Wednesday, 30 July 2008

UK Biobank

We’ve just made our latest contribution to the future of the Human Race; no guys, Shirley’s definitely not pregnant again!!

A few weeks ago we were both asked if we would take part in a new UK medical research initiative to study the prevention and treatment of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia and a whole host of other serious diseases; the research involves around 500,000 people across the UK aged between 40 and 69.

So this morning we were up bright and early (for us that is!) to attend the UK Biobank Assessment Centre in Reading – it took about 90 minutes or so of lifestyle questions and physical measurements as well as taking blood and urine samples.

Apart from a very brief report on some key measurements like blood pressure, we apparently don’t get any personal benefit except perhaps the knowledge that someone somewhere might have a better life or future with treatments or new drugs that may be designed or discovered down the line.

So maybe I feel just a little ‘self righteous’ today having done my bit for humanity!

Hmm, now about that nasty question about how much alcohol I drink……………………!!

The Emperors New Clothes – a new version!

…news from the BBC 30th July 2008

Zimbabwe's central bank has said it will introduce a new currency on 1 August as part of efforts to fight the effects of hyperinflation.

The governor, Gideon Gono, has announced zeros will be lopped off the Zimbabwe dollar, making 10bn dollars one dollar.

Only last week, the government introduced the Z$100bn note.

Inflation is officially running at more than 2,000,000%, but economists believe the real rate is far higher.

"The Zimbabwe dollar will be redenominated by a factor of one to 10, which means we are removing 10 zeros from our monetary value. Ten billion dollars today will be reduced to Z$1... effective from 1 August," Mr Gono said in a television broadcast.

He said the high rate constrained the operations of the country's computer systems.

Computers, calculators and banks' cash machines have not been able to handle basic transactions in billions and trillions of dollars.

The new Z$100bn note introduced last week was not enough to buy a loaf of bread.

So far this year, Zimbabwe has been forced to print Z$100m, Z$250m and Z$500m notes in rapid succession, now mostly worthless”

…………it’s all done with mirrors!! Or maybe someone just has a weird sense of humour!!

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

2008 Olympic Games

Well, with only 9 days to go to the Opening Ceremony on Friday 8th August, I guess everyone will be clearing their diaries to tune in and keep up-to-date with what’s happening in Beijing.

So if you go here, you’ll find a complete schedule of events from Day 1 right through to the Closing Ceremony; by which time I’m sure we’ll all be EXHAUSTED, having swum, dived, run, jumped, hurdled, sailed, ridden, played, cycled, boxed, lifted, wrestled oh and maybe shot too along with all those highly toned, honed and muscled athletes!!

Let the Games begin!!

Walk for a Reason 2008

OK, maybe not the greatest picture I’ve ever had taken but here’s us and a few others doing our bit with a photo-call to help the ‘Walk-for-a-Reason’ charity in support of Prostate Cancer - the photo, along with a short piece appeared in the 23rd July issue of the Wokingham Times so I guess that makes us 'famous'!!

It’s apparently the commonest for of cancer in men and they say that 1 in every 11 men will get prostate cancer and 1 man every hour will die of it too – there’s some staggering statistics for you!

As always guys, the earlier it’s diagnosed the better chance there is of dealing with it successfully; so if you’re in any doubt, just go see the Doctor and get yourself checked out.

So someone is organising a local 10k sponsored walk to raise awareness and to raise funds to help fight this awful problem – you’ll find details on the ‘Walk-for-a-Reason’ website.

If you live nearby and can spare a few hours on Sunday 21st September 2008 to join the Walk, I know that you’ll be most welcome!

Monday, 28 July 2008

Attention 'Baby Boomers'!

Hey you baby-boomers out there!

Give yourself a well-deserved break for a couple of minutes or so today!

This will bring you down Memory Lane with some great photos in this clip!

Have patience while it loads, crank up the volume, select 'Full Screen' mode, sit back and enjoy a review of 50 years of history in less than 3 minutes thanks to the old Billy Joel song ‘We didn’t start the fire…’ oh and some guy from the University of Chicago with too much time to Google!

