What I did on my hols

A fair amount of time has now elapsed since returning from my hols, but I’ve only more recently finished uploading all my photos to Flickr, so now a quick post on what we did.

We spent a week in and near Lake Geneva and the Alps, on the Swiss/French border. We flew into Geneva, and rented a tiny little blue Daihatsu Sirion that just about managed to fit our luggage in.

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I was driving – my first time in a LHD car. Got used to it really quickly with one exception – I just couldn’t remember to put the handbrake on when I stopped. Car coped with the mountains with no problem, but had a really nasty gear box.

We were very fortunate to have friends in the area who let us stay with them, so we got away with just two hotel stays in the whole week. The first was on our first night, when we stayed at the Hotel “les Cygnes”, in Evian (where the bottled water comes from). The room was lovely, with a small balcony opening right onto Lake Geneva. After dark, we could see the distant lights of Lausanne on the far side of the lake. I didn’t take any good daylight photos. By the following morning, a mist had fallen, and you could barely see a thing.

Lausanne by night P6251095 P6251096

Whilst at the hotel, we ate in their restaurant, and had one of the best meals we’ve ever eaten. We started out on the terrasse overlooking the lake, but the weather changed during the evening, with wind and rain eventually blowing in hard enough to get us wet and nearly tear the awning off the side of the hotel. I had: chilled red pepper velouté; bunny terrine; a lamb main course and a very light coffee mousse to finish. A bottle of Hautes Cotes de Beaune went very nicely with it.

The following morning, we rose late (too late for the buffet breakfast, but they kindly made us a tray with coffee, croissants) explored Evian briefly on foot, taking in the Palais du Lumiere and the a touristy mini-museum dedicated to the bottled water. There’s also an umimpressive mini-fountain where the spring water flows freely, and you can fill your own bottles. It was quite hard to get pictures because of all the locals refilling dozens of bottles they’d brought with them.

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After a British picnic (one eaten in the car in the rain overlooking the sea / lake) we drove inland from Evian up through mountains towards Morzine, a French ski resort town.  We were meeting my friend A whose ski apartment we were borrowing for a few nights – but we were going to arrive long before she finished work, so we stopped off en route to see Les Gorges du Diable, a walk along steel pathways down into a very deep gorge carved by a river and meltwater.  All around were signs warning that higher up the stream, there was a hydroelectic dam installation.  Water levels can rise suddenly and without warning – even in times of drought.  Access to the river strictly forbidden!

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Eventually we arrived in Morzine, which for a town in the mountains had a strange feel of the wild west about it – lots of wide streets and wooden buildings.  Many of the buildings were pretty chalets; but many just looked like they should have had sheriffs and gunslingers in them.  V strange.  We met up with A, and saw the huge chalet she manages with the help of a staff of 16.  Nosed around a bit whilst she finished her working day – v impressed by the small kitchen, and the instructions for the chef that said for €7pppn, chef had to provide four meals (mini cooked breakfast, full lunch, afternoon tea and 3 course evening meal).  These skiers clearly like to eat!

From there to A’s chalet, which she’s in the process of doing up with her other half – which had some frightening original features – and from there to the well appointed duplex apartment much higher in the mountains where we were staying.

I should point out at some point that this is probably the last joint mountain holiday we will ever have. P is not keen on heights one bit, and much of the windy roads (which I find exhilarating) scare him witless.  The road up to the apartment was one such.  He had to enjoy the view from the balcony from safely inside the French doors.

(… to be continued…)

Cassocks

I’m getting ready for our choir week, which will be in Hereford this year. I’ll be staying with my parents in Leominster and commuting into the city every day. From Monday, we’ll be singing Evensong every day. Our music list is now here on the Cathedral’s website.

Greatly looking forward to the week. The music will be a real challenge this year as much of it is new to me. There are at least six pieces of music on the list that I have never sung or heard before – maybe even more. I don’t even know Monday night’s music, so it’s going to be a steep learning curve on the first day alone!

