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Monday, August 31, 2009

Thinks to avoid doing - Bourn Market

Bourn* is a place in Cambridgeshire. Bourn airfield was once an RAF base, constructed in 1940 as a satellite airfield for RAF Oakington. Nowadays, the airfield is used by the Rural Flying Corps for light aircraft, for industrial uses, and, on bank holidays, Bourn market.

Bourn market comprises of two long strips of market stalls, and is fantastic if you want:
  • To dress like a chav on the cheap;
  • To buy cheap and ineffective plastic tat;
  • To buy miscellaneous electronic equipment that looks suspiciously like it hasn't been acquired in a fair and just manner;
  • To buy lumps of dead animal from an unfortunately amplified pseudo-cockerney who neglects to wash his hands between handling dead cow and dead chicken;
  • To buy a rug;
  • To buy some flowers;
  • To eat damp, lukewarm, floppy bits of carpet that have been mislabelled with 'Beefburger,' covered with lightly dampened bits of grated slug (those holding the ladle insist on referring to this as 'onion') and hidden between two halves of a bun that manage to be both damp and stale at the same time.
  • To be walked into frequently by quite considerably overweight people;
  • To experience Tonya and her mother having a needlessly loud and in-depth 'conversation' about a pair of neon baby leggings** whilst standing, respectively, next to your left and right ears.
  • To have the more ignorant attendees blow huge gobfuls of fag smoke in your face almost every time you attempt to breathe in.
  • To be run over and poked by wheelchairs and walking sticks*** (respectively).
If, however, you're the kind of person who would like things like:
  • Gift ideas;
  • Innovative products;
  • Things you just can't buy anywhere else;
  • Quirky keepsakes
  • Collectibles;
  • Antiques;
  • A good time,
then you're probably better off staying in bed, like I wish I had done.






* Not, as many people on twitter seem to spell it, 'Bourne'. Bourne is a guy in a series of books-made-into-films who can seriously deck people without even thinking about it. Could have done with him on my side today.
** Why? Why? Surely you're condemning your child to a life of asbos and 'surprise' pregancies before they've even had a chance to think about it for themselves?
*** In most cases these appear to have been brought along primarily as items of weaponary rather than perambulatory aids.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Big Bang

Just found this vid on youtube, and I think it's a nice little introduction to ideas behind the beginning of our universe.



Don't forget you can ask your astronomy and cosmology related questions over at Blogstronomy!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Your Horoscope with our resident Astrologer, Madame Teakay: Virgo (August 24 - September 23)

Virgo - August 24 - September 23

Being the sultry minx that you are, you have no problems getting your own way in most situations, but beware as the moon enters its last quarter on the 12th: I can't say much more than 'don't forget your toothbrush.' Many of your weekends will go smoother than they recently have, with a warm front moving in from the south as your ruling planet, Mercury, starts to bring you the messages that you so crave. A word of warning- the guy in the lift, next Tuesday afternoon: not your type. He's a libran, so be careful not to unbalance him. This period is best approached living to the maxim 'if in doubt, stay in bed.'

Friday, August 28, 2009

Things to do in Northamptonshire - Peterborough Beer Festival

O.k, O.k, Peterborough Beer Festival is in Peterborough and not Northamptonshire, but this series is about finding things to do that are accessible by people in Northamptonshire, rather than strictly things that are in Northamptonshire. Peterborough is less than an hour's drive away from Kettering by car.

We were invited to join a couple of friends who live in Wittering on their trip to the beer festival, and I'm glad we did. First, a bit of background:


Peterborough Beer Festival
The Peterborough beer festival is an annual event, and this year (2009) marks it's 32nd since it began. This year, it's being held from Tuesday 25th to Saturday 29th August, and it is held during the same week each year. It is a CAMRA festival, so you know that real ale is the focus of the day and that it's likely to be a well organised occasion.

Where is it?
The festival is held each year on a large patch of grassy ground on the river embankment in Peterborough. The site comprises a number of enormous marquees, in which the beer, cider, perry and entertainment stage are located, and a number of food stalls around the outside of the enclosed area. There's a car park about two minute's walk away, and it's not much further from the railway, coach and bus stations.


How does it work?
Once you gain entrance to the site, you enter the first marquee where you can grab a programme and purchase (or rent) your beer glass (you can choose between a pint or 1/2 pint* glass). This cost us £3 for each glass, and you can either keep it as a souvenir or take it back for a refund. Anyone who's attended a CAMRA beer festival will know that the glasses are good quality with a unique design on the front and are therefore highly collectible. I would guess that the majority of people keep theirs, rather than claiming the refund.


What does it cost?
Entrance fees:
It depends on when you go, but if you pick the right day and time, it's free. Other times it can cost either £1, £4 or £5 depending on things like whether it's a peak time for beer hunters and whether you're a CAMRA member.
The glass:
It cost us £3 each for a glass. I think this is about standard at most CAMRA beer festivals from year to year.
The beers:
Most of the beers were under £3 a pint (or £1.50 for half), with an estimated average of around £2.60 per pint. Quite reasonable when you consider that many pubs are now selling their ales at a bit over the £3 mark.


