Mum – A Year On

It’s been a year now since mum’s passing and not a day goes by without me thinking of her or hearing her pearls of wisdom in my head.  Each time I visit the house I expect to see her either opening the door to me or in her usual position, reclining on the sofa, its very strange.

Over the last few years of her life she battled through Cancer and had many setbacks along the way but she always managed to bounce back – like an india rubber ball she used to say – until finally her heart just couldn’t do it any more and she departed this life in her sleep a night in October 2016.

Mum being thoughtful
Mum being thoughtful

What a heart she had though, a great big one, where she never put herself first and always considered others, too much sometimes.  She didn’t complain and soldiered on and nothing was impossible, she’s greatly missed by all those who knew and loved her.

Over the years she accomplished so much, she worked, kept house and looked after a husband, 3 children and at one point her mother too, all in one house!

Both mum and dad were fully supportive of everything we did, never judgmental and always encouraging us to be the best we could be.  They took an active interest in our lives and were proud of how we had turned out.

Mum and dad, courting
Mum and dad, courting

After working hard all their lives, dad couldn’t wait to retire and was raring to go in the next phase of their lives.

Unfortunately, that was not meant to be, dad passed away early in his retirement and left mum to carry on without him and carry on she did.  She attacked life with her full force and was always out somewhere, gallivanting around with her many friends.  With dad gone, she was also able to add to her collection of ‘things’ which meant every surface was covered and she’d ask for another shelf erected somewhere.  But that was mum, she found pleasure in everything and although we could only see ‘stuff’ everywhere, mum could see all her life’s trinkets and memories.

Mum paragliding
Mum about to go paragliding from a boat in Cyprus

Fearless and her have a go attitude meant she’d give anything a try, nothing stopped her and her illnesses were just a blip or hiccup, nothing to get in the way of enjoying life.

She went travelling with Sybilla, took up belly dancing, continued with her art and enjoyed films and theatre.

I can see her now, wherever that may be, continuing to collect knick knacks, building paper towers everywhere and occupying all surfaces with something, but now it’s dad’s job again to keep it under control, poor soul!  Maybe he’s “Mr Toad on the open road” taking mum out on his “magical mystery tours” or just enjoying the afterlife together, who knows but it’s a nice thought don’t you think?

My Bucket List

2016 was a difficult year, which saw many changes, including divorce, a new job, the loss of my mum and then my dog, Ravi, all in the latter part of the year.  So I decided that 2017 would be more positive.

Taking a leaf out of mum’s book, I’m doing more by living each day as it comes, taking pleasure from the little things, never looking back and rolling with life’s punches.  Mum had such a positive attitude and she saw only opportunities.

I’m not going to sit back and watch another year pass, instead I’m being pro-active and have signed up to a number of Meet Up groups for films, walking and socialising and so far have been very pleased with how it’s turned out, meeting lots of new and interesting people.

I get out at least once a week for a long walk and have seen many new and interesting places in Bristol, Bath and the surrounding areas.  An added bonus being that many organised walks are dog friendly and Ruby, my other dog, has been very popular as she’s so well behaved.

Soon, I’ll be camping with the Avon Outdoor Activity Club (AOAC) which I’m looking forward to and will get along to some of their summer evening walks too.

But what else do I want to do?  What have I been putting off for whatever reason – economic, time or just not brave enough?

How about more scuba diving?  I qualified in PADI many years ago so am definitely rusty and will need a refresher, time to find a venue for that, what else?

I’m sure most people’s lists include some amazing things, but for me they’re fairly simple to achieve, I just need to get out there and do them.  It’s not extensive, but they’re enough to go along with and are achievable.

