Bank Holiday Weekend in Banstead

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We travelled down to Banstead today to meet up with good friends Richard and Nicki. What made today different was that we decided to do it all by train (given the poor journey we had back last time by car!).

Whether it’s a sign of getting a bit older, or simply the thought of the generally heavy road congestion and plethora of speed-cameras nearer our destination – just thinking about avoiding taking the car this particular journey, was relaxing in itself! It may be only 100-or-so miles by road, but it’s two-and-a-half hours at least, behind the wheel! 🥴 So, not to be recommended!!!

A rather spruced-up Victoria Station (since we were last here)

Saturday…

OK, our journey may have required TWO changes of Train – Finsbury Park and Victoria Station, but it still felt good to NOT be staring over the top of the steering wheel for the journey! We arrived at 10.25 and Nicki met us at Sutton Station – and just 15 minutes later, we were sharing coffee at theirs and planning our weekend tasks.

Yes, it’s mainly a social get-together, but we’d also offered our services helping them around the house – but especially in the Garden

Whilst Richard concentrated on emulsioning the kitchen, we three headed for the front garden aka ‘the jungle’.

There was plenty of work needed here but by lunchtime, we’d made a small dent in it – with plans to completely remove the neglected foliage. The weather was not on our side. Not only was it freezing cold, every so often, it chucked it down with rain! Yuk! 😕

Cheese for Lunch! 👍😊
Significant Progress! 👍

2.45pm: Back to work – and another couple of hours graft and we’d made some significant progress.

4.00pm: We might have done more, but the rain showers that had come and gone all day now turned into a downpour…

5.45pm: We soldiered on in between the rain, but in the end, the rain beat us – and so we downed tools and called it a day!

Lamb! Minted! 😁

7.25pm: All that hard work was rewarded with some yummy food! Specifically, Nicki’s mouth-watering Lamb and her Mint Marinade!

8.25pm: Movie time! Courtesy of Netflix, we settled down to State of Play (2009) starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck. It turned out to be excellent! But towards the end, I could feel my eye-lids drooping!

11.00pm: zzzzzzzzzz!

Sunday…

Not surprisingly, we slept incredibly well, and after a quick breakfast, we were ready for today’s challenges!

First job was to finish off the front garden – and that required numerous trips to the local Dump!

Three Trips!

1.45pm: We ploughed on, and with Lunch on the horizon, by 1.45, it was ‘job done’!

2.05pm: Celebration Lunch!

Mexican Feast! 😍

3.20pm: Suitably fed and watered, we said our farewells and Nicki then dropped us back to Sutton Station for the 15.38 slow train to Victoria. Richard joined us for part of the journey as he was heading for Crystal Palace.

6.24pm: Home! An excellent journey, with all train connections working as they should! We felt a real sense of achievement this weekend and of course, it was great to catchup with our great friends – and help them out too! The stress-free journey there and back, has convinced us that this will be our preferred method of travel for future visits. Three hours door-to-door with an opportunity to doze, is an opportunity too good to ignore! (I must be am getting old!) 😊

Easter (2019)

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Heckington’s most famous attraction – the eight-sail Windmill

This year, we spent most of Easter with Denis in Heckington.

Good Friday

We left home fairly early (8.15am) and there was hardly another car on the road. As a result, we made record time and arrived just before 9.45.

We’ve got plans to catch-up with Bev too whilst we’re up here, but that’s tomorrow, as we’ve got plenty of jobs to do for Denis in the Garden to keep us busy today!

Scorchio!

And it looked like we had perfect weather for it! After a quick coffee, we got to work. Our two major chlenges were…

…paint the newly installed fence panel…

… and (my speciality!) jet-wash the patio.

So, whilst Ann sorted the fence, I got stuck into the delights of a Patio that hadn’t seen a pressure-washer for a good few years!

Three hours later, it was ‘job done’ – the Patio had never looked so clean and in Ann’s case, all the fence panel needed was a third (or maybe a fourth) coat.

Easter Saturday

Another hot day forecast – this is turning into a very atypical Bank Holiday weekend!

Scorchio (again!) 😁

We had a lie-in until the impossibly-late hour of 7.15am! Another day, another two challenges presented themselves – the shower attachment and (because it’s Heckington) a wildly unpredictable interweb signal of any kind (unless the wind was in the right direction). In fact, the strongest signal was actually in the bathroom, but juggling a mobile in one hand and the shower head in the other, was clearly not an ideal strategy! ☺

We somehow survived and spent the morning sitting out in the Sun soaking up the glorious sunshine!

