Category Archives: General

30th June 1999

Mum, Graham and James arrived on Friday night for the weekend, to get the floor in my kitchen and hall sorted out. Graham was up and working at some ridiculously early hour the next morning, sorting out a leaky overflow pipe before getting to work laying the new floor. I got up a bit later and went into town with Mum, because she was scared of getting lost on her own. After wandering around town for a while, we picked up some sandwiches and headed home. Graham was making good progress, and James was on the computer. Shortly after we got back, Pam and Paul arrived from their holiday in Wales, the noise of Paul’s van pulling into the drive is quite unmistakeable!

After Graham had completed 90% of the floor, he stopped for the day and we ordered Chinese food, which was delicious as always. After initial interest in a trip to the pub, most people eventually rejected the idea, leaving Graham and I to go on our own. A few beers later and it was back home to bed.

On Sunday, Graham finished the floor in time to watch a very exciting French Grand Prix, which Heinz Harald Frentzen won, making Eddie Jordan a very happy man. That was followed by an excellent roast lamb dinner, cooked by Mum.

Mum, Graham and James left that evening, leaving me with a lovely wood floor, and the job of applying the final coat of varnish. Pam and Paul stayed until the next morning, when they headed off to visit the Cotswolds.

Progress is being made with my immigration, and I’m about to send off the final application form. I’ve also booked flights for Dad and I to visit Canada in September, which should be fun!

21st June 1999

Nothing much happened last weekend, so I didn’t bother doing an entry. I just spent the weekend relaxing and tidying the house. Work plods along. The sun has started coming out at last. Life goes on…

This weekend, my old work colleagues Ruairidh and Sarah, and Sarah’s husband Geoff, and their 2 dogs visited for a night out in Shrewsbury. Sarah and Geoff arrived in time to catch the end of the Royal wedding. Various nibbles and a bottle of wine later and Ruairidh arrived, with 3 minutes to spare before the taxi arrived.

We headed out to Traitor’s Gate, for a wonderful meal. I had marinated oyster mushrooms to start, followed by red seabream and vegetables, finished off with strawberry shortbread for dessert. All washed down with a couple of bottles of red.

Afterwards, we headed back to my house for more wine, cheese and biscuits, and some silly games (Kerplunk, followed by Scattegories).

The next morning, apparently, one of the dogs spotted a squirrel and had a good bark at about 6am, waking Sarah. I didn’t hear a thing though! I came down stairs at about 8:30 to find Sarah playing with the R2D2 jigsaw (and making reasonable progress!). After Geoff and Ruairidh appeared, we had coffee and bacon sandwiches, and were entertained by fascinating facts from Geoff (apparently the world speed eating record for eating pickled onions is 90 onions in 30 seconds!).

9th June 1999

Over a month without a diary entry, I guess I have some catching up to do.

On my birthday weekend I drove down to Dad’s, and he took me out for a meal at a pleasant pub in Tillingham. A good time was had by all and I got some good loot, including a photo-mosaic jigsaw, a globe, some books and a millennium bug.

On the Sunday I drove over to Mum’s, arriving just in time for the start of the Spanish Grand Prix, accompanied by beer, cockles, smoked salmon, and other munchies. After the race I opened more presents (Jack Daniels, jeans, more books), then sat down to a sunday roast.

The rest of that week I spent finishing off the small bedroom, which is now a nice sunny yellow colour. I still have to do the woodwork, but it’s already looking much better.

Jen arrived on the Friday, accompanied by Lisa, after what sounded like a very turbulent flight. Lisa headed off with Davey and I took Jen home. The plan was for Davey and Lisa to join us the following evening, with Alex, for a meal which I had booked at a local restaurant. However things didn’t quite turn out that way…

Davey and Lisa arrived during Saturday afternoon, and I was sent off to pick up Alex. On the way back from Alex’s house, he said he’d forgotten his wallet, so we drove back for him to get it. When we arrived back at my house, Jen ushered me into the living room, where I was greeted by a bunch of people yelling ‘Suprise!’ and taking photos. Jen had spent the previous 3 months planning a surprise birthday party for me, complete with 30th balloons, and Star Wars party hats, plates, napkins and blowy things. I was greeted by Jim, Lynne (who had baked a terrific South Park birthday cake), Jen from Australia, Cockerz Dave, Gav, Will, Davey and Lisa, with Jen and Alex standing rearguard in case I bolted for the door.

Highlights of the party include various poses for the lambicam, Alex showing off his DJ skills with a specially mixed CD, Jen and Will cooking stuff (and Will breaking my oven), and Dave falling asleep and getting a lovely make over from someone who shall remain nameless.

More good loot too of course, including a can of spam (recipe for Spam Carbonara appearing soon on a website near you), a bounding kangaroo (guess who that was from…), an R2D2 3D jigsaw from Jen, some R2D2 soap, a Discworld luggage ornament, a globe paperweight, and the latest Crash Test Dummies CD.

After the excitement of a great party, it was back to work routine for the rest of the week, but with the big bonus of having Jen to come home to. A meeting had been arranged in Cardiff for Monday, so I took Jen down with me and she went sight-seeing while I was stuck in a conference room. That evening we went out for a nice Portugese meal, although Kev suffered from a particularly spicy steak!

The biggest excitement of the week, other than the party, was a letter which arrived on Tuesday, telling me that Quebec had accepted my application. Read more about that on my Immigration page.

The next weekend we were off to Davey’s for a BBQ, followed by another BBQ at Dad’s. We arrived late at Davey’s after a fairly unpleasant journey, and were greeted by almost the same group of people, with the addition of Kel, and later ‘littleflower’ Jen and her friend. Jen and Alex had a little bit too much to drink and ended up in a bedroom, hugging buckets, with Kel baby-sitting. The rest of us had a great time though!

