Saturday, 30 June 2018

Notice of a drastic pruning of posts

2018 is proving - by accident or design - to be a year of changes. With my 66th birthday less than a week away, I'm getting ever older, and it becomes important to focus on what matters most to me. That has prompted a series of rethinks on what I do with my time.

This blog started in February 2009 in a crisis situation, with my Mum's death, and great personal changes looming. It was a channel through which I could explore what lay ahead. It satisfied an urge to write. But it was always personal. I did play with wider subjects, but that sometimes got me into trouble with the people I mentioned in my posts. I found that embarrassing. And also discouraging: I was coming up against the problem any writer faces from time to time - destructive feedback. Perhaps I'm too sensitive, but it hurt. It didn't happen often, but each negative consequence made me decide that it was best to keep well away from certain subjects. Eventually, I arrived at the present position, where the blog is hardly more than 'Lucy's Adventures', illustrated with the same kind of photos that you can see in quantity on my Flickr site.

And that is most of the problem nowadays: the blog and the Flickr site overlap far too much. The blog has in large measure become 'Flickr with words added' - and I question the effort put into writing all those words, when the pictures posted on Flickr often say it all. I know many prefer reading about what I get up to instead of looking at pictures, but I do pictures best, and always have done. And the Flickr site far outstrips the blog in popularity. It's clearly where I should be concentrating my efforts. 

I still like the idea of blogging, and I haven't run out of things to say, but it's too time-consuming. The time has come to stop writing regularly for it.

I'm not going to take the blog down, but I have already deleted all of my past blog posts up to the end of 2014. And I will next look very critically at the posts already written in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Some will stay available to read. Most will be deleted.

I have, of course, an archived copy of every post I ever wrote, preserved in a long, long series of Word documents. No part of this essentially autobiographical record will disappear from my personal records. But most of it won't be available online from now on.

I suppose I will never now reach that one million figure for viewings! The total stands at 914,790 as I write this. But chasing a big readership has ceased to matter.

Will there be new posts in the future? Perhaps, maybe, I don't know. Google will doubtless remove the blog after a while, if I fail to put up any posts. If I decide that, truly, I'm writing for absolutely nobody's benefit except my own, and possibly a handful of friends who swap texts and emails with me, and see me from time to time anyway, then I may quit entirely.

Even now I feel rather sad about bringing my blogging project almost to a close. It has had a very long run, and plenty of success, and (I know) was a help and support for a few people. It also put me in touch with several readers who have become firm friends, and also a very distant cousin who didn't know that my part of the family existed. One or two complete strangers got in touch too, and for a while we had an agreeable exchange. But brushes with academics, media folk and the odd bigot introduced a sour note. It's so easy to give offence with the words you write! It's in my hands to put a stop to it, by not blogging and not giving them a chance to air their assumed superiority, or their malcontent. They can take their bad attitudes elsewhere.

I'm not at all finished with writing. Every day I make practical notes on this or that. But I don't think 'creative writing' is my forte. I most like getting behind the wheel of Fiona, and going off somewhere, and taking photos of what I see. That's the thing I love doing.

If anybody wants to keep tabs on me in the future, then my Flickr site is the best place to visit. The latest pictures - which always include shots of myself - are in the Photostream, or they can be seen according to subject in one or other of the Albums. Here's the direct link:

Same day sequel
Well, that's 2018 'purged'. Twenty-four posts deleted, but forty retained. Now that wasn't too much of a slaughter, was it?

Next: 2017, 2016, and 2015. It's easiest to work back in time, making a note of the post titles to be deleted, and then doing that in one go from the Posts list. I deleted everything up to 2014 that way. (It wasn't worth keeping such old posts in the public eye, as they didn't reflect my contemporary life sufficiently)

My friend Angie has already expressed heartfelt regret at the idea that I may not blog again. So I've paused, and stopped the Quit Blogging Juggernaut in its tracks. I won't stop writing. But I will have to give blogging less of my time. I'm thinking now that I will cut back to two posts a week, or eight each month. That's two good posts per week, well-written, and well-illustrated if the subject calls for it.

And so the proud 'Lucy Melford' name won't disappear from the blogging world after all.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Out with the old

I've been up in my attic, and had a good turf-out of all my old electronic stuff going back the year 2000. It's all redundant now, long replaced by more up-to-date things. Several boxes worth. It entirely covered the table in my study:

CD installation discs, CD backup discs, cables, connectors, all kinds of gadgets (and accessories for them), instruction books, warranty information, and so on. All of it useless or unnecessary now. Plus packaging.

