time, as it always has done, but it would run really lumpy for a few seconds then die. It would then take ages of turning over before it would finally start with lots of smoke. I know the smoke is the unburned fuel as it's turning over but I can't identify why it dies after the first time of starting. I took it to the nice man at Fort Horsted and he's changed the glow plugs. (He said he's replaced one of them but looking at them today they all look quite new.) But still it's not starting properly.

Halfords

So today, on the day of departure, it died again and took ages to restart. Suspecting the battery I took it to the guys at the local motorists shop, Motorway Belts, and it was declared good. The guy at the shop could easily have sold me a new one and I'd have known no better, but it seems he was an honest man. (That is in contrast to the oik at Halfords least year who tried to tell me that my battery was knackered when I was investigating an unrelated issue. Just remember the name folkes, Halfords. I'll say it again Halfords. Halfords, Halfords, Halfords! The oik at Halfords, almost a year ago told me that my battery was knackered yet today it was given a clean bill of health. Halfords, in case anybody didn't get the message. He wanted to charge me 120 quid for a new one. Halfords!)

Ahem…

Anyway, I'm now wondering what else I could check, considering I have just a few hours before the off. This all started happening after the inlet manifold was disturbed but I can't see it being related to that as the guys at Fort Horsted had it off again and presumably they would have seen if there was a problem, and if there was they would have put it right. (Vauxhall Frontera owners feel free to make suggestions, 2.2 Dti B series.)

Halfords

Anyway, I'm going anyway… Watch this space.

Monday, 29 April 2013

One day and counting...



So it's one day to go before the off on the great travelogue tour. It nearly went pear-shaped when I realised that the bank hadn't sent me the new cash card as promised three weeks ago. Fortunately the phone company guy spotted it as I was making sure it wouldn't get cut off while I'm away. (The things I do for my lodgers, eh, but do they notice?) Anyway, I have to pickup the new card on the way around some time in May at a branch only to be revealed after I have picked it up. Otherwise the crises have come and gone during the day and seem to be resolved.

Tuesday will be spent packing and loading the car ready for a start at an ungodly hour ready to arrive in Oxford by 6am Wednesday (May Morning) to hear the choir sing in the tower of Magdalen College and then go on to see what I hear might be the last ever performance of the Hurly Burly Early-in-the-Morning Band. Or at least I hear the front man is leaving town so I wonder if that puts future performances in doubt. Let's hope the tradition is stronger than one individual as all good traditions are.

See you there if you can make it.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Nervous times before the off

There is now less than a week to go until I set off for 39 days camping in the 39 historic counties of England. To be honest this last week has had me just a bit terrified, if it’s possible to be a bit terrified. One might imagine that being terrified is an all or nothing situation, perhaps it's digital rather than analogue. Anyway, I digress... as usual.

manifold

After the last blog, where I had the Truck looked at by the fine chaps of the Vauxhall Frontera owners, I’ve been a bit nervous about it all falling apart (okay I suppose being a bit nervous means I probably wasn’t wholly terrified). That’s the trip falling apart not the Truck, though that may be what you think as this post unfolds.

The owners group did some sterling work on the Truck, changed the vacuum tubes (whatever vacuum tubes do) and cleaned out the inlet manifold. (I can tell you with certainty that if you ever own a 15 year old Vauxhall Frontera that’s done about 120,000 miles it’s well worth getting this done, as even your Vauxhall main dealer won’t know about the need for a clean-up, my main dealer certainly didn’t and they still charged me 200 quid for a service!) So the guys cleaned out the oily gunk that had been stopping the truck breathing properly and it ran much better, even using less fuel. However, in the two weeks since I’ve had an electrical problem and an intermittent starting problem that has had me on edge about the whole project.

When you think about it, going away from home for a little over six weeks is a bit beyond the norm, though I’m sure many people have done it and some go travelling for years. Usually they are young with parents at home, on the other hand I’m considerably longer in the tooth and my domestic arrangements differ somewhat. I’ve worked in other parts of the country and in Europe for months; even now I’m in Kent during the week which is sometimes a bit like another country when you consider the Dartford crossing and all that. However, I’ve always managed to get home at weekends. Most of us manage a two week holiday every now and then, although personally I prefer to pepper my summers with a series of weekends away, frequently under some sort of nylon construction, often listening to the coolest of counter culture music or involved with people into the weirdest of counter culture philosophies. (I use the word weird advisedly here.) But going off for six weeks is something I’ve never done before so I’ve had to consider the logistics: finances, access to email and Facebook plus any number of unforeseen issues from unexpected bills to watering the plants. Add to all this the fact that the Truck was playing up it seemed the whole project was beginning to look like it was in jeopardy.

positive

However, after an impromptu visit to the nice mechanic at Fort Horsted he checked the work of the Vauxhall enthusiasts and declared it all clean and shiny, but he did discover a guilty glow plug, of the worn out variety. So it seems the Truck is now in good shape and it started as easily as ever this morning. Therefore, things are looking better and I’m feeling a lot more positive about the project. Now all I need is for the Met Office to stop predicting snow for next week.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Where will Mars exploration lead us?

