Poop! Poop! Driving along, singing that song..

Yesterday I had my first driving lesson after a 20 year gap.

Starting off right by the Top Gear Test Track at Dunsfold Aerodrome, I was instructed to drive my way up to Shalford (just outside of Guildford) and take the back roads back to Dunsfold.  All this in an automatic Ford Focus.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  It felt odd, but strangely natural. The pedals (just two of them) took a bit of getting used to what with my size 12 feet, but I’m sure I’ll be able to regulate acceleration and braking mix much better as the weeks go by (occasionally I did let the car drift by itself – automatics tend to do this thanks to their more complex transmission system).  It also felt very odd only having to use one foot (to avoid hitting the brake and gas pedals simulatenously) to do all the work.

I will say this: my decision to take lessons in an automatic was the right decision.  We had a bit of a discussion with the instructor (a former policeman) who told me that most new lorries (and other larger vehicles) are now fully automatics.  Not that I intend to apply for an HGV licence and buy a lorry or massive van anytime soon..

We took on roundabouts (usually taking the 2nd exit – I managed to screw up the first one, but only because I assumed the second exit was going back on ourselves – everything else was fine after that), junctions, narrow roads and narrow bridges.  Had a

I  had a little bit of trouble judging how close we were to a row of parked cars on a narrow lane, but nevertheless no one (or thing) was harmed as I pootled by. Otherwise I kept within the road markings.  And usually within the speed limit.  Usually.  A couple of times I went about 5-10mph above the speed limit (encountering one of those signs that tells you that you’re going too fast), but soon managed to get back within the limit quickly.

I do need to work on looking out for the speed limit signs – some of them are pretty small and out the way along the backroads of Surrey.  Similarly, I need to brush up my junction markings – since these can mean different things.

All in all, it was a great lesson!  I’ve got a great instructor in Paul, and he kept me talking all the while driving (but also ensuring that I was keeping my eyes on the road, speedometer and mirrors).

I even got to do a bit of reversing at the end of the lesson, in order to turn the car around in the company car park.  Not sure I can manage the full intricacies of parking properly at the moment, but I feel it shouldn’t be too difficult – and that was something I was worried about.  Hoping I might be ready for the test within 20-30 hours worth of lessons instead of the 40 I was planning.  I’ve already block booked 10 lessons, so it’s all go from now on..

In which I visit Oxfordshire and find it most agreeable..

Last week I took some time off work to go visit Bicester (pronounced “bister” and not “bi-cest-er” as I originally thought, because I’m an idiot) and it was the very first time I used Airbnb, the website that connects hosts with those looking for lodging.

Need a place to stay in and around Bicester? Then let me recommend to you Bicester Heritage.

There have been plenty of horror stories with Airbnb in the media, but almost everybody I’ve personally spoken to has always had something positive to say about it.  I decided that I’d start off with staying somewhere that looked professional rather than somebody’s own home.  I chose to stay at the Bicester Heritage Crew Rooms.  Specifically, I stayed at the Bowen-Buscarlet room – the largest of the rooms available.

My home away from home for two nights. The Bowen-Buscarlet crew room at Bicester Heritage

Bicester Heritage is well positioned.  It’s a former RAF base which is now home to the restoration, storage, and enjoyment of classic vintage cars, motorcycles, and aircraft.

As I don’t drive yet (my first lesson starts next week!), I had to take a taxi from Bicester Town train station (cost is £6 without tip).  Ten minutes later I was there, and making my way through the security barrier, I was greeted warmly and taken to the room which is situated behind the Pump House.  The Pump House recently played host to the film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing.  The building was used in the sequences in which Turing is building his Enigma code-busting computer.

Building 82 (The Pump House) at Bicester Heritage, as seen in The Imitation Game.
Building 82 (The Pump House) at Bicester Heritage, as seen in The Imitation Game.

Bicester Heritage very much reminds me of where I work – Dunsfold Aerodrome.  Both offer excellent filming potential, although Dunsfold doesn’t offer any form of accommodation.  Speaking of which, I was hugely amused by the books from Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond within the bedroom and living areas.  Reminded me of a certain TV show that is filming next door to where I work (albeit with a change of staff).

The Oxfordshire countryside is absolutely beautiful.  I went up to Woodstock, home of Blenheim Palace to walk through the park (since the main house and gardens are shut until mid-February).  Absolutely stunning.  I’ve bought an annual pass in the hope of returning later this year.

The town of Woodstock. Great village, with plenty of little shops and great places to eat and drink. Also: churches.
The town of Woodstock. Great village, with plenty of little shops and great places to eat and drink. Also: churches.

It was a beautiful day, albeit rather cold.

DSC00546 DSC00545 DSC00547 DSC00548

The park itself is an ideal location for dog walkers and for long walks. Capability Brown sure knew how to landscape, and this is reflected in the beauty surrounding the palace.

Overall it was a wonderful two days, and I expect to be returning to Bicester a fair bit over the coming weeks and months.  Being able to drive will certainly help (~1 hour by road versus ~2 hours by train).

Bicester Town train station. Takes about 50 minutes to get into central London (Marleybone Station).