Is it just beer?
No. There are ciders and perries** as well, and also a large selection of foreign beers. For the non-alcoholics or designated drivers there are stands selling things like lemonade, J2O, Coke and water, but I noticed that the cider and perry area also sold non-alcoholic apple and pear juices too, which are well worth trying if you like a truly fruit-based drink.


What about food?
Any seasoned ale drinker will know that, while it's nice to taste beer after beer after beer, all afternoon/evening/both without something to mop up the alcohol can leave you feeling decidedly unwell. Rest assured, then, that there are plenty of opportunities for food. These start with your typical burger and doughnut vans for those of you who like your food to be familiar. For the more daring, there was a seafood takeaway stand as well as a stand providing such fayre as crocodile steaks and springbok burgers. Inside the marquees there were more specialised food stalls, including one specialising in olives and roasted nuts, and also one selling pork pies and scotch eggs (locally produced, as big as your fist and in a variety of different flavours- I had a pork and apple one; delicious).


Beer all day sounds a bit boring. Is there nothing else?

There's much more than just beer and food. Off the top of my head, the other things I noticed included:
  • T-shirt stands
  • Classic pub game competitions
  • A general knowledge quiz in teams over the loudspeaker system (basically a pub quiz)
  • A number of fairground-style rides for the kids (and some adults)
  • On-site toilets (not really 'something to do,' but I just thought of it)
  • A stage on which a number of live bands perform during the evenings
  • Pub/beer memorabilia stands (old ad posters, beer mats, bar towels, glasses etc)
  • Plenty of room to sit on the grass and chat

Anything else?

At the time and date we went, the atmosphere was superb. It was genuinely and consistently friendly, the staff behind the stands (most of whom are volunteers) were cheerful and helpful, and the punters (us included) were a cross-section of British life. I saw no fights break out, nor was there any undue or offensive rowdiness. I put this down to the fact that there is absolutely none of the weak, tasteless lager*** (Carling, Fosters, Carlsberg, Budweiser and the like) that seems to attract those who can't hold their alcohol and turn into raving, feral creatures at the merest sniff. Not one kebab was thrown at anybody while I was there, which is more than I can say for an evening out in Kettering town centre.

We're already planning next year's trip- we'll be going on the Friday night and the Saturday, and we'll be taking:
  • More people
  • Some collapsible chairs
  • A picnic blanket
  • A game of twister
My only regret for the 2009 Peterborough beer festival is not being able to stay longer; some decent live music would have been an excellent accompaniment to the beer and food.


More information:




* Half pint? At a beer festival? Well, yes, actually. A beer festival is one of the only places you can get away with half pints as there are so many beers to try, having them in half pint measures allows you to make the most of the occasion without falling over too early on.
** The 'proper' name for a 'pear cider'. There's no such thing as cider made from pears.
*** My friend told me of an experience in a previous year in which a bunch of town-centre revellers turned up, spent a short while searching for exactly such drinks, finding none, complaining about that fact and then leaving. I don't believe that they threw any kebabs at anything during their stay, which illustrates exactly how short it was. Why anybody would turn up to a beer festival and expect to find a can of Carling on site is beyond my wit to comprehend.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

(David) Soul music

I went to Tamworth today, with a few of my colleagues, to visit a recently-ex-colleague and see his new house (gorgeous*).

But that's not what I want to blog about.

On the way up, a song came on the radio. This one, in fact:



I think it's a great song**, and by the volume increase in the car, so does our driver. Now, I love Starksy and Hutch (seriously. It's an astounding work of televisual art). If anyone's reading this, you may be forgiven for thinking something along the lines of 'well that was a hell of a non-sequitur,' so I shall explain myself: The blonde dude with the puppy-dog eyes who is singing in the above video is David Soul, who played Ken Hutchinson ('Hutch') in the aforementioned 70's American cop drama. Aside from chasing turkeys and bouncing wisecracks and one-liners off Paul Micheal Glaser (Dave Starsky), Soul also had something of a musical career, which included most famously Don't Give Up On Us Baby (released in January 1977, and spent 4 weeks at #1), the song I have included above.

I'm in something of a privileged position (admittedly in very limited, odd circles) in that my mum has a copy of the Don't Give Up On Us Baby single (don't you just love vinyl? I wasn't even around when vinyl was the norm, and even I love it). The B-side on this single is a song called Black Bean Soup, and I like it possibly even more than it's A-side big brother. It's horrendously cheesy, but a very innocent, happy, cheerful and positive song with it. Hearing Don't Give Up... on the radio this afternoon made me think of Black Bean Soup, a song I haven't heard for ages. It is that which I wish to share with you, whomever it might be who wanders in from the dark wastelands of the interweb and manages to read this far.

The video I've included below is a clip from one episode of the Starksky & Hutch TV show. Enjoy!






* The house, not the colleague.
** If tremendously cheesy, but since when did cheesiness alone make a song /bad/?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reviews - Pro Fitness Foldable Magnetic Exercise Bike

My old exercise bike broke, so I bought a new one. It's the Pro Fitness foldable magnetic resistance exercise bike (what a mouthful!). There's a review here.

