Monday, January 4, 2010 2:32:10 PM
Saw Avatar in 3D over Christmas and did not regret it. A bit long, utterly predictable, but visually breathtaking.
I think the director, James Cameron, fell in love with his creation. 'I've designed this creature, I am now going to spend three minutes of the film demosntrating how it can fly, swoop, scream, land, walk and tap-dance.'
A lot of it should have been saved for the DVD extras.
It does build to a cracking if totally obvious conclusion, but otherwise it is a bit langorous.
Contrast the approach with Star Wars, where Lucas creates a menagerie of aliens and mostly uses them as background characters in a bar scene.
Apart from that, and one glorious evening getting legless (after reading that you get fewer hangovers as you get older because your brain shrinks), it was an agreeably lazy, dull, self indulgent break.
I had about 20 things on my 'To Do' list, and did about five of them. Chief among them was installing my new 300GB hard disk drive on my PC and reinstalling Windows XP.
Switch off now if computer tales bore you.
The new hard disk is a SATA disk. Not exactly new technology, but it was at the time Windows XP was released. Pay attention; this will become relevant later.
I already had two old technology IDE (PATA) hard disks in my PC case and was unsure whether I could add a SATA drive too. I knew I had the motherboard connection, I was just concerned that the two rival disk technologies would fight for control of the operating system.
The good news is that SATA and PATA drives can live happily side by side in the same system. My bigger PATA drive is still configured as a 'master' and the smaller PATA drive as the 'slave', but the operating system boots to the new SATA drive thanks to me changing the BIOS settings. If needs be, I can boot to my old set-up simply by changing the boot order.
Anyway, I whacked in the SATA drive to my existing set-up and though the BIOS recognised it, Windows XP would not. This was not unexpected, as I had done a bit of research and knew XP did not automatically recognise SATA drives.
So, I plugged it in to number three son's Vista machine and formatted it on that rig.
I took the drive back down to my XP machine, plugged it in, and, if memory serves, XP could now see it. I had partitioned the drive into three partitions and so was able to transfer over some data from the old drives to the new drive. Also, I tok the time to download the SATA drivers and store them somewhere on the disk, along with service packs 2 and 3.
Time to reinstall Windows.
Step one: disconnect from the Internet to stop any nasty invasions before I had installed the service packs.
Step two: Put in the installation disk. Run set-up. Hit F6 when prompted to load drivers.
Step three: WTF? I can only load the drivers from a floppy drive?
Step four: Pop floppy in drive. It whirs away but nothing is being read.
Step five: Remember that floppy drive is about 20 years old and has a cable connector interface that allows for the cable to be put in upside down. Open case. Put cable lead in t'other way.
Step six: Check floppy drive. Success!
Step seven: Repeat step two.
Step eight: Success. Do lap of house in celebration, whooping and hollering like a lunatic.
Step nine: Install service pack 2. Install service pack 3 (not sure if SP3 includes SP2 but better safe than sorry).
Step ten: Reconnect internet.
Step eleven: Wireless adaptor not recognised. Had it in my head XP would do this automatically. Rather than RTFM I waste an hour or so pissing around with Device Manager.
Step twelve: RTFM. Ah. Fish out driver disk. All is sorted.
Steps thirteen to infinity: Piss about reintalling those apps I want to keep. Back up old drives to new drive. Delete and merge a few partitions on old drive to create bigger partitions.
Step infinity plus one: Install Railroad Tycoon II. Big mistake. There goes my life. Realise now why I have waited 11 years or whatever to finally install this ("Those of you with 64k or more of RAM may be able to play the game with all the settings on 11").
Notice Railroad Tycoon II supports network play. Idly wonder whether Woody, Warne, Oakes, Siggins et al still have a copy of the game. There goes my second life.
The drive partitioning exercise was ... er ... interesting. You are always taking your life into your hands messing around with the file structure of a hard drive.
I used Partition Magic 6, which is quite a few years old now, and as a result it probably had problems recognising the huge hard drives we take for granted now. It claimed my SATA drive was bad. Not that I cared; I had already partitioned that drive when I formatted it.
Unfortunately, the software would not work on my old drives either.
Undaunted, I logged on to the Internet and found not one but about three highly rated disk partitioning packages that are free. The only two I can remember are Partition Wizard and Easeus. I downloaded the former, and used it to delete a partition and merge it with the adjacent partition.
Bingo! It worked.
Take that, Partition Magic!
Now to delete another partition, move the adjacent partition to the left, and add the unallocated spacee to its newly adjacent partition.
Nope, not having it. Disk errors. I ran every disk test Partition Wizard had, but no joy.
Back to Partition Magic. "Your disk has errors. Would you like Partition Magic to fix them?".
Yes. Yes, I would, thank you very much. Sorry for those beastly things I said about you half an hour ago.'
