August Update

Has it really been 3 months since I last updated the blog?

Hmm, nothing interesting to report really. What can I say…

  • I’ve been incredibly busy at work, six day weeks and evening teleconferences galore. :-l
  • We’ve finished re-decorating the living room, it looks great. :d
  • Charlotte is a cheeky monkey. :(|)
  • Sara’s sleep problems haven’t improved much. |-)
  • My Land Rover is terminally ill, suspected head gasket failure. :((
  • We’re having trouble with our tenant back in the UK. b-(
  • Even though we now have Foxtel cable TV, we still download virtually everything we watch (except for the new series of Underbelly). We’re currently ploughing our way through seven seasons of The Shield, which we somehow missed when it originally aired. :-??
  • I’m whizzing through plenty of books on my Kindle. Recent ones worth a mention:
  • I bought a couple of new gadgets:

I’ve put together this video clip out of photos taken whilst Sara and Charlotte were in England. Right click the link and choose “Save Target As” to download it (68Mb).

Champions League build up

It’s the Champions League Final today — kick off is in a little over 14 hours, at 4:45am here in Melbourne. |-)

I’ve got the house to myself while Sara and Charlotte are overseas, so I’m having a United day today. I’ll be watching the Treble season DVD, the Road To Moscow DVD and as many previews and TV build-up programmes as I can download (like the excellent YouTube clip, above). I might even have a silly online bet or two. \:d/

It feels like FA Cup Final day used to be when you were a kid, long before the days of Sky. I just hope the real United turns up this time, unlike the last time we met Barcelona. ~X(

I’d better pop to the shops and make sure I’ve got enough supplies to keep me going. ~o)

Edit: Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United. It looked promising for the first ten minutes, then Barca showed their class. That was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from any team, we were completely outplayed. No complaints, there’s a reason they’ve won it three times in the last five years. Ah well, we still got title number 19 this year and there’s the massive Charity Shield to look forward to in 10 weeks. =d>

A few beers in Melbourne

Yesterday Andy, John and I spent an afternoon wandering around Melbourne city centre. Having lived here for five years, I can’t believe we haven’t had an all day pub crawl before now. :-??

First stop was the Charles Dickens Tavern on Collins St where, over a pint of Tetleys, we reviewed the itinerary that I’d put together the night before. Most of the pubs on my list are quirky, which either serve Aussie craft beer or have a good range of imported stuff. I like the Charles Dickens; it’s hidden away in a basement below one of Melbourne’s busiest streets, but inside it’s like stepping back to the 1970s, it has a few English beers on tap and it’s also a great place to watch football (they show every big game).

Next up, just across the road to the Sherlock Holmes Inn. This is another low-ceilinged downstairs bar which you could easily miss if you didn’t know about it. It’s only a small place and, on a Friday lunchtime, it was packed to bursting. Hobgoblin was on draught here.

Third was the Mitre Tavern, pictured above, which was possibly my favourite find of the day. This claims to be the oldest building in Melbourne, dating back to 1837, tucked away in a laneway between Collins St and Little Collins St. It’s a real gem — lots of interesting drinks on tap and a shady beer garden. Our choice of Mountain Goat Steam Ale wasn’t great, but you’ve got to try these things. I’ll definitely go back there, it’d be fantastic in summer.

The Saint & Rogue, a little further up Little Collins St, was next. A pint of St Arnou and some food to soak it up. Although the food was good, the beer wasn’t up to much. We were also asked to move from the nice comfy Chesterfield seats to make way for a private function which didn’t seem to materialise, so I wasn’t too impressed with this one.

Heading back into town, we stopped off in the Irish Times Hotel, supposedly Melbourne’s smallest Irish pub. Nothing special, would probably skip this one next time.

No day out in Melbourne would be complete without a visit to a James Squire Brewhouse, so we called at the Portland Hotel on Russell St for a pint of their porter.

We then paid a visit to The Elephant & Wheelbarrow on Exhibition St, always worth a visit for the range of English beers on tap.

Our last stop, just across the road, was the European Bier Cafe which was packed to the rafters, as you’d expect on a Friday evening. I reckon this place would be great at a quieter time, but it was just too loud to be enjoyable despite the excellent draught Hoffbrau.