  1. Hot air balloon ride
  2. Dive in the Maldives
  3. Swim with Dolphins
  4. Driving experiences
    • The Amalfi Coast
    • A day on a track – fast cars and Brands Hatch
    • Learn to ride a motor bike
    • Drive a tank
  5. Where in the world?
    • New York
    • The Grand Canyon
    • Vegas
    • San Francisco
    • Australia
    • New Zealand
  6. Europe?
    • Barcelona
    • Salzburg
    • Alsace
    • Tuscany and the Italian Lakes

My first article for CAMRA, I have a feeling it won’t be my last

Published again! This time in the CAMRA Pints West magazine.

After a number of conversations over a few pints of cider I was asked if I’d like to write a cider article, slightly tongue in cheek I suggested a training guide to cider thinking they’d want something more serious – apparently not!

So here it is in it’s original form…

Training Guide 1 – Drinking cider in Bristol

This guide is designed to help you discover or re-discover a love of cider and where to find it in Bristol and the surrounding areas.

Whether you’re new to the area or need a refresher as to where to go, the following training topics will guide you through the best drinking holes for cider and how to recognise your favourite cider.

These sessions will build into a compendium of tastes and experiences which will form the basis of a love of cider.

None, just an open mind.

What do you need?
Comfortable shoes.
A notepad and pen.
Drinking buddies – nice but not essential.

At the end of this session you will be able to ascertain who serves cider, who has a good selection, how to recognise different ciders and how to appreciate them as well as what suits you best.

There are many types of ciders (apples) and perry (pears) made from natural ingredients with varying strengths, in the end it is your choice what you will enjoy drinking.

Most pubs will serve the usual such as Bulmers, Strongbow and Magners which, to many, are not ‘real’ ciders, so why not try something different.  What you’re looking for are traditional hand pumps or boxes with a choice of styles ranging from cloudy to clear where some have a more natural colour than others, which one is for you?  There’s also the flavour, sweet, dry, medium or a mix?  The only way to find out is to try them.

If you’re not sure what to have, ask to try before you buy, most places will accommodate your request.  They can vary in strengths and some are very strong so may be served in halves, so if you’re planning on trying a few then pace yourself.

Assessment Criteria

Before beginning any tour of local cider houses it is important to work out a schedule, one in which you are able to complete the research required and to be able to submit the assessment on time.


The following were all visited on 1st August 2015 and were in the order as follows:

The Orchard Inn
Hanover Place, Harbourside, BS1 6XT

They were selling a large selection of ciders both on hand pump and in keg.

I started with a Cheddar Valley, cloudy and orange in colour it’s a still cider.  It was a little colder than normal so the flavours were not so pronounced
Score: 3/5 this time.

I then tried the Black Rat which was lovely, it’s a little sweater than Cheddar Valley, also a cloudy and still cider but with a natural colour. It wasn’t too cold which brought out the flavours nicely and, to be honest, is one of my favourites.
Score: 4/5

The Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia Place, Cumberland Basin, BS1 6XL

They had Thatchers Traditional and Thatchers Haze on pump and I tried the Haze.  This is a still, cloudy cider, medium sweet and very nice to drink, it was the right temperature and was so nice I had a second.
Score: 4/5

The Grain Barge
Mardyke Wharf, Hotwell Road, Hotwells, BS8 4RU

There was one cider on pump, Reveller by Orchard Pig.  This is a clear cider with a medium to dry flavour.  Very refreshing on a hot day and very tasty.  It was served at just the right temperature so the flavours were all there.
Score: 3/5

The Bag of Nails
141 St George’s Road, Hotwells, BS1 5UW

For anyone who likes a friendly, cosy, cat friendly pub, this is for you. A favourite with the real ale drinkers and just so happens to serve a cider, today it was Elderflower Cider.  Very unusual flavour and you could really taste the elderflower.  Quite dry, relatively clear and still, it was quite refreshing.
Score: 3/5

The Lime Kiln (formerly Horse & Groom)
17 St Georges Road, BS1 5UU

This was definitely one of my favourite places for the night, run by someone who knows how to keep a cider at the right temperature and definitely worth a visit.  They had 6 beers and 2 ciders on, Hecks and Black Rat, so I went for the Black Rat to see how it compared to the others previously tasted and it was lovely. At the right temperature with the flavour to match, cloudy, still and definitely moorish, I was definitely happy to stay and would have tried Hecks at some point too.
Score: 4/5