So, Partition Magic fixed the errors. Did one out of the three operations I wanted it to do (delete a partition) and then, after appearing to do the other two actions, told me after a 20 minute wait that the operations had been cancelled, because my file system has no input/output function.
Oh, that old thing.
A quick Google later, and some genius on a forum suggested the error was caused by a gap in the drive letters (my drives went J,K,M,N,O - no 'L' drive).
So, back to Partition Wizard to assign drive letters (couldn't find a way of doing this in Partition Magic though there probably is a tool).
Back to Partition Magic, to complete the moving and the merging of partitions.
Cue another lap of celebration of the house.
There really is some fantastic free software out there at the moment (e.g. Paragon Backup 10, Audacity, CCleaner, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and so on).
Somewhere you can probably even get the setup files from an abandonware site for Railroad Tycoon II.
Sunday, November 8, 2009 1:44:19 PM
It is Sunday morning and the wife tells me I am up early so with this bit of reclaimed free time I guess it would be a good time to update the long neglected blog.
As per usual, tribulations relating to the Fiendish family have been occupying a lot of time and burning up emotional energy. The baton of problem child has passed from number two son to number three son, although in his case it is not entirely his fault; the poor lad has a mysterious lower back and leg problem which is currently baffling medical science. We are treating his condition with acupuncture at the moment, which seems to provide temporary relief, though I don't know why.
Rather than bore you with my family issues, however, I thought I would give a recap of a wedding Mrs. Fiendish and I went to in the Czech Republic in the dying days of summer.
Owen and Obi are a smashing couple, with slightly odd backgrounds.
Owen, a tall, handsome, easy going black guy, was raised in South London – quite possibly Peckham – by parents who came over to the UK from the Caribbean. Owen's brothers all talk with Sahf Lund'n accents, his parents with a Caribbean lilt but Owen spent a lot of his twenties in the States so he has a bit of a laid back transatlantic drawl.
Obi's father is Nigerian and her mother Finnish. So, the blackest and whitest races on the earth. Unfortunately, her father was too ill to attend the wedding but I think Owen and Obi went over to Nigerian later to have a proper Nigerian wedding.
Not that Franz Ferdinand
The wedding was held in the castle of Franz Ferdinand, the geezer who was heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire until 'the shot that was heard round the world' brought his life to a premature close in 1914.
It's a death he would have appreciated, as he loved shooting, judging by the enormous amount of wildlife and weaponry mounted on the walls of his castle. There was a wild boar head I saw that looked like it must have come from an animal the size of a rhino.
The ceremony was given by a Czech hippie vicar who, after the ceremony, hung around for the reception and made everyone slightly uneasy about whether they had enough change on their person for a copy of The Big Issue.
I am not sure if some of the vicar's speech got lost in translation, but he certainly raised a few eyebrows when he started going on about man not being complete without a woman, hence God's decision to create woman from man's rib.
It's not polite to laugh during a wedding ceremony, unless someone has made an intentional joke, so we bit our lips.
Afterwards, in the magnificent grounds of the castle on a sweltering hot day, we mingled with the other guests while a string quartet provided a musical accompaniment. They started out with a few classics – the real kind – but by the end, when, presumably, we were supposed to be too pissed to notice, they moved on to more modern songs including the entirely inappropriate 'Please Release Me.' Again, something lost in translation, I feel.
Afterwards we went on a boat cruise down the river in Prague. This is probably a really famous river but I never learnt its name.
Punters on the banks of the river and on other boats constantly kept taking photos of Obi, who was an absolute vision in her bridal dress. By the end she was camping it up, giving the regal wave in the manner of Queen Betty II.
For some reason best known to the captain of the boat we were on, the music playing throughout this cruise was Smokie's Greatest Hits. Now, I am sure there are more obscure seventies artists he could have chosen – Blackfoot Sue, Hudson Ford, BA Robertson, Ace or Barry Blue, perhaps – but he did well with Smokie (says the man who has all five Jo Jo Gunne albums, including the 2005 reunion album). It was de rigeur to write them off in the seventies as a lightweight pop band but I must confess it was pleasant to hear 'Don't Play That Rock'n'Roll To Me' and 'Living Next Door To Alice' again.
Fred and Ginger
The evening's festivities were held in a very famous building on the banks of the aforementioned river. The building is known to locals as Fred and Ginger, or the Dancing House, and if you Google the image you will see why, as it looks like two buildings, with one leaning back in the manner of Ginger Rogers doing a dip.
Despite the slightly bizarre mix of South Londoners and Finns (who all looked like bikers; the men with their long pony tails and the women with their vaguely Goth like dress – they were in the right place for the Goth look, at least), the evening knees-up went well, with 'New York, New York' supplanting 'Hi Ho Silver Lining' as the 'let's all collapse in a drunken heap' closer.
Oddest sight of the evening was when the DJ started playing some Latin American stuff. One of the Finns got his missus up on the dance floor and started giving it the 'score 9 out of 10' Come Dancing how's your father. Apparently, he is a former professional dancer, and not a bike mechanic as I had suspected. Just goes to show about preconceptions. He probably thought I was open minded.