If you like it, play again and I bet you'll see and hear things you missed first time around.

Oh and if you want to learn more about the background to the song, go to Wikipedia here.

Enjoy!! YEAH!!!

Sunday, 27 July 2008


We enjoyed a nice sunny couple of days with our good friends Diana and Chris Lally by the ‘sea-side’ in Aldwick Bay, near Bognor Regis last week – it was good to smell the sea air and the warmth of the sun on our skins again!!

We’ve known Diana and Chris for a long time and when the kids were very young, we holidayed together mostly down in the West Country, Devon and Cornwall – rain and shine! OMG we had some wet days in tents!!

The kids are grown up now of course – they have two boys in their mid/late 30’s and one, Richard who with his lovely wife Pippa now have three boys; Tom, Sam and baby Max, a really great family! Richard is one of those guys called ‘House-husbands’ – he’s the main child bringer upper and carer and Pippa is the main wage-earner as a GP.

I’m sure the boys have an amazing upbringing with their Dad and living right on the beach at nearby Pagham they learn so much about so many things. Richard is an expert windsurfer so he’s always out in the bay either on his board or canoe so the kids enjoy an exciting outside life.

We had a nice day out mooching around the lovely town of Chichester on Saturday and in the evening enjoyed a nice meal out at a local pub cum restaurant – the food was yummy!

Before heading back home on Saturday we walked down to Pagham Beach and sat by the Pagham Yacht Club watching the calm sea and the sailing club getting ready for a race – the club overlooks one of the sites where the D-Day landings were prepared and there’s still a partially sunken part of a Mulberry Harbour about a mile offshore. The rest of the ‘mobile’ harbour was towed across the English Channel of course and played such an important part in the D-Day landings in Normandy.

There’s a plaque on a rock on the pebbly beach which records the event.

Pagham is one of those quaint English seaside places; it’ll never lose its unique appeal and although it’s much quieter than Bognor Regis just a few miles distant, that’s really part of its secret!

As always, a wonderful couple of days with good company, good food and SUNSHINE!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Worthless paper

Um, no I haven't forgotten about our old friend Robert Gabriel - just musing that it wont be too long now before he gets what's coming to him; despite the current EU ban on travel, I'm sure a flight to UN International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague will be arranged!

So meantime, here's news of the new Zimbabwean banknote - one hundred billion dollars; or around 50 pence to you and me!! I think it'll just about buy a loaf of bread at today's prices - and then tomorrow (yes, literally tomorrow!), well with an inflation rate like they have, who knows?!!

So we all need to know the new 'language' of big numbers - just in case Gordon Brown slips up with the UK economy!

  • Quadrillion: 15 zeros
  • Quintillion: 18 zeros
  • Sextillion: 21 zeros
  • Septillion 24 zeros

  • OMG!

    Tuesday, 22 July 2008

    Shirley - bulletin

    Just a quickie to say that we've just come back from the Royal Berkshire Hospital - no, no panic just a prescheduled appointment for the surgeon to take another look at her foot; happily all seems to be well and she's had the plaster removed.

    It's good to see her toes again!!

    The foot is still quite swollen but she's just sunk it gently into some warm water for the first time in 6 weeks!


    She's going to have some physio too and then another final check by the surgeon in September, so fingers (oh and toes - ouch!) crossed that it will have been worth all the pain and agony!

    Red Arrows and PC!

    Now here’s another example of absolutely ridiculous British PC – aka Political Correctness!

    Yes, I'm still a Brit guys!! But listen to this:

    There are conflicting reports that the world-famous Red Arrows have apparently been banned from appearing at the 2012 London Olympics because they are deemed 'too British'!

    It's suggested that the organisers of the event say that the Arrows military background might be 'offensive' to other countries taking part in the Games. The display team have performed at more than 4000 events worldwide, but the Department of Culture, Media and Sport have deemed the display team 'too militaristically British.'

    Red Arrows pilots were said to be 'outraged', as they had hoped to put on a truly world class display for the Games, something which had never been seen before. Being axed from a British-based event for being 'too British' is an insult - the Arrows are a symbol of Britain.