In theory it would all be a quick task to pop this lot into one or more strong plastic bags, and then into an outside bin (recycling for the packaging, otherwise landfill). But I scrutinised it all, just in case. For instance, it occurred to me that the clear-plastic CD drum covers could, when inverted, make good containers for nails and screws and other small items in the garage, when I finally get round to sorting the garage out (a job that should have started after Dad died in 2009). Even so, I will end up throwing 99% of it out.

I found a few gems, though. Items of historical interest, though not interesting enough to keep!

Here's one: a cassette-tape player/recorder:

I don't remember buying it, so it must have been Dad's. I jettisoned all my tapes eons ago, so there was no point in keeping the thing. But just think: back in the 1970s, the cassette-tape deck was the only way to go if you wanted portable music (meaning 'listen in any room, in mono' - this was not of course a wearable device).

Then I found this. A clamshell pocket organizer by Sharp.

This was from 2000, and (just) pre-dated the rise of proper stylus-operated electronic organizers with much larger memories and plenty of downloadable software to use, that could do a lot, lot more. Like Palm's offerings, and Microsoft's range of Pocket PCs. I suppose this Sharp device might have suited a lot of people who simply wanted to make brief notes that they wouldn't keep for long. Dad used it for this and that. I quickly discovered that 256KB of memory was a tiny drop in the ocean, compared with what I really needed.

I thought I'd thrown out all of my Palm devices, but now came across this one:

It was an E2 from 2005/2006. It was a budget model that I purchased soon after retiring. How old-fashioned it looks now! But I liked all of my Palms, apart from the fact that they were not durable and eventually something would go fatally wrong. I worked my way through several between 2000 and 2008. An eventual switch to Pocket PC gave me a device that lasted. After that, it was the Sony tablet and the first of my Samsung phones (the Galaxy S2) - and goodbye forever to PDAs.

Fantastically, I had retained all the original documentation for my first PC, made by MESH. This included instructions on how to install Windows 98 SE and its drivers from CDs and a floppy disc or two. Not an OS I loved. Windows XP was so much nicer.

Did I just mention floppy discs? How long has it been since one owned a machine that can use them? (In my case, not since 2007) Here's a shot of two that came with my MESH computer in 2000:

This is what the 'save' icon in every Windows application is derived from. A whole generation may not realise that.

Well, item by item, I filled four stout plastic bags, stapled them shut, and popped them outside.

I was left with a box-full of backup CDs covering the years 2000 to 2009. A couple of hundred of them. I didn't want to keep them. Since 2010 I'd been using a more modern storage medium for backing up, two 500GB external hard drives. I should have got rid of these CDs long ago. Oh well, I'd do it now.

But actually, how do you 'get rid of' a durable CD-ROM? You shouldn't just chuck it in the bin, intact and capable of being read by any Tom, Dick or Harry would finds it. I didn't want my backed-up photos from the mid-2000s being gawped at. Nor any genealogical material. Nor any financial stuff. I found by experiment that scratching (or even scouring) the surface of a CD with a knife or screwdriver had no effect whatever on its readability. So each CD would have to be broken into bits. This is how I've been doing it.

Take one deep cardboard box...

Now fix two pliers onto a CD in a fashion similar to this...

Next, put one's arms deep into the box and sharply twist the pliers away from each other, or towards if one prefers. The plastic CD should splinter, the shards being caught by the box. And after a few dozen, the bottom of the box should look like this:

I don't kid myself for a moment that a forensic team with advanced equipment couldn't read some of these fragments. But your average scavenger won't be able to. I'm not saying that any of my backup CDs contained things the world should not see, but it's best if nobody gets the chance.

I haven't yet finished mutilating my backup CDs - finishing the job will take an hour or two more. But once done, I can move forward with my New Backup Regime.

I've been giving the whole backup matter some Deep Thought recently. I am going to shift to mostly incremental backups, on external storage. What I really want (for 'physical' storage) is a multi-TB SSD for that, but I can't afford one at the moment. However, I can for now make better use of the two 500GB external hard drives. These will replace the ageing desktop PC for permanent incremental archiving. So I'm going to transfer the current contents of the PC to the two external hard drives, and progressively add to them as I go along. This is after placing the cream of what I want to keep on my phone and laptop, and up in the Cloud.

I have imagined various scenarios:

# My home burns down while I'm away caravanning - but the phone and laptop are safe.
# I lose everything except my bag - so I still have my phone.
# I am a naked survivor of some disaster, and must rebuild from Cloud storage only.

