Friday, 3 October 2008

Think I Need a Good Laugh!

I've been counting how long it is to our summer holidays. Saddo aren't I. It's just we've had no summer this year and gone straight to what feels like winter not autumn.

I need a good laugh and there hasn't been any good comedy on TV recently so I think it's time I read the David Niven autobiographies again. Each time I read them I laugh for ages at the antics he and his friends got up to. He was such a good writer.

Another author who makes me laugh is Bill Bryson. Well let's face it, he's got to have a good sense of humour hasn't he, he's chosen to live in England poor soul! They made him Chancellor of Durham University in 2005. Wonder if it was because he was so nice about Durham in Notes From a Small Island?


I remember reading one of his books in Malta's airport when we were standing in a massive long queue waiting to go through passport control. They officials seemed to have taken a very long coffee break. I was trying to keep my laugh in but eventually I started laughing out loud. It's always embarrassing when you do that, you feel such a loony. A German woman further up the queue smiled at me and gave me the thumbs up. Probably wished she had my book.

I have a friend who puts a long letter in with my Christmas card each year and when I read it I start laughing. She's brilliant, all she does it update us on their activities, nothing weird or outlandish, it's just her take on life. It's hilarious. The last one was about how they have bought a caravan to tow and her husband's obsession with buying an awning. She didn't want one as she's seen too many "awning antics" on their travels. Needless to say he got his way and the letter was full of the perils of awnings. I would never have believed anyone could write so humorously about this. She can literally write about anything and make you laugh.


I keep telling her she should write a book but she says she hasn't got time.

We met as mature students doing a degree at Sunderland in the 'eighties and she was great fun. We went on a field trip to what was then Yugoslavia in the Polytechnic's bus. Yes a bus, and we laughed all the way across Holland, Germany, Austria and into Yugoslavia. Our faces and stomachs ached from laughing all day and into the night. I think the young students thought they were travelling with a bunch of escapees from a lunatic asylum. We meet up on occasions and we always talk about the daft things that happened on that trip.


On the way across Germany we stayed at a strange hotel. Quite an ugly sixties concrete type of thing. The World Cup was on and I got fed up with watching it so I went to bed and missed all the fun. My friend stayed up chatting to some of the students at the bar. She had drunk quite a bit and was being chatted up by one of the male students on one side and on the other side of her was what she thought was a woman wearing a lot of make up. Suffice to say it was the "woman" who was eventually doing the chatting up and other things which I won't go into here. However my friend says due to the alcoholic haze she took ages to cotton on to it. The evils of drink!

My friend is convinced we were staying in a house of ill repute and it was full of transvestites and prostitutes. I have to say the women did look a very rough bunch the next morning at breakfast, I hadn't noticed that the night before.

Another time they decided to take us to view the fjord where The Vikings was filmed. Well it was supposed to be a geography trip after all. All went well until the driver, a German ex prisoner of war who never returned to Germany after the war (and that's another story), navigated the bus down a narrow road. He drove us into a campsite, a nudist campsite and couldn't reverse back out of it! The lecturers were shouting at the students and telling them not to laugh but it was hard not to. The funniest thing I saw was three nude men walking along carrying a canoe over their heads. I totally lost it at that point. We never got to see the fjord either!

I keep telling her we ought to get together and write a book about all these things before we forget them altogether.

I feel better already just thinking about that trip! Need to ring her to meet up soon for another laugh.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Eat Your Heart Out Apple, I'm a Windows Media Fan!

Now this is a bit of a saga. So in true Watch with Mother style, "Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin."

The time had finally arrived for me to buy an MP3 thingy to listen to music and other stuff. I had got sick of carting about a compact CD player and multiple CDs, especially on holiday. Last time I used it on holiday it was a pain to have to get up of the sun lounger to take out the CD, put it away and faff about looking for Disk 5 of Michel Thomas’ Larn Yersel’ Spanish.

Now I'd heard all the hype about Apple's great design skills and how they beat the pants off Microsoft stuff. I did a bit of research on various “thingies” and I listened to my daughter and some friends waxing lyrical about the merits of iPods. So off I went to the shops just before the family holiday in May, intent on getting one to reduce the amount of luggage I had to carry. This would be “numero uno” in the MP3 thingy justification stakes to improve my Spanish while I relaxed by a quiet pool in Rhodes.

