Thursday, 25 December 2008

Happy Christmas

We're at the airport now, about to board our flight back to the UK. We've managed to use all our spare cash up buying extra gifts so now we're left with photos and memories. We've had a great time in Japan and look forward to boring everyone with our stories. Happy Christmas!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Leaving Kyoto

Kyoto has been a great base for the last week. As a city it's good in itself; ringed by scenic hills (steep-sided but not too high, clothed in pine trees) and small enough to be easily manageable it has a huge number of sites of interest and good public transport. We've nipped from venerated temple to zen garden to lamp-lit bamboo forest by bus at a leisurely pace.

Kyoto's central position on Honshu has made a good base for wider exploration too. We've day-tripped to Hiroshima to see the peace memorial and the island of Miyajima for the floating torii (and tourist-mugging deer). We've overnighted in a temple at the top of mt. Koya ("Koya-san") and wandered amidst the 200,000 moss-covered graves in the cemetary, cathedral-like with its tall stands of Japanese cedar. This has naturally led to lots of photo opportunities :-)

Our night in the temple on Koya-san and the last four nights in Kyoto have been in traditional Japanese ("ryokan") accomodation. Think Kill Bill - tatami mats, paper screens, no shoes (very Swedish!), bedding rolled out on the floor and lots of sitting cross legged at low tables.

The ryokan in Kyoto is a very interesting place. It's been run by the same lady since it opened in the 60's and some of the furnishings - particularly the TV and bakelite phone - seem to be original. The place was groundbreaking in its time for catering cheaply to foreign tourists in a traditional manner - there are Japanese newspaper clippings and stills from TV interviews in the 60's and 70's attesting to the fact. There are also articles from foreign newspapers (eg NY Times) with some fantastic photos of tourists with big moustaches, bigger flares and flowery shirts. The journalistic style of the time seems to have been for fantastically posed shots that focus on the travelling westerner ("yes, you too could be here"): the smiling tourist with a flower in her hair waving goodbye to her hunky friend on the balcony above - the ryokan frontage and canal opposite being mere incidental backdrop. There's a great shot of a middle aged gentleman, neatly trimmed with the conservative look of a bank manager, wearing a yukata (Japanese dressing-gown type robe) and kneeling down ready to try some green tea. He looks stiff and uncomfortable with a very fixed "I really am enjoying this, honestly" smile; it's easy to imagine the BBC english commentary "Here is Mr Smith, having a jolly good time sampling the local culture in Japan."

What really makes this place is the friendliness of the owner and her son - not just the normal Japanese politeness but a real warmth of welcome whenever we return from a day out (or even the laundrette round the corner). The son gets very excited when he discovers that K is Swedish - it seems they've had a lot of Swedish visitors since the early days. We get a goodbye in Swedish ("Vi ses") whenever we go out. You can't escape the Swedish mafia...

Saturday, 20 December 2008

TV star

Firstly, thanks for all the comments - it's good to know I have readers :-)

It was particularly interesting to see the video that Steve linked to - me being a menace to society at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. We knew that it was the last day it was open to tourists before we went (as the period around new year is the busiest of the year for them). The TV crews were there in force - interesting to see the story spun as "tourists are an evil menace". There are clearly many sides to this - we certainly saw thoughtless people blocking traffic in what is a busy working market, but we also saw many tourists behaving with due courtesy and it really is a fascinating place to visit. Didn't see any fish licking, but you cant have it all.

My abiding feeling is that the market is missing an opportunity - it treats visitors as a barely tollerable evil. It lets them in, but provides zero signage or guidance and then gets upset when they (given little option in the cramped conditions) get in the way. Where's the entrepreneurial spirit? What I'd hope for is some signage and defined paths for tourists that gives them guidance (we certainly had our "where should we be" moments) and keeps them out of the way. Once you have them where you want them you can then start to extract cash from said tourists - sell them stuff, give demonstrations of fish skills (OK, I'm reaching here!), charge for the best bits etc. If I ran the market it'd be different...

Anyway, its apparently moving to new premises in 2012 so there's a perfect opportunity to build in the overhead tourist gantry that allows us gaijin to see what's going on in a frankly quite amazing place without us getting in the way and being demonised on TV for it.

Apparently its going to rain tomorrow, so I might be back on line quite soon.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Teenage fashion, fishmongers and snow monkeys

So, no post for a few days and now loads to catch you up on. We spent Friday in Tokyo exploring Harajuku (teenage fashion stores rubbing shoulders with haut couture and temples). We loved the vibe of this area and will be spending our last couple of days based here before flying home. We headed up to Shinjuku as the sun set and I spent a few happy minutes taking in the view from the top of the Metropolitan Government Building (see right) before we headed off to find ourselves a basement yakatori restaurant (dont ask which, we'll never find it again!).