Dad’s BBQ was a little more sedate, even though Tim and Suzy were there with their tribe of children, along with Manda, Hayley and Liz. After most people had left to head back to Ipswich, we spent the rest of the evening playing silly games with varying degrees of success.

I had the rest of last week off, so we were heading up to Scotland for a holiday. Before that though we dropped in on Jen’s friends Neal and James in Golder’s Green for a pleasant lunch, and lots of chat about greeting card sales.

After a night spent back at home, we headed North, stopping at Chester for lunch before heading up the coast passing through Southport, and stopping at Blackpool for a wander around the tacky amusements, along the tacky pier, around the tacky souvenir shops, stopping for tea in a tacky tea bar, and walking out onto the not so tacky beach (which nobody else seemed to be interested in using). Finally we went for a quick go on the log flume (Jen’s favourite) before heading up the coast a little further to Morecambe.

Bill Bryson visited Morecambe in his book Notes From a Small Island, and I certainly agree with him that it is a much more pleasant resort compared to Blackpool, although he was a little too generous when describing the Midland Hotel (I’m sure it was nice once…). The promenade is very well maintained, and virtually devoid of people. The views across Morecambe bay are outstanding, even when it’s grey and rainy. The beach isn’t really a beach though, just mud.

After a night in a pleasant room with a sea view at the Clifton Hotel, we carried on North, heading through the Lake District, along Windemere and Ullswater. We stopped at Bowness on Windemere for a wander around the various Beatrix Potter shops. It was raining, but not heavily, and rain was something we would have to become used to over the next few days..

That evening we arrived in Glasgow, and after driving around the city centre for at least an hour we gave up looking for bed and breakfast establishments and headed for a hotel. After checking in to a reasonable priced hotel, we went out for a meal at DiMaggio’s, an American Italian restaurant outside the Museum of Modern Art, had a pleasant meal, and then opted for an early night.

The next morning, before heading out of Glasgow, we went to the Burrell Collection. This is a museum in the middle of Pollock Country Park to the south of central Glasgow. The exhibits were all donated in 1944 by the millionaire shipowner Sir William Burrell, who amassed around 8000 items over 80 years of his life. The collection includes paintings, tapestries, furniture, architectural features, armour and weaponry, sculptures, and many other artifacts. As with many Glasgow museums, admission is free, and I would certainly recommend a visit if you’re in the area.

We headed out of Glasgow, up towards Fort William and then along the Road To The Isles to Mallaig, a small town on the mainland coast, just south of the Isle of Skye, where a ferry runs between the mainland and the island. We arrived at 6PM and discovered that the last ferry had left, so went in search of a place to spend the night. We found the Marine Hotel, which offered us their last room. This turned out to be a family room, and very comfortable. We wandered around the village for a bit, but soon realised that the Marine Hotel was about the only place to get something decent to eat. We had a fresh seafood meal there, and went to bed.

After rushing around eating breakfast and getting ready the next morning, we arrived at the ferry terminal to see the first ferry of the day just closing it’s doors. We had to wait an hour for the next one, and it was raining, so we sat in the car listening to the radio.

The actual crossing only takes about 15 minutes, so no sooner had we boarded and it was time to get off again. About a mile from the ferry terminal on Skye is the Donald Clan Visitor’s Centre, where we spent a good few hours wandering around the gardens, visiting the museum, and perusing the gift shop. It’s a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon, and well worth the 3.80UKP admission fee.

We decided to head up to Portree, which is the biggest town on Skye, although it’s still only village sized. After a brief wander, we found The Pink Guest House, where we took the last room, another family room, and very pleasant and comfortable. Surprisingly enough, we discovered an Indian restaurant hiding on a back street of Portree, and decided to eat there. It was a very enjoyable meal, tinged with a slight feeling of guilt for not supporting the local fishing trade.

On our last day in Skye, we drove to Dunvegan Castle, home of the local clan Macleod. The castle looked a little disappointing from the outside, so we didn’t bother heading inside, but instead we took advantage of a boat trip to see the local seal colony. There are around 300 seals living on the shores of Dunvegan Castle, and we saw quite a few of them. From there we headed to the northern coast of the island, all the way around the top and back down to Portree, before crossing the toll bridge back to mainland Scotland.

Although it was a particularly gruelling drive, I managed to drive all the way back to Shrewsbury that night, arriving home at about 2AM, so we had a pleasant Sunday at home before Jen headed back to Canada.

I had a fantastic time while Jen was here. The parties were excellent fun, and the trip to Scotland, despite being very wet, was really relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable. Jen went back to Canada on Monday, so I’m just looking forward to the next visit now.

7th May 1999

Well another busy week, so it’s taken until Friday to get around to this. My Kitchen is now a lovely shade of green. I’ve been busy stripping and repainting the small bedroom, and sorting stuff out ready for Jen’s arrival in 2 weeks.

I went walking at the weekend, around Haugmand Hill in Uffington. It was a nice day, not too hot, just about right. The woodland around the hill is all deciduous, and very pretty. The ground was carpeted with bluebells, and the variety of trees made a nice change from the usual pines. After reaching the top of the hill, and having a rest while I enjoyed the view, I headed down the other side, to Haughmand Abbey, which is now in ruins, but still fascinating to look at. It was a five mile walk, slightly strenuous in places, but nothing major, and a lot of fun.

I also had Digital TV installed this week, so I’m suffering channel overload at the moment!

27th April 1999

Well last week was much too busy, with meetings all day every day. Hence the lack of diary entry! Nothing much else has happened. I have someone coming to finish off my kitchen, and the immigration work is progressing.

I got a call from my old friend from back home, Scott, to say he is marrying his girlfriend Natasha. The wedding is at the end of July, so hopefully I’ll make it. Congratulations Scott :-)

I watched Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and would thoroughly recommend it. I now have Jesus Of Montreal, which I’ll be watching tonight!

