Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Memorial Day

On the last Monday of May in the United States a federal holiday is observed for Memorial Day, a day for remembering the men and women who have died serving in the American armed forces. It also typically marks the start of the American summer vacation period, and Labor Day, the first Monday in September, marks the end.

Last year as Pauline and I were cycling across the US, this day fell on the 30th. A year ago today to be precise. We were a day away from Rome, NY, a key point on the Erie Canal, where Fort Stanwix had been recreated and the Erie Canal village just on the outside of Rome, had preserved many of the villages and way of life from the time of the Erie Canal in the 1800s.

By complete coincidence as we cycled along on Memorial Day we passed by the Remington arms factory, and saw several old tanks and jeeps along the side of the road. It was stinking hot but the path we were on which follows the Erie Canal was level and firm and thus easy cycling.

Our night was to be spent camping for free at a so called hiker/biker spot right next to lock 20 just outside the town of Utica. About half way through our journey we passed by Herkimer church. Nothing particularly unusual about the church itself but the graveyard was predominantly Germanic family names. This had been, and still was, an area settled by people from Germany in the 1720s. It was originally called German Flatts until 1789 when it had the name change. It lies near the Mohawk River, which in the days before the Erie canal was a strategic river in the transportation of goods up to the great lakes or down to New York City.

The following day would be the highlight of the Erie Canal when we would visit the Erie Canal village. By the end of our trans America journey of 4,000 miles, we would look back and agree that the highlight of the entire adventure was the time spent on the 365 mile long Erie Canal.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Ahead lay the adventure

We all reminisce now and again, sometimes of when life was just that little bit better, just that little bit less complicated, just that little bit unknown.

A year ago Pauline and I had just started our great adventure cycling across the United States of America, starting out from Boston, down to Plymouth for our official start point and all the way to Seattle.

I still can't believe we did it. Most of all though I wish I was right back there, at the start, doing it all again.

At this point last year we had just said goodbye to my friend David and his family. We had spent a great few days with them after a grueling 70-mile first day out from Plymouth. On our last night at their house we noticed some strange white flecks on the carpet near my pile of kit. We couldn't figure out what it was at first, until a little later when we were going through our food supplies for the days ahead. We noticed that the sachets of milk powder we had bought were nowhere to be seen. It turned out that David's Golden Retriever, Dougal, had devoured them, foil wrapper and all. Apparently the packets reappeared a few days later on the lawn!

 This day, the 23 May, felt like the real first day. The next familiar face we would encounter was over 1000 miles away in Warren, Detroit, Pauline's uncle David. It was a very wet start to this section of our journey, as we pushed west heading for Troy, just north of Albany in New York State, which would see us join the Erie Canal trail that would take us all the way to Niagara Falls.

I remember, as we pedaled along that day through the persistent rain, I was thinking of the daunting task ahead. Almost 4,000 miles. But I was also excited. I was with my great friend Pauline, fulfilling a life's ambition, with no responsibilities save for finding food and a safe place to camp each day. We were off to discover America. We were setting out on a great life adventure and the unknown lay ahead.

Here's to life's adventures.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Life begins

Last weekend I had a great weekend away with almost all of my friends to celebrate one of their birthday, a significant birthday for my friend Sarah who recently turned 40.

I've known Sarah for 20 years now, and she has been a great friend and very supportive over the years. She is obsessed however with trying to persuade me to get a dog. It's almost become a standing joke.

A great dinner was laid on, courtesy of Peebles Hydro, in their Bannockburn room. This room featured a gigantic mural covering every wall depicting the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

About half the people who went along to celebrate with Sarah, stayed overnight, including myself. It was nice to be able to turn up around lunchtime, check in to my room, then chill out lazing around, having coffee and cream scones whilst reading my book.

Peebles Hydro has a dress code, which simply amounts to no jeans or trainers after 6.30. The evening started with drinks in the cocktail bar, however, unbeknown to Sarah, a group of us were putting the final touches to a 20-minute series of sketches, based on Sarah's life and written and presented by her brother Andrew.

