It’s great to get home!

Many people tell me that the most difficult part of returning from holiday is actually stepping through the front door. What should you do first?

Do you trample or slither over the post on the doormat as you rush to empty the suitcases into the washing machine? Or do you tuck the post under your chin as you carry the suitcases to the bedroom? Do you unpack immediately – or gradually over 12 weeks?

Some people sit on their suitcases in the hall and read the post before doing anything else – even before they have closed the front door behind them. This is when the cat (which neighbours have been coming in to feed) arrives home.

So, do you now stop sorting the post into piles of junk, interesting-looking letters and bills and concentrate on begging the cat’s forgiveness? Or do you go out to flaunt your suntan at the neighbours?

Wait a minute. Has anybody checked the telephone answering machine? And the e-mails? Before that, it is essential to see if any of the houseplants can be saved from death and to go to say hello to the lawn. Make a proper cup of coffee. Go to the loo. Go all round the house and check on the burglar situation.

There is a card from the postman saying he failed to deliver a pkg. There is a message on the answering machine, from someone I have never heard of, asking us to ring him urgently. The cat refuses to be mollified. How long has this ham been in the fridge?

I am going to have to face up to it and check if the odd-shaped bottle of fierce damson liqueur, with the gnarled twig in it, has leaked in the zip bag and made everything sticky. It was supposed to be a present for the neighbours who were looking after the cat. Better check the television news and see what has been happening. The television isn’t working and the cat is scowling.

OK, the television is all right now. I unplugged it before I went so that a surge of lightning wouldn’t make it blow up in the cat’s face. What is the crisis in Estonia? Have I said hello to the lawn yet? Right, so chuck all the post in the washing machine, go flaunt your suntan to the lawn and beg forgiveness of the postman.

It says there is also a crisis in Guatemala, but the situation in Chad has eased. There is just a chance that one of the houseplants can be saved. Someone ought to go to the neighbours and flaunt the cat and put the zip bag in the washing machine. I don’t think I should trust the ham.

Why would the burglar steal a duvet? If he had the run of the whole house – and even the television set had been unplugged for him – why would he take only the duvet? And move the table lamp three inches to the right? There is also a situation in Inverness, according to the BBC News, but Lymington is now under control. The cat has gone to say hello to the lawn.

Why would the burglar take the duvet to the cleaners and then leave the ticket on the table, held down by the lamp? Did he think there was nothing worth stealing?

Maybe I should flaunt the post, give the dry cleaners’ ticket to the neighbours and ask the postman about the situation in Chad. For goodness’ sake, don’t put the cat in the washing machine; it has still not forgiven me for going away. I have a funny feeling that when that mystery man left the message on the answering machine he may have mentioned that he was in Lymington.

There is no milk for the proper cup of coffee. Go and see the neighbours. Don’t ask for milk straight away. Inquire about the Chad situation. See what the situation was in Lymington before it was under control. Ask tactfully about cat. Has it been behaving oddly? Could it have been traumatised by the sight of the burglar leaving the house with the duvet? Then raise the subject of milk. Maybe this is not the time to flaunt the suntan.

Isn’t it wonderful to come home refreshed?

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Life’s a lilo


Lilo Lil about to put this guidance into practice

It’s taken me more years than I care to reveal to master the art of getting on a lilo without falling straight off, but I believe I have now got to grips with the means of doing so successfully.

A pre-requisite for this accomplishment, however, is the convenient placement of a shallow spot in the water where one might place one’s feet on terra firma in order to perform the mounting.

  1. Place your feet firmly on the ground, and stand with your legs well apart.
  2. Pull the foot end of the inflated lilo forward through your parted legs (a degree of force will be required to complete this successfully).
  3. You need to pull through just over a quarter of the length of the lilo. Just ignore what the pillow end is doing (that’s not important right now).
  4. Now make sure the foot end of the lilo is aligned with a real or imaginary horizon. NB: Disaster will ensue if this is not effected at this point. Guaranteed.
  5. Once you are content with the foot alignment, sit down gently onto the lilo, releasing your feet from (ooh err!) terra firma.
  6. You should now be floating, complete with lilo, on the water. Next comes the tricky bit!
  7. Slowly raise one knee out of the water, extending the foot as required in order to get it onto the surface of the lilo. At this point you may need to provide counterbalance by extending the diametrically-opposed arm and waving it frantically.
  8. If you have not failed abysmally with the previous stage, it is now time to raise the second leg. Repeat the last process again, paying particular attention this time to balance. If you manage to get your second leg horizontal, you can proceed to the next stage.
  9. You’re almost there! Now gently lie back onto the lilo, using your pinioned feed to keep the lilo in the correct alignment, until your head rests on the lilo’s pillow.
  10. Mission accomplished!

