Saturday, 31 July 2010

Peace and Acceptance at Long Last.

It's just over a year now since my beloved godfather, Jim Blance, died. There's not a day that goes by when I do not think of him and what he brought into my life.

Jim was a fabulous friend and godfather. He was the best godfather anyone could ever have. He was very fond of us all alongside his family, friends, racing horses, music, film, books, funny stories (repeated ad infinitum!), cigarettes, countryside, history, golf, allotment gardening, plus many other things and people.

I remember him part owning at least one race horse when I was little. He used to ask me to design racing colours for his horse.

He was always around. Even when he wasn't in our lives for a few years I still felt that he was there. He was in our heads and hearts.

He was my father's best friend. "Brunna" he called my Dad affectionately. He seemed to be the one who could cope with my father. Jim thoroughly understood him - a complex man who can be a heavyweight intellectual at times. Every Sunday morning they would get together to put the world to rights.

Jim was a simple man. Simple as in tastes and wants only. He too had a fantastic mind. He got into Oxford University from South Shields Grammar School where he and my father first met. My father found out (much later from Jim) that he'd missed getting in to the same college by a cat's whisker. Brunna had been ousted in favour of a chap who'd done his military service (which had been abolished before my father could get anywhere near it).

But I digress. Jim was happiest when he had his boys, John and Ben, his cigarettes, his newspaper, his racing form and latterly, Marj, near him and in his life. Some years after his first marriage floundered Marj (or Marjorie) and he had literally bumped into one another on Hexham High Street around 2001. Marj, Jim's former South Shields flame, was known to my parents too. By amazing co-incidence she and my husband had sat at the same desk in Fairfields Halls Art Centre in Croydon, at different periods but not at the same time. They found they had lots of work acquaintances in common.

And so it all came together for Jim.

Jim was one of the main reasons that I wanted to settle in this region. He had a hugely calming effect on me. You knew you could turn up at any time and he'd make you feel welcome. You knew where you were with Jim.

Masses of people turned up for his humanist funeral. Lots of familiar faces. In fact it turns out that he'd probably taught most people I know, of my own age group, in this neck of the woods. Even more people turned up for his final send-off at Hexham Race Course.

Jim, despite his placability, was a deep pool which revealed the occasional odd ripple. On his deathbed he revealed to me that he'd also taught Dr. Andrew Birley and Justin Blake, the two main archaeologists, at Vindolanda. He'd taught them both at Haydon Bridge High School.

His sudden death coincided with the end of the Northumbrian School Term. Very apt. By all accounts he was a brilliant teacher. He cherished each one of his pupils and lauded their talents and abilities whatever they happened to be. And so it was with me and my sisters and my children.

I visited his grave for the first time last Saturday - the anniversary of his death. We, Jim, and the children, were all alone. The sun shone and I was relieved to know that he lies in a beautifully tranquil spot not far from Hexham Golf Course. A tree is planted beside his gravestone just as it is for each humanist burial. It is all unfussy and straightforward just like Jim. He seems at peace and despite the onset of the terrible pancreatic cancer he had a peaceful and loving death surrounded by his immediate family. Ben, his musician son, sang his favourite song to him as he passed away.

I talk of peace and acceptance because this is where my head and heart are: finally.

We too have undergone many trials and tribulations which are too numerous to recount here. The latest being this data loss. I now realise that starting a business from scratch in the countryside, dealing with the worst economic conditions for the last eighty years whilst bringing up two young children in two properties (!) was never going to be a pushover. Small wonder that at many times I feared for my own sanity.

We weren't sure we wanted to stay here but at the end of 2008 the penny or denarius dropped. We live in an amazing part of the country. The landscape, history and people are mind blowingly mind blowing. We've become part of the community, which is extremely close knit, and have been warmly welcomed into its heart. We've had our ups and downs just like the Nine Nicks of Hadrian's Wall. We've had the very best support from all those around us during our various trials and tribulations. All this has been done in a simple, unfussy and straightforward way. In short, just as Jim would have wanted.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Attention all computer users!

Our PC computer obviously got to the stage of this overloaded lorry...tooo fulllllllllllll!