Day trip round Prague
Prague is a beautiful city, ideal for a long week-end away. We only really had one day and a bit to do the sites, which meant rather more walking and less sipping of Czech beer than we would have liked.
It's a fairly compact city, with just three (very efficient) tube lines. The buildings are great, the food hearty and wholesome, the beer wonderful and the people friendly and bi-lingual.
Did I mention the beer? I confess to being a real ale boor, inclined to sneer at lager – any drink where you have to freeze it to disguise the taste can't be that good, can it? - but the Czech lager I had was very good. In truth, there are times when a lager goes down well, such as when a small carpet fire needs putting out, but essentially I think they all pretty much taste the same.
My Prague experience has caused me to reassess that view and concede that thee Czechs might, after all, know a thing or two about brewing. Strange that no one else has noticed ...
Unfortunately, I cannot remember the brand of the beer I enjoyed so much. It was not Urquell, it was something like Krusovice, a local brew which I do not think is available outside of the Czech Republic (just did a quick search on Clusty.com, and it looks like you can order it, though one wonders whether the canned or bottled versions would be as good as the draught).
And with that, I am going to suddenly sign off. It is no longer Sunday morning and Mrs. Fiendish is hungry.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009 10:51:45 AM
As publicity stunts go, this is one of the more surreal ones. A cash machine operator is offering Cockney rhyming slang as one of the languages on its ATMs in the east London area.
“I need some money for fags so I am just popping out to get some sausage”
Some of the supposed slang terms mentioned in the Associated Press article repeated below look a bit tenuous, If I said I was just popping outside to get some sausage, would you have a clue what I was talking about?
Given that most ATMs these days advise users to report anything suspicious I can’t say I blame the user who got in a right old two and eight when she whipped her card out of the machine when it started spouting gibberish at her.
You'd better get ready to use your loaf if you want to get your hands on some bread.
Over the next three months a cluster of East London ATMs will be offering customers the chance to withdraw cash using written prompts in Cockney rhyming slang, the area's colorful and often impenetrable dialect.
ATMs run by a company called Bank Machine offer a language option allowing customers to enter their "Huckleberry Finn" instead of their PIN, and rather worryingly informs them that the machine is reading their "bladder of lard" at a prompt about examining their card.
The origins of Cockney rhyming slang are obscure. It is thought to have been used by market traders who needed a way of communicating without tipping off their customers.
It works by replacing a word with a short rhyming phrase. For example: "Money" becomes "bread and honey," which in turn is shortened to "bread." Similarly, "head" becomes "loaf of bread," and then just simply "loaf."
Few use the slang with any regularity now although most Britons know a few common phrases, such as "trouble and strife" for wife and "apples and pears" for stairs.
Gabriella Alexander, who made a withdrawal from an ATM, near Spitalfields Market, said the stunt was fun. But she added that that withdrawing "sausage and mash" — or cash — "made me a little uneasy."
Slaney Wright, a 32-year-old charity worker, attempted to withdraw money from the ATM but visibly tensed up when she realized the machine was talking to her in Cockney slang. She immediately canceled the transaction and ripped the card out of the machine.
"It looks like someone's been messing with it," she said.
Yes, well, at least rhyming slang calls a PIN a PIN and not the tautologous "PIN number".
Wednesday, August 19, 2009 1:58:30 PM
Feeling a bit tired and slightly dehydrated after a night on the lash yesterday with Geoff Brown. If memory serves – and it probably does not – I had five pints and surprisingly I did not wake up with a hangover. Three pints is usually the crossover point for me where a hangover can be expected but perhaps I am getting used to the stuff. I am not sure that is a good thing.
I rarely drink alcohol at home, unlike Mrs. Fiendish, who has always enjoyed a lager or a glass of wine while lounging at home on the old sofa. Recently I converted her to ale though it backfired on me over the hot week-end when I returned to the house looking forward to consuming a bottle of Shepherd Neame’s Whitstable Bay that I had been hoarding for three weeks only to find Mrs. F. had necked it.
I note recently a report
from CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) that the number of women drinking real ale has doubled in the last year. CAMRA attributed the increase to the availability of third pint measures in poncy glasses. I can’t say I have noticed this but good luck to pubs if that is the case.
Personally, I think part of it has to do with the increasing sophistication of wine drinkers in the UK. Perhaps people whose palate has become more used to dryer wines over the years are more inclined to give ale a chance; most beer bores would concede that bitter is a bit of an acquired taste. I literally had to drink gallons of the stuff over a period of about three years before I grew to like it; before that I just drank it because of peer pressure.
Nowadays the peer pressure is all the other way, from lager drinkers.
