- Premium reviews
- Express reviews
- Reviews rated
- Ratings received
One of the main challenges of having an autistic child is that of introducing structure to daily family life. Without some simple form of structure that he or she is able to understand, an autistic child is adrift in a bewildering world where the clock and the calendar rule. Our daughter, Joy, was like most autistic children in having virtually no understanding of the concepts of time or days of the week. Events took her by surprise because we had no means of warning her that something different was going to happen. She was often frightened and frustrated by things that were unexpected. On several panic-stricken occasions we nearly missed important holiday flights because she was so upset. The clock was her enemy, governing (apparently at random) both what we did and when we did it. "Hurry up" and "Be quick" were phrases that would send Joy into stubborn angry moods that were more counter-productive than helpful. She just did not understand how this circle with two moving sticks was able to rule both her life and ours in such a dictatorial fashion. Faced with such an impasse, parents of autistic children soon learn to draw on their resources and become remarkably adept at devising ways to overcome such difficulties. Telling the time using a clock proved a tricky challenge, as yet to be fully overcome, but our solution for helping Joy understand the calendar focuses on one object - a simple printed sheet, designed with a desktop publishing program, that I run off on the computer each week. It shows the seven named days in separate empty sections with large colour-coded words and borders. The chart is prepared on a Sunday evening when I write the word SCHOOL in each of the Monday to Friday sections and HOME in the Saturday and Sunday sections. GUIDES goes into Wednesday under SCHOOL and CHURCH goes into Sunday under HOME. Joy pins the chart up on the wall next to her bed. At the end of each day, she is all owed to cross out/colour in the section corresponding to the day that has just finished. Sometimes she draws pictures to show her own interpretation of something that happened on that day. Sometimes we draw pictures to illustrate something different like a stick person asleep in bed under a roof to indicate that Joy will be spending the night at her respite carer's house. We can also add other pictures/words to forewarn her about visits to the dentist, holidays, parties etc. In this simple, graphic way, we can help Joy be more aware of our alien concept of WEEK and allow her to reach some understanding its structure. Inevitably, of course, things will occasionally go wrong and she will get ahead of herself without us noticing. We can assure you that trying to get a teenager out of bed on a Friday morning for school, when she is stubbornly convinced that it is Saturday and she doesn't have to go to school because she crossed out Friday before bedtime last night, is NOT an easy task! So, without the chart to "map out" her week, there is no doubt that Joy would still be adrift in the bewildering world of clock and the calendar. Yet the rest of us take for granted these everyday mechanisms for structuring time. So just take a moment and put yourself in the place of an autistic child - use your imagination to envisage a world where you have no concept of time ...... a disturbing vision, isn't it?
There is nothing quite so frustrating as trying to create a first webpage and finding that one tiny mistake messes it up! One missed > or " or # can throw the whole thing into disarray. If you're just beginning, this can be extremely disheartening and finding such a tiny mistake can be a major task. A couple of friends were just taking their first steps into webpage creation and finding it was very wobbly going. So I wrote this very simple tutorial containing just a few hints and tips for creating simple webpages! 1/. When you create a webpage by hand-coding in either Notepad or Wordpad (or any other word processor) you must remember to save the file with an .htm extension so that it can be read by a web browser. 2/. Remember where you saved it! When you want it to open in your browser, you have to open your browser first, click File>Open>>Browse> and tell the browser where to find your file before clicking OK to open it. 3/. The very first and very last tags on your page should be <HTML> and </HTML> 4/. On the line below <HTML> you should put in a <HEAD> tag. 5/. On the line below <HEAD> you should put in a <TITLE>tag. After that you can put in some text which will be the title of the page.This will appear in the bar at the very top of the browser window (in Internet Explorer it's a blue bar) - remember to close it with a </TITLE>tag. 6/. Then, on the line below, close the <HEAD> tag with a </HEAD> tag. NOTE: When you have completed your webpage, you can enter extra tags between the two <HEAD> tags defining some keywords for the page and a contents sentence or paragraph. Anything you put between the <HEAD> tags does not appear on your webpage! This information is used by search engines to locate suitable sites to offer searchers and also to display the explanatory contents paragraph when your site is listed on a search results p age. 7/. On the line below the </HEAD> tag, you want a <BODY> tag, after which will appear all the text and images that you want to appear on your webpage - remember to close it with a </BODY> tag. 8/. Between the two <BODY> tags, you can type your text. So your page will look like this:- <HTML> <HEAD> <TITLE> This is the title of my webpage </TITLE> </HEAD> <BODY> All the text and images that you want to appear on your webpage should go here. </BODY> </HTML> 9/. Additionally, you can make the background of your page a nicer colour by adding a <BGCOLOR> tag to the <BODY> tag like this:- <BODY BGCOLOR="# ****** "> (NOTE: take special notice of the three little signs ="# and " in this HTML code - make sure you have them in because otherwise your colours will not appear properly on your webpage!) 10/ There are sixteen colours that you can specify by name. They are: white, silver, grey, black, red, maroon, purple, fuchsia, lime, yellow, olive, green, blue, navy, teal, aqua, grey and black. So it would be <BODY BGCOLOR="#silver"> for example. 11/. There is also a range of 216 'webpage safe' colours that most operating systems support fully. Each of these colours is designated by a six character HEX code which consists of a combination of six letters and/or numbers. To use a HEX code in your HTML, it would look like <BODY BGCOLOR="#FFFFFF"> (this is the HEX code for white). You can find full details of these colours, their advantages and a colour chart showing all the colours on the HTML Goodies website by going to www.htmlgoodies.com and choosing the 'colors' link on the left hand side menu bar. Remember, you can replace the six stars in the BGCOLOR tag above with either the name of one of the sixteen colours or a HEX code for one of the 2 16 non-dithering colours. So your code might look like this:- (warning, this HEX colour code is bright orange!) <HTML> <HEAD> <TITLE> This is the title of my webpage </TITLE> </HEAD> <BODY BGCOLOR="#FFA500"> All the text and images that you want to appear on your webpage should go here. </BODY> </HTML> Why not try it out? a/. Copy and paste the above eight lines of HTML code into Notepad. b/. Give the file a name and save it as an .htm file in a location where you can find it again. c/. Open your browser, navigate to your file and open it. d/. (perhaps you should put your sunglasses on!) e/. Click File (if you have Internet Explorer - not sure about Netscape Navigator) and then 'edit with notepad' which will open a notepad window with your HTML code. f/. (Keep your browser minimised on your taskbar so you can maximise it and refresh to see your changes 'live') g/. Use this to mess about with the code - change the hex numbers of the colours to see what they look like, for example. Add some text, add tags to make it big, centre it, put in some bullets, make a list......... h/. Don't forget to save the file before you refresh the page in your browser otherwise your changes won't show up. This simple tutorial helped my two friends - I hope it helps you too!
Straight from the mouth of our dentist! Ten years ago, we (somewhat reluctantly!) decided it was time for us to dip our toes in the unknown and hazardous waters of computing. We had heard all the scare stories about pressing one key and wiping everything off a hard disk or losing all your work to an unexpected power cut. So, like most people, we were hardly the most confident of first-time computer users! At the time, our dentist had been a keen computer user for many years and was only too happy to give us the benefit of his experience. We were indeed fortunate to be able to call on him for advice because we would certainly have come unstuck very quickly if not! We discussed the ins and outs of computers in pidgin English while he prodded and scraped around our teeth...... Under his guidance, we chose our first computer. It was called an Amstrad PPC1512DD. The PPC designated it as a 'portable personal computer' although it was about 24 inches long by about 12 inches wide and about 5 inches deep. Honestly, it seemed to weigh a ton! The 1512 was something to do with the hard disk/memory configuration (though I can't remember the details) and DD told you that this was the double floppy drive version of the machine. It had a small green on black LCD screen set into the top half of the case (which opened clamshell fashion like modern portables) which was almost impossible to read. Its operating system was DOS but which version I cannot remember, I think it was somewhere round Version 5. Anyway, it was pretty cryptic and picky and was the bane of my life..... We originally bought the Amstrad because we didn't really have space for a permanently sited desktop computer. We also thought it would be a convenient put-away alternative particularly when it came to keeping the fingers of our inquisitive toddlers out of expensive hardware! Our dentist insisted that we get a machine with two floppy drives for one simple reason - you could run a program from one and save your files to the other. What a sensible chap! To this day, if I can avoid it, I never save any work to my hard disk. No, not even into the famous all-purpose 'My Documents' folder. OK, so it may take a few seconds longer to click 'Save as' instead of 'Save' and designate the exact location for the file to be saved, but it is worth it in the long run. This style of working also means that it is much, much easier to organise your back-up schedule. You don't have a vast amount of stuff to back up each time because all your documents are already safely stored on removable media. (That's not to say that you won't have an occasional floppy disk failure - they're a long way from being infallible. I even had a Zip disk fail on me but, fortunately, I had just enough warning to be able to copy/paste all my work onto the hard disk before the Zip disk started to click and grind ominously) In all honesty, our dentist's words were the most useful piece of computer advice that I have ever been given and I have never regretted following it. In fact, I have occasionally had cause to be immensely grateful to him for such a sensible suggestion. I recently read a posting from someone who was obviously very computer-literate but who saved all his work into the 'My Documents' folder. When he somehow managed to wipe that folder by mistake, he lost not only all his data but his website as well and was bitterly lamenting his loss and misfortune. Another computer user lost a stack of poems and someone else lost all her carefully-gathered genealogy information. One poor lady even lost everything when a bossy 'computer expert' decided that her computer needed Win ME, took over to install it and ended up having to format the entire hard disk when the install procedure went wrong... nightmare time! Yes, I admit that I do have an extensive c ollection of floppies and 100Mb Zip disks chock full of files that I have saved over the last five years. (That was when we moved up to the heady power of a Pentium 75 computer running Win 3.11!) Quite often I do have to go trawling through my disks for the particular file that I need. But come on, few people have an infallible filing system and I can be as haphazard as the next computer user! One day I promise that I'm going to reorganise all my disks and make every file easy to find (oh yeah?) Just think, if my hard disk were to suffer an irreparable head crash tomorrow when I switch it on, I wouldn't lose any of my precious data. In fact, given that I have an old second hand portable Thinkpad set up with the same programs and stuff, I could just carry on working as if nothing had happened. Just to be really fussy (sorry, I'm a Virgo!) I also have a small 5" x 3" file box in which I have created cards for all my hardware (serial number, date of purchase, date I updated the drivers etc), my ISP settings (phone number, login name, password etc), and I try to keep up to date with my back-up program (especially cookies, favourites, identities, etc). Yes, it's a pain to keep it all up to date, but it could be a life-saver if you do suffer a catastrophe. So how about making a note to do a back-up sometime in the very near future? Having just reread this opinion, I realise that I sound smug and rather 'schoolmistressy'. I humbly apologise for this! Nevertheless, if I was called upon to give advice to a first-time computer user, it would definitely be this "Save all your work to a floppy, a Zip disk or even a CD-R or CD-RW and, I promise, you will never regret it".
