peterbirks: (Default)
There are several downsides to it raining heavily when I am on holiday; one of them is that you lot are recipients of a longer-than-usual missive from yours truly.

But, there are also upsides. I get to access websites that I only come to occasionally these days; Dreamwidth is one of them; Photobucket is another. Dreamwidth informs me that it is now easy to insert an image or embed media, so I might give that a try. Certainly in the past the problems of inserting images into any blog have added 150% to 200% to the time required to produce an entry.

It also gives me a chance to update on work, where I am now eight weeks in. I'm still enjoying it, but, my, it can be hard work. That takes away from time that I previously would have allocated elsewhere -- not least piano, guitar, watching TV, going to the gym and poker. For the moment I can live with that as a corollary of starting a new job and getting used to it. But as time goes on I will want to ensure a reasonable life/work balance.

On the poker side, my delusion that I had cracked the "break-evenness" that has taunted me for nearly four years now (up about $2,000 over that whole period, taking winnings for the decade 2004-2013 to about $95,000) was sharply dispelled by an atrocious run this month that at the start looked to be taking away half my winnings so far for the year and now looks to have taken away all of it. The fact remains that the online game now is relentlessly tough and the rake is very hard to beat. I'm still enjoying the challenge (just), but finding the edges to game the system is hard work, and the return is not great.


Anyhoo, I went to press with my second issue this week, a 56-pager without any sponsored edditorial and without any freelancers. That makes for hard work and, at the moment, it's hard to see where the material for the May issue is coming from (deadline the 25th of April). But that's what I thought last month and, hey, next thing I know there's eight extra pages.

This time the problem is more real. Deputy editor David starts his stint with the Royal Naval Reserve at the start of April, so I lose him for eight months. We have a great replacement coming in in the form of Lauren Gow, but she will obviously take a week or two to bed in. Similarly, Chris is off to start as Americas editor at the start of April, which means I will be talking to him on the phone once or twice a day, rather than having him sitting next to me.

Thirdly, my American reporter is now back in the UK and we won't have him for three weeks until April 22. So, it will be all hands to the pump even for a 48-pager. I might need to use some freelancers even though my budget is ever-shrinking.

Fourthly, there are other things to do apart from produce the magazine! We have a daily, a weekly, and a website, as well as roundtables to organize, awards to organize, events to organize, a TV broadcast to put together and, well, the list seems never-ending. Like I say, it's hard work.


I got home at 7,30pm last night having done no ironing for two weeks (neither had I watched any TV). I had a 6.55am plane to catch from Gatwick. It was all a bit hectic and I ended up getting only a few hours' sleep.

My last few trips to Nice do not seem to have run smoothly. As such I deliberately allowed myself plenty of time from landing to schedduled meeting.

I thought that this was a mistake. Everything had run smoothly. I had got a night bus very quickly, which actually got me to Blackfriars (I am now wise to the fact that the FCC train to Gatwick now bypasses London Bridge early in the morning) in time for the 4.05am to Three Bridges. As it happens, that train was cancelled. But the 4.35am to Brighton was on time and I arrived at Gatwick at 5.20am, in plenty of time.

I also now have the hang of the "print your own tag" rule. I still think that British Airways performed poorly in failing to highlight this when you check in online, and there were many people reacting the same way as I did when I first encountered it -- it seemed to take away the whole point of checking in online if you still had to check in at a kiosk to print out your tag. As it happens, the kiosk only requires a booking number and a confirmation that you have 'x' number of bags to check in. So it's a faster process than if you were checking in at the kiosk.

I treat myself to a chicken quesadilla and salsa these days when I am at Gatwick (N) early; they have closed the Costa Coffee and the Starbucks is disappointing (never anywhere to sit for a start).

The plane ran smoothly, and I actually managed to doze off for half an hour or so in 10-minute snatches. I recommend Emerson Lake and Palmer for this -- some amazingly soporific segments to their work.

The only moment of horror when I suddenly saw what appeared to be the biggest hair I had ever seen. The group of four were, thankfully, not going to Nice (nor to Essex or to a guest appearance on Gogglebox).

Big Hair


We landed on time. The now anticipated 40 minute wait for my bags did not materialize; I had it within 20 minutes of landing. I went to the bus ticket place to buy my weekly season and a ticket for the 98 bus to town (I was now wise to the fact that daily passes were not valid on this route), "No, no 98", said the man, thus negating my sterling effort to remember the words "quatre-vingt dix-huit". "They are on strike".

Jesus fuck. Last year it was a train strike in September, then another in October (and I later found out there had been another one last Monday). Now it's the 98 bus. The ordinary buses were running fine. So I decided to catch a 23 (particularly as I had a spare one-day pass in my wallet).

