Looks nice and clean at the back - all the dents and squashed bits are gone. So that episode is over, thankfully.
It's nice to be back in my own car. It was strange driving the loan car about for a couple of weeks, and while I thought it would be interesting to try something different, I'm glad to be rid of it.
For the inquisitive, I had a 3-door Vauxhall Astra SRi. Drove well enough, but there were a few things I didn't like. I really didn't like the controls. The indicators were a bit erratic; I don't like the main lights being on the dash (in particular, making the foglights difficult to get to is a bad idea); the heating and radio controls are very messy (and sufficiently obtuse to be quite dangerous, actually). The windscreen wipers and washer were pretty poor, and the CD player had a habit of skipping. Being a 3-door was very awkward - it was very tricky to get into the back, and the way the front seats tipped and slid didn't work well.
For those that don't know, this involves the conversion of a disused railway line into a special trackway for buses, parallel to a very heavily congested trunk road. The claim, presumably, is that this will provide an alternative and relieve the congestion.
Unfortunately, what we are going to see is a horrifically expensive white elephant.
The best thing - and the obvious course of action - would have been to convert the disused railway into a used railway.
The fundamental problem lies in the idea that you can spend at least Â£70 million and convert a railway line into a successful bus route This simply won't work, because doing so combines the worst features of rail and road transport. The snag with railway lines is that - partly because they were built so long ago - they tend not to follow traffic patterns. Not only do they not follow the traffic, the stations tend to be in useless places. The misguided busway inherits these weaknesses.
The advantage of using the railway as a railway is that, while it suffers from these weaknesses too, it can give benefits in other areas. In particular, it can act as a feeder line, with commuter traffic a particular target - so you can go to a local station for a long-distance trip. Also, the line could be used as additional or diversionary capacity for other rail traffic.
Must have slept through the rather large bang from the exploding fuel storage depot yesterday, although we're probably in range and know people - usually slightly closer, it must be admitted - who did get woken up by it.
The knock-on effect was chaos on the roads. But not quite in the manner I would have expected. The A1(M) south was busy this morning between junctions 9 and 10, with traffic queuing back from Stevenage. But was otherwise pretty clear once I worked past that queue. It did seem a little busier coming the other way. Coming home this evening the usual delays at junction 7 were worse than normal, but I reckon that was due to a localized incident - half a dozen cars parked up on the hard shoulder was one clue, and also the fact that traffic was actually lighter than normal (presumably due to delays further south round the M25).
From my office I can see the plume of smoke, which is pretty massive. But from that distance the base is hidden so I can't see the fire itself. But I'm still amazed that an explosion of that magnitude didn't have much heavier casualties.
Driving on the A1(M), I see an awful lot of bad driving. (Not just people who run into the back of me, either.)
This takes a variety of forms. We're all familiar with the middle-lane moron - sitting there in the middle lane doing 50, effectively turning a 3-lane motorway into a single-lane queue. Then there's the compulsive lane-changer, who will dart into any space in another lane at the first sign of delays, even if they lose out in the process. (This last habit generates a good illustration of the transition between laminar and turbulent flow.)
Often the root cause of much of the bad driving I see is sheer impatience. And the possible gains are infinitesimally small - usually you might move up one car in the queue.
But last night was just lunacy. Up the A1 there's a choke point where it goes from 3 lanes to 2. So at the merge point I'm letting a lorry into the space in front of me. All of a sudden this old banger in the inside lane swings onto the hard shoulder to pass the car merging in behind me, shoots between me and the lorry (almost at right angles), screeches up past the lorry, and swings at right angles again across the front of the lorry, back on to the hard shoulder, and disappears off to heaven knows where, with the lorry driver flashing his lights and tooting his horn.
After my recent unfortunate incident, my Toyota went in to be repaired today. It's going to take a few days, so I've got a hire car to get around in.
Not just any car, either. This is a black Vauxhall Astra SRi, which is allegedly pretty fancy. Still, I prefer the old Toyota - it has a level of solidity that is difficult to match. (And I'm not too bothered by cars that are bland or boring. It's whether they do the job that matters.)