It does not look like number one son will be following in my foot steps. He joined us on the pub crawl last night and texted us in advance to tell us to get a pint in. We asked the landlord for a pint of ‘poofy cider’ (political correctness goes out the window when you are pished) and he did us proud, pouring some blue-coloured perry (like cider only made from pears) and apologising for not having a cocktail cherry available to make it even more girlie. He did provide a straw though.
Number one son downed it in the time it took me to consume about one-eighth of the pint of Golden Plover I was nursing. No wonder his brothers think he is an alckie.
Saturday, August 15, 2009 8:41:47 PM
I have been given an interesting but problematical assignment at work. Essentially it is a Microsoft versus Google piece, focusing on which companies benefit if one or the other prevails.
In some respects this is a straight forward Windows versus Linux post, inspired by Google's long anticipated move into the operating system arena which it finally announced
Now, there are a lot of companies that have software products that work on Windows but not Linux; I am guessing Sage (the accounting company), Adobe, McAfee and doubtless many others, but these are just guesses.
However, if Google does usurp Microsoft from the desktop it is not going to happen overnight and so surely all of these companies wedded to Windows will have time to bring out Google Chrome versions of their software?
What about if, by some miracle, Microsoft's Bing search engine manages to mount a serious challenge to Google. Who, apart from MS and Google will be affected?
No idea, guv. So, if any passing geeks have any thoughts on this, let me know. I am also interested in the contest in the hand held devices market as well. I know Nokia recently got in to bed with MS despite being part of the consortium behind the Symbian operating sytem; are there any other likely winners and losers?
I've also got to do an article on covered warrants, about which I know nothing. So, no change there, then.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009 11:07:49 PM
With two teenaged sons on holiday, the trick is in keeping them occupied. Mornings: no problem. Mornings don't exist for teenaged boys on holiday. Afternoons: the sun, sea or the pool take care of. Evenings get a bit tricky, however.
Luckily we have with us a laptop, a netbook, a Sony PSP and a Nintendo DS. Oh, and some things called “books”, but number two son has not worked out how to plug these in yet nor has he located the “on” switch on any book.
One late afternoon we were sitting round the table doing our various things. Number two son playing something called “Gangs of London” on the PSP, number three son playing something on the Nintendo DS while Mrs. Fiendish and I were reading.
Clearly, “Gangs of London” was not fully engaging number two son's interest because periodically he would stick his foot in number three son's face and order number three son to “smell my sock”.
After about 15 minutes of this number three son got fed up. Perhaps he was coming to a particularly tricky bit of his game and he did not want his concentration broken by a socked foot up his left nostril. So he punched number two son.
Middle son is the sort of person who, if someone else starts a fight, he makes damn sure he finishes it. It's not a side of him I have seen but number one son said that at school, in that brief period when all of my sons attended the same school, middle son was the psycho case that everyone steered clear of.
On the plus side, middle son is a fair minded sort. Knowing that youngest son is not really the fighting sort, what with his chronic back problem and all, middle son decided to even up the odds in the impending fight by offering the use of a carving knife to youngest son.
Youngest son, duly pissed off and backed into a corner, accepted the knife and feinted to use it against number two son, at which point it truly kicked off, with the kicking and the punching and the waving of the knife.
It would have been scary stuff had it lasted longer than about three seconds, which was the time it took for Mrs. Fiendish and I to intervene. I pulled off number two son and saw the thought pass briefly through his mind, “Shall I lamp my Dad one?”
I was fighting like a girlie at the time, gripping his shoulders but digging in my nails in the hope it would distract him from number three son.
Luckily for me, he decided not to whack me, and contented himself with some foul mouthed expletives aimed at number three son.
At home, middle son is easily the lowest maintenance of my three lads. Neat, quiet, intelligent and undemanding, and he actually makes the effort to spend time with his parents, aka the “cash dispensing taxi service”.
On holiday, however, I have seen the side of him which has exasperated a succession of teachers. When he is bored, everyone else has to suffer. He has no social skills whatsoever in terms of picking up body language. Alternatively, he may be capable of picking up when people are getting irritated by his behaviour but he just does not care.
All very worrying, and it has given me a couple of restless nights on this holiday. He'll be 17 in three months and he has shown signs of maturing – though that could just be a case of us moving him away from his gang in Enfield to what he sees as the stultifying boredom of Hertford – but for the first time we are considering medication to see if that has any effect. He goes to college this year to study art, a subject in which he is interested. We're hoping the combination of a less authoritarian environment and the chance to learn something he considers useful will finally get him on the straight and narrow as far as school goes, but if he blows this chance I don't know where we go from there.
It seems all my friends have kids who are not only going to universities, but top universities. OK, all of my kids are better dressed and know a much cooler lexicon of slang than most of my peers' progeny, but I can assure you it was not in the Fiendish parental game plan for our kids to be non-academic feckless feckers.
My sole comfort in this arena of offspring envy has been my best friend John, whose eldest daughter is slightly older than my eldest son. She's not been to university, she's underachieved at school, has a bed room that looks like a bomb has exploded in a “black garments only” clothes shop and she earns about thre'pence a week looking after horses.
