BootsnAll Travel Network

Archive for July, 2007

« Home

A New Home(page)

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

At long last, I have a brand-new website, with a brand-new (stolen) template and sleek, sexy look 😉 No more elephants! (But Easyspace wheedled 15 quid ‘transfer fee’ out of me.)

For FTP-in-your-sleep, FlashFXP is a work of art. After my very first upload (OK, all the index files and two directories—took about 30 seconds) I wanted to shower them with money for the shareware version, a mere $25. But why do they make it so difficult? I can’t pay them until I register, so that they can shower me with newsletters in return.


A River Runs Through It

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

(…our living room, that is.)


We’re used to grey skies here, but Friday morning was just ridiculous. It felt as if we were living on the bottom of a lake.

I put on the coffee and went back to bed, snivelling. It wasn’t actually that cold. Had I left the heating on?

Then I remembered: it’s July—not November.

Outside, the water was lapping at our doorstep.

Four centimetres below the threshold, it began to recede. The brook that flows past our house was still draining, although a slight overspill had occurred on the opposite lawn where the bank is slightly lower. We’d gotten away with it—this time.

I went back upstairs and sat down at the computer, reflecting on the floods which have claimed parts of Yorkshire twice this summer. It had been close. Almost smugly, I took one last look out of the window.

The footpath had disappeared.

You have probably read that you’re not supposed to camp in or near dry river beds, right? Because flash floods, when they happen, won’t leave you time to get away. Believe.

The water was now irrevocably creeping over the threshold. I had perhaps a few minutes left. Staring vacantly at my feet, I wondered if we would all get electrocuted once it reached the sockets. I tore down the mains switch, but some houses stood empty as the water rose; in others, people had other things on their mind. There had been no news about electrocuted flood victims in Yorkshire…

Whatever. There was no time to hesitate.
Flooded 'Hood

Shakily, I pulled on wellies and shoved boxes, papers and books indiscriminately onto window sills, chairs and tables. There wasn’t time to think or plan ahead.

As the carpet rose and began to wobble underneath my feet, my perception of reality shifted. This was really happening, there was no arguing with nature.

I continued to snatch things up blindly. Nothing could be saved if the water rose much above knee height.

By the time I remembered the storage space underneath the stairs, it was already too late. I grabbed the camera and stumbled down the front step, the water percolating into my useless wellies.

Forlorn Dog

We all gathered on the nearest patch of road, looking on bemusedly as the calamity unfolded. The hammer blows and drills at number 13, where our neighbours have spent the last couple of weeks renovating, were now silenced. The woman at number 15 shook her head and muttered something about new carpets. “Three months old.” Her voice grew louder. “I won’t allow anyone to eat in the lounge,” she said. “No shoes. I even wipe the dog’s feet.”

The dog had just swum all the way from said lounge to the parking lot.
Useless Bridge

After an hour, the waters receded. The light from the windows reflected lazily in an indoor lake on the kitchen floor. The aftermath I mopped it up with a bathtowel and spent the afternoon trying to brush out a river from our living room, cubic centimetre by bloody cubic centimetre. Some instinct took over decreeing that I should be doing something, however futile.

The deluge had come to within a centimetre of our ground floor sockets. The electricity was still working. So was the washing machine. Footprints across the loungeAs for our carpets, they were due for replacement, and our landlord will be pleased that the insurance pays for it.

As I’m writing this, the gasfire and fan heaters are blowing away downstairs, raising the temperature to sub-tropical levels while outside the rain continues.

We almost got away with it—this time.

Sinister Goings-on

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

I missed the New Scientist last week (the local Sainsbury’s stocks it because there is a higher density of atomic weapons engineers per square metre in this town than anywhere else in the UK).

Never fear, The Advertiser—one of the many freesheets that drop into our letterbox in a steady trickle because we’re living on the ‘desirable’ side of the brook—led with a news item about an article in New Scientist that I might otherwise have overlooked. The feature, written by Robert Rowlands, stated that the author of the NS article has spent two years wrangling with the MoD over his Freedom of Information request, ‘ “the most tortuous and probably the most important” FoI request he had ever made.’.

Having read the article, I can see why.

This from New Scientist:

‘Between 1983 and 1991, the US stationed 96 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles at Greenham Common in Berkshire[…]

[…]the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston had estimated that 10 million people, including the population of London, could have been exposed to an “inhalation hazard” from plutonium if warheads exploded or caught fire.

[…]The report said a fire in one storage cell, fed from fuel from the missiles, could result in the plutonium from eight warheads being blown across a large swathe of southern England. Still, the risk was considered “acceptable”.’

Small wonder that both the MoD and the Pentagon wanted to keep this quiet.