The White Lion
Colston Avenue, BS1 1EB

The last stop for the evening and very popular, not just for the beers and ciders but also because of its central location.  It had 2 ciders on pump, Thatchers Traditional and Thatchers Gold.  For the last drink I went for the Thatchers Traditional, a cloudy, still fairly dry cider with lots of flavour.  It was served at the right temperature and very drinkable.
Score 3/5

The Outcome

After completing your assessment you will recognise where cider is sold, who sells a good selection, what to look for in a good cider and how to choose.

This session has provided you with the tools to help you to enjoy cider and to not necessarily see it as something for the summer only.


Repeat the harbourside walk, these can be completed in any order, and grade the ciders accordingly to the following criteria:

Pubs required:

The Orchard Inn
Hanover Place, Harbourside, BS1 6XT

The Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia Place, Cumberland Basin, BS1 6XL

The Grain Barge
Mardyke Wharf, Hotwell Road, Hotwells, BS8 4RU

The Bag of Nails
141 St George’s Road, Hotwells, BS1 5UW

The Lime Kiln (formerly Horse & Groom)
17 St Georges Road, BS1 5UU

The White Lion
Colston Avenue, BS1 1EB

At each pub ask yourself the following:

  1. Do you want a still, cloudy or clear cider?
  2. Sweet, dry or medium?
  3. Do you need to ask for a taster?

Rate each cider you drink to the criteria below.

What do I need to record?

  • The location and name of the pub
  • The date you visited the pub
  • A score out of 5
  • The name of the cider

What do the scores mean?

  1. No cask or hand pump cider available.
  2. Poor. Cider that is anything from barely drinkable to drinkable with considerable resentment.
  3. Average. Competently kept, drinkable pint but doesn’t inspire in any way, not worth moving to another pub but you drink the cider without really noticing.
  4. Good. Good cider in good form. You may cancel plans to move to the next pub. You want to stay for another pint and may seek out the cider again.
  5. Very Good. Excellent cider in excellent condition.
  6. Perfect. Probably the best you are ever likely to find. A seasoned drinker will award this score very rarely.

Did you discover any others?  If so, which and why should anyone else try it?

And here it is in it’s published form, now all I have to do is some research for the next one – it’s a hard life!

An exercise in de-cluttering

It’s amazing how much you can accumulate over time, items which seemed so important to have, the must have’s or were needed and absolutely essential!

Suddenly your running out of space for it all, you’ve upgraded to something better which relegates it to the attic because you can’t quite part with it.  It’s up there so long, you forget about it except when sudden cracks in the ceiling because of the weight.

Well, the time has come, as the walrus said, to de-clutter and make some money if possible.  Get rid and make some space!  It’s time to move on…

The list is endless, open a box and there’s more!  But what should I do and which is best Gumtree, ebay or Shpock?

So here goes…all on ebay at, and we’ll wait and see what happens.

Life’s Crossroads

What happens when you reach that time in your life when it all becomes routine?

How do you break out and just do something different?

For many years you commute between Bristol (home) and London (work) and start the working week at 05:20 on a coach and returning at 19:00 to a full weekend with quality time to spend together.

But the commuting takes it’s toll, it puts a strain on the relationship, 5 days a week your single, doing your own things, then it changes for the weekend. How can any relationship survive?

So, too improve your life you change jobs to get closer to home and end up seeing even less of each other!  How did that happen?

You swap walking to work for driving.  The hours spent for work is longer, eating in to your social time.  You start putting on weight so to feel better about yourself you join a gym to get fit but you do that alone and spend even more time apart.

You get home tired and no longer keep up with your joint interests let alone anything else.