It was a blow when my trusty Aiwa personal cassette player died in November and was pronounced 'unrepairable' by my husband (who knows a great deal more about little electronic gadgets than me). So I had high hopes that I might get a replacement at Christmas because I really missed listening to music while I got on with my chores. I wasn't to be disappointed.... my beloved hubby bought me a nice new personal cassette player from the local electrical shop (complete with a sticker saying 'Equipment with SAND in it will not be repaired under guarantee'. That's because we live on an island and sand-clogged gadgets are unlikely to be a problem faced by many mainland shops!) So what exactly did emerge from that brightly-coloured wrapping paper on Christmas morning? Well, it's called a Panasonic RQ-SX21 (I just love the inspiring name, don't you?) and it is certainly a very stylish silver-bodied personal cassette player. (I don't really use a radio much so that's not a necessary feature for me - others might prefer a combined radio/cassette player instead). In these days of energy-consciousness, it was a nice surprise to find that the RQ-SX21 came with a NiCad rechargeable battery which lives in a dinky little grey plastic case when not in use. The package also includes a black plug adapter so all you do is pop the battery into a slot on the front and plug it into a mains socket in order to recharge. The battery is a DC 1.2volt rechargeable Nicad battery, very slim - and easy to lose! Even better, it also comes with a single pod for a standard AA battery (R6/LR6, AA, UM-3). This pod can be plugged into the side of the cassette player and held securely in place via a thumbwheel screw. According to the instruction leaflet, playback time with the single AA battery alone is about 12 hours, with the Nicad rechargeable battery is about 40 hours and, with the two in use together, a whopp ing 52 hours! A nice touch is the battery indicator. You press a small button alongside three small red lights - three light up for fully charged, two for half way and one means that you're nearly out of juice. To recharge the Nicad battery, it will need to be plugged into a mains socket for about 2 hours in the UK and about 4 hours on the continent. (Hence the very sensible step of providing the AA standard battery pod as a backup power supply if your Nicad battery is out of action being recharged!) The instruction leaflet reckons that it can be recharged about 300 times before it needs replacing. It also points out that the NiCad battery is designated as recyclable. This model is the basic one but the instruction leaflet also doubles up for the fancier version called the RQ-SX41. The only difference that I could discern is that the latter has a 'remote control' - though why anyone should want to be remote from a 'personal' cassette player, I have no idea! It's a contradiction in terms... Anyway, the RQ-SX21 comes with a set of in-ear phones which didn't suit me at all. I just cannot get on with these - I think my ears must be all the wrong shape... So I had to buy myself a set of 'proper' headphones which would add about a fiver to the price overall. From the look of them, the in-ear phones were of good quality, seemed to give good sound reproduction (I did try them briefly before one fell out!) and were equipped with a 3mm gold-plated stereo plug. The RQ-SX21 is marketed as 'super slim' and 'ultra compact'. Its dimensions are given as approximately 10.8cm x 7.5mm x 17.8mm on the instruction leaflet. That is small - barely bigger than the cassette that goes inside. The case is aluminium and it has a 'brushed steel' silvery effect which is quite classy with its blue trims. Its weight is given as 152g which doesn't sound much but is actually reasonably heavy, much o f it due to the metal case and the solid build quality. (That is with the rechargeable battery in place. It will be a bit heavier if you attach the optional AA battery pod to the side of the unit). It is equipped with the usual niceties that today's mobile music-lovers require such as auto reverse, extra bass system, a 'hold' function which prevents the unit from operating in error, and a tape program sensor (TPS) which enables you to skip up to 3 tracks and start playing from the beginning of a track. I tend to use a hipbag to carry my personal cassette player because I rarely have a convenient pocket to put it in when I'm working. The Aiwa had its buttons arranged along the top of the unit which made them easy to access when carried like this. However, on the Panasonic, the operating 'buttons' are almost flush against the front of the aluminium case and I didn't find these very convenient to use when it was in the hipbag. Too often I found myself searching with my fingertip to locate the correct button to play or stop the tape. You also have to remember to set the 'hold' function if you're working and listening to music. It was much too easy to accidentally press one of the buttons if you lean over something and your tape might suddenly surprise you by rewinding or fast forwarding unexpectedly. One or two of the controls (the 'hold' slider is a case in point) are very small and might be difficult to operate for anyone with large hands. I have come to the conclusion that the Panasonic RQ-SX21, together with its fancier sibling the RQ-SX41, is a personal cassette player aimed mainly at the female and teen market. It is small and stylish, ecologically friendly and sturdy enough to withstand plenty of use. As it was a present, I am unsure of the price but I have seen a similar Panasonic unit for about £70 and it comes with a fairly standard one year guarantee.
I think it's fairly safe to assume that anyone reading this opinion is probably in the same boat as me. We all have to come to terms with the fact that Dooyoo addiction is a blight on your social life, it wears out your computer, it probably runs up your telephone bill, it sours your relationship with loved ones, and, thoughout it all, it leads you ever onward to believe that your next opinion will definitely be one of your best....! I am addicted to Dooyoo. I freely admit it. I am prone to that intense frustration when brilliant flashes of inspiration strike and I have no pen and paper to hand. I eagerly check my account first thing each morning (when I've got the kids off to school) to see if anyone has honoured me by reading my work. I read other people's opinions and feel a dull weight in the pit of my stomach when I behold their brilliance. I fear that I shall never, ever, be able to write such moving opinions, such concise reviews, or such impassioned tirades against injustice. Above all, I give voice to the universal cry of the Dooyoo addict "I just don't have enough time!". Sometimes you are presented with unexpected opportunities. Over the last six months, I found three magic keys that have unlocked the door and enticed me into Dooyoo addiction. The first key was closing our guest house, the second key was reliable freephone internet access and the third key was the purchase of a little orange plastic box. For the last eighteen years, our guest house has been open from the beginning of April until the middle of October. It meant being on call at all hours (and I really mean 'at all hours' here - it's surprising what emergencies can arise at antisocial times!). We were working, on average, eleven or twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Lie-ins, you say? Except for the chill days of winter, we'd almost forgotten what those were! So Dooyoo addiction would have been out of the ques tion - I barely had enough time to keep up with ordinary everyday stuff let alone spend hours writing and reading opinions. Most likely, I would have been a 'winter Dooyoo addict' when the days were short, the evenings were long and the guest house was closed. Spring, summer and autumn would have been impossible. But we closed our guest house last summer and are currently carrying out some major alterations to our property. The new businesses won't be up and running until next summer so I'm making hay while the sun shines (figuratively speaking, of course!) So how about that fast-growing phone bill? Well, I got my hot little paws on freephone Internet access when I was invited to subscribe to Red Hot Ant last spring. It was £50 for 24/7 freephone internet access for a year which seemed like a good deal to me. (That RHA went through more ups-and-downs than The Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach is another story altogether.....) So I sent off my cheque - without telling my computer-hostile husband - and received that precious 0808 dial-up number. (We were lucky enough to get NTLWorld as well last autumn which has proved to be much more reliable than RHA) Prior to that, he had nagged me endlessly about being on the Internet, running up our phone bill at a penny-a-minute and, possibly, missing valuable phone calls for the guest house. So, I have to confess, that I took sweet and spiteful pleasure in telling him that my internet access wouldn't cost him another penny. He was gobsmacked - there is just no polite way of putting this - and clearly believed this was yet another subterfuge that I was using to disguise my growing Internet addiction. So what? If he couldn't nag me about the phone bill then he'd make damn sure that I felt as guilty as hell about missing those possible incoming business calls...... I solved that one by acquiring that little square orange plastic box I mentioned earlier. It's cal led an Internet Alert and it sits in the centre of a spiders web of cables leading to the modem socket on the computer, the telephone wall socket, and a telephone handset. This ugly but immensely useful little gadget alerts me to incoming telephone calls with an insistent bleep and a flashing red light. The caller gets the standard BT call-waiting announcement and I have enough time to disconnect and take the phone call on the nearby handset. So now the only complaint he can justifiably level at me is 'wasting time'. That is how he sees it. It's no good telling him that I am cultivating my talent as a writer through my reading, rating and commenting. He does not understand the thrill of exchanging ideas and finding inspiration. (I didn't actually discover Dooyoo until mid December so I've only been doing this for about a month). However, there is absolutely no doubt that I have fallen hook, line and sinker for the temptation of websites that promote original writing. Through all my years of writing diaries, letters, essays etc, my beloved husband has always maintained that I had real talent which should be used. (In fact, I've won a Compaq Aero colour handheld computer, a £10 gift voucher AND a brand new Playstation 2 through my writing!) But because he is a five star General when it comes to computer hostility, he hates every minute that I spend on this machine. Talk about cleft sticks! So my Dooyoo addiction, although not a secret, is as well-hidden as I can make it. True, I have a list of jobs to get done this winter which includes painting our lounge/dining room (to disguise the black fingermarks on the ceiling, the art-work on the walls and the usual tattiness of battered woodchip wallpaper). I also need to reformat my hard disk and reinstall everything from scratch because I have an unexplained conflict that causes it to crash at the most inopportune moments. Add to that the fast-approaching start of an Open University Computing course which requires a fully-working computer and installed conferencing software. That's not even mentioning the website which I am supposed to be designing for our new business....... notice how only one of these jobs doesn't involve my computer? But here I am this morning, inspiration at hand, typing away furiously. To make things worse, my hard-working handyman-husband is doing all the conversion work on the property and I can hear him hammering something way above me on the top floor. (I think he's currently building a partition wall for a new bathroom.....) I type on quickly. The above mentioned fledgling website is minimised on my desktop ready to be maximised at the merest sign of his impending arrival in our bedroom/office. I feel wracked with guilt that I'm not getting on with all my other jobs. I take him a cup of coffee and the last piece of Christmas cake as a peace offering. He accepts them gratefully but then he asks me the question I am dreading "So how are you getting on this morning?". My glib answers ring hollow, I am prevaricating, and he knows it. He turns back to his work with a scowl and wallops a nearby piece of wood with his mallet..... I scuttle off back downstairs to my computer, vowing that this afternoon I really will do some work on the website........ after I've finished this piece for Dooyoo.... and jotted down a few thoughts on that item for Themestream.... and looked out that handbook for the Epinion I want to write.... and located the diary containing an event that I want to describe in a personal article for Writtenbyme..... Oh dear, I suspect that I really am a lost cause..... good grief, is that the time? Where did the morning go... it's nearly lunchtime....!