15th April 1999

This has been a quietly busy week. I spent most of the weekend stripping wallpaper in the kitchen, and the rest of the week has been spent collecting relevant documentation for my immigration application. Work is plodding along at a sedate rate. The weather has taken a turn for the worse. I guess I’m just biding my time until summer now.

7th April 1999

The Isaacson clan decided to avoid the bank holiday traffic by arriving at my house on Thursday night at about midnight. The next morning Graham got on with taking the bounce out of my floorboards, and Mum clucked around making tea and breakfast and generally doing Mum things. Aunt Pam arrived with Paul in the early afternoon and were given the house tour then retired to their B&B before coming back for a chinese takeaway.

On Saturday we all headed into town (apart from James who was still in bed, and couldn’t walk around town with his leg in plaster anyway). I took everyone on a guided tour of the shops, with Mum and Pam diving into clothes shops, and Graham and Paul spending a good deal of time in the model shop.

Pam and Paul decided to walk up the Wrekin in the afternoon, so I joined them. The track up the big hill is wide and well kept, so it wasn’t too strenuous, although it did get fairly steep in places. The view from the top was worth the effort though, despite it being rather hazy.

In the evening we all went to Traitor’s Gate restaurant for an excellent meal, then back to the Compasses for some after dinner drinks.

Mum, Graham and James headed north to visit some friends of theirs on Sunday, so I had the place to myself, and spent the day doing nothing, apart from going online.

Monday was equally lazy. We didn’t really do anything except watch bank holiday TV. Everyone left in the early evening in the hope of getting back to Essex before nightfall.

I had a nice surprise on Tuesday, a letter from the Quebec Immigration service, telling me I can go ahead with my application for permanent residence in Quebec. More info on that little adventure here.

31st March 1999

The house is tidy, the washing machine is plumbed in, the large pile of cardboard has been removed from my garage. Things are looking up! Mother is visiting this weekend, along with Graham, James, Pam and Paul, so I’ve been cleaning, and I went out and bought a guest bed on Saturday.

When I arrived in town to shop for the bed, I got way-laid by the Subs sandwich shop, and headed down to the river to eat my sub. Hot bacon layered with melted brie, with mayonnaise, lettuce and black pepper. I recommend it.

As I was by the river, I decided to take the scenic route around to the main shopping area, and strolled along the towpath. I was enjoying the peace (everyone heads for the shops, but nobody enjoys the river!), when suddenly my tranquility was destroyed by a funfair which had parked itself in the middle of the horticultural society park. At first I was slightly annoyed by this intrusion into my reverie, but then my inner child woke up, stamped his foot, and yelled ‘I wanna go to the fair!’. How could I refuse?

I strolled around the funfair, past the bumper cars, the waltzer, the throw-a-6-inch-hoop-over-a-7-inch-goldfish-bowl booth, the scary spin-you-around-turn-you-upside-down-make-you-throw-up ride, and of course the candy floss and greasy food van.

After wandering around for a while, I realised I couldn’t bring myself to actually go on any of the rides, despite my inner child kicking and screaming and holding his breath until he turned blue and fell over. I left the fair, disappointed that my adult inhibitions had stopped me having more fun, but pleased that the kid in me was still fighting for survival.

As I ambled up the hill to the shops, I passed a mother and her young son, who was about six. He was walking along with his arms oustretched, and the two were having a conversation which went something like:

Boy: I wish I was a bird!
Mum: Shut up.
Boy: I wish I was a bird!
Mum: Shut up!
Boy: I wish I was a bird!
Mum: SHUT UP!

The poor kid will probably have all of his imagination drilled out of him by the time he’s 10, but at least he was having a good time that day.

22nd March 1999

Well I didn’t get a chance to add an entry before heading off to Canada, so I have nearly an entire month to catch up on! Let’s see, the kitchen fitters arrived, and had a lot of the work done before I left, but I left them to finish off without me. Apart from that I was ready to head off to Canada, and Jen.

I arrived in Montreal feeling quite fresh, after remembering to take a bottle of water onto the plane with me. Jen met me at the airport, happy reunions all round, and back to her apartment for a relaxing evening. We spent the weekend in the country at Jen’s parents, which was an incredible site under several feet of snow. Good food and good company, then it was back to the city, ready for Jen to work on the Monday

I bought myself a Palm Pilot V organiser the next day, I just couldn’t resist a new toy. Jen doesn’t get it.

We spent the rest of the week in something I can only describe as ‘domestic bliss’, until Friday when we went to a moulerie for Jen’s birthday celebration, and back to Lisa’s afterwards for tea and cake and the obligatory present opening ceremony.

On Saturday we headed up to Ottawa, a cute little city, with big gothic style parliament buildings, and a stray cat sanctuary hiding in the middle of them. The city was very quiet, even on Saturday afternoon. I guess it’s probably busier on weekdays. On the Sunday we went skating on Ottawa canal, or at least tried to skate. The ice was melting, and virtually impossible to skate on.

On Tuesday it was time to head back to dreary England. We said our sad farewells, and I boarded the plane. I surprised myself by managing to sleep on the plane, so luckily I wasn’t too sleepy when I arrived at Heathrow to find that my Dad had got the day wrong, and not shown up to meet me. Two train rides, a tube ride, and a bus journey later I arrived in Hatfield to meet Philippa, who took me to Maylandsea.

I spent a day there, then a day at Mum’s, then drove to Croydon to meet up with Kel and Davey for a git night out. We went to a club and boogied the night away (well, ok, drank the night away), finishing the evening with a kebab and an hour or so online.

Now I’m back home. My kitchen is finished apart from a lick of paint, but the utility room still needs some work. The place was a mess, but I’m gradually tidying up (wish I’d bought a smaller house).