Then something happens to make you take stock of your life, in fact 3 things:

  1. Your mum gets diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and you spend many weekends away from home.
  2. Work becomes difficult and not what you hoped it would be, skills obtained over 10 years are not being utilised and frustration sets in.  You’re unable to keep up with the learning community you were once a part of.
  3. Things at home go wrong. Have we drifted too far apart?

Stop, it’s time to get your life back.

No more sloathing and watching too much TV, it’s time to think about what you want from life.  After all you have only one!

It’s time to make some changes, de-clutter, get rid of the gadgets accumulated over time that are just not needed any more.  It’s time to get serious and get sorting!

I’ve also seen some interesting classes at the community college, it’s time to get back to photography or maybe do something different, perhaps some woodwork or upholstery classes would be good?

Then there’s stuff to do together, walks, squash and increasing the social circle.  Perhaps something different like salsa classes – anything is possible.  Making time for each other is the key.

So to that end its time to get proactive, New Year coming with new opportunities.  Get creative and do more…

Is it in the Cloud?

For some, the cloud provides flexibility for learning and teaching while on the move but for many large companies they see this as unsafe and systems are locked down so tight you feel your hands are tied.

For example, this weeks episode of CSI (Season 14 – Episode 21: Kitty) has a severe case of identity fraud leading to murder which makes you wonder how much of us is out there for everyone to see and access?  The more we do online the more information there is for the unscrupulous to possess, you can see why some are cautious.

For many who may be in the middle of expansion and are recruiting heavily this can bring many challenges.  A continuous flow of new recruits who require training in their first weeks means that often courses are ‘thrown’ together.  A steady stream of training requirements with limited resources often means that there is little time to develop new content so it becomes a necessity to establish alternative learning solutions as quickly as possible.

In many areas of learning and development, technology has been embraced and is already well established as acceptable learning aids but when there are secrets at stake what is appropriate?

In some situations the classroom scenario has become either obsolete or reduced to a minimum so alternatives need to be found, this could mean combining the classroom with other modes of study.

Meanwhile, the learning environment is changing and technology is rapidly evolving.  One minute you’re ‘keeping up with the Jones’s the next, it’s old news and you feel you’re being left behind, what you know is no longer relevant.

So what should you do?  Be objective and ask yourself the following:

  1. How do you develop new content with limited resources?
  2. How do you develop yourself to deliver this training?
  3. How do you maintain your experience?
  4. How do you keep abreast of what’s happening in your chosen field?

Sharing ideas with ‘the outside world’ is one of the best methods of discovering what’s new and what’s happening today.  The learning community are excellent listeners and make great sounding boards, bouncing ideas around and testing principles.

Developing possible solutions to tricky learning situations is what it’s all about, we learn from others experiences and can take that into our own situations to produce very effective and appropriate learning solutions.

While smartphones make it easier to keep in contact and network, not everything in the World Wide Web is worth spending lots of time on so accessing bits of information quickly and easily while on the move is essential, you never know where the next great idea will come from.  Use whatever resources you can, network with the learning community, pilot learning solutions and just see what happens.

For example, some of the worst training I have seen delivered proved the old adage of ‘death by powerpoint’ as the presenter had well over 120 slides!  Some of the best and most engaging have been delivered using and Prezi.

Finally, it doesn’t hurt to try something out, what’s the worst that can happen – it doesn’t work, so what, try something else – you never know your solution may be the one that everyone else adopts.

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3What can I say, when I saw this at the picture I thought it was brilliant, Guy Pearce turns from a nerd to a nasty piece of work, menacing in an enigmatic way.  He is an excellent foil to Stark, we see Pepper turn into a real hero, intelligent and caring, someone who can stand up to Stark and not take any nonsense.

It was nice to see how the previous Iron Man films and the Avengers Ensemble were all pulled neatly together for this film, rounding up how and why things had happened and also to see the consequences of ones actions.

Sir Ben Kingsley was perfectly cast as the Mandarin, sinister when playing the ruthless killer, and even better when portraying a thespian and real ‘lovey’.  I loved him and just scene stealing performance.

