Thursday, 27 November 2014

Praise for Brookstone

The internet gives plenty of opportunity for comparing prices of the same goods offered in different countries, and the trip to the USA presented the opportunity to take advantage of this knowledge.

I am hooked on the Ryobi One+ range of portable power tools.   During my most recent DIY project, I found that I was transferring batteries between different tools all the time, so I resolved to get some more batteries.  99 euros each battery in France, 99 dollars for two in the USA.  No contest.   The tools themselves are cheaper too, and I got myself a jig saw and an impact driver.  Both less than half European price.

The nice thing about all of that of course, in these days of equality, is that I can now apply feminine logic on my own behalf.  In the airport on the way back, I was browsing the tech shops and saw (and tested) a nice pair of noise-cancelling headphones.   I bought them with the money I saved on the other stuff.

But what's this?  Dismay!  After very little use, one of the ear cushions has split, revealing the blue sponge underneath.  It didn't even last as long as the batteries!  So I looked up the vendors, Brookstone, on the web and got in touch.   The conversation went like this (I paraphrase):

   The phones I bought last week are broken.  Can you send me a new ear cushion?
   We don't repair those.  Got your receipt?
   Yes, here it is, and a picture of the fault.
   Well we don't repair them, and don't replace them outside the USA.  Want your money back?

Top marks, given the situation.  I have now invested 6 euros on a pair of standard replacement ear cushions, just to see if I can fix them.  Meanwhile of course, the phones still actually work.   So I am confident, in future situations, travelling or not, that Brookstone is a good outfit to buy from.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Boston Symphony

We went to a concert in the Boston Symphony Hall.  The orchestra played "Offertorium" by Sofia Gubaidulina, and Sibelius' second symphony.

Never having heard of Gubaidulina, I looked up the piece on Spotify and YouTube, and was prepared to be disappointed.  The piece is based on the theme from Bach's Music Offering, that is taken apart and then put together backwards.  It was in fact a lot better in live performance than the reocrdings I saw and heard, and if I concentrated hard, I could just about work out what was going on.  I think it might grow on me if I can find a well-recorded version and play it through a decent stereo rather than my PC.

I like Sibelius' symphonies, no problem.

The hall itself was attractive, big in the normal way of these things, comfortable and with good views.  Though I was surprised to see a disposal box for sharps in the gents' toilets.  Perhaps that's more of a requirement for staff safety than anything else.

One thing that I did notice was the casual way the orchestra arrived.  We got there early, and I watched as a flutist ambled on to the stage, practiced the hard bits, then ambled off again.  A harpist did the same.  As the start time approached the orchestra arrived at random, and it was only when the conductor arrived, and the violin soloist, that things started to look organised.   Even in our little concerts at the music school, the band arrive at the same time, in file, to take our seats together.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Coffee americano

As I have noted, most coffee served in the USA is pretty awful; weak, acid and not much caffeine.  This trike serving freshly ground coffee reminded me of one that I saw in Paris a while back that served excellent coffee, and the queue at this one, during the morning commuter rush, no less, promised a decent brew.  We were not disappointed; it was by far the best coffee we had during our stay.   The guy running it was chatty and friendly too.

And I've added another pic of tree leaves, because I like it.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Housing market newsflash!

We interrupt this review of Boston tourism to bring you developing news on the hedgehog accommodation front.  (Cue: dramatic music....)

My annual attempts at growing fig trees from cuttings has resulted, at last, in two small trees that survived last winter in my conservatory.  One is now with Leo, the other I have planted out.  It's against a wall since this is the warmest place I can find for it, and I put wood shreddings all around it to help keep the roots from freezing too much.  And as a final touch I surrounded it with a makeshift cold frame, just to help.

This combination, is, apparently, ideal for hedgehog hibernation, and one has taken advantage of the access through the gaps in the cold frame and built a nest in the wood chippings between the tree and the wall.

I'm not sure what hedgehogs use for currency, but clearly I'm going to have to extract my Land Value Tax in the form of slug and snail control services.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Boston harbour

We took a spontaneous boat trip around Boston harbour.  We had a perfect day, not too cool, and with clear blue skies. On the boat we were regaled with tales of the heroic Yankees (Hooray!) versus the dastardly British (Boo!)

The main stopping-off point is the USS Constitution, the oldest comissioned boat in the world.   In order to maintain this status she has to sail a short cruise and carry out a gun drill each year.  The museum alongside details the history of the naval docks there, and in particular of rope-making, the docks supplying the rope for all of the US navy for a number of years.

Boston is kind to the pedestrian tourist; you can walk everywhere and the city centre is not too big.   There are plenty of historic buildings, and Quincy Market, although a bit touristy, is still worth a visit.  We were lucky with the weather: the great wave of cold that is dumping the snow we're seeing on the news arrived about 12 hours after our departure.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Workshop and workmanship

Dick has a small workshop in town not far from his house.  It's got all the normal security systems you might expect for a place that has some expensive cars in it.  He puts a lot of time and effort into the bodywork and engines to come out with a product that is world-class.

I must admit I wouldn't mind having a workshop like his, though I'd probably use mine for woodwork or carpentry.