We hopped on the train where we finished the day off with a really good curry in Bayswater. (Thanks for picking us up, Johanne.)

Considering most Aussie pubs are rubbish — they look the same, serve the same range of uninteresting mass-produced licensed beer, even serve the same food — I think we did pretty well for a first attempt at a Melbourne pub crawl. It’s all about doing a bit of homework and planning the route. Next time we’ll probably focus on a different part of the city, such as Richmond or Collingwood where there are a few interesting places.

On my way home

Well my 2011 European tour is about to draw to a close; I’m currently sitting at Manchester Airport waiting to begin my long journey home. :-h

After working in Belgium and Germany, I spent just over a week in England but feel like I squeezed even more into it than in our previous visits. Sara and Charlotte were already over here, of course, so I joined them at Granny’s house last Saturday and they’ll stay on for another couple of weeks.

The first thing I noticed was how much Charlotte’s speech and behaviour had changed in the two weeks while they’ve been away: she’s turned into a real little chatterbox and plays differently than she did before, but she has somehow managed to pick up some very naughty words which, to be fair, she uses in correct context, but we definitely need to nip that habit in the bud! [-x

It was great to catch up again with family and friends, including the traditional all-dayer in Manchester with Adrian, Duncan and Paul; the evening pub crawl around Lees with Max & Diane, Rob & Lynda, Stuart and Phil; and the football in the Black Horse and a curry out with Tom. We even managed a day on Blackpool beach — 10 degrees C with gale-force winds! As usual the time flew by all too quickly and it wasn’t possible to see everyone this time.

My edible highlights included:

  • Four curries (Vamasaki at Grains Bar [x2], Blue Tiffin in Higginshaw, Swadesh in Manchester
  • Two “Village Special” kebabs from Lees
  • A fabulous 7-course Tasting Dinner with matched wines at Hipping Hall, in the Lake District — worth a separate blog entry
  • Countless pints of real beer, often accompanied by proper Pork Scratchings
  • Pork pies galore, black pudding and even ‘duck a muffin’

My final challenge will be getting back into Australia tomorrow. Sara and I both stupidly allowed our Australian Permanent Resident visas to expire and therefore, as we left Melbourne, discovered that we wouldn’t be allowed back into the country. It’s really just a formality (and $260) to get a new one, but it does take time to process: Sara applied for one via the High Commission in London when she arrived and has now received it.

But, as I knew I wouldn’t be staying in England for more than a week, I tried the “quicker” method and made my online application four days before I left Melbourne (as advised by Immigration officials at the airport). Unfortunately due to the long Easter weekend (plus Anzac Day public holiday in Australia), my “on shore” application wasn’t even looked at until I was already out of the country (and therefore no longer eligible for an “on shore” visa), so they suspended it. :-< After exchanging several emails with Australian Immigration, they've advised me to request a temporary "Border Visa" which will be issued on my arrival in Melbourne. However convincing British Airways to fly me to Australia without holding a valid visa has been a real pain, including having to check in at Manchester some 12 hours before my scheduled flight (to ensure they could speak directly to Canberra for approval). :-ss Anyway, they've just checked my bag through to Melbourne and I've got two boarding cards in my hand, so I think I'll be OK. That said, I'm expecting to be held up at Melbourne airport for quite a while when I arrive tomorrow -- I'm on the A380 via Hong Kong, so it's a good bet that some of the 525 passengers will be trying to smuggle tiger penises and suchlike through customs; I don't think dealing with some idiot who forgot to renew his visa will be very high on their list of priorities. :-w If you don't hear from me, I'll probably be stuck somewhere in transit like Tom Hanks in "The Terminal“.

