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2000's Part 2... 2002 and 2003

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2002- Back to Llandudno in North Wales. The weather continued to be very very wet with floods all over the U.K. so we did not do too badly to get a few days away from the accommodation we rented.
Speaking of which... the Welsh Tourist Board have a star grading system, and the place we were in had 4 out of 5 stars for excellence... I think it safe to say the WTB grading system is a totally unreliable system, having no connection with the world I live in and my considerations of service, comfort and excellence!
When we arrived we found we were on the top floor of a three floor building, with a broken fridge, broken cooker, broken kitchen clock, broken toilet (we got that one repaired on the Monday)... the living room looked large, but then again the furniture was a mere four foot round table with four dining chairs. The easy seating (?) was plastic covered foam (damaged), and it almost certainly did not meet fire regulations on flammability. The second bedroom was 35 square feet with no ventilator. The fire alarm was also broken for part of our stay, there were no notices on what to do in the event of a fire, and no secondary escape routes. Having booked a four person apartment for three, we only had two cereal bowls (that was corrected on the Monday). Bedding was not changed over the two week period.

In our previous visits to Llandudno we had difficulty eating, and this year was only a slight improvement, but we did find an excellent reliable eating establishment for lunch, and an equally good one for an evening meal (closed at 8.30pm).
There are lots of cafes and bars serving food, but the choice is poor, they are crowded, the staff offer poor service, - we found one cafe served a strawberry sundae composed of just vanilla ice cream and strawberry flavour sauce. The cafe on the pier has a notice that electric wheel chairs are not permitted. Many cafe's open when they feel like it (eg unreliable).Many offer tuna as a vegetarian meal.

On the night we arrived we hugely enjoyed a concert by the Backbeat Beatles, a concert we discovered by using the internet before we left home. These four Liverpudlians play (of course) Beatles music, very well indeed, covering all periods. Most of the later Beatles music was never played live by the Beatles themselves. Very enjoyable. We obtained their autographs- they seemed to disbelieve my sons name - George Martin. The Theatre in Llandudno says it has the second largest stage in the U.K., certainly it has a large and impressive auditorium and helpful and attentive staff.

On Sunday we took the bus to Penrhyn Castle, near to Bangor. An Englishmans Summer home, it was profoundly impressive, both in scale and detail, and is very worth a visit. The castle was visited by a teenage Victoria who returned as queen to plant a tree which is still standing. The castle had underfloor heating in some rooms and had early water closets - although the dining room had a chamber pot hidden in the wall.
Then the rains came. Monday we walked East and visited a "tourist" farm, to meet some pigs, goats, and Shire horses. The farm is also the home of the North Wales Bird Sanctuary, which looks after injured owls and birds of prey. They had a number of these in their care, and invite sponsors and members. Interesting visit, but it takes ages to remove the smell of goat...

Tuesday- the day before the Llandudno cable hauled Great Orme Tramway celebrated its first 100 years (still with the original four carriages) we had a trip up the top, and got our centenary souvenir tickets. Total white out up top though, we just had a meal and came down again.

Wednesday it poured down with rain! Thursday, more rain so a trip around the shops.

The remaining days, between showers, we had a quick bus trip to Conwy for lunch at a fine vegetarian cafe (The Wall)- you can avoid the modern drum music by sitting under cover outside. We took another trip up the Orme, this time managing to walk around the farmland on the top. We returned to Bodnant Gardens for another fine meal, and a walk around the 80 acres- you really need more than one day. We think we found where the pastel picture we bought last Christmas was based on and took a photo.

We took a lovely road based walk around Eglwysbach, visiting an almost hidden lake, and a fine local art exhibition. The building of expensive houses for the English had already removed the worn steps by the river where villagers of old obtained their water, and the footpath sign! We were happy to give our custom to the local village shop.
One day we went to visit Trefriw Woollen Mills, still obtaining its power from the local river, although now via a turbo generator. We were able to see the process from woollen fleece to finished product (not too different to cotton, which we have already seen). This mill produces interesting and warm Welsh Tapestry bedspreads, which are a double weave produced on rather special looms - said to last for generations. Cathy bought a very nice blue tweed jacket and skirt and matching scarf. It was interesting to see that for the tweed the fleeces are dyed first, then blended, producing the tweed mottle. Some of the original colours seemed awfully bright, but of course were toned down and lost in the other colours. The mill cafe was only a small tea room but we found an amazing bistro nearby formed from a combination of three shops, with one person operating the bakers, the newsagents and the cafe. VERY nice meal.