It's getting a little chilly round these parts. I think it was below zero all the way to work today.
The other snag with driving in winter is the glare from the Sun being low in the sky. There are a couple of places on my way to work where you're looking straight into the sun. It's essentially impossible to see properly, which makes it a little tricky to say the least.
The general opinion seems to be that it's going to be a hard winter. I really don't mind that. I would much rather see some decent hard weather than 3 months of dank chills.
This was followed by an excellent lunch at the Star in Melbourn.
Then just down the road to the Cambridge District meeting, ringing on the eight at Melbourn, followed by an excellent tea and short meeting. Just a quick diversion via Foxton on the way home to round off a busy day.
That made three new towers for me, 2 successful quarter-peal attempts, and one new method.
We went on the district outing yesterday, round the Peterborough area.
First up was Fotherighay, a very impressive church in what is now a pretty small village. A nice (although loud) ring of 6, and we managed a lovely course of Cambridge minor.
Next up was the lovely 8 at Castor, followed by speading out for lunch so as not to overwhelm any of the local establishments.
After lunch, we went to the very light 6 at Wansford. Many struggled, but it was a good experience - visiting a variety of towers will help improve most people's ringing. Amanda grabbed the tenor, which is probably the lightest bell she's ever rung.
Off to Peterborough for some serious rings. St John the Baptist are a 25cwt eight, in stark contrast to a very light six. And then off to the Cathedral, to try out the twelve.
Unfortunately, we simply didn't have the ringers to do more than rounds on the twelve. I guess that many people on the outing had never been to a twelve before. Good experience, but not enough strength overall to bring anybody on.
Time flies, and it's the last week of the summer holidays: school starts tomorrow or Monday (depending on which school).
The weather has been good too, so we've squeezed in a couple of trips.
Monday (that quaint and mindless British invention the bank holiday) we went to Felixstowe. Some hours on the beach, a picnic lunch, feeding the slot machines, and a swim at the pool.
Yesterday we went to Chessington World of Adventures. Those who know us will know that we're keen on theme parks, and we hadn't been to Chessington before.
It was hot, the park was busy, and the queues were long. That's only to be expected. But again, the park did a less than optimal job. To start with, the ticket sales at the entrance were excruciatingly slow - it took about 45 minutes to buy a ticket. Then the ride staff were doing an indifferent job of filling the rides. Few rides were full up - some only half full - which extended the queues even further. One of the major rides was closed all day, and another operating at partial capacity. On the plus side, they did let the rides run over the scheduled closing time slightly so we managed to get an extra ride and came away feeling happy.
(One hint to theme park operators: you're missing a trick here. It's a baking hot day, people are standing in a queue for an hour, and you have a non queue-jumping policy that means people can't leave the queue and join back. You could make a fortune by having roving ice-cream and drinks sellers working along the queue line - we would have bought something more than once.)
eBay has this new feature called My Recommendations.
Frankly, it's useless. What it does is give you some more items that are being sold by someone you've bought stuff off recently. If they specialize in one particular area, then that's fine. Often, though, eBay sellers have an astonishing variety of goods on offer that bear no relationship to something you might have bought in the past.
Still, it's a bit of light relief to see what junk it's come up with this time. Do I want a Hot Pink Flowered Halterneck Top? Or an Adorable Baby Pink Poodle Bag with Handles?
We've only got a small garden, but 2 children to play in it. We've just bought an 8ft trampoline, which takes up about half the garden!
These trampolines seem to be all the rage at the moment - a lot of friends have them, so our 2 youngsters have been feeling left out. The swing and slide are obviously a bit tame for them. And we were left a small amount of money earlier in the year so decided that a treat was in order.
There was a minor mix up in delivery. The company had an off-by-one error in the address, so they tried to deliver it to the house opposite. That wasn't ever going to work, because it was sold a couple of months ago and has been empty since. So we arranged for one of use to stay in, but nothing arrived. After a few phone calls, it finally got delivered to the right place.