Had a look at a few and have to say the iPod did look the business, neat and a nice choice of colours. So after about 5 people in the shop had asked me if I needed any help, I finally said yes to one. The chappie recommended the iPod, it had excellent sound reproduction, was very popular, (which I knew already) and very “intuitive”. Well the warning bells should have gone off straight away then. Intuitive my ****. If anyone ever says that again I might just deck them.

Foolish person that I am listened and finally decided on a mid price iPod in a nice shade of blue (I don’t do Barbie pink, yuk!). After all I still had to justify the purchase to my husband Eric, so I didn’t go berserk!

Took the little thingy home and opened it up. What a tiny thing to get for such a big price! The only cost comparison I can make is with my diamond engagement ring and that was forty years ago! Never mind I was going to have a great time listening to all those CDs that had been languishing upstairs for years. Wasn't I? Justification, numero dos!


Next surprise, no instructions. In fact no nothing, just the little "thingy", a usb cable and a little pair of ear plug things. Now I have to admit I’m an instruction manual person. Not for me diving in to assemble an Ikea chest of drawers, producing a wonky bookcase, being left with 5 spare parts, then going back to read the instructions and starting again. I always read the instructions. It’s a woman thing I’m sure.

Must just plug it in to the lap top and it’ll play I thought. Well that’s what you do with a lot of stuff like digital cameras and flash keys. Microsoft stuff! So did that & what came up? A folder full of empty Real Player files. Now here’s where I should have heard those flipping warning bells again. This is where I made a BIG mistake, I should have gone to the Apple site and tried to find out a bit more. However as Real Player had popped up I wrongly assumed that’s what I had to use. Must be something to do with the way the lap top is set up.

Here’s where it started to get really painful. I realised that all my CDs were installed on Windows Media Player. Now I know lots of people don’t like Windows stuff, well that’s up to them. I for one absolutely love Windows Media Player and won’t have a word said against it, it’s so colourful and easy to use.

I realised the files wouldn’t be compatible with the iPod but couldn’t be bothered to go down the file conversion route. Had enough of that with my phone. Now in retrospect, that’s why Real Player probably came up on the lap top. Funny how it all comes back to you when it’s too late!

So off I went loading my CDs again for a few hours. Well I didn't have anything better to do did I? Only packing to go away in 2 days! They all showed up great in iTunes on the lap top and I transferred them over to the iPod without a hitch. Brilliant I thought, let’s get cracking. Only one problem, no music showing up on the iPod. Time to give up and sleep on it I thought, come back to it in the morning. Big problem. How do I switch the rotten little thing off? There are no instructions and it isn't obvious. No off switch. Have to ring my son in law to find out.

Morning came, took all the files off and put them back again. Still no luck and the iPod showed over a gigabyte of space used up, so the files were there, somewhere. Now it was time to go to the Apple site and do what I should have done immediately. Find some online instructions!

Have to say there was a really good video on how to set up your iPod so I watched that. After that, I knew that iTunes apparently should have “popped up” as soon as I connected the iPod to my computer. It didn't though and there was no information on what to do if it doesn’t! Still at least I knew I should be using iTunes and not Real Player. So I had to register with iTunes and guess what? Give my credit card details before I could download it, what a bloomin' pain!

Next I had to reset the iPod back to its original state. The instructions were good on how to do that, thank goodness.

Reloaded all the files again (hours of this) but again I couldn’t face file conversions. Great! So now I have all the files showing up on the lap top and I have to transfer them (which was a doddle on Real Player). Not so with this, nothing happened when I tried it.

So now it’s time to go through the diagnostics tests. Get through all of these apart from the last one which says there is a problem, the iPod isn’t “syncing” with the lap top or vice versa. Gives you a great file to save and print out to give to “someone who might be helping you with this”. I ask you! We don't all have an ICT technician lurking in the cupboard. I thought that diagnostic tests would also help you sort out the problem. Well pardon me but Windows does this, so why can’t Apple?

So I go back to the installation video again. I watch it noticing that you have to manually “sync” with iTunes. Problem sorted!

Now I always believe in feeding back to the company, after all they're not psychic and don't know I hate their stuff with a vengeance do they? Well they do now.

Just a few suggestions about this experience for Mr/Mrs Apple (whoever they are) which I sent them.

1. Get your act together and put a note on the tiny bit of paper in the iPod box to say what should happen when you plug in.