Which leaves our longer bus journeys - amazing value, you could travel all day around all of Ynys Mon, Gwynedd, and most of Conwy for under five pounds. One day we went to Benllech Bay, to photograph a view which we had purchased a watercolour of. We then walked North along the coastal path for a few miles. We found this part of Ynys Mon just a bit noisy.

And we did a grand circular tour around Snowdon, heading south from Llandudno to Betws Y Coed, then south west to Penygwryd and North West to Pen Y Pass. From there to Llanberis. At Llanberis we visited the Edison Mission Electric Mountain. Here we saw boats recovered from the local lakes from the 12th (extended log boat) and 16th (clinker built) Centuries.

Back in May 1984 Prince Charles opened the Dinorwic Power Station. We took advantage of the opportunity to take a drive into the Mountain to see the Power Station- which is entirely underground, deep in the Mountain. Dinorwig is unusual in being able to go from completely off to full synchronised 1320 megawatts in just 100 seconds (maximum output is 1800 megawatts). Most power stations take hours from cold, and even 45 minutes from "hot standby". Thus Dinorwig is used to even out the bumps in demand, saving having to waste energy keeping conventional power stations on stand by.

The main underground chamber is the largest man made chamber in Europe, at a rather large 179 metres x 24 metres x 60 metres high. Communications are through a total tunnel length exceeding 16 kilometres, much of it around 10 metres in diameter- ample for a two lane road. The electricity travels in underground cables for up to 11 kilometres before overground transmission lines appear.

What was odd was that the public are allowed so very close to fully operational main power generators- although with some precautions, such as wearing a hard hat, and absolutely no baggage (not even handbags), no cameras or mobile phones. And- for the first time for a tourist attraction- we had to identify ourselves and state where we were from.

After that we had a pleasant ride along Padarn Lake shore in a narrow guage railway (hauled by an old industrial Hunslett engine). Then back to Llandudno by a different route, still by bus- this time via Bangor.

As George is going to live in Wales later this year we thought perhaps he could make a start on the language. He is making good progress. Fortunately the Welsh are very forgiving of English names as Welsh has no soft G (or J) and the closest to George is Sior, pronounced ... Shaw.

What we did not do this visit was travel on the Conway railway line, as the 101 2 car diesel train of 1998 is now in service in Manchester whilst the Conway Line has to make do with class 153 single car diesel units, with seating entirely inappropriate to a tourist route sold for its beauty.

During our 1998 visit we enjoyed watching the feral cats playing in the large empty hole at the landward end of the Llandudno pier where the 108 year old Pavilion burned down in 1994. By 2002 the hole was still there, a little more overgrown, but by now the cat population was a controlled and cared for neutered group of six, and we still enjoyed meeting with them.

2003 Holidays- none really, life was just too unreliable! Time off work of course - no work! (job searching) but no holiday away from home. We did have a splendid day out to Widnes for the September Fairground Organ rally, nice weather and pleasant music. One of the biggest organs (and also one of the pleasantest to hear) was from very close to where we live in Stockport! There were also a number of pleasant smaller organs- I was quite taken by a 22 key Trueman organ.


The year starts in a similar way to 2001, with a job organisation date been and gone and no news yet... no change there then.

By April (!) at last I move to the first floor for basically the same job for a smaller number of customers. Reorganisation of the work continued past April however and as ever, just before Christmas 2002, we get what lookslike the final uncertainty with news of increasing work together with significant downsizing - it looks very likely I will be given early retirement in March 2003, with all the financial uncertainty that brings.

That is now three Christmasses on the run (all the Christmasses since the Nat West takeover) that the Bank has harassed its loyal workforce with these uncertainties. It is beginning to look like a very poor quality employer.