[Edit: Picture to follow]

They’re on the way back

Sara and Charlotte are currently on their way back to England. :-ss

I drove them to Melbourne airport last night and, after a bit of a drama at check-in regarding the validity of our Australian Visas, they boarded flight QF29 to London (via Hong Kong). Hopefully Charlotte slept for most of the first flight, as it was already well past her bedtime when we said our goodbyes. :(( ๐Ÿ˜ก

I haven’t heard from them along the way because Sara’s phone plan isn’t enabled for international roaming, but I’ll assume they’re OK. According to Google the flight left Hong Kong on time and it should be touching down at London Heathrow in around four hours from now. Then it’s just a short shuttle flight up to Manchester where Louise should be waiting to whisk them off to Granny’s house for the next seven weeks. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

My own trip begins on Tuesday, when I fly to Brussels for a couple of days and then on to head office in Munich. I’ll be arriving in Manchester myself late on the 7th May, staying for just for just a week.

So what am I doing with myself for the next couple of days? Rattling around the house on my own, currently tidying toys away while listening to music at a much louder volume than I normally can, trying to figure out how the washing machine works… Sport channel is on Foxtel ready for United vs Everton, beers are in the fridge, toilet seat is up! <:-p \:d/ Call or text me when you can, Sara. :)] :*

Back from the Gold Coast

We’ve recently returned from a short holiday in Queensland. ๐Ÿ™‚

This time we went with Andy, Johanne, Chloe, Laura and Caitlin and stayed at the Magic Mountain holiday apartments, which they’ve used a few times before. The accommodation was really good actually, except for the four flights of stairs up from the basement car park — not fun when carrying a sleeping child. #:-s

Charlotte thoroughly enjoyed playing with the kids in the “Sandy Pool”, despite a bit of a scare on the first night when she ran away from us, jumped in without her SwimFin float and promptly sank to the bottom. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

We bought unlimited passes to the Dreamworld and Whitewater World theme parks, allowing us to mooch around at our leisure rather than trying to cram all the rides and attractions into a single visit. Charlotte loved the Merry-Go-Round, the Giant Teacups, the Vintage Cars and Wiggles Big Red Car, but wasn’t so impressed with the Log Flume or the River Rapids ride. We cooled down in the water park, spending most of the time playing with the Water Cannons, on the Nickelodeon Pipeline, in Wiggle Bay or in the huge Wave Pool. :d

When not at the theme parks, we found a couple of hours to enjoy a lunch at the Mount Tamborine Brewery and also pushed the boat out with a drinks at the swanky Palazzo Versace hotel. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Unfortunately the holiday came to an end all too soon and we’re back to the daily grind. :-< Edit: I’ve just added a new gallery with photos from the trip.

Gadgets and Gizmos

I’ve just noticed that the “Gadgets” category hasn’t been updated in the last 18 months. l-)

Obviously I’ve bought loads of gizmos since then, so here’s a round up of some of the more interesting ones:

  • Logitech Squeezebox Boom (Wifi Internet Radio)

    I bought this a couple of years ago so that I could listen to live football commentary. It basically operates like any regular bedside radio/alarm clock, except that instead of picking up AM/FM signals it connects wirelessly to the internet and streams live radio channels from all over the world. I usually have it tuned to UK Talk Sport, but occasionally listen to Manchester Radio Online (featuring James Stannage) or podcasts such The Football Ramble or the Hamish and Andy podcasts.
     
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH1 (Digital Camera) & Eye-Fi (Wifi-enabled SD memory card)

    Charlotte recently broke our old digital camera so this is the replacement. We only need a simple point-and-shoot camera and this one does everything we need. The magic part is the Eye-Fi SD card which I bought online recently. As well as acting as a standard camera memory card, it also uploads photos to our computer whenever it’s in range of a wireless network. Everything happens automatically, you just need to switch on the camera. When coupled with Sara’s Google Android phone, it basically provides unlimited memory capacity and ensures the photos are safe as soon as they’re taken.
     
  • Amazon Kindle (Ebook reader)

    I bought this last year when the Australian dollar reached parity with the US dollar and it’s one of my favourite gadgets. The “e-ink” screen is perfect: it’s non-reflective and doesn’t need to be backlit, so you can read it in all lighting conditions without straining your eyes. It’s just the right size, weighs about the same as a regular paperback book and the battery life is remarkable. I use it all the time when flying, which seems to be every couple of weeks at the moment. Since epub format books are so easy to acquire, I doubt I’ll buy many real books in future. I’m currently flicking between Football — Bloody Hell, the Biography of Sir Alex Ferguson and The Art of Deception, the story of arch-hacker Kevin Mitnick.
     