Write your own reviews at

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Things to do in Northamptonshire - Arts Fresco

This is a review I wrote after the 2008 Arts Fresco in Market Harborough, slightly edited for this blog. I might update or re-review if we make it to this year's Arts Fresco event! As with some of my 'Things to do in Northamptonshire' posts, this event isn't actually in Northamptonshire, but it's within fairly easy reach (20 minutes or so's drive from Kettering). Market Harborough is in Leicestershire, very close to the Northamptonshire border. Anyway, here's last year's review:


Arts Fresco
The seventh annual Arts Fresco in Market Harborough was billed as 'an extraordinarily fun celebration of innovative street arts and spectacular entertainment,' and promised 'the best street artists from around the world.' I was interested to see whether the mental image conjured by the phrase 'street artists' – that of poorly made-up clowns juggling (I hate clowns, and hate juggling) in the midst of talent-deficient buskers with signs asking for donations of cat food – could be dispelled and replaced with something more rewarding.

When we arrived a little past midday everything was in full swing and the small market town was already buzzing with activity and atmosphere. Our route into the town centre took us past the Joules clothing store, a major sponsor of the event and host of the Traditional Seaside. A large sand pit in which a host of youngsters (and not a small number of oldsters) were hard at work with buckets and spades sat next to a man with green/blue hair and a boat on his head and a collection of deck chairs facing a stand which played host to some traditional performances by Punch and Judy, recreating a scene from a 1950s postcard.

Wandering on from surely the country's furthest inland seaside resort, we I came across some people with very strange hair, and Fairly Fresh Fish – a pair of cheeky-chappy East-ender fishmongers encouraging young and old to pet their dancing prawns and converse with a gooey eel emerging from its jelly jar.

Spying a conspicuously parked caravan a short way on, we went to investigate. It turned out to be a mobile exhibition displaying snapshots of British life with a slice of humour, a dollop of irony and a light dusting of satire. There was also somebody with an exceedingly odd hairdo.

Working our way past a small collection of craft stalls (and more people with odd hair) we came across a crowd of people. Politely squeezing our way through to a decent viewing position, we finally found out where all the strange hairstyles of the day were coming from: Osadia. These wildly dressed (and blue-skinned) Barcelonians were inviting audience members onto their stage and turning fairly normal hairstyles (in most cases) into extraordinary, one-off and, frankly, bonkers works of art.

Other artists worthy of mention include the fantastic Oxbridge undergrads Artizani punting (yes; that's the boat-and-big-stick method of travel) down the high street; fantastically charismatic and talented Goronwy Thom (who has turned my view of jugglers on its head); a pair of enormous seagulls terrorising anyone with a bag of chips; Jon Hicks, who produced a stunning pair of larger than life portraits of Freddie Mercury and Elvis Presley before our eyes; and Circus Box, the all-day circus school for children of all ages.

If you haven't been convinced by my review so far, let me add that the day's entertainment was absolutely free (apart from the pizza for lunch and the obligatory ice cream), and there wasn't a burger van or glow-in-the-dark-paraphernalia-salesperson in sight: this was all about art. All in all, it was a packed and enjoyable day out. We didn't leave until after the roads had re-opened and the street artists were packing away, yet we still hadn't seen everything. I'd encourage anyone who may be even remotely interested in this kind of event to keep an eye open for next year's Market Harborough Arts Fresco and put the date in their diary as soon as it is announced*!


More info


* Sunday 13th September 2009, 12am - 5pm

Friday, August 21, 2009

How to update twitter for free on your mobile phone

For information, this 'how to' will also be useful to people who just want to update twitter from Windows Live Messenger; just ignore the bits about phones if that's you.

Being somewhat behind certain parts of the ongoing technological revolution*, I have just this week signed up to twitter. At first, I quite enjoyed finding people I know who are already on twitter - so far I have reached the dizzy heights of 13 followers! Then I was pointed towards some celebrity twitter profiles. Now, I'm not one for celebrity culture**, but I have been introduced to the delights that are Stephen Fry's and Eddie Izzard's twitter posts.

Earlier today, Stephen Fry posted some brief comments about a new wristphone he was playing with, and a couple of hours later, Eddie Izzard posted a photograph of a rather nice butterfly he met as he continues with his Sport Relief Challenge for Comic Relief. The important thing about these comments, for me, was that they were about what they were doing at that moment in time. It was a window into their respective worlds, which is kind of what twitter (and other social networking tools) is about. They both tweet*** whenever they feel like it; whenever they have something to say or share. I wanted to be able to that too. They can do it because they both have iphones. I could buy one, but I don't want to. I just don't use my phone often enough to justify the (at least) 100% increase on my current monthly contract price in order to get one.

I googled the subject, and found out pretty quickly that twitter have a text update service, but that this was charged at international rates by most of the UK's mobile service providers (I understand that o2 don't treat twitter's update number as an international one, but don't quote me on that). This meant that I couldn't do something as simple as sending a text message to update without paying on top of my monthly contract for it.

