In February 2009 I wrote a post entitled “Preserving the record” in which I queried the reliability of digital media for long-term storage. The following is a comment from one of my readers at the time, followed by my reply:
In February 2009 I wrote a post entitled “Preserving the record” in which I queried the reliability of digital media for long-term storage. The following is a comment from one of my readers at the time, followed by my reply:
A tortoise was discovered 34 years ago, buried in our neighbour’s compost heap. Local enquiries were made but nobody claimed him. Our neighbour didn’t want to keep him. Encouraged by our four-year-old daughter and sure that our garden was secure (which our neighbour’s clearly wasn’t) we decided to give him a home.
A little internet research told us all we needed to know about caring for this new member of the family but we were ill prepared. During his first winter he hibernated under some hay in a cardboard box, in a frost-free place indoors, and surprised us all by waking up at the beginning of January, far earlier than expected. However, for the period between waking and living outdoors we bought and modified a rabbit hutch in which he would have plenty of space to live indoors and move about until it was warm enough to go out. The modification consisted of replacing the back of the hutch with clear perspex to allow more light into the hutch. Tortoises are cold-blooded creatures whose lives are governed by light and temperature.
Henry, that being the name we gave him (I wasn’t sure of his gender at first so was keeping “Henrietta” in reserve in case he turned out to be a young lady) has been with us for 34 years now, so we must be doing something right. Each year he hibernates at the beginning of October under extra hay in his hutch. From then on he stays in a partitioned area of our garage which contains an anti-frost heater. He starts to move at the beginning of January and his hutch is then moved into the house (for more warmth) and is placed on my desk just inside a window. Here he stays until it is warm enough for him outside for an hour or two each day, increasing until mild enough for him outside full-time, provided that these is no risk of frost, usually sometime in May. His diet consists of copious amounts of lettuce (but not Iceberg for some reason) plus thin slices of apple, a strawberry now and then,dandelions (especially the flowers) and sundry leaves from the garden.
The neighbours’ cats tend to steer well clear of Henry and my only worry is the seagulls which can be a bit too inquisitive at times.
About a fortnight ago Henry changed his routine. Instead of half burying himself under leaves under a bush at night he started coming off the garden onto the slightly raised paved area behind the house and then onto the slightly higher paved area by the kitchen door and garage. We found him there three afternoons in succession and concluded that he wanted to be put in his hutch overnight once the sun was no longer on the lawn. Why he expected us to come out and find him I’ll never know but he has been happy in his hutch every night since. One morning when I go to take him out he will have hibernated and thus the annual cycle will start all over again.
It’s so long since I last posted that WordPress has changed almost beyond recognition and I had some difficulty in getting started again. Serves me right I suppose but in some ways a lot has happened in the past year, enough to keep me distracted elsewhere but not enough that I would want to report in much detail on the blog.
As readers of this blog with long memories might recall, just over a year ago I had sold our VW camper and our 1970 Morris Minor Traveller and bought a Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion. Then I threw a spanner into the works by having a stroke and going to hospital for a couple of weeks. Fortunately I made a fairly good recovery, which continues.
To buy a nearly new car (and a 2010 model is nearly new in my book) is a major departure for me. Around 1970 I bought two new cars for a business that I was running at the time but otherwise it has always been classic cars, or cars that have soon started to be regarded as classics. So it was quite a surprise for me to discover how much small cars have “moved on” in recent years.
I always used to think of modern cars (especially relatively inexpensive ones) as featureless Euroboxes and not at all interesting and tended to concentrate my attention on various classic cars, or at least relatively lively small saloons. I no longer have the space and facilities for maintaining and restoring cars, nor the inclination for that matter at my age. So prior to buying the Polo I was looking for something small, comfortable for two and economical. Our anticipated low mileage should be expected to ensure low maintenance. I bought the car in May 2016 (when it was five-and-a-half years old) and am still most impressed by how well it suits all requirements.