11.00am: Time to get Denis ready for our Lunch where we’re catching-up with Bev too! Bev had booked The Swan Holme nearby, and after picking her up, we headed for our 1 o’clock table.

Swan Holme Tavern, Lincoln

We were super-early (12.15) but we were seated without a fuss. Service was brisk and we were soon tucking-in.

Score Draw! Gambles 2 : Palmer 2

1.45pm: After our feast, it was back to Bev’s for teas and coffees and to catch-up with neighbour, Lynne.

2.30pm: Time for goodbyes and then we headed back to Denis’s to appreciate the remaining sunshine!

3.30pm: Back at Denis’s where Ann re-organised the Kitchen and Utility Room whilst Denis took on the role of Observers!

5.00pm: Time to catch the last of today’s Sun and put another coat on that fence panel – will we EVER darken it down? (it’s now had about five coats!)

7.25pm: The Sun went down and it turned a lot cooler – so we retreated to the Lounge and watched a bit of TV for the rest of the evening.

Easter Sunday

Scorchio again (again!)

8.35am: With another hot day in store, our plan today was to complete a few more of the smaller tasks in the Garden.

The extra coat we’d put on the fence panel last night, finally (finally!) seems to have done its job – it’s toned-in nicely!

9.15am: First job today is to turn the soil and plant ‘a crop’ of sunflower seeds

Before…
After…

10.30am: Statutory tea-break!

10.55am: Final job of the day was to prepare the legendary ‘Gambles Dahlias’ ready for planting on our next visit…

Job done!

11.30am: A quick vacuum, strip our bed and then prepare Lunch for Denis – and we’re done!

Our work here is done!

12.45pm: Lunch is served! 😉

1.25pm: We said our goodbyes and had one of the best runs home ever – 1 hour 15 minutes.

2.30pm: With the car unpacked, it was a quick cuppa, washing on…

6.00pm: …and then dinner in the Garden. I can’t recall the last time we had so many hot days in a row over Easter! 👍🌞 👍🌞 👍🌞

Easter Monday

Ann went off to her volunteering morning at Kelmarsh Hall, whilst I caught-up with my reading. Tonight, Conor dropped by to have Dinner with us.

All-in-all, this has been a superb Easter break! Weather-wise, it couldn’t be beaten with wall-to-wall sunshine from Good Friday right through to Easter Monday! 😁

Lottie Time

Reading time: < 1 minute...It was a return visit to ‘Lottie the Lotus’ today to give Chris a hand in its rejuvenation.

Specifically, the passenger side-door window was mis-behaving, and needed a very close inspection!

We made excellent progress and by 2pm wr’d even managed to strip the Driver’s door too.

👍 

Steve does DIY! (be afraid)

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In our continuing process of slowly upgrading the House, today, one of last ‘originals’ from moving-in 20+ years ago – the side door to our Garage – got a makeover.

Well, less of a ‘makeover’ and more like a complete replacement.

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Next job? An undercoat, then another undercoat, and then the top coat – to match the front door! The top coat should have been done the day after, but the unpredictable British Weather kicked-in – and it rained… and the day after… and the day after that! And then I got busy on other things
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Ready for Paint: 1st August

Undercoat 1: 2nd August

Undercoat 2: 5th August

Top-coat: 2nd September


Finally, on the 2nd September, it was all done! Next time, I think I’ll go for a UPVC one – this was just too labour-intensive!
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Gardener’s’ World

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Today, we slipped into ‘gardening mode’ and headed off to our good friends Nicki and Richard who have just bought their first house together, in Banstead. We’re here until lunch-time on Sunday with a list as long as your arm of garden-stuff that need ‘sorting’.

The specific target? Their back garden – a jungle of trees, shrubs, and other assorted foliage, that’s all been neglected for quite a few years by the previous (recently deceased) owner.

Richard and Nicki's Garden (June 2018)

Saturday
We left ours just after 6.30 and arrived around 8.45. It was a pretty good journey for a Saturday, but as usual, the M25 was very busy.

