Double-Digit Duncan

October 5th, 2019

This year marks the end of an era as we now no longer have any children with ages in single digits! Duncan’s birthday was on a school day so was a fairly quiet affair (although this year we did, at least, remember that he was entitled to wear non-uniform). He’ll also have to wait several weeks for his party due to the lack of anything suitable on at the cinema (or at least that’s the excuse we’re using).

Update time

September 5th, 2019

WordPress has been nagging me for some time that I needed to update the version of PHP this blog is running on and, in particular, Jetpack had finally given up on me. The sticking point has been that the Digital Ocean droplet it’s running on has been stuck back on Trusty Tahr and a previous attempt to upgrade it had gone awry.

I finally took the plunge and set up a new droplet running Bionic Beaver and eventually found the right combination of PHP modules to get everything running again. Whilst I was at it, I ticked another item off my todo list and enabled TLS (trivial with the aid of Certbot and Let’s Encrypt). A late evening but nothing too painful.

On the downside, when I first set the blog up (back in 2005) I used Gallery to manage images. The WordPress plugin died a while back but the Gallery install itself failed to play nicely with the new PHP version. As a consequence, the item to write a script to locate all those <wpg2id> tags and replace them with the appropriate images still remains very much on my todo list. Oh, and then there’s all those GPX files that were being displayed with Google Maps…

Druidic Rave

September 5th, 2019

The children weren’t back at school until Thursday and, as we still have time left on our English Heritage membership, we decided to head to Stonehenge for a visit. I admit that this was largely for my benefit. The children have both been there on school trips. I, on the other hand, just have childhood memories of looking at the stones through the 6ft fence from the road when we stopped at the car park for lunch on our way to holiday in Bournemouth!

Although the road has now been diverted, you can still stand at that same point without paying a penny. The fence has been reduced to 3 feet high but there’s a burly security guard to ensure that no-one takes advantage of this! As a paying guest, you get closer to the stones although you’ll have to come on the solstice or one of the small group tours to actually get amongst them.

The car park has now relocated to ~1 mile away and is adjacent to the shiny new exhibition centre. We decided to walk from there to the stones rather than take the shuttle bus. Unfortunately, more than three-quarters of the exhibition centre is given over to the shop, cafe and toilets, which means what remains feels rather cramped. As with the audio tour, the exhibition struggles with the fact that no-one really knows why Stonehenge is there and probably never will. As impressive as it is, I left thinking “but look what the Egyptians were doing at the same time”!

Oh, and what of the “Druidic Rave”? An anagram of my name!

Camping Capers

September 4th, 2019

On the Bank Holiday Monday we continued on to Gower where we were booked in to camp at Pitton Cross. Admittedly it was not our first choice but, at least in the camping field away from the electric hookups, it was a pleasant enough site. On arrival, we wasted no time in checking out the footpaths that led down to the nearest rocky cove, less than a mile away.

The next morning, we made the slightly longer trek to Mewslade Bay. It was pretty quiet when we arrived but filled up as the day went on. As is my want, I didn’t make it in over my knees but the water must have been fairly warm as the others spurned their wetsuits when bodyboarding. As high tide approached, the sand almost disappears completely and we were almost the last ones off the beach. The day was rounded off with a lovely meal with friends over in Oxwhich.

Wednesday was forecast to be wet and it didn’t disappoint. I did quite a lot of reading whilst Christine and the children dodged the showers with a walk to Rhossili. The sun re-emerged in the evening when we went over to Port Eynon, picking up fish and chips on our way back to the tent. We then copied our neighbours as they tried out their frisbee and then kite.

The sun was out again on Thursday although the blustery wind made us think twice about our planned trip over the causeway to Worm’s Head. It was fine though and the lush green grass on the island contrasted beautifully against the blue skies and water. As I set off for a run over Rhossili Down, Emma was heading down to the beach for more bodyboarding. Duncan was less keen. Perhaps not surprising when we later discovered that we’ve mistakenly given his younger cousin the wetsuit he wore earlier in the summer and were trying to shoehorn him into the smaller version. He also caught a glancing blow from a bodyboard flapping about in the wind which didn’t improve matters! Nothing that couldn’t be resolved with tea and cake though.

With the wind set to continue through the night, for the second time this summer we decided to pack up our tent that evening and head home. For myself and the children, it wasn’t an end to our camping though. We joined friends for our annual ‘Dad’s camping’ night on Saturday. This year we spurned the New Forest and stayed at Holden Farm on the South Downs. The site facilities were flawless although the grass was a little long where we were in the overflow field.

We made the short walk to the Flower Pots Inn in Cheriton, only to find it closed for the afternoon. As the heavens opened, they took pity on us and supplied beer as we (and others) sheltered in the marquee. When the sun came back, we returned to the campsite for the traditional BBQ. The Dads didn’t manage to stay up much longer than the kids as, having failed to book a firepit, the temperature plummetted as darkness fell. It was also only in the dark that you became acutely aware of how loud the traffic on the A272 was. It’s still a lovely location though and I’m sure we shall be back.

More photos from Gower over on Flickr.

Sunny Severn Half

September 3rd, 2019

In marked contrast to last year’s event, this August Bank Holiday the Severn Bridge Half Marathon was blessed with blue rather than grey skies (perhaps because they removed the sun from the medal?!). I was, once again, rather unsure of how I would fare as I stood on the start line. This time it was the discussion I’d had with a physio three days earlier about starting a run-walk programme to relieve my right knee pain that was praying on my mind.