‘The MoD’s response is that it “does not confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons at any particular place at any particular time”. It added, “There has never been an accident involving nuclear weapons in the UK that has put the public at risk.’—interesting to see that, apparently, there have been accidents involving nuclear weapons that have not put the public at risk (they don’t always blow up).

Well, it only takes one.

It’s reassuring to know that, to my knowledge, only a couple of warheads are stored in our Friendly Neighbourhood Atomic Weapons Establishment at any one time.

Gaijins, Gringos, Foreign Devils and—Germans

Monday, July 16th, 2007

As part of my Japan preparations, I’m currently reading Hokkaiodo Highways Blues (this is a great book by the way), in which writer Will Ferguson repeatedly bemoans the fact that—after years of living in Japan—he is still an outsider and will never be regarded as an equal by the Japanese.

At first I nodded dutifully along. Then I went to the pub on Saturday evening while John was away.

This is my twentieth year of residence in the UK, and our third in this neighbourhood (which is far from my favourite). Yet as soon as I set foot in the pub, I found myself staring at the radiant face of a semi-oiled old codger who slurred something about didn’t I remember him, I was that German whom he talked to back in February?

I can’t say that I did and fled outside to have a smoke under the newly erected umbrella. There was another acquaintance with one of his mates. He introduced me and his mate said: “Oh, you’re German—there was a German shepherd in the yard not so long ago.”


I hastily finished my pint and went home. I have no illusions ever to be accepted as part of the crowd here.

There’s another thing I miss about London…

Monday, July 9th, 2007

…and that’s the big-ass melons you get ’round the ‘hoods in summertime:

Watermelons, Islington

Those things are enough for a big family, and if you really want to get the party going, they can be infused with vodka. Since these buggers come in at up to 20kg, that will be a hell of a party!

Fortunately, they’re sold in wedges of perfect, deep-red sweetness. I bought ¼, and it was enough for five people.

Melon Wedges

It Rained for Forty Days and Forty Nights…

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

St. Paul's Sunset

…or thereabouts.

But finally, the sun came out for more than five minutes at a stretch and I was snapping away like a tourist (I was crossing the city on foot after having taken the wrong bus)—not because the sight of St. Paul’s was amazing, you understand, but because the sight of the sun setting over St. Paul’s was amazing.

St. Paul's Road View

Japanese Lessons

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

Speaking some of the language—however little—adds a whole new dimension to the travel experience, and if you’re planning to set off to rural pastures on your own, it could be essential.

It helps that Japanese isn’t particularly tonal and the words tend to be short. Even a complete beginner can pick up a few vital expressions relatively easily.

I’ve just downloaded the JASFIC Japanese Phrase Book (requires Japanese fonts for Acrobat Reader)—a big thanks to the JASFIC volunteers 🙂

However, I would be lost without some auditory feedback. In Malaysia and Indonesia, I could half-way read the subtitles to movies, and yet not speak a word much beyond ‘Salaama’, let alone negotiate prices or ask directions. I’ve learned from that experience: Listen to the locals. Reading a phrasebook is no substitute (especially when travelling to countries where you can forget about reading anything!)

There are several sites which provide free Japanese lessons—well worth investing a little time in.

My favourites (at the moment) are Japanese online, which offers free registration for people who want to take advanced lessons, although there’s a waiting list (beginners’ lessons are free-for-all) and Chiron’s Survival Japanese Course, which is a little harder to follow for slow learners like myself, but has very useful auxiliary notes on grammar and word structure.

The end of an Institution

Sunday, July 1st, 2007


Back when I met my husband, I used to smoke a pipe.

It was a habit I started—hooked on the sweet scent of my then ex-boyfriend’s pipe tobacco—shortly before setting off to Africa, and it has stood me in good stead around many campfires and in many a cosy bar on cold winter evenings.

For our first date, my hubby-to-be took me on a Sunday outing with the Oxford University Motorcycle Club. I rode pillion on his Yamaha RS100 along winding lanes to a quaint old pub in the Cotswold village of Great Tew. The pub is called the Falkland Arms, not with reference to the then recent war, but because the Falklands were named after the local lord of the manor, who no doubt frequented it.

Falkland Arms, Great Tew

Following an honoured tradition, the pub serves real Ale and cider and a selection of local wines and mead (I remember sampling the birch wine—not bad). They also sold clay pipes and a selection of fruit tobaccos to be enjoyed by the open fire.

Alas, no more. Two weeks ago, we celebrated our wedding anniversary with our last ever pipe smoked on the premises, at least inside. (Well OK, on the premises, taking the British weather into account.) And yesterday, my husband, some mates and I puffed our last in our local around the corner.
[read on]