26th February 1999

This week has been slightly tedious. I didn’t do anything exciting at the weekend, as the weather wasn’t great, and I was feeling particularly lazy. I’ve started sorting my kitchen out, and the kitchen fitters arrive next Monday to start work. I expect this coming weekend will be spent clearing out all my cupboards and drawers ready for that.

This time next week I’ll be on my way to Canada!

19th February 1999

My Mum and Graham visited at the weekend. Graham kindly fixed my kitchen floorboards and converted my outside toilet and larder into a utility area. We went to the Old Lion Tap for a very pleasant meal, after I had phoned around almost every restaurant in town to find a table. My advice is book early when it is St Valentine’s weekend.

On Sunday, we went for a wander around town, taking in the nicer shops, and a quick stroll along the river. We headed up to Lyth Hill briefly, but my Mum is afraid of the cold, so we went back and she cooked a rather good roast dinner.

I had to go to Cardiff on Tuesday and Wednesday for some pointless millennium testing, but at least we got to stay in a nice hotel and go out for an excellent portugese meal.

It’s now only two weeks to my trip to Canada, and I can’t wait!

10th February 1999

After tidying my house from top to bottom, and shopping for munchies and drinks, I was ready for the arrival of my Dad, Clare, Philippa, Tristan, Alan, Sally, Joshua, Rachel, and Barney (the dog). They got stuck in a jam on the M6, so didn’t arrive until after eight on Friday evening. Alan got some chips for the kids while I made everyone tea. Once everyone was settled, us blokes (and Philippa) went to the pub, drank lots of beer, and got a take away curry on the way home.

The next day, everyone was up by nine, something which I’m still shocked by. We had tea and toast, and Dad took Barney out over the fields looking for rabbit holes. At around ten, everyone left for Scotland, leaving me to get ready for work. I worked until nine to get the latest release of our software delivered.

Sunday started as a glorious day, with blue skies and bright sunshine. I decided to go for another of my ‘Pub Walks in Shropshire’. I rifled through the book, and decided on Ironbridge Gorge, starting at the Tontine Hotel.

Half an hour later I was out on the A5, with the roof down, heading towards Ironbridge. What I hadn’t noticed until then was how ridiculously cold it was. The sun was shining, but the wind was icy cold, and I had to put on my silly red hat.

After arriving at Ironbridge, negotiating the roadworks and the hordes (well, maybe not hordes, but a lot for February) of visitors, and parking the car, I headed for the Tontine Hotel. The hotel stands directly in front of the Iron Bridge. It looks victorian, and has a foyer tiled by Maw & Co of nearby Jackfield and cast-iron fireplaces. I had a surprisingly good pint of Bank’s bitter, read a chapter of The Lost Continent, then headed back out.

I walked across the Iron Bridge, which crosses the gorge high above the river, giving impressive views. At the other end of the bridge I headed right, down a broad track to a disused railway bridge. Going under the bridge, and up onto it, bought me out onto what used to be the railway track, built in 1863, which ran from Coalport to Stafford.

Walking along the track, I got my first glimpse of Buildwas Power Station, which is quite impressive really, as the cooling towers are quite huge. Apparently the station won an architectural award in 1973 for its concordance with the environment. As I approached it, the sky became dominated by the huge rosy coloured brick cooling towers, and I could hear the condensed water rushing down them. The track ended at a fence, just yards from the first tower, 375 feet high, an imposing sight. The bottom of the towers is open, supported by large diagonal pillars, so you can see the gallons of water flowing down inside. I decided I liked these towers, they are incredibly impressive, and have a strange kind of beauty. They are also quite well hidden, so you don’t have to look at them if you don’t want to.

Striking off into the woods, I came to some steps. My guide told me I had to climb these steps, so I strode up them. I strode up them much too quickly. About twenty steps later I was gasping for air, and admiring the towers behind me again while my heart slowed down. I continued upwards, clutching the conveniently placed guide rails and panting heavily. I stopped again, and again, and several times more, each time resting for longer, until finally I arrived at the top. I stood bent, with my hands on my knees, struggling for breath, and vowing to get just a little bit fitter.

I checked my book, and discovered much to my dismay that there were more steps to climb, but it was only a few this time, and I was soon strolling happily through the woods on flat ground. Soon the path turned into a farm track, and I passed some old looking, and remarkably well preserved barns and outhouses.

Eventually I arrived at Benthall church. Apparently the Benthalls were influential figures in these parts, with a hall, a church, and the local village named after them. I wandered around the church yard, looking at the tombs and gravestones. Some of them were made from cast iron, the obsession with iron in Ironbridge affected all parts of life, and death.

As I was wandering, a very old lady with an attractive beard and moustache came out of the church, with a greyhound which was almost as hairy as she was. She greeted me and asked if I’d been there before. I made the mistake of saying no. She desperately wanted me to see inside the church, so eventually I obliged and went in. I would like to thank that old lady now, because it was a very pleasant experience. The church was small and well kept, and incredibly peaceful. My new friend started telling me about the history of the church, apparently using farts as punctuation, and told me lots of interesting things about the Benthalls that I’ve since forgotten. I really should take a notebook on these walks.

From the churchyard, I could see Benthall Hall, built in the 16th century, which played an important part in the Civil War. Cromwell’s men took it in the same month that Shrewsbury fell. In the 19th century, George Maw, of ceramic tile fame, lived there, and planted almost every variety of crocus in the gardens. I couldn’t see any now though.

I left the church, and continued along the track, which eventually led back into Ironbridge, and my waiting car.

4th February 1999

Jen went away to a trade show in Toronto on Friday, and didn’t get back until yesterday, which meant my online time was reduced considerably, and I had to find something else to occupy myself with.

On Saturday, I decided that my car really needed cleaning quite badly, so took it to a valeting firm in Shrewsbury. I arrived at about 11, and they told me it would be ready by 3, so I headed off into town to find something to do.