The proper model name of the car is ” Polo Bluemotion TDI”. The Bluemotion bit refers to the many features which were designed to ensure fuel economy, such as the special tyres, for low rolling resistance and the smooth contours of the car (including underneath) for low wind resistance, among others. There is also a feature which switches the engine off and on as appropriate when stationery in traffic. Re-starting never fails but I find it unnerving because the engine is so quiet that I cannot be sure when it is running but in any case a lot of re-starting in town traffic must drain the battery too quickly and cause unnecessary wear and tear on the starter motor. Fortunately there is a switch to turn the feature off.
There is a 1.2 litre, 3 cylinder diesel engine which is surprisingly lively when accelerating aggressively yet has ample performance without seeming to struggle when driven normally. I expected the five forward gears to be useful but still worried that long motorway trips would feel boring and underpowered in a car designed for fuel economy. Not so. The Polo is fun to drive and if the dashboard indicator is to be believed, I can move at 70mph (the UK’s maximum limit) and still get 70 miles per gallon, on a level motorway. The car is light and compact and very easy to handle at all speeds and it is quiet enough, even at 70mph, to have a conversation with my wife without raising my voice. It is comfortable and manages poor road surfaces admirably and the dashboard instruments are particularly informative.
There is an indicator on the dash to tell you your fuel consumption at any particular moment and the same shows various other figures such as how many “miles” are left in the tank. Another display advises when to change gear which, even for experienced drivers, can be useful when you are in especially noisy traffic, because the Polo is so quiet.
My Polo doesn’t have Satnav but I have one already and this plugs in near the cup holders under the radio/CDplayer. Storage space is limited but just about adequate.
The rear seating is more than enough for two adults and (on short trips) even three of normal proportions.
There is ample boot space and this becomes positively huge if the back seat is folded down, as in the picture above. Our car has a spare wheel and tools stored beneath the floor of the boot.
I have a feeling that I won’t need the next car for many years and, when I do, it won’t be the Satnav that I will be plugging in, but the car itself.
Oh dear. I’m in trouble again. It’s not every year that one goes on no fewer than THREE cruises and then to Geilo in Norway for a skiing holiday at Christmas with all the family. But when writing the previous post, all of this went right out of my head and as Granny-Anne paid for the cruises and the Geilo holiday in 2015, she was not amused. I’m in the doghouse again.
We went to Amsterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg on our “European Cities”cruise. Norway was the destination another time and the picture shows Fred Olsen’s Balmoral at Olden, one of my favourites, situated at the inner end of a fjord. Our third cruise was around some UK cities and islands. All three cruises were on Balmoral, because we enjoy the ship so much that we have tended to choose Balmoral first, then accept wherever she happens to be going, within our budget of course.
A large part of my time, in the first half of 2015, was spent emptying Gerry’s house under the direction of her immediate family (who live well over 100 miles away but visited a few times to help where only close family can help) and preparing it for sale.
(Some days later…)
I wrote this post while in the hospital using the hospital-supplied wifi. When I tried to publish it, a message told me that it could not find the WordPress website. So a lot of struggling with one-finger typing and many errors was wasted as there was no way to save the post.
I have been at home for three days and trusting that my wifi will work correctly I am starting again.
This year has seen the sale of both the VW camper van and the Morris 1000 Traveller. Although we had several enjoyable outings in the van, it was under-used as we never actually camped in it. The Morris, having lost the use of Gerry’s garage, was kept on the drive, albeit under a good weatherproof cover, but not a satisfactory arrangement.
We now have a 5-year-old VW Polo Bluemotion which suits us very well, and when I am strong enough to give it a wash and take some photographs I will have more to write about it.
Well, well. I haven’t written in this blog for more than two years, mainly because there was nothing that I wanted to write about. Things happened of course. First, I lost Geraldine. my best friend (outside the immediate family) for whom I had tried to be a useful carer (gardening, shopping, chauffeuring and odd job man) for a few years. Her various illnesses, which she had battled with courage and patience for many years, eventually left her prone to pneumonia, which took her from us at Christmas 2014. Rest in Peace Gerry and we will hope to meet again on the other side.