Saturday saw us getting up at 04:30 (!!!) to go to Tokyo's premier fish market. We got lost in the dark outside the hotel and descended into chaos as we reached the market itself. The market doesnt encourage visitors - it views them as a nuisance and possibly misses an opportunity in the process. This means no signage, which for us meant wandering lost through a major industrial facility dodging mini fork lifts and hand-drawn carts until we finally happened upon the huge sheds full of row upon row of seafood stalls. These were in the process of setting up as we arrived, getting ready for the influx of restauranters buying their day's worth of produce. The whole place was incredible, all the more so when we finally found (stumbled on) the tuna auctions. These are the center-piece so far as spectacle is concerned, highly animated auctioneers crackign through lines of torpedo-sized frozen tuna at lightning speed.

That was only the beginning of our day. After a swift breakfast we caught our first shinkansen up into the mountains to the small town of Obuse. After dropping our bags we moved straight on again to search out the snow monkeys (well done to Iz for this recommendation - they dont really feature in the guide books). These little guys are awesome, totally habituated to humans and happy as you like as they paddle around in their own hot spring. We spent a couple of hours here photographing the little fellows and just watching them play around and interact with one another, so close we could reach out and touch them. A definite high point of the trip so far.


After that we deserved a rest, so we spent Sunday chilling in Obuse and sampling sake (we're experts now). My achievement of the day was eating an oyster (!?!).

Today has been another travel day - back through Tokyo to Kyoto. We're settled in our hostel now with the next few days travel booked up and enjoying connected life once again (the bar in the hostel has free fast wifi - does life get better?). Expect an update tomorrow evening after our day-trip to Hiroshima.

807 photos taken so far - be afraid...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The holiday starts here

My final meeting is over, I've sent my last email and I'm finally free to enjoy my holiday! My first step was to extend our stay in Tokyo by one more day so that we can actually go exploring. We're now here until Saturday, then off for two nights in Obuse up in the mountains north of Tokyo.

The main items on the agenda for Obuse are lots of chilling out, sampling the sake from the local brewery and hopefully catching sight of the local snow monkeys as they bathe in their own onsen. After Obuse we'll be off to our new base in Kyoto, whence to explore western Japan.

Right, I'm off for a beer...

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Jet lag and Christmas lights

My previous post ended in a cliff-hanger: would we actually leave Heathrow at all? In the end we did, and got to Tokyo only about three hours later than planned.

Our hotel turns out to be a good one, and thanks to a recommendation from Cam (thanks!) we've got a room with great views across Tokyo, past the Tokyo Tower and right out to Mt Fuji on the horizon. We checked in just in time for a fantastic sunset and then dragged ourselves out for a quick dinner before collapsing in an exhausted heap.

Japan seems to be well suited to inflicting maximum jet lag if you're travelling from the UK. Midnight in Japan is 3pm UK time, making it very difficult to get much sleep, and 9am Japan time is midnight in the UK - just as we want to get up and do stuff we start to feel the full crushing weight of our sleepless night. Dealing with daytime tiredness isnt too bad as Starbucks are omnipresent, but not being able to sleep at night is right annoying. I plan to complain just as much on my return to the UK when I fall asleep at 3pm and wake up at midnight :-)

Japan is much more into Christmas than I expected, what with it being a predominantly Buddist nation. It isnt actually a national holiday, but most kids get told about Santa and get presents and there are decorations everywhere. Just walking through the shopping malls near our hotel we've seen a whole range of light shows (with musical accompanyment and smoke machines, naturally). There are also Christmas markets galore and other special events too.

We stumbled across one such special event last night whilst on our way back to the hotel after dinner. The thumping dance music and crowd of interested onlookers was what first picqued our interest. The center of attention turned out to be a Japanese dude with an easel. He was wearing some kind of portable mixing desk (to control the music DJ-style) and dancing around quite vigorously. While doing this he was also painting a picture, using a range of paints, spray cans and charcoals. As you do. All quite normal, I'm sure. As he finished each picture he presented it to a member of the audience as a gift before switching tune and moving on to a new creation. When we moved on after 15 minutes he was on to his third picture, set quite appropriately to dancy festive music.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Tokyo false start

K and I are off to Japan today on a (partly working, for me at least) holiday. Sadly we're still at Heathrow at present, sitting in the lounge while our plane is searched by security staff. It was already running an hour late when we boarded, only for someone to discover an unaccompanied camera. No-one claimed this dastardly item, so we've all had to leave the plane again while it's searched (to see what else has snuck on, I guess). Still, at least we got a glass of wine first.

Once we do get to Tokyo we'll be staying there until Friday. I'll be doing a bit of work while K swans about the place amusing herself. After that we're thinking of heading into the mountains to see the snow monkeys, and then on to Kyoto for a big dose of temples. This may all change of course, depending on what takes our fancy - we'll keep you posted. Maybe we can get back on our plane soon...

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Weekend in Torpet

I've uploaded some photos taken by K and myself this weekend just gone while we were in Sweden. They're mostly of Sissi, Lisbeth and Lars' cute doggy.