Further tips for enhanced enjoyment of the lilo

If your head does not land on the pillow at stage 9, then considered calibration at stage 2 will achieve results eventually.

Once fully mounted, to get underway use your arms to perform a backstroke motion. Do not be tempted to use your feet for movement purposes, otherwise you’ll be in the drink.

If you wish to lie face down on the lilo, at stage 2 the pillow (rather than foot) end of the lilo should be pulled backwards through your parted legs until approximately 75% of the lilo’s length is ahead of you. Repeat the remainder of the process and you should be able to get underway as before. Use the front crawl to travel forward, and reverse doggy paddle under the lilo (if your arms can reach) to go astern.

Please lilo responsibly

  • For best (and safest) results, operate your lilo in a swimming pool or an open water enclosure with booms.
  • Do not attempt to operate your lilo in international waters. You do not have navigation lights and will likely be mown down by the Queen Mary 2 (which has a stronger claim to being a cruise line than you on your lilo will ever manage).

Sitting in the surf

Apologies, no marathon update for two days despite my best intentions and, at one point, endeavour. I’ve just been soooooooo busy!

But an email from a friend demanding an update has spurred me into action this morning. Truth be told I got a little sunburnt yesterday so I’m staying under cover this morning at least. I hope you enjoy this update plus picture gallery at the end. I do have an ulterior motive though.

Life continues to be a beach. Or rather, lots of beaches. Plus a fair old sprinkling of inland visual feasts. Here are edited highlights, roughly in chronological order

Monday saw me taking a drive up to the north of the island to the parish of St Lucy. Once you get north of Speightstown the landscape gets increasingly flat and windswept as the north point of the island nears. Trade winds from the east mean a fairly constant stiff (but warm) breeze that results in the verdant greenery being ever on the move.

The useful ‘Barbados in a Nutshell’ map (which seems to be the only road map for the island) indicates where beaches can be accessed on foot or by car, and I had decided to head for Archers Bay. It was certainly out on a limb.

The further north I got the more I thought how much the windswept landscape resembled the scattered crofting communities of the Western Isles in Scotland. The similarities end there though. Barbados is entirely coral not Lewisian Gneiss and there isn’t a peat bog to be seen!

Archers Bay beach turned out to be inaccessible, or at least I was unable to find the access path down the razor sharp coral cliff to a small beach. The access road was rather interesting though – I drove for about a quarter of a mile through a coconut grove, negotiating sticky up lumps of coral that could have ripped the tyres to shreds at a moment, and I had to negotiate a flock of Barbadian sheep too.

The Barbadian Blackbelly more closely resembles goats and breed all year round unlike most domestic sheep. Because they are larger and faster growing than most wooled sheep, they are a good choice for commercial production. There is a strong market locally for their lean and mild-flavored meat. They are ‘hair’ sheep which means that they do not grow wool and are therefore able to tolerate the tropical heat.

From Archers Bay I then headed east to Little Bay. I loved Little Bay. Correction, I love Little Bay.

The passing of time has eroded the east coast of Barbados, pounded as it is by the Atlantic Ocean (next stop The Gambia, 3000 miles east). The coral breaks down or simply washes away, leaving amazing rock formations and blowholes which the violent seas crash through very dramatically.

Little Bay is one such place. As its name suggests the bay itself is very little when the tide is in but there is considerable evidence that it would have been much bigger many moons ago. An easy walk down the eroded cliff on a easy gradient path leads you to a small semi-circular bay beyond which are two raised coral platforms with a channel between. Beyond the platforms the Atlantic Ocean crashes in with huge turquoise waves and flying spray. It is quite a sight – see pictures.

Whilst I was snapping away with my camera – shock, horror – someone else appeared on the beach and entered the water. He sat down in a natural bowl, another effect of the sea erosion.

From my vantage point I could see the crashing waves, which would often break over the coral platforms and suddenly whoosh into the little bay where my companion had sat himself down in the water. But as I later discovered when I joined him, when you’re sitting there you have no idea what’s happening up on that platform and therefore when or how big the next wave will be. It’s great fun!

Another place I’ve visited, on recommendation, is Harrison’s Cave.

