Category Archives: General

Camping is for other people

I have a few friends who are into camping, for some strange reason. My former lodger loved nothing more than packing his rucksack, taking his tent, his mini burner and a tin of beans and heading off up the Lakes to spend days freezing his nuts off in the wilderness.

Oddly, I didn’t fancy joining him. I also have friends who are into ‘podding’ which, although it may sound as though it’s some wife swap game, is in fact a cross between camping and staying in a hotel – you stay in a purpose built wooden structure, one that is still too much like a tent for my liking.

Now it’s not like I haven’t tried camping, because I have. I have tried it once, and hated it. My loathing for this most British of tradition wasn’t down to the loathsome British weather either, as I tried my camping experience in Cannes, in the South of France, where the weather is decidedly more ‘un-British’.

The problem was that I was completely unprepared for the whole ordeal, having borrowed a tent from my Aunty (who, at the time, ran a caravan and camping shop, so you would expect success). Despite being asked, nay, ordered, by my friend to ‘check’ the tent before we set off, I presumed that, because it came from my Aunty, that it would be ok. I presumed wrong. Firstly, the tent didn’t have any poles. For some reason my aunty had forgotten these most vital of camping paraphernalia. Secondly, even if the tent did have poles, it would have been uninhabitable anyway because the last person to use it hadn’t let it dry before packing it away, which apparently you’re supposed to do before storing a tent. It stank. It stank so bad it spelled as though a rat had died in there, and had been rotting for years.

We slept in the car.

The next day I, under orders, found a camping shop where I, using my best French, managed to purchase what I believed to be a tent. The keyword there is ‘believed’. Once again my lack of care and attention at what should have been a straightforward task was set to bit me on the ass, as I delayed putting up the ‘tent’ until after we had returned from ‘le pub’. It was now dark and, in some ironic twist as though Cannes knew we were from the UK, it was raining.

As we attempted to erect this tent under nightfall, and in largely unpleasant conditions, it became apparent that it wasn’t particularly ‘big’. In fact, it was very small indeed, almost as though it were half a tent, with no roof.

It was. It was a windbreaker.

My failure at ensuring the first tent was complete and didn’t smell of ‘merde’ was compounded by my failure to actually buy a tent the second time.

We slept in the car.

So you see, camping isn’t for me. Unless you can buy tents that are inflatable buildings, where you erect them simply by pulling a chord and then sleep on a cushion of air, rather than on a sheet resting on a rock hard floor that hasn’t seen rain until the very night I attempt to erect a windbreaker, then I’m not interested in camping.

I’ll settle for hotels, with king-size beds and room service. Camping is for other people.

Apprenticeship jobs for the apprentices

As an avid watcher of the Apprentice on BBC1, I often think how I would have fared with some of the apprenticeship jobs that they’ve had to do over the series. Tonight sees the budding apprentices travelling to France where, no doubt, we’ll see which of them are educated in the classic sense of the word (and can pass a sentence or two in French) and which of them opt for the speaking slower, louder and in English tactic of communicating.

Looking back at previous tasks however, it’s clear that some of the ideas on offer from the apprentices are truly shocking. The mobile app task springs immediately to mind, where both teams decided upon an App that simply makes annoying, and not particularly amusing, noises. One app was simply awful, while the other app was awful and mildly offensive – while also alienating the ‘worldwide’ audience by focusing on UK regional accents.

I did notice that one of the other apprentices mentioned the idea of a bubble wrap popper app, which was quickly dismissed in favour of the badly executed regional accents app. This, of course, was a much better idea and would have been far more successful – certainly would have won them the task.

It was, though, the general lack of ideas that I found surprising on this task, and on others. Mobile apps is such a big industry that ideas should have been flowing, although of course they would have been limited with the short, overnight, development time (which is very limiting it has to be said).

The dog food challenge where the budding apprentices attempted to brand a dog food ‘Every Dog’, which could then be broadened out to ‘Every Cat’, ‘Every Horse’ and ‘Every Elephant’ was a monumentally bad idea. Even when the focus group, which contained a vet, said that it wouldn’t work they still went for it.

If only they’d just targeted puppies, as dogs tend to have three stages of dog food during their lives (puppy, adult and senior) they’ve have won the task – as their branding and their advert was very good. It was just the basic idea that was flawed.