First, I went to the library. Shrewsbury library is housed in a very impressive building, which I’m sure has some interesting history if I could be bothered to research it. The gardens in front are well kept, with the imposing statue of Charles Darwin, famous son of Shrewsbury, and one of the greatest thinkers of our time, sitting with his legs crossed and a pile of books at his feet.

Unfortunately, the interior of the library was a bit of a disappointment at first. The reception area is the usual library brown and beige, with stained beige upholstered chairs. Scattered around were tatty Agatha Christie hardbacks. However, walking up the stairs to the main borrowing library, it became a whole lot nicer. I still had to suffer the beige carpets, but the massive arched windows, and curved ceilings make the rooms feel huge, and very airy. It is the kind of place you could sit in all day and read quite happily. The books were still all very tatty though (I think everybody should donate their old books to public libraries, and try to keep this most important public institution alive).

After trapsing around the shops for a while, I decided to head down to the park. The park is maintained by the Shropshire Horticultural Society, and is very impressive. It runs down to the river from town, and encompasses a secluded pond area. Unfortunately this area of tranquility and pleasantness is ruined by a large beige lego brick in one corner. This building is Shrewsbury swimming centre, and is quite horrible, but if you turn your back on it, you can still enjoy the views.

I headed back into town, wandered around for a bit, and walked past the Rowley House Museum. I’m not usually keen on local museums, but an impulse grabbed me, and I went in. I paid my three pounds and headed off to explore. The museum is filled with artefacts from ancient times, moving through the ages from stone age, through bronze age, iron age, roman times, and medieval times. It is very clean and tidy, and the exhibits are well maintained, but I can only gaze into display cabinets for so long before I get bored. The ‘Natural History’ section was the worst area though, stuffed animals in display cases is not my idea of natural history.

Eventually, I headed back to get my car, which was gleaming, and looking as good as new. Unfortunately, I discovered to my dismay that the valeting people didn’t take credit cards, so I had to dash back into town to get some cash.

I got home to discover that Jen had commandeered her aunts computer, and was online, so I spent most of the rest of the day online.

The rest of this week has been spent tidying my house ready for my Dad and family and friends to arrive at the weekend.

27th January 1999

This week has consisted of a brief and joyous trip to the travel agent to collect my plane tickets (another fun filled fortnight with Jen in Canada!), the arrival of electricians to tear my house apart, and lots of work.

Oh, and I went walking again at the weekend. I bought a book a few days ago called ‘Pub Walks in Shropshire’, which sounded like my kind of walking. One of the walks followed the river around Shrewsbury, stopping at the Boathouse Inn, which seemed like a good one to start with.

I parked up at the station at around lunchtime on Sunday, and headed past the imposing prison gates. The small door in the gate was open, and my morbid curiosity got the better of me. I stood and gawked through the door, hoping to see some hardened crims engaged in yard brawls, but nothing seemed to be happening so I continued.

Following some steps down through a slightly wild garden, which unfortunately seemed to be the local dumping ground for beer cans and pizza boxes, I arrived at the river. The water was lapping at the edge of the tow path, and I worried slightly that the path may be flooded further on.

According to my guide, if I looked behind me as I walked under the railway bridge, I should see Laura’s Tower, the romantic gazebo added to Shrewsbury Castle by Thomas Telford. I walked backwards, trying to see through the trees on the embankment, and eventually saw the tower. Lucky really, as my steps had been taking me closer to the edge of the towpath.

As I strolled on along the river, my book pointed out to me a 13th century arch called Water Gate which was once part of the town wall. On the opposite bank I could see the floodlights of Gay Meadow, the Shrewsbury football ground.

As I approached English Bridge, I could see The Wakeman School, Wilfred Owen’s former school, on the opposite bank, along with truncated tower of the Abbey Church, founded by the Benedictines in 1038 (can you tell I had a guide book?).

After English bridge is the old village of Coleham, which had an iron foundry and tannery. The old workers’ cottages which look out on the river have been converted into attractive, and probably expensive, town houses.

Continuing under Greyfriars Bridge, the towpath widens, and is lined on both sides with majestic limes. On the right, through the trees, I could see the remains of the town walls, built by Henry III (well, he probably had some help) in 1226.

At Kingsland Bridge, I left the river, and walked up a narrow lane, to the top of the bridge. I emerged facing a magnificent terracotta coloured building, complete with flying buttresses and griffins. Apparently this used to be the Shrewsbury Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital, built in 1879, but dissapointingly it is now closed. The building is in a bad state of repair, and had a large for sale sign outside. I felt like rushing to the auction house and putting in a bid, but I later found out that it would cost an estimated one million pounds just to make the building safe. What a shame.

I crossed the bridge, and strolled along the other side of the river, past the Shrewsbury School boat house and boating club, and into a tranquil, but highly manicured section of the river. Apparently the parkland there is host to the annual flower show by the Horticultural Society, who also built the nearby Porthill suspension bridge.

I reached my halfway point, the Boathouse Inn, and dashed inside for some much needed refreshment. I was expecting the Inn to be a cosy old pub, with a roaring log fire. I was dissapointed. It is more like a family restaurant, with a bar. I bought myself a pint and sat at a table looking out over the river. I spent about an hour there, sipping my pint and reading my book, before setting off again.

The rest of the walk took me through Shrewsbury town centre, starting with Mardol, the small road up from the river. This is an attractive street, with overhanging gables, and half timbered buildings. Unfortunately it also seems to be the cheapest, filled with shops whose owners can’t afford anywhere else. Stores such as haberdashers, hearing aid specialists, second hand electrical appliances, and the odd charity shop. I also noticed a large number of for sale, and to let signs. I can only assume this decay is due to the frequent flooding of the river.

After walking through the pedestrian section of town, and deciding that doing this walk on a Sunday had been a really good idea, I arrived at Castle Street, which surprisingly enough leads down to Shrewsbury Castle. Here I go into guide book mode again: The castle was built by Roger de Montgomery between 1067 and 1083, on the high mound at the neck of the river. Apart from the Norman entrance, the rest was rebuilt by Edward I in the late 1200s.