The core cast were all well matched and Stark’s demons certainly came out to play, Robert Downey Jr is just too good, you can really feel for the character, you think he’s arrogant but really he’s a lost child, scared of loosing Pepper, he has a real vulnerability.

I’ll be getting this on DVD soon and am really looking forward to watching it again.

Never Look Away

Never Look Awayby Linwood Barclay

A trip to an amusement park sees the disappearance of a mother, Jan, and her child being snatched from the father.  When the mother doesn’t reappear, the father David Harwood panics and reports her missing.

The police find no evidence of Jan ever being at the park and as time passes the evidence points to David killing her – even though a body has not been discovered yet.

As he tries to piece together what happens, his life starts to unravel before his eyes.  Has she been abducted by the men trying to stop him writing his corruption story as some kind of leverage or is there something else going on that he’s unaware of.

While David tried to piece together what was happening you realised the he had no idea who Jan was, she had manipulated the situation to disappear and to set David up for murder.  Initially, the police only suspected David of  killing his wife, but when a badly disfigured body is found with only personal effects for identification it seems its a foregone conclusion.

It becomes a race against time, David trying to find his wife and the police trying to arrest him for murder.  Luckily, only one of the police believes there is something wrong, the crime is to neat and David is wrapped up in a bow for them!  While he tries to establish what exactly happened, David starts to piece together who Jan really was, uncovering aspects of her supposed life that really belonged to someone else – her childhood friend – and realising that she may be alive somewhere.

Setting the scene and characters took some time to do and was a little slow going but the pace improved once this was done.  You really warmed to David and you wanted him to win, you couldn’t help feeling that he had been set up for a serious fall when Jan first met him and that his child would be taken away from him eventually.

Meanwhile, you felt Jan was a piece of work, thinking only of herself and what she can get out of life with no thought or care of the consequences of her actions.  But toward the end of the book a small part of you can empathise and understand why she did what she did, even if her motives were misplaced by greed.

It was a very enjoyable read and a real page turner and easy to pick up and put down, it had a good pace even if you did have an inkling of what was going to happen.  The final reveal still surprised but in the end it was the only conclusion.  Still, a good read for anyone who likes thrillers and I would recommend it.

The Woman In Black

woman-in-blackWe watched this last night on Netflix – what a great film.

Essentially this is a 2 person show, Kipps and the ghost, with the majority of the scenes in and around the house and gardens – very spooky and atmospheric.

The supporting cast were all well rounded characters with their own stories to tell but Kipps was the one you were drawn too with a sad back story.

Basically, it’s the story of a lawyer coming to terms with the tragic loss of his wife and being left with supporting and remaining strong for his son.  His firm sends him to a remote location to sort out and prepare for its sale.

Unbeknown to him, a dark secret exists which neither his firm or the residents of the local village deems fit to tell him, but they do try to encourage him to leave without providing a reason.

As time passes, strange things happen and he see’s someone, he just doesn’t know who.  With some investigation he discovers the family who lived in the house had ‘stolen’ a child from a mother who was now seeking revenge on all mothers with some very sad consequences.

This is what I would call a proper ghost story, relying on your imagination which creates scenarios way more scary than CGI and special effects.

How it compares to the book I can’t say but compared to the stage version I saw in the West End it was equally brilliant and I enjoyed them immensely.

Daniel Radcliffe has certainly grown up, no longer Harry Potter but a versatile actor and I look forward to seeing his next project.

I would highly recommend this.

Quiz Software

Hot potatoes
Has 6 question types, interactive multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence, crossword, matching/ordering and gap-fill exercises.  Although FREE its project phase is now over and any quizzes created in this software can only be exported to SCORM1.2.

WebQuiz XP
Has 5 question types multiple choice, multiple answer, true / false, fill-in-the-blank (text, whole number, number, mixed) and essay.  Although the fill in the blank was good, it wasn’t that flexible and not intuitive to use.