There’s talk in the media about missions to Mars, there has been ever since the moon landings 40 years ago. How would we fund such a trip, would we be able to overcome the technological and psychological obstacles? These are all issues that now have potential solutions. Mars One is a project that hopes to use reality TV funding to raise the cash.

So the audition (sorry selection) process will be televised (as will the revolution but that's a different story). Their web site states “The online application will consist of general information about the applicant, a motivational letter, a resume and a one minute video in which the applicant answers some given questions and explains why he or she should be among the first humans who set foot on Mars.”  I might even apply myself, surely a dissipated, middle aged writer with poor eyesight and a dodgy beard would be just what they need. What’s the worst that can happen, I get rejected? Hey, I’m a struggling writer, I’m used to rejection.

audience

The process continues with the obligatory medical checks but round three is the most telling. “This round is the national selection round, which could be broadcast on TV and internet in countries around the world. In each country, 20-40 applicants will participate in challenges that demonstrate their suitability to become one of the first humans on Mars. The audience will select one winner per country and Mars One experts will select additional participants to continue to round four.” So it really is possible to see the selection  process turning into an audition and once the public becomes involved we are talking about the full Big Brother experience. Will the first colonists of other worlds be the most beautiful and handsome? Will the first children born on other planets have square jaws, perfect clear skin and the blondest of hair? Presumably the broadcast will continue right to the point where they land on Mars, build their settlement and begin their existence on the red lifeless waste that will be their new home for the rest of their lives.

We might imagine how their daily lives, of survival decisions and scientific experimentation, are influenced by ratings. Will there be a behind the scenes struggle between the directors of the scientific programme and the media division, with the associated back stabbing and scandal? This would make a great plot for a film or TV series. In fact I think the film might already have been made and I think there was a series with a similar background. The series was cancelled, I seem to remember, because the real world accountants pulled the plug when ratings didn't take off. So what happens when the audience figures for the real Mars landings drop off? Actually, when you consider it, it would be self-sustaining as lack of audience figures would put their funding at risk, which would put their lives at risk, and their audience would increase with the likelihood of disaster. They would be on a constant knife edge though. (Comparisons to Columbus might break down when you consider he wasn’t reliant on a constant stream of funding from his supporters in Europe to ensure he had survival resources on board ship or in the new world.)

televised

But this is where the big issue arises. When the inevitable disaster happens, when they have a catastrophic failure, or worse, a slow demise due to some equipment failure that can't be resolved in the eight months it takes to resupply, how much will be televised? Doubtless the media will debate the fact that this is what they might have expected and as such the colonisers/stars would want it to be broadcast, it's in their contract, after all the royalties will go to their families after their death.

The first Dutch Big Brother programme in 1999 was a game changer and this will be too (it’s interesting to note that the first Big Brother series was in Holland where the Mars One project has its base). The spread of Big Brother and other reality TV concepts in the first years after the millennium changed what we considered to be acceptable in the media in general and so will Mars One. Once we see people in daily peril for the sake of audience figures disguised as exploration, how long will it be before live reality TV is used as a funding source for other risky activities? Will it then become acceptable to film the death of participants in extreme situations? Hell let’s take people and film them while they risk their lives for big cash prizes, they sign a release form so there’s no risk to the producers at least. Come to think of it, this would make a good plot for a film.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Countdown to May Morning

Things are moving ahead on the plan to go off around the country to write a Travelogue about spending a night in each of England's 39 historic counties. I'm trying to get everything in place ready to head off into deepest England on May 1st. To that end this is my first blog post using the tablet without intervention from any other computer (not to mention without intervention from a spell checker as Android apps seem sadly lacking in that respect).

I've been testing apps for Facebook and Twitter with varying degrees of satisfaction but this is my first attempt at anything like serious writing. When I come to write the actual manuscript it'll be interesting.
In other related news I spent Saturday in Norwich with members of the East Anglian Region of the Frontera Owners Group who did a sterling job of preparing The Truck for what is expected to be something like a 2000 mile journey. The inlet manifolds were in a terrible state and it's running much better now. Still a few minor issues to sort out and I may have to invest in a new battery but hopefully in the next couple of weeks that should all be sorted out.

Watch this space, it all starts to happen from here on. I need to buy a rug for the tent and sort out a few other details and then on May 1st it's off to Oxford for the May Morning celebrations; the Magdalen Choir in the tower of Magdalen College, Morris Men and Jack in the Green all over and the Hurly Burly Whirly Early-in-the-Morning Band on the steps of the Clarendon Building. That should give me something to write about in the first chapter.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Who would stay at work anyway?