The two hard drives are small and easily-concealed, and can be hidden at home - or travel with me - as I decide. Strange to think that if anyone asks to see 'my photo and computer equipment' in the future, I will show them merely my phone, my laptop and these drives. How minimalist can you get?

The desktop PC will be decommisioned, the hard drive extracted and crippled, and the rest of it junked. That will make the 'computer desk' in one corner of my study redundant, and I will pass it on or junk it too. With the corner emptied, I can then rearrange my study and find badly-needed extra space for my books. I have a definite Improvement Plan for my study, you see.

I'll keep the 2007-vintage scanner and printer, on the assumption that they can be made to work with my 2016-vintage laptop, given appropriate software downloaded from the Epson website. I'll plug them into the laptop when I do some scanning or printing. I'm pretty sure this idea will work. But if not, I'll have to invest in a new scanner and printer. That won't however be an urgent thing.

It's good to have a good sort-out. Twenty or thirty years ago I would hang onto things forever if I thought I might want to see them again. But at this time of my life, I want to slim my possessions down to what matters most to me and nothing more, keeping 'family heirlooms' only if I like them and they are meaningful. Because eventually I intend to redecorate my home on clean, unfussy, Scandinavian lines. You know: comfortable, but no clutter.

Same day sequel
A friend I saw that evening advised me that if I wanted a single device for future backups of whatever had been accumulating on the two 500GB hard drives, I could buy a decent 3TB external powered hard drive for only £90. That's affordable, and still leaves me with a minimalist set-up, with every key component portable or easily-hidden. 

Monday, 25 June 2018

No more magazines through my front door

Ha. Another stage completed in going paperless!

This morning I received another Boundless magazine. At one time this was the CSMA Magazine - the CSMA being the Civil Service Motoring Association, to which any civil servant could belong, working or retired - but a while back they decided that the rising generation of younger members wanted to read something less focused on cars and 'club' activities, and more on holiday and leisure pursuits in general. So the magazine, which got posted to members monthly, became full of stuff to entice you off to exotic locations for a weekend break or something longer. There was an awful lot of advertising in between the articles. And items on motoring as a hobby - on four wheels or two - got a bit crowded out.

There was the occasional interesting article, but for a long time I've hardly glanced at Boundless, and more than once have thought of asking the publishers to stop sending it. Presumably it was possible to read the thing online? If so, I'd be content with that. But I couldn't see any way of altering my contact preferences to stop the paper version being sent. It seemed too much trouble to phone them up and make enquiries about how to do it. I suspected, anyway, that as the magazine had become such an advertising vehicle, they didn't want to make it easy for Boundless members to opt out of being sent a regular copy.

But my personal drive to go 'paperless' has been gathering momentum in 2018. I decided to send them an email about stopping the paper magazine. So earlier this afternoon I bunged off this:

Dear Boundless

I am keen to go paperless as far as possible. I've tried looking for it, but I can't see how I can ask for the Boundless Magazine to be delivered to me online-only, dispensing with the paper version through the post. How is this done, please?

Lucy Melford

I wasn't expecting a same-afternoon reply, but I got one.

Good afternoon,

Thank you for your email.

I can confirm that I have suppressed the magazine from us and you will be able to locate the new magazine every two months on our home page .

Kind regards,


Well, thank you Josh! One more item of unwanted mail eliminated. A little less for my local postie to deliver. And no doubt a little less revenue for the Royal Mail too, but I can't feel too bad about reducing their income-stream. I'm much more concerned with the unnecessary use of paper and printing chemicals. And the whole idea of being sent something I don't want, even if it goes in the recycling bin.

The monthly magazine sent out by the Caravan and Motorhome Club is very similar, and although not exactly 'unwanted' - it has more articles in it that I want to read - I would be perfectly happy to read it online. So I immediately logged onto their website and altered my preferences.

Not content with this, there was yet a third magazine that thumps quarterly onto the Melford doormat, the one sent by Volvo. They seem to think that I have eagerly bought into a high-spending, stylish, outdoorsy Scandinavian lifestyle, and want to devour articles that expound the kind of aspirational thinking that in Volvo's dreams goes with owning one of their cars. Funny how living such a lifestyle requires so much in the way of leisure accessories made especially for the latest model range. They won't fit my eight year old car. So the magazine has limited interest, except as an insight into the direction Volvo is taking its products - ever upmarket, it seems! My own dreams are grounded in practicalities and how much I can afford. It was time I stopped this paper magazine coming.

It was as simple as amending my preferences - or seemed to be.