So far as I was concerned, 2015 was a blur. If anything of consequence happened, I didn’t notice or have forgotten. Then, in 2016, I started again by selling the Morris Minor, shortly followed by the VW T4 motor caravan and by buying an almost new VW Polo Bluemotion.
We planned to make a few easy trips in the “new” car when I threw a spanner in the works by having a stroke. I am now in the local specialist unit, having started for two days in the local general hospital. Here, I have my own en-suite single room.
Nine days on and I am now taking real food again having had tube feeding followed by everything puried for a few days. Everyone here is very kind but the staff are, if anything, too helpful. I have been able to manage washing and going to the toilet etc, perfectly well by myself, albeit more slowly than usually and, yes, with a slight wobble in the early stages. But the hospital wanted me to be escorted by two people every time I got out of bed. One night this led a row when I refused to allow two very young nurses to accompany this elderly gent to the toilet. After a while we compromised. Since then I have been instructed by various staff to ring for a nurse every time I needed the toilet and I have ignored them. Fortunately they have ignored me too. It has helped that progress has been good so that I no longer need escorts.
I have typed this with one finger of the left hand. The right hand will join in when strong enough. Meanwhile I will leave you contemplating the sheer joy of putting on one’s socks with one hand, or fastening or unfastening zips, or a belt. It’s all fun.
I have been feeling bone idle today and have acted accordingly. Apart from the few domestic chores that make up my everyday routine I have done nothing at at all. Disgraceful I know but it doesn’t happen all that often.
Had it been dry, with a good chance of remaining dry for a few hours, I had in mind to re-varnish the woodwork on the Morris 1000 Traveller. Actually, I don’t use varnish as I prefer Danish Oil. The latter (I was told) remains slightly flexible but intact for many months, while varnish hardens and tends to crack, thus allowing water to reach the underlying wood where it tends to be retained by the varnish while it rots the wood. So I oil the woodwork every six months and it continues to look as good as new.
The VW T4 campervan continues to provide reliable and enjoyable motoring, as indeed it should, given the cost of sorting out many defects when I bought it nearly two years ago. For much of the past two years the Morris has remained in a dry garage while the van has braved all weathers as an everyday vehicle. On my fairly frequent trips to our local hospital I have to use the Morris as the van is too tall for the hospital’s multi-storey car park. These trips are fun, not only because they are more than long enough to allow the Morris to warm up thoroughly and recharge its new battery but also because, at 44 years old, the Morris attracts a fair amount of friendly attention from pedestrians and other drivers.
Speaking of hospitals reminds me that I passed on some incorrect information in my previous blog post where I explained that I had had two stents fitted and was due to return to the hospital for more. On the next visit I discovered that I had four stents already (not two, as I had been informed previously) and that on that day a second artery acquired three and a third artery didn’t need a by-pass after all but had received two stents instead. So, nine stents in total – I think the hospital must have had a job lot cheap! I have been fine since and have just finished a few weeks of cardiac rehabilitation exercise classes at the hospital, closely monitored by two specialist nurses and a team of physiotherapists. The next stage is to continue those classes at a local community centre. Whether I proceed to that stage, or simply exercise at home, remains to be seen.
Now I am beginning to review my ideas about our transport needs. By the autumn I hope to make a decision about whether we really need a fully equipped campervan. If it was for myself only, I would sell the campervan and manage very well with the Morris. However, it must be said that Granny-Anne has been accustomed to rather more comfort on longer trips than the Morris can provide and deserves to enjoy at least the same again. So, eventually, the Morris will have to go as well, possibly to be replaced by one of my favourite compact saloons from the past, such as an early 3 Series BMW or a Triumph Dolomite 18/50 or Sprint. We shall see.
I think we will all be greatly relieved if this wet weather stops for more than one day at a time. Hardly any outdoor work has been done since November. The last job in my garden and my neighbour’s was to clear away several large bins of autumn leaves and other tree debris from lawns and paved areas. No sooner had this been completed than the wet weather started and it has stopped for only a few hours at a time since. We shouldn’t complain. There has been no storm damage and no flooding near us.
