Beardie McBeardface

Firstly Happy New Year to my loyal reader (Marky) and any other casual visitors 🙂

So after 35 years of being clean shaven I decided just before Christmas to try growing a beard. No particular reason other than I fancied a change of look and with no work for two weeks it would be an ideal time to try.

Having never gone more than a week of being unshaven it does feel strange to have this growth on my face and I’m still unsure whether it will remain in the long term, but for now it’s here to stay.

It has caused some concern from Tina as she says I look like the local tramp and so I need to ensure I steer clear of any rubbish bins when out walking Rio for fear of becoming a bin-diver.

One thing that has got me thinking is keeping it clean; should I use shampoo or will soap and water suffice?  And what about getting food in it, I need to watch that one.

The biggest worry was whether it would grow through grey and so far it does seem to be more silver than I was expecting but I am still retaining some darker colours too. Fingers crossed it won’t go fully white or I’ll be up for taking on the Santa job at the local garden centre next Christmas!

Anyhow here’s progress to date…

 

Half a century plus one…

IMG_1165Last year my company announced everyone was to be given their birthday off, which for me meant I was off today; has it really been a year since the last one?

Tina had already volunteered to work today so I had a free day to sort out the MOT on my car, which was due by the end of the month, so booked it in for an afternoon checkup. I woke early so decided to take Rio out for a walk, which in hindsight turned out to be a mistake. When we returned back I noticed spots of blood on the hall and study carpet and on closer inspection of Rio’s paw noticed he’d gashed one of his pads, probably on some glass. Great, not an idea start to the my or Rio’s day. Tina and I cleaned up the wound as best we could and covered it with one of Tina’s socks then got to work on the carpets with the Vax machine. Frustratingly this was the second time I’d cleaned them in two days after Rio had thrown up over them yesterday!

After lunch I drove to Kettering and left my car with the Halfords Autocentre, confident it would pass its first MOT, especially as it had been serviced by the Hyundai garage only last week.

But of course it failed!

Unbelievably the Hyundai garage had not put the brake fluid cap back on after changing the pads and discs and it meant a trip to Northampton to get a replacement cap. Fortunately the Halfords centre didn’t charge for the retest but it was very inconvenient just the same.

Tonight we are celebrating proper with a family outing to our local Indian restaurant, which has a reputation for good food but comically poor customer service. I’m sure it will turn out OK but woe betide if the waiter is not nice to me on my birthday…

 

A shot of the good stuff

IMG_0951As part of my annual drive to lose weight (yep, I always seem to be on a diet following the Christmas ‘feastathon’) I have been enjoying fruit smoothies as an alternative to my usual lunchtime meals. The health kick actually started after we arrived back from Australia when we purchased a MagicBullet, a fruit pulverizing gadget.

This cyclonic device (sounds very Dyson-like but it is actually from America) is capable of taking all sorts of fruit and producing a wonderful, healthy concoction, by smashing the contents into tasty smoothies. Having said that, the instruction book suggests making them with half fruit and half vegetables, but my first attempt looked horribly green and tasted of mud, so I’ve subsequently stuck with fruit only (with a smattering of nuts for good measure).

IMG_1127My favourite is a mango-banana recipe, with cranberry juice and coconut water and mixed nuts and a spoonful of Greek yogurt. A jugful of that lot keeps me going for the day! Tina has also made soups, which are pretty tasty too.

The only problem is that I’ve also got into espressso coffee and have probably doubled my caffeine intake after we also bought a fancy coffee machine at the same time, so may be I need to reassess how healthy my intake is!

A few of our Australian observations…

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Big Country – whilst I’ve always know Australia is vast, it’s not until you travel around you realise how big it is. It is so huge that even Australians have not visited parts of their own country. Jumping on a plane seems to be the normal way of getting between towns and cities, just the mad tourists making the long treks across the regions.

Toilets – Australia is absolutely mad on public toilets, they are everywhere you go. And they are spotlessly clean. You’ll never need to go behind a tree in Australia as there is probably one there anyhow. In the rain forest the toilets were proper housings like you would get in a town or city, but the pan opened up straight to the forest floor. You can get much natural than that for deposits.

Roads – the roads in Australian are very well maintained, towns well sign posted and everyone obeys the speed limit (which seems on average lower than the UK). It can take some time to get used to kilometres and km per hour though but as this distance is less than a mile journeys do seem quicker. They do seem to like roundabouts in Australia and traffic lights change very quickly so you have to be on your guard ready for the off.