And that means a bit less wood-pulp needed. And, since the paper version of all these magazines has to be encapsulated in plastic, a bit less oil consumed. I'm not fanatical about this, but it does feel that I'm doing the right thing to Save The Planet.

At the same time, I have to confess that I don't read e-books, and like to buy a proper paperback book that I can read in the traditional fashion, and afterwards put on the bookshelves in my study until I fancy reading it again. It's in my world as a distinct tangible object, something to pick up and grasp. And I like to turn real pages when following a story. I'm sure I'm being illogical here, in preferring a paper book. But I dare say I'm not alone.

Works like a charm now

I had to shorten my North of England Tour, and I returned home a week ago. It's time to resume blogging! There's plenty to tell. But first, a success story from yesterday, when I went down to the Sussex coast at Birling Gap, which is in the care of the National Trust.

It is a very, very popular destination for those wishing to admire the views and use the posh café. Or wanting to stroll off east or west along the high chalk cliffs (perhaps to Belle Tout lighthouse). Or get down onto the beach to sun themselves. There is of course a car park, and you have to pay to park if not a NT Member. If you are a Member, you scan your new-style membership card and get a free ticket to park as long as you like on the day.

Well, that's the theory! At the start of May I wrote a peevish post in which I complained that the QR Code on my own new-style card wouldn't scan. Admittedly it was one of the first ever issued, and I understood at the time (early 2017) that it was a 'temporary version' which would eventually be replaced by a 'proper' card. I was glad to hear that, because the 'temporary' card was a dull grey cheap-looking affair, not worthy of a Life Member of long standing. It also carried an expiry date that implied my early death in 2027. Disturbing!

Anyway, I sent this duff card back to the NT on 18th May, and got a spanking new replacement a couple of days ago. I was rather keen to see whether it looked better, and - more importantly perhaps - would scan.

Here it is.

Huh, it's still dull grey (although NT  staff assure me the colour is 'platinum', reserved for their august and immensely-valued Life Members). The previous no-scan version I sent back looked like this:

The grey looks different, but that's down to different lighting conditions. Really, they are the same colour. But there is some change. The Notice of Death on 31st January 2027 has gone. (Phew. The NT Killing Team won't be chasing me. One less thing to worry about then) And the QR Code looks crisper, more distinct, and in small respects different, if you look closely.

The other side of the old card had a colourful back, showing scenes suggesting the varied delights of NT properties around the country. That hadn't changed. Here it is on the new card.

So - would the new card work? Would it scan?

I studied the ticket machine instructions at Birling Gap. Hmm...the main ones were just the same as those I read when I last attempted to do a scan with the old card.

Ah, but there was a change elsewhere on the machine! In an effort to assist elderly duffers and dodderers, the NT had been placing a sticker in the scanning aperture, to show all senile ditherers and dotards exactly how to position the card for a good scan. That sticker had looked like this when I previously tried to scan:

Now it looked like this:

It's now the other way round! And do you know what? When I held my new card in the aperture with the QR Code on the outward edge of the card, instead of on the inner edge, it scanned in an instant, producing this:

In fact the process was really fast - impressively slick.

I conclude that the NT is guilty of a crass blunder. When first introducing these new ticket machines, that can scan QR Codes, it didn't make it clear to its staff which way round the sticker should go. Or just gave them incorrect instructions on a nationwide basis. So the stickers on all these machines ended up misaligned by 180 degrees, making the scanning process difficult or impossible, even if you had a 'proper' card.

No wonder that droves of NT Members couldn't get their cards scanned!

A perfect example of technological wizardry defeated by human error. What a fiasco. Bad show, chaps.

I should think that, by now, they have quietly ripped off all the misplaced stickers, and replaced them with new ones, correctly aligned. Perhaps it was done secretly, at midnight, in a vast nationwide operation, with staff sworn never to tell.

Any Member who ever suffered a scanning failure was more than frustrated. They were embarrassed. And if they gave up and parked anyway, they felt guilty for Not Doing The Right Thing. I know I did. Some might even have paid the parking charge, just to have an easy conscience. So they would have been out of pocket.

Will the NT publish an apology for this nationwide cock-up? I haven't seen one yet.

Meanwhile, I can at least now go to NT properties knowing that my replacement card will scan, and that I won't look a fool. I'm still dissatisfied however with the el cheapo design of the card, which doesn't make enough of my Distinguished Life Member Status. If they can't offer a more impressive-looking card, then they should at least introduce the kind of benefits that I feel should always have been part of the Life Membership Package, such as free lunches in a special lounge, and champagne. Seems reasonable to me. 