...and all I got was this chocolate

So Symbian has been bought by Nokia. To celebrate the fact, we each got a bar of (Finnish) chocolate. Let's hope we don't look back on this as the high point!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Christmas on Carnaby Street

While out doing a spot of Christmas shopping this evening I happened on the fantastic decorations on Carnaby street. The snowmen must be 20 feet high! Below them is a huge crowd shaking off the downturn blues by enjoying the one-night-only 20% sale in all stores.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Fried rice with pancetta, leeks and sweetcorn

I cooked my own dinner this evening (!) and without recourse to a recipe*. In a nod to Rob at Welsh Onion I thought I'd blog about it.


So, back late and not much food in the house; what to do? Maybe slice up an organic leek with an even ten slices of finest Italian pancetta, brown it all in a pan, add a tin of sweetcorn and fry a little further. Then perhaps mix in a portion of rice and liven things up with a dash of chilli oil before serving with parmesan shavings and a garnish of freshly picked flat leaf parsley. Ooh yeh.

* In the interests of full disclosure I guess I should add that I find this recipe most successful when I'm blindly taking orders from Kristin.

Coming up later this week, the best of the photos from our weekend at Iz's birthday retreat in wildest Essex.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Other interesting blogs

Just for Dad, I've added an "other interesting blogs" section over on the right (down there below the photos...) so that everyone can find Kristin's blog more easily.

Sorting out the garage

There's been no DIY on the blog for what seems like weeks - shocking! To make up for that I have a flurry of activity to report on this weekend. In the bathroom the pipes have been boxed in and the towel hooks are now up on the wall. Curtains and sheep have been hung and the final - annoying - floorboard in the bedroom has been nailed down (after a couple of false starts - it was a tricky bugger). Peace now reigns.


We've also completed some much-needed work on the garage, filling in the big gap in the end and also adding some cladding to the sides to pretty much weather-proof the structure. With winter coming on strong this is a good thing - it should give the mower a fighting chance of surviving until the lawn next needs a trim. This was proper DIY - bolting big bits of wood on, getting to use the jigsaw and *lots* of nailing. A scant few minutes after we finished construction the rain started to fall, allowing the newly improved garage to strut its rainproof stuff. Here's how we did it:


The attractive blue tarpaulin is, I must admit, a somewhat temporary solution. I'm hoping it'll last until January when I should have time to replace it with something more wooden and generally lasting. And now that the big hole isn't there we're going to have to sort out some lighting in the garage - another project for the list...

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Behold the all new favicon

OK, so it's not necessarily the last word in graphic design, but at least my blog now has an icon of its own rather than the generic white-on-orange "B" of most blogs hosted on Blogger.

I bagged the instructions from Dummies' Guide to Google Blogger, created my 16x16 work of art in MS Paint and used The FavIcon Labs to convert and host the icon itself. How cool am I :-)

I also used a hack to hide the annoying navbar at the top of the page.

Mist inversion


Mist inversion
Originally uploaded by Ian Hutton
Just uploaded a few "misty morning" photos that I took a couple of weeks ago after getting up unusually early on a Saturday morning. You can find them in my flickr photo stream.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Izzie piccies

Went back to Bristol this weekend to see the family and took the opportunity to snap a few pictures of Jane & Izzie playing. Well, Jane did say she didn't have enough photos of her and Iz together.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

We have sofas

Today marked another small step for number 13 as the long-awaited sofas arrived. We ordered them in late july and it really is nice to finally be lounging about on one.

The delivery guys were a well matched pair. One said nothing the entire time whilst the other talked constantly, providing a running commentary on whatever he was doing ("I'll remove the packing now by cutting through the bottom - never the top, mind. I'm not using a safety knife as I don't get on with those...").

Blogged from my phone, lying on the sofa just because I can.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

The rumtopf keeps growing

The strawberries and raspberries have now had a week to lounge around in the rum - and as you can see many of them are already losing their colour (don't worry kids, this is all according to the master plan). What with the strawberries taking a pasting I thought it was time to send in some reinforcements. New to the rumtopf today are 1kg of plums and nectarines, nice and firm so they should stand up to the rigors of floating about in a sea of sugary spirits. On that note I threw in another bottle of Barbados' best, taking the ingredients to date to a fantastically healthy:

2.5l Mount Gay Rum
1.1kg Sugar
500g Nectarines
500g Plums
300g Strawberries
300g Raspberries

And there's still space left for some more :-)

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Housework


We've been busy on the house these last weekends. The bathroom is coming along well (see photos) and we've had what will probably be the last good go at the garden this year. The hedge at the front has been hacked back further (found more wall!) and a bulb-field now lies dormant at the front - that should go active next spring.

Much to my dad's undoubted happiness we've both been teetering on top of a long ladder today (not at the same time, obviously) fixing the gaps in the guttering and shoving loose tiles back into position. Come the rains there will hopefully be no waterfalls.