We kicked-off just after 10 and hit the garden hard. In the first hour, we’d made quite a bit of progress with Richard on Chain-saw and dump-run duties, whilst we three concentrated on clearing the area. The sweltering weather we’ve all been experiencing in the past week did NOT fully materialise on Saturday and that made things a lot easier with a cool breeze supporting our efforts. By 6.30pm, punctuated by lunch and more than a few beers, it was all over, and we stopped for the day to admire our handy-work.

We enjoyed Dinner in the Garden (courtesy of Nicki) and after all our hard work, the Lasagne and Salad went down a treat! We enjoyed the evening Sun, reflecting on our progress so far – and creating the to-do list for tomorrow!
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Then it was feet-up in the Lounge before we all crashed-out around 9.30!

Sunday
We slept well, but looking out the window, suggested that even at 6am, it was already warming-up outside. I assumed ‘Dawn Patrol’ responsibilities and spent 30-minutes-or-so, chopping up the branches from yesterday’s efforts. Ann followed shortly afterwards.

Sunday View!

Whilst Nicki sorted out breakfast!…

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Richard and I then headed for the local Tip – twice! – freeing up valuable space in the Garden

 
    
  

By 12 noon, we’d done as much as we could. We had a quick lunch before saying our goodbyes.

It had certainly been a busy day-and-a-half! We’d achieved a lot more than we thought, although the photos above tend to imply ‘Work-in-Progress’. I even had my first go’ with a Chainsaw!
Thumbs up Thumbs up Thumbs up Thumbs up Thumbs up



We all felt a great sense of achievement by the time we ‘downed tools’ – it had been less of a clean-up, more of a transformation!

We left around 12.45 and although we knew the traffic would be bad, it was still a horrible journey home. What took us just two hours to get to theirs, going home was a different story – we eventually arrived home at 4.45pm! Four hours!!!!

Note to self: Sort out a more predictable journey home for next time!
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Tech Alert (No. 877)

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Warning: This Blog contains a serious amount of techy nerdiness, and (more scarily) me attempting some DIY.

It’s not for the faint-hearted, so if you are easily shocked, please click HERE to exit!
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OK, so I’ve had my new whizzy Amp, sorry ‘AV Receiver’ for just about 12 months now, and recently re-cabled it all so that it took over the sound processing from the TV and the DVD player. Why?, to take advantage of recent additional sound technologies including Dolby Atmos. Easy-peasy! and so far, so normal!
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But one niggling little techy-doubt remained as the we’d noticed that every so often, the BT Router had a major wobble causing the Amp AV Receiver to stutter when playing music via the ‘net or from the Home-server. Additionally, downloads to the TV were becoming a bit unreliable too. Finally, my latest techy purchase of the rather clever ChromeCast Ultra dongle was behaving very erratically and not living up to its promises.

ccu
ChromeCast Ultra

They all had one thing in common – they were all wirelessly connected to the ‘net. After a longish chat with the boffins at BT, we concluded that their new, recently delivered shiny new router – the BT Smart Hub – wasn’t quite so smart at handling the numerous incoming net connections – both wired and wireless. BT muttered something about ‘BT Routers aren’t designed to handle more than about 8 wireless connections’ – so, in layman’s terms it was simply ‘overloading’ – perhaps another reason NOT to have kids… with Phones… and Tablets… and X Boxes as well!
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After a bit of reluctance on BT’s part, they agreed to send back my previous ‘outdated’ router – the previous generation BT HomeHub 5. Of course, it never arrived (thanks BT!) and after a few follow-up calls, two week later, a shiny new ‘old’ one finally turned-up.

After a major exercise in re-connecting all our wireless devices back to their old friend, things appeared to be much better. But I spoke too soon, and after about a week, wireless connections around the house started to drop-out again. On the plus-side however, at least the wired connections were now behaving.

So I concluded that it was just the wireless devices that couldn’t seem to hang on to their connection.

Then, in a moment of clarity (increasingly rare these days) I realised that a reasonably straightforward – and cheap – solution was possible! One that would reduce the number of wireless connections AND improve the stability of the whole network – Replace the unstable wireless devices’ connections with their wired equivalents.

So, specifically, I needed a wired connection for the:-

…but unfortunately, the HomeHub 5 was located nowhere near these devices (it’s never simple in this house!) and to make it even more challenging there wasn’t enough spare Ethernet sockets on the back of the Hub anyway, to feed all my devices.