I've learned a lot about computers these last couple of days so I'd like to pass on the jewels of my crash course in our crashed disk.

Here's the story...over the last two/three years....we saved a lot of data, work and personal, to our lovable PC. We also had to download a booking package - online booking system - onto it as well. This allows our guests to book and pay (if they wish) remotely using a computer. It obviously took up more valuable space.

To cut a long story short our computer was taking longer and longer to access data, photos and the like. I now realise that this is a sign of the computer "having trouble". As our hard disk was split into two drives C&D Mr. H. thought that by freeing up one of those drives we would then have more space for the computer to do what it does more efficiently. We did try to back up (a few times) but the computer wouldn't let us. We used a third party to help remove the partition in the hard disk side of the computer. I do not want go into details but we have ended up with a major loss of data.

I've now spoken to three data retrieval firms and another computer specialist and here are some helpful hints from them:

1. Always back up your an online service if possible. Also back up to other computers, pens, disks..anything which gives you other options. But beware that all of these can fail at any time. PC hard drives are very temperamental these days and can decide not to work at a moment's notice. Portable hard disk drives are frequently dropped, pushed over by cats and dogs and children and adults. Coffee, ice cream, lipstick, lightening, fire, water, power failures, tea, name it...can spice up the non-workings of a computer! CDs can get scratched, pens can be lost or stolen. The online data companies are supposed to take backups of backups. That's what they are there for!

2. Once your computer starts to feel like a heavy smoker panting for dear life up a steep hill...STOP USING IT! Once you start to switch it on/off, open/close files etc. etc. you are overwriting the original files. Send it off to the experts in data retrieval. I know I sound like a sales person for them but many often will give you a free estimate of what they can and can't retrieve.

3. Keep your business and your personal stuff separate on separate computers if at all possible.

4. Back up often. Ideally once a week. More often if you feel like it! If you download some precious photos or files which you really don't want to lose...back them up straightaway...prefably on the internet.

5. Erm. What else? Just keep an eye on your precious PC or laptop. Any signs of distress or failure or "hanging" - where it takes ages to open files...that's when things aren't going so well. Blog more often and/or Facebook it! Anywhere you can put your stuff. (Just remember the privacy settings if it really private.)

6. Treat your computers as you would your family, pets and friends.....with care, love and affection! (Don't take them for granted!!!) But remember that they are basically mechanical things which can and do break down frequently. (Maybe we should get them serviced annually? How about computers with MOT stickers?)

7. My fingers are crossed that I'll be able to report on a happy ending.

8. If not...I'll have learned a lot.

9. After all things could be worse...we still have a lot of photos and data. Luckily we haven't lost everything.

10. We don't do it right now but maybe I will think about it again in a fresh light: Take a selection of photos to get printed every so often! If the worst comes to the'll have something.

11. Use the online photo companies for storage. We have used them some of the time...thank goodness!

12. Perhaps we need to be realistic about what we can and cannot keep. After all we still have the memories....

13. You know about those people (in Selfridges) who go out and choose colours/clothes for others (I know they exist but not in my little circle in good 'ol Haltwhistle).... Maybe we need personal [personal] data storage experts?

14. Have I just invented a profession?

15. And finally just to remind you of my tried and tested favourite: "Always look on the bright side of life?".................Tee hee. Can't help but seeing the funny side of everything, hinny pets...Let's face it - I do get myself into all sorts of pickles. ;)

16. If the "forensic team" over in Middlesbrough write it off I will give the hard disk a decent burial. Any one up for a pixel wake?

Monday, 26 July 2010

Back Up/Pack Up!!!!

"To a rising young screen poet this might have been a crushing blow but Pat was made of sterner stuff." (Quoted from "Pat Hobby's Preview by F. Scott Fitzgerald".) In my mind's eye I take out "Pat" and insert "Hade" (short for Hadriana). In other words - me! I think we all do that. Don't we?

"Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and bury them beneath the sea!.....Don't worry about the cavalry!" (Quoted from Eliza Doolittle's very hummable tune [video of which is above] which keeps running around my head, ta da, running around my head, running around my the delightful lilt of the song....)

