Thursday, 29 August 2013

Daylight Saving

I've finished reading Daylight Saving by Edward Hogan.

It is a thoughtful but fast paced ghost story/thriller set in a very modern leisure park inhabited by "prisoners of fun" who all have different personal problems.  The protagonist, a teenage boy called Daniel, befriends a mysterious older girl and discovers that he has limited time to solve a mystery while at the same time grappling with contemporary issues such as low self-esteem, bullying, loneliness, parental breakup and poor body image.

Daniel matures rapidly in the course of a week as he discovers hidden resources and abilities as well as the importance of friendship and respect in personal relationships.  The tension builds as we get closer and closer to the end of summer time and the tragic climax of the story, broken occasionally be comic interludes.

A well written story about likeable characters with human flaws.  I've given it 4 stars.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Return of the happy campers Part 2

A week ago another bout of good weather was forecast and I had a one week gap between medical appointments, so we packed the tent and the bikes and off we went.

This time we went to Rutland, England's smallest county (18 miles long and 17 miles wide at its greatest extent with the latin motto of Multum in Parvo (much in little)).  We stayed at a lovely campsite in the grounds of an Victorian mansion, Ranksborough Hall, and went out each day cycling and visiting historic houses.

I am pleased to say my stamina has greatly improved since the previous camping trip a few weeks ago. The latter was less than a fortnight after the end of 5 weeks of radiotherapy, and I was still tired and washed out.  Then I could only manage around 10-15 miles a day before I ran out of energy.  This time I could happily cycle 25 miles a day and I know it won't be long before I'm back to cycling more respectable distances (typically 30 to 40 miles or up to 60 miles for a bike "event" such as the London to Cambridge or London to Southend).

On one ride we found an unusual (railway) level crossing on a very minor road which I may have inadvertently broken by pushing the wrong button.  The road was closed later that day  - while repairs were carried out?  I may include more details and a photo on this in a future post.

We did the circuit of Rutland Water and another day cycled out to Newton's birthplace (Woolsthorpe Manor) and yes, the original apple tree is still there.  We visited Kirby Hall and shared our lunch with some tame peacocks (all called Edmund according to the English Heritage staff).  And spent a great day at Burghley with its (water) garden of surprises and the best sculpture garden I've ever seen.

Photos of the highlights
                                         Yes, this is really Newton's apple tree

                                                    Garden of surprises at Burghley

                                          A couple of the sculptures at Burghley

                                  Signal Box at Oakham.  A working Grade II listed building

                                          Edmund(s) at Kirby Hall


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Robots make good pets

We don't have dogs or cats (although I would actually like a cat), but early last year acquired a cleaning robot - an iRobot Roomba 520.  He settled in quickly and we named him Ron.

Ron is fed (electric) currants and needs regular toileting (emptying).

He loves to wander around the house hoovering the carpet and sweeping laminate flooring, but occasionally gets tangled in cables or stuck under chairs.  He can often find his way out but if he is really stuck he calls for help and is easily rescued.  After doing the cleaning he wanders back to his docking station for a meal.

Ron cleans our place regularly and it looks so much better than when I had to do the hoovering.  I used to put it off until the floor look so bad it just had to be done.  Ron has changed my life (sigh!) - I hate hoovering and I love my cleaning robot.

I have now decided to get Ron a friend - a Roomba 620 which is going to be called Don.  Don has been ordered and should arrive by the end of the week.  I'm planning to put Ron in charge of upstairs and Don will take care of downstairs.  If we need to do a big cleaning blitz downstairs, then I can bring Ron down to help Don.

Hopefully they will get on well together - I don't want Robot Wars...

Sunday, 11 August 2013

While the Others Sleep

While away camping I found time to read the latest Tom Becker ghost story: While the Others Sleep.

In my view this book is vastly superior to The Traitors, the only other Tom Becker novel I'd read.  I had several problems with the latter, despite the original and imaginative setting and the gripping first few chapters: the protagonist was far too heroic, the middle story was saggy and the ending was just rubbish.

I've given While the Others Sleep 4 stars - see my Children's/YA fiction Ratings here.  My review is below and can also be seen on Amazon, where I was the first person to review this book!

I've kept it relatively brief as I didn't want to give too much of the story away.

While the Others Sleep by Tom Becker - an Independent Review
This is a creepy ghost (verging on horror) story about a boy who is shut up in a Victorian mental hospital for rich disturbed kids. Unlike the other patients, Alfie isn't mad (as far as he knows), but is suffering from severe insomnia.

He soon discovers that something is seriously wrong - dark supernatural forces are at large and his insomnia puts him at special risk. Seemingly irrelevant events from his past are linked to his condition and may also be clues to source of the present danger.

As the book progresses, so many strange things happen that it becomes hard to suspend disbelief. I had to keep reading to find how the book ended, but I kept thinking that it would be disappointing and leave too many disconnected threads. I was wrong! The ending is very unexpected (at least I didn't see it coming) but really does pull things together in a very neat way.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Return of the happy campers

We got back yesterday after a great holiday.

The efforts of the nefarious rodents had left us distraught when we first arrived at the campsite and unpacked our kit only to find our relatively new tent completely ruined.  We soon recovered the situation with our customary aplomb.  We repacked everything and managed to get a room for the night at the Premier Inn less than a mile away.  Over a nice dinner at the adjoining pub, we planned our next move.

Using my smartphone, we researched camping/outdoor shops that might be large enough to have a reasonable selection of tents and concluded that Go Outdoors in Coventry was our best bet.  To find the place we had to relate the map on the Go Outdoors website to our 30 year old OS map and soon discovered that the shop was somewhere in an industrial park on the site of the former motorworks.  After getting directions, we found the place without too much difficulty

Go Outdoors tends go in for massive shops and there were around 50 tents on display in the Coventry store. We decided on a Outwell Birdland 3 - fortunately the shop had this tent at a very competitive price.  Thank you Go Outdoors.  Our new tent proved easy to erect and also to pack away at the end as Outwell provided a sensibly proportioned tent bag.  Thank you Outwell.

Most days we went cycling in the mornings and visited some lovely historic houses and gardens in the afternoons, getting in free as  members/friends of National Trust and Historic Houses Association. Thank you National Trust and HHA.

Except for the day we went tent shopping (which was bakingly hot) and one day of rain, the weather was perfect - pleasant and no too hot.  The campsite had lovely views across rolling countryside and a couple of little fishing lakes.  Plenty of space for caravans and tents.  We even managed to use our electric hookup for the first time as there was no extra charge for this.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Unhappy Campers

The mice ate our tent!   Arhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Our Vango Nevis - which we've only had a few years - has been ruined by mice (or possibly larger rodents...).  I didn't know mice ate plastic and nylon, but they do - or at least they chew it to bits - possibly in order to convert the crumbs into a mouse bed or mouse house.

We've had to go out and buy a new tent.

This time we've gone for a smaller tent - an Outwell Birdland 3.

We kept our camping kit in a weather proof outbuilding, which we thought would be a safe place, but we were so wrong.  Mice also gnawed the gas hose for our stove, our airbed, and air pillow. The sleeping bags were untouched because they were in a plastic box with a well-fitting lid.

Some pictures of the devastation

We've now learnt (the hard way) about the 4th Happy Camper guideline:

4/ Store your camping kit in the house or else in plastic boxes with good lids.