Monday, 4 June 2018


It was Durham today. It was rather a disappointment, and I don't think I will be back for a second look.

I had half-expected it to be a bit 'ordinary' - even though, before coming to County Durham on my present holiday, I had regarded Durham itself as rather special - certainly worth a visit. I'd earmarked a whole day for it. But a chat with one of the ladies serving in Fat Face in Barnard Castle yesterday had put me on the alert that Durham might not be as impressive as I hoped. She had mentioned moving away from Durham for a better quality of life, especially for her children. Hmm. That suggested it wasn't an especially pleasant place. And yet there was the river, and the incredible Cathedral, and the famous could it be a place you'd want to leave? Perhaps it was expensive to live in, because of its perceived cachet?

Well, having already decided that I would go and see it, I'd follow the plan through and see what I thought at the end of the visit. The sun might or might not come out, but it was at least going to be a dry day. I intended to have an extensive walk around the ancient city centre, and blitz the place - especially the renowned Cathedral - with the camera on my phone.

The day's outing didn't begin all that well. First off, I decided to take a quick look at Raby Castle. I had been negative in my last post about the Raby Estates' ruthless car parking policy at High Force. I'd decided to let them redeem themselves at the Castle itself, if they would. A second chance. Well, the car park in the grounds was free: a good sign. But they still blew it. They wanted £11 to see the Castle, or £6 just to stroll in the park and garden - and that was with an age concession. For goodness sake. I sensed another cash-grabbing rip-off. Admittedly, the Castle looked good at a distance, but £11 for a closer acquaintance! I got back into Fiona and went on my way.

Next stop was an ancient Saxon church at Escomb. The church itself almost deserves a post of its own: it was 'different', and made a very pretty picture, in the middle of the leafy, oval churchyard. But it was surrounded by unexciting modern housing, which broke the spell.

It dawned on me that it was a mistake to leave the dales and venture into more urban areas to the east. I'd quickly become accustomed to the high bare fells, the lush, deep river valleys, and all the pretty stone-built villages. My heart lay there. Now I was entering a subdued landscape full of nondescript housing, and mundane out-of-town retail parks, with not much sign of an interesting industrial heritage. It all seemed a bit of a comedown. But surely the centre of Durham would be different?

Arriving at Durham, the first priority was a place to park for up to four hours. What about the station car park? The map said the station was perched on a hill on the west side of the town centre. Well, I knew this was going to be a mistake as soon as I drove up the snaky approach road. There was no one big car park to cater for casual visitors and commuters alike. There was hardly any short-term parking at all. There were two long-term car parks with horrendous charges imposed by Virgin Trains East Coast. A 'choice' of three flat-rate charges: £2.50 for one hour, or £10 for seven hours, or £13.50 for longer, up to twenty-four hours. Talk about milking the rail traveller who needed to park! And surely people did pay up. The train service from Durham station was excellent, an obvious draw. But I only wanted somewhere to park Fiona, and I wasn't going to pay such exorbitant prices.

I backed up, turned around, and drove instead downhill towards the river bridge. There I got stuck for ten minutes. Parts of the riverside were undergoing major redevelopment, and traffic was gridlocked while a lorry delivered materials - concrete, steel girders, who knows. I almost aborted my mission.

Then the traffic began to move again, and I next found myself in a pedestrianised area and had to do a U-turn to escape. Uphill a bit, into a street called Crossgate. Here the gods stopped messing me about, and presented me with a fine parking space. I took it. It wouldn't be cheap to park just there, but it was close to both the river and the Cathedral. It was £3.20 for two hours - a bit over the odds - and two hours might not be sufficient. But it would have to do. At least I could pay in style with Google Pay. An irritating kid watching me from the car next to mine stared goggle-eyed at what I did, as if I had landed from another planet. His behaviour was rude enough to merit a finger in both sockets. But I walked on, like a superior alien who cared nothing for dimwit earthlings. The Romans must have done the same when mixing it with the indigenous British.

The next thing was some lunch. I crossed the river, appreciating the 'classic' view, with the Cathedral peeping over the treetops high up on the left side.

Beaming gods on high directed me into an alleyway and the Riverview Kitchen. This had a decent menu, and was clearly very popular with both discerning tourists and the better-off Uni students.

Packed it may have been, but the friendly staff soon had me seated. I had a goats-cheese ciabatta with salad leaves and a large Americano.