"And Why? Pray?" I hear you all ask nicely and politely.

Due to some basic schoolboy errors (we each thought the other had backed up) we have lost two to three years worth of documents, data, work photos, personal photos  et cetera et cetera. Won't bore you with the teensy weensy details but my mantra or chorus has now become............

Back up your data in your old kit pen and bury them in every conceivable place! Every conceivable place, every conceivable place! Back up your data in your old kit pen and bury them in every conceivable place! Every conceivable place, every conceivable place! Don't tarry with the USB! Don't tarry with the USB! (To the tune of Pack Up!)

And so...."In the office assigned him Pat looked at the script of True to Two Flags. The first scene showed General Fitzhugh Lee at the head of his cavalry receiving word that Petersburg had been evacuated. In the script Lee took the blow in the pantomime, but Pat was getting two-fifty a week - so casually and without effort, he wrote in one of his favourite lines:

Lee (to his officers)

Well, what are you standing here gawking for? DO something!*

6. Medium shot Officers pepping up, slapping each other on back, etc.

Dissolve to:

To what? Pat's mind dissolved once more into the glamorous past."

(An excerpt from The Pat Hobby Stories, A Patriotic Short, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.)
* i.e. Back up and remember to back up as often as you want/need!!!!!

Even the data retrieval company has written off our hard disk as the data has got (or gotten) overwritten. There may be a 0.00000000001% chance that we can send them another hard disk which had an "image" of our computer written to it. But even that might not work.

So farewell then to...............

...................past deleted blog posts (unless they turn up on the internet at some point); photos of (and these are the ones I can remember. I'm sure there must be more): Center Parc holidays, Christmas trees at Lanercost, trip to Chesters last Summer with the friends of Segedunum, Senhouse and Maryport, Chill on Sill photos, Christmas at Bocketts, Desert Island Drive Photos, Lanercost again and again, Great Chesters, children at Great Chesters, photos along the Wall, Willowford in the rain with children, Whitfield Steam engines, Birdoswald, Mr.H.'s parents with children, Askerton Castle photos, Whitley Castle, friends in Newbury photos, Vindolanda, Walltown, Thirlwall castle, Solway photos and Edward I statue photos, Penrith, Salkeld, children in Surrey, Whitstable, Granda's 90th celebration photos, medieval Newcastle wall photos, Jim and Marj - Wall show photos, face painting, K's paintbox artwork, Cawfields, Alnwick castle and Gardens, White House Farm (Morpeth), zoo photos, santa photos, Carlisle castle, Hutton in the Forest. Lots and lots of documents relating to work we were doing for the B&B website. (We are writing the War and Peace version of it!) Serves me right for not writing stuff up to the blog quicker. Ah well. Ah well. She sighed.

These are just a sample.

Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!

Maybe in thousands of years to come in the scrapheap, midden of life future archaeologists will find a way to read our corrupted, beaten up, mashed up,chewed up, overwritten hard disk and take pleasure in those much, much, much cherished words and images.

I do hope so.

And I would say to them:

"Enjoy!" "Gaudete!" "Euge!"

Post Script: We do have other words, documents, photos in other locations. So we haven't lost completely everything. This allows me to keep my sanity. One minor advantage of living in two houses is that we have e-mailed a great deal of stuff to each other. So bits and pieces are out there in the internet ether. We'll also e-mail friends to make a photo appeal as well. Luckily my parents have taken masses of photos of the children. This piece has been cathartic for me. I have been having a few nightmares about this lately. So many thanks for reading this. Please do take it to heart and act on it. Don't assume that computers are foolproof. That they most surely ain't! I know we cannot keep everything in life and we cannot take pixels to the grave but I would say....try and save it for future generations. Don't keep putting it off! Say a very firm, stern NO! to procrastination!!!!

Friday, 9 July 2010

"It's a wrap!"

...are words that I never expected (ever in my life!) to be directed at me!