The new Acer Aspire laptop is playing up again. It’s latest trick is to freeze web pages at about 30-second intervals. This makes surfing the internet rather tedious, and posting to the blog almost impossible.
So, a quick update about what has been happening since my previous post: The cancer treatment (quarterly injections) has continued with only minor additions to the side effects. It is hoped that this will finish in about six months from now. It will then take several months (I am told) for the side effects to wear off. I have managed to confirm with two doctors that the injections have prevented me from losing weight during the past several months. I need to lose around one stone, or a little more if I can and will be glad when this becomes easier. I suspect that the biggest threat from being overweight is the possibility of diabetes, and I really don’t need that.
Fortunately I feel quite well though almost perpetually rather tired – another side effect of the injections and of all five of the prescribed pills that I am required to take. I can report a small triumph here, in that my lovely family doctor agreed to let me stop taking statins to lower my cholesterol. I decided, after studying the subject in some detail, that statins are not for me. I was prompted to investigate them when their side effects started to become intolerable. The first of these was pain and weakness in the legs, which became so severe that I had to drag myself upstairs using my arms only. The other, much more frightening experience, was when I suffered complete mental blanks – not just a momentary loss of memory, such as might be described as a “senior moment” but a complete loss of memory and of current thinking which lasted several seconds. After that I decided that enough was enough, especially as I had reached the conclusion already that high cholesterol was not the danger that conventional medicine made it out to be, that reducing it was unnecessary and that statins interfered (directly or indirectly) with too many other vital processes in the body.
Months before the statins episode happened it was decided that I should see a specialist at the University Hospital in Cardiff about chest pains whose origin were not at all obvious. Two weeks ago I attended the Cardiology Day Case Unit where a cardiac catheterisation was carried out. Apparently, two arteries had narrowed and a third was blocked completely. So I returned home that evening with two stents in one artery and can look forward to the same in the other narrow one a bit later in the year. It seems that the only option with the blocked artery is a by-pass and I will think about that in due course. I must say that day in hospital was perfectly comfortable. The “operating” team were very professional and clearly on top of the job and the nursing care was very good throughout. So much for my health-related adventures.
The Morris Traveller has remained in my neighbour’s dry garage through the winter except on a few dry days when I have taken it out for a drive. Now I have a problem with the “up-and-over garage door which requires the attention of a specialist repairer. This should have been sorted today but the appointed repairer didn’t arrive this morning and hasn’t been in touch since. Unfortunately I will be busy all day tomorrow so I will deal with this on Monday.
The VW campervan continues to go well though its mileage is limited to visits to local supermarkets and very little else at this time of the year. We hope to do some UK touring this year and postpone any ideas about cruises until 2015. Before I forget, this quick update would not be complete without mentioning that Henry (our tortoise) awoke from hibernation halfway through January and is now housed in splendid comfort in my “office” while awaiting the warm weather. Actually, I am sharing the splendid comfort with him while awaiting the same thing!
At last the old laptop has all but expired after nearly five years and I cannot complain. It has been heavily used, almost daily, giving me hundreds of hours of access to news and other information, plus the great pleasure of watching and hearing my musical heroes and heroines past and present thanks to YouTube. How many hours per week I have “played” with the laptop I would not care to admit but for well under £2 per week I reckon the computer was brilliant value for money.
Last week I bought a new machine (an Acer Aspire V5 Touch), which promoted me instantly from a user of the Windows Vista 32 bit operating system to the latest version of Windows 8, 64 bit. The change to Windows 8 has been much easier than I was expecting though I have a lot to learn yet before I can claim to be fluent at navigating the system. Despite substantially more RAM and storage memory than my old computer, this new machine is nowhere near as quick as I was expecting, though it does handle large quantities of data with considerable aplomb and a complete absence of hiccups. It is also very quiet and runs remarkably cool. I have now emptied 150GB of files from my desktop hard drive into the Acer, together with most of the files on my old laptop (another 120GB), and sorted and condensed all of this down to about 100GB of files which now reside in both the Acer and the independent hard drive, ie. all my digital files going back several years in one computer plus a complete and easily accessible back-up with lots of space to spare all round.