Considering how busy they were, service was pretty good. I saw two or three cooks in the kitchen, working as a team. It was an efficient operation, and the guy who took my £9.10 via Google Pay was brisk but very pleasant. We even had a few words about having a multi-purpose under-skin wrist chip installed, so that one could pay (and do other things too) merely by touching something, or waving one's hand near it. The drawback being, of course, that They (and any hacker) would know your location at all times...though possibly not a bad thing on balance, if you were an older single woman who liked to get about on her own, and investigate lots of out-of-the-way places where strange folk might lurk.

Nicely fed and watered, I now followed university students up a steepish but leafy path to the green in front of the Cathedral, getting glimpses of the River Wear through the trees on the way.

Well, the Cathredral looked very imposing! A pity that the main tower was sheathed in plastic - repair work to the masonry? Or was it stone-cleaning? Still, it was large, and old, and clearly Very Important. It was the main thing I'd come to see. Purple-cloaked staff were saying things to people wanting to enter. There was a service just starting (bad timing on my part!) and a need to be quiet and discreet. Well, naturally. I stepped inside, said wow, and took a good shot of a very tall, elaborate contruction standing guard over a graceful font.

I looked forward to shooting plenty of other things like that. But I was approached by one of the staff, who informed me in a friendly but firm manner that no photography whatever was allowed inside the Cathedral. It was OK in the cloisters, but not here. Ah, sorry...

Oh dear, that was awkward. What was the point of coming here, if the inside of the Cathedral - clearly a very fine one - couldn't be photographed? I certainly wasn't here to worship. I was here to inspect a fine building, a cultural icon, and bring away my own selection of well-composed souvenir pictures. Subject to not being irreverent or intrusive, where was the harm in that? They were asking me not to do what I loved doing most.

They had roped off the main part of the interior while the service was in progress. Keenly disappointed, I hadn't the heart to wait for the conclusion and then look around. Not if unable to take a single shot. I was tempted to try a sneaky photo of the service against the vast backdrop of the high interior. But sensibly I resisted, and went straight out into the cloisters. I made the most of what I could take pictures of, but it was all a bit half-hearted.

There was, in one corner, a way up to where the Treasures were on display. These included, apparently, some relics of St Cuthbert (his coffin. pectoral cross, comb and embroidered vestments); the head of St Oswald; and the remains of the Venerable Bede. Diamond local geezers all. Plus illuminated manuscripts and other things that I would enjoy seeing. But not at a cost of £7.50. And, once again, no photography! I managed one protest shot, from the stairs up, then departed annoyed.

After that, I wandered off towards the market place in the town centre, before getting back to Fiona with just three minutes to spare. It would be the last straw, to get a parking ticket, and I half-expected to find a slavering parking attendant hovering close by, ready to pounce. But I was wrong.

Goodbye, Durham. Goodbye, and not au revoir or auf wiedersehen. I doubt if I will be back. In 1969 there was a song in the charts by Roger Whittaker about his leaving Durham Town and regretting the departure. Moi, je ne regrette rien.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

The Waterfall of The Damned

I'm not usually one to be too concerned over what things cost - if, that is, it's something that I really want, and paying for it won't break the bank. And certain things have indeed set me back financially, with knock-on effects that have meant postponing much else. It's all a question of judgement about their true value, and the beneficial effect they will have on my life. Into this category come, for example, holidays. I'll take a view: if the trip will be life-enhancing in some way - or even just restorative - then I'll find the money. I'm not mean with myself.

What I don't like doing is frittering money away on things that mean nothing to me. So you will never find me spending cash on things like betting, however playfully that might be dressed up. The phrase 'having a flutter on the Grand National' makes a waste of money sound fun, but at the end of the day a lot of cash has gone, and not a lot of genuine fun has been had. In fact, I've better things to do with my time than watch horses and jockeys (or dogs) going round and round while flashily-dressed spectators get drunk on expensive booze. This is not just a personal distaste for being irrational, and throwing away good money on chance events. After all, you can't consistently beat the bookies - I should know: I handled more than one bookmaker when I worked for the Inland Revenue. No, there's more. I don't like the contrived glamour of these events, nor the snobbery sometimes involved, both of which demand ritual spending on a grand scale to no purpose, apart from keeping up appearances.

Clearly - despite my tendency to self-indulgence - I can be rather sniffy about conspicuously spending money without something good to show for it.