The site has, apparently, undergone a massive transformation in the past four years with the development of lifts and an electric tramway. When I think ‘tramway’ I imagine trams running on rails. Well this is different – the tram is actually a glorified, articulated, golf buggy seating about thirty people. After watching the obligatory introductory film which described how Barbados was created 60,000 years ago (apparently) by the collision of the Atlantic plate and the Caribbean plate, I boarded the aforementioned tram for a journey one mile underground.

It was, actually, very good, and I’m pleased that I went. But I was annoyed that the tram didn’t stop in various places on the route where the caves were beautifully lit with coloured lights, for example a cascade running down the side of the tramway would have made a beautiful photograph. Here I must acknowledge with ever greatful thanks, my wonderful 50th birthday present from The Sainted Marion. My sooper dooper camera has a night portrait setting which enabled me to take some great pictures in between the camera flashes of the other tram passengers.

Good to my word, at the recommendation of Kyle Boyce, I have visited Foul Bay in the south of Barbados. As Kyle said, its right next door to the famous Crane Beach yet it is totally deserted. Shortly before I pulled up at the parking place the local radio station had broadcast a surge warning for the eastern Caribbean, warning all folk not to attempt to swim in the sea as the waves would be higher than usual and a strong current to boot.

Well the waves they were certainly a crashing! Heeding the advice I decided against an immersion so I didn’t change into my bathing shorts. Consequently when I went for a paddle (without camera I hasn’t to add), a larger than anticipated breaker soaked me from head to toe, covering me in fine sand in the process!  It was rather a damp journey home after that … I mistakenly thought that I’d dry out nicely as I drove along (sitting on a large towel I hasten to add), silly me.

I was certainly able to comprehend how the bay got its somewhat unusual name. The running sea was indeed foul, and I suspect its like it was on my visit most of the time, even when there isn’t a surge warning in force.

This morning I was up with the lark and driving across the island at 6am in the hope of catching the sunrise on the east coast. Unfortunately it broke the horizon when I was halfway over so that came to nowt. However I made up for the bad timing with a return visit to Bathsheba where I had the beach entirely to myself at 7am and for a goodly while after that.

There are certainly better beaches in Barbados than Bathsheba, there can be no doubt about that. But there is is something rather special about the gargantuan lumps of coral rock in the surf and the shoreline punctuated with wildly waving palm trees.

And I think that’s about all for now. More jottings to come, but now its time for another swim, but in the pool staying well out of the sun for the time being!

Gone sunbathing

If you’re sitting in front of your computer screen avidly awaiting my next bulletin from Barbados, please accept my apologies.

I’ve sat down to update it last night and this evening and I just can’t find the words I want to write.  It would seem that inspiration has gone sunbathing. I’ll try to get my head together for a marathon update tomorrow.

In the meantime here’s a testcard to be going on with (draw your own conclusions!):

Life’s a beach

Bathsheba

Life’s a beach. I’ve walked on a few today. All of them clean white coral sand and deliciously warm surf.

Unfortunately these lovely beaches are nowhere in the UK. I’m back in Barbados, visiting the same friends with whom I stayed 50 weeks ago, P&D. I arrived from London yesterday (Gatwick was 3C, Bridgetown 30C).

No hassle with camouflage shorts this time around, so once I’d clear immigration and baggage reclaim I picked my rental car (a Suzuki Vitara) and headed to Bridgetown and Prospect where I’m staying. The sun was going down as I arrived in Prospect and I enjoyed a leisurely evening catching up with P&D.

We were in Bridgetown bright and early this morning to go on a special slavery heritage trail tour. Unfortunately we didn’t make it onto the coach as it was sold out (the advert P had seen for didn’t say that booking was either required or desirable, so he didn’t). The next tour will be on the 20th which is too late for me 😦

So, after returning P home and gathering up my bits and pieces, I set off on a ‘get my bearings’ day out. I headed east for St John’s Church, via Drax Hall, to see the grave of the country’s Prime Minister who died very recently. The attendant at the church told me that they’d had great difficulty locating a free plot in the historic graveyard (the oldest identified grave is from 1666!).

After St John’s I needed to put petrol in the tank which meant heading back to Bridgetown as that’s where most of the filling stations are located on the island. Certainly my tourist map didn’t indicate any where I was. Since I was in Bridgetown I decided to go to the Barbados Concorde Experience. I saw Concorde at Heathrow many times, and recall it flying overhead at some point in the past, but I’d never been ‘up close and personal’. That was fixed today.

And then I headed for the beaches. There are beaches everywhere. Along the east coast they are wide and wind-blown. Here the shore is pounded by the Atlantic (there’s nothing for 3,000 miles east to Banjul in The Gambia) and is consequently popular with surfers who come from all over the world.