Early Closing – it seems that most restaurants close by 9.30, even in the city. Whether it was just the time of year but it did seem strange that everyone ate so early. Many a time on this holiday we have been the last to leave the restaurant, with the staff clearing tables around us. Also the tourist attractions close early, often by 4pm. Again this may have been the time of year but it does seem odd coming from a country that seems to be open 24 hours these days.

Ants – they come in all sorts of sizes in Australia, from large menacing ones to tiny versions that apparently are the ones that can give you a nasty bite. Judging by the amount I’ve seen so far, I think they be having a world domination bid, starting in Australia as thee are thousands of the buggers. In Queensland the authorities are particularly concerned about electric ants, which have invaded and taken over the indigenous species causing mayhem in their wake. There are roadside signs such as ‘Don’t Spread Electric Ants’ warning contractors not to help them dominate the world. I think they’re losing the battle.

Flies – and whilst I’m on the subject of insects, those flies can be so annoying. Not experienced too many so far but when you do get ‘attacked’ they get up you nose, in your eyes and ears resulting in the continual Aussie wave. I can see why the corked hat is iconic headwear, although so far we’ve only seen tourists wearing them.

Money – things seem quite expensive in Australia (exchange rate $1.75 to the pound). For an example a can of coke is around $3 (£1.60) and a coffee around $5 (£2.70). Fuel seems cheaper ($150 for unleaded and $159 for diesel), but then in Britain we are heavily taxed so it’s bound to be cheaper. A meal for two has been costing us around $100 per night, which is quite reasonable I guess, although if you add alcohol, it can bump up the cost considerably. Our most expensive meal was $159 in Sydney but that did include a bottle of wine and desserts.

Gluten Free – I love Australia. It is so geared up for people with Coeliacs with most restaurants and cafe’s marking their menus with GF options. And the supermarkets don’t just have a small section dedicated to GF but whole isles. I was spoilt for choice. One supermarket chain offered an online delivery services so I was wondering if they delivered to Thrapston?

Birds – noisy buggers over in Australia. The dawn chorus is quite loud but quite magnificent, with the cockatoos being quite vociferous. We saw a couple of laughing kookaburras in Kuranda and they really have a distinctive call and all around Sydney we saw birds with long beaks (we referred to them as the Australian pigeon as they were as common but were actually Australian white ibis).

Australians – very laid back and they really do say ‘no worries’ a lot. It seems such a relaxing country so I can see why they are so chilled out. There are lots of non-Australians around, many from Asian who I guess are working here for the holiday season.

The Southern Hemisphere – we’ve yet to see the Milky Way but we have seen stars and constellations not visible from the UK. I’m hopeful we’ll get to really observe the stars before we return, clear skies permitting.

Alice Springs – it really is in the middle of nowhere. We flew for three hours and the majority of the landscape down below was just desert or mountains. You could drive it but it would take around 30 hours non stop. When you are there you get the feeling you are in the back of beyond. The people who live there, and there are people that live there must really love the feeling of isolation.

Visitors – we’ve met some British people and there are loads of Japanese and other Asians (Malaysian & Thai) but we have been surprised as to how many Americans are visiting. Almost everywhere we’ve been there have been Americans. Distance wise, it must be just as far to travel to Australia as it is for us to travel from the UK, yet there seems to be loads around. They all see friendly enough though.

100 not out…

No, not my 100th birthday so soon after my 50th but instead today I reached a milestone when I gave my 100th whole blood donation in Coventry. The achievement should have actually been two weeks ago, when I became eligible again following my 99th donation in January but I got a call an hour before to say staff sickness meant my appointment was cancelled.

Anyhow, after a short wait on arrival, I was called through for the obligatory screening and hemoglobin check when the nurse noticed that this would be my 100th. Next thing she disappeared and returned with a red box. She explained that it was an award and asked whether I wanted it at that point or presented after the donation in front of the other doner’s. I agreed the latter, thinking it would be a nice gesture.

100_awardSoon it was my turn to donate and pleasingly it was one of the nurses who has been at Coventry since I’ve been going there, so we had a good chat about my milestone. I did threaten that I would stop going after hitting the century, but changed my mind when she threatened not to take the donation! Reverse psychology or what!

As usual the donation didn’t take long and I was soon sitting with my cup of tea and my gluten-free biscuits (I like to think that was a little concession I help to win when I wrote to the Blood Doning Service asking them to consider us poor coeliacs when offering post-donation snacks). Anyhow, I got the feeling I was being talked about and sure enough I was soon being handed the award, not before one of the nurses doing an impromptu speech, thanking me for my efforts.

So I finally got there after thirty years of donating, not a bad average of just over three donations a year. My granddad managed to get to seventy eight donations before having to stop when he retired so I estimate that I should be able to get at least another fifty by the time I have to stop, assuming my arms don’t completely scar over!