It says that it takes two people to assemble. It's true that an extra person would be a help, as the trampoline is sufficiently large that you can't reach across it on your own, but I managed anyway. The safety net that surrounds it was a different matter - that was a game even with two of us!
So we have much less garden and a nice trampoline. How much time the kids will have to play on it remains to be seen - we've had an awful lot of rain this last week.
Just got back from a quarter of Warkworth at Littlebury. Nice bells - slightly loud, so some real effort had to be put into yelling the calls, but generally good ringing.
A few trips, and it was a bit longer than anticipated (1440 vs 1320) due to a slight miscall.
Overall, a good quarter.
It reminds me of why I don't ring peals any more, though, as my fingers locked up. In peals, they tend to do this after an hour or hour and a half, so a quarter is usually fine. It's like cramp, and not only painful but makes it difficult to ring well. I hope this is an isolated incident, as I'm starting to ring more and quite enjoying it, so I wouldn't want to give up again.
Drove down to Dover through the rain. Had terrible rain for the first hour or so from Calais, then wall to wall sunshine as we went south. Sunshine all week. Drove back through glorious sunshine until we got to Boulogne, then it chucked it down with rain the rest of the way home.
Which is pretty typical really. I can understand why so many people leave the country to go on holiday!
Not having a job (temporarily, I hope), I've started the process of signing on.
For some bizarre reason, the UK government seems to think it's a good idea to give me money (albeit a pittance) while I'm looking for a job. This despite a generous redundancy package, and the fact that being temporarily out of work for short periods should be considered a normal part of the employment cycle.
Still, one shouldn't complain too much or look this gift horse in the mouth. After all, I've paid my taxes and NI contributions for heaven only knows how long so it's only fair to get some benefit back.
Went to Thorpe Park on Monday. The drive down was a bit protracted (the M25 was as bad as normal) and the weather wasn't too promising - but we were gambling that it would improve and that the park wouldn't be too busy.
While we had rain showers en route, some of them heavy, and there was a bit of rain in the air as we entered the park, it did improve as the day went on, so we won that gamble.
The first snag was that the park was supposed to close at 6pm, but on arrival we found they had changed to a 5pm closure. That's irritating, and very bad form.
Even worse was the reliability of the rides. Frankly, I was appalled. They were breaking down and being closed all day long. I've never known a theme park have this sort of problems before. We would go to a ride to find it closed, go to the next ride and queue up (and the queues on the working rides were longer than normal because there were so many rides not working), wait a while (sometimes getting close to the front of the queue) only for that ride to break down.
While we did manage to get on a few rides (and as many as we would have done on a busy summer day in peak season) it was a bit of a shambles, and some of the rides that we would have liked to try we didn't manage to get on at all.
A decent ride out this afternoon. I haven't measured it precisely, but about 15 miles around Cambridge in about an hour.
That's pretty good. Not only am I getting a bit fitter and able to do longer trips, but I'm also not suffering afterwards. This ws easily my hardest cycle ride for many years, so I reckon that cycling to work is actually a viable proposition for me.
Just in time too. Next week is National Bike Week and wednesday is Campus cycle to work day.
(And, given that their idea of transport planning seems to be to throw a bunch of roads down at random and put a roundabout wherever the roads cross, queues are fairly common.)
What is odd is that it seems to be commonplace for drivers, upon joining a queue, to decide to try an alternative route and immediately turn round. Not just turn round - do a 3-point turn in the middle of a busy A road at that!
Several times, we were travelling in the opposite direction to the queue and had to break pretty hard to let some moron do a 3-point turn right in front of us.
I had a bad fall a few years ago. Just a simple slip, but broke my arm landing. More damaging was the fact that my knees are pretty well gone. I had to do a lot of physiotherapy before being able to walk comfortably, and still suffer a lot of pain and stiffness.
So, in order to get some decent exercise, I ought to cycle more. The point about cycling is that I don't put so much stress on the knees - they aren't having to support me, they aren't getting any impacts, and they're not in danger of being twisted. Which is all good.
