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January 2010 Archives

January 7, 2010

Bramble enjoys the snow

One of the compensations of the snow, ice and general difficulties of everyday life is that Bramble seems to be enjoying a new phase of puppyhood and silliness. Aged nearly 14 years, she really enjoys the snow at Landrick!


January 15, 2010

Cars, complexity and instruction manuals

Son Sandy left his Mini Cooper S at Landrick on Tuesday while he is away for five weeks. By today, enough snow had melted to make our road driveable, so I thought I'd drive it to Stirling to keep its battery in condition. My first problem was finding where to insert the remote control/key: its slot is obscured by both steering wheel and wiper stalk. After a bit of searching, I found it and the car started at a touch of the button which, as on a Windows computer, doubles as both Start and Stop.

The big problem was how to remove the key, which resisted even a desperate tug, and which I was reluctant to leave in the car, even standing at our door, in case the doors locked automatically after a delay. Well, I've been long enough with computers and cars that, if all else fails, I know I'll have to consult the manual: deep sigh.

The Cooper S manual has 223 pages including an index: nothing in the index. Nothing in the first 20 pages of so-called Overview, except a full-page uncaptioned photograph of my problem. Nothing in the next 26 pages, allegedly about Controls but mainly devoted to the "personal profile", customising your locking and alarm settings, a feature called "Convenient access" which told me all about the remote control, including how to change its battery, but unbelievably didn't include the vital information about how to remove it from its slot. I had to plough through pages of being told not to hurt myself when closing the windows; how to operate the sunroof even if the electrics fail; how the slipstream deflector works; everything about seat controls, airbags and head restraints; seat heating, seat belts and adjusting the mirrors and steering wheel; and four pages of child safety!

Finally, on page 48 we reach driving and how to remove the key. Obvious: to pull it out, just push it in further! How intuitive is that? More to the point, why doesn't the manual have a Quick-start single page that tells you what you really need to know, like how to start and stop the car? I always used to provide this when writing software manuals, and as cars become more and more complicated, it becomes more and more necessary for them, too.

January 16, 2010

Mr Boom is pure magic

During the last month of the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival, we hired a one-man band called Mr Boom to celebrate our two children's birthday. They had reached the ages of 7 and 4 respectively, on the same day, and they and their pals (and parents) had a brilliant time singing and dancing along with Mr Boom. We danced around the "Pixie Tree", and Helen was transformed from a frog back into herself. We all went to the airport, and Sandy got to hold the famous flying sock. We sang the days of the week, acted out the planets moving around the sun and ended with a heartfelt, haunting "What a lovely day I've had". Mr Boom's cassettes were with us on every car journey thereafter, and I think we know most of them by heart.

After over 21 years, it was exciting news that Mr Boom was coming to Dunblane today, and Helen and Amy and I hastened along to Scottish Churches House to see if he'd make it all the way from the moon (where he lives) despite the snow and slush. His spaceship arrival sounds hadn't changed, his much-loved songs and jokes were just the same, and – best of all – his gentle, playful rapport with very young children was as warm as ever. He got 30-odd children and adults to their feet, singing, dancing and acting like animals or machines or planets, and we all went away smiling.

Even his costume and props don't look much different, but now there's a URL on his drum! Yes, the internet must reach the moon, because he now has a charming website where you can buy his music, book a gig or and make contact with his lunar or terrestial offices. You can read about his perfomances to 20,000 children at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, on BBC2 television and live from Adelaide to Tokyo to Orkney. But this modest, charming man, surely a unique entertainer, still seems accessible to those lucky enough to know about him:


Here is Helen, with Amy and her pal Catriona, being planets:


And finally a general shot of Churches House with half the room taking part:


January 17, 2010

Snow, chains and publishing


This photo evokes a period of four weeks in which Landrick has been effectively cut off by snow. In 17 years of living here, we'd never thought of chains before, having coped by leaving a car at the foot of the hill and hiking the last bit. After over two weeks, this was beginning to pall and we opted for Klack & Go which are self-tensioning and supposed to be easy to fit. This isn't as simple as the girl in the video makes it look! We even wondered if they would be too late to be useful. Not a bit: in the last fortnight, they have repaid their cost by letting us give lifts to people and boxes of books. As a publisher, we still have to get orders out to customers, which means meeting delivery drivers at the foot of the hill.

A compensation of the snow has been the view from the office window: snow becomes Landrick well, and our pond is a natural skating rink:


Wednesday brought a phone call from The Bookseller to ask if Rucksack Readers had been affected by the weather at all? So I told them about the snow chains and the view from the office window and was astonished to find myself quoted on page 3 of Friday's issue.

Yesterday the thaw arrived in earnest, and we removed the chains (much easier than fitting them). Our colour-starved eyes are feasting on greens and browns, the postie has resumed delivering our mail and life may be returning to normal. Perhaps washing and putting away the chains will become a feature of Januaries to come, like taking down the Christmas tree and packing up the lights.

January 26, 2010

Madeira: first impressions

Madeira is something of a revelation. It has an attractive climate year-round, thanks to being on a latitude with Marrakesh, moderated by maritime influence and sea breezes. Its mountainous scenery is dramatic and lush, but despite the gradients you can reach anywhere on the island by bus. You can do easy walks along its levadas (irrigation channels) ot make adventurous hikes to its highest point (Pico Ruivo at 1862 m/6107ft).

Roads are good and driving standards high: drivers give way to pedestrians and, even more surprisingly, to each other. They use the euro and GMT here, and you can drink the tap water. We flew direct from Glasgow in 3.5 hours, and yet it is unquestionably an exotic place to visit.

Discovered in 1420 by an explorer called Zarco, in the service of Henry the Navigator, Madeira was soon colonised and has been Portuguese ever since. Enjoying a degree of autonomy, the island seems to take pride in its mother country. The population stands at around 275,000 and there is little crime or political unrest, hardly any litter or graffiti. And although unemployment is high, we have seen only one beggar in Funchal.

Most people speak English and seem welcoming to tourists. The museum attendant who didn’t was more than patient with our questions and body language and pidgin Portuguese. Habsburg ex-Emperor Carlos died of pneumonia here in 1922 after only six months in exile. Winston Churchill painted here in 1950. And because our small, family-run hotel has wifi, I can blog about it direct.

Here are some photos from our first explorations: first the wonderful rooftops of Funchal from its very modern cable car:


There's a fine fishing village at Camera de Lobos (lobos means sealion in this case, though also wolf) where we saw them catching the shark-related espada ("scabbard fish") which we had for dinner (truly delicious):


Finally, here we are, Keir and I, near the dramatic 600-m high cliffs of Cabo Girao:


January 29, 2010

The garden isle

Yesterday we visited two gardens (Palheiro and Madeira Magic). After long weeks of white-out snow in Dunblane, it was especially refreshing and delightful to see flowers in January. And the flowers here have an extravagance, a mad profusion of vibrant colour and some wonderfully improbable forms. Here are some examples, first, the King’s Crown Protea:


Widespread on the island is this amazing Bird of Paradise flower:


Finally here is the Golden Cup, an unusual flower that is be pollinated not by birds, but by bats, because it puts out its aroma only at night. This must be to mutual evolutionary advantage, but I don't yet know why:


About January 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in January 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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