Wow – we have had a ludicrously busy time since returning from camping in September. Every week has had about 5 extra activities in it on top of the usual and Ruth trying to do the hated chemistry revision, as such I am very behind on the blog and have missed out some brilliant experiences we have all had. So a quick overview:

Bristol:

Went to Bristol so Ruth could do a trip to ciromedia for an aerial course. Jonathan, martin and I went and looked at the local street art having got a taste for it in London. We also enjoyed a rather nice park – as you can see I have my “home educators” trousers on!

  

  

 We finally finished the van and even had the re-registration from the DVLA, so we spent the night in the van and then went to Beaulieu in the pouring rain with Martin’s parents.

General life:

We had sumo night at youth nite, Martin and Jonathan had a go. I made an autumn table mat that I was really pleased with.

 

 

London:

Another trip to London – this time with Rebekah and Martin. Had a lovely day mooching with Rebekah, great meal out with mum, Jane and Jonathan and then a great visit to Oasis college.

  

 

Rebekah’s Photography Project:

  

  

 Fire Station Visit:

  

Ruth’s Crafting:

  

Ruth’s Birthday:

  

Art Afternoon at Mike Rodriguez‘s art studio:

  

On our recent holiday to the Broads we arrived at the boatyard two hours early, so thought we would pootle off somewhere for a couple of hours, have some lunch and then return. We ended up at the Hickling Broad Nature reserve where we bought some books but decided against going in as it was a bit pricey for all of us for just a fleeting visit. So we jumped back in the car, only to find it wouldn’t start. After numerous attempts we phoned the breakdown company (we always have breakdown cover, over the years we must have saved a fortune!) and Susan took the kids into the reserve while I waited.

As we were in the middle of nowhere it took a while for help to reach us, and when it did the news was not good. The car would need recovering. Fortunately the firm that had come out went out of their way to help. They towed us back to the boatyard, helped us unload our stuff and carry it to the boat (def. above and beyond the call of duty) and then recovered the car back to their garage for repair, promising to phone us as soon as they had investigated the exact nature of the fault.

Now, when a garage says they will call me back I don’t hold my breath. I made a mental note to call them after a couple of days had passed. Much to my surprise I had a voicemail the next day, and on phoning back I had the diagnosis explained, the cost set out in detail, and was asked if I wanted to go ahead. I agreed and they advised they had already ordered the part to avoid delay and it should be with them in a couple of days. The next day I had another call to say the work was complete and that I should ring them when back at the boat yard. At the end of our week I did this (mid morning on a Sunday) and they promptly delivered the car back to the yard – and at no extra cost. Oh, and they had washed the car too – which is more than I ever do!

I have used many garages in my time, some good, some bad. All I can say is they service from Aitchison Vehicle Logistics was exemplary. Absolutely top draw. So, if you ever break down in Norfolk, give Aitchison a call on 01493 700222. I would like to their website but I can’t find one.

Troll BoothWho’s that trip-trapping over my toll motorway? A people carrier? Yum, extra money from them.

The delightful people at Midland Expressway Limited have come up with an ingenious pricing system. I looked up their prices online and decided that while they were rather high at £4.70 for a car decided I would stomach the cost for the time saving. Imagine my surprise at being asked to pay £9.40 (the same as if I was driving an HGV) when I pulled up at the toll booth. I spluttered and burbled a bit, only to be told that vehicles over 1.3m high were charged differently. If I had not have been so flustered by this alarming news I might have pointed out that many “normal” cars are over 1.3m (the Ford Mondeo clocks in around 1.4 for example). However, I simply handed over my credit card (having run out of cash). On reaching my destination I checked out the website and found that in fact the height measurement is at the front axle. Now, I drive a Toyota Liteace people carrier, which is quite diminutive in length and width, but on the tall side at just under 2m. However, because those clever Japanese car makers have made use of all the available space, the front end is like a cliff, and the driver is sitting almost directly over the front wheels. So, height and front axle is about the same as maximum height. Now, if I had say, a Land Rover 130 I would be charged as any other car (my understanding is they meet the 1.3m at front axle). Said vehicle is 130mm taller than mine, 140mm wider, over a metre longer and weighs nearly twice as much.