The first time on the bike this year really hurt. The worrying thing was that it was only about a mile. But more practice and it's getting easier.
But on Wednesday I had the day off and we took the girls to school by bike, and cyycled over to the park and ride. About 10 miles in the day, and only slightly sore knees afterwards.
I reckon that with a bit more work I could feasibly cycle to work - it's about 10 miles in a straight line, but 15 by a more reasonable route avoiding the worst roads (and the odd hill). Good exercise for me; good for the environment; saves the expense of driving to work; saves the hassle of finding somewhere to park. All good things, but it's going to be a while before I'm fit enough.
One day it's the middle of winter, the next it's summer and the garden changes from a bleak wasteland into a mess of overgrown bushes.
We hired an electric lawn rake yesterday. It sure beats the manual method!
We've only got a tiny garden, but on the first pass, simply taking it from one end of the lawn to the other filled the collection basket. We did 4 passes in all, and could probably have done more. The front lawn still looks in pretty good shape - the back (where there's less sun and the children play) is showing obvious signs of distress.
Mel sprayed the garden furniture today. So we'll soon be able to sit oustide eating and drinking and being pestered by the local insect population.
Had an enjoyable outing yesterday, out to the Watton area. A combination of Cherry Hinton and Trumpington ringers were in attendance.
It was Amanda's first outing, and she got to ring twice at every tower - and rang very well.
First up was Watton, a beautiful ring of 6 accessed by a fairly steep ladder, with the tenor ringer standing on the trapdoor.
Next up was Caston, with a bit more character. Slightly lumpy and harder work than most modern rings, with the two trebles rung from a ledge (with part of the ledge being a flap by the door). Amanda got attacked by the 2nd rope, but recovered to ring the 3rd later.
Then off to Shipdham. After a set of rounds and call changes, Ian queries whether the third was particularly deep set. Rather than a broken stay, it transpired that they had hastings stays and the dingler had fallen off.
After three rings of 6, the final tower of the day was Ashill, a nice 8. This was Amanda's first time on 8 (while we've been to Trumpington, she only rang on the back 6).
So, a good day, and thanks to Amanda and Stephen for organizing it all.
Spring is definitely here: pleasant temperatures, generally dry.
Spent some time this weekend getting the bikes ready. A quick clean to get rid of the accumulated cobwebs, tires brought back up to proper pressure.
Hannah moved up to Amanda's old bike, so her old bike went to the tip this morning and we spent some time at the park so she could get used to it.
Amanda's bike got the saddle moved up, and lights, mudguards, lock and basket (so she can use it for school). The snag was, you can only attach so many bits to a bike - I had to move the reflectors to get the lights on, and we ended up taking the basket off as the only way to attach the front light would have had it shining through the basket.
All that done, we're looking forward to using the bikes a bit more. I for one could certainly do with the exercise!
We're somewhat unusual in that we still get milk delivered on our doorstep. Not daily, unfortunately, as we used to, but we still have real bottles of milk delivered to the house rather than buying it from the supermarket.
Anyway, we went out yesterday morning to discover that the payment we had left out for the milkman had been taken overnight. What's the world coming to?
Whoever took it must have been pretty dense. It's a cheque payable to the dairy, and of no use to anyone else. We used to leave out cash, at one time, but haven't done that for a while.
It's currently the Easter holiday, so school's closed for a couple of weeks. A good excuse for some time off!
Yesterday we went shopping to Bluewater, which we hadn't been to before. While it's decent enough as shopping centres go, I found few shops of interest so we didn't get much.
Today we went to Wicksteed Park. It was dull and misty, and while we were supposed to have some sun in the afternoon this failed to materialize. It was disappointing that the roller coaster was closed, and we don't really appreciate the growth in additional paid-for activities (the increasingly ubiquitous photo booths, for one, and also the appearance of a couple of rides operated by other companies) - we've paid to get there, we've paid handsomely for wristbands, we just want to get on and enjoy ourselves and these extra attempts to take money just turn us off. But the park was reasonably quiet and queues were short, so we managed to pack a lot of rides in.