    The Red Arrows have been excellent ambassadors for British overseas trade, as they display their British-built Hawk aircraft all over the world.

    The Arrows performed a short flypast in 2005 when the winning bid was announced, but their flypast at the Games was to have been truly spectacular; it is to be hoped that common sense prevails.

    There's an online '10, Downing Street' Petition in support of the Red Arrows, so if you disagree with this (alleged) appalling decision, please, please sign the petition on this link

    Monday, 21 July 2008

    Decisions, decisions!

    Just every now and again, I guess not too often but occasionally, you make what could be described as a ‘life-changing’ decision; sometimes, one which has quite far reaching implications but one which makes you grasp an opportunity which life brings every so often.

    So here it is - Shirley and I have decided to leave these shores and migrate permanently to Australia; IF they’ll have us, that is!

    I guess for some of you that wont come as some great surprise as we’ve spent an increasing amount of time ‘Downunder’ every year but we’ve come to very much enjoy and appreciate the Aussie lifestyle since first setting foot there in 2001 when we stopped over for a few weeks on our Round-the-World trip.

    Subsequently Andrew and Sue married and set up home there with their family and we’ve enjoyed watching the children grow and flourish – they are all Aussie citizens now of course! Plus we’ve made some very good friends there over the past year or so and they’ve helped to make us feel very much ‘at home’ whenever we visit.

    We’re not 'running away' from England although we’re finding like so many others that the place just isn’t what it used to be, if you know what I mean? It’s changed so much in recent years in so many ways, sadly we think for the worst. I love England and I guess I always will.

    But we want to look for and find happiness and a ‘better quality of life’ in a place where we’ll probably spend the rest of our lives, God willing!

    Obviously we’ve thought long and hard about this – we’ll be moving a long way away from lots of family and friends here in the UK but the world is a much smaller place these days so I’m sure we won’t lose touch with anyone. Also, we realise that with the gloomy UK economic situation contrasting as it does at the moment with the apparently ‘buoyant’ Australian scene, we could have maybe chosen a better time; but whatever, we’ve decided to go.

    We’ve already made flight reservations and plans for our ‘regular’ trip in November and unless anything unexpected happens, we’ll be back in the UK in April, as usual – so I’m afraid that you won’t get rid of us permanently THAT quick!

    But we’ve begun the process of applying for permanent Aussie visas, which we’re told could take anything up to 2 years or so; we’re actually in no particular hurry so we’ll wait if necessary to try and find a buyer for our ‘pad’ at a good price, fingers and toes crossed!

    So there it is – as I’m always saying, in life you should ‘seize the moment’ and not reach that fateful ‘final day’ in your life, looking back and telling yourself …………'I wish I had….'.

    For sure, it’s just too late then!

    Thursday, 17 July 2008

    Isambard Kingdom Brunel

    If you live in the 'Thames Valley' as it's known here, you can't go very far before you come across the work of a very famous Englishman with a very strange name, yes Isambard Kingdom Brunel!

    Posting my Blog about Goring and Moulsford earlier I drifted onto the Wikipedia site on Brunel and reminded myself what an amazing guy he was - in his relatively short life (he died when he was only 53!) he created things which last to this day railways, bridges, tunnels and ships.

    So if you want to marvel at what he did and left behind, just go to the Wikipedia site - it actually made me very proud to be an Englishman!


    Last Tuesday, we enjoyed a nice day out on the River Thames again, in the company of our good friends Chas and Pam Watkins – it was really a chance for Shirley to ‘go boating’ having missed out on Henley a couple of weeks ago because of her poorly foot!

    Chas and Pam were in the middle of a 2-week cruise up the river on their lovely Antaris Family cruiser named ‘Bumble’ so we met up at Goring-on-Thames just by the Lock Cut so that Shirley could easily step on board without too much hassle.

    The weather was fine although a little breezy on the river to start with and we headed up through Goring Lock and then Cleeve Lock a mile or so further on; we moored up at around midday at Moulsford just downstream from the wonderful (but quite pricey) Beetle and Wedge Restaurant. Pam had fixed a nice salad we enjoyed, washed down of course with some chilled Rose!