It was great as Sarah genuinely had no idea we had put this together, and after numerous in-jokes and fluffed lines by parents playing themselves, we all settled into our comfy chairs for an evening of wine, food and great conversation.

The following day kicked off with a lovely buffet-style breakfast, a wander through the grounds and a leisurely drive back to Edinburgh.

All in all it had been a great weekend, spending it with friends old and new.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Planet Earth Live

The BBC are renowned for the wildlife programmes, especially those presented by David Attenborough. Around this time of year they usually produce and screen a live show called Springwatch, however, over the past of couple of years audience numbers have plummeted, partly I suspect to the poor choice of presenters. The show was very quickly being dumbed down.

Well, this year its replacement is Planet Earth Live. Lots of build up over the past few weeks, and I for one was very excited at this first. However, talk about dumbing down. The key host for this ground breaking wildlife series is an childish presenter by the name of Richard Hammond, one of 3 presenters of a boy racer TV programme called Top Gear, alongside that imbecile Jeremy Clarkson.

Apparently Hammond has "always wanted to present wildlife programmes". Well, I've always wanted lots of money but they don't put me in charge of the Bank of England.

That aside, I was keen to stick with it due to the key word in the title . . . "live". Well, the show airs at 8pm in the UK, presented by Hammond from the Masai Mara in Africa, where it is 10pm, and yes, you guessed it, pitch black. Then there's slots from Sri Lanka, where it's the middle of the morning and the crew and presenter are in bed so this is recorded footage. Then polar bears in Antarctica. Yep, that's right, recorded footage. However, we do cut live to around midday in Minnesota to Julia Bradbury presenting a piece on black bears. However, she may be live from Minnesota but all the footage is, well, you get the idea. In the coming weeks we are to be treated to a grey whale migration . . . that happened a few weeks ago.

Is it just me or am I missing the "live" element of this programme? Don't get me wrong, in typical BBC high standards the stories and footage are world class, but the only live element of this wildlife programme is Hammond in a tent in Africa. Unless at one point he's going to be game for a lion then that would be worth sticking to this series for.

So I have no complaint about the content, but I think it's a little misleading to have built it up as this live wildlife show. I know it's pretty much impossible to have wildlife act on queue, and I accept that, so why bill it as live?

Very disappointing. Not as disappointing though as having a petrol head present it.

Is there a conflict there or is it just me?

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

If it's not broken, don't fix it!

Are you like me that when something that was perfectly good just the way it was some bright spark decides to change it!?

I've been writing a regular blog now for almost 3 years, and on average it attracts about 800 to 1000 hits per month, which is great and makes it all worth while. Well, Blogger, part of the behemoth that is Google, decided to change the way we bloggers create posts. The old way was perfectly good, and very user friendly. In advance of these changes Google informed us that the new look would be both easier to use and more user friendly.

It isn't.

In fact it's a right royal pain in the behind. Tasks that took one click to achieve now take several, and certain aspects of it don't work at all. Placing a photograph exactly where you want it for example is almost impossible and very frustrating.

But it seems this is the way of things in our modern society. I'm not a regular Facebook user but I hear constant moans about Facebook making continual changes, and the change is never better I'm reliably told.

And banks. Just today I had to call my bank. It's very close by, less than a 10 minute walk from my house. I dialled the local number only for it to be answered by a recorded message with "you now have 5 options". Turns out that despite the local number all calls are now routed to a call handling centre. A person eventually answered and when I asked to speak to the person in the bank they had no idea who it was! I was asked what his position was in the bank, and why was I phoning him, and so it went on. Then I was asked for my account number, sort code and address. Finally she asked me to hold while she transferred me. I waited. Waited some more. Then she came back to tell me sorry, but the number is engaged and could I call back later.


I would have been quicker walking along!

What was wrong with the old way? Phone the bank, someone answers, I tell them what I need. Job done in a tenth of the time.

Supermarkets are at it as well. Locally we have a small one which this week has decided to close for 2 days while it moves everything around so that none of it's regular customers will be able to find anything anymore.

Just leave it alone!