Some weeks ago, in my day job writing for big companies about things I'd rather not write about, an idea was hatched. We had just started a lottery syndicate and the inevitable conversations resulted about what we would do if we won. After someone else's insinuation that I would buy a luxury tent with my millions (don't ask, it'll soon be apparent) one of the ever hopefuls in the office suggested the idea of buying a Winnebago to tour the country. Driving back around the M25 that afternoon it occurred to me that such an idea wasn't really that ambitious and that I didn't really need a lottery win to do it; have tent will travel and all that.

The plan, then, is to set out on May 1st, with the intention of spending the night in each county of England, and write a travelogue while I'm at it. I'm not going to describe the plan in too much detail as you'll have to buy the book, but suffice to say that it'll take six weeks for 39 counties. (They didn't want me to take the time off from the dreadful job but I think they realised that I'd have chucked it in if I'd not been allowed the time off.)

afoot and month

So plans are afoot and a month from now I'm off to parts of the country I've never visited. I'm still thinking about what I'll put on this blog or reserve for the book but I'll probably work that out day by day. I've been testing Facebook and Twitter apps on a tablet so no doubt I'll post some sort of news as I go along. Here's episode two

Travelogue blog two

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

I recently got together with the renowned blogger on up and coming authors Morgen Bailey, Apparently there's a real possibility her mother is my neighbour.

Here's the result.


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mahatma Gandhi - An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth



I started reading this because some one Facebook was posting a statement that Gandhi would have supported gun ownership rights in the US after the latest school shooting. I found this so outrageous that I got into a debate where the guy was posting quotes from his autobiography that meant that I couldn't adequately respond without first having read the book. I'm not sure I found the relevant quote but I'm very glad I read the book. I'm sorry to say that until I read this the only knowledge I had of Gandhi was from Richard Attenborough's 1982 bio pic. This was a great film but it leaves so much out.

I had no idea how much time he had spent in both England and South Africa. The film started in South Africa but gives you the impression that this was a brief visit, however the book makes it clear that his last time in South Africa was for something like ten years. Before that he's been to South Africa on a number of occasions fighting for racial equality and he spent three years in London studying for his law degree.

campaigner

There is a lot in here about his development of ideas such as non violence and passive resistance as well as his thoughts on vegetarianism and health issues. You get a really good idea of him as a political campaigner both as a lawyer and running newspapers. There is also a lot about his efforts to set up various communes and communities.

The only weakness of the book is that it's quite hard to follow the names of people and places as well as the non English terms. Someone has made an attempt to add clarification the text but it's simply not possible with every non English term. It is possible to look them us as you go (most of them have useful pages on Wikipedia that explain them) but after a while it's a bit difficult to keep track of.

insight

Having said that it's still a good read and very enlightening, giving a real insight into the man and his values. The book only goes up to the mid twenties and so doesn't cover the last twenty years of his life but I'd recommend it all the same.



Saturday, 23 February 2013

Blood sacrifice, is that what Amazon wants?



Back in December I blogged about how I had abandoned Smashwords in favour of joining Amazon's KDP Select programme for sales of The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil. If you want to know the details you can read the blog post here but in summary I'd discovered that Smashwords sales had been appalling over the previous twelve months whereas Amazon had been comparatively good.

However, KDP Select requires exclusivity in return for some special promotional opportunities, so there were some issues when Smashwords outlets were still selling the book after I'd enrolled in KDP Select. It was a genuine mistake as it takes some time for the Smashwords servers to update and for their sellers to remove the book from their sites. At worst I was guilty of being too keen to work with Amazon and give them an exclusive deal. The first people at Amazon were quite understanding when I explained and they reinstated me but there followed some quite heavy, almost bullying, messages and eventually I found I'd been removed from the programme.

So I waited until almost two months had passed but still when I click the link to enrol Amazon responds with a pop-up that says the book still does not qualify because it is available elsewhere. So not knowing what to do, but being of the ceremonial magician persuasion (see the recent blog post here about my background) and in an attempt to link The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil to the current fashion for vampirism I've offered them a deal.

Here's the message I've just sent them:


You won't let me enrol IN KDP Select

Hi

I enrolled my book in KDP Select in December at the same time that I took it off of Smashwords. Shortly after it was enrolled there was a stream of messages between us where I told you that I had taken it off of Smashwords in all good faith but it took some time for Smashwords to process it through their servers so it still appeared on one or two seller's sites. Some of your emails were quite threatening and I felt they were unnecessarily so and when I explained the situation I was reinstated. However, later my book was removed from KDP Select again. Rather than risk upsetting you, after all you have the power to ruin my career chances, I have waited two months before trying to enrol again. However, I have just clicked the enrol link and you say that my book does not qualify because it is available elsewhere.

I would be very interested in you telling me who is selling my book elsewhere as I have done everything you have asked me. I do not believe it is available on any other web site. You have all the power here, I am trying to play by your rules but you could easily continue to say it's available elsewhere and I can do nothing to disprove it. I've offered you exclusivity, what else do you want from me? I would offer you my blood but I don't think my keyboard would really like it. Readers of all those vampire books think it's cool though, so about it, I reckon I could spare you a pint, would that sweeten the deal?