But I found another way. And the best thing is that it involved zero extra expenditure on my part.


Will it work for everyone?
No. You need to have the following things in place to use my method for updating twitter for free via your mobile phone:
  1. You need to be a 3 mobile customer (I pay £15/month and they sometimes have cheaper deals for new customers).
  2. You need to have a phone model that will run Windows Live Messenger (go to this page, scroll down, enter your phone's make and model, click 'submit' and it'll tell you whether WLM can be used on it)
If you're o.k with these two conditions, read on (if not, sorry I can't help you!)


How do I update twitter for free, then?
Follow these steps (if you already have Windows Live Messenger on your mobile, you can skip steps 1 & 2, and I'm assuming you already have an account at twitter):
  1. If you don't have one already, get yourself a Windows Live login.
  2. Go to this page, scroll down and enter your mobile number. Click 'submit' and you'll receive a text message from 3 with a link in it (it arrived pretty quickly for me). Navigate to this link (on your phone) and download Windows Live Messenger. It should install automatically once the download finishes.
  3. Create an account at Ping.fm. Follow the instructions to add your twitter account to your social networks list.
  4. Go to 'your dashboard' at ping.fm, scroll down and find Windows Live Messenger under 'Services / Tools'. Click it, and follow the instructions.
  5. Log in to your Windows Live Messenger account (you can do this on your phone or on your computer; makes no difference) and add 'pingdotfm@live.com' as a contact. This is a 'bot'.
  6. When you set up Windows Live Messenger at your ping.fm account (step 4), it will have given you a verification code. Send this to the bot you have just added to your Windows Live Messenger list. The bot will appear to be offline, but send it anyway. You should get a rather polite message to say that your code has been accepted.
  7. You're done! Whenever you want to update twitter while you're away from a computer, just open up WLM on your phone and send a message to the bot. It'll send a confirmation message back, and update twitter for you!
If you've found this useful, feel free to pass it on (retweet, share on Facebook etc- there are a couple of links towards the top right of this page!)


More information

Ping.fm can be used to update many different social networks from many different sources; the how-to above is just one application.

You could, for example, set up your ping.fm account so that when you send an update to your Windows Live Messenger bot, it sends the same update not only to your twitter feed, but also to Facebook, myspace, yahoo, photobucket, flickr... and many more.

Or, if WLM isn't your bag, you could update the same sites and more from google talk, jabber, skype, AOL or even via email or text message.

Also, as far as I understand it, you can set up different groups to do different things. For example, you could set up a bot that will update all of your blogs, but leave your social networking statuses alone. And then you could send a text that updated some of your social networking profiles. Or you could send a message from skype that updates all of your public profiles, and then a separate email that automatically updates your public ones. The possibilities appear to be all but endless.




* I put this down to being a teacher. Something about leather elbow patches just takes you back in time
** I don't care who Jordan is divorcing this week, or who has been getting out of a taxi without any underwear on. Nor do I care who Jenifer Aniston and Brad Pitt are not seeing any more, or whether George Michael's been caught driving under the influence of Lucozade again
*** Look, I'm learning the lingo!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Things to do in Northamptonshire - Wistow Maize Maze

O.k, Wistow Maize Maze isn't in Northamptonshire. It's in Leicestershire, just a bit further on than Market Harborough if you're going up the A6, then turn off at Kibworth. It's within easy reach of North Northamptonshire (took us 20 - 25 minutes to get there), which is within the scope of these parts of my blog, as far as I'm concerned.


So what is it?
Wistow Maize Maze is a maze in Wistow that's made out of maize. And yes, it is pretty amazing. It's only around for 8 weeks every summer, and each year it is redesigned- this year the maize, from above, looks like a polar bear. Last year it was an Egyptian Pharaoh. The year before it was a witch on a broomstick.
#Edited to add: This year, it is/was a Spitfire aeroplane! Mmmrreeeeoowwww!

Each year the maze consists of around 3 miles of paths, hidden amongst which are 10 themed Quiz Trail boards, each with a different symbol. The idea is to collect the symbols and then head for the 'goal' area where there is a board that helps you to convert each symbol into a letter. Rearrange the letters and you have a message. Successfully decode the message and you can enter it on your entry card and deposit it in the box in the ticket office for a chance to win a prize.

There are also numbered boards at regular points within the maze. These boards are marked on the map you are provided with so that you can work out where you are if you get lost.

The maze itself is an impressive construction, designed each year using specialised maize-maze designing software and then converted into GPS coordinates which are then marked out on the ground by way of 1600 flags. The paths are cleared using hand sprays, and the rest of the crops are left to grow. By the time the maze is opened to the public, most of the maize is above head height. In October the maize is harvested and used to produce cattle feed.

There is also an 'activity funyard' outside the maze which includes activities for children including mini mazes and other activities including bean-bag throwing, hoopla, and football shooting.


Who's it for?
It's a great day out for any age- I went with Emma, and saw all sorts of people there: groups of teenagers; young families; older families; extended families; young couples; old couples; everything in between. Thought has been made about providing for wheelchairs and pushchairs, and such vehicles shouldn't have too much difficulty navigating the maze unless the weather's bad, although there may be some difficulties at points if you come across people coming the other way!