I look forward to seeing what they come up with tonight, and who embarrasses themselves with their lack of education or willingness to even attempt the French language.

From Bracknell to Cheshire, via Manchester, Bristol and Cardiff

Within the next few weeks I should be moving house once again (assuming the buyers of my house manage to move in time) and leaving rainy Manchester for the slightly sunnier climes of Ellesmere Port. I’m buying a bigger, cheaper house, to be nearer work and, as it’s a repossession, I need to move fast and complete within four weeks. This isn’t a problem for me, as I’m ready to go whenever, so hopefully it’ll all go off without a hitch assuming my buyers can move quick enough.

What is quite interesting though, and I believe unique, is that in the years I’ve owned property dating back to 2000 in Bracknell, I’ve only sold two properties (my flat in Bracknell and now this house in Manchester) and, when I sold these two properties, I did so with just one viewing apiece. That must be some sort of record?

I sold the flat in Bracknell, where I worked as a web designer for GAME, back in 2003 (just two and a half years after buying it) and moved to Cwmbran to a four bedroom house. I still own that house and let it out (although that’s causing a few issues at the moment with troublesome tenants who can’t budget). In that house in Cwmbran I worked, at first, in Bristol – doing the long commute over the Severn Bridge and paying the scandalous toll to work as a New Media Design for MM Teleperformance, and then I worked for a company called Black Sheep, doing web development and web design in Cardiff.

My gradual move North took me to Manchester, from Cardiff, and now to Ellesmere Port where, hopefully, I’ll actually be able to walk to work in a few weeks.

Of course, just because I ‘can’ walk to work, doesn’t mean I will. I might even get my old Micro Scooter out of retirement and use that to travel to work, as I once did when I lived in Bracknell and worked at GAME.

I’ll have to get pictures this time if I do.

Paint, wallpaper and carpets – the cost of being a landlord

As a landlord, one of the things I often have to do is have a property decorated for tenants. It’s one of those necessary expenses that I’d rather not fork out for, but alas has to be done.

sarah beenyBeing a fan of the Been (Sarah Beeny) I also know that when you have a house decorated for tenants you don’t go and spend ludicrous amounts of money having it decorated to your own exacting standards. While yes, I might like the best furniture, expensive wallpaper, feature walls and plush carpets – when it’s for rental purposes a simple cheap carpet and some magnolia painted walls will suffice – which is just what I had done the last time I had a house decorated for rental (yet it still cost a few quid mind, as even cheap decorators know how to charge).

The carpets were a particular bone of contention too, as when I first let out a property at the start of 2007 I had new carpets installed for the tenants, and when they moved out (some 18 months or so later) the carpets were knackered and I needed to fit new ones again. The letting agent did try to have them cleaned, but this wasn’t working as they were in too much of a dreary state.

Thus a valuable lesson was learned about installing cheap carpets in the first place.

I remember too from my visits to Leeds University that carpets in student accommodation were fairly cheap. One of the students on a particular level in one of the halls had placed a hot saucepan down in the hallway, outside the kitchen, scorching the carpet. As nobody had owned up to this, every student on the level was threatened with being charged for the repair. The mark was burned into the carpet too, so it couldn’t be dealt with by carpet cleaning. Leeds University had the right idea (albeit unfair for students) in the way it makes tenants pay for repairs or replacements and, because it has deposits from all of the students, it can deduct the costs of repairs without worrying that they could come to more than they’re holding.

Perhaps I should look at properties near universities in future?

Phillip Schofield calls out MrDaz

Last Friday I travelled down to London for a filming of the gameshow The Cube, hosted by the silver fox himself; Phillip Schofield. While there, sat on the front row might I add, Schofe (as he likes to be known on Twitter) asked that any audience members who had an Internet enabled mobile and a Twitter account tweet at him, and he’d read them out.

The Cube

Well, I couldn’t resist an invitation like that so I did. The trouble was, as the Silver Fox is so popular on Twitter it was hard for him to find tweets at him from people who were there in the audience, as opposed to just random tweets telling him how great he was, or how much someone loved him.

Nevertheless he found one from an audience member, MisterDaz 😉

It’s a shame I didn’t record it with the phone too, as having Phillip Schofield announce MrDaz would have made a great video for the site. I’ll know for next time.