As it transpired, I need not have worried. Whether it was something the physio had done, the adrenaline from the race, or the large ibuprofen I’d taken that morning, my knee hardly bothered me at all during the race. If anything, the exercises that I’ve been doing over the past couple of months meant my legs felt stronger than usual. As we came back over the bridge, I was able to haul in a few runners and finished 12th in 1:23:52, knocking a full minute off my time from last year. Apparently I’m due a prize as 2nd MV40 although it has to be said that the first placed vet was over seven minutes ahead of me!

Given the sunshine, rather than racing off back to the car as last year, I had fun with the children handing out bananas to finishers and, towards the end, anyone who would take a bag or two off our hands!

Peak District Camping

August 11th, 2019

We had our first trip away of the school holidays last week. We were due to camp in Edale in the Peak District and, with the news full of the reservoir full to bursting-point at nearby Whaley Bridge, we were somewhat concerned about the potential weather conditions. As we arrived at Upper Booth Farm there was, thankfully, no sign of the forecast downpours.

The campsite itself is fairly remote (the final instruction from the sat-nav was to turn right onto the Pennine Way!) but it was a pleasant walk over the fields to the pub in Edale for dinner where we were joined by Christine’s cousin. We started out again that way the next morning to pick up lunch supplies and then continued on up Grindsbrook and on to Kinder Downfall, returning via Jacob’s Ladder.

On Tuesday, we drove to the National Trust car park at Mam Tor and had a quick trip up to the top before walking down into Castleton. We visited the town’s main attraction (one of the many tea shops) and then, as we have English Heritage membership at the moment, Peveril Castle. Not much to see of the castle but, having ascended to the keep, there are good views to be had. We returned to the car via Cave Dale and headed for Blue John Cavern just as the heavens opened. The natural caverns are fairly impressive and the guide was both informative and entertaining.

Christine abandoned us to visit her aunt in hospital the next day. We drove round to Ashopton (most of which is now under Ladybower Reservoir) and walked up and along Derwent Edge. Christine had picked her day as this was the only occasion on which we had to don full waterproofs whilst out walking. Christine returned with her cousin (a different one) and two children and we checked out the other pub in Edale that evening.

The enlarged party went for a walk along Stanage Edge the next day. The rocks were crawling with climbers. We then decamped to Hathersage’s open air pool. The pool is heated but it was absolutely heaving which meant moving about sufficiently to actually stay warm was difficult. I was happy to warm up with a pot of tea afterwards whereas Emma went for the obligatory holiday ice cream.

With rain forecast for the Friday, we decided to pack up a dry tent and head home late Thursday evening.

More photos over on Flickr.

Underground, overground

June 2nd, 2019

We were up in Monmouthshire for Emma’s birthday weekend (her joint party is still a couple of weeks away). The day itself looked decidedly grey so we picked a random nearby indoor tourist attraction to visit: Clearwell Caves. I had been caving there a long time ago as a scout. This time, there was no overalls and helmet, we just went around the show caves. As a natural cave system expanded by mining activity they were more extensive than I was expecting. Not on the scale of Dan-yr-Ogof but the snippets of local history made it interesting enough. Tickets can now be bought online at a small discount (which appeared to be news to the guy manning the entrance) and Emma was sufficiently taken to want to return and explore deeper.

The next day, Christine’s parents had paid for those of us with a May birthday (Emma and I) to canoe down the Wye. It was a fairly sedate affair, just covering the four or so miles from Monmouth down to Whitebrook with a stop off in Redbrook for ice cream on the way. With the current in your favour, paddling was really only required to stay on course with the main obstacles being fishermen and the bottom of the river! We managed to get stuck on top of a weir at one point but eventually freed ourselves. My highlight was seeing a kingfisher: a first for me.

Florida Foray

June 1st, 2019

My employer seems to have decided that face-to-face meetings taking place in months beginning with ‘M’ should take place in beach resorts starting with the same latter. In March it was Marbella and in May it was Miami Beach. For the latter, a couple of colleagues suggested we extend our trip and drive up to Kennedy Space Center. Having never been to Florida before, I was keen to join them.

There was due to have been a SpaceX launch two days before our visit and when it was pushed back by 24 hours it seemed too good an opportunity to miss so we set off that evening. Sadly, half way there we got the news that the launch had been scrubbed again. As a consequence, we then stopped at a steakhouse for dinner which turned out to be even sadder!

Staying up near the Space Center did still have the advantage that we could be there from the moment the gates opened until chucking out time. As someone who had visited many years ago commented, it has been a bit Disneyfied in that there was no-end of 3D cinemas and rides but there are also lots of one-of-a-kind original artifacts. After taking a tour around the Rocket Park and then spending some time in the Atlantis space shuttle exhibition the party split in two based on the tours we were booked on.

I joined Steve on the Explore Tour which includes stops at the massive Vehicle Assembly Building and Launch Pad 39 where the Apollo and Shuttle Program’s launched from. Although launching from elsewhere, sadly the SpaceX rocket had already been moved back inside so we didn’t even get to see it on the ground.

The following day, we had a few hours to kill after dropping a colleague at the airport for an earlier flight. We decided to make a side trip to the Everglades. We did spot a couple of alligators on the airboat tour but, to be honest, the boat ride itself was probably more fun, particularly as there were plenty of gators lazing about in the sun when got back to the nature reserve. There was even the opportunity to hold a three-year old (captive) alligator as part of the educational show.