A luxury Georgian country house hotel surrounded by five acres of sub-tropical gardens and woodland, the three star Penmere Manor Hotel is barely one mile from Falmouth. It has to be one of the nicest hotels in Cornwall and would probably not have been an obvious choice for us but for the fact that I had a discount voucher for a Best Western Getaway break in my Gardener's World magazine one spring. We live on the Isles of Scilly and, after a hectic trip on the mainland visiting family and friends, we appreciate the luxury of a couple of days to ourselves just to relax and unwind before we return to the islands. Penzance is a little too close to home but Falmouth is ideally suited for such a short break, especially when we usually have some shopping to do as well. Nearby are famous gardens like Trebah and the amazing Lost Gardens of Heligan - both well worth a visit. The Penmere Manor Hotel is situated high up on the hill behind Falmouth, nestling in its own woodland gardens and surrounded by tall trees and impossibly beautiful camellias. It surprised us when we first visited because the area around the Penmere Manor is residential and the houses almost look like they are crowding the boundary walls of the hotel garden. The drive leading to the main manor building is very easy to miss - the sign for the Tradesmens' entrance appears on your left as a brief warning before you have to make a fairly sharp left turn from the tree-shadowed 'dual carriageway' (just part of the old road really). You can see Fountains Leisure Club with its conservatory-style swimming pool building to your left as the drive leads you up to Penmere Manor itself. Built in Georgian style, very square and white with lots of symmetrical windows, it is an impressive and serene building. To the right is the new extension of luxury rooms and superior garden rooms, their large windows gazing out over the gardens. The whole hotel oozes peace, calm an d relaxation - just the place to stay when you are frazzled by motorway journeys and aggressive mainland drivers! For a family of four, the superior garden rooms are luxurious and palatial with more than enough space for adults and children to spread out without clashing. Each room is named after a Cornish garden - we stayed in 'Trewithen' last time - and the whole building is reassuringly solid (a real bonus when you have a lively and often noisy autistic daughter!). The room is huge and square with about two thirds being the main bedroom, the rest being the bathroom and a spacious lobby complete with solid wooden built-in bunk beds for two children. A heavy lined curtain can be drawn between the lobby room and the main bedroom to afford privacy and some degree of sound reduction. Bathrooms are warm, spacious and well equipped although we did have a slight problem filling the huge bath with enough hot water on the one occasion that we had the room furthest away from the boiler. Plenty of thick white towels are provided along with the usual basket of toiletries and, a useful touch, an extendable washing line above the bath to hang wet swimming costumes on. The usual appointments are present - television/radio (videos can be obtained at Reception if required), plenty of fridge space and hot beverage supplies. There is also a spacious desk with lamp if you need to do any writing. Furniture is comfortable and generous with two armchairs provided and the main beds being either king or queen sized with ample bedding. Additionally there is an immensely useful luggage platform (big enough to take two medium sized suitcases side by side) with drawers beneath and a large wardrobe with heavy mirrored door. All too often, you stay somewhere and wish the designer had considered that people actually travel with suitcases and bags! Bolitho's restaurant is smart without being overly formal and serves dinner from 7pm with last orders at 9pm. We have even had the pleasure of listening to a live pianist on one or two occasions in the adjoining lounge area. The food is excellent, freshly cooked to order and comes in generous portions. Fresh local lobsters are available to pre-order, cooked as plain or as fancy as you require. A nice touch is the optional sorbet course between the starter and main course. At various times, we have sampled fresh mint sorbet, passionfruit sorbet and lemon sorbet - all home-made and totally delicious. The wine list is impressive - we were lucky enough to get their last couple of bottles of Cloudy Bay, a rare and very desirable New Zealand sauvignon blanc, during one stay. Our two night Getaway Break included a four course table d'hote dinner for the two adults on both evenings. Breakfast for two was also included but we paid for meals taken by the children. We found that using room-service to order food from Fountains Bar, part of the Fountains Leisure Club complex, was an ideal option for us. Prices were a little more expensive but it was worth it for the convenience. The spacious desk in the room makes an excellent table for a couple of hungry youngsters and they can even watch TV if they want! The facilities of Fountains Leisure Club are available free to all guests and include a heated swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, solarium and gymnasium for the energetic. Strict but responsible safety regulations are enforced including a signing-in book for all people using the leisure facilities, together with constant adult supervision of children under 16 who are only allowed in the indoor pool between the hours of 9am and 7pm. There is also a beautiful secluded walled outdoor pool in the gardens for the summer with similar safety rules. Furthermore, rest and relaxation facilities are available if you wish to be pampered and cosseted. These are provided by visiting specialists and include massage, reflexology, sports massage, facials, manicures, pedicures, and hair styling. Appointments can be made at Reception. All in all, the Penmere Manor Hotel is an ideal location for a relaxing and revitalising break, with or without the children. As part of the Best Western Group, it is featured in the Getaway Breaks brochure and some excellent discounts are available especially if you are flexible about your stay. There are also themed breaks on offer at various locations at other hotels throughout the country from golf to activity pursuits, health sanctuaries to theme parks. You can even pre-order flowers and champagne on ice in your room for your arrival. For our last stay in February 2000, we booked through the Best Western website on www.bestwestern.co.uk and had the new brochure in the post within two days. We had confirmations in the post both from Best Western and from Penmere Manor Hotel itself which was reassuring. We can certainly recommend this hotel from our experiences and, if you stay there, we wish you a very pleasant and relaxing break. Contact details:- Best Western Penmere Manor Hotel, Mongleath Road, Falmouth, Cornwall, TR11 4PN Tel: +44 (0) 1326 211411 Fax: +44 (0) 1326 317588 Web: www.penmere.co.uk email: email@example.com
This is the album that I am listening to when my fifteen year old son walks into the kitchen. He is confronted by the sight of a plump fortysomething in a red and white striped pinny and personal stereo, shaking her hips and snapping her fingers as she wields a wooden spoon to deadly effect. Still humming along, I glance up and find him standing there with a half-pitying, half-shocked expression on his face. The acute embarassment of a teenager is a sight to behold! So what is this album? Well, it's entitled "G3 in Concert" and consists of twelve tracks recorded live at various gigs throughout the USA. The 'G3' in question consists of three rock guitarists of the highest calibre - Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Eric Johnson. All three have produced excellent hit solo albums in their own right but they got together for this joint tour in the autumn of 1996. The format of the album is both interesting and fair. Each artist has three solo tracks to show off their guitar virtuosity and then they all join together for the final three tracks. (I recommend listening to this album with the bass turned up so that you can appreciate the very strong bass guitar lines on some of the tracks!) First up is Joe Satriani, accompanied by Stuart Hamm on bass and Jeff Campitelli on drums. All three of his chosen items are instrumentals - no vocals here! His three track spell opens with 'Cool No 9' and he gives it a very long intro. It is a fairly slow starter and changes mood almost imperceptibly several times. The second track, 'Flying in a Blue Dream', starts with a child speaking in the background. It has more swing to the beat but there is still a faintly wistful air to the start of the tune. The third track is the great 'Summer Song'. It starts with a brief exchange between Steve on lead guitar and Stuart on bass then swings into a good rocking number which really gets your foot tapping. The end has a intrica te guitar riff ending in a zinging chord and a rattle of drums. Joe is a talented guitarist and I find that his style is distinctively vibrant, raunchy and exciting. Then the mood changes slightly as Eric Johnson takes to the stage backed by Stephen Barber on keyboards, Roscoe Beck on bass and Brannen Temple on drums. Again, the three chosen items are instrumentals. His opener, simply entitled 'Zap' starts with a quick opening guitar riff then moves swiftly on into a good rocker with a powerful bass line. You'll find that this is another one to get your foot tapping! A quieter spell in the middle of the track features just drums and bass which is an interesting change of mood. But Eric is soon back with his scintillating lead guitar, some wonderfully intricate riffs and a final dipping finale. He then announces in his quiet southern accent that they are going to do two tracks off the 'Venus Isle' album. The first of these is the moody 'Manhattan' - a really laid back soulful track with a sensuous swing and a rather wistful guitar cameo in the centre before the tempo picks up again and it's back to the original melody. It ends with a shimmer of cymbals behind a graceful guitar chord. The third track is the curiously titled 'Camel's Night Out'. It is, once again, a faster track and Roscoe Beck gets some great intricate bass lines to play. Eric's guitar embroiders a distinctively eastern-style melody at times which makes a fascinating contrast. A roll of drums and a final chord heralds the end of this set. Then it is on to Steve Vai who is backed by Mike Keneally on rhythm guitar/sitar/keyboards/percussion, Philip Bynoe on bass and Mike Mangini on drums. As you can imagine, this is an unusual array of instruments and gives quite a distinctive sound to the set. There is a glittering quality to some of Steve Vai's guitar work which gives it a harder edge. The first track, 'Answers' is taken fro m his 'Passion and Warfare' album and is a fast rocker. It has some very complex interactions between the various instruments and several dizzying changes of tempo. (Of the three guitarists, Vai is probably the most avant-garde and likes to produce unusual sounds from his instrument). The central section of this track is very odd and sounds to me rather like a lot of people fighting each other with their instruments! It builds up to a crescendo of chants from the audience but there is plenty of cheering from the audience so obviously the visual aspect of the performance is very important.... Just when you think it's ended, there is a crashing chord leading into another dazzling guitar solo, finishing with a single strident note. The next track is the much more mellow sounding 'For the Love of God' which is the second longest on the album at nearly eight minutes. This is a much moodier tune, the notes soaring and dipping from Vai's guitar in complex skeins. About two thirds of the way through, the backing fades to just a bass murmur and Vai detours into a slightly discordant and echoing interlude. The track ends with a long drawn out chord with a tingling riff. His last track is much more upbeat - 'The Attitude Song' which has much more of a rock feel laid down by a heavy bass and drum line. This is perhaps the only one of Vai's three tracks which will get your foot tapping to the beat. Otherwise his tempo changes tend to wrong-foot you (sorry, pun intended!). It is an exciting instrumental which appears to be finishing at about four minutes long but then gets involved in a protracted ending. Cue lots of yelling and cheering from the audience. The final words shouted to them are "I've got some good news for you - the evening has only just begun!". The last section begins with Joe Satriani yelling to the audience "Oh man, you can't believe what's coming now!". He plays a short but nifty solo guitar riff. There is a roar from the crowd as he introduces Steve Vai who echoes the same guitar riff in a slightly more strident style. Then a similiar roar as he introduces Eric Johnson who plays a more bluesy version of the same riff. Satriani then counts out the lead-in to "I'm going down" and the combined guitar stars launch into the Freddie King/Jeff Beck classic. It has vocals though which guitarists are actually singing isn't easy to tell. But it doesn't really matter as the combination of these three masters makes for an exciting rocker which finishes with a great triple guitar riff. Accompanying them on bass is Stuart Hamm and on drums is Jeff Campitelli. Next comes "My guitar wants to kill your Mama" written by the legendary Frank Zappa. Once again there are vocals but they are only secondary to the incredible guitar-playing. This is loud, raw uncompromising stuff! The third track is, for my money, the very best on the album. The awesome Jimi Hendrix wrote "Red House and, at over nine minutes, it is the longest track on the album. It is a mellow blues classic and Eric Johnson's light southern drawl is perfectly suited to the soulful vocals. The guitars are just accompany him for the first three minutes then the virtuoso stuff takes over. Once again, it is not easy to tell which guitarist is taking centre stage during the solo spots but, as it is all brilliant, it doesn't really matter. (The different guitars and styles of playing are reasonably distinctive if you listen hard enough AND if you want to be pedantic about it!) There is a sort of moody virtuoso three-way conversation between all three guitars for about two minutes before Johnson's soulful vocals return. The track draws to a close with a series of shimmering guitar riffs and a final crashing chord. This is followed, not surprisingly, by a huge roar of appreciation from the crowd. Each guitarist is credited by name to great yells along w ith Hamm and Campitelli and the track fades out to applause and whistles. Speaking personally, this is one of my favourite albums and the different characters of the three guitarists makes for an interesting mix. But the best stuff is definitely saved till last - the combination of these three produces some brilliant versions of classic tracks. If you received a gift voucher for Christmas and you like guitar rock, you could do a lot worse than adding this album to your collection! All three artists have their own websites:- Find Eric Johnson's on www.ericjohnson.com Find Joe Satriani's on www.satriani.com Find Steve Vai's on www.vai.com P.S. The 'G3 Live in Concert' Video is also pretty mind-blowing...!!!