As if that wasn't enough, the piano tuner also dropped by this morning. He spent a good hour whipping our Menzel into shape and fixing the damping on one key. It sounds fantastic now, £50 well spent, and as I type this I can hear K practicing downstairs. The tuner thought that our piano was made in the late 1920's, which actually makes it older than our house.

Next excitement on the house front is scheduled for Wednesday when the sofas arrive!

Monday, 6 October 2008

The fire is alive


The multifuel burner has been an attractive feature of the lounge since we moved in; we liked it from the moment we saw it. Now that the weather has turned cold we thought it might be time to fire it up and see how it runs, so we bought some firewood Saturday morning and set to work.

Saturday and Sunday evening efforts weren't too impressive: the paper and kindling kicked off easily enough and the logs would char and glow, but we couldn't quite get them going properly. This evening Rob and Is popped round for dinner and we thought we'd have a third crack at it. A combination of hacking the logs to pieces with an axe (new purchase!) and emptying the ash pan (I only noticed that today...) seemed to do the trick and we spent a happy hour after dinner sipping wine and watching a couple of logs reduce themselves to cinders. Roll on those long winter evenings.

No posts for a month and then three come along in two days; nothing like consistency, eh?

Moving video

After much procrastination I've finally selected an edit of the moving video and uploaded it to YouTube. Enjoy...


The movie consists of about 680 photos taken (mostly*) at one minute intervals, the camera sat on a tripod in the corner of the lounge. The boys were in charge of unloading the van whilst the girls oversaw unpacking, furniture construction and lunch.

I edited it together with Windows Movie Maker, roping in Photoshop for the annotations. WMM was dead easy to use and did enough to let me get this far, so I cant complain - quite surprising for something bundled free with Windows.

* I had to swap the battery once and I saved time at the end by going to once per 10 seconds for the last few photos of the animated rabbit. But it was mostly once per minute - an intervalometer is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Rumtopf

A rumtopf turned up at number 13 earlier this week, a birthday present from Lasse (thanks!). What's a rumtopf, you may ask? Well, Wikipedia says the following:
Rumtopf, which literally means rum pot, is a German dessert, traditionally eaten around Christmas. A mixture of various kinds of fruit, rum and sugar is filled into a large stoneware pot (the eponymous rum pot) and matured for several months until the fruit is very soft and completely saturated with rum. Rumtopf may be served with ice cream or waffles.
Yum! We stocked up on fresh fruit yesterday and this evening sees the inauguration.

The basic plan is that you kick off the rumtopf some time in the summer, adding fruit as they come into season and topping up with sugar and lots of rum. By the end of autumn your pot should be full and by Christmas it'll taste fantastic. The recipe I'm following (cobbled together from The Hop Shop and GermanDeli.com and reproduced here for my own sake as much as for anything) is as follows:

To start:
  • Wash and dry the first chosen fruit, removing any stems, seed and pits
  • In a separate bowl cover the fruit with an equal weight of granulated sugar and allow to sit for one hour (example: 500g of fruit and 500g of sugar)
  • Place the fruit, sugar and any juices left in the bowl into the Rumtopf
  • Pour in enough rum or brandy to cover the fruit (use good stuff, 40%+)
  • Weigh the fruit down with a clean saucer or plate (it's important that the fruit doesn't break the surface as the alcohol is preserving it)
  • Cover the opening of the Rumtopf with cellophane (to prevent evaporation) and place the lid on top
  • Store in a cool place away from heat, sunlight and anyone who might drink it
For each additional layer of fruit:
  • Follow the instructions above, but use only half as much sugar (example: 500g of fruit and 250g of sugar)
  • After the fruit and sugar has rested for one hour, gently add this mixture onto the earlier layer
  • Do not stir as this will break up the fruit
  • Add more rum or brandy to cover the new layer
  • Cover with fresh cellophane
Throughout the summer, repeat the process for each new fruit until your Rumtopf is full. Then allow the entire mixture to sit for another 4 to 6 weeks. It is best at 2-3 months, which is
just in time for Christmas.

What fruits are good?
  • Cherries (any variety, pitted)
  • Apricots (halves, pitted)
  • Nectarines (halves, pitted)
  • Peaches (remove pits and cut in halves, quarters, or slices)
  • Pears (cored, peeled & sliced)
  • Plums (remove seed and half or quarter)
  • Grapes (sweet seedless red or green grapes are ideal)
  • Strawberries (don't wash, just remove stem & leaves). Strawberries will lose their red color.
  • Raspberries (don't wash). Raspberries will lose some of their red color.
  • Redcurrants and loganberries (removed from stem)
  • Pineapple, with the rind and centre core removed, is best cubed and is usually the last fruit added.
Use ripe, dry but firm fruit and never any that is overripe.