At the end of last year, I took the cassock home so that I could clean it (after five years of singing in it on hot summer days it didn’t smell good) and so that I could move the buttons around.

I’ve changed shape since I first started using it, and it no longer fitted very well after last year’s week. Happily there’s loads of spare material in a cassock, so just repositioning the buttons means it fits again.

My new sig

People who send messages to usenet often append a four line bon mot to the bottom of their posts, called a signature or sig.

I fill mine with random quotes from things I’ve seen, heard or read that have just tickled me in some sort of way. I used to update it every few weeks, but I think this has become an example of how time is passing faster these days.

For the last two years, nearly, I’ve had a sig taken from the Narnia film. “We’re not heroes! We’re from Finchley!”

But something I heard on something I was watching today has made me change it again.

I came to find you, Gabriel. My name is Chandra Suresh. I’m a geneticist. I have a theory about human evolution, and I believe you are a part of it.

Solar panel

Today we had a visit from the Notts Energy Partnership to consider whether solar hot water might work for us. They run a project called Sungain, which is about bringing solar hot water to as many homes as possible – and in the process drive capacity amongst local firms for putting solar panels on local roofs.

Just for good measure it’s the first properly sunny day for ages, so we could see clearly that the roof over our car port gets its fair dose of the rays – at least until 2.30pm when the sun goes behind the tree. Our house is oriented with the corners on the compass points, which means we don’t have a south facing roof, but a south-east facing one. This is less good, but not impossible.

It’s not a trivial job to fit one in this house. We already have a hot water cylinder based system, but at present our hot water is only used for hand washing and the little hand washing up we do. There’s neither the pressure or capacity in the current old cylinder to run showers, which would be the main point of embarking on something like this.

So to get solar hot water, we would need to

  • fit evacuated solar tubes on the roof
  • replace the hot water cylinder with a larger one
  • relocate the hot water header tank to the highest possible point in the attic
  • pipe the whole lot together
  • replace bath taps with a mixer shower combo

It is quite a lot to do, and won’t be cheap. But in the context of some of the other things we are spending on the house it is an affordable cost. It’s not a great deal more than the cost of new windows.

There are still some things to weigh up.

  • Pay-back time. This should give us cheap or free water heating for much of the year. Even over the winter, on bright days, the kit should mean the boiler has less work to do to get the tank of water up to temperature. But calculating payback will be complicated. It will mostly be electricity we save (no need for electric showers).
  • Changes in the bathroom. Neither of us has particularly fond memories of the times we spent in homes with tank-fed showers instead of on-demand heating from an electric shower or system with a boiler that heats as you use. Don’t want to run out of hot water, or get scalded when loo flushes or washing machine starts. This is mitigated by the fact there’s only two of us, and we usually shower at different times of day
  • Fitting a mixer tap might mean replacing the bath
  • There’s a chance a yob with a rock could damage the solar tubes
  • Fitting complicated things – or even just “different” features – might make it harder to sell
  • Still more work to do on the house and plumbing!

On the plus side

  • Low cost hot water, even when fuel prices increase
  • A bigger airing cupboard
  • Feeling better about banging on about sustainability issues in planning meetings
  • Solar panel will improve house performance on energy performance certificate element of home information pack
  • Watching the control gizmo, which monitors the temperature of the panel and the temperature of the hot water tank, and switches on the coolant pump whenever the panel is warmer than the tank, will appeal to my temperature nerd elements :)

EDIT: Good grief, a bath/shower mixer tap costs over £100, according to B&Q website!

Man-eating badgers

Just found this quote amusing:

UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: “We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area.

Thank goodness for that!

Aunty has more. (via)

Mad cooking frenzy

Mid-afternoon, I established that P did want feeding today (often at weekends, he prefers to eat very little meals), and took a bit of a stock-take of what was available, then went back to the computer to do a bit more work on a current project.