2. Give a url to go to in case it doesn’t start up correctly. Not everyone has bought an iPod before and it certainly isn’t intuitive to me.


3. Do something about the diagnostics tests and help people to sort out their problems.


4. Do something about iTunes! It's RUBBISH! Looks out of the ark. Take a look at Windows Media Player.

5. Do something about the registration process. Why should I have to go through this horrendous registration when all I want is to set up an iPod? Maybe I’m unusual but I don’t want to buy music at the moment. Take my card details when I do.


6. Art work! The process isn’t automatic the way Media Player is. Also why can’t it pick up the correct artwork? I’ve selected the correct version of the CD so why can't it find the correct art work. Hate to say it again but Media Player does this no problem.

Conclusion

Not surprisingly, I wasn't very happy with the iPod. Hopefully that would change

I decided to continue to use Windows Media Player on my lap top, it’s a much simpler process and a better experience. Problem is now I would have to buy a separate hard drive to store the duplicate music!

Well that was in May this year.

Now how do I feel? No better!

The whole experience put me off using the iPod. On holiday I hardly used it but my husband really liked it. Well he hadn't had the trauma had he!

I haven't uploaded any more music until today when I found some CDs I really like.

Give it a go, you've had time to get over the grief I thought. Well I got some more today.

Today the iTunes background screen turned purple for some unknown reason and I could hardly read the text to upload the music.

I hate iTunes with a real passion!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If I ever buy another MP3 thingy it won't be an iPod.

Rant over.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Another Rainy Day in Washington

The rain is back again! That Indian Summer was short lived. Where on earth did that saying come from? Just looked it up on Wikipedia, as you do and looks like it came from the USA and means Native American rather than the Indian subcontinent. The PC police don't seem to have got their eyes on that saying. Yet!

Oscar, my long haired moggy of 19 years has just proved cats are just as unwilling to accept their age as I am. Thought it was just me who couldn't accept the aging process and that it's fifty years since I visited and fell in love with Barcelona, screamed at a Beatles concert, Dr Who appeared on our TV screens and John Kennedy was assassinated. Oh heck I'm ancient, it's official!


I heard an unearthly wailing in the garden. Had to be a cat so I checked. Yes, nineteen year old Oscar howling at a beautiful ginger and white moggy at the bottom of the garden. He was visible proof of the spirit being willing but the flesh weak as he stood there howling at this much bigger and younger cat. So as you do, I provided some much needed moral support and walked down the garden towards them. Once he knew the backup had arrived, Oscar sprang into action and chased the alien cat up the fence. Oscar sprang to the top in pursuit but at that point his aging back legs betrayed him, he lost his balance and promptly fell over the fence. True to his male species he nonchalantly got up, shook himself and then chased the other cat into the wood. Wish I'd had my camera. He appeared ten minutes later at the front door, came in, sat on the settee and is fast asleep beside me now, obviously all in the dim and distant past.

Wish I was a cat. Well one with a good home where I'd be fed and watered to my hearts content, with a nice chair to lie on during the day and a warm bed to spend the night on.

Was hoping I'd get out into the garden again this afternoon but the rain put paid to that idea. So I just sat back, enjoyed Diagnosis Murder for a while and cuddled Lauren. Much better than gardening!
Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Stop Procrastinating and Just Do It!

I'm probably the world's greatest procrastinator.

I'm not joking! Really it's dithering, procrastination is just a posh word for it.

Well, I've dithered about for ages thinking about writing a blog and wondering what to write about and then again whether to write one at all. It's been 18 months since I first thought about it when I left my job working for the Connexions Service in County Durham.

It seemed like a good idea to keep a record of my new lifestyle and the things I would do once I had more time on my hands. Ha! Ha! However I took some time to think about it. You see? Procrastination at work again. Anyway, I started to think about what I've done over the last 18 months. After all I'd had such great ideas, hadn't I?

  • I'd enjoy more time with my grandchildren, especially Lauren who's 3.

  • I'd get the house tidied up and decorated as it's been sorely neglected while I've been working. To be truthful it's a tip as I'm such a hoarder and untidy with it. My daughter groans at the thought of clearing it all out when I kick the bucket. I have no doubt that everything will go into a huge skip or two (maybe more).

  • Then there's the garden, also a bit of a tip. Again I've dithered about it for years. Watched loads of TV programmes, read books and drawn up plans and.....nothing. Eat your heart out Alan Titchmarsh!