What's not so good?
  • Apparently it is best to avoid watery fruits such as Melon, as they dilute the alcohol.
  • Rhubarb can make the fruits bitter, as can blackberries, which can also discolour the rest of the fruits and spoil their appearance.
  • Bananas (too mushy)
  • Citrus fruits (too acidic)
My strawberries and raspberries have been sugaring for an hour, so I think it's rum time...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Changing rooms

This posting comes to you courtesy of Wireless Godalming. We don't have broadband at the new place yet, forcing me to pop into town for lunch when working at home (it's a hard life!) in order to sync email etc. Doing this today, I discovered that the whole town center is covered by free wifi provided as an experiment by Waverly Borough Council. I'm liking it...

Anyway, on to the main subject of this posting. Staying with the theme of endless updates about our lovely new house... we're now starting to cast our eyes towards some redecorating. There's nothing that really needs doing, but we have many years of pent up "renting, can't decorate" to get rid of. First target is the bathroom, which will be turning a cheery shade of violet in the very near future. I'm trying to get as much done as possible before the joy of DIY wears off entirely :-)

Thursday, 28 August 2008

The piano cometh

There's daily progress at number 13 right now. Yesterday the piano movers came round and swapped out the Fletchers' piano for the one that came with their new house (our "new" piano). The whole thing was pretty efficient: four guys with a wheeled trolley, rolling the piano whenever they could and lifting it when they couldn't. Getting the Fletchers' piano out proved easy enough, rolling it down the garden and along the lane. Getting our piano out of the Fletchers' house proved a little more challenging, involving flipping it up on its end (didn't seem to do any harm!) and removing doors from kitchen cupboards in order to be able to squeeze it through. It was all done within a few minutes and our piano is now pride of place in the dining room, forming an attractive centerpiece for the large pile of boxes. Sadly I've already exhausted my entire repertoire of piano music ("The Yellow Rose of Texas").

After a bit of a battle I also managed to plumb in the washing machine last night. The waste pipe was the challenge - the one that came attached was too short and had a strange end to it that wouldnt attach to the extension tube and joiner I'd bought. AFter a few failed attempts (and resultant emptying of the strategically placed bucket) I've cobbled a joiner together out of a couple of spare lengths of rubber hose. It's survived a whole wash cycle intact so I've hidden all the pipework and intend to forget about the whole thing. Doubtless my dad will check it out when the family come to visit in a couple of weeks' time :-)

Monday, 25 August 2008

Mission accomplished

We're all moved into the new place. No broadband yet so limited blogging, but I'm working on that (at least one local pub has free wifi, as does Rob and Is'...).

Anyway, the move went fine. We had loads of help (thanks guys!) and the sun shone all day (I actually got tanned!). Number 47 is now empty except for rubbish and a bay tree that we managed to forget in the garden (we'll be back for that). At number 13 we've got the kitchen, lounge and bedroom fully functional and the second bedroom/study is coming on well too. The dining room and small bedroom and still chock full of boxes though, ho hum.

This post may be missing a photo but I'll be making up for that soon. I captured the whole move into number 13 in time lapse photography (586 photos coming at ya) and as an added bonus there's a video of the empty house before we moved in. Now, back to that unpacking...

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Oh yes...


We have completion!

Monday, 18 August 2008

All ready to go

Well, we've just about finished the packing now. A few essentials are left (TV, DVD, laptop, microwave...) but almost everything else is boxed up and ready to go. We've even got the champagne on ice! My friend Jouko is sickened by this (the planning, not the champagne), maintaining that you shouldn't start packing until the night before the move, but he spent all night packing before going straight into the move with no sleep last time he switched flats, so I don't pay his advice any great heed.

Tomorrow we get a night off to celebrate our anniversary (2 years!) and then wednesday we should get the keys. No big plans for that night other than being very excited. Thursday evening we start to drip-feed delicate items over in the car, and then Saturday it all kicks off for real. By Monday we hope to be exhausted but comfortable. It's all gone so smoothly up until now that I cant help but be nervous...

Oh, and that picture up the top is just a small portion of our boxes. We have 97 full so far :-)

Sunday, 10 August 2008

flickrvision

Just came across flickrvision. It uses Google Maps to show Flickr photos as they’re uploaded. Did you ever want to see what photos people all over the world are uploading right this minute - well now you can! It's actually quite entrancing, watching the globe spin and a new photo pop up every couple of seconds.

[via Photojojo]

Gifford Circus

We took a break from packing today to go to Gifford Circus, out in the wilds of Gloucestershire. The circus tours the west country each summer, bringing a mix of traditional circus (jugglers, acrobats, clowns), brass band (rescued from a street corner in Paris), fairytale (general air of Eastern mystery) and pantomime (a man in a bear costume - or possibly a real bear if you're Al, who actually seemed quite concerned). The acrobats in particular were superb, playing a violin on a tightrope and juggling their children with their feet (you had to be there). We had a great time, and rounded it off with an excellent pub lunch at the Ragged Cot Inn.