    By lunchtime the sun was really out and the wind had dropped a little which made the sun very warm (well, it IS July you know!!) – we had to escape the heat so we walked along the river bank a couple of hundred yards, through the woods until we came to the Beetle and Wedge set on the site of the original Moulsford/South Stoke ferry service on the stretch of river immortalised in 'The Wind in the Willows', where Jerome K Jerome chronicled the escapades of his friends' visits in 'Three Men in a Boat'!

    Now here’s something else you maybe didn’t know! In bygone days, a ‘beetle’ was actually a mallet used to hit the ‘wedge’ which split trees into planks which were then floated down to London, a practice apparently last recorded in 1777 but recalled in the name of the pub which used to stand here where H. G. Wells stayed while writing ‘Mr. Polly’ – it actually features in the book as the ‘Potwell Inn’; the building itself was originally a manor house.

    Just upstream a few hundred yards is Brunel’s lovely skewed brick arched railway bridge on the main London to Penzance line above which are some islands which are supposedly haunted!!

    It wasn’t until after 6pm that we headed back to Goring where Chas dropped us off after finding an overnight mooring.

    A very nice day!

    Saturday, 12 July 2008

    BA and Virgin Fuel Surcharge Refunds

    Do you know that……..


    The refund applies to tickets on “long-haul” flights; the ticket purchase must have been made in the UK or in the USA. Long-haul flights include all Virgin Atlantic flights and most British Airways flights between the U.K. and non-E.U. destinations, including flights to and from the United States.

    Sadly BA and Virgin in the UK don’t seem to be bound by the same obligations as they are in the USA (where they have to donate unclaimed refunds to a charity, Miracle Flights for Kids) – in the UK they will keep any unclaimed refunds!!

    Now that's really outrageous, isn't it?!

    So if you think you might qualify for a refund or want to just find out more, click on this link to the BA & Virgin Passenger Settlement website – don’t delay, do it NOW!

    Friday, 11 July 2008

    El Camino del Rey

    Now not for the faint-hearted (courtesy of my good friend John Walmsley) - but just a nice 'easy' stroll along a mountain footpath with superb views all around!

    Read all about it here on Wikipedia and then go here to El Camino del Rey

    You'll enjoy the sound too - so GO, get your heart-rate going!

    Henley - 2008

    With Shirley still incapacitated with bandaged foot and crutches (so landlocked so to speak), I enjoyed a couple of nice, but fairly cool for July, days on the River Thames a week ago along with my good friend Chas Watkins (yes, yes I know all the old 'Chas 'n Dave' jokes!!) along with his son Mark plus our old friend and business colleague Philip Henson and his son James; I was on Chas's boat 'Bumble' (as in bee!) and Phil and James were on Phil's Sea Otter aluminium narrowboat which he calls interestingly 'Chota Memsahib II' - I think that means 'Little Wife' or something like that!

    We set off from Harleyford Marina and travelled downstream for 3 hours or so to Windsor where we tied up on the Eton Bank and waited for Phil to arrive - about 30 minutes later.

    The routine for what is simply known in our diaries as 'Henley' is fairly well established - I think in one boat or another Philip has been doing this for almost 20 years so it doesn't take a whole lot of planning; it's just the way it's always been done!!

    Chota Memsahib II

    We enjoyed a nice few beers and a curry on Thursday evening in Eton, just down the High Street from the famous College, followed by probably too many brandies and port on the boat afterwards!

    The first night for me was absolutely aweful! Because I (apparantly so it seems) snore a little I was relegated to the back of Bumble which was fine at first but as the night wore on it got colder and colder - and I mean COLD; as in unseasonal UK July cold. In the middle of the night sometime I remember getting up and putting on a few layers of clothes!!

    When dawn arrived (no guys, not dawn as in a sexy female Dawn!) at around 4am I was still awake trying desparately to get/keep warm - I gave up at 6am and got up for a brisk walk along the River bank; it was actually warmer outside by this time!!