Moral of this story? If you have a compact, lightweight, but van shaped people carrier, avoid using the M6 Toll, the Trolls will get you.

Image: (CC) Amanda Oliver, www.flickr.com/photos/the_amanda/

I was going to rant about car drivers not giving way to cyclist travelling uphill, but see the Weekly Gripe has beaten me to it. (Great title by the way!). I share their grievance. Travelling along National Cycle Network 23 I had the same problem the other day. In a car, stopping to give way to a bike takes mere seconds and no effort (unless you count depressing the brake pedal). By following the correct procedure you will, however, save the cyclist from losing momentum, and expelling lots of effort restarting on a hill. Get a grip guys, it costs you mere seconds.

Posting live now, having neglected my “paper blog” for a few days, I have lost track of some of the things I want to whinge about. Before you breathe a big sigh of relief, I can still remember what some of them where!

I have been watching drivers of different nationalities during our recent travels to the Netherlands, and these observations have reinforced my beliefs that Belgian plated cars are best given a wide berth. Driving through Belgium always seem to provide entertainment of the white knuckle variety. I realise I have a small sample to base my views on, so you may write it off as plain ol’ prejudice, but what I see is the worst of French driving and the worst of British driving rolled together. Based on a quick glance around the Internet the fatal accident stats for Belgium don’t look too great, so maybe my eyes don’t deceive me. Just glad this car has ABS….

Oh, and my earlier comments on European motorways were a bit lacking. We came across some really poor surfacing in Belgium, nearly as poor as some of their drivers… France and the Netherlands still get the thumbs up for motorway quality though.

Father and I just decided we need a new approach to roadworks and other situations where lanes merge. The most efficient system is to use both lanes until the point when they must merge, then merge in turn. Unfortunately our mentality is to join the queue straight away, which actually leads to an inefficient system, with multiple merge points and porr utilisation of road space, hence longer ques and road rage as a few drivers actually carry on to teh end. One person cannot change this, and would just become a road rage target.

So, how about a mass advertising campaign, followed by signs at such places announcing – USE BOTH LANES — STAY IN LANE – then – MERGE IN TURN – at the end? I’ve seen this done in one spot in Edinburgh (never suggested it was an original idea!), and largely it works OK. Change the culture overall and I think it would be a stunning success.

Just posted on the family blog about how good cycle infrastructure is in the Netherlands (after a slightly petty gripe about signage at one junction) and that improving ours in the UK would almost certainly see a modal shift from car to bike. What I’m not sure about is how you change an anti-bike culture. The Dutch drive sensibly around cyclists, are tolerant of them making mistakes (and misdemeanours), I would wager there are few calls for compulsory tests, insurance or tax on bikes as are often heard in the UK. Cycling is deeply embedded in Dutch culture though, and we have lost that now. I’d like to hope that would start to change if we got to the stage where we had decent facilities for cyclists and hence more people using bikes. But I’m not sure. Oh, and before anyone suggests no-one will cycle in the UK because its hilly, and the Netherlands is Pancake-flat, I don’t expect us to reach NL numbers of cyclists or distances, but for many trips a bike makes sense, and for many more it would make sense with some major or even minor improvements to our infrastructure.

Oh, and by the way, Dutch roads are excellent by and large. Driving here is not unpleasant at all. Just often unnecessary.

Discovered today I rather like the British art of queuing and similar niceties, but not the aggressive attitude towards those who flout our conventions. For example in the Netherlands, France and Belgium if you want to change lanes you pretty much just signal and move into traffic in the next lane. No-one flashes, swears, tries to ram you etc (one boy racer in a tarted up piece of *** broke the mould but I’ll let that go). This rather laid back approach generally works, but I do miss people flashing to let you out, waving me across a junction or whatever.