You can imagine how overjoyed I was when I visited John last week to learn that his younger daughter – the one who goes to acting school and who has already appeared in Casualty and The Bill (hasn't everyone?) - has learnt Japanese and is going to Japan later this year.
What skills can I brag about for my youngest? He's quite accomplished at lying to police, which I suppose is a practical skill. He can make a sound like a train sounding its horn as it goes past, and his timing on this is excellent – it never fails to make me laugh. It's not quite on a par with learning Japanese, appearing as an extra in TV shows and performing in ice skating tournaments, though, is it?
Oh well, as my (elder) sister says: With kids, you go through the wringer and they come out dry.
Enough parental angst.
A bit more about the holiday
The weather has been pretty good. We've had about 7 sunny days out of 9, with the temperatures hitting the high twenties. Having chosen the Vendée over Brittany because it is a bit further south and therefore likely to have slightly better weather I think the decision has been marginally justified. It does mean we have had to drive a bit further but driving does not seem a chore in France – the roads are amazingly empty.
The French have been universally charming and sympathetic to my efforts to communicate. Yesterday I successfully asked an ice cream vendor if she had a Magnum. That's a seven word sentence, all in French, if you count Magnum as a French word.
Prices have been expensive – beer about £3.80 for less than a pint, but, hey-ho, that's tourist rates for you.
The food has been extremely variable. I don't suppose this area of the Vendée is representative of the standard of cuisine for all of France – you wouldn't judge all of England's restaurants on the quality of pie and chips in a restaurant in Margate – but in our experience we have been taking our lives into our hands if we move away from mussels and (superb) chips.
The steak and the lamb we have eaten has been uniformly stringy; no wonder this race contemplates eating horses – they can't breed a decent side of beef to save their lives.
The bread and the ham have been fantastique, however, as has the cheese, of course.
Wine has not been especially cheap. Mrs. Fiendish tried a locally produced wine the other day (we are situated near the Loire) and most of it went down the sink.
Beer is OK if you stick to Kronenbourg. Amstel and something called Pelforth (which could be the local brew, given its ubiquity) taste like fizzy paraffin.
I did buy a dark beer but Mrs. F. drunk it before I got a chance to open it. She said it was not very good.
We've not done a lot of these. Wasted a lot of money on a mediocre water park on a not very warm afternoon; elected not to do likewise on some half-arsed paintball and quad bike offerings.
We drove through some pretty towns yesterday (Monday) on our way to Le Grand Parc at Puy du Fou. Small French towns appear to shut down completely on a Monday afternoon, which is probably not a bad idea. Even the Lidl and Netto stores were shut, but the big Super U stores were open.
Le Grand Parc at Puy du Fou might loosely be called a theme park. There are no rides, just a lot of exhibits and shows. It has a vaguely mediæval theme - no, scratch that - make it an historical theme.
So there are staged Hollywood style shows on the following themes: gladiators, Vikings, knights in armour (the English were the baddies, so we cheered lustfully for them, of course), the three musketeers and some other shows probably based on local legends.
Following the story was a bit difficult because of the language difficulties, unless you spring for a headphone and translation kit. Best to just focus on the stunts (pretty good), the dancing (OK if you like that sort of thing), the horse riding (all those dressage gold medallists finally have a career path) and the spectacle.
The Battle of Donjon, which featured the nasty English attacking the plucky Frenchies in their castle, was especially baffling. The blood-thirsty English were sticking it to the outnumbered locals, and firing balls of fire at the castle from their siege engines. These siege engines, by the way, were on wheels and self-powered (I suspect there was a 2CV inside each of them) so it was a bit like watching a humungous episode of Robot Wars.
It was looking bad for the local team until the under-siege castle got on its bike – or more likely its cleverly concealed flat-bed lorry – and moved forward on wheels to mow down the English. Just like in the history books.
Still, it is no more ridiculous, perhaps, than walking forests (Macbeth or Lord of the Rings) but I would have loved to have known the rationale behind the finale. Probably something along the lines of “it takes more than dressage to win a battle”.
Less painful than watching the fourth test the previous day, in any case, even if the English had as much chance of winning.
Sunday, August 9, 2009 4:18:59 PM
The Fiendish family is over halfway through its summer holiday and it has finally dawned on me that with lots of time spent busy doing nothing, now is a good opportunity to catch up with the blogging style of thing.
So, where are we?
We're in France, on the Atlantic coast, in a region called the Vendee. There is probably meant to be an accent over one of the final two letters of the Vendee but I truly can't be arsed to find out if that is the case and, if so, how to do an accented letter in the Linux version of Open Office.
We are staying near a town called St. Hilaire de-Riez and if you really want to narrow it down further, maybe because you are thinking of launching a ninja attack on the family, our nearest beach is La Pege – definitely an accent in there, too – and the camp site we are staying at is called Club Sol A Go-Go. If it was in Wales it would be called Club Solagogogogh. Possibly.