    Friday was better - after thawing out we headed back up to Harleyford stopping on route for a beer or two and lunch at the Bounty Inn at Bourne End, a popular riverside pub-stop after which Phil suggested I should swap with James, take the helm and navigate 'Chota Memsahib' upstream. The distance to the next Lock gave me some much needed practice at steering the 51 foot beast but then we turned a corner and there was Marlow Lock, one of the deepest on the Thames with a rather nasty offset turn to squeeze into the Lock.

    Now I've sailed quite a few boats in my time from small dinghies to 40 foot yachts but it's quite amazing just how far 51 feet looks from the back of a narrowboat!!

    Anyway I gingerly edged forward with bow thrusters left and right steering slowly into the Lock - the Lock Keeper above shouted down to Philip positioned on the front of the boat 'now that IS impressive' and for just a nano-second I thought he was referring to my navigation skills! Sadly I realised that he was just talking about the numerous 'Save our River' posters which Philip had plastered his boat with!!

    Friday evening was fun with a hearty BBQ on the River Bank accompanied by copious amounts of wine - and the night somehow felt a lot warmer too!!

    We awoke on Saturday to heavy rain so I wasn't too disappointed to shower and head for home later that morning leaving the guys to join up with the girls for the traditional Henley Regatta day.

    Thursday, 10 July 2008

    Life and Death

    I did something today which I didn’t expect to do yesterday – we were out for a nice meal with our good friends Tim and Valerie Downes at the new Loch Fyne restaurant in Wokingham which opened for business last week when Tim mentioned that he’d heard that one of the guys who belonged to the Queens Head Golf Society who I used to play with, had died recently; Tim said he thought the funeral was today (Thursday).

    I called the Crematorium first thing this morning – yes, it was scheduled for 11.15am.

    So I decided to go – really just to pay my respects to someone I knew, not really a close friend but someone who I’d shared a few nice relaxing hours with on a golf course or two! I hadn’t seen him for a while but then again with our lifestyle between the UK and Australia, that wasn’t too surprising.

    It’s strange isn’t it? You sit there among the deceased’s close family and friends, listening to tributes and how folks remembered him – I related to all that was said about Clive.

    Although it wasn’t a religious ceremony (which I always think is rather sad, but then that’s just me I guess) the ‘service’ to celebrate Clive’s life was nonetheless quite moving – he was 68 and had retired of course but he apparently discovered that he had cancer a couple of years or so ago.

    He never made a fuss but would apparently talk about it if you asked him – but he didn’t look for sympathy, that really wasn’t Clive’s style. He bore his situation with great courage and dignity and stayed at home with his family and friends around him until the end, which sadly came quite quickly last week.

    The ‘Order of Service’ handout says the occasion was ‘A Celebration of the Life of Clive Hackett’ and that’s just what this morning was really all about; I saw no tears, just pride from his grown-up sons and daughter to their Dad, now departed this life – Clive’s wife and his elderly Mum and Dad were there too along with many, many friends who, like me were privileged to know him.

    It’s at times like these when life stops you in your tracks and you pause to reflect on your own mortal existence – your clock and mine are ticking, there’s no doubt about that, is there?

    So I was reminded this morning - SEIZE THE MOMENT and live your life to the full: experience and enjoy everything that life has to offer, the good and yes, the not so good too – it’s all part of the deal. Never wish for things or days gone by and past because for better or worse, they are consigned to history; take a moment if you will and click on 'Right Now' in the right hand column of my Blog which I always find uplifting.

    Right now, remind yourself of the blessings and the gift of life, the precious things you cherish, your family and friendships and everything else that makes you happy.

    LIVE FOR TODAY yes, but aim for the best in the future because today, tomorrow, everything and anything is possible.

    And when that day comes, as the finger of fate has already written, when your Maker calls you, no looking back with regrets, no ‘I wish I had done/seen this or that’, just know that you LIVED YOUR LIFE, left some nice memories with people you loved and met and gave it your best shot – that’s all, nothing more.


    Wednesday, 9 July 2008

    Holy bra, Batman!!

    Now, for those not-too-squeamish, here is today's hot news from the UK...............

    A teenager who thought movement in her underwear was caused by her vibrating mobile phone found a bat curled up asleep in her bra.