In December, I was lucky enough to win a £10 Amazon voucher. I decided that I would like a Cd... but which one? Early last year, I had tried to order an unusual album from the now-departed website 'Boxman' but they were unable to fulfil the order and I wasn't able to find it anywhere else. So, on the hunt with my gift voucher burning a hole in my 'virtual pocket', I entered the names of a few of my favourite artists into the Amazon.co.uk search engine and struck gold. It's a sign of this artist's growing popularity that I found the album at a very reasonable price and available for delivery within 14 days. So who am I talking about? Well, it's Eric Johnson, a brilliant and innovative guitarist who hails from Austin, Texas and the album I wanted so much to add to my collection is his 1990 release 'Ah Via Musicom'. I already count his 1996 release, 'Venus Isle' as one of my favourite albums and 'Tones', his 1986 debut album is definitely next on my shopping list. (I quite often find myself working through an artist's back catalogue from most recent to earliest, I'm not sure why!) The musicians accompanying him on 'Ah via Musicom' are Tommy Taylor on drums, Steve Barber on synthesizers and keyboards, Roscoe Beck, Kyle Brock and Reggie Witty on bass, James Fenner and Paul Bissell on percussion, with guest spots from guitarist Steve Hennig and Wee Willie on harmonica (yes, really!) So, first of all, we're not talking about the sort of world-headlining artist who produces a new album every year in a flourish of publicity. Secondly, he's not just any rock guitarist but has to be counted amongst the very best in the world. Having started playing guitar at 11, he was playing with the Electromagnets at 21, an American cult band whose incredible live shows earned them a dedicated following. As well as his handful of solo albums, he has also worked as a session musician with artist s such as Christopher Cross (who reciprocates by providing backing vocals for two of the songs on 'Venus Isle'), Carole King and Cat Stevens amongst others. An inspired and technically brilliant guitarist, he is acknowledged as a master of the instrument by his peers as well as his fans. The status of Eric Johnson is summed up in a quote from 'Guitar Player' magazine which states unequivocally that "Ah Via Musicom is an artistic triumph - as powerful a statement for Eric Johnson as Electric Ladyland was for Jimi Hendrix." So now perhaps you can understand why I really wanted to add this album to my collection. Not content with being a gifted guitarist, Eric Johnson is also a songwriter, plays keyboards and has a pleasant tenor voice. So 'Ah via Musicom' has eleven tracks, the first being a short intro, four being songs with great guitar accompaniments and the others all instrumentals. These include 'Cliffs of Dover' which won a Grammy award for best rock instrumental in 1992, the foot-tapping 'Steve's Boogie' and the unaccompanied acoustic guitar solo 'Song for George'. The intro, 'Ah via Musicom' is about two minutes long and has a very quiet introduction with chiming eastern-style bells and strings over a shuddering bass line. The guitar sound, at first quite high and strident, fades down a little into a fast repetitive riff, growls throatily, then drops into the second track with hardly a pause. 'Cliffs of Dover' is heralded by a complex crystal clear echoing riff before picking up a faster rhythm and being joined by bass and drums. This is a foot tapper and, to me, seems to have almost a flavour of a Scottish jig in places. Next up comes 'Desert Rose' which is Eric's first vocal outing on this album and has a fairly minimal backing. This is perhaps the most spontaneous-sounding track on what is, after all, a studio album created by a renowned pe rfectionist. Several characteristic EJ guitar passages alternate with vocals then it finishes on a final powerful spine-tingling run. 'High Landrons' is the second of the vocal tracks and has a country feel to it. The echo and slight distortion on the final long guitar solo evokes for me the far distant mountain horizons of the lyrics before fading out. The listener is taken by surprise at the sudden change of mood as Eric's guitar speeds off into the catchy beat of 'Steve's Boogie' underlaid by a jaunty bass line and fast rattling drum rhythm. Guest Steve Hennig contributes the featured middle guitar solo. I defy you not to tap your feet to this one! It's one of my favourite tracks on the album (and I'm not particularly keen on country -style music) but it is quite short at less than two minutes. Next up comes 'Trademark' which I think is probably the least distinctive track on the album but it does have a nice melodic feel nevertheless. The pace changes again with 'Nothing can keep me from you' where a moody bass intro leads into a rather wistful love song. The vocals end about two thirds of the way through the track and Eric then plays a series of soaring sharp riffs that mellow down into a rock section and fade out. Now sit back and enjoy Eric's tuneful acoustic guitar solo 'Song for George' with its bluesy overtones. Again, this is another short track, coming in at under two minutes. Only just time to surface before the band hits you with 'Righteous', a great rock track that returns to drums, bass and guitar. This one is another foot-tapper and features Wee Willie spicing things up with some impressive harmonica playing. It ends quite suddenly and makes way for 'Forty Mile Town' another laid-back song with a gentle rustling and chiming intro. Eric takes lead vocals on this rather rueful ballad with some ethereal backing provided by Jody Lazo. His guitar picks up a zesty clear melody line that soars over the backing and concludes on a soft four-note rise. The final track is the soulful 'East Wes' which mixes more moody guitar tones with passages of icy clearness. This is a laid-back track for dreaming to and its final notes bring the album to a gentle twanging close. I rarely listen to an album through the first time and enjoy all the tracks. Usually I find one or two that I don't like so much, but I reached the end of 'Ah Via Musicom' without disliking a single track. It's certainly not such avant-garde rock guitar that the ordinary listener would be put off by listening to it. There are none of the detours into teeth-jarring discordant interludes that most people think of as rock guitar music. Through it all, the characteristic technical brilliance of Eric's guitar work shines through. It is the sign of a true master - to make it all sound so easy. If you'd like to hear a fabulous guitar maestro, check this album out.... I know you won't be disappointed. check out Eric Johnson's official website on www.ericjohnson.com
I always thought that you had to commit yourself to a year's study when you signed up for an Open University course but it seems that this is no longer the case. I decided early last summer that I wanted to do an Open University course so I checked out the website and ordered a copy of the Undergraduate Prospectus. I toyed with the idea of studying Computing and Information Technology because I've become really interested in the subject over the last five years. If you'd said to my careers teacher way back at the end of the 1970s that I would be considering a course such as this in twenty years time, I suspect she would have laughed herself silly! You see, I'd always been an Arts orientated student and my grammar school had pushed me hard to apply for Oxford or Cambridge. I stubbornly refused - and, with hindsight, was very glad that I had. Only a handful of the very brightest students in the Sixth Form were accepted for Oxbridge and the pressures were tremendous. I decided to do a year's secretarial course on the premise that it would provide me with useful skills (including touch typing) that I could fall back on in the future if necessary. Then I would make a decision about what to do....... That I ended up working in Hotel and Catering is another story entirely and led to a major life-change in the form of marriage which was definitely not anticipated! In 1981, we came to live on the Isles of Scilly (population 2000, one primary, one secondary school, very little in the way of evening classes etc) so I assumed that my academic days were over and done with. But we are now half way through another major life-change and this has brought fresh opportunities with it. Instead of working 7am till 11pm, seven days a week for seven months of the year, we will be moving to a much more 'normal' work week next spring. All being well, it should be a 10am start and a 5pm finish which is much more humane! <b r><br>So that was the starting point for my new interest in education. Now, the Open University year doesn't run from September to July like ordinary educational establishments. Its degree courses start in February and finish in October. So, when I was perusing the prospectus back in June, I envisaged having to wait for over half a year before I could even start. It seemed rather a shame to waste all my enthusiasm and eagerness to get started on my studies. But someone at the OU had obviously considered this drawback and my 2000/2001 Prospectus not only had details of undergraduate courses but also short courses. These are particularly for people who don't want to commit themselves to a full year's study, for people who haven't studied for many years or feel their study skills are rather rusty, and also for people who are just interested in looking deeper into a particular subject. On offer are introductory courses, study packs and study guides. I chose one of the 'Openings' courses which are designed to be as flexible as possible. You can join at any time of year and the courses start every two months from May onwards. About fourteen weeks is the average length of study but, as you are studying at your own pace, you might take less than that, or you could take longer. You will need to find about 6 - 8 hours a week to do your studying but there are no attendance requirements. You will have a personal tutor with whom you have regular telephone tutorials and who marks your written work. There is plenty of help on offer both from your tutor and from the study materials that you are sent from the OU. I chose the 'Breakthrough to Maths, Science and Technology' course and the study materials consisted of a video tape, two audio tapes, two study module books, a laminated bookmark/tips sheet, and various other useful documents including a wall chart for planning your studies. You have to pr ovide any ot her stuff like ringbinders, ruler, calculator, paper etc. The two study modules for the 'Openings' course are chosen from a range of six 'study packs' which are available separately for individual study (but without tutor input and support). For my course, I had No 1 -'Thinking about Measurement' and No 6 - 'Our Living Environment'. (The other study packs are 'Making things work', 'Sight and light', Exploring pattern' and 'The Material World'). You don't get to choose which study packs you get in your 'Openings' course - I was happy with the environmental one but not quite so keen on the measurement one! There are also six 'study packs' under the heading 'Living Arts' (these are 'Words', 'Sounds', 'Ideas', 'Images', 'Places' and 'A living culture') and six more under the heading 'Living in a Changing Society' ('Changing communities', 'A changing economy', 'Changing ideas, changing images', 'Change and the modern state', 'Changing relationships' and 'Our changing selves'). Several other short courses are on offer such as 'Making a good start' for students planning to study Health and Social Care courses, 'Prelude - Get ready for French', 'Cafe Einklang - a fresh start in German' and 'A bordo - get ready for Spanish'. There are also several excellent books available including individual Good Study Guides for general, Arts and Science subjects, management subjects, and language subjects. It's apparently normal to find the study module books a bit challenging on a first read-through (especially if you haven't done any formal studying for many years) but it is amazing how quickly you come to terms with the technical terms and ideas presented. These short courses are an excellent introduct ion (or re-introd uction) to study and help you to look at everyday subjects in a new light. I especially found this with the 'Thinking about Measurement' module because we tend to take measurements for granted in our daily life. It's only when you start actually analysing the whys, hows and whens of measurement that you realise the subject is a lot more fascinating that at first glance! My tutor was excellent, very helpful and intuitive in her guidance of a 'new' student. There are about four arranged telephone tutorials during the time you are studying the course. They last roughly half an hour every four weeks or so, and the tutor phones you so you won't be running up your telephone bills. But you can, of course, contact your tutor at almost any time (he/she will let you know at the beginning of the course when they are able to take calls) to discuss any problems, questions etc. There are also four pieces of written work which you have to prepare. The first is a Learning Plan in which you review your present skills, what you bring to the course, what you want from the course and so on. This is not marked but you discuss it on the telephone with your tutor. Then there are two Tutor Marked Assignments (TMAs) - our first one was an essay with an ecological theme and the second one was a series of maths problems to solve. The tutor is now looking for what the Open University calls 'Learning Outcomes' and, according to the Assignment Booklet, the first five are fairly general and include things like 'organise and plan your own learning'. The second five are more specific to the modules studied and include ones like 'demonstrate an understanding of the scientific ideas explored in the course'. The final piece of written work is an 'End of Course Assessment' and is similar to the Learning Plan but you review how far you have progressed during the course. At this point, you will be discussing y our future plans with your Tutor who will advise and guide you on your choice of further study - if that is what you want to do. For each of your pieces of written work, you will get comprehensive and helpful feedback from your Tutor. This is both verbal, in the form of the telephone tutorial, and written, in the form of a sheet headed 'Tutor's Comments and advice to student' which will be returned with each piece of work. This enables you to improve your study skills and concentrate on your weak points. All in all, these Open University short courses are a very good idea for those who are uncertain about their requirements. You have to be committed - that goes without saying - and able to timetable your studying around your home and working life. A good sense of organisation is helpful. You will find it much harder if your notes are all stuffed into a cardboard box than if they are neatly filed in a study folder! But there is a real sense of achievement when you reach the end of the course and you will get a Statement of Course completion from your Tutor to acknowledge your hard work. Despite the fact that 'Openings' courses don't lead to any formal qualification, it will give you the confidence to go on to greater things! An 'Openings' course costs about £50 (2000/2001 price) but there is the possibility of financial help if state benefits are your main source of income. Individual study packs are about £14.99 each but don't include any tutor involvement. The Good Study Guides are between about £6.00 and £14.00. Why not take the plunge and sign up for an OU short course? You never know where it will take you......... Update Feb 2001:- I'm now on the threshold of T171 "You, your computer and the Net" which starts on Feb 10th 2001 and am really beginning to appreciate the groundwork that I did during the Breakthrough course. I would recommend anyone to take one of these s hort courses before tacklin g a Level One course. UPDATE: 2nd March 2002. Well, I'm now officially a T171 Survivor and I was thrilled to get a Distinction at the end of my course! I created a personal website at the end of T171 charting my work and my studies - you can find it here: http://www.lamorris.co.uk Trouble is, I'm now hooked and I signed up for T209 "Information and Communication Technologies - People and Interactions" in 2002! This is a sixty point level two course which is much more demanding time-wise. Interested? You can find details of it here: http://www3.open.ac.uk/courses/bin/p12.dll?C01T209_information_technology Also check out the Open University website on: www.open.ac.uk
The Isles of Scilly are a small group of islands lying in the deep waters of the Atlantic about twenty eight miles from the dramatic granite cliffs of Lands End in Cornwall. They lie at latitude 49 degrees 55 minutes north, longitude 6 degrees 19 minutes west and their position gives them an enviably mild and pleasant climate. This means that frost is very rare, snow is probably only experienced once or twice in a decade, and narcissi are picked for market in the tiny flower fields from October to March. Forming a loose loop around a sheltered channel called the Roadstead, the Isles of Scilly consist of five main inhabited islands together with a huge collection of small rocky outcrops of granite varying from over a hundred yards across to mere pinnacles jutting from the sea. Taken together, the five largest islands cover a total of 3,573 square acres and have a total population of around two thousand people. The archipelago covers forty five square sea miles in all and even the smallest granite rock that sticks its nose above the sea is honoured with a name. Some are quite amusing, such as 'Dry Splat' and others indicate a fearsome danger such as 'Hellweathers Brow'. Ancient Greek and Latin mythology makes frequent mention of islands situated beyond the Pillars of Hercules (taken to refer to the Straits of Gibraltar) which were known by various names including The Isles of the Blest, the Hesperides or, simply, The Fortunate Islands. To these islands in legend, dead heroes were brought and they lived forever in peace and abundance, rendered immortal and kept safe, far beyond the knowledge of the world. Celtic legends and folklore, speak of Avalon, fabled last resting place of King Arthur, whose body was carried across the sea aboard an enchanted boat. Whether these fabled places are references to the Isles of Scilly is unknown but, from archaeological evidence unearthed over many centuries, it is clear that the islands h ave been inhabited for over four thousand years. To support this view, you need only to consider the extraordinary number of chambered megalithic barrows that have been identified on Scilly. These ancient burial mounds are so plentiful as to indicate a large, rich and powerful population - unlikely given its area. However, it would have been quite feasible for people to bury their dead princes and leaders on remote, inaccessible islands to keep them and their treasures safe from harm. Furthermore, it was believed that the spirit of the dead could not cross water. What better way to make sure that a powerful chief, once dead, was unable to return to make mischief for those who succeeded him? The Isles of Scilly have sometimes tentatively been identified with The Cassiterides (the Tin Islands) visited by Phoenician traders about a thousand years before Christ. From 400 to 1100 A.D., there were Christian hermits living on the Scillies, including St. Elid, the most famous, who lived on St. Helen's. In his memory, boatloads of locals and visitors make a pilgrimage to the island every summer to hold an open-air service. There is even an ancient saga telling the story of Olaf Tryggvesson, King of Norway, who came to the Scillies around 990 A.D. and was converted to Christianity during his stay. He returned to his kingdom with 'learned men and priests' from Scilly and introduced Christianity to Norway and Iceland. In 1114, Tresco was granted to the Abbey of Tavistock by King Henry I and a Benedictine Priory dedicated to St. Nicholas was built. In 1337, the islands were included in the Duchy of Cornwall and were bestowed upon Edward, the Black Prince. In 1593 Queen Elizabeth I built a star-shaped granite castle high on the fortified Garrison of St. Marys to prevent the islands being captured by the Spanish and used as a base to attack England (it is now a hotel and known, oddly enough, as Star Castle Hotel!). Here, in 1646, Prince Charles , lat er to be Charles II, took refuge from for six weeks during the English Civil War, before he and his entourage escaped to the Channel Islands and thence to France. Between 1646 and 1651, the islands were controlled by Sir John Grenville, a Royalist, and became a centre for pirates, plundering ships as they sailed past, regardless of their nationality. This led to Holland declaring war on Scilly! Admiral Van Tromp sailed to the islands with twelve powerful Dutch men-of-war, intending to punish the pirates. He was forestalled and persuaded to leave the troublemakers to British justice by Admiral Blake who arrived in the nick of time with a Parliamentary fleet. Blake managed to capture Tresco with its gun batteries commanding the routes into safe waters, and forced Grenville and his rebels to surrender. An interesting footnote to this story is that, although Holland formally declared war on Scilly, a peace was never concluded - until a few years ago, when someone read about it and thought it would be excellent publicity for the islands. So the Dutch Ambassador and the Chairman of the Islands Council met to sign a peace treaty - after over three hundred years of formally being at war! On October 22nd 1707, Scilly was the location of the worst peace-time disaster in British naval history when the twenty one ship fleet commanded by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell was returning home after the siege of Toulon in the south of France. A great storm struck and five ships came to grief on the treacherous Western Rocks of Scilly. The most famous of the five was the Association, mighty flagship of Sir Cloudesley himself, which was rediscovered by divers in the late 1960s and has yielded many fascinating artifacts - including the Admiral's chamber pot complete with crest! The other ships were the seventy gun Eagle, the fifty gun Romney, and the fireships Phoenix and Firebrand. In all, nearly 2000 men lost their lives during that terrible night. In 187 5, the celebrated steamship 'Schiller', one of the largest passenger vessels of her day, was on route from New York to Plymouth when she struck the Retarrier Ledges (part of the western reefs) in dense fog and sank. Although the 'Schiller' was a German vessel and carried few British passengers, there was a full complement of German and American passengers on board. Furthermore, a dance was in progress which meant that many of the female passengers were resplendent in full evening dress and jewels. More than 300 crewmembers and passengers lost their lives. Today, in Old Town churchyard on St. Marys, the great granite obelisk dedicated to Louise Holzmeister, one of the victims of the disaster, stands overlooking the little church down below. In fact, during the First World War, the Kaiser was so grateful for the courageous rescue attempts made by the islanders and their care for survivors of the Schiller disaster, that he forbade any German U-boat to attack the steamers that sailed between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly. In 1834, a member of an old Hertfordshire family, Augustus John Smith, leased the islands from the Crown. In effect, he ruled the Scillies as Lord Proprietor for thirty nine years. His rule is generally said to have been benevolent but autocratic. In fact, he took some very tough decisions including land reform, removing families from Samson due to untenable poverty, deportation of paupers and