  • Linksys SPA3102 (Voice-over-IP adapter)

    This is another great gadget, allowing us to make dirt cheap international calls via broadband using a standard phone handset. Through the magic of IP-based telephony we even have a permanent real UK in-dial number (0161 354 xxxx), so you can reach us using your free mobile minutes, just like you would any other Manchester number. It’s also great when dealing with useless organisations such as the UK Tax Office, Oldham Council and the estate agent.
     
  • New Computer

    The computer that I built shortly after we arrived in Australia has been upgraded a couple of times since then, but it has been playing up since Christmas — I blame the climate. So last week I bought a few new components and rebuilt it. Here’s the current specification:

    • ASRock P67 Extreme 4 Motherboard — SLI capable, in case I ever need it. Plenty of SATA 6Gb and USB3 ports. (Yes, I’m aware of the Sandy Bridge recall but it’s irrelevant to me, as I’m never going to use the slower SATA 3Gb ports.)
    • Intel Core i5 2500K CPU — the nutter’s choice. Rated at 3.3Ghz officially, mine runs quietly at 4.8Ghz without breaking a sweat. I couldn’t justify getting the 2600K model, this will do for the next three years easily.
    • 8Gb Corsair Vengeance memory — I can’t believe how cheap this stuff is, considering what I’ve paid for memory over the years. I’ll probably get another matched 8Gb soon, so that I can have a huge Ramdisk for the Firefox/Chrome cache and Windows %TEMP% folders.
    • Intel X25-M 80Gb SSD — Although there are newer and faster models available these days, this made a massive difference when I bought it early last year. A larger secondary hard disk drive is still needed for storage, but Windows 7 Ultimate x64 boots up in about 4 seconds now. There’s really no going back once you’ve had a solid state disk.
    • ATI Radeon 5750 1Gb — Again this is nowhere near top of the range nowadays, but it easily handles everything I throw at it. High Definition movies are smooth and games work at 1920×1080 with maximum detail, so I don’t need a $300+ video card.
    • Asus MT276HE 27-inch Widescreen LCD — This is a monster screen, especially as I’m sat only about three feet away from it. Amazing quality, especially considering it was only a few dollars more than the 22- and 24-inch models.

So, what do I need to buy next? ๐Ÿ˜•

Charlotte’s Playroom

I promised that I’d update the blog more often in 2011, so here’s a quick post to show how we converted our downstairs workshop into a bright playroom for Charlotte. I’ve added a new gallery with about 40 photos showing how the work progressed. :-”

Basically we had a large, unused room under the house which the previous owner used as a workshop for building model ships. There was no internal access, you had to go outside to enter through a separate door. Although it was handy for storage, we weren’t really making good use of it. Inside it was pretty basic: exposed rough brick walls, a cold tiled floor, a big old radiator and a couple of fluorescent strip lights. ๐Ÿ™

So, because the room is directly below our living room, we came up with the simple idea of cutting a hole in the ceiling and installing a staircase. As with any renovation project, we hit a few snags along the way:

  • Firstly we would need to smash out some horrible 1970s-style built-in cupboards, move some electrical wiring and relocate two radiators. Unfortunately we discovered that 99% of Aussie plumbers and heating companies refuse to touch “hydronic” heating systems like ours — we ended up finding a friendly ex-pat plumber who knew what he was doing, but it still cost us hundreds of dollars. Removing the fitted cupboards also made a bit of a mess of the plaster upstairs.

  • Then we discovered that the joists ran across the room, rather than lengthways along it. This meant that we’d have to cut through several load-bearing beams, requiring additional reinforcement.

  • We also received a couple of ridiculous quotes for the downstairs plastering work — over $2000! We thought we’d struck lucky when we met a plasterer at the local pub who quoted reasonable rates, but he repeatedly failed to turn up for the job. We ended up hiring a guy from Gumtree, who did a really good job.

  • We decided the room should be a colourful and bright place for Charlotte, so we went with the primary colours theme. The blue is bloody blue and the yellow is effing yellow! (I’m not sure they’re called that on the Dulux paint chart.) Paint is stupidly expensive in Australia and, because we wanted the colours to be really bold, it took several coats to get the right finish.