It was by now raining and it was here that things began to go badly wrong. I knew that the 23 bus went by the station, and I had asked the driver whether the bus went to the centre of town. I thought that he replied "apres", meaning after a northern route. In fact I think he said "pres" (can't remember how to do French graves on the laptop keyboard when typing in dreamwidth, sry) meaning "near". I stayed on the bus way too long, waiting for a loop back that never came.

In fact, the best strategy is to get off the 23 after a couple of stops at "Arenas" and then wait for a number 10, which would take me to within 25 metres of my fornt door!

But I bit the bullet and got off when I realized I had gone way too far north. But I hadn't realized how far, and I was soaking wet by the time I reached the tram route (this despite having a raincoat and proper hat!). And then I thought I was at the other side of the 'U' of the route, and so I went the wrong way. I jumped off, way way north, near the old Stade de Rey. It was only 10 minutes on the tram to get back to Jean Medecins,and I still arrived on time to meet the guy showing me the apartment.

Nice Pebbles is good, but they seem to have hectic turnover of staff these days. I was wet and Joe was in a rush, so his "demonstration" of the TV was so shallow that I failed to spot that the freebox wasn't working at all.

Craig and I experienced this problem before (twice) so I actually worked out quite quickly how to set it up properly. I suspect that it's been operating on far fewer channels than are actually available (think the old ordinary terrestrial vs Freeview in the UK) for quite a while.

But this was after a nap and a trip to Monoprix. Rain or not, still-wet overcoat or not (and the water had also soaked into the bottom of the suitcase, making some of my clothes damp!), provisions needed to be bought.

 Rain in Nice

As you can see, it was wet!

I had another nap when I got back and when I woke up at 8pm, I thought that the rain had quit for the night. Lucky that I didn't go out for a walk, as it has just started pelting down again!

I've got pictures of the (very nice) apartment, but I'm not sure how pictures will come out, so this is a bit of an experiment.

Apartment 1

Apartment 2

Apartment 3

Apartment 4

Apartment 5
peterbirks: (Default)
So, at 8.30am Friday morning, my mum phoned me up:
: "You're not going, are you?"
. She was referring to my planned drive to the Brecon Beacons for two days, to attend the wedding of Craig's daughter Kate to Brian, at Craig y Nos ("Rock Of The Night") Castle.
"Sure I am"
I replied, attempting to sound less worried about the dire weather forecasts than I really was.

As it turned out, the trip was not too bad. One heavy downpour shortly after Swindon, and fairly steady rain once I had crossed the Severn Bridge, but generally trouble-free.

Near the end of the trip I had a worrying time after the Tom Tom sent me along an extremely narrow "unnamed road" for about three miles. "Christ", I said to myself, "I hope this isn't the only way to get to this place. Because, if it is, and it snows, there's no way out".

As it happened, Tom Tom decided this was faster than the route via the main roads (it did cut about four miles from the trip), but I don't think that I shall be going back that way.

The main concern after checking in was the discovery, to my horror, that there was no wireless internet connection. FOr the first time in yonks I had failed to bring a LAN cable, and for the first time in yonks, I needed one.

Still, never mind, I had my back-up 3G dongle.

Oh, there's no mobile phone signal.

And the radio didn't work, either.

The Brecon Beacons, might be pretty, but, in terms of communications, I wouldn't want to be in my car when it broke down.

Finding a mobile phone signal is a bit like Hunt The Thimble. There are pockets of single-bar reception that flit in and out like wisps of smoke in the air. And, by "pockets", I mean, standing absolutely still by the arch outside the main entrance and telling no-one else anywhere near you to please DO NOT MOVE for the duration of the phone call, because by doing so the atmosphere changes and the call gets lost. Most entertaining.

The prospect of a weekend without any contact via phone or interweb did not appeal. But we were saved by finding a public connection in the bar. No phone signal, but I had wifi.

The "Guest Pack" for residents makes for an entertaining read. The owner (he bought the place in 2000) comes across as quite a personality, and he is refreshingly honest (I guess he can afford to be, once he already has your cash -- I would have appreciated a bit more upfrontedness on the website about the poor mobile phone quality in the area).

After the normal bumph about times for breakfast, local places of interest, etc, we get the older and more modern history of the castle.

It was built in 1841 by Captain Powell and was a Gothic ruin before it was completed. He sold it to the Morgan Family in 1875 for £6,000 in 1875. It appears that they regretted this rather quickly, and managed to lose £2,500 on the deal in just three years, selling it on to famous opera singer Adelina Patti in 1878. 'Twas her who made the place famous (as well as extending it from a merely rambling Gothic pile into the huge Money-Pit that it is today -- she spent about £10m in current money extending the place), and she stayed here until her death in 1919. In 1920 the Winter Pavilion was dismantled and removed to Swansea, where it remains. The internal furnishings were auctioned off in 1920. And the place became a Tuberculosis Hospital for 40 years, and then a geriatric hospital for another 20 years. The building gradually sank into chronic disrepair.

pictures and more stuff )

August 2017

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