I've posted some more photos up on 23.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

In Helsinki

I'm in Helsinki for a couple of days at the moment, talking to Nokia about being bought. Caught a very nice sunset from the plane on the way over last night, and I'd actually remembered my camera for a change so I snapped it. This went some way to take my mind off the very nervous passenger sitting next to me who spent the whole flight sighing and muttering (in Finnish), holding her head in her hands and drumming her (fake) finger nails on the plastic seatback (not at the same time as holding her head in her hands, obviously). I don't think she enjoyed the view as much as I did...

Operation new house is progressing to plan. The extra boxes have arrived and we're just starting to pack (and throw things away!!!). The van is booked and we get the keys on Wed 20th - two weeks to go!

We've also ordered the sofas. They don't turn up until October, but at least we have a photo of them that we can print out and stick on the wall in the meantime...

Monday, 28 July 2008

Happy memories

Jelte has belatedly posted up a day-by-day account of my sailing stag do (well, the sailing parts of it anyway), along with some of the photos we took. That was a good week :-)

Friday, 18 July 2008

My new toy

Image courtesy of Blog-Shmog
I've been thinking for a while that it would be nice to have an easy way to mark where my photos were taken so that I can view them on a map and get a good overview of my travels. You can place photos on a map in Flickr to set their location, but it's a drag (tee hee) and I'm clearly not that motivated.

So, to cut a long story short it seemed to be the perfect opportunity to buy a new toy. My first stop was a Di-GPS from DawnTech as that would plug straight into my camera and tag the photos as they're taken - what could be simpler. Well, they turned out pretty expensive (£150+) so I decided to look at other options.

After a bit more searching I settled on the AMOD AGL3080 (great review here). Compared to the DawnTech it's a bit of a bargain too (£57 right now from Storage Depot - or you could get one at half the price from the USA).

This baby is a GPS logger - I just switch it on before I start taking photos and then leave it in my bag. It records my location every 10 seconds and when I get home I plug it into my PC and sync the locations to my downloaded photos using time stamps. It runs for ~14 hours on three AAA cells and has enough memory to log for about a month 24/7.

The download and combine stuff sounds like a bit of a faff (that was certainly what I thought at first) but it actually takes moments and there's very good software available for free. Rather than work all this out for myself I adopted All Narfed Up's workflow - why re-invent the wheel?

Geotagging (as its called) is well supported by Flickr and 23 (and elsewhere, I'd think). If you chase those links you'll see that I've uploaded a test photo (of my local pub) to each and they both place it automatically and provide a map overview of all geotagged photos. There's a gotcha (isn't there always?) in that you have to enable full geotagging functionality first. In both cases this option is well hidden (why?? why???), so for the record here it is: 23 (to enable the "places" tab) and Flickr (to enable automatic geotagging full stop).

23 actually had a bug on their website that blocked uploading of my geotagged photo, but kudos to them in that I reported it late last night and they had it fixed by 11am today, emailing me twice in the process to keep me updated. I'm liking these guys more and more.

I didn't think about it too much at first, but there's actually one other big advantage to buying a logger over a direct photo tagger: the logger remembers exactly where I've been. This means that after a walk I can upload the route to Google Earth to see exactly where I got lost, and means that I could log a day's sailing if I ever went again so that Jelte wouldn't have such a tough time filling in his log book.

The bottom line is that I'm a very happy consumer so far and itching to get out into the countryside. Time to go look at the weather forecast...

Thursday, 17 July 2008

No going back now

I just got confirmation from the solicitor that we've exchanged on the new house. No going back now! Suddenly I'm feeling all grown up...

Completion is agreed as Wed Aug 20th and we plan to actually do the moving over the bank holiday weekend that follows. Now we need to get the white goods ordered so that they turn up at the right time. And we need to decide whether we can actually choose some sofas without moving in first to get a feel for the place. Decisions decisions...

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Scientology not universally loved!

It seems some people dont like The Church of Scientology. In fact they're downright unhappy with it. 'Cult' was the term they used - apparently it isnt even a registered religion (you have to register?!?). There were hundreds of them out, all with masks on to illustrate the sinister faceless puppetmasters behind the scenes (or something). Anyway, www.xenu.net is the place to go to get the lowdown, and for the record they were all very nice and friendly.

Monday, 7 July 2008

More photos posted

After a stern ticking off from Inga I've finally got round to posting the photos we took when she came to visit in May (oops!). It all starts off nice and sedately in the garden but soon degenerates into a Wii-fueled frenzy.

Inga: sorry it took so long to post, wont happen again...

In other news, Kristin visited our house to be again today (on the pretext of showing it off to her dad), and after a bit of discussion it seems we've agreed on Wed Aug 20th for completion. We should exchange next week, then the count-down begins for real!