It's a worthwhile day out, in my opinion, for a number of reasons:
  • With three miles of paths to cover, it's a bit of exercise
  • It's a day out in the countryside
  • It has great educational potential for kids: the quiz boards provide talking points on a theme (this year it was about what we can do to lessen our impact on the environment), and it's a decent exercise of anybody's problem solving skills unless your tactic for finding the quiz boards is to wander aimlessly until they present themselves.


How much is it and when is it open?
Ticket prices (correct for 2009; check the Wistow Maze website):
  • Adults: £5.50
  • Children: £4.50 (13 & under)
  • Family ticket: £18.00 (2 adults, 2 children OR 1 adult, 3 children)
Parking is free at the rural centre on the other side of the road from the maze, and ticket prices include use of the Activity Funyard as well as access to the maze. You also get a map of the maze and a competition entry card.


Opening times(correct for 2009; check the Wistow Maze website):
The maze is available from early/mid July until late September. The following times are for 2009:
  • Sat. 18th July - Sun. 6th September: Open 7 days per week. Admissions: 10am - 4:30pm (maze closes at 6pm)
  • Mon. 7th September - Sun. 27th September: Open weekends only. Admissions 10am - 4:30pm (maze closes at 6pm)


Is there anything else to do there?
The maze itself took us around an hour to complete, without a break. We didn't spend any time in the activity funyard as we don't have children, so the venue may be a bit far for some people to travel to for the sake of an hour's entertainment. As I've already mentioned, free parking is available at Wistow Rural centre, the entrance to which is immediately opposite the entrance to the maze. The rural centre is worth a visit even if you've just come for the maze, but also adds something to the experience for those of you who may need to travel further to get there. Some of the things available at Wistow Rural Centre are:
  • Free parking (as already mentioned. Twice.)
  • Toilets (necessary information, as Wistow is in the middle of nowhere).
  • A cafe (decent enough food, as I recall, but with prices that you'd expect from a venue situated in the middle of nowhere).
  • A farm shop (nice looking produce, but with prices that you'd expect from a farm shop).
  • A couple of other shops, including a garden centre, a fish shop (as in pets and garden, rather than battered and fried), a pine and hardwood furniture shop, a contemporary arts shop, a jewellery and hangbags shop and a gift shop.
  • A model village (I was actually quite disappointed in this- it looks like it used to be fairly impressive, but has been left to rot. It's not very well tended, and appears to have been vandalised a bit.)
    #Edited to add: The model village is now undergoing what is stated to be an extensive period of restoration. About time! Here are a couple of pictures I took yesterday: The Model Village at Wistow and More of the Model Village!
  • Friendly ducks.


How do I get there?
It's signposted off the A6 at Kibworth Harcourt.
Here's Wistow maze on google maps
And here's the Wistow Maze website's 'how to find us' section.


Anything else I should know?
  • The maze ticket office takes cash and cheques only. The nearest cashpoint is in Fleckney, which is about 2 1/2 miles away.
  • The maze paths are uneven and potentially muddy, so wear appropriate clothing.
  • Dogs aren't allowed in the maze or activity funyard (there are plenty of fields nearby, though).

Sounds interesting, but I don't live near enough! Are there any more?
Yep. Check out these links for details of maize mazes in the UK and abroad:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Blogstronomy: a blog about astronomy. Get it?


I thought I'd take a few lines to publicise my new(er) blog, Blogstronomy. It has more of a specific direction than this one. In short, I'm interested in (and educated, to a degree (literally) in) astronomy, and I've decided to set this new blog up to give myself a kick up the backside with respect to keeping myself up to date (and at the very least not forgetting everything I've learnt so far). It's here: http://blogstronomy.blogspot.com

I won't waffle about it any more- take a look at my welcome post if you want a better feel for the direction I'd like it to take, and please please please have a flick through the rest of the stuff. Don't hesitate to ask questions either (that's kind of the whole point).

Oh, and if you know anyone who's into astronomy, space, science fiction, anything like that, please share this with them and get them to start asking the questions they've always wanted to know the answers to.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 17, 2009

How to save money on cinema tickets

I'm pretty sure most people know about Orange's 2 4 1 ongoing promotional deal, so I won't go on too long about what it is. I would like to talk about some of the less obvious parts of the deal, though, as well as what to do if you're not actually a customer of Orange mobile.


Just in case you don't know
"Orange Wednesdays" are Orange's way of acquiring and keeping more customers. It is, to be honest, genius. Movie prices are exorbitant these days, but simply texting the world 'Film' to the number '241' gets you a code that you show the ticket salesperson at your local participating cinema (check the cinema chain's website for this- I know most if not all Odeon cinemas are included, but I'm not sure about any others) when you're purchasing tickets, and it halves the price from (for example) £7.10 each* to £7.10 for two of you.