I'm very much alive to being ripped off. But there are many, many ways in which one can be casually overcharged on a daily basis. You know the sort of thing I mean: travel tickets, especially rail tickets; admission fees; and parking charges. Entertainment events too. I'm appalled at what can be spent in cinemas, and for seeing live performances in every kind of sphere. What about some of the big names on the Ticketmaster website? Taylor Swift? Ed Sheeran? Gary Barlow? Tyson Fury? Who? What for, really? It's not as if you'll get a chance to chat with them, as you might at the Appledore Book Festival. All you get - assuming your ticket is valid - is a distant view, shared with thousands of annoying people.

No child thrust into my unwilling care can expect me to splash out on a day in Legoland. Not even an ice cream. I am no besotted aunt with an unlimited capacity for keeping infants happy. They should take note.

I even look twice at the entrance fees at museums and galleries, which are far more my own cup of tea. Barnard Castle has the Bowes Museum, a fabulous-looking chateau set in parkland, full of interesting objects and exhibitions of all kinds - the very Ashmolean Museum of Co Durham. But even with an age concession, they want £12 for admission, which is out of my comfort zone. I probably will go and see, but I will expect a lot for that £12. I am used to free entry at National Trust properties, being a Life Member. I admit buying that involved a big one-off payment of £625 in 1996 - the equivalent of nearly £1,200 in 2018 - but I've paid nothing more for the last twenty-two years and I reckon it's been excellent value for money, especially as the NT's most popular properties now seem to expect as much as £14 for admisson. Prices at that level would ordinarily put me off, but my Life Membership card is a magic wand that gets me in for nothing.

I suppose I should have a sense of proportion in these matters. If £14 is the going rate in 2018 for the better NT properties, then I shouldn't be blaming private owners of castles and country houses and gardens and natural attractions for charging something similar. They can probably make out a good case for a hefty entrance fee. Property maintenance and staff wages have to be covered, and they do want to make money from the visitors.

I acknowledge that. But sometimes I feel that they are being greedy. As if the cash they want isn't based on the merits of the thing you have come to visit, but is primarily to subsidise something else that you might not care about, or might even object to. In those cases, you can usually drive on before committing any money, and not bother with their over-expensive offering. A matter of free choice.

But then you occasionally encounter a situation where they rob you without the option. In other words, unless you are quick, you will end up paying something, very much against your will. I came across an example yesterday. It soured my afternoon a little, and the memory of it still rankles this morning.

It was up Teesdale in the North Pennines. It had been raining, and there were still showers on and off, but it was a good afternoon for getting out and seeing waterfalls in full spate. And there were two in particular that I wanted to see: Low Force and High Force. Both featured the River Tees tumbling over outcrops of Whin Sill, the super-hard rock that resists water erosion, so that the river tends to wear away the surrounding rock at a much faster rate. The results include cataracts, constrictions where the Whin Sill has been breached but enforces passage through a narrow gap or spout, and abrupt steps where impressive waterfalls thunder. And they were likely to be very impressive after a day of rain.

It was clear that High Force was the major attraction, the 'High' in the name suggesting that these falls were the more spectacular, and not merely located higher up the river valley. The road signs never mentioned Low Force. Here's one I saw on my way up Teesdale, High Force getting star billing.

Hmm. 'High Force 10'. If you didn't know that meant a waterfall, you might think a great storm lay ahead!

Even close to it, it was difficult to see where Low Force was. But there was a modest amount of roadside parking in lay-byes, all free, and once parked I could connect the access footpaths to my map. I had a look, and thought the waterfalls at Low Force marvellous to see. A subject for another post, in fact! And it cost me nothing. A perfect tourist attraction, then.

High Force was a couple of miles up the road. I thought this would be better-signposted, and possess a proper car park. In fact there was a hotel, a shop, a refreshment kiosk, and a large car park and picnic area that snaked around so that you could easily spend five minutes selecting a place to park, and be more than a minute or two from the ticket machine. (And as you will see, those minutes spent parking might matter) Prominent notices told you that there was a ticket machine, and that it was essential to buy a ticket to park. But I couldn't at first see where it was. The set-up reminded me immediately of those motorway service areas, where equally-prominent notices tell you that you can park free for two hours, then you MUST buy an expensive ticket - and that failure to do so will involve a draconian penalty charge. It was all vaguely unfriendly. I smelled a trap for the unwary.

I followed the winding route all around the car park, and placed Fiona near the exit, to be closer to the falls. Now where was the ticket machine? Really I couldn't see it. Then I had a cynical thought. Ah, I was right. There it was, tucked in next to the entrance, where an arriving driver couldn't see it, and a long way from where a lot of visitors might be inclined to park. Naughty!