The old laptop hasn’t finished yet. Some time ago, when it was becoming slow and frequently freezing in the middle of a task, I emptied it and reinstalled from scratch. It took hours and was not fun but it did improve the performance considerably. Now, a couple of years on, I cannot face the idea of repeating that procedure, especially as Vista is getting a bit old and some updating seems to be a good idea. However, while the old laptop seems no longer able to handle large files, or bunches of small ones, it still plays music and MIDI files and video files (via Audacity, Notation Composer and Real Player) and has no problems with everyday office functions (Word and Excel). So I propose to keep it for those functions while it remains able, permanently linked to the printer and external speakers but disconnected from the Internet. Future downloads for this computer will be filtered through the new laptop and the comprehensive anti-virus (etc.) software installed there.
It has been a pleasant surprise to discover that moving from Vista 32bit to Windows 8, 64 bit has not required vast expense on new software to support all my interests. My main worry concerned Adobe Photoshop. This cost a small fortune when I purchased version 5.5 in the 1990s and have been using ever since. The modern version is simply unaffordable so far as I am concerned and I was expecting to change to the very similar (the last time I looked) free Open Source software called GIMP. If I remember correctly I first used Photoshop 5.5. at least 15 years ago in conjunction with Windows 3.1. It has never been updated yet it works with Windows 8.
Some other packages were simply loaded into the new laptop from the old CDs and worked perfectly. I discovered that my genealogy programme, Personal Ancestral File, has been discontinued since I last used it so I downloaded the free version of Ancestral Quest , a straightforward replacement. To replace other software with which I am familiar I downloaded free versions (which will be upgraded now that I know they work) or at least reconnected on the Internet. These included Realplayer, Audacity, Evernote and others. I had to buy a new version of Microsoft Office. Given the price of the computer I had hoped that it would be included. No such luck.
When it has not been raining it has been exceedingly cold in the Great Outdoors lately, so I have not felt much inclined to stand/sit/lie around out there fixing the defects in the campervan. Instead I have found a local garage of the type that I used near our previous home for many years. Mardy Motors, Cardiff (02920 795959) are about a mile away on a bus route between my house and the city centre. They were highly recommended by a neighbour who has used them for several years and they have done some work for me already.
To summarise the VW story briefly: I bought the campervan a few months ago and had it inspected and initial remedial work carried out by the local VW main dealer. In total this work came to £1,164. It included the replacement of all brake discs and pads, one new tyre, the renewal of brake fluid, wheel alignment, the renewal of the driver’s door lock, alternator belt and power steering belt and one trackrod arm.
Four months (568 miles) later I returned to the main dealer for a major service (£277) during which they also compiled a list of “advisories”, ie. work that was recommended though not necessarily urgent. To be honest most of this was unexpected, as I had thought that such matters would have been included in the initial inspection. The “advisories” amounted to about £2,000. By this time I was coming to the conclusion that (a) they were being extremely fussy and (b) impressively expensive (at around £90 per hour for their work). I was pleased that they were picking on every defect whether urgently in need of attention or not – this highlighted precisely the information that I wanted about the van if I was to achieve my aim of returning it to as near new condition as possible. However, their prices made quite the wrong impression so this was when I started to make enquries about small independent garages in the area.
Next the clutch started playing up. In a matter of days it went from a rather noisy bearing to causing lively vibrations at the pedal to almost refusing to work at all. So Mardy Motors supplied and fitted a genuine VW three-in-one clutch kit at a total cost of £580 including VAT.
Apparently the VW T4 has a common problem affecting the clutch pedal in that the bracket supporting the pedal is not strong enough for the job and, eventually, it will break, causing the pedal to collapse and become useless and probably damaging the master cylinder, leading to another expensive repair. I discovered this from the T4/T5 Forum online which also enabled me to order a reinforcing bracket from its enterprising independent maker. Just for a change, I fitted this myself. It took all of five minutes!