If I’m to drive, I’d better knuckle down and make sure I commit the following material to my brain:


Facebonking across the universe, boldly going forward because we can’t find reverse..

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.

On one hand, I detest that most people (and companies) treat it like it was the internet and that it was the ONLY thing out there.  As such, the whole notion of “net neutrality” goes right out the window.  Remember, that a single corporation controls it all and as such if you value your data, product or brand, be aware that Facebook can do whatever they damn well please.  At any time.

So there’s that.

Then I hear about all the family and friend spats that happen on Facebook. This person unfriending that person because they did x,y and z.  So that puts me off as well.  I’d rather stay right out of that sort of thing.

But on the other hand, if there is one social media to unite them all, it’s Facebook.  Many of my friends are on FB and not Twitter or Google+.  Google+ is a lovely social media platform, but Google doesn’t really seem to know what to do with it, and it’s all a bit of a mess if the truth be told.

So I’m going to give Facebook (or Facebonk as I affectionally call it) another go.  If any of my regular readers are on Facebook, my profile is here.  I make no promises to how long I stay around, but I’ll try my hardest this time not to lose my patience with Zuckerberg and chums.

One of the benefits of Facebook is that I’ve already been able to reconnect with family.  So that’s a positive side already.

(Note to Facebook iOS development team – how about fixing it so that the iPad app makes full use of the iPad Pro resolution – at the moment it’s like looking at an app for somebody with bad eyesight.)

Toot! Toot! ARGHHHHH! Beep! Beep!

Train fares going up.  Tickets being ruined by the very machines designed to read them and let you through the barriers.  Commuting hell.

The time has come, my friends, for me to learn to drive.

I’ve applied for my provisional driving licence (albeit the DVLA web site kept throwing up multiple technical errors and I had to redo the application twice), and once that’s done, I’ll be seeking to learn to drive an automatic motor vehicle.

Why automatic?  Why not learn on a manual?  Well, two reasons.  As technology improves, the humble motor car is fast becoming a computer on wheels.  We’re almost, but not quite, at the stage of driverless cars.  I’d imagine that even a reasonable cheap and cheerful automatic car has enough gubbins to work out an efficient way of managing fuel and other whatnots associated with getting the driver from A to B.

Plus, while I’m sure most experienced drivers do not have to even think about the clutch and what gear they’re in – I’d rather get up to speed quickly and just concentrate avoiding idiot drivers and getting to my destination in the quickest and easiest way possible without having to worry about what gear I’m in, or the dreaded clutch pedal.

Let’s just hope I fare better than this:

Or encounter road rage:

iPad Pro: two weeks on

I’m using my iPad Pro every day out and about when I’m not using the MacBook Pro.  Following on from my “quick” initial review, I’d like to point out a few issues I’ve come across:

  • Google Chrome for iOS running on the iPad Pro doesn’t provide full desktop versions of websites as I initially thought.  It will load the mobile version (as one would expect with smaller iOS devices), but one assumes these are resolution independent mobile versions (just as there are resolution independent desktop versions) since these will fill the display to look like the desktop version of the site.  But there are exceptions. Gmail, for example, definitely loads as the mobile version.  Requesting the desktop version in Chrome is low-res, terribly slow, and not recommended.
  • This has lead to some problems – especially if a site uses Javascript.  On the Pamper Parcels website (highly recommended BTW, if you’re looking for a gift for somebody), I couldn’t accurately complete the form because of the way it scrolls the page after completing a set of contact form fields.  I had to use my MacBook Pro and full desktop Chrome to complete the order. Difficult to say where the problem lies – whether it’s Chrome or iOS.  I suspect a bit of both.  I should have tried Safari.
  • Blogging with the iPad Pro is fantastic.  The last few posts were written via Chrome for iOS running on the iPad Pro and directly entered into WordPress.  I’m picking up quite a typing speed with the Smart Keyboard.  Adding photos via the iCloud Photo Library is quick and easy to do.
  • Going back to Chrome for iOS again, there are some sites where text entry becomes problematic even with the hardware keyboard.  I’m not sure whether this is a Chrome issue, but I found that in some cases the capitalisation of text to be a tad wonky (a good technical term there).  iOS for iPad Pro should, upon detection of a hardware keyboard (Smart Keyboard, Logitech’s CREATE keyboard case), disable automatic text correction and capitalisation.  I found automatic correction/capitalisation hugely annoying when typing with the Smart Keyboard, and had to disable it.  This disables it across the entire device – so even if I remove the keyboard and use the virtual one, it’ll remain disabled until I go and switch it on again.
  • Even then, I experience weird bugs whereby I’d find that some words were capitalised unintentionally.  I’d be in the middle of a sentence, and This WouLD BE CAPITALISED LIKE THIS.  I might have accidently pressed Caps Lock (that key is rather large for my ET fingers), but when attempting to correct, I simply could not switch to lower case without deleting text previous to the muck up.  That sounds like an iOS bug to me.

I would still like Apple and Microsoft to make it possible to set a default zoom view for Pages and Microsoft Word under iOS since the default view’s text size is stonking huge.  Pinch-zoom fixes this, but having to do this at the start of loading each document is a pain.