 

50 not out!

happy_birthdayToday is a big milestone in my life; namely I’ve reached my half century!

No major celebrations planned so instead Tina and I are off to London as the kids have bought me a Virgin Experience. And before you wonder why Tina would want to accompany me whilst I spend the day with a seventeen year old virgin, I should explain that the present is a trip up The Shard followed by a meal at Marco Pierre White’s Steak and Alehouse.

As usual, things have conspired to try to spoil the day; the weather forecast is not ideal for skyscraper viewing and the rail unions appear to be intent on holding their second tube strike this evening. But we’ll make the most of it and try to have a great time and Tina may even buy me a prezzie too!

 

February blogathon…not!

slownewsdaySo if you haven’t already guessed I didn’t join my mate masher in the annual ‘blog-a-day-in-february’. Regular visitors will note that recent blog entries have been sparse to say the least, with only two in the past six months. I really have struggled to get any enthusiasm for writing and the thought of drafting twenty eight entries was just too overwhelming [and too be honest I completely forgot about it until the 3rd Feb so I’d missed the start anyway :)].

I may manage a couple of posts this month; with the big ‘five zero’ due next week I may need to express some self-pity on reaching my half century and also detail our planned trip to London for our regular fix of the capital city. I also haven’t written a blog about our pending Australian trip; that should cover a post or two and I need to draft some comments on Rio, who seems to be regressing back to a puppy again.

I am yet to built a robot as mentioned in my last post, I’m still working through my basic electronics book, although I have now got to playing with IC’s and transistors so hopefully will soon be able to build something with my re-discovered skills. The raspberry pi hasn’t been touched since before Xmas so I will have to reacquaint myself with programming that up too. I’m also back on a diet, trying to get back to a weight whereby my ‘large’ t-shirts fit loosely again so I may write on my progress so far and of course I should really see how where ‘Graham Wright’ stands in the Google hit list.

So a quick count up of posts I intend write and I would be some way towards writing the required number for the blogathon; perhaps I should therefore hold fire and go for a ‘blog-a-day-in-march’. Now there’s a thought…not!

Review of the Year – 2013

2013_notWell the time is upon us to reflect on past things as the year draws to a close and look forward to what’s in store over the next twelve months.

So what happened in 2013?

Firstly I will apologise to my regular visitors for the lack of posts since August; I sort of lost interest a bit! But I will add a few lines later detailing what I’ve been up to since then.

Earlier in the year I managed to keep up a steady stream of blog posts, with the main site traffic drawn towards the February blogathon. Amazingly I managed to post twenty eight days worth and, whilst it was tough, I enjoyed posting them even though my creative side was stretched to the maximum. I vowed I wouldn’t do it again but there’s still time to reconsider…

I managed to write a couple of blogs on Rio, our Golden Retriever, who continued to be as challenging as when we got him over two years ago. I will admit he’s getting better though…slightly!

There was also a holiday diary from our trip to Gran Canaria, Abby’s wedding and the sad passing of Tina’s dad, who died in August.

And since August?

We Matt announced he was getting engaged in September and popped the question to Chloe soon after. Luckily she accepted! Also in September we had our second foreign holiday of the year, returning to Turkey for the second time in twelve months. Tina and I had a wonderful time, it’s certainly a country we would return to, although we did say we would probably leave it for a few years until we go back.

I bought a Raspberry Pi in October and is probably one of the reasons for the lack of posts; this tiny commuter computer [thanks Masher] has kept me busy and has rekindled my interest in electronics. I have been trying to learn Python and Linux as well as build basic electronic projects, all controlled by the small credit-card sized computer. At Christmas I got a robotic arm from Maplins and am enjoying programming it using commands written in Python. I might even have a go at building a robot at some point.

The other major event was the booking of our holiday next year…to Australia! With money left by Jack, Tina agreed to use it to pay for a holiday of a lifetime and something we can remember him for. After some extensive research I contacted an Aussie holiday specialist company and booked our  three weeks trip for next November. More of our itinerary in a later post.

2014_newAnd so to 2014…

Well next year will bring a couple of milestones, namely Tina and I are both fifty. Whilst I wasn’t too fussed when I turned forty, for some reason reaching the half century makes us both feel old and to think that in fifteen years I could be retiring really does make you think.

As for my New Years resolutions I have two that I will be setting myself; one is to lose a couple of stones in weight in preparation for the Australian holiday and the other is to write regular blogs again. Somehow I think both are going to be harder than I think!

Happy New Year!

Blogging through the ages

Today is a milestone as it is the 400th entry of my blog!