Anyway, it was closed, so I wandered across the road to the library, which was also closed, but which has an impressive statue of Charles Darwin outside.

I crossed the railway bridge, and found myself back at the car. I headed home for a cup of tea and a cream cake, happy to have learnt a bit more about my home town.

20th January 1999

I awoke on Saturday morning to a bright, sunny day, with a wintery blue sky. The perfect day, I decided, to go out for a drive, and maybe do some walking. I washed, dressed, and fixed some breakfast, then sat down with my OS map. A nature reserve called Earl’s Hill a few miles South-West of me seemed like a good spot.

I threw a few things in the car (jumper, wooly hat, book, map), put the roof down, and set off. Almost immediately the clouds started rolling in, which wasn’t a good sign. After driving around Bayston Hill several times, and hitting nothing but dead ends, I decided I wasn’t going to find the small lane shown on my map, and headed out onto the A5 for a more circuitous, but better defined route.

I eventually found the road I wanted, which turned out to be good fun. It was quite twisty, but still straight enough to get up some good speed. Suddenly, I found myself in Pulverbatch, and figured I should probably check the map. I had been enjoying myself so much that I had overshot by a few miles, and was just about to head off the bottom of the map.

As I turned around and headed back, it started to hail, but most of it was missing my head, so I continued until Oaks, where I parked up. As I was putting the roof up, the hail stopped, so I grabbed my bag and headed out on what I assumed was the footpath I needed. Twenty minutes later, the hail come down again, and in quite a serious manner. I hid behind a tree for shelter from the icy blast, and pondered whether to go back and hide in the car, or continue bravely onward. As I pondered, I had a pee.

After deciding to continue, and walking into a blast of icy pin pricks for several minutes, the weather improved, along with my mood. I strolled along quite happily, admiring the scenery and enjoying the tranquility, until my foot landed in mud up to my boot top. The next hundred yards or so were spent trying to find dry land, or rocks to hop onto, and trying to wrench my feet out of mud without losing my boots.

After crossing a busy brook (via a conveniently located wooden bridge), I staggered up a deceptively steep hill, and stood at the top, gasping for breath, admiring the view. Off to my right was a barn, which seemed to be derelict, so I headed for that. Two walls of the barn were gone completely, leaving the inside partially exposed to the surrounding hillside. Some kind soul had installed a table/bench, so I took a seat, pulled out my Bill Bryson, and enjoyed a chapter. While I was reading, it started to rain.

Once the rain stopped, I ventured out of the barn, and decided it was time to head back to the car. I leapt down the hill, back over the bridge, and through the mud. Suddenly I arrived at a fork in the path. A fork I didn’t remember at all. I stood there for some minutes, pondering the situation, and trying to spot a recognisable landmark. Finally I headed down the right hand fork. After struggling through more mud, it soon became clear that this was the wrong way. As I turned around to head back, it started to snow.

By the time I got back to the car, I was in the middle of a veritable blizzard. I was covered in snow, as was the car. After a vague attempt to clear the snow from my windows, I got in and headed home. Five minutes down the road the snow stopped and the sun came out, so I had the roof down for the rest of the journey.

14th January 1999

This week has been a little dull. I got my lights fixed at last, and I’ve had a quote for a complete rewire of my house (scary!). My car was serviced, and had a new gear linkage fitted. Other than that I’ve just been slowly coming down from the Xmas high.

I went for a drive on Saturday. It was a lovely sunny day, so I had the roof down on the car. It was cold, but the heater works well. Coming out of Shrewsbury after a quick bit of shopping, I saw a sign for Welshpool, and decided to go that way. Upon arrival in Welshpool, I looked at the map, and realised I wasn’t all that far from the coast of Cardigan Bay, so I carried on.

Eventually I arrived at Barmouth, a slightly dingy seaside town, in an absolutely gorgeous setting. The town is set against a backdrop of rocky Welsh hills to the east, with more hills to the south, and a huge sandy beach to the west and north.

The tide was out, so I went strolling on the beach, and watched the sun setting over the sea. As the sun went down past the horizon, I headed back up to explore some of the hills, and spent a very enjoyable hour or so clambering about on rocky terrain, until I realised it was getting quite dark, and I should probably go back to town before things got tricky.

I hunted around the small town for somewhere to get something to eat, but everywhere seemed to be closed, apart from a small amusement arcade on the promenade, and a National Milk Bar. For some reason I’ve never trusted National Milk Bars, so I avoided it, and instead jumped into my car and headed back east. I ended up stopping at a Little Chef, and the National Milk Bar probably would’ve been better.

5th January 1999

Apologies for the gap in my diary schedule, but I was having too much fun over Xmas to worry about writing diaries! Now I just have to remember everything that happened…

After a sober, but still reasonably fun, office Xmas lunch on the 18th December, I drove down to Essex to enjoy an early Xmas dinner with my Dad’s family, picking up Philippa on the way. We ate a very nice duckling, wore silly hats, opened some presents (disappointing Tristan slightly as his present was in Canada), and played silly games. I got a very cute brass F1 car clock, a coffee grinder, some mugs and some books.

On the 20th, Dad drove me to the airport for my 1PM plane to Montreal. After walking halfway around terminal 3, we found the end of the check-in queue and joined it. An hour later I was handing my documents to a stern Air Canada rep, who refused to even entertain the idea of an upgrade. Resigned to economy travel, I headed for my plane.

Six hours, some nasty food, and two crap films (Armageddon and Wrongfully Accused) later, we descended on Montreal. It had snowed the night before, so fresh snow still carpeted much of the city, giving a Xmas postcard view from my window.