Seminar learning System
Has 8 question types multi-choice, Yes/No, True/False, Matching, Ordered, Typed, Free Text and Branch.  It’s easy to use and is a flexible tool in that you can embed questions into a ‘presentation’ and have video.

Respondus 4.0
Supports 15 question types and has similar features to Questionmark and is very easy to use.  Also creates a ‘bank’ of questions which can be exported directly to many of the LMS’s on the market.

  • Convert exams from MS Word, including images, equations, and tables
  • Access thousands of ready-to-use test banks (free!), from dozens of leading publishers
  • Publish assessments directly to an online course, or print to paper
  • Migrate assessments from one learning system to another
  • Integrates with: ANGEL®, Blackboard®, Desire2Learn®, eCollege®, Moodle®

Only exports to SCORM1.2

Wondershare QuizCreator
Flash quiz which has 9 Question Types – True/False, Multiple Choice, Multiple Response, Fill in the Blank, Matching, Sequence, Word Bank, Click Map and Short Essay.  This software also allows you to embed .flv and .swf files, .mp3 and screen captures – which could be useful.  Publishes to SCORM2004 and is really easy to use, you can also ‘brand’ the output files (html) if you wish.

The interface is similar to Microsoft Office where all the functions are in the toolbar and you can set up a blank page at the start with instructions and embedded audio instructions if required.  Unfortunately, when I tried this it would crash, who knows why!

iSpring Quizmaker
Also has an interface similar to Microsoft office but I found I couldn’t add an audio track or instruction page.  It exports to flash only NO SCORM 2004 but you can embed the flash file.

There 10 Question Types – True/False, Multiple Choice, Multiple Response, Type In, Matching, Sequence, Numeric, Fill in the Blank, Multiple Choice Text and Word Bank – and it is easy to use and set up questions

It is a very basic, quick and dirty solution, easy to use and has the advantage of being able to embed Youtube videos into the questions.  It has a good fill in the blank question but as yet is not SCORM 2004 compliant.

Questionmark Perception
This has 4 key areas, Analyses and sharing including export to excel; while the authoring tool allows you to brand the content and standardiise your quizzes.  There are other administration tools such as scheduling for managing participants.

The biggest difference between this and other quiz software is that there are 22 question types which can be created and stored in a ‘database’, it can be embedded into HTML/XHTML but it looks like you can’t brand it.

It can be embedded into the IBM WebSphere Portal, Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, SharePoint, MediaWiki, Moodle, Google Wave, NING and it can also be delivered to an iPhone/iPod Touch.

“All question types can include graphics, multimedia, Flash, sound, videos, and URLs pointing to useful learning materials. Perception Authoring Manager allows you to use 22 different question wizards to create a wide variety of question types.”

After creating the topics, questions are created/added to them, mix-‘n-match if you like.

The 22 question types are Drag-and-Drop, Essay question, Explanation screens, File Upload, Fill-in-the-blank, Hotspot, Knowledge Matrix, Survey Matrix, Likert scale, Matching, Multiple choice, Multiple response, Numeric questions, Pull-Down List (selection question, Ranking (Rank in Order), Select-a-blank, True/False, Word response (text match), Yes/No, Adobe Flash, Adobe Captivate Simulations, Spoken Response.

Integrates and publishes to LMS, AICC, SCORM 1.2 and 2004, Web services API and LMS’s through Questionmark connectors (Publish to LMS, Printing and Scanning, AICC, SCORM, JSR-168 Compliant Portals, SAP Enterprise Learning, Microsoft SharePoint, Blackboard, Moodle and uPortal.

By far it’s the best one out there as it integrates with so many systems.

Question writer
This has 9 question types Multiple Choice, True/False, Multiple Response, Fill in the Blank, Matching, Sequencing, Essay, Explanation, Partial Credit.  It’s licensed on a per-author basis. You need a license for each person using the desktop software, but you can allow as many users as you like to take the quizzes.

It’s OK but there are better ones available in my opinion.

Using technology, simply