What's the catch?
A very shrewd question to ask! There are two catches:

  1. It costs 35p to receive the text message with the ticket number in it. Compare this, though to the fact that you're saving £7.10*, and you're actually £6.75 up.
  2. You need to be a customer of Orange.


My mobile's with 3 / T-Mobile / O2 / Virgin / etc, so I'm stuffed, right?
Not so. There are a couple of things you need to consider.

Firstly, you don't necessarily need an Orange mobile to qualify for Orange Wendesdays. If you are an Orange internet customer (either home broadband or dialup) you qualify too. Find out how to get your ticket here.

Secondly, it costs just £1 to get an Orange Pay As You Go sim card of your own. All you need is a phone to put it in. Most people have an old phone lying around the house, or know someone else who does, so this is worth doing in order to save money on cinema trips even if you only use it once. Even better, from time to time Orange allow you to request Orange PAYG sim cards for free. You can even get cashback on some requests, if you look in the right places (such as TopCashback- they'll pay you 60p for ordering one at the moment).


Any catches with this method?
Just the one. In the Orange Wednesdays T&Cs it states 'Text tickets are issued on a priority basis to active customers who spend over £5 per month with Orange. Orange may revise the terms of this promotion from time to time.' I haven't heard of any problems because of this so far, though.


So far you've told us how to get free cinema tickets and free Orange sim cards. Could there possibly be any more?

  • Yes! This doesn't seem to be widely known at the moment, but if you've got your Orange Wednesdays ticket, you can also get 2 for 1 pizza at Pizza Express** to complete the package of your Wednesday night out. You just need to download the voucher from http://web.orange.co.uk/article/pizzaexpress/ and take it to your nearest Pizza Express restaurant. You'll also need to show your Orange Wednesdays text ticket.
  • Also, Odeon now have their own rewards card. See my blog post for details and to find out if it's worth it.
  • Finally, as with everything, don't forget to use your cashback credit card to pay for all purchases in order to maximise your savings!




*The cost for a standard seat on a Wednesday evening at my local Odeon cinema at the time of writing.
** Only on Wednesdays, hence being part of the Orange Wednesdays promotion.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

How to save money when buying London Theatre Tickets

If you're desperate to see one particular West End production, then this post probably won't help you, and you'd probably better off buying your full price tickets in advance online or over the phone (try http://www.londontheatre.co.uk/ for info).
If, however, you're in a mind to go to London to see a show, but you're not really bothered which one, or you have a handful you'd be happy to see, please read on.

The best, cheapest and easiest way to see a London theatre production is, in my opinion, to hop on a train (might post about the best way to get train tickets at a later date) and head to the Capital. When you get there, head straight for Leicester square. Dotted around the square are numerous ticket booths which are selling off last-minute tickets for the vast majority of the shows available in the West End. Don't run for the first booth you see- take your time, wander around and have a look at the what's on offer (most of the booths have stands outside them current prices listed for a number of different shows). Prices for individual shows can vary wildly from booth to booth, but most will represent a considerable saving on full price tickets- sometimes well over 50%.


What time should I get to Leicester Square and start looking?

If you get there early in the day you'll have your pick of the shows and seating locations that are left over for that day's performances, but the prices may not yet have reached their lowest point. If you turn up a couple of hours before the evening performances are due to start the prices will be as low as they're going to get, but you run the risk of the shows you want to see being sold out before you get there. It very much depends on what your priorities are. One suggestion is to get there early, check out some of the prices, then if you feel it's worth leaving it for a couple of hours, do something else* for a while.


Anything else I should consider?

Two things spring to mind as I'm writing:

First thing: There are always differently priced seats available- sitting in the stalls gives you a better view than ducking under the rafters in the dress circle, but you pay for it. The same is true with the reduced priced tickets. They're all reduced, but upper circle tickets are still cheaper than dress circle tickets, which are still cheaper than seats in the stalls. Again, what you go for depends on your priorities: Are you looking for the cheapest evening out you can muster, or are you looking at getting a discount on more highly sought after seats? If it's the latter, bear in mind that cheaper tickets may be upgraded once you arrive at the venue if few of the more expensive seats have been sold. See the example of our Blood Brothers trip below.

Second thing: Be aware that the booths will charge a 'booking fee' on top of ticket prices. This is usually around £2, so doesn't push the price up too much- certainly not into the realms of the full-price tickets!


Examples

  • Blood Brothers: Purchased upper circle seats for £20 each (full price: £44.65). Upgraded on entry to the Phoenix theatre to dress circle seats (full price: £60.60). Saving: £40.60 (67%).
  • We Will Rock You: Purchased circle seats for £20 each (full price: £54.85). Saving: £34.85 (64%).


More information

Just some of the shows on in London at the moment:


*Like what? If you've got to Leicester Square, chances are you have a travel card, so London is your oyster- there are free museums dotted here and there and various tourist attractions with varying levels of admittance prices. If you don't have a travel card and want to stick around for a while, there are caf├ęs and restaurants galore in Leicester square itself.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Things that are difficult to find out - What's the piece of meteorite that's at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich called?

