May 4th, 2009

howard and hilda

Bring Me Sunshine

Research revealed severe delays on the West Coast Main Line this weekend, so I headed up to see my parents by car. Heading off on Thursday evening directly from work in Cowley, Google Maps recommended going round the western side of Oxford, which seemed all wrong to me; however, half an hour later, as I edged up towards Pear Tree roundabout, I wondered whether it may have been right. The rest of the journey was quite smooth.

Friday was wet and we didn't really venture out. Instead I had the guided tour of their shiny new FreeSat HDTV and recorder (they don't often splash out, but the previous TV was almost 20 years old and they are in the first region whose analogue signal is to be turned off this summer). The picture and sound quality were fine (though my dad still has to turn the volume up to an annoyingly high level so that he can hear it), as was the EPG; I'm a bit surprised they didn't get a box that can copy to DVD, so they are limited in recordings to the capacity of the hard disk. I don't think they understood what I said, but it won't become an issue for a while. Maybe that's why the FreeSat box has an ethernet point. The other thing that did surprise me was that the box took a good 10 seconds to boot up, so they leave it more or less permanently on rather than even going to stand-by. So much for modern technology being "greener".

Saturday was much better, and we headed off to Morecambe to see the sights - specifically, the Eric Morecambe statue, and the rather swish refurbished Art Deco Midland Hotel. Apparently my parents visited Morecambe soon after they moved to Kendal, and saw the hotel in a rather more dilapidated state. We returned via the tranquility of Carnforth Station (aka Milford Junction in Brief Encounter) and the visually tranquil Tewitfield Locks, a remnant of the Lancaster Canal, disrupted geographically and audibly by the M6. We took things easy on Sunday, but went out for an afternoon stroll in the area.

Despite the absence of continuous rail services, and the poor weather, the journey back was surprisingly quick, somewhere under 5 hours including lunch break. Regardless of the weather tomorrow I'm looking forward to another day's holiday before I return to work for a short week on Wednesday.

(no subject)

Book Review: The Map That Changed The World, by Simon Winchester
Winchester's biography of William Smith, who produced the first geological map of England in 1815, is highly readable and informative. Smith battled class divisions of the time, which were against him, and suffered financial ruin (perhaps as much through bad judgement as anything else) before gaining the stature Winchester accords him later in life. Of course, this is a one-sided view; there's no-one to put any contrary views in the book, and we always enjoy the story of the outsider battling for recognition by the establishment. As much of interest as the main story are some of Winchester's asides - such as that Britain's inability to feed itself and become a net importer of food dates from the eighteenth century, and was caused not by a rising birth rate but by a declining death rate. Whilst plausible, such statements are not backed up with direct evidence. Many books are overburdened with footnotes; this one has none, so whilst there is a bibliography, it's not possible to trace individual statements. Nevertheless it's a fine lighter read combining biography and popular science history.