15 Jul


We went to Guilfest as we have done for years, 13th-15th July. The weather was ok, it rained on the way down and on Sunday it alternated between baking hot and torrential rain. The lineup was good, and I particularly liked Supergrass on Friday who turned out to be a lot heavier than one might expect. It meant missing the Saw Doctors on the Ents24 stage but I felt it was a good call. On the Saturday I was pleased with MORCHEBA, Ghosts and to a lesser extent Squeeze who were hampered by Glen Tilbrook almost totally losing his voice. I was disappointed with Jimmy Cliff. On the Sunday I greatly enjoyed Skaville UK, made up as they are of many UK ska veterans. Toots and the Maytals also disappointed me, but The Beat and the Dub Pistols made up for it. In the last two slots I loved The Magic Numbers and should have enjoyed Madness, but somehow I was untouched by the Nutty Boys.

Sadly the toilets at Guilfest this year were a crying shame, which for a festival that has always succeeded to provide great bogs, was a crying shame. Still, I bet we’re back next year..

08 Jul

Club La Costa

Last Autumn we went to one of those timeshare presentations in Leeds. We listened to the blah blah and then, because we had friends in that club, we bought a trial membership. It was £3k for 6 weeks vacation over 34 months, which seemed difficult to beat.

We have just returned from our ‘Prelude’ week where they basically try and get you to upgrade to their ‘points’ scheme, at a cost of between £10-14k over and above the initial £3k which they will ‘trade-in’. We said no, after a very jolly day of hard sell from a quite nice but competent sales guy. [Remember that I am a Purchasing Manager by training and Ann had 25 years in Sales and Marketing, you might find the sell a little too hard.] They then came back and very quickly made us a more traditional and lower cost (maybe not better value for money, maybe it was) offer for a floating timeshare week at £7k. We said no. The week was GORGEOUS in a huge penthouse apartment with a roof, jacuzzi and opulent luxury. We haven’t got our full value from that week alone, but it goes a long way to making the money worth it.

Now we wait with nervous sweaty palms to actually book and use our 5 trial weeks. I have joined a members BBS and read all the ins and outs and ups and downs, I have looked closely at the resale market and seen that you can pay a fraction of what they want to sell to you new at.. We want it all to go well, and in fact we want it to be great and then we may well decide to buy in on the resale market sometime in the next 2 years.

Why have I told you all this? Well, timeshare is scary, it looks like you can spend a vast amount on it, you can get tied up in finance for a product that actually has a very low resale value and is not an investment. The maintenance fees are quite high, you still have to buy your flights and your food and the hard sell can be quite obnoxious sometimes. On the other hand, if you aren’t tied to school holidays, can play the system and have a moderately tough skin, you can get some great vacations in what look to be very nicely maintained resorts (I only speak now of the Club La Costa resorts I have seen, and they varied even on the same site.)

1: If you are tempted, do your research, find out what the second hand market is, what the terms and conditions actually say, check what you are actually buying, and who owns what.
2: If you can’t resist full on hard selling then IMHO avoid the whole thing. If you can face it out and simply keep saying ‘thanks but no’, then maybe you should try it and then make a decision in the resale market afterwards.
3: Always check your rights, if there is no cooling off period (and for products less than 36 months outside the UK there may not be) think very very hard.

Which? reports on clampdown on holiday clubs.
CLC Members Forum
Help Me Out Before I Sign!

and lastly, a fairly accurate report from the Guardian in 2003: http://tinyurl.com/37b3dl

I’ll keep you up to date, let you know how it goes..

06 Jun

NS needs to get into the modern world

Just a little rant, NS, the Dutch rail company really needs to get their act together and add the ability to take credit and debit cards on their ticket machines, or at least add note readers. Stations in Netherlands are currently full of international travellers having to go to the ticket desks and stand in long queues to pay by cash (even the ticket booth doesn’t take credit or debit cards). Silly, silly, silly..

31 May


I have recently watched a big wodge of movies as I travel Europe. Oh the joys of laptops and mpeg decryption and PayTV in hotels. I watched Fun with Dick and Jane last night which was okay-ish, nothing wrong with it but nothing to get very excited about. I then watched Alien Autopsy which proved that Ant and Dec can still act, and that the quirky Brit. comedy still has legs. On the other hand it also didn’t set the world on fire, so so-so. I am now on a train watching Night At The Museum which, from the cast list, could be great.. or dire. Let’s all pause and wait until I watch it and tell you in the next sentence..

It was pretty good. CGI family fun. Great to see Dick van Dyke as the baddie. Stiller still never convinces me in a straight role. Rick Gervais is dull, Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson have a lot of fun as Roman and Cowboy.

