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Casing the joint....

Life on Mars, DI Sam Tyler
Hmm, I've not been on here for a while!

Anyway, only 4 weeks to go to Loncon 3 :) As I'm taking a couple of days off work in order to avoid having to take all my leave in December, and the weather's nice for a change, yesterday I decided to go down to London for the first time in about a year (according to the history on my Oyster card), and check out where I'm staying and how to get to the con from there. As you may recall from my posting in January, the Premier Inn in Stratford was over £500 cheaper for a 5 night stay than the one near ExCel, so I wanted to find out exactly where the hotel is (it's directly opposite Stratford International railway station on the square next to the station entrance) and how to use the DLR to get to ExCel (it takes 16 minutes and costs £1.50 on the Oyster card). Actually, once I got to Prince Regent and looked around, I spotted the Premier Inn there, and I'd guess that there's considerably less actual walking involved in getting from Prince Regent DLR to the Premier Inn in Stratford than to the one nearby!

While I was in Stratford, I decided to top-up the credit on my Oyster card as I only had around £10 on it, and it was more convenient than doing it next month when I have baggage with me - so I tried to top it up with a £20 note, and got an error message that there'd been a problem updating the card and to please try again (as the machine handed back my £20 note). So I did, and it updated OK, and when I checked the balance afterwards I was pleasantly surprised to find I'd been credited twice! It's nice to have a computer error in your favour, for once.

Travelling back via Euston at the start of the evening rush hour, I was struck by how congested the place is now - I mused that it's 41 years since I used Euston Station on my first school trip to London (also my first train ride, at age 14), but back then the main concourse was one large open space, not filled in with sock and tie emporia like it is now - and in the 70s people didn't drag their luggage behind them of solid handles like they do now, which is a major tripping hazard that I'm surprised the Health and Safety people haven't had something to say about!

Technological inflation...

Life on Mars, DI Sam Tyler
My old 28" Sony Wega tv died last Monday, I think I'd had it for about 15 years, so I reckon I got my moneys' worth for it (I just did a search on Google and I see one sold on ebay for 99p a couple of years ago - buyer collects!). It was a bit of a monster, an old CRT Trinitron tv which weighed 44 kg, so it was a bit of a struggle just to shift it.

Anyway, I decided to get fully up to date, so I splashed out around £500 on a 42" Panasonic flatscreen HD smart tv, which was delivered yesterday, and I must say I'm very impressed - it only weighs 13.5 kg for a start, and there's umpteen Freeview channels including HD (even if I only ever actually watch a dozen or so of them), together with iPlayer, YouTube, etc....

All this impressive technology made me start thinking about the first TV that I remember - a 17" Pye Continental that my parents bought 5 months before I was born, and which we had until I was about 14. Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, and radiomuseum.org, I discovered that when it was new in 1957 it cost 81 guineas (i.e. £85/1/0, or £85.05 in newfangled decimal money). Apparently that converts to just under £1700 in today's purchasing power, which really makes you think about what inflation has done over the years - I remember my Dad writing a cheque for £75 in around 1970, which was for six months' rent on our 44-acre farm. That old Pye Continental wasn't even particularly reliable - many's the time it died and we needed to call out a tv engineer to change a valve (fortunately one of my mum's cousins was a tv engineer, so I suspect we didn't have to pay the usual labour charges!), and there was a panel on the front behind which were some knobs to control the horizontal hold, vertical hold, contrast, and brightness - I remember I was the only one in the family who had a sufficiently sensitive touch on the horizontal hold that I could stop the picture rolling once it started going off! I vividly remember one summer Saturday afternoon when I was about 8 or 9, when I was playing in the farmyard and had one sandal off my foot when the cry came from the house "Arwel, come and fix the telly, quick!" as the picture was rolling and Dad couldn't watch his favourite wrestling on World of Sport... so I had to hop up the garden path to the house to stop the picture. Ah, they don't make tellies like that any more, thank God... and those were the days when you could only get two channels to watch - BBC tv from Leeds on channel 2, and Granada tv from Manchester on channel 9 (well we were only about 5 miles from the main transmitter for northeast Wales at Moel-y-Parc, but there was a badly-sited mountain between us, so if we tried to watch BBC Wales on channel 6 or TWW (later HTV) on channel 11, you quickly got a headache from all the snow on the picture and white noise on the sound - the only time we ever watched Welsh tv was if there was a Welsh language programme my parents particularly wanted to watch (rare) or a major event - I remember seeing the Aberfan disaster coverage in 1966).

Loncon 3 hotel bookings - ouch!

Life on Mars, DI Sam Tyler
Well, hotel bookings for next summers' World SF Convention have opened today (and this was the first day I can book leave from my 2014 leave allowance, too).

I was never going to book an extravagant room, so I was always likely to look at the Premier Inn (I stayed at their excellent establishment at Glasgow Buchanan Gardens for my hols last year and was very impressed). So, I did a few comparisons for a 5-night stay (Wed to Mon). The Loncon3 website quotes a quad room single occupancy as £171.35 per night, so £856.75 for the stay, or £180.30 p.n. including breakfast. For the same dates for single occupancy, Premier Inn's own website quotes £557 Premier Saver (pay now, no changes permitted), £812 Premier Flexible, or £856.75 Premier Flexible + breakfast. The actual per night rates offered at the Saver rate are £39 for the Sunday, £49 for Thursday, £91 for Wednesday, and an eye-watering £189 for Friday and Saturday! Even the saver rate isn't quite my preferred idea of economical, so I looked around and found the Premier Inn Stratford (at the Westfield shopping centre, next to the Olympic Park) which is 23 minutes, 1 change, and £1.50 away on the DLR: for the same dates the Saver rate is £305, Flexible is £427 and with breakfast is £471.75.