(Photo taken by Emma, author of http://challengethat.blogspot.com/)

The rock that is, at the time of writing, on display at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, (currently on loan from the Natural History Museum) is a fragment of the Gibeon meteorite which fell in Namibia in prehistoric times. Small fragments of it were used to build weapons and tools by natives. The extraterrestrial origin of the rock was first confirmed in 1836 after fragments were analysed by John Herschel (no, not that Herschel. That Herschel was William Herschel, the guy who discovered Uranus. He was John's dad.)

Feel free to post any questions you may have about meteors, meteorites, meteoroids, shooting stars as a comment below and I'll do my best to answer them. If the question's big enough, I'll probably do another post...

Things to do in Northamptonshire - Village Connect

This post isn't so much about something to do as just another place to find things to do in and around North Northamptonshire. First, some history:

The Village Connect magazine was launched in 2005 to help local businesses advertise themselves to local people, specifically targeting residents in rural North Northamptonshire. It is hand-delivered on a monthly basis (apart from the July and August issues, which are consolidated into one summer edition) free of charge to homes and businesses in around 40 villages in the area.

Whilst the local advertising is the main focus of the magazine (one testimonial describes it as a "‘Yellow Pages’ for rural products and services"), the aspect of the Village Connect that I'd like to comment on is the fact that it also includes details of many events held in and around its delivery area. Each edition is introduced with a round-up of the previous month and a taster of what's included in the current magazine. Whilst most pages are wall-to-wall business advertisements (as is the focus of the publication), these are interspersed with full- page features on venues such as village tea shops and restaurants, events such as street fairs and farmers' markets, and information, advice and historical notes about exploring some of the villages themselves. From time to time there are historical and human interest features, and Vivi (the editor) was kind enough a couple of years ago to include a feature on the AMEF project and music festival, of which I was both a participant and volunteer (more on AMEF and related activities in future blog updates). There is usually a section of the magazine devoted to art-related events (including exhibitions, workshops etc) and another highlighting some seasonal family events. The final pages in each edition include a detailed 'what's on' diary and a list of useful telephone numbers.

When I'm at a loss for something to do, I quite often reach for a copy of the Village Connect. My one complaint about the publication is that I have to travel to my parents' or grandparents' house to do so as it is not delivered where I live! This is easily mitigated by the fact that each episode of the Village Connect is available to view in its entirety on the website which is itself free to use and features a number of useful details such as an integrated events calendar.


Delivery area
(Map from villageconnect.com)


The Village Connect is delivered to households and businesses in the following Northamptonshire villages:

Achurch, Aldwincle, Brigstock, Broughton, Cranford St Andrew, Cranford St John, Denford, Geddington, Grafton Underwood, Great Addington, Great Cransley, Harrington, Isham, Islip, Lilford, Little Addington, Little Cransley, Little Oakley, Stanion, Loddington, Lowick, Mawsley, Newton, Orlingbury, Pilton, Pipewell, Pytchley, Ringstead, Rushton, Slipton, Stanion, Sudborough, Thorpe Malsor, Thorpe Underwood, Thorpe Waterville, Titchmarsh, Twywell, Wadenhoe, Warkton, Weekley and Woodford.


More information

Monday, August 10, 2009

Things to do in Northamptonshire - Pemberton Projections film screenings

"Pemberton Projections presents... Big Screen Cinema" is an ongoing series of recent and classic movie screenings held at the Pemberton Centre in Rushden, Northamptonshire. The movies are projected onto a screen in the centre's main hall and moviegoers sit informally at tables to watch the film. The bar is open to purchase drinks and snacks before the film starts and during the interval if one is provided. Prices are usually from £5 - £7 with discounts for group bookings, sometimes including food.


Past screenings:
  • Friday 29th May, 3pm: City of Ember (Science fiction aimed at children and young teens, with Bill Murray and Tim Robbins). Cost £5.
Emma and I attended this one. It was a decent enough film, considering its main audience is quite a bit younger than we are, and the atmosphere at the venue was great- friendly and relaxed. The bar was open so that we could buy a couple of drinks, and there were even small tubs of ice cream (of the type you used to get in intervals at the theatre!) available for a decent price (I think they were 50p each).
The film itself was in UK cinemas less than a year beforehand, so it was fairly new, and at £5 the experience was much cheaper than a trip to the cinema (between us, £10 at the Pemberton Centre compared to a potential £14.20 at the Odeon).

  • Friday 29th May, 7pm: Mamma Mia (Musical based on the music of Abba, starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth). Cost £7, including 'Pemberton Mezze' (greek snacks such as olives, pitta, humous, salsa etc)
We went to this one too, despite Mamma Mia not being what I would consider 'my bag'. There were more people at this showing, and the average age was older (I think we were the youngest people in the room!) I scoffed myself silly on the mezze snacks (apart from the olives- yuck) and there was plenty to go around. Some people had booked a table for their group; others mingled. We shared a table with a nice mother-daughter pair who we chatted to during the interval. Again, £7 each plus food represents a saving on going to the cinema- it costs more than that for the ticket alone!