So how much for a quick visit? My goodness. A £3 minimum charge! And on top of that, there was an unspecified fee for actually seeing the falls - tickets at the shop. And some other information I didn't read at this point. I had already decided that I wasn't going to pay £3 to park for half and hour, but I was curious to know what the additional ticket to see the falls might have been. I asked at the kiosk. £1.50 per head. When the Low Force had been free. No, thank you. That would have bumped the cost of my half-hour visit to £4.50. Just to see some tumbling water very similar to what I'd already seen at Low Force. And on a dull rainy day at that.

The girl in the kiosk was a good sort, and brought an urgent point to my attention. If I hadn't already bought a car parking ticket - and I hadn't - then I'd better see to it fast. The rule was that car parking tickets had to be purchased within ten minutes of arrival to avoid a colossal penalty of £100 - and a nasty letter in the post which I probably wouldn't be able to respond to in time, being still away on holiday. I realised now that there must be cameras somewhere, to photograph car number plates, and that there was no escape from that outrageous £100 charge unless I got out of the car park pronto!

I did. I parked Fiona in the wide exit lane (it was so wide that other cars could easily get past) and right under the gaze of the cameras. I could now see them, up on a discreet post. Hah. Let them record that Fiona was - within the ten minute time limit - no longer parked in their unwelcoming car park. I also took various photos of my own, just before shifting Fiona, and just after, in case the car parking management company chose to try it on nevertheless with a penalty notice - I wanted evidence to defend myself with. Then I sped away, feeling that I'd been got at, and had very nearly been scammed.

Did I feel regret at not viewing High Force, apparently one of the highest waterfalls in England? Some. But not only was the total asking price too much, the intimidating menace of that £100 penalty charge (with a rottweiler company to enforce it) had completely put me off. They can whistle for my coming back. Another thing. The landowners were the Raby Estates. On this evidence, I can't possibly like their way of going about things, their ethos. A visit to Raby Castle? No way. I won't pander to them. They are now damned.

And it's not just Raby Castle that's off my list. This blatant overcharging has coloured my attitude to all North Pennine tourist spots. I went next to the Killhope Lead Mining Centre, and although I would probably have hesitated anyway over the £6 requested for an age-concession admission, I was definitely now inclined to look askance at it. Instead I went into their rather pleasant (and free to use) Café, and enjoyed some reviving tea and cake.

It cost me £3. Now that's what I call 'value for money'. And I was able to use their nice loo, too. Magic.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Even without an Internet connection on the phone

Now here's an interesting thing. I thought that it would be essential to have an Internet connection on the phone when paying for something with it, specifically using Google Pay. It seems not so.

Three hours ago I paid for afternoon tea and cake way up Weardale, in the High Pennines, where - believe me - the Vodafone machete has not yet slashed a way through. I was at the Killhope Lead Mining Museum Café. The location was south-east of Alston, on the A689, deep in the upper Wear valley. Although the museum and its outdoor and underground exhibits might well have been fascinating, I wasn't there to look at them (why not is for another post): I was there simply for refreshment.

The pot of tea and slice of cake I asked for came to £3.00. That was pretty reasonable, bearing in mind what one might easily pay elsewhere; and in the old days I would have paid for it in cash without a thought. But now I make a point to pay cashlessly (and contactlessly) whenever I can.

Although it was such a small amount, the girl didn't seem to mind. She set up the payment terminal for a contactless payment, and it was at this point I noticed that my phone had no Internet connection at all. Still, I decided to go ahead, and see what might happen. If the process failed, then I had a fiver ready.

To my great surprise, the phone went DING! - meaning that the Google Pay app had done its stuff. And the girl confirmed that an authorised payment had gone through. I was amazed. How could that be possible, if my phone wasn't connected to the internet?

I mulled it over. The Café's payment terminal would have a wired Internet connection with the outside world - down the Museum's landline. That must be half the answer. I supposed that activating the NFC between terminal and phone informed Visa that a contactless payment via Google Pay was going to be made, and a rapid sequence of electronic checks had then been carried out, leading to a successful transaction. The Google Pay app on my phone would then go DING! The arrival of my electronic receipt needed an Internet connection to the phone, which wasn't immediately available. But it did come once I had driven into an area where there was a signal. And I had my receipt by the time I got back to the caravan.

So this must all mean that provided the retailer (or service provider) has a working Internet connection of their own, it doesn't matter that my phone is without one.

That's something learned. Presumably Google Pay will work with a contactless terminal on a train, underground, in the air, or on a ship, provided that the terminal is online in some form or other. NFC works anywhere, of course.