I think I will endure the short commute in the interests of saving £550 (which is nearly two weeks' take home pay for me), which will no doubt end up in the dealers' room!

Phew!

Life on Mars, DI Sam Tyler
Well, I've had the results of last Thursdays' tests, and the conclusion is that I have an elevated blood glucose level but it's not diabetes (yet), so I'm in the clear though losing some weight wouldn't be a bad thing...

Ho hum.

Life on Mars, DI Sam Tyler
Spent three hours this morning sitting in the phlebotomy department of Leighton Hospital in Crewe (just as well that they said "bring a book" on the appointment letter!), following a 12 hour fast, as they're looking to see if I'm diabetic. Extract blood at 9, wait 45 minutes for test results, drink three cups of Lucozade, wait two hours, then extract more blood... I was ravenous by the time I got back to the town centre at 12.30! Lunch at SubWay...

The Next Age

Life on Mars, DI Sam Tyler
Well, my brother Emyr hit 65 last Wednesday (and his grandson Jac was 6 the same day), so yesterday was his last day in work - apparently he's having a surprise week in Madeira next week! I thought it amusing that his last day at work was also the day I got a letter from the DWP telling me that I won't get my state pension until my 66th birthday (they must be giving around 10 years notice!). Still, at least I'm lucky - pension age is planned to go up to 67 a few years after me. It's all very well to say people are living longer and kids born today have a 1 in 3 chance of seeing 100, but that's not much comfort to me - Dad was a month short of 66, my eldest brother Gwyn was 41, and second oldest brother Hywel only made it to 1 day (but he doesn't really count)!

Oh my aching feet...

Life on Mars, DI Sam Tyler
Just currently putting my feet up for a while after wandering around the wonderful Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (after walking the full length of Sauchiehall Street, breaking off to watch what looked like a practice lawn bowls event for the Commnwealth Games (teams from Scotland, Wales, Malaysia, NZ, and Australia in evidence)). There was some slight drizzle in the air when I came out of the gallery, so I made my way to Kelvingrove subway station and took the Outer Circle (the long way round) back to Buchanan Street - my hotel's on the corner of Sauchiehall Street and West Nile Street.

A review of the week so far: Monday was beautiful weather, lots of sun, so nipped over to Edinburgh for the day to catch the end-of-festival crowds. Tuesday, visited the Burrell Collection (surprised by just how small Rodins' The Thinker actually is - I had the impression it was a lot bigger). Just to counter all the culture, after dinner I went to the cinema next to my hotel and saw "We're the Millers"! As the weather forecast for Thursday and Friday was a bit damp, I pulled myself out of bed early on Wednesday and caught the 0903 train as far as Fort William (a 3.75 hour trip, or 5 and a quarter hours if you go all the way to Mallaig; had some five hours to kill in Fort William, walked the length of the High Street (it's not that long...), had a very nice lunch in the Spice Tandoori, interesting visit to the West Highland Museum (recommended), and so back to Glasgow by about 9.20 p.m. ....

On hols...

Life on Mars, DI Sam Tyler
A few weeks ago I realised that it was 30 years since I last had a holiday in Scotland for anything longer than a SF convention, so I decided to remedy that this year. I'm currently on a Virgin Pendolino somewhere in the Southern Uplands (just gone past a wind farm that wasn't there last time I came this way) - train's about 20 minutes late, but the on-board catering staff have been as hell-bent on serving me Pepsi as Mrs Doyle in Father Ted was on serving tea to the priests! I shall be basing myself in Glasgow and using my free rail passes to travel around for the next week, weather permitting (or else the Glasgow cinemas will be doing good business from me!).

The only problem with taking a week off work is that when I get back next Monday there will probably be around 3000 emails in my spam folder, which I shall have to at least skim to make sure there're no genuine emails caught up in there. If the NSA and GCHQ want to be partially forgiven for hoovering up everyones' email details, the least they could do is trace where all the spam's coming from and send their more active colleagues to terminate the damned spammers with extreme prejudice - they're causing far more economic damage to he UK and US than terrorists ever could.

The New Doctor

Life on Mars, DI Sam Tyler
OMG! The Doctor's older than I am, for the first time since Sylvester McCoy's day, even if only by a few months! Anyway, good luck to Peter Capaldi - it's strange seeing one of the hot tips actually getting the job.

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Holiday destinations

Life on Mars, DI Sam Tyler
While I was in Manchester this afternoon, I noticed the exchange rates Marks & Spencer were offering in their forex department. Apparently £1 will now get you just 1.34 Swiss francs. I knew there was a reason I haven't been to Switzerland for around 20 years, and that's it. I was a regular visitor in the 80s and early 90s, but even when we got SFr 3.10 for £1 it was a pricy destination. I dread to think what it's like now!

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Life on Mars, DI Sam Tyler
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