Those areas in airports where everybody congregates to meet new arrivals is one of the few times in life when an non-celeb like me gets to know what it feels like to be in the spotlight. Struggling down the people-walled corridor with a trolley, every eye is on you, and it’s very bewildering. Eventually I found Jen, yacking with an old school friend she’d stumbled across, and who she promptly abandoned when I arrived.

The next couple of days were spent relaxing, and not really doing much at all. We went shopping for last minute gifts (and gloves and boots for me!), visited Lisa and Kevin for a pre-christmas gift exchange, ate junk food, and generally made slobs of ourselves. I drank too much tea, Jen drank too much coffee; felt like I’d never left! It rained and the snow melted, which wasn’t very nice.

On Xmas Eve we headed up to Jen’s parents’, picking up her Aunt and Grandmother on the way. As we were driving up, it started snowing again, and we started seeing snow on the ground. By the time we arrived, it was a real white Xmas again, and the farm looked like a winter wonderland. We were joined later by two of Jen’s cousins, and were all set for Xmas.

Christmas Day dawned with Jen running up and down the stairs squeaking ‘Santa came! Santa came!’. We had pancakes and maple syrup, and rummaged through stockings, followed by opening the tree presents. I got a cool aquarium which will soon be featured on the Lambicam, and an excellent knife made by Richard, as well as lots of other fun bits and pieces.

A quick afternoon walk in the snow gave us an appetite for a gorgeous turkey dinner, with turnip and apple, cabbage and bacon, carrots, and mashed potato. We rounded off the day with a game of Dictionary and some drinks.

We headed back to the city on Boxing Day, but returned to the country two days later for Jen’s Mum’s birthday, and enjoyed more excellent food, and great company. The weather had turned cold, down in the minus twenties, so we didn’t go out for very long walks!

On New Years Eve, we joined Lisa and Kevin for a Chinese meal, played more silly games (Planet Hollywood), and saw in the New Year with David Letterman and Prince. There should be some fun photos coming out of that evening!

The next day we spent ages looking for a decent restaurant that was open, failed miserably and ended up in a bar. A satisfactory, and very filling roast beef sandwich later and I was looking at the prospect of heading home. Slightly depressed, we headed for the airport, where we joined another massive check-in queue. An hour later, I was waving goodbye to Jen and boarding my plane.

Back in England, I was met by Dad and driven to his house. From there I went to my Mum’s for another round of gift giving (I got a microwave!). After a pleasant day and evening there, it was back to Dad’s again to give Dad and Tristan their gifts (boots for Dad, a GPS scanner for Tristan), before heading home. I was most pleased to find I hadn’t been robbed, the house hadn’t burned down and everything seemed to be in order. Except, that is, for a pint of milk in the fridge which appeared to have undergone a slow motion explosion.

Life is back to normal now, so don’t expect more than a three line entry next week!

17th December 1998

My Xmas shopping is still only almost finished. I was doing so well too! I now have to rush around, in the middle of huge saturday shopping crowds, to get the last few things. At least I can look forward to the fact that I’ll be in Canada on Sunday. I’m visiting my Dad and family at the weekend, and leaving my car with them over Xmas (hiding the keys from Tristan!), so that’ll be a nice precursor to the festivities.

Nothing else has happened this week. The lights in my house shorted out, so I’ve been living by candlelight for a couple of days. It’s almost impossible to find an electrician this close to Xmas!

10th December 1998

Well my Xmas shopping is almost finished, I’ve even managed to wrap some of it! Work is very busy at the moment, as I’m trying to get what I need to do for the latest release finished before I go away. Only 10 days to go now, and I’ll be in Canada! Jen is away at a conference at the moment until Sunday, so I’m taking a small break from the online world and sorting out some real life stuff. Nothing exciting, just boring stuff like car tax, accounts, and housework.

3rd December 1998

Life is back to the normal routine, which is very dull, so I’m looking forward to jetting off to Canada. The only unusual thing I did this week was a trip down to London for a meeting, but apart from a free lunch, it was a very tedious day! I went Xmas shopping on Saturday, and came back with nothing, but I have a few ideas now, so back into the fray this Saturday.

Jen won’t tell me what she wants for Xmas, so I’m currently looking at some lovely framed prints of dogs playing snooker, or a blender.

27th November 1998

Jen went home to Canada on Monday, so that was a bit of a sad day, but I immediately went out and booked tickets to fly over there for Christmas, so I’ll be in Canada in 3 weeks!

I had a great week with Jen, my party was a modest success, and Daresbury last weekend was a lot of fun. Highlights of the weekend include just about everyone wearing silly black wigs, Davey and Kel disappearing to the toilet together, the ‘gitboys’ singing 3 Lions, and Firestarter in the karaoke, and everyone singing along to the Tellytubbies song! Lowlights include me kissing Jim and hugging Davey. Must be something I ate…

If you’re here, you must know by now that I got my new domain! A bit of an extravagance, but I decided I needed a better web presence than ‘freespace’. It also means I can manage my email a little more effectively, and get away from the slightly unreliable MSN mail servers.

18th November 1998

This is the big week of November! Jen arrived on Friday, and is here for the whole week. It’s so great to see her again after yacking on ICQ for months. It was my housewarming party on Saturday (more about that later), and it’s party time again in Daresbury this Saturday coming!

I picked Jen up from the airport Friday lunchtime, and we came straight back to Shrewsbury and went food shopping. I didn’t think we’d need so much food, but Jen convinced me otherwise, and a good job too!

Saturday started quite slowly; my Dad and Philippa arrived mid-afternoon, followed by Jim and Lynne, and as evening approached we were joined by Davey, Phil, Dave, Alex, Pippa and Carl, Craig, and Dino. The webcam went on at about 8, and seemed to go down well with everyone online (hope you enjoyed yourselves folks!). I think it was around midnight when people started mooning at the cam. By that time large amounts of alcohol had been consumed, Davey and I had treated everyone to a slightly mediocre firework display, and Jen was busy cooking more treats for the food table.