On the calmer south and west coasts, you can walk for miles along unbroken white sand beaches, though the way is often barred by clusters of coral rocks jutting out to sea which create delightful hidden coves. These are often difficult to access, or form part of some fabulous resort or private development, but it is still possible to find a beach all to one’s self. All along the shore large and small beaches are broken by coral formations, the soft coral rocks weathered by the ocean surf, forming abstract sculptures pleasing to an artist’s eye.

In the north, coral and sandstone cliffs rise straight out of the sea reaching up to a hundred feet in height. But even here, you’ll find the occasional sheltered cove.

I’ve done several beaches today. Here are the highlights:

1.  A walk on the beach at [the ridiculously expensive] Crane Resort. Yes its quite something but there are better beaches, almost within spitting distance, that remain unspoilt by such development. Not my kind of beach – by a country mile!

2.  A walk on the fabulously unspoilt Bathsheba beach – a sharp contrast to Crane and much more to my liking.

3.  Several rum punches and lunch at The Round House overlooking Bathsheba’s pools (see previous link for details). This was my favourite eatery on my last visit, and when it comes to location, only Applecross in Scotland beats it for sensory delight.

4.  A walk on Brandons beach on the outskirts of Bridgetown. The cruise ship terminal is visible away to the south, and this afternoon I was able to see Queen Mary 2, Independence of the Seas and a ‘Celebrity Cruises’ liner that I did not recognise, plus a traditional four-masted schooner berthed near (and dwarfed by) QM2.

Then it was back home to check out all my photos and decide what to do tomorow (a walk along the beach before the sun gets too high, application of copious quantities of Piz Buin by the pool, and later a visit to a Barbados Horticultural Society open garden).

#TheArchers: a bunting tragedy

It’s been a fascinating couple of days. The Archers, that national institution which is broadcast twice a day, six days a week on BBC Radio 4, celebrated its 60th anniversary on Sunday 2 January.

The double-length, much trailed episode, broadcast just after 7pm was a ‘bunting tragedy’ to quote Twitter’s @AmbridgeView. Well I guess she ought to know, since @AmbridgeView is scribed by Charlotte Martin who plays that doyenne of the community shop, Susan Carter, in the radio soap.

For weeks leading up to the anniversary regular listeners were aware that something ‘shocking’ was going to happen on 2 January 2011. The programme’s editor, Vanessa Whitburn, had forecast some time ago that events in the anniversary episode would ‘shock Ambridge to the core’. The Archers and Twitter are now inextricably linked, with genuine BBC tweets intermingling with totally fictitious (unauthorised) impersonations of characters in the programme. There is a Twitter ID for virtually every cast character, including @HenryArcher2011, just two days old at the time of writing!

Perhaps I should come clean here.  I tweet in the name of two well-loved characters (suffice to say I’m getting well acquainted with regional dialects), but unlike @AmbridgeView I very much regret to advise I have no official connection with The Archers!

As the big day approached the tweets became ever more speculative as regards what was going to shock Ambridge to the core, with the hashtag #sattc being usefully added so that avid fans could keep track of what the latest thinking was. And then the BBC itself, that august organisation we love and admire in equal part to often believing it is mammon, inflexible and unimaginative in large part, realised the power of Twitter as an excellent medium for channelling listeners’ interest in the anniversary events and plot.

The Archers 60th ‘tweetalong’

At the end of last week trailers started to be broadcast encouraging listeners to ‘join the conversation’ and to add the hashtag #thearchers to their tweets. They even told us that on 2 January there’d be a tweetalong to the broadcast of the landmark episode and an analysis conducted of the tweets made with that hashtag before, during and after the broadcast. Listeners were positively encouraged to listen to the broadcast AND tweet along or just follow the progress of the hashtag via the various search features in Twitter.

It was, indeed, absolutely riveting. Whether that’s from the perspective of the unfolding plot or simply the level of interest in the programme and its general storyline, or the sheer fascination of the speculation as to what would happen (or happen next). I listened to the radio programme and I tweeted along like so many others, but I was also wearing the hat of a digital communicator. Beyond the basic premise of an online conversation I was fascinated to see the way the conversation moved and the amount of traffic that was generated. It was, in short, a fascinating social media experiment run in real time.