A special mention for a former colleague, Susan Ficici, a lovely lady who was part of our small but elite team. Around this time Sue fell victim to some appalling treatment by the Bank (my line manager told me to mind my own business when I tried to intervene) which ended in illness and her ultimate demise in September 2005.

Very nice start to the year with the gift of some Japanese videotapes and DVDs of films from Studio Ghibli and World Masterpiece Theatre (thanks Sean) - including one I have missed previously, Poro Poro, very funny.
And then our local arts cinema had a Studio Ghibli season, enabling us to see on large cinema screen (35mm film) several classic anime films. Again including one I had missed- the really lovely Whisper of the Heart. For this one the cinema was 102% full!

We were also able to see in the cinema a Japanese animation made only the year before (2001)- Tezuka's Metropolis. Very fine detailed animation, but although only a certificate PG, still a mite too violent for me.

The collections of old tv programs and unusual music CDs continue- four lovely episodes of a 1960 BBC comedy Citizen James with Sid James. Lots of episodes of the American show The Honeymooners, and 20 episodes of an old favourite, The Beverley Hillbillies. Excellent. Another two CDs from Sian James (one autographed!) and even more organ recordings. One of these had a silent track. Take the cover off the speaker and watch though- the track is played on organ pipes in the 64 foot rank, down to about 16 cycles per second.

We found an excellent torch,instead of a bulb it has four extremely high intensity white LEDs, quite bright enough to illuminate a staircase or room, and three AA batteries last two weeks plus of continuous lighting. More of a portable lighting unit than a torch really. Great for emergency lighting and excellent for spot illumination.

George's expected grade at Maths A level is now down to a B, which puts Manchester out of reach - so it is a good thing that George decided on Aberystwyth. He was also one of just 14 non-Welsh bursary award winners. Aberystwyth have worked very hard to get George, with reduced grade requirements. They offer all prospective students their travel expenses for one open day visit (very unusual) and encourage other open day visits. George has applied for a massive 1960's residential block- it might not be luxury accommodation but having to muck in with others at close quarters can be a powerful community experience. Unlike many Universities today, this block offers catered facilities which means George won't also be struggling to cook for himself (although there is a shared microwave available).

Only one University George applied to failed to contact him, merely making an offer through official channels, with no offer of open days, no extra information, nothing. And they were the only one to write later to ask why George turned them down. So no marks at all to Brighton then.

For the first time in many years we were able to celebrate Good Friday joining in the traditional pilgrimage to Holcombe Moor. And this year it looked as though the Church of England had given it a miss, as the Bishop was taking a service down in the valley bottom - only the local evangelical church turned up for their open air gospel meeting at the foot of the hill. We travelled to Ramsbottom by steam train- in real style, seated on a three seater settee, in glorious isolation in a saloon (open) coach. When was travel by public transport like this? The weather was very kind to us.

Our 2002 concerts included a rare sitar/tabla recital, partly with jazz saxophone (very suitable). The sitar is an instrument to watch being played, with so many different sounds being produced at once. Also an evening on 8th June 2002 with Sir James and Lady Galway at the Bridgewater Hall.

We have also enjoyed two concerts by Evelyn Glennie- one with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and the other with master piper Kathryn Tickell. For the latter concert they invited on stage a group from Stockport, where folk music and clog dancing are kept alive by The Fosbrooks. Excellent.

At Stockport Town Hall we met up with some fine local groups- Ukrainian music; an Accordian Band, and Recorder Band, and the Pantonic Steel Band. And on the very same day we bought at the Town Hall some watercolours painted by locals - some flowers, a couple of landscapes, including Benllech Bay in Ynys Mon, and a tabby cat, which we found had been painted by a lady only a couple of houses away from us.

One regular performer at Stockport Town Hall was the Stockport Symphony Orchestra, who in 2002 often played unusual and rare pieces of music - very well indeed. But they had no web page, so for my own personal use I put up a web page detailing their seasonal programme. This continued for some years, then they launched their own web site and I closed my page down. Unfortunately their web site became buggy in 2010 (and remains so in 2013) such that their programme was not readily available. So I relaunched my brief page! Over the years they have drifted rather towards the "regular" pieces of music and, to our distress, to more vocal works. There have also been some distracting conductors we prefer to avoid. However, here is an archived copy of my 2003 SSO programme web page.