Upcoming screenings (correct as of posting date):
  • Sunday 20th September, 4:30pm: Angels & Demons (12A) (Thriller based on the best-selling novel by Dan Brown's sequel to The da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, Avelet Zurer, Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgard). Cost £7 per person (or 7 tickets for £42), including 'Pemberton Lasagne'.
Tickets are available now from http://www.wegottickets.com/event/56631

  • Friday 18th December, (time and other details to be announced): It's A Wonderful Life with 'Pemberton Christmas Nibbles'.

More information
  • The Pemberton Centre (Cultural Community Partnerships):
  • Pemberton Projections presents... Big Screen Cinema:

Your Horoscope with our resident Astrologer, Madame Teakay: Leo (July 24 - August 23)

Leo - July 24 - August 23

Your particular blend of feng-shui, gung-ho and lovable rogue stand you in good stead to withstand what may or may not be a difficult time ahead for reasons unspecified in your stars; just puff out your mane, roar like the beast you are, and get on with it. Your in-laws or nearest equivalent may be a surprise help when it comes to a financial matter shortly after the new moon on the 20th, but you'll need to be careful entering Debenhams on the 22nd; those revolving doors are a bugger. Now is the time to get away from it all, so book a holiday. My advice would be the Gir Forest, in the state of Gujarat, India.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Campaign against the new GTCE Code of Conduct and Practice - please sign the petition!

The General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) is the professional body for teachers in England. Its role is to register teachers and regulate the profession; its function is much the same as the General Medical Council (GMC) for medical professionals. Membership is compulsory for all teachers in maintained schools in England.

The GTCE is about to put in place a new Code of Conduct and Practice for teachers and headteachers. General feeling about the new code is that it is very vague and therefore open to differing interpretation and possible abuse. There is a lot of scope for it to step outside the regulation of teachers in their professional lives and probe too far into their personal lives, potentially making the separation of work and life more difficult to attain for teachers, and introducing the possibility of an 'always on call' attitude towards members of the teaching profession. This should not be the case; teachers should be entitled to a private life outside of work.

The NASUWT teaching union is organising a petition to the GTCE to call for the withdrawal and a rethink of the new GTCE Code of Conduct and Practice for teachers and head teachers. You do not have to be a member of the GTCE or NASUWT, or even a teaching professional to be able to sign the petition.

The NASUWT's stance on this is as follows:

"The NASUWT believes that the new Code of Conduct and Practice, due to come into force in October 2009, intrudes into teachers' personal lives and fundamentally undermines their basic human rights. None of the Union's main concerns, as detailed in our comprehensive response on the Code of Conduct and Practice, have been addressed.

The new Code of Conduct and Practice is riddled with vague statements that are open to wide interpretation and abuse, putting teachers' jobs and careers at risk. Although the Council has adopted the Code, it is important teachers register their concern and call for the GTCE to withdraw and rethink this Code."


Please take a moment to consider this situation and then sign the NASUWT petition online at http://www.nasuwt.org.uk/SelectSurveyNET/TakeSurvey.aspx?SurveyID=74KJ3m2 .

The Stag's Head, Maidwell

I met Paul and others at the Stag's Head in Maidwell this evening for an ice-breaker evening for members of the new and as-yet unnamed band (hereinafter referred to as 'Way Out Gents' for in-joke reasons), and thought I'd get things going in this 'ere blog with a basic review of the place.

Maidwell is a small village in rural Northamptonshire on the A508 (which runs between Market Harborough and Northampton), just off junction 2 of the A14. It's out of the way, but not too far- it took us about 20 minutes to get there from Kettering, the nearest large town.

The pub is easy to find on the main road and has good parking facilities, with its own car park to the side and some off-road parking available in front of the pub. There is apparently a beer garden, but we sat inside. The staff were friendly and polite, but did seem a little bit scared of us. I'm not sure why!

Drinks prices seem about average, with my 3-drink round (two bottles of Bulmers and a diet Pepsi) costing a bit more than £8. On our side of the bar the only on-tap ale was Black Sheep, a nice beer, but possibly not providing much choice for those with a taste for real ales. It's possible that the other side of the bar had more on offer, but I didn't get the chance to test this theory due to the nature of our visit.

We tried the food too. Prices lie comfortably between the extra cheap 'gastropub' end of the scale and more expensive top-end pub restaurant prices: my chicken curry was priced at £10.75 and Emma's Haddock and chips came in at £8.75. Altogether, 5 main meals and 4 desserts came to £75 exactly, which averaged at £15 each. All of the dishes we had were well presented and acceptably portioned, although comment was made that the provision of chips was a little on the stingy side. Current menus are available in the Food & Beverages section of the Stag's Head's website.

It was a nice evening out, and the venue fitted the purpose well. I'll probably end up over there again at some point, and I'm not disappointed by that prospect.

For more information visit their website at http://www.stagshead-maidwell.co.uk

Friday, August 7, 2009

First post

Hello, and welcome to my blog. I'm not sure what will happen here; I guess we'll just see what occurs. If anyone reads any of my posts, please feel free to comment, to agree or disagree as you see fit. As long as your comments are considered and rational they will be valued.