Now, when I mentioned we are staying at a camp site, you might have got the idea that we are outdoors types who like nothing better than erecting a tent, brewing cups of tea on a Calor gas stove and yomping through woods with knapsacks on our back.
We are staying in what might loosely be termed a caravan but Jim Rockford – he of the Rockford files – would recognise it as a trailer. I suppose I had better update that reference for the benefit of any younger readers who may have strayed across this blog; think Joy and Darnell (aka Crab-Man, aka Benouit Assou-Ekotto, left back for Tottenham Hotspur FC).
Two bedrooms. One double bed, the other with a single bed and two bunk beds.
Shower room and toilet.
The main room is a kitchen-diner affair. Sink, oven, hob, electric fan, table, L-shaped settee (no accent necessary on 'settee' according to my spell checker), gas fire, fridge, freezer, wine rack (naturellement) UK and continental plug sockets and a surprisingly large amount of cupboard space.
Outside there is a deck with a table and umbrella, chairs, loungers and a gas barbecue thingy.
No TV, music playing device or Internet connection. TV, music and Internet can all be enjoyed in the camp bar (ooh, get you duckie – no, not that sort of camp bar).
We booked through a company called Eurocamp because (a) they are solid, reliable operators and (b) I am a shareholder in the parent company (Holidaybreak) and so get a 10% discount. Hurrah!
The preparation was virtually all done by Mrs. Fiendish, some of it virtually (go to the Eurocamp web site and have a virtual look around the trailers). The conceit I allow myself is that it makes more sense to have one person doing all the packing, sorting out the tickets, the passports and what not, because it avoids confusion. The truth, as we all know, is that I am a lazy sod.
So, Mrs. Fiendish chose the camp. Excellent! That means she gets blamed by our restless teenaged boys (we brought number 2 and 3 sons, and left number 1 son behind) when they inevitably pronounce the camp as “gay” (this still seems to be in common parlance as a general all-purpose pejorative term, analagous to the term “naff” that I overused in the eighties).
Mrs. Fiendish did the packing, so she gets to beat herself up when she forgets to pack the hair straightener, or the map of France or the charger for the mobile phone.
Mrs. Fiendish also gets to do the driving because as a relatively new driver of just two years experience, she does not trust me in a right hand drive on French roads, and she especially does not trust me in her Lexus GS 300, which has a top speed of 148 mph and the acceleration of a whippet. Nor is it practical to take my Toyota Yaris (did someone mention role reversal?) as it lacks the luggage space of the Lexus.
Mrs. F. gets to look after the tickets, the passports and just about everything else. My meagre contribution was to get pounds changed into euros and choose some games to take with us (St. Petersburg, San Juan, Settlers of Catan, Coloretto, Land Unter and En Garde [the card game], since you asked). Now that we are here I am also expected to dust off my “O” level French (failed) to converse with the locals.
I did very well yesterday in a supermarket queue. “Apres vous, c'est fermez,” (place your own circumflexes and accents) said the cashier, and when some punter came and stood behind me, I said: “Apres moi, c'est fermez,” to which he responded, “Do what, guv'nor?”
Actually, there was one more thing I had to do and that was sort out the routes. We had to be at the ferry port by 9:30pm and Mrs. F. had said we'd be leaving about 7pm. At various times in the previous week she had told me we were sailing from either Plymouth or Portsmouth. So I was a bit concerned when I sat down at the PC at about 5:30 to plan out our routes to find that the AA said it would take about 4 hours to get to Plymouth which meant we had to leave right that minute. Zut alors! Whatever that means. Merde, even.
Luckily, we were going to Portsmouth, not Plymouth, a mere 150 minutes away.
Well, to hell with Google Maps, that damn company is taking over the world. I am sticking to the good old Automobile Association (aka the AA) and its route planner. I printed off a route to Portsmouth and it did the job nicely, thank you very much.
Eurocamp provides a route planning service on its web site to help customers navigate from the French ferry port (Caen) to the camp, but it does so inside a panel which makes it a bugger to print from Opera or that other browser that nicked most of Opera's best ideas).
Never mind, Michelin do a route planner for the continent. Amazing, really; when I hear the name Michelin I think restaurants, not tyres.
So, we were sorted, ready to roll (on and roll off).
Ferry cross the Manche
Not much to say about the ferry. The overpriced chips were at least well cooked and they had a few video games to keep the kids amused.
We had booked a cabin so went to sleep about midnight, and set our phone alarms for 5:15am, 15 mins before we were due to dock.
About 4:30am classical music started blaring out of the loudspeakers in our cabin and there was nothing we could do to switch them off. In our confused state it took us a while to realise this was the ferry company's way of ensuring we did not oversleep.
After about 15 minutes, we actually started getting into the music. Then it stopped.