  • My community website for Washington AboutMyArea NE38 needed some work doing on it. I'd spent ages getting the information on it but it needed more time spent on marketing it.

  • My Spanish language skills also needed improving. I've been going to classes for years but never really concentrated on it. Not enough time, I said to myself. When I retired I'd go and live in Spain for a couple of months. Immerse myself in the language, it's the only way.

  • Then there were lots of small projects I'd started and never finished. The cross stitch panels, a half finished jumper, a crochet cloth and so on.

    So 18 months on what have I achieved? Well, if I'm honest, not a lot!

  • However, I'm still here and I'm happy. I suppose they're my greatest achievements!

  • The house has had a couple of rooms "tarted up" but it's not looking a lot better thanks to my hobbies and untidy habits. I've watched quite few programmes on doing up houses but have to say I didn't really take to any of their ideas. The minimalist look isn't my thing. Too 'sixties for me and I've already been there. I'd give the TV House Doctor a thump. Give me "homely" any day.

  • My Spanish hasn't improved at all. Probably got worse! Haven't been able to go to Spain for a couple of months due to "grandchild responsibilities". I don't know why I haven't got into the habit of just switching on a "Larn Yersel" Spanish CD to listen to (on the rare occasions I force myself to do some housework) or maybe picking up the books which have been lying about and adding to the mess. I can only assume I don't really want to. Strange!

  • The garden? Well the garden fairies haven't visited sadly. It hasn't been touched apart from occasionally having the lawn cut, thanks to two of the worst summers I can remember for donkeys years. At present it's like a quagmire due to the clay soil.

  • I've really been enjoying myself with my grandchildren, Nathan & Lauren. I've often wondered whether I've enjoyed them more than I enjoyed my children. It's probably my memory playing me false but there's not so much to worry about and much more time for fun. Things like trampolining, face painting and generally jumping and dancing about like a loony.

  • I love reading but I normally reserve it for holidays because once I pick a book up, I find it hard to put it down until I finish it. However I've read a few books recently. Alan Alda's autobiography, "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed" was a great read. He seems just as nice in real life as he did on M.A.S.H. and he's not a womaniser. Must get his latest book "Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself". I enjoyed one of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse stories, I just had to remember to keep a dictionary close by. I thought I had a reasonable command of the English language but occasionally I came across a word I didn't know or couldn't remember like "otiose". That's the only word I can remember looking up! One book I re-read was an Ellis Peters Cadfael story. I love the TV series with Derek Jacobi; another daytime TV treasure I re-visited on rainy days this summer. Well there were plenty of them, rainy days I mean. Decided I'm going to continue reading but I'm going back to using the public library as our bookshelves are all full and I don't want any more books lying about. It's very green and saves cash too!

  • As I mentioned earlier, due to the bad weather this summer, I've discovered I like "some" of the daytime TV programmes. Not really a good idea to get too hooked on this as it stops you getting things done. Although I have to say it's been great to revisit Inspector Morse, Cadfael and Poirot. Mind you, one series I'd love to see again is M.A.S.H. I don't think they have ever shown it in the UK since the original screening way back. It's a classic and would have a whole new audience of younger viewers who have never had the chance to see it. Would probably top the ratings too; but then I'd never get any work done.

  • I've finished a couple of sewing projects I started earlier and still progressing with a few others.

  • I've spent hours on the Internet. Far too much time but I've enjoyed it. Time to focus on more tangible productive things now.


    So what now?

    Well I'm going to take up my patchwork & quilting again. Found lots of information on the Internet about groups in USA, Australia and down south. Don't seem to be many groups here in the North East which is a pity but I'm still looking. On the off chance that anyone reads this blog and has some information about a group near to Washington, Tyne and Wear, please get in touch via my website page.

    I've been looking for a holiday in Spain for a week to try to motivate me to start my Spanish again. Also been looking for some Spanish classes at the local college with no success. This seems ironic given the constant criticism about the UK having such poor language skills and how young people are losing out in the international job market due to this. The colleges seem to be focusing on basic skills. That's no bad thing, but I don't understand why so many people have poor basic skills when so much has been spent on education over the years. I came from a poor mining town and can't remember anybody in my class not being able to read. Gripe over!

    Task achieved! I've finally written a Blogg and the weather's great for once, so I'm off to do some gardening.

    Now, stop the dithering, just press the button and publish!

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