Saturday, 5 July 2008

The contract has arrived

A big manilla envelope dropped onto our door mat this morning: the contract for our new house and a bunch of supporting docs. It seems like we might be getting close to exchange!

We're not quite there yet though - a couple of clauses in the contract need querying and we're still missing an inspection certificate for the boiler. Hopefully we'll be able to close out those issues quickly and exchange in the next week or so. I think we'll bang in notice on the current house on Monday and start the clock ticking there, aiming to complete in late August - quite possibly just before the bank holiday weekend. It could end up as a nice celebration of our wedding anniversary :-)

Lasse is over visiting from Sweden this weekend. We picked him up from Heathrow this afternoon and then persisted in barbequing even though it got decidedly cloudy and cold. Tomorrow we'll be watching the British Grand Prix (on TV, from the safety of the lounge) and on Monday Kristin's taking him on a tour of our new-house-to-be. We'll need to fit some whisky drinking in at some point too, as he;s brought a very nice bottle of Talisker with him! Thinking about it, I could just stop typing and...

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Trash and mortgages

When we were enjoying ourselves in Sweden and Copenhagen two weeks ago we managed to miss bin day. As a result our rubbish, some of which is now over three weeks old, is starting to get quite mature. SO mature, in fact, that the smell hit me today as soon as I started down our drive and a cloud of flies is massing near the back door. I dont envy the dustmen when they return next Tuesday...

And now the mandatory house update: We got a letter from Nationwide yesterday confirming that our mortgage has been approved. Precious little to do now except wait.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Visiting Isabelle (again!) plus house update

I'm still totally over the moon about my new niece, Isabelle. We went back to Bristol for the day yesterday to see the family and get a good bit of cuddling time with Is. As far as I can see she still sleeps almost constantly, though I'm reliably informed that she's very active from about 1am onwards which she seems to have decided is the start of her day. I took the opportunity to snap a few more portraits.

Regular readers will note the change in photo hosting site above. After a couple of weeks playing with Google pictures (aka Picassa) I've come to the conclusion that the UI is ugly, the features limited and the uploader downright painful (Picassa is great if you want a whole photo editing and organisation suite and enjoy having your hard drive scanned, not so good if you already use Lightroom). After a bit of shopping around I've settled on 23, a small outfit based in Copenhagen who have a really slick and attractive UI plus nice features like a calendar view. They are free for up to 30 uploads a month or £16/year for an unlimited account. We'll see how they go...

And now the promised house update. The survey is now complete and didn't throw up any major issues, and the mortgage should come through next week. Our next decision regards when we give notice on our current place - wait until exchange, but then have a two month gap before completion, or put notice in now and risk having no-where to live if everything falls through...

Sunday, 15 June 2008

On vacation in Sweden

We're in Sweden, visiting Mattias, Jenny and Harry and meeting Sally for the first time. Sally is a five month old Bernese mountain dog, almost up to my knees but still a big clumsy puppy. She's not really into playing fetch but seems to love nothing so much as licking and chewing anything that comes into range (me, for example).

We've been subsisting mostly on barbeques, walks on the beach and football, but we're getting by! Shame Sweden couldn't hold Spain to a draw last night, but you can't have everything.

I've posted some pictures up to Picassa, mostly of Harry and Sally.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Off to Sweden

I'm taking a quick break from packing - off to Sweden tomorrow for a long weekend on the beach. That and a bit of football watching (Sweden play Spain on Saturday, cant miss that). Fingers crossed for good weather - apparently the sea is about 20'C...

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Progress on the mortgage

After a bit of badgering yesterday, Nationwide have ground into life. As you'd expect, awakening the beast was a bit of a battle. Dialling the number on their website eventually got me through to a mortgage call center in Swindon. A couple of minutes discussion established that this call center only dealt with "direct" mortgages and that I needed to talk to another call center entirely for an on-line application (oh what a fool I am).

So, I call the new number (I cant be transferred, obviously, and no the number isnt on their website) and get an automated answer as follows:

"Welcome to the Nationwide on-line mortgage call center. Please select an option from 1-4 as follows:
1) Mortgage team 1
2) Mortgage team 2
3) Team 3
4) Team 4"

There's nothing like a clear customer interface, eh :-)

I decided to go with team 1 (why not!) and got through to the Northampton call center where I found out that despite mortgage applications being down by 50% industry-wide they were snowed under with work and doing overtime to deal with the backlog. After a bit of wangling I managed to jump to the top of the pile and get my application assigned.

As of this morning they've sent me some emails, the survey should be happening today, and we have documents in the post that we'll need to sign. Its nice to see something happening on this front - gives me a feeling that we're making progress.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Sunday lunch at Hugo's

After visiting Isabelle on Saturday, Sunday morning we high-tailed it back down the M4 to London for lunch in Queen's Park. The venue was Hugo's and the reason was to meet up with friends.