The partying continued until around 5, with more public nudity, some dancing, a little bit of singing, and some impressive snoring from Davey.

I think (I hope!) everyone had a good time, and hopefully Daresbury will be just as good, if not better. I expect I’ll post photos of the party, along with photos of Daresbury, on the Chatgames page. If anyone has any shots from the webcam saved, please forward them to me for addition to the page!

11th November 1998

Well this week has been a little more interesting. At the weekend I went down to Cardiff for a meal with an old work colleague Ruairidh, my ex-boss Sarah, and her husband Geoff. We went to a very nice restaurant where I had a delicious lobster with thermador sauce, and a mouthful of Geoff’s sea bass! We drank far too much wine, and generally had a good time. Looking forward to doing it again guys!

I also had a fabulous drive back from Cardiff. The weather was nice enough to have the roof down (with the heating full blast to keep the chill off!), and I took the scenic route through Brecon. There’s nothing quite like hacking down scenic country roads on a sunny day.

Apart from that little excursion, I’ve been busy tidying the house, and getting party stuff organised. Jen arrives on Friday, and she’ll tell me off if there’s any mess!

Things to do: buy booze, buy food, wash the car, do my VAT return (ugh), sort out my FQDN.

4th November 1998

Sunlight slinks through the office window, dappled by the autumnal trees swaying gently in the breeze. It falls onto a computer monitor, in front of which sits a diminutive, and slightly bored computer consultant, busily tapping away at a surprisingly quiet keyboard. Silence pervades the office, as the other members of the team sit immersed in whatever it is they are doing. A silence broken only by the occasional click of a mouse, and squeak of a chair. The consultant checks his watch; nearly lunchtime. He wonders what delights the restaurant has on offer today.

OK, so it’s been a dull week. I just thought I’d pad things out a bit. Work is plodding along, as is life generally. Jen arrives in less than two weeks, and then it’s party time! So, I’m busy getting the house in order, making it relatively tidy and neat.

Saw some more good films this week.

Leaving Normal is a (excuse the cliche) bittersweet comedy drama, about two out of luck women, travelling to Alaska. Meg Tilley plays a brilliant character that I would describe as a female version of Northern Exposure’s Ed. Stunning scenery too, but I can never get enough of Alaska.

The Usual Suspects, shown in widescreen (thanks C4!), is a brilliant crime drama, with a very twisty plot, some superb locations, and impressive acting performances.

I’m in the middle of writing a Winnie the Pooh quiz for next Monday (9th), should be a bit of fun.

27th October 1998

Diary entry number three. I’ve amazed myself.

What an unpleasant week! Work involved horrible 3 day meetings (ok, so it was a useful meeting, but still..), and the weekend was wet, windy and generally nasty.

One bonus (for me anyway) is that the River Severn broke it’s banks, so there are some very impressive floods around town, and we have a few more lakes than we had this time last week. I’m just glad I picked a house on a hill!

The number of people coming to my housewarming party seems to be diminishing daily, but at least I’ve got a couple of confirmations. The local pub is having a pre-xmas party that night, so we can always decamp to there if things don’t go well. If anyone wants details, mail me.

Oh, one more thing; Jen tells me I don’t say hello enough, so in the words of George from Crazy People; Hello, hello. How’s it going? Hi. Hello.

22nd October 1998

Well, I guess I should type something instead of staring at a blank screen. This is my second diary entry. So far so good. Jen doesn’t have much faith in me continuing this venture, but let’s see if I can prove her wrong!

I’ve updated a lot of the website this week, got rid of a lot of out of date stuff, tidied up some pages, and even added a bit of content. I’m working on the page about my experiences in Hawaii at the moment, but it’s still ‘under construction’.

I finished painting the bathroom walls at the weekend, but the masking tape took some paint off the ceiling, so I need to put another coat up there, and gloss the paintwork. Then I need to get the flooring down, and that’ll be it!

Watched the film Nil By Mouth on Saturday. Good movie, but quite nasty. Kathy Burke was superb. It’s a gritty portrayal of working class life in London, showing how people deal with a life involving drugs, alcoholism, crime and violence. Also saw Casino, which wasn’t as ‘real’, but still very good. The ‘head in the vice’ scene made me cringe.

Ran a Blue Beter Pede on Monday night, which seemed to go down well. Tony, Will and Lynne revealed themselves as closet BP fans. The Americans didn’t complain too much…

Oh, and I bought some tables. I thought maybe people might want something to put their drinks on at the party!

15th October 1998

This is my first attempt at a diary, so please bear with me. The chances are I’ll update it a couple of times, then get lazy, forget, and it’ll never change again. I don’t know, maybe I’ll stick with it.

Life is good at the moment. I have a wonderful girlfriend who is visiting me next month. My house is coming along, almost finished the bathroom! Even work is OK. I’m happily meandering along, with no fixed destination, it’s quite pleasant having no plan.

I do have a few projects which I should get around to doing. I need to spend a day scanning in photos so that I can add Daresbury II photos to the Chatgames page. I also want to create a page about my stay at the Kewalo Basin Marine Laboratory to add to the Earthwatch section. I need to jazz up the Webcam a bit, and try to find somewhere better for it than Geocities. I’ve also been working on some mIRC scripts which I need to get into a releasable state.

So what else has been happening? Well, I’ve been enjoying the last days of what we like to call summer. One of the advantages of moving to Shropshire is that I am surrounded by beautiful countryside. The leaves on the trees are rapidly turning to yellow and gold and red. My garden has been host to many birds over the past few days, and a robin with a glorious red breast seems to have set up home there.

Well that’s about it for now. Let’s see if I can keep this up. I’ll probably try to update this page once a week, as once a day would definitely be too much. If there is anything you’d like me to put here, mail me.