Netgear GS208-100UKS
Netgear Unmanaged Ethernet Switch GS308-100UKS (less than £20)

After a bit of research online, I realised that all I needed was a multi-port unmanaged Ethernet switch as well as what seemed like a healthy supply of Ethernet cabling to run around the outside of the house and some shortish cables for the devices themselves. I could have used the much simpler Powerline option, but they didn’t solve the problem.

Thanks to Mr Amazon, everything I needed was delivered more-or-less a few hours after I’d clicked on the order. That left just the following to-dos:-

  • Colour-code/label the switch ports and cables
  • Dress-rehearse all the connections
  • Drill three holes in the side of the house – one near the router, one near the TV/Sky Q Box/DVD Player and finally, one near the AV Receiver
  • Laying the cable round the perimeter of the house from the Router to the Switch and re-cable/connect the devices
  • Test everything!

9th February: Colour-code the Switch ports and Cables
Probably the easiest part of the job, once I sourced some sticky dots with enough colour variation

labelpro

11th February: Dress Rehearsal
The Lounge looked like a death-trap with cables strewn all over the place. The area near the TV was especially dangerous with the TV and DVD unit out so I could get round the back to make the connections. Luckily, Ann was away, and the operation went smoothly with every device was working as it should. I cleared up the cables ready for the live event.

15th February: Drilling the Holes
I needed a very (very) wide drill bit for this, and a real ‘big-boy’ drill – neither of which I own. Step-forward Mick, our local Sparks with son and heir, Ash who completed the job in record time – cheers Guys!

16th February: Laying the Cable
Actually, this turned out to be the most hazardous part of the job – it even drew blood! Where the hole from the Router protruded outside the house, it just happened to coincide with the thickest, thorniest rose bush we own. Trying to get my hands behind it without ‘testing’ the thorns was impossible – as a result, there was literally blood on my hands!

All that was left to do was to buy some extra cable clips to tidy everything up.

17th February: Testing
In spite of my industrial injury, adding the cable clips was a simple task – now it looks a lot tidier. More importantly perhaps, I’m pleased to say that it’s all been VERY worthwhile. Sky downloads are now much more stable (and faster too!), GoogleCast is rock-solid, and there’s no more drop-outs with our streamed music.

Job done! Total cost was less than £50 (including the plasters!)


…and two-weeks later, flushed with the success, I decided to ‘upgrade’ the Switch!


With the unmanaged switch working like a dream, I decided to ‘raise my game’ and upgrade it to the equivalent managed version. Specifically, my new ‘toy’ is the Netgear GS108Ev3. The difference, if you’re not into Ethernet Switches, means that this one can be managed and monitored remotely via a browser or the supplied software.

IMG_20180228_1531505
This means I can now do all sorts of things I couldn’t do with its predecessor, including:-

  • See how much data is being channelled through each port
  • Prioritise a port so that if congestion occurs, certain ports take priority (such as the streaming of music or downloading of movies)
  • Set the speed of the port (or leave it to handle the speed automagically)
  • Check for faults in the cables
  • …and much more

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So, all I needed to do was swap-out the original Switch, plug in the various cables, connect it to the mains and check for flashing green lights…

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…and then see what the ‘traffic’ is like…

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…and it was all working just fine. If you’re wondering about the two ports – ‘2’ & ‘3’ with ‘0’ traffic, they’re spare for any additional kit in the future!
JobDone

DIY and Me! :)

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DIY and I go together like Morecambe and Cream and Peaches & Wise!
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So, I deliberately stepped outside my comfort zone today and dropped in on my friend Chris. The plan was to lend a hand with his latest garden project. This required sawing, screwing, drilling, measuring and aligning – all the ingredients of a typical DIY job – involving some lovely ‘big-boy’ toys!


Big Boy Toy!
Four hours later, there had been no major problems, no missing limbs – just a couple of very smug blokes admiring their creation!
We even got time for lunch where Chris, conjured up some homemade Stilton and Broccoli soup helped along with a spice-mix that I’d never heard of before – the mysteriously named Zhoug!


The it was off to help out Trish bluetooth her shiny new iPhone to her car. That task was much easier, and it was sorted in a flash! Home by 4 where Ann had prepared a full roast – yummy! Then it was out for a walk, dropping-in on Jo and Janet on the way back before settling down back at ours to catch Sunday’s first episode of BBC’s production of Howard’s End.