Tart

By 8pm, I was trudging back from the Co-op with a small amount of supplementary ingredients. By 9.30pm, we’d eaten the three-course meal I’d made, and the kitchen was
approaching normal again. Or as normal as it ever gets around here these days.

We had:

warm salad with melon (the one with orange flesh – very very ripe and gorgeous) and bacon, lettuce, cucumber and mini-plumb tomatoes with an elderflower vinaigrette

oOo

salmon parcels with onion, red pepper carrot and lemon juice, served with fresh potato wedges and runner beans

oOo

apple tart

Cooking it all was a mad nonstop frenzy in this sort of order

  • make pastry (foodprocessor) and put pastry in fridge
  • put bottle wine in freezer
  • peel and chop Bramley apple for base for tart
  • start simmering apple with a little water
  • preheat oven
  • chop potatoes into wedges, put in bowl, add olive oil, paprika, herbs, sesame seeds, mix, leave to steep
  • chop onions, carrots into cubes, slice red pepper into attractive slivers. Juice lemon. Mix together in bowl with herbs, salt and pepper
  • Make foil parcels with bit of frozen salmon, veg mix, bit of butter. Spoon in spare juice after partially closing parcels
  • Put wedges and salmon in oven
  • assemble apple tart: press pastry into buttered flan case, spoon Bramble apple purée over the top, slice 2 dessert apples and arrange over the top. Sieve icing sugar on top, pop in oven
  • chop and fry bacon, prepare runner beans
  • chop cucumber, tomatoes, and melon, wash salad leaves
  • make vinaigrette: equal parts cider vinegar, hazelnut oil, elderflower cordial shaken together in an old jam jar
  • mix vinaigrette with salad, place on leaves, start runner beans boiling
  • serve/eat salad
  • take tart out to cool, wine out of freezer
  • unwrap parcels onto plate, arrange with runner beans and potato wedges, pour wine, serve, eat
  • serve tart

Now all that remains…

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Leigh’s 30th

Spent much of Saturday at Leigh’s 30th birthday party in Derby.  It was intended as a garden party with a barbecue and a whole lamb spit roast.  The weather had other ideas, and the party only managed to carry on thanks to an enormous tarpaulin tied to the top of the house and spreading down over most of the garden, which let us still spend most of the day outside.

Highlights included the world’s toughest Piñata.  This video starts after several minutes of Leigh trying to break the thing:

Eventually he gets  fed up and gets his aunt to take over.  In the post-mortem afterwards, it was decided that the thing was too high up, and too full of sweets, making it harder than usual to break.  I was sitting directly underneath it and got showered in sweets.  Which was nice at the time, but it wasn’t really until this morning that I realised I’d also been showered in shards of broken boiled sweet, which gently melted at body temperature, and in the heat from the chiminea, then cooled to form hundreds of lumps of sweet on my clothing.  Interesting.

We were there from 4 in the afternoon to gone midnight, and it’s a testament to how good the party was that we didn’t really realise how much time was passing.  The food was ace, with special mention for the lamb roast.  Leigh borrowed a spit from friends that slowly turns the carcass over a split oil drum full of barbecue charcoal – it got through multiple bags as the day progressed.

Topics of conversation – all the usual, plus the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn. Naturally.

Here are my photos of the day.

All this sets me off thinking about what I want to do for my 30th next year.  I do want to have a big party – it’s been a while since we’ve thrown any party at all. It’ll probably be the day before on August 2nd next year – put it in your diaries now!

Tenbury II

Tenbury Wells, Worcs, was flooded for a third time this weekend – more dramatic photos on Flickr, including a public loo whose foundations were undermined by flood water slipping into the river.

The BBC has pictures too.

Meanwhile, friends on UMRA have discovered this dramatic sequence of photos covering the floods in Evesham from the perspective of a chap trapped in a hotel.  The water rose 17 feet over it’s normal level. 1 2 3 4 5 6.

I live  most of the way up a hill.  These photos are clearly something to bear in mind the next time I’m huffing and puffing up the hill with a heavy shopping bag and wishing I lived somewhere flatter.