    Abbie Hawkins, 19, of Norwich, had been wearing the bra for five hours when she plucked up the courage to investigate. When she did, she found a baby bat in padding in her 34FF bra; the hotel receptionist said she was shocked but felt bad for removing the "cuddly" bat.

    "It looked cosy and comfortable and I was sorry for disturbing it," she said.

    She was sitting at her desk at work when she decided to investigate the strange movements in her underwear.

    "I put my hand down my bra and pulled out a cuddly little bat. Perhaps I should have left it there and given it a good home!", she said.

    "It shocked me very much at the time, but it scuttled off under the desk into the dark; I was shaking from head to toe”.

    "It looked quite cosy and comfortable in there so it was quite rude of me to take it out”.

    "When I realised it was a bat the first thing that occurred to me was how it got in there”.

    "I felt quite sorry for it. Perhaps I should have left it there and given it a good home”.

    "I did not notice anything as I put my bra on. The night before I had had one or two drinks and I was getting ready quickly”.

    (methinks, aside - oh c'mon now, only a 'few' drinks huh?)

    "The bra was in my drawer but it had been on the washing line the day before and when I was driving to work, I felt a slight vibration but I thought it was just my mobile phone in my jacket pocket."

    The bat was captured by one of her colleagues and released.

    ……..what a weird and wonderful world we live in these days!


    We enjoyed a really nice evening out at the Woking Theatre last night; the hit musical ‘Evita’ is currently doing a UK Tour and Shirley managed to get in quick a few weeks ago and got us nice seats in the Royal Circle – despite the long walk from the car park on crutches, she managed to get to our second row seats ok!

    It was a GREAT show and very memorable too so if it comes your way – go see it!

    So for those who haven’t seen the show or don’t know who ‘Evita’ was, here’s the background!


    Evita was the last collaboration between composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, who originally developed the show as a concept recording (as they had done previously with Jesus Christ Superstar). The album was released in the UK in 1976 and went straight to the top of the British charts. The recording's success spurred Robert Stigwood to produce Evita for the London stage, featuring Elaine Paige in the title role. The show opened at the Prince Edward Theatre on 21 June 1978, and it became one of the greatest musical theatre hits ever seen in London. By the time it closed, Evita had played 2,900 performances in the West End, and the Broadway production of the musical walked off with seven Tony Awards at the end of its first season in New York.


    The story of Evita follows the life of María Eva Duarte, the second and most famous wife of Argentina's President, General Juan Domingo Perón, and one of Latin America's best-known women. It begins in 1934 and follows the young girl from her small hometown to Buenos Aires where she uses her feminine powers to climb the ladder of success, first as a model, then an actress, and finally as a charismatic political figure. When Perón is elected president, Eva becomes the most powerful woman in South America. Another key figure of the story is Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, a real-life Argentinean revolutionary, at times a narrator, at times an observer, at times simply a device that enables the authors to place Eva in a situation where she is confronted with lucid personal criticism.

    JUAN DOMINGO PERÓN (1895 - 1974)

    …was an Army colonel, former President of Argentina (1946-55, 1973-74), founder and leader of the Peronist movement.

    Juan Perón started out his career by joining the army at the age of 18. Over the following 30 years he held a number of military and government posts. As secretary of labour and social welfare, and later as minister of war and vice President, Perón showed strong support for the labour unions and social reform. This won him the allegiance of Argentine workers, who became the backbone of his support.

    In 1945 Perón was imprisoned by political opponents, but his popular political position and the efforts of his second wife María Eva Duarte, popularly known as Evita, got him out of prison.

    In 1946 he was elected President. He instituted massive social reform, but was ruthless in suppressing all opposition and Perón's Argentina rapidly became a dictatorship. With the aid of Evita he converted trade unions into a militant organization, known as the descamisados [shirtless ones], along fascist lines.

    Shortly after the death of Evita, Perón was ousted from office by a military coup and was then exiled in General Franco's Spain for 10 years. He was allowed to come back to Argentina in 1972 and re-elected as President in 1973. Perón died a short 9 months into his second term as President.

    ……….are you wiser now? I’m a veritable MINE of information today!