The sensible thing at this point would have been for me to have got up and got two cups of coffee – no, make that three cups of coffee; one for me, and two for Mrs. Fiendish.
I knew from our last ferry crossing, when we had this mad idea of driving from Poole at 5am in order to get home in time to go to work, that Mrs. F. needs a good 8 hours sleep, some coffee and maybe some food inside her in order to stay awake at the wheel. On that occasion (driving from Poole) we made it as far as junction 23 (we lived just off junction 25 at the time) of the M25 before capitulating and stopping off at a service station. For about 15 miles, maybe 30, of that journey Mrs. F. had been repeatedly dozing off at the wheel while doing 70 mph, with me periodically poking her in the ribs. Madness. Of course, we never made it home in time to go to work. We took the morning off.
Any road up, as my old Granddad (that spelling looks a bit Welsh but the spellchecker insists – it also insists that spell-checker be hyphenated) used to say, we rolled off the ferry and started following the Michelin route planner.
These things are normally pretty good - “at the next roundabout take the third exit marked Rue d'Gestures” that sort of thing – and we even got used to the third exit being a left turn, as it is when you drive on the right, but they become a bit tricky when you go off piste.
We got piste off round about Rennes, a large city on our route which we ought to have bypassed. However, Mrs. F. started doing her dozing off party trick. It was Sunday, circa 8:30am and not a lot of places open selling coffee. Thank God for McDonalds, eh?
We parked in the car park and I got out to inspect the petit dejeuner menu. I might as well not have bothered, they don't do it at 8:30 on a Sunday morning. Coffee and muffins, that's your lot.
Only drive through (or “drive thru” as our dipthong averse transatlantic cousins have it) was available, so I got back in the car, and we drove up to the speaker-cum-microphone order point, acutely aware that pointing and body language does not translate well through an audio only communication device.
This seemed to have occurred to Johnny Servingchap (Jean Chapdeserving?) as well. I don't know what the French is “For fuck sake come round to the window you ignorant foreign peasants” is, but it could well have been what he said.
So, we poodled round to the window to be greeted by a perfectly charming spotty youth of around 21 ans (years). Probably the manager.
“Deux cafes au lait, deux Cokes et quatre briochee something or other, s'il vous plait,” quoth I.
“No briochee, monsieur. I am sorry. Only pain chocolat,” responded the Big Mac man.
“Bon. Or possibly bonne. Non, bon, je pense. We'll have quatre of them, por favor.”
They tasted like toe fungus, as it happens, but it was a small victory. Supercharged with what was actually quite decent coffee (are you reading this, Starbucks? Your days as a purveyor of overpriced shite coffee are numbered) Mrs. F. was as alert as a falcon on the wing.
Unfortunately, we could not get back on the road we had exited by retracing our route, which meant we had to busk our way through Rennes. Not literally, you understand. I wasn't standing on street corners singing “Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London,” to bewildered passers by at 9:00am on a Sunday morning in a regional French town. No, by busking, I mean we had to navigate by the seat of our pants.
We got lost.
So, time for the last resort of all true men: look at the map.
Tricky chap, Johnny Map, when he only covers the area you are travelling to and not the area in which you are lost. It was jolly nice of those Eurocamp fellas to provide us with a free map but we – and when I say “we”, I mean, of course, Mrs. Fiendish, had not bothered to check that the map covered all the route from Caen to St. Hilaire de Riez. So,we had our Bonnie Tyler moment: Lost In France.
The following night we had another Bonnie Tyler moment when someone absolutely slaughtered “Forever's Gonna Start Tonight” (or whatever it is called) at the karaoke evening.
Anyway, Mrs. F. duly castigated herself for not being able to think of everything, and I consoled her with the patronising comment that it was still pretty efficient of her to think of 10,001 things, but she is such a perfectionist, except when it comes to choosing a husband.
As it turned out, you don't even need to have failed French “O” level to work out that Peripherique means ring road, so we headed for the ring road and recommenced our journey.
We made it as far as Nantes (have I got these town names the right way round? If not, you are probably wondering why I am heading north and not west) when the next ring road bowled us a googly (told you those bastards are taking over the world – look it up, non-cricket fans; it's roughly analagous to a “curve ball”).
We had to exit at junction 23 or similar. Yet, here we were, heading in the right direction, but the next junction was 33 and the one after that was 34, so, naturally wee turned around and headed in the other direction, not realising that after junction 35 came junction 18, then 19 and so on. Heaven knows why they did it that way, probably an EU regulation or something.
By now we were on the complementary map which is how I came to realise that we had been headed in the right direction after all, so we turned around (bright eyes) again. Every now and then I fall apart etc.
The Michelin guide suggested we should have been there by about midday. What with the coffee break and the two diversions, we were pretty happy to be a mere 10 miles from our destination by 1:30pm. Of course, the last 10 miles took almost an hour, as it was down twisty unnamed roads and I had, in any case, left it too late to switch from the map to the very specific and totally accurate instructions from the holiday company on how to navigate the last 10 miles of the journey.