eviction from the islands of those who disagreed with him. He enforced schooling for island children in the 1850s, (about thirty years before the Foster Act made education compulsory on the mainland). Attendance was ensured by charging tenants one penny per week for each child.... and fining them two pence if the child failed to attend! Boatbuilding also gained importance on Scilly and well-educated Scillonians, with their seafaring heritage, were ideally suited as officers. In fact, it was said that Scillonians 'b efore the mast& #39; were a rarity! Today, Prince Charles, as the present Duke of Cornwall, maintains a Land Steward to oversee this small corner of his domain and Tresco is still leased directly by the descendants of Augustus. The largest island is St. Marys at three miles long and a mile and a half wide, covering about 1,611 square acres. If you imagine a figure 8 with a very small fortified top loop and a much larger bottom loop, you will have a good idea of its shape. The narrow isthmus in the middle joining the two loops is only 150 yards wide. The 'capital' of the Isles of Scilly, known as Hugh Town, is packed into this space, spilling out onto the shoulders of the loops on either side. Hugh Town is the administrative centre of the Isles of Scilly and its Council has full county council status (which leads to some interesting and often frustrating anomalies when compared to big councils on the mainland!) About three quarters of the Islands' population lives on St. Marys and, amusingly enough, the majority live 'in town' while the rest are scattered out 'in the country'! St. Marys is the only island with proper metalled roads - no more than ten miles... and island motorists have the unenviable privilege of paying a full UK road tax to drive on them.... To the north-east of St. Marys, lies St. Martins which is the nearest of the islands to the mainland. Quite a long thin island covering about 552 acres in all, it boasts some of the most wonderful white sand beaches imaginable, including the graceful arc of Great Bay. On the most easterly headland of St. Martins, at a land height of 160 feet, stands the majestic tall conical tower of the Daymark which is painted in broad red and white stripes for obvious reasons. St. Martins has three settlements which are just clusters of houses, inventively named Higher Town, Middle Town and.. yes.. Lower Town. Moving anti-clockwise, the next island is Tresco, the s econd largest island in the group at about 735 square acres. It is about a mile from St. Marys and a mile from St. Martins. This is the seat of the Dorrien-Smith family, descendants of Augustus John Smith, who lease Tresco from the Duchy of Cornwall still. Here you will find what is probably the most well-known facet of Scilly, the world famous sub-tropical Tresco Abbey Gardens. It is the only place in the UK where you will find rare and beautiful plants from all over the world growing out in the open. A tall puya plant from Tresco, its flowerspike nearly ten feet tall and smothered in brilliant green hooded flowers, caused quite a stir at Chelsea Flower Show a few years back. Heavily-perfumed auratum lilies from Japan, scarlet-flowered New Zealand Christmas trees, succulent spiky agaves, exotic proteas, stunning 'silver trees', broad mounds of purple and red geraniums and towering blue echium spires are only a few of the breathtaking species on view at various times of the year. The three grouped clusters of houses on Tresco bear the unusual names of New Grimsby (the 'capital'), Old Grimsby and, quaintest of all, Dolphin Town. Nestled against the flank of Tresco, with only quarter of a mile of sand flats separating the two, lies Bryher which is the smallest inhabited island of the Scillies at only 317 square acres. Despite its small size, it has its own quite distinct character with towering Shipman Head and Hell Bay at the bleak northern end of the island and the pink thrift-cloaked dunes encircling the sheltered sandy retreat of Rushy Bay in the south. South of Bryher lies Samson which is simply two hills (yes, North Hill and South Hill!) joined by a low girdle of land. This is the legendary setting for Sir Walter Besant's novel 'Armorel of Lyonesse' and there is a ruined cottage where she is reputed to have lived. More recently, "Why the Whales came", a 1989 film version of Michael Morpurgo's book of the same name set in 1914, wa s made on Bryher using a cast of local people. Two island children took major parts alongside such British luminaries as Paul Scofield, Helen Mirren, Helen Pearce, Max Rennie, David Suchet, David Threlfall, Barbara Jefford and Jeremy Kemp. The slow opening sunrise sequence is just breathtaking.... Last, but by no means least, is the most south-westerly inhabited island of the British Isles, St. Agnes and its sibling island of Gugh (pronounced to rhyme with 'hugh'). When combined, their acreage is 358 but they are joined by a sand bar which is exposed at low tide and covered when the tide comes in. This makes it (along with the sandbar connecting St. Marys and the much smaller uninhabited Tolls Island) one of the most dangerous places for bathing on Scilly due to undertows and currents. St. Agnes is usually referred to as plain 'Agnes' on Scilly and is only three quarters of a mile long by half a mile wide. It is separated from the rest of the islands by a deep water channel known as St. Marys Sound. Further out from St. Agnes/Gugh is the bird sanctuary of Annet and, further out still, the famous 168ft pinnacle of the Bishop Rock Lighthouse - next stop America! This is the finish line for the transatlantic speed crossing. Richard Branson broke the record back in the summer of 1986 in Virgin Atlantic Challenger II, a huge powerboat, and got chucked into the harbour as part of the victory celebrations! Today, the Isles of Scilly are involved mainly in tourism. During the season, visitors can travel to the islands aboard the modern steamship R.M.V. Scillonian III which takes about three hours to cross from Penzance to St. Marys. There are small fixed-wing planes taking between six and nine passengers which leave St. Just Airport at Lands End and arrive at the airport on St. Marys about fifteen minutes later. But, most exciting of all, is the only scheduled passenger helicopter service in the UK. (The Sikor sky helicopters used are the s ame model as the Royal Navy uses for its Sea King rescue squadrons). They take about thirty passengers and it is a thrilling twenty minute flight from Penzance to Scilly, passing the famous St. Michael's Mount and Lands End on the way. Once on the Scillies, you can take daily boat trips from St. Marys and visit all the other islands There is accommodation on all five of the inhabited islands - luxury hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfasts, self-catering cottages and apartments, and campsites. Bikes can be hired by the day or the week but you can't access all the delightful coastal footpaths by any means except foot! There are slide shows, choral concerts, variety shows on most evening. Most exciting of all are the Gig races held for ladies on Wednesday evenings and men on Friday evening. Gigs are narrow six oared racing boats painted in brilliant colours once used as all-purpose vessels between the islands. With names like 'Golden Eagle', 'Serica', 'Bonnet', 'Dolphin', Men-a-Vaur' and 'Nornour', they are very fast and the sight of a dozen or more flying across the waves, oarsmen (or women!) bent to their work, is a sight to see. The passenger boats leave St. Marys and follow the gig races from start to finish to the accompaniment of chants and racous yells of encouragement from the onlookers. There are only three pubs on St. Marys and several hotels, together with various cafes and restaurants where the food is generally excellent though quite expensive. You can take bus tours round St.Marys with humourous commentaries from the driver. There are, not surprisingly, quite a few artists offering paintings for sale, along with two hand crafted pottery workshops, a jewellery workshop, a perfumery, an excellent Museum, a stained glass centre and a Golf Course. All in all, there is plenty to do! As you have probably guessed from my ID, I live on the Isles of Scilly a nd it is exactly twenty years ago t his month that I set foot on this enchanted archipelago. Personally, I feel that spring and autumn are by far the nicest times to visit the islands. Accommodation, especially self-catering, is almost impossible to find during the summer holidays (which is hardly surprising as it is a wonderful place for children!). If you want night clubs, shopping, self-contained hotel complexes with entertainment provided and 'experts' to keep your kids amused, please don't come to Scilly. If you love the open air, beautiful scenery, peace and quiet, walking, photography, painting, boating, bird watching, and village-style entertainment, then you may find that Scilly is that well-kept secret you've been just waiting to discover! If you want to read more about the Isles of Scilly, look out for 'Portrait of the Isles of Scilly' by Clive Mumford, first published by Robert Hale of London in 1967 but revised several times since then. Another book is 'The Fortunate Islands' subtitled 'A history of the Isles of Scilly' by R. L. Bowley. Online, you can find fascinating websites at www..scillyonline.co.uk and www.rosevear.demon.co.uk For any further information, contact the Tourist Information Centre on St. Marys (telephone 01720 422536)
Yuck - his mouse had furballs! Teenage son wanted to go on the Internet this morning and, since mine is the only computer with a modem in this household (for obvious reasons!) that meant he was hogging it for over an hour. I really wanted to go over some of my Dooyoo opinions and possibly (if I could find some inspiration) make a start on another one, so I sloped off into his room with my notebook and floppy disk. After all, if he was using my computer then it was only fair that I should use his.... I booted it, inserted my floppy and laid my hand on his Microsoft mouse. What on earth was this? The mouse pointer was all over the screen, jerking and sticking and generally almost unusable. How on earth does he play Unreal Tournament and Midtown Madness with such a sulky rodent? I found myself wondering. In the year or so since we built him this computer, I've managed to get him trained to use utility programs to defrag his hard disk when it gets messy, to optimize his Registry every now and again (since he installs and deletes so many games and demos) and even dust off his keyboard from time to time. But cleaning his mouse? For some reason he much prefers to leave that to Mum.... It's not as if it's a time-consuming or difficult task although it can be a real chore if you let the crud build up on the ball or rollers. A pair of tweezers, a few strips of sellotape and an only just damp cotton bud will soon bring a poorly mouse back to perfect working order without recourse to the vet. So, before I could even start to write, I have to open up the rodent and delve about inside to remove the sticky accumulations on the rollers. I find myself wondering if he'll even notice.. but surely he can't possibly miss the fact that his mouse is suddenly silky-smooth and responsive? But then I remember that I'm talking about a teenager here........ Attitudes to mice can be very puzzling, considerin g one is such a vital part of a computer. I was talking to a retired friend in the summer and he was lamenting about the fact that mice didn't last that long. It turned out that he'd had three in twelve months! Admittedly, a basic mouse is so cheap that it's almost disposable but he had no idea that it could be opened up and cleaned so easily. When his rodent started to play up, he simply threw it away as worn-out and bought a new one! Perhaps I should think about getting teenage son one of the new Microsoft optical mice for his birthday in March - at least I won't get called upon to scrape the crud off the rollers after that!