I'm very much aware that my blog has taken on narcissistic qualities of late. That's's all about me, me me, me......BUT....I cannot help writing about my latest experience: my brush with fame and having a super, marvellous film crew from Endemol (that's right, French Fancy, the chappies who make "Big Brother", Mr.H. when he discovered this immediately started to take the michael out of me by putting on his best Geordie accent..."'Adriana's in the house et cetera!". I digress...)

Last week. The day before I was due to go to Arbeia (South Shields Roman Fort) to do my digging I got a 'phone call out of the blue from Kerry at Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd. asking me: Would I like to be part of some filming they were doing along the length of The Wall? Ever the one to jump into the deep end I instantly said "Yes!" despite having no knowledge of filming (or being filmed). Actually that's a slight lie as I did take part as an extra in a film being shot around the outskirts of Newcastle about a billion years ago. I can't even remember what the film was about but I just remember that the scene in which I was involved was about a party. A good friend of mine was going out with a sound engineer who worked on "The Tube" music programme that used to be filmed out of Newcastle...yes..that one with Jools Holland and Paula Yates...maybe it was something to do with that....hmm...

Anyway back to the here and now.

Michelle and Angela from Endemol came to see me when I was doing some digging at Arbeia and we had a brief chat in the snaking corridors of the Tyne and Wear Museum surrounded by towering cardboard boxes full of artefacts. They were getting to know me and I was getting to know them. The theme was to be that of Vindolanda as a secret garden. I was to reveal where the hidden, recondite, intimate and lesser known spots were in and around the fort.

A week later (this last Wednesday) the mini film crew arrived from Endemol: Gary, Alex and Liz. To say I was nervous about the whole thing was a vast understatement. I was petrified. I met them just as I had come back from walking our dog, Ed. They looked friendly enough. Not too threatening. Gulp!

I welcomed them into the B&B. Mr.H. soon provided us with tea, coffee and nice, juicy, thick, buttery toast. Alex (the dark haired one seen interviewing me in the photos) was the interviewer, Liz was the camera woman and Gary provided direction. In the photos above you can also see Michelle (she's wearing a grey jacket) who was running the whole thing. She popped in from time to time with her colleague, Angela. There were six groups of people in total being filmed doing different things in/around Hadrian's Wall Country.

The above photos show me being interviewed in Four Wynds' patio and garden: "What was my motivation for becoming a volunteer guide?" "How did we come to start the B&B?" and so on... From starting out on our sofa looking and feeling like a rabbit caught in the headlights my blood pressure slowly began to come down and my pulse moved from a gallop to a canter to a trot. Liz, Alex and Gary began to cast their magic. They also, later, filmed me pouring a cup of I had to master not pouring boiling hot water on my hand and to speak some sense at the same time....I just managed not to scald myself.

At lunch time we moved on to Greenhead (our nearest village). We interviewed a local long standing resident and Mr. Robert C. at his workshop, Rosemary and Katie at the wonderful Old Forge Tea Rooms who make divine teas and cakes, Dave over at The Greenhead Hotel (he and his wife run the pub, the B&B rooms and the Youth Hostel across the road). The sun was out in its full glory. Hurrah! We wandered into the churchyard to see the vicar but as he's retiring (bless him - he's lovely!) he was absent. He has a trillion leaving tea parties to attend this month.

We then went over to Vindolanda. I took them the long route round on the Military Road so that they could see Sycamore Gap (I think that was my head was in a whirl). We had lunch at Vindolanda's Lepidina Cafe in the baking sun. (It is a massive suntrap down in the valley by the Chineley Burn beside the Chesterholm Museum, the reconstructed Roman temple, shop, house, crofter's bothy and milestone. It was tempting to stay lounging there.)

We pressed on. We went to film up at the top of Barcombe Hill. I showed them the long stone set up to a quarryman who had lost his life, the Roman quarries with the good old phallic symbol carved into the rock face, and the sublime view of Vindolanda below us. (More Barcombe Hill photos to come in due course.)

Yesterday morning, with Gary, we filmed some bits at Vindolanda: outside before the museum opened...more intros (complete with an interested cow in the background), an interview with a lady getting off the AD122 bus, some segments in/around the fort (at the stone fort and at the timber gate posts of previous timber forts) plus the reconstructed bit of Hadrian's