The important thing was that we had made it with the best part of the day – the afternoon sun – still ahead of us. Nobody had died. That was to take place – almost – later on in the holiday when number 2 son and number 3 son got involved in a knife fight with each other.
Dramatic stuff, eh?
Friday, July 10, 2009 9:03:28 AM
Cricket, lovely cricket. I hardly ever watch it except for test matches involving England, which I find utterly absorbing. A bit of a bummer then that the current Ashes series between England and Australia is on pay TV only. It means I will have to spend most of Saturday and Sunday (if the first match lasts that long) in the pub if I want to watch it. What hardship!
On the plus side, the office where I work has about 20 TV screens on our floor, half of wuhich are tuned into CNBC and the other half into Sky and the coverage of the first test. This has enabled me to keep half an eye on the score and do a bit of betting on Betfair.
I probably should not be gambling in work time, but then (ultimately) I work for a spread betting firm, so I figure they might find it a bit embarrassing to take a stand against people betting while at work.
Not that you are interested but before the first match started I backed Australia at just under evens to win the series. As for the first match, the draw at 5/2 seemed very skinny to me so I laid it (backed against it). During the course of the game (yes, American friends, it can last up to five days and still end in a draw) I've traded all three possible outcomes but I am still marginally in the hole if it ends in a draw, which the odds are telling me is the most likely result.
England are 12/1 to win, Australia 9/4 and the draw - with three days still to play - is 8/13. The weather could still play a part in ensuring a draw but my general view is that the Aussies don't do draws, and England don't do valiant rearguard actions.
So, although England have a decent first innings score, the Aussies are less than 200 runs behind, have nine wickets in hand, and the track is set to deteriorate on the fourth and fifth days. I think we know how this one goes, don't we? Australia build up a first innings lead of 250, and leave themselves a day and a half to get England out.
England will then look as if they are going to cruise serenely to safety until one of the openers gets out at which point it all goes wobbly, England are skittled out for 155 and yours truly lays off some of his position on Australia to win the series, locking in a certain profit.
There, I've stuck my neck out, partly in the hope that England will make me look a total twot, but I don't think so. Right now, the most I am hoping for is that England can keep the game alive until Saturday so I can watch some of the action down the pub.
Oh, and betting £50 to win £31 that it won't end in a draw.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009 3:59:43 PM
Just found out that NBC has cancelled "My Name Is Earl", as it was down to a mere six million views per epidode from its peak of 10m+.
Though I think the series had plateaued in terms of innovation and character development, it was still a masterful ensemble piece and I will miss it, especially the character of Randy, superbly portrayed by Ethan Suplee.
Apparently the producers tried to get the series picked up by another network but it would have required them shaving $1m from each episode's budget, which would have meant cutting back on the staff. While it is enjoyable to see the cast of characters move in and out of the action (as per The Simpsons) I could cheerfully have lost all of the characters except Earl, Randy, Joy and Crab-Man if it meant the series was saved.
Yes, I know this means sacrificing the pulchritudinous Cataliina
but she is a bit of a two dimensional (ahem! Not physically, obviously) character. I'd rather feature Ralph Mariano, the third member of the criminal gang which Earl and Randy used to be in.
Oh well, perhaps there will be a film, though it's unlikely, given the cult status (rather than nationwide popularity) of the series. Then again, if Hollywood can finance what seems like a dozen Silent Bob movies, many of which featured Jason Lee (Earl), it is not beyond the realms of possibility that it would contemplate an Earl film.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 1:53:44 PM
Thousands of you haven’t written in to ask my views, as the self-designated “Supreme Arbiter on All Matters Relating to Contemporary Music”, on Michael Jackson, the self-proclaimed “King of Pop”.
The thing* I find odd about Michael Jackson is that he was a better singer as an eight-year-old than he was as an adult. All that yelping, squealing and hiccupping was presumably designed to disguise the fact that, in terms of soul, his voice was right up there with Celine Dion and Val Doonican.
I exaggerate for comedic effect, of course, but if I were drawing up a list of great soul singers he would not make the top ten. Actually, you could make the list as long as you like and I probably would not have thought to put Jackson (the adult) on the list as I thought of him more as a “performer” rather than a singer.
It does not matter. He deserves his place as one of the greats of pop music, albeit with a massive amount of assistance from Quincy Jones. Though his insistence on being billed and introduced as the “King of Pop” rankled – Aretha never had to insist on being called “The Queen of Soul”, somebody else called Louis Jordan the “King of the Jukeboxes” after a 12-year period in which he was in the charts one week in every three, and you can bet a well mannered southern boy like Elvis was, initially at least, somewhat embarrassed to be referred to as “the King” – but as someone at work said, if Jackson was not the “King of Pop”, who was?
Can an artist called Prince be a King?
* OK, one of about two thousand things I find odd about Michael Jackson
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