Manchester was home to the 2002 Commonwealth Games, which seemed like a good time to go on holiday and watch it all from a distance on tv. Virtually all of the seats were sold, and by all accounts it was considered a huge success. Before we went away I did see a lovely bit of dancing and drumming by a group from Papua New Guinea, who had brought along their split log drums. Fortunately it was a warm day as they did not wear a great deal. Also on the day of the opening ceremony I saw Evelyn Glennie carrying the baton through the city centre (in person, not on television).

After an astonishing 28 years our central heating boiler was at last condemned and we had a new condensing boiler put in - very much smaller and it probably won't last as quarter as long as the old boiler - but taking into account inflation, it was cheaper, and in theory should give us lower operating costs. By its nature though the maintenance is quite a bit more costly.

August was A level results time, with George leaving College with five A levels, an AS level, and Key Skills. For his A levels he achieved two Grade As and three Grade Bs. As anticipated the Maths was a B, the Physics was so close to an A- only another 8 marks and one of those Bs would have been an A. The reported fall in A level entrants was almost entirely in Maths, where the initial AS level was considered to have been a little on the hard side, dissuading those who would otherwise have failed at A level from attempting it - fewer tried Maths A level, the same number passed, giving a higher pass rate.

So in September it was a train ride to deliver George to Aberystwyth University for a Computer Science course - and the rest is up to him.

Then to get over the emotional upheaval we spent a few days - just the two of us - in a lovely little guest house in Rhyl, North Wales. Rhyl has problems, with very depressed areas, drugs, and an awful lot of Council money wasted on building a new sea front area which looks awful and attracts few. The Sun Centre was closed. The Sky Tower was closed... well we did go out ouf season.
We fed extremely well, and made use of the limited but regular local bus services to visit St Asaph (Cathedral) and Denbigh (Castle). We also enjoyed a short walk along the river to Rhuddlan (church closed, castle closed).

We found in a local shop a fascinating story - true - which in retrospect shows my childhood was not without risks. As a youngster we often visited grandparents in Northop and walked down the Green. We also visited my grandmother in Mold. And near to each place was one of the most hazardous places in the UK - so much so that as late as the current decade, the Chemical Weapons Inspectorate have demanded the UK take clean up operations.
Yep- a major chemical weapon plant, used not only for making UK weapons, but later as storage for German weapons. And just a bit later, for the first UK nuclear research, the team later passing their discoveries on to the Manhattan Project, and then moving away to Harwell.
Mold came so close to having the UK's first Nuclear Reactor....
The site remains very heavily contaminated and unusable. Two other sites (one near Northop) are in private ownership and therefore outside the scope of the investigation - but are probably also contaminated.
The German chemicals were shipped out along the roads of Mold with minimal precautions whilst I was there as a child. Scary isn't it! I checked up the details on official Government web sites- isn't open government wonderful.

The BBC started a digital radio channel said to have classic comedy on December 15th. Digital radio sets are not very easily available at affordable costs (even after the BBC has been broadcasting for five years). We do not fancy the digital tv options, which include some digital radio channels. So I sought out a nice economic digital radio from Videologic. At first the BBC is not broadcasting many of the older programs, but I am assured more are to come. As a bonus we also have a commercial station (OneWord) which broadcasts some classic American radio programs, and a station especially for us Primetime (target audience- the over 50's) [One word did not last very long, leaving BBC7, later BBC 4+. the name change also reflecting more aggressive modern programming].

What happens in December? Well, the Bank has a reorganisation and my job is at risk isn't it. This time the message is clear- there are not enough jobs for everyone. And so Christmas is just a bit more dulled than usual - we didnt open some of our presents until the 27th!!!

George returned home for a month in December 2002, and must have found us very dull company indeed due to the stresses. He spent New Year with his Uni friends, so we had our first New Year on our own too.
After George returned to Aber, and just before my birthday in February, the Bank comes out with it- we don't have a job for you here. There is this job in the Post Room, or you can take Voluntary Early Redundancy. You have a week to think it over.