As for the show, it was a celebrity episode with Julie Hesmondhalgh (Hayley Cropper) from Coronation Street. I won’t tell you how well she did, because that would spoil it, but she was a lot of fun!

Pilates classes? Me? In Lancashire?

Those that have only known me in the last few years may be surprised to know, but I used to be relatively fit. I would attend the gym at least three times each week (sometimes as many as five times) and would also take twice weekly Wing-Tchun classes in Newport.

Alas, due to a lack of interest in Newport the kung fu classes were moved to Cardiff (and I didn’t drive at the time) and life decisions best left alone here resulted in me moving away to Reading and beginning the next chapter of my life, a professional career in Internet marketing.

Me in Cannes, a 'while' ago

As with most people working online, my daily exercise began and ended with the twice daily trip to the vending machine for some Frazzles, or a packet of ‘Snowflakes’ (which ruined Jon’s figure, but that’s another story). My days of going to the gym and lifting weights ‘I really I shouldn’t have been allowed to unsupervised’ were well behind me, and the middle aged paunch began to set it – aged 24.

Anyhow, ten years on and now living in Manchester, or Lancashire (depending on your understanding of the every changing counties in England) I’m finding myself yearning for the days when I used to be fairly healthy and I could take my shirt off near a swimming pool without feeling as though I had something to hide (18 inch scar on my back notwithstanding).

So, I’m looking at possibly joining a gym again, maybe doing some other form of exercise such as pilates, or even taking up Wing-Tchun once more. The only thing worrying me about the gym is that my last attempt to rejoin, while initially successful in terms of buffness (if that’s a word) it also affected my back and caused me to seriously injure myself on a rowing machine… I know, I was probably doing wrong. I’ve looked at the different types of pilates classes in Lancashire and I’ve found it, on first glance, to be a more serene form of exercise without the impact to the bones and muscles that you’d get from the gym.

Then of course there’s kung fu. While I’d love to get back into that I think I may have to get fit in order to do it, rather than do it to get fit.

Then again, is this a desperate attempt to recapture youth rather than an informed and well educated decision to regain some much needed fitness?

Quad biking in Manchester

Now before I start complaining about this, I should first point out that I have been quad biking. It was an immense amount of fun, and was very exciting. However, due to my height (and particularly long thighs) every time I hit a hard right my leg would nudge the throttle and I would shoot off at full speed towards the apex of the bend… most exciting indeed.

However, this was at Centre Parcs, on a quad biking course and under tuition. Quad bikes, by their very nature, are for driving around on uneven surfaces, over fields and up steep slopes. They are not for driving around the roads of Manchester – which is where a lot of second hand quad bikes, bought cheaply, seem to be driven.

For some reason, the road outside my house (which is relatively long and containing a few speed bumps, or ‘hazards’) is very popular with local quad bikers. They derive immense pleasure from driving up and down the road, at full pelt, past my window when I’m trying to work, and it does nothing for the concentration.

I’m all for quad biking, and would love to do it again. Heck, if I lived in a house with a lot of land, or near some fields (as I did in Wales) I might even consider buying a used quad bike myself, but I don’t… I live in Manchester, near the M56. This is not prime quad biking territory, but someone should tell that to the locals.

Recording calls with the iPhone

I must confess I’ve never been something of an Apple lover. I’ve shied away from Macs my whole life and never really wanted to get an iPhone, but having seen one recently I have to admit, it does look pretty cool.

However, I currently use a HTC Touch HD and have an application called Vito Audio Notes that I use to record my phone calls (in my line of work, recording calls is important). Whenever I make, or receive, a call the Audio Notes program kicks in and automatically switches the phone to speakerphone, then it begins recording.

It’s also useful for makeshift conference calls, as I had to do last week, or for recording telephone interviews as I also did last week when I appeared on local radio on a talk show.

While I do like the HTC, it’s not the best for the Internet – and having seen the iPhone 4 and the way it accesses the Internet, I’m feeling sorely tempted to finally make the switch when my contract expires in under 3 months. But… if I can’t record calls with the iPhone, it’s of no use to me, and I’ve had a look for available apps and can’t seem to find anything that does it without first jailbreaking the phone.

It appears that the Americans are very coy on recording phone calls (something to do with different laws in different states) so there’s no call recording app in the App Store.

Does anyone know of any way to record phone calls with the iPhone 4?