The first, and smaller, instalment of the work on the “advisories” was completed by Mardy Motors a few days ago. fitting a new brake caliper, freeing the brake compensator (which had been sticking previously), renewing the handbrake cables and the reversing light switch and supplying all the parts plus a set of spare bulbs for the exterior lights. The total cost was £387.
The second (and last for now) batch of work is underway as I write. This will include replacing lower wishbone bushes, antiroll bar bushes and the nearside front upper balljoint. A broken heater control cable will be replaced and the spare wheel carrier, which I have de-rusted and treated to copious amounts of Hammerite, will be refitted. The cost of all of this is expected to be around £500.
Meanwhile, for my birthday recently, Granny Anne has very generously given me a shiny new digital/FM radio/CD player to fill the gaping hole in my dashboard. It was fitted at our local branch of Halfords. I bought the van complete with said gaping hole and also a tape player which had filled that hole originally. All my efforts to reinstate the tape player came to nothing – I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t work anyway and I decided that I didn’t want a tape player after all having recently converted several taped tracks to MP3.
That summarises the work on the campervan to date (not forgetting the new windscreen fitted late last year). It has been my aim, so far as it is possible, to ensure that the van, about which so little was known at the time of purchase, would become a known quantity which, with regular inspections and proper servicing and maintenance, could be expected to be reliable, rather than a constant source of worry about what might go wrong next.
The past ten weeks could be described as almost uniformly exceedingly dull, if the weather was the only factor involved. Contrary to expectations our November cruise to the Canary Islands, though very enjoyable and worthwhile, especially for the warm, dry weather, quite failed to have the desired effect of shortening the Winter for me. The almost non-stop wet weather here at home, which had already spoilt a great deal of 2012, seemed to go on and on for much longer than a normal winter and ruled out any hope of catching up with garden tidying in December and January. The short spell of bitterly cold weather that followed was little better but some progress was possible. It is a measure of how difficult a season it has been that I have done an enormous amount of reading during recent months and even undertook, without being prompted, some interior decoration – desperate times indeed!
But there have been some bright spots to break up the damp and gloom. Christmas was fun as always, not the least because of our great family gathering at daughter Jennie’s house. Then Jennie decided that the period from Christmas to Easter was just too long so she announced that there would be a second Christmas at her house on February 24th. So four generations of the family duly assembled, ranging in age from nine months to 93 years, for another wonderful lunch complete with Christmas crackers, paper hats, silly jokes and all the other trimmings.
At last we are seeing better conditions outdoors, if only for the odd day or two at a time. Henry, our tortoise, awoke early in February and now waits with commendable patience for the outdoor temperature to rise sufficiently for him to enjoy the garden again for an hour or two each day – his accommodation in the meantime being his specially customised rabbit hutch which has invaded the space normally occupied by my painting equipment in my study. This is a very pampered tortoise!
The Morris Minor has emerged from hibernation as well. On an unusually dry day recently, when the local roads were temporarily free of salt, a leisurely tour of the neighbourhood was in order and once again I found the Morris very lively. Much as I would like to keep it, I cannot justify the expense of two vehicles so it will have to be sold later this year. Meanwhile it will provide essential transport while the Volkswagen campervan gets some attention.
The VW had a major service at the local Main Dealers recently, a couple of months later than I anticipated last autumn – that is the sort of winter it has been. The outcome included a list of recommended additional work which was useful but hardly a cause for celebration. Over time, I want to return the VW to as near new condition as I can while keeping it on the road. However, although the local main dealer for VW has been excellent, they have also been very expensive. I quite understand that they have large, expensive premises and probably outlandish business rates to pay but I cannot afford to contribute to the tune of £90 per hour for their workshop services so have had to find an alternative solution. This has come in the form of a strong recommendation to try a small garage not far from my home where, I am pleased to say, the initial impression has been promising and work on the VW will start this week.