Well, lots of time spent with Excel working out the many financial ramifications - we do not have as much money available if I take the retirement option, and no guarantee of getting more work. Do we take the risk? How much short will we be and can we cope at worst? The wonders of spread sheets. The difference between an inconvenience and an adventure is largely one of outlook. On to job hunting - looking for a less stressful part time local job. Officially, as I have a pension, I will never appear in the Government statistics as unemployed. Or receive any unemployment benefits (now renamed Job Seekers Allowance).

Easter 2003 has been very hot, and Good Friday saw the three of us heading to Ramsbottom, to climb up to the Peel Monument and Holcombe Moor. Lovely day out.
Job hunting is an interesting past time, alerting you to the very many really bad employers out there. Employment agencies (now called recruiters)- ha. Seriously unfunny. And the firms who use such.

No Summer holiday this year as I was looking for work.

I found the time to do some serious work on the house (decoration) and did a week working for our local council- on their IT help desk of all things, with no training or experience. They offered me a potential five month job, but as that involved closing the department down, and was full time, I said no thanks - I've been there, done that. And in June I had a splendid interview with the National Probation Service. They said they would get back to me in a month and they did- to say they had no suitable jobs at present but would keep me in mind for six months.

So I wasn't in a position to take the Stockport job really- with a good prospect ahead for a better paid job. The PB kept sending me lists of vacancies. Then they rang and modified the terms of one vacancy enough for me to take it - reduced the hours and the locations. It was a six month fixed term contract, but just what what I needed. An admin post, not a "front line" post.

Whilst waiting I also obtained an ECDL - a supposedly European recognised computer qualification that some employers ask for, which says you know a keyboard from an aardvark. The course costs over a hundred pounds. I found the college I attended, which was happy to take my money, was unable to offer any tuition materials for module one, even after the principal had promised it to me. The material for course two was for the wrong operating system, and no PC was available with the access rights required. And half of module seven had no material. Some of the college staff went out of their way to be very unhelpful. Adult education? No thanks. Good job I knew computers and could pass the exams without their help. [It was not long before the college was taken over, demolished and is now a housing estate].

Meanwhile we had to get George from Aber for the Summer break- breakdowns on the railway meant I just got into Aber to meet George at the station to come home. Taking him back after the summer break was worse- again due to rail problems I had to abandon him in Shrewsbury, as there was little prospect of my getting to Aber and back home the same day. British railways today? Unuseable. Consequently I am travelling to work now by bus.

The long hot Summer caused the final expiry of our 1995 486 DX2-66 PC, our first PC. And therefore our ability to run all those old but fun DOS programs which use weird video modes long since dropped from video cards in favour of Windows limited choices. So- a new PC perhaps. With prices dropping and performance increasing, each PC we buy is cheaper and more powerful. The only retail operating system on sale is Microsoft XP. Possibly useful for many, but not even close to what I want from a PC, much much too bossy and restricted.

It took a while but I managed to get a PC with NO operating system- and within minutes, before partitioning the hard disks, was connected to the internet - even to my Bank, which claims to require Netscape or IE.... how? Boot Linux from a bootable CD! When we have finished setting it all up I will put a description of our 2003 PC online to compare to our 1998 PC - which has had another PSU replacement in 2003, and a new CPU + faster CPU cooling fan in 2004.

And most of my old DOS programs will work fine- even Epic Pinball. I can still run IBM Displaywrite 4 word processor!

As our bedroom wall lamps were now well worn I looked for replacements- bedroom wall lamps seem very out of fashion, all you can get is lamps for your bedside table (fine if you have one!). I finally settled on a dichroic lamp stand (GU10 base) but instead of using the 35 watt lamp supplied, purchased some 1.8 watt LED lamps (with GU10 base!). The first pair of these 30,000 hour lamps failed within a month! and a replacement lamp only lasted three months, so still with the same GU10 base, now I have a lamp using one of the efficient fluorescent fittings, this time drawing 9 watts but with a less directional beam than the LEDs.

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