Lovisa was visiting from Sweden with Sofia (right), and this naturally called for a minor convening of the Swedish mafia. The girls seemed to have a great time (so far as I could tell - it was all in Swedish) and Jon and I had fun with the kids; I'm now something of an expert on "Puppy in my pocket" (warning: link contains dangerous levels of girlie pinkness).

Hugo's was great for taking some photo's - lots of sunlight pouring in and maroon walls providing a colourful backdrop. Cute kids helped too! I've posted my pick of the photos up to Picasa.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Been to see Isabelle

Went back to Bristol on Saturday to meet my brand new niece and to see how the family were doing. Isabelle seems to be settling in well, sleeping whenever she's not hungry and generally having the world revolve around her. She's a gorgeous little thing, and I cant wait until she's old enough to do anything except just lie there and sleep.

Jane and James are bearing up really well - I was impressed how bright and hostly they were considering the tiny amount of sleep they've had this week! I've been trying to persuade them to start a blog so we can keep track of them all, but no luck yet...

I've posted a little album of photos from our visit up on Picassa (as an experiment - I'm considering using Picassa from family / friends albums and Flickr for "arty" photography).

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

I'm an uncle!

In other news, Isabel (or possibly Isabelle - there doesnt seem to be clarity on the issue) Watson popped into the world early yesterday morning. I cant wait to go visit my new niece at the weekend - photos to follow, I'm sure...

The mortgage cometh

The house purchase rolls forward. We've appointed our solicitor (Hart Brown) and also secured a mortgage (3 year fixed @ 6.25%, with Nationwide).

The mortgage was a bit of a struggle: we sat down with our mortgage broker for 2 hours Monday evening, went through the options, picked one and filled in all the forms (and boy were there forms). He submitted that the next morning only to find that Nationwide had upped their rates by 0.3% overnight and our selected mortgage no longer existed. Joy! After some shopping round I found that Nationwide still had a good rate if I cut out the broker and went direct - it's 6.25% instead of 6.05%, but sadly that's as good as we can get. So, one disappointed broker later and after re-entering the data for all the forms (joy) we've got the application in and been approved. So hopefully that's one down (what could possibly go wrong?).

Next I have a bunch of forms from the solicitor to fill in...

Sunday, 1 June 2008

The paintings have arrived

Our paintings arrived today, courtesy of Rob and Iz who met up with Laurie last night. We've wasted no time in finding them temporary homes in the dining room so that we can show them off to all and sundry...

Next we have to decide where their permanent homes will be post-move, and whether they need framing. That and pay Laurie for them, of course (thanks for the credit!).

We're buying a house!

Kristin got an extra special birthday present Friday when the estate agent phoned to say that, against all the odds, our offer had actually been accepted on number 13. All of a sudden it seems we're buying a house!

Panic set in Saturday morning: Can we afford it? Will we fit everything in? Will the sale actually go through? Its all quite exciting :-)

After lunch we spent an hour making friends with the sellers (the Fletchers) and exchanging contact details. This should help build trust for the sale process and is particularly important as they're only moving across the road so they'll be our new neighbours..

We also met the people the Fletchers are buying their next house from (the one across the road). As it turns out the house is being cleared and they're trying to get rid of a piano they dont want. They were very keen for it to stay local and be loved and were very happy when we offered to adopt it. No idea how we'll get it across the road but its all good - not just a new house but an antique piano too. A new era dawns... now we just need a solicitor and a mortgage.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Artwork

Packed Kristin, Rob and Iz into the car and went over to Cirencester last night to visit Laurie and Andrea. After confirming that none of the local pubs served food on Sunday evenings (it seems Godalming isnt alone in this!) we had a good meal at a restaurant and then this morning checked out his current stock of paintings. We ended up getting two, the first of which is...

That's Laurie (not included in the price) with a view over Aberystwyth, plus some detail from the same. We were really happy to get that one - he has a similar one hanging on his wall and we'd thought "that's great, if only he didn't want to keep it..." only to find out that he had another similar one tucked away in the garage waiting for us!
The second painting is a slightly darker and more surreal affair, revolving mostly around fish and the moon. Its the kind that you can stare at for a while, picking out and interpreting new details.


Neither one would fit in the car alongside Rob and Iz so we'll have to go back up again to collect our object d'art at a later date. Hopefully next time it wont be a Sunday and we'll be able to eat at the much praised Twelve Bells...

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Walk on Puttenham Common


Buttercups
Originally uploaded by Ian Hutton
Spring has most definitely sprung, and with it my new blog is up and running. My main aim in writing this is to remind myself where I've been and what I've been up to - my memory was never up to much even at its best!

I escaped gardening duty this afternoon to get in a couple of hours rambling around Puttenham Common and the surrounding area. It was surprisingly quiet - maybe because it was so hot - and I had the place pretty much to myself. The rabbits were out in force, as were the flowers. I found these fine specimens of buttercup in a field just outside Puttenham village, snapped from ground level in a poorly disguised attempt at slacking off from the walk.