27 May


I have been travelling a lot recently. I was in Warsaw all last week organising and running a conference. It was the first time I had stayed in Warsaw as opposed to passing through en route to elsewhere in Poland. Our hosts were great and the hospitality was forthcoming. My view of Warsaw was that it has a lot of old 1960s concrete flats in the ‘Corbusier‘ ‘machines for living’ aesthetic we have seen across the whole of Europe, with a great deal of building in the post war period and the 1960s and 1970s. [[Those from Eastern Europe think these are Communist buidlings, I often have to explaoin to them that we in the West built them too with similarly depressing consequences.]] This are scattered and intermixed with the newer glass and steel towers we see worldwide for business and retail. There seems, and the locals confirm, that there has been very little (sensible) town planning and that the city lacks a centre, a retail circuit or a logical area for nightlife. It is fairly higgly-piggledy, but at the centre is a huge skyscraper, the Palace of Science and Culture (PKiN), built by the Russians as a gift from Stalin. Now I am told the citizens love-hate the tower, but I found no-one who didn’t hate it or was indifferent. I thought it was kind of impressive and definitely worth keeping, but I am a Brit who hasn’t been opporessed by the Russians for hundreds of years, and I think it is not the style, it is not the Communist origins, it is the fact that it is Russian that makes the locals dislike it. How can I comment, I don’t come from this history and culture and yet I do hope they bear with it, it’ll be fascinating to Poles in a hundred years. Given that that demolished a huge Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the centre of Warsaw on reaching independence after the First World War, I suspect that it may not survive. Interestingingly the Czechs have a similar tower, it is now the Hotel Intercontinental!

21 May

Agon, the Greek Heroic rpg

I read Agon, an indie Heroic Age Greek rpg! I now understand gspearing‘s silence. A great recreation of one of the ways to play a game like D&D, but do you want to play that kind of island hopping monster killing, buddy competing fun?

AGON is a competitive RPG set in a fantastic version of ancient Greece similar to that of the Illiad and the Odyssey. The heroes work together against the enemies and obstacles created by the Antagonist, but the players compete to win the most glory for their heroes.The player who earns the most glory wins the game.

I think I would enjoy it as a game, but I am not sure if I would want to give it priority over another Greek game that was more story telling, or perhaps a Savaged one that was faster, since I suspect that the combat system (whilst cunningly put together) could take a long while to resolve.

I admire this game greatly. It recreates the competitive style of play that many of us have played and, even if we don’t choose to do it that often, the author John Harper has created a simple, well balanced and elegant game. I’m not sure I’d run it.

09 May


Hooray! Chaosium have announced the long awaited definitive edition of their long loved Basic Roleplaying game. http://www.chaosium.com/article.php?story_id=246

I went to Brussels for a meeting held by DG TREN on their forthcoming Logistics Action Plan, which was fascinating and the best such event I have been to in years.

I have a stack of work to do since I spent most of last week helping finalise and submit FP7 proposals.

Matt’s first GCSE exam is in 7 days, Ann and I are more wound up about it than us. We make him do 2 hours revision a night as well as being at school, but I wish he’d play less World of Warcraft! Mind you, he is doing his revision and next week he’s at home all day every day so the really concentrated stuff will start then. I held a History revision day for him and 2 mates on Bank Holiday Monday and that went well.

30 Apr

Say No To 0870

You know those 0870 numbers that companies so kindly provide instead of a real geographical number? Have you noticed that they are excluded from most inclusive call packages on landlines and mobiles? You can pay up to and over 8p a minute, and since they aren’t regulated like premium numbers they can keepm you on hold for ages, whilst they get a kick backl for every recorded message they play, since the company (in cash or benefit in kind) gets a kickback from the telecoms provider.

It has always annoyed me to ring a company and then be on hold for 20 minutes and then be passed back and forth, and even more so when it could be costing me more than a quid (Sky are particularly bad at this). Fortunately some consumers have kicked back and launched a site that lists as many of the normal phone numbers for companies that they can find. For example not only do they have the normal geographical number for Sky but they even have an 0800 number listed. SayNoTo0870 is a consumer driven site and whilst it doesn’t have every number in the world, I have find it often gives you a much cheaper alternative.

04 Apr

Brothers Grimm

On the other hand, I watched the Brothers Grimm on Sky today and frankly this was a fantast for me. Slightly mad, wondefully imagined and realised, it mixes and matches fairy tales into a great tale mixing fantasy and the eponymous brothers. If you like rich complex work and liked Time Bandits or The Fisher King then try this.. oh and Matt Damon acts, I mean really acts..