(Although it would have been smarter to pack soup instead of salad in our picnic basket, and warm drinks instead of ice cold!)
Went to mow the lawn for the first time this year - because Spring really is here and the grass is growing, the bushes are in bud, the whole garden is already starting to look like a jungle.
Only the old lawnmower (that Mel's been trying to persuade me to replace for a year or two now) did one stripe and then stopped. So off to get a new mower!
That was Friday night, just after the shops had closed. (Typical!) So we reserved one and went to collect it Saturday. Rain on Saturday and visiting family Sunday meant we got to try it first time today - the front is dry enough, the back still soaking wet. So we mowed the front lawn, and with luck the back will be dry enough in a few hours.
I was sitting in the car waiting to pick up one of my girls tonight, and whiled away a few idle moments playing one of the free games on my phone.
(It's quite a fancy phone - far more fancy than I really need - but I wanted a tri-band phone so it would work in the States and so had to get something moderately sophisticated.)
So there I was, playing what is basically some variant of tetris. And this is quite interesting, because it shows that there's still life left in games of that vintage.
In fact, we Tribbles own a number of Game Boys. We started with a Game Boy Pocket (a monochrome thing), and ended up with 2 of those and 3 GBA. Hannah plays mostly pokemon, but not just the latest and greatest - she has most of the rainbow, and finds the old versions just as playable as the current generation. Amanda's probably the most varied - Harry Potter, Spyro, Zelda, Pokemon. But Mel and I like the puzzle style games like tetris (and it turns out there are a lot of ways to make an interesting game like that). So much so that the only GBA game I play on my GBA is Zelda (and that, by the way, is a phenomenal game - I remember it from the SNES and it's a real piece of nostalgia).
Now, Nintendo are still selling handhelds in large quantities, so the small portable format clearly has a lot going for it. (So much so that it's attracting competition.) And modern phones aren't really all that different in terms of capabilities, so I guess it's not surprising that the games on a phone are not that different to what you might see on a Game Boy Color. Given the similarities, why don't Nintendo make a phone, and why don't phones have gameboy emulators? (With GPRS, you could download a GameBoy game in under a minute - 10 seconds for 3G. GBA games are a bit bigger.)
It's a reasonable day trip. OK, I had to get up a little earlier than normal to get to Stansted Airport, but not too much earlier and some of that was just in case of traffic problems.
Flew with easyJet. Now, last time I flew easyJet they marooned me in Glasgow late one Saturday night (although this wasn't so bad as I have relatives not far from the airport that I managed to see as a result), but this trip was pretty good - both ways on time, decent flights, and everything worked out fine.
Went round the Cambridge Science Festival yesterday.
We signed up to build a jitterbug - a little dancing robot. Sat down with our little tray of parts and followed the instructions, followed by some final decorative touches. The picture was taken at home, and it got a bit bashed in the bag on the way back.
The talk we went to (Ice Cream, Chocolate, and Einstein) was pretty good. Drop in sessions were a bit hit and miss (sometimes they work, sometimes they don't; sometimes they're quiet, sometimes they're heaving). The Department of Physiology was excellent, though.
At school, the challenge was to build something that could tell you when 30 seconds had passed. The playground this morning was full of a varied assortment of devices, often with two bottles forming some sort of egg timer, with a few marble runs to make it interesting.
Amanda had a slightly more sophisticated variation. Water pours into a cup, causing a float to rise. The float is covered in silver foil and when it rises far enough it touches a metal contact to complete a circuit and turns a light on.
I set up "The Trouble with Tribbles" at a time when I wasn't really sure what this blogging lark was all about, and it was intended as a place where I could talk about things like Solaris and the work I was doing. Anyway, my interest in blogging generally has grown a bit, and it seems unfair to subject regular readers (and people catching up via planetsolaris) to more personal entries, especially as I would like to post more photos. So here I am, with a more personal blog.