But although the painted cars are rather fine, my attention was caught by this bit of bodywork on what is still a metallic shell with primer on.   They have lowered the cabin roof and reduced the size of the rear window, by cutting through the metal about halfway up the window, taking a slice out and welding it back together.  On the outside there is not the slightest hint of a join that I could see.  The picture of the inside of the cabin shows the line of the weld quite clearly.  Nice work.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Hosts in Tyngsborough

We stayed with friends Dick and Judy; here they are outside their house.  Dick is into cars, he does "hot-rodding" and Judy is into miniatures.  Anita and Judy went off to a minis show while Dick and I lazed around and did occasional car things, watched television, read.

This is Dick's souped-up 1936 Ford Phaeton.  We took it out for a drive, but only when Dick was certain that the roads were dry so it wouldn't get wet or dirty.  It goes well :)  Later, we worked together to replace the foot-operated headlamp dip switch that had broken, and I learnt something: bolts that have a little bit of thread removed from the end are easier to get into fiddly places than bolts that have the thread all the way to the end, because the unthreaded bit helps to hold the bolt in place while you turn it to engage the thread.  I never knew that.

Monday, 17 November 2014


I, like many others, believed, in the 80s and 90s, that the british NHS was "the envy of the world".   That is, until someone took a hard look at numbers like cancer recovery rates, 5-year survival probabilities from heart attack, etc., and compared them with figures from the USA and elsewhere.

The french similarly have a firm conviction that their cuisine is the best in the world, a perception that does not stand up to my experiences in England and abroad.   During our recent trip to Boston, we ate out for most of our meals, and every one was, without exception, excellent, good value, and big.

Even the straightforward unpretentious 50s style diner (a breakfast and a lunch) served well-spiced potato fries, crisp bacon, and a cheese omelette done to perfection, with unlimited coffee.  (The french and most other nations have it over the americans for coffee.  US coffee is almost all dreadful outside of the specialist shops)

And I am convinced that no-one does steak like the americans.  You get a slab of meat of your choice, cooked to perfection according to your specification, spiced and seasoned appropriately, and tender.  Compared to this, the average french offering is, well, average.   I have never had a steak in France, in all my recent time here, as good as any of those I had in the USA.

There is some snobbery, to be sure.  I think perhaps that the perception is that quality is incompatible with quantity.  So in France you might get a couple of prawns on a plate, scattered about with some decorative garden weeds, and a bit of sauce on top or dotted artfully around the vacant areas of plate.  It all looks very fancy. In the states you get an enormous heap of prawns that taste just as good or better, with the sauce in a separate dish since there is no room for it on the plate.    This huge plate of delicious nachos in the picture was a starter....

I wonder if reality will arive at some point.  The french are wondering why their "best-in-the-world" wine is not selling well outside of their borders.  Perhaps when the tourism starts dropping off on account of the food, people will take notice.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

New England tree colours

New England is famous for its autumnal tree colours.  Although we missed the main display, there was still much pleasure to be had.   A recent storm had stripped many trees, but there were plenty left to display their colours.   I particularly liked the way the matt green pines contrasted with the brighter foliage, but I was never able to capture this well enough in a photo.

We were staying with friends who live near the Merrimack river.   I did a walk along it, snapping some pics, as well as taking a few as we were kindly ferried about the area by our hosts.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

London at 36,000 feet

We flew with Aer Lingus from Paris Charles de Gaule to Boston via Dublin.  I was impressed that we could clear US customs and immigration at Dublin airport - it gives you something to do while you're waiting, and makes for much less hassle at the other end.

Our chatty immigration guy explained to me that my mulitcoloured, multiple re-entry visa for the USA that I had since I was about 19 was invalidated in 2004 and can't be used any more.  Shame, not that I used it much when I could.

Our flight into Dublin took us over the south side of London at 36,000 feet, and you could see the famous landmarks spread out below.  This photo from my phone doesn't give the view justice; the sunlight was bright, the scene was detailed.   In the picture you can see Regent's Park, Hyde Park, Green Park and St James's Park, and, on the South side of the river, Battersea Park.  To the east, just in front of the wing, is the big Eastenders meander in the Thames.  Click to enlarge.

A couple of minutes later I watched miniature aeroplanes taking off from Heathrow, and then we were on past the new competition rowing lake at Dorney.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The mayor's walk

We got to know our village mayor quite well during the gîte restoration project.   He's retired now; he didn't stand again at the last election.  Being (I think) in his late 70s now, and having had a megatuple heart bypass op in the not too distant past, he is taking life easy.  I think he's earned it.

We met him on the road past our house the other day, he was taking a constitutional walk, these being extremely good for heart recovery and general health.  During our chat, he described his route to us.  Just over 6 kilometres, and with sections of it that I don't know at all, so I decided to trace his steps yesterday.   Mild weather, threatening autumnal skies, breezy.  Here's some pics.

Paint and repaint

Paint loses its gloss and fades over time, faster in sunlight.   I've been redoing some of the painted woodwork of the gîte over the last week or so.  Not especially rewarding work, in that the result is simply that things are back to normal again.  And if it wasn't for Batiments de France, we'd have used anodised ali doors and windows, so this painting wouldn't have been necessary.  Thanks, guys.

This picture shows the contrast between the faded and the new paint.  I suppose, in the end, it's nice that it all does look shiny and new again.

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