Help! I don't want to be a perfectionist..... My husband much prefers a real Christmas tree to a fake one, so every year for the past five years we have spent the best part of an evening just before Christmas messing around with a bucket of gravel, trowels, chunks of wood, hammer and nails, secateurs and an unhelpful seven foot tall Norway spruce wrapped in finger-lacerating plastic netting. It is quite a complex operation getting the trunk inserted securely into the purpose-made tree base that he has devised. First of all, four 12" lengths of pine tongue-and-groove wall cladding are nailed lengthwise to the trunk to enclose it in a sort of box. Then it is slotted into a thick circular piece of wood, cut to the diameter of the bucket, before being located centrally in place and packed in tightly with gravel. Finally, the bucket is filled almost to the top with water and the tree is cut free from the tangle of plastic netting. The bucket (a bright orange 10 litre catering cooking oil bucket) also has to be covered with foil to make it look festive. The nice thing about a real pine tree is the scent that it brings into the room but it is, I admit, a rather messy houseguest. I hoover up the needles scattered on the carpet after the tree is in place and we rotate it gingerly to make sure that its best profile is facing the centre of the room. Then we will leave it overnight to allow the branches to relax down after being tightly wrapped for heaven knows how long. The next day my husband drapes one hundred tiny white lights over the tree (secure in the knowledge that fusspot here will not be happy with the result and need to make essential adjustments herself...). We have moved gradually to a minimalist colour scheme for the big tree over the past few years. A seven footer takes a lot of decorating so we bought big packs of plain and faceted baubles in gold, silver, white and crystal. Some of the prettiest ones are twelve 6&qu ot; twisted gold icicles that we bought on holiday in the Loire region of France one autumn. We also have some simple white glitter-coated polystyrene 'snowballs' which are very effective. The only splashes of primary colour (and you have to look hard to see them!) are three perky clip-on robins that I perch on high branches as if they've come in for a warm roost overnight to add a humourous touch. The final additions are thick lengths of gold and silver tinsel and some strings of gold and silver bells. We don't have an angel on the top of the tree, instead we have a single large clear star which has one of the white lights slotted up inside to illuminate it. It takes me about two hours to complete the decoration of the tree, together with numerous cups of tea and the occasional mince pie to keep my strength up. Many times I have wished fervently that I wasn't such a perfectionist and could just put it up and forget it. My husband knows that I will be tweaking the decorations for at least a couple of days before I'm happy. Well, icicles just have to hang straight, don't they? Lopsided ones only spoil the effect :-)
One day, while I was browsing through the Dooyoo categories, I ended up in the one dedicated to dooyoo.co.uk itself. There, under the heading 'Tips/Guides to writing good Dooyoo opinions', I was amazed to find 152 opinions and alongside, under the simple title, 'Dooyoo Addiction' I found an even more astonishing 211. That set me thinking about all these people who are serious enough to read and write so prolifically on these subjects. Every aspect of writing a Dooyoo opinion is discussed here in great detail - from the kudos of style to the intricacies of grammar and spelling, onward to suitability for the category, upward to the frowned-on practise of writing opinions about something you have no idea about and, especially, the value of ratings and comments. In fact, there are some pretty heated (and very entertaining!) exchanges of comments on particularly controversial opinions which led me on to another thought. Getting ratings for your opinions is all well and good, but the chance for others to comment on it is even more valuable to the aspiring Crown opinion writer. So your carefully crafted opinion has a certain number of 'very useful', 'useful', 'somewhat useful' or (heaven forbid!) 'not useful' ratings against it. These are interesting statistics but, as other writers pointed out again and again in the Tips and Guides, it gives you no particularly useful information about WHY the rater gave you a VU or an NU. To be brutally honest, anyone can log in, skim a few opinions, click on a few ratings, and log off. So, how do you sort out the wheat from the chaff? What criteria do you use to decide WHO you would particularly like to tempt into reading your opinions? I had an email conversation with one of the Dooyoo staff recently during which I wrote that I was concerned about ratings that seemed to be missing from one of my opinions. I said that I really wanted to know who had read and rated these so that I could do them the courtesy of reading and rating some of their opinions. In his reply, he warned me "Be careful not to get into 'clicking cartels' where users reciprocally rate each other as 'very useful'. This is not constructive at all and DooYoo has means to track these cartels down and lock or delete the users". Now I realise that this does happen and I accept that it is a valid warning. But that was not my intention at all. When I read opinions by someone who has rated me, it is not to give them 'very useful' ratings as a gesture of gratitude for having had to decency to read mine. Indeed, there is every possibility that I will read down thirty opinion headers only to spot one that is remotely interesting to me personally. So I will read that opinion and perhaps not bother with the rest. I will try to rate it intelligently, reserving 'very useful' for an opinion that I feel has something special, and then (more often than not) add a comment to explain how I felt about the piece. It is only fair to the person who has spent time on writing the opinion to be honest in your appraisal. I'm sure that a lot of other people on Dooyoo will agree with this. Just dishing out 'very useful' ratings is, as many other writers have already pointed out, a waste of time and is less than helpful. So, if you are serious about writing, not only do you need to search out writers of good opinions but you also need to search out good commentators on opinions. You want to locate those people who are willing to take the time to read your opinion AND add an intelligent comment. You will find that the same names crop up time and time again. Generally speaking, people who write a lot also tend to read a lot. If they do read your opinion, these people may well post comments that you don't much like - who wants to be told that they ramble or don't keep to the point or that their spelling is appalling? But this is all valuable input for the aspiring writer. Besides, you will often find that the good commentators are, more often than not, the same people who write good opinions and gain 'Crowns' for their work. You want these people on your side! Pop along to the Opinionated Community forum at dooyoo.community.everyone.net and browse around the forums. You will find some very interesting conversations being posted there. People are recommending 'good reads' to others and there is a linked list of Dooyoo opinion writers that the Community thinks are worth checking out. Why not try it? You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain..... In conclusion, the benefit of this advice is twofold - on the one hand, you can read opinions written by these 'Dooyoo gurus' and (hopefully!) learn from their good example, while on the other hand, you might tempt them to check up on your opinions and give you intelligent ratings and helpful comments. Sounds like a good deal to me!
Apparently, over in the USA, the market for first-time computer buyers is slowly dwindling. This is because those people who want a computer have already bought one. The American market is now being geared more towards the second-time buyer who is quite often far more knowledgeable and price conscious. Given that the UK almost always follows the path already taken by America, this will eventually be the case over here. (Indeed, recently, we heard that Microsoft have issued a profits warning). Computer magazines all seem to agree that you get better value for your £700 - £1500 if you buy a ready-specified package from the likes of Mesh, Dell, Gateway etc. Not only do you get a good hardware specification but you often get extras like software, printers, scanners, digital cameras included. But what if you don’t have that kind of money? It raises an interesting point which is also often addressed by the same computer magazines - when your old computer becomes too slow or insufficient for your needs, do you buy a brand new package or do you try to save a few pennies and build your own? If you take a long, hard look at your present computer, you may well decide that some components don’t need replacing. For example, is your monitor OK for present needs? (Depending on whether you’re a gamer or a music buff, your speaker system will probably be well up to scratch. You may have upgraded your CD ROM to a new DVD/CD ROM and you might have a form of removeable storage like a Zip Drive, an LS120 floppy or one of the newer CDR or CD-RW drives - all can be reused. The same applies to your printer/scanner/digital camera/webcam which are probably peripherals that you have added and, if you chose wisely at the time, are fine for your practical requirements. Mice and keyboards are not expensive peripherals and can almost be replaced as ‘impulse buys’. So, apart from the possible purchase of a new case, your u pgrade comes mainly down to the internal components. Here you have to be prepared to invest in a stack of computer magazines, browse relevant websites, make lots of notes and compare lots of prices. There is no easy way to do this and you have to be as methodical as possible. Start by making a list of the tasks you expect your computer to do. (After all, there is no point investing £200 in the latest supercharged graphics card if all you want to do is handle basic office tasks and email). This will be a valuable pointer to the components you need. If you are purchasing the standard components for a computer then you are considering the motherboard, processor, memory, hard disk, graphics card, sound card and modem. The big advantage with building your own computer is that you can tailor it to your own specific needs. You may want to splash out on one of the latest sound cards if you’re a music buff or invest in a huge fast hard drive if you’re into lots of graphics work. But you’ll get much better value if you avoid the cutting-edge stuff and stick to items that have been around for a few months. That way most of the bugs and glitches will have been found and the product will be tried and tested. You don’t need to complicate your job unnecessarily! But be aware that slightly older products may require driver updates before they perform to their full capacity. This particularly applies to motherboards and graphics cards. Cases are a fairly straightforward choice. Keep an eye on the power supply rating and aim for 250 watts if you can. Less than that may mean your computer is underpowered and components may come under serious pressure. Most cases take an ATX form factor motherboard but some of them take the older AT form factor motherboard which has more complicated cabling. (There are newer form factors on the market but you will quite often find that functionality and expandability have been sacrificed for smaller sizes so they can fit in ultra compact cases). Some cases are easy-access and can even be opened up without a screwdriver. Mini and micro cases are good if you are short of space - but be aware that the upgrade potential is very limited. Middle tower cases are probably the standard option and usually provide two or three smaller drive bays and up to four or five of the larger drive bays. Tower cases are huge monoliths and really only an option if you have a lot of money to spend, can offer a lot of living space to your computer, or you are planning to get some hefty hardware to fill it. The motherboard is the heart of the computer - all the various cards, processor, memory etc are fitted into it - and the chance to upgrade it means you can get some serious hardware. A good idea is a motherboard that gives you the option of fitting two different processors for added versatility - for example providing Slot One as well as Socket 370 on the board - while others can use a ‘slot to socket’ converter. Be very careful to check out the memory that the board needs - some take PC66, some take PC100, and the latest ones take PC133. Bear in mind that most Celerons can only take PC66. You’ll find that Pentium III processors can take PC100 and/or PC133 depending on whether they have ‘E’ or ‘EB’ after their speed designation. Then, just to complicate matters further, the latest (and very expensive!) form of memory is Rambus which operates at incredible speeds up to 800Mhz but you need a cutting edge motherboard for this and they don’t come cheap. On the whole, Pentium/Celeron motherboards are generally cheaper than Athlon/Duron ones but the processors are more expensive. So you'll have to make a decision as to your priority. (You may well be able to get a faster processor if you choose a Duron or Athlon). Check out Tom's Hardware website at www.tomshardware.com or Sharky's at www.sharkyextreme.com for thorough , unbiased and up-to-date opinions on hardware before you make your decision. If the motherboard has an AGP slot for the graphics card, check its speed - is it AGP x1, x2, or x4? (This will have a bearing on the graphics card you choose) Does the motherboard support Ultra DMA 33/66 speed for hard drives or does it support the even newer Ultra DMA 100? (Most of the hard drives on the market are now UDMA 66). Then check out the expansion slots - how many PCI and how many ISA slots does the board have? (Intel’s PC99 specification actually required the removal of all ISA slots from motherboards but you’ll find that many still have one or two) If you want to carry over any ISA cards from your previous computer (perhaps you have an ISA sound card or an ISA modem that you want to keep) then this will be an important consideration. But it’s probably a good idea to play safe and pick a motherboard with at least one ISA slot. You may also want to consider what future processors the motherboard will take - just in case the upgrade bug really bites! Processors are probably the most expensive component in a self-build computer. Well-chosen components can make the best of a slower and cheaper processor and, if you checked out the processor upgrade path for your motherboard, you can always save up for that scorcher at a later date! For example, you could buy a motherboard offering Slot One/Socket 370 support and start off with a cheaper Celeron depending on speed. It should be possible to buy PC100 memory and use it at 66Mhz in such a board with the Celeron, taking advantage of the faster bus speed when you upgrade the processor later. (I used an Intel Seattle BX440 motherboard with PC100 memory running at 66Mhz when I only had a Pentium II running at 233Mhz and unable to run the memory at the faster rate. When I upgraded to a Pentium III 450Mhz processor, the memory was then able to run at full speed - PC66 memory would have been a waste o f money but PC100 was a good investment for the future) Hard disks, as I have already mentioned, nearly all come in UDMA 66 flavour these days. You might want to choose one with the faster 7200 spin speed instead of a 5400 spin speed. Also look out for the amount of disk cache provided - 512k is adequate but 2Mb is much better. Check out computer magazine articles comparing the various hard drives - they are an excellent pointer to the best buys around. Graphics card and sound cards are very much a matter of personal choice. A keen gamer will want to go for a more expensive AGP x4 card, probably equipped with 64Mb memory, and with sophisticated 3D hardware performance. If you’re not so keen on computer games, then a less expensive 16 Mb or 32Mb 2D/3D card should be fine for your requirements. Likewise, a music buff will probably want to invest in something sophisticated like a Creative Soundblaster Platinum whereas anyone just needing ordinary multimedia capabilities can choose one of the excellent mid-range sound cards available. Again, check out the computer magazine reviews - they can give lots of useful pointers to a suitable purchase. You may have a perfectly adequate 56K v.90 modem in your old computer which you can transfer - check if it’s an ISA card and make sure that your motherboard has a suitable slot. Anything slower than this could probably do with upgrading and good branded internal modems are reasonably priced. (Note, if you have any plans to try Linux in the future, you might want to check out the compatability of your modem with this OS. A lot of modems, especially PCI modems, are so-called ‘winmodems’ because they are reliant on the Windows operating system to take over a large part of their operation. They will not work under Linux. The websites where you can check out modem compatability with Linux are at www.linmodems.org and www.o2.net/~gromitkc/winmodem.html You can choose a modem here t hat has been checked out as compatible with Linux before you buy it). So you have done your research, sourced, purchased and received. You now have a pile of boxes containing the components for your new computer. Sit down, make yourself a cup of tea and study the manuals. Yes, I know, it’s not as exciting as getting stuck straight in, but you’ll be very glad you took this step later! Before you even start on construction, you need to prepare a plan of action, work out what you need to do and what tools you need to do it. First and foremost is a grounding strap which will prevent delicate components getting fried by static electricity when you touch them. Then, studying the manuals, draw up a list of tools that you will need - screwdrivers and such like. (There is nothing quite so frustrating as being at a critical point and finding that the tool you need is out in the shed or the garage!) Look for an illustrated computer magazine workshop about building your own computer (Computeractive is a good source of these) or alternatively beg/borrow/buy a book such as the excellent ‘Complete Guide to PC Upgrades’ by Peter Norton. Work your way carefully through the construction, making notes if necessary, so you know the steps you need to take and the order you will take them in. If you have any questions, check out computer-literate friends or ask around at website discussion forums - you’ll find people are usually very willing to help. It is probably worth budgeting for a copy of Win 98 Second Edition or even Win ME so you can take advantage of the power-saving capabilities of your new hardware. Installing an operating system and software from scratch is generally not difficult and a lot of it is automated anyway. Then, make sure you have a LARGE table (covered with a cloth if easily scratched), assemble all the components, take a deep breath and get started. Allow yourself several hours of uninterrupted time to complete the project (a whole day or even a weekend might be needed but make sure that you can leave the computer in situ and don't have to put it all away). Work slowly and methodically, following the instructions and referring to your specific notes. Take a coffee break if things prove tricky - you need to be relaxed. Be confident! You’ve done your homework - all the preparation is done and now you can have the immense satisfaction of successfully building your new computer!