The results are indeed fascinating to study, whether you have just a passing interest in what happened or something a little more specific in terms of social media development. The Archers‘ blog published a brilliant page yesterday which showed all the tweets from just before 7pm on Sunday until a little beyond the end of the broadcast. A ‘heartbeat monitor’ takes the pulse of the Twitter conversation throughout the playback, so that one can see the peaks and troughs. A tag cloud shows common words that people are tweeting, and mentions of characters’ names is shown in percentage terms in expanding/contracting bubbles.

If you’ve not already seen it, do take a look, (link opens in new window/tab), and be sure to run the tweets run through so that you can follow the conversation as the plot unfolded. To make that happen you need to click the solid right arrow (or ‘play’ button) at the top right corner of the page under the title (see image to right).

Other applications?

I believe there are lessons that can be learned here by all parties interested in the general development of social media and Twitter in particular. I applaud the BBC for embracing Twitter as a communications medium with a difference. As I see it they’ve harnessed the power of Twitter to directly involve their listeners with the unfolding storyline of the anniversary edition. Furthermore, by producing the post-broadcast timeline they have a wonderful source of material for seeing what the audience thought about the storyline, including countless totally wrong predictions of where the plot was leading. If the scriptwriters should be short of copy for future plotlines the listeners have given them a wealth of ideas to work on, and some strong signals about the affection or dislike of specific characters.

This excellent model could be used in a political context, either at local or national level.  I’ve not reached a firm conclusion as yet but whilst the subject’s still ‘of the moment’ I thought I’d put down some initial thoughts.

There might be a council debate taking place. The council could promote the televising or webcasting of the event and encourage local people to tweet along and share their thoughts. Obviously the topic of the debate would need to be sufficiently engaging (or perhaps contentious) in order to generate a broad range of listeners, but the subsequent analysis of that conversation would doubtless provide a good indication of the public mood or buy-in to both the subject under discussion and/or the democratic process generally. Maybe someone has already tried this, but if they have I’m not aware of it.  Oh, and yes, I’m the first to concede that a council debate is highly unlikely to have folk hooked quite as firmly as the BBC managed on Sunday evening, but hopefully you get my general drift.

So, there you have it, my thoughts on The Archers and Twitter. And now before I close, I’d like to share a selection of my favourite tweets from Sunday’s episode and its aftermath (still unfolding):

@potterwigham: Thanks Helen #thearchers for bring us back from our slough of despond by going on about expressing milk.

@jamspangle: At least hearing the news will mean Helen will talk about something other than babies for two minutes #thearchers

@Chainsaw_McGinn: If they’d only taken the time to write a good risk assessment and used correct ppe [personal protective equipment] #thearchers

@NickFitz: Nigel’s scream lasted about 3 seconds: given g=9.8m/s he fell c44m, or 144 feet. Buckingham Palace is 24m high. Big house 😉 #sattc

@jgmcintyre: #thearchers Advert for Thursday’s Borchester Echo: Vacancy for village idiot, Ambridge, following sudden change of circumnstance

@kmflett: Ambridge Socialist Update – questions about who will represent the Government at Nigel Pargetter’s funeral #sattc

@AmbridgeView: Who would have thought it? A bunting tragedy in #thearchers

@Stickings90: This was a dastardly plot by Queen of Capriciousness, Vanessa Whitburn, to instigate a 10yr family feud #sattc

@HistoryNeedsYou I think the banner was t ed with a spur lash. Nigel certainly landed with one … #thearchers

@Ecogray: “There was something of the Peter Pan in Nigel” http://bbc.in/edxl56. Shame it wasn’t the ability to fly. #thearchers

@PropertyJourn: So Nigel definitely dead. It seems to me, he lived his life like a banner in the wind. #sattc

@WorcsPaul: Health & Safety nannies visit Lower Loxley and insist “Beware falling Nigels” signs installed #sattc

@LyndaSnell: Nigel was the Peoples’ Dame

Please share your favourite #sattc tweets in comments in your feel so inclined. I hope you will!

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 5 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 47 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 109 posts. There were 91 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 33mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was December 5th with 272 views. The most popular post that day was 10 things you probably don’t know about Thomas the Tank Engine.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, search.bt.com, facebook.com, communities.idea.gov.uk, and search.aol.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for thomas the tank engine, painted lady butterfly, thomas the train, canapes, and st kilda.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

10 things you probably don’t know about Thomas the Tank Engine March 2010
9 comments

2

Butterflies: FAQ July 2009
3 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,

3

Latha Hiort (St Kilda Day), 29.08.09 August 2009
1 comment

4

Canapé binges: health warning August 2009
11 comments

5

Where to get your kit off this summer July 2009
11 comments