  • After getting a new carpet fitted, we finished off with some quirky light fittings and stripy curtains.

As you can see from the top picture, Charlotte loves it. That said, she still brings all her toys upstairs to make the living room messy, but we’re working on that. :-w

There’s still a bit of work to do: skirting boards, boxing off underneath the stairs and fitting a new front door (we now have two!) but the room is usable so these jobs can wait. We’re going to continue with the living room next, so that we can call this end of the house finished. The other parts (kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms) is going to be a heck of a lot harder. We’ve also realised that our renovation budget is not going to be enough if we have to rely on tradesmen, so I predict we’ll be learning some new skills this year! #:-s

Blog Maintenance

I’m in the process of updating the blog. Apologies if you receive strange emails: I’ll temporarily disable notifications until everything is back in action.

Things to do:
– Take a backup
– Upgrade WordPress from version 2.0 to 3.04
– Temporarily disable subscriptions
– Strip out all outdated plug-ins
– Re-add custom smileys
– Install new photo gallery plug-in
– Rebuild photo galleries

– Make new logo/image for the blog header
– Check old content still works, remove dead hyperlinks
– Re-enable subscriptions

Edit: I’m off to Sydney so I’ll have to carry on with this when I get back on Wednesday.

Edit II: Well I’m back from Sydney — it was incredibly hot (42ร‚ยฐC). I’ve made a start of the photo galleries but it’s going to take a while to sort through the thousands of badly-named images and put them into some kind of order. I’ll keep plugging away.

Edit III: I’m still going. Most photo galleries are now back in action.

Edit IV: That’ll do. If you come across anything broken/missing let me know.

First post of 2011

Happy Halloween, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and all that. <:-p Apologies for the lack of posts over the past few months, but with Sara keeping everyone updated regularly via Facebook, I didn't think about the blog much. :">

However I realise a few of you, like me, don’t really bother with Facebook so here’s a summary of what’s been going on:

  • We finally started on the house renovations, turning the dingy basement workshop into a colourful playroom for Charlotte. I will blog separately about this, with photos soon — I promise. :-“
  • The festive period came and went: Christmas Day was held at John & Marion’s, with Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve at our house. The weather was great and the barbecues were excellent, but somehow sunny Christmases just don’t feel the same. We’ll have to think about doing something different in 2011. =((
  • Charlotte really enjoyed Christmas though. It was special this year because she’s at an age where she understands it a little better and could get excited by the build-up: writing her letter to Father Christmas, decorating the tree, opening the advent calendar each morning, leaving milk and cookies out for Santa and the reindeer. Not to mention opening the bazillion presents she received from family and friends. ๐Ÿ˜ก
  • Our swimming pool still resembles a swamp, as I haven’t ran the pump at all this year and the chlorinator is broken. Even the ducks have stopped coming to crap in it, which suits the frogs fine. With half a dozen great public outdoor pools within a 10 minute drive, I don’t see much point in throwing money at this problem so we’re considering filling it in and laying a lawn over it. >:p
  • Work is much the same, although people haven’t been mentioning the cricket as much recently for some reason. ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Football wise, I’ve never seen United play so badly over such a long period and yet somehow they remain unbeaten and top of the league. I’m surprised we’re still waiting for City to implode in comedy style, it’s surely only a matter of time. =))
  • We were umming and aahing about whether to have a holiday back in the UK next year, but then Sara managed to get hold of some Take That tickets for Manchester and the decision was made. She’ll be flying out the week before Easter with Charlotte and staying for about 7 weeks; I’ll be going to Germany on a business trip and then joining up with them, just for a week, in May. This will be the first time either of us has flown on an A380 aircraft and, typically, Qantas has recently had a number of mid-air dramas. :-ss

I’ve put together another video clip of photos taken since last time I blogged. Right-click and choose รขโ‚ฌล“Save Target Asรขโ‚ฌย on this link to download the movie (39 Mb).

A bit of feedback would be appreciated, to let me know whether people are still actually reading the blog. So please leave a comment if you’re still following this website, otherwise I’ll probably have to learn how to use Facebook instead. :-h