It’s hard to believe I’ve written so many posts considering my first entry was entitled ‘Hello World‘ and I tentatively wrote ‘This is my first blog…I’m not sure what I’m going to write here but let’s see here it goes’!

There have been highs and lows during the seven years since it started such as the article I wrote on reaching my 75th donation entitled Diamond Blood to the sad pieces I wrote about the loss of a dear friend Rebecca Allington and Tina’s Auntie Dinkle. I have covered the exploits of being a father of a footballing son in Champions at Last and the point at which I retired as Secretary of the Thrapston Town Juniors FC in 2009, writing at being ‘Football Free‘.

I have also used the blog as a sort of online diary capturing holidays abroad such as New York in ‘It’s like London but on speed‘, our trip to Egypt, the Florida trip to see the space shuttle launch and the road trip to California and Nevada in 2011. I have also detailed the progress of DIY and building works such as the kitchen install last year, giving a daily insight into how things were going.

The blog has been used to mention some of the family events in my life, notable when Tina got a speeding ticket :), ‘Grown Up Girl‘ when Abby started University and ‘Following in the footsteps…‘ when Matt was told he’d been accepted by Virgin Media to become an Apprentice. I also covered the period where I started to get regular colds, ‘Being ill‘, going through to being diagnosed with Coeliacs disease and the trials of sticking to a gluten-free diet. I detailed my experience of going to have laser eye treatment…or not in my case.

I have followed the exploits of Watford FC at various times, which over recent years have been mostly highs. I have extensively covered becoming an Apple fan; firstly getting an iPhone, followed by an iPad then iMac. Then another iPad, another iPhone, a MacBook Air and finally an iPad mini (that lot has certainly given me plenty to talk about). I also told the world about my entry into writing a book in the blog ‘Taking the publishing world by storm‘.

And finally to the challenge of writing a post a day during the four February blogathon’s which I have participated in since 2009; skeptical at first as to whether I was capable of meeting such a endurance I think I have managed to achieve something of worthiness, although I think at times it’s been close to fail.

I, of course, probably would have given up with this blog years ago if it wasn’t for my two regular contributors, Paul and Masher but they’re support and often witty comments have helped compliment my thoughts and shown that at least some people are a little interested in what I’ve got to say.

And so back to the start of this piece and question as to what I was going to write about in this blog all those years ago?

Well I guess I haven’t done too bad when all things are considered…

Time to think of the next blog subject now!

Celebrate+400

Slow news day

slownewsdayToday, I have really struggled to think of anything to write about to keep the blog-a-day-in-February going. I was asked last month whether I was going join the annual blogathon and at the time said I wouldn’t but as the first of February got closer I decided to go for it and too be honest it’s not been too bad so far…until today!

In previous years I have managed to plan ahead, having many of the days pre-written or at least an idea of a subject to discuss but this year I’ve taken each day as they’ve come. Fortunately I’ve managed to find something to cover and also managed to avoid repeating myself too much apart from revisiting the old favourites such as Being Graham Wright and a Coeliacs update.

And so today I thought I’d see what occurs and hopefully they’ll be a story somewhere.

Firstly I got up to take Rio for his early morning walk. Surely something interesting must happen that I could write about whilst I stroll around my usual route? Nope, nothing of note there. Damn!

Back home and after breakfast it was time to finish off the spare room by installing the TV bracket and shelf for the sky box but I couldn’t start straight away as one of Matt’s mates was asleep in the bed; apparently he was locked out of his own house. Again not really a newsworthy story there! Soon Ben left so I managed to complete the room, again with no major disaster such as drilling into a water pipe or similar. Oh well.

“I know, I’ll take the rubbish to the tip after lunch” I thought “there’s bound to be some controversy if I don’t sort out the recycling from the landfill waste.” But no-one was distinctly interested in my poor recycling actions and I left with an empty car and empty story. Aw shucks.

Off to see the parents for a cuppa next but I wasn’t holding out much hope for a newsworthy topic. The only unusual thing that did happen was my mum giving me tea with two sweeteners (something my dad would normally do). Mum was adamant she didn’t put them in the cup so we suspect they were already in the mug from another time. Again not really an event to fill a blog page.

Back home and it was ironing time; surely I could burn a hole in one of Tina’s jumpers or Matt’s work shirts but no, I managed to do the ironing chore without any disasters. Oh well.

Even the dog, who is always a favourite for a good story, has been well behaved and has slept for most of the day. Rio, you’ve let me down!

And so with no inspiration forthcoming I decided to write about nothing and managed to fill the page. Somehow I don’t think my usual readers will be returning if I don’t pull my socks up for the remainder of the month!