Briskly, we stride home. Already it is getting dark and the shortest day of the year has brought cold winds and grey skies. But nothing can chill our spirits this evening. Christmas is nearly here and we have a warm glow inside. To make it even more exciting, tonight is the 'Christmas Carolaire' at the little park in town and we hurry home eagerly to get ready. Torches must be hunted for, lurking in drawers or hidden on shelves, and new packs of batteries broken open with a crackle of plastic so we can make sure our way is clearly illuminated along the unmade beach path. Hats, gloves and scarves are found. Don't forget thick socks as well because it can get toe-numbingly cold standing outside for over an hour! Potatoes, scrubbed and pierced, are put in the oven to bake while we are out. Sausages and bacon are laid on a tray, covered with cling and popped into the fridge. Baked bean tins are placed ready for opening. The kitchen is full of warmth and bustle as the drone of a small cargo plane is heard outside. Its flashing lights climb slowly up into the darkening sky then it banks in the direction of the mainland. The airport up on the hill is still brightly lit - living on an island means that everything for Christmas has to be brought in by air or sea. With the falling of darkness, all the Christmas lights become visible up on the hill, across the bay in town and farther away across the sea on the other islands. Upstairs, our big Christmas tree, standing silently in the window of the lounge, sparkles with a hundred tiny white lights that reflect off the gold and silver decorations. It is very peaceful and the fragrance of pine is heavy in the air. Downstairs in our porch, it is anything but peaceful! Four of us are trying to get ready to go out and the porch is not very big. Wellington boots are swopped around noisily like a game of 'Pit!' so that each person has a matching pair (which, hopefully, fits...). There is a clackety-clack as one of the cats pokes its nose in through the fancy electronic catflap and promptly withdraws it in horror at the ructions indoors. The other cat (braver or more foolhardy?) chances its luck amongst the forest of legs in the porch, gets barely a sniff at its food then flees back into the lounge before it gets trampled underfoot. Eventually, we are all ready and set off. We are barely twenty five yards from our door when our daughter decides that she HAS to have a wee. So I trek back indoors with her. The menfolk wait outside on the sandy beach path, stamping their feet and banging their hands together ostentatiously when we return. There are several barbed comments about females and weak bladders as we stride swiftly along the beach path, torch beams bright in front of us to illuminate the puddles, dips and unexpected stones. When we reach the Dairy, the Strand is already brightly lit with loops of rainbow coloured lights, their reflections stirring lazily in the calm waters of Town Bay. High on the hill above town, a large white star gleams on the facade of Star Castle Hotel and nearby the legend 'MERRY XMAS' shines brightly on Hugh House. We seem to be a few minutes late (cue quick exchange of mild mutual recriminations) and the Christmas lights have already switched on by a notable centenarian lady of the islands. Faintly at first, then louder as we walk along the Strand, the sound of voices raised in the carol 'Hark, the Herald Angels Sing' floats from the little park in the centre of town. We join the throng of people both inside the confines of the hedged park and outside on the road. Everyone is wrapped up warm against the cold, clutching carol sheets in gloved hands and singing lustily. We find a spot where we can peer over the hedge into the park. At one end of the park, the island's Christmas tree stands tall, its branches rustling and bending in the stiff breeze, lights bobbing and blinking. The musicians providing the accompaniment, usually brass and keyboards with a drum recording, sit to the right behind a forest of music stands. One of their scores, left unsecured, takes wing like a pale angel in the mischievous breeze. A ripple of laughter accompanies its swift recapture and return to the music stand where it is firmly pegged in place. The Choral Society, in a group to the left of the tree, then raises soprano, contralto, tenor and bass voices harmoniously in 'Deck the Hall with Boughs of Holly' and everyone else 'Fala-la-la-la-la-la-la-las' manfully through the chorus. The volume fades slowly as we run out of breath. There are a few moments of whispering and rustling then all goes quiet. The Carolaire is not long and the tunes are a good mix of the traditional and the modern. The Anglican and Methodist ministers share the prayers and sermon between them. Their words hanging mistily on the air as they speak of travelling to far places and of long journeys undertaken to come home to family. These are themes close to the hearts of islanders. A few go to the mainland for the festive season but the majority will be reunited with far-flung relatives who return to the islands to spend Christmas at home. One or two people spontaneously hug each other, grinning broadly. The minister calls the children from the crowd and assembles them in a ragged group in front of the Christmas tree. Some look down at their boots and glance around with nervous smiles. Then he announces to the crowd that they will sing 'Away in a Manger'. It starts off with a few quavery voices but gets stronger and more tuneful as the braver youngsters are joined by the shyer ones. The minister encourages their singing, aware that the fragile voices being stolen away by the wind. A gust of clapping, whistles and congratulations greets the end of the carol and the children scamper gratefully back to their families. T he final piece chosen is usually more light-hearted - something along the lines of 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' This is sung loudly and lustily by the crowd, swaying to the jolly rhythm of the music, tapping feet and even clapping hands. When it finishes, the minister thanks everyone who has taken part in the Carolaire and names a few special contributors including the Choir and the musicians. Then he wishes everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. At last the long-awaited announcement is made, telling chilled revellers that free hot mince pies will be served at the front gate of a nearby guest house. Someone in the crowd cheers. A final blessing is spoken by the minister and the Carolaire draws to a close. Youngsters shaking buckets stand by the exits from the park and the cheerful sound of jangling loose change becomes louder as more and more people emerge onto the road. The musicians pack away their instruments, music and stands. The singers of the Choral Society join up with friends and family groups. We exchange Christmas greetings with others and say 'hello' to Father Christmas who has appeared from the Town Hall and is now circulating among the crowd with many a hearty "Ho! Ho! Ho!". (Some island chap is enjoying his anonymous hour of glory...) Our teenager gives us a smug look as children crowd around the red-clad one to tell him what they want for Christmas. Weaving our way through the crowds, we manage to reach the guest house where trays of hot, steaming mince pies are appearing as if by magic from a brightly-lit doorway. We take four and drift away in the direction of the main street. Loops of brightly coloured lights zigzag from building to building above our heads. An illuminated Father Christmas with his sleigh and reindeer 'gallops' along the front of the Town Hall below three trees festooned in twinkling white lights. More Christmas trees sparkle and glitter in shop windows as we strol l down the one main street and then return to the Town Hall. From there we walk up Church Street past houses from whose trees have suddenly sprung blossoms of bright lights festooning their winter-bare branches. On the facade of the Methodist Church gleam two large white crosses and, further up the hill on the clock tower of the Parish Church, a single large white cross shines out over the town. The ivy clambering up the front wall of one guest house is full of tiny sparkling lights as if a thousand glow-worms are busy enjoying a Christmas party. One house has a pale angel outside in its garden, another a flickering candle and a third some rainbow-bright crackers. As we leave the bright lights of town, we pull out our torches and walk briskly back along the beach path. We are still licking sugar from our lips when we reach home but the delicious heart-warming scent of baking potatoes greets us and we realise that we haven't had any dinner yet! Sausages and bacon go under the grill straight away, baked beans into the microwave and a big pot of tea is brewed. The cats are curled up on the sofa, tails over noses, purring in their sleep. Outside the wind is rising now and, before we've finished dinner, the sound of raindrops can be heard on the windows. "Weren't we lucky" we all say to each other, nodding sagely. The last thing I do before bedtime is to go upstairs to the big lounge where the Christmas tree is still sparkling serenely in the window. I breathe in the cool fresh pine scent of its foliage. The rain is running down the glass now and the lights of town are hidden by a thick veil of rain. "Only four days to Christmas Day", I tell the illuminated star on top of the tree, "I hope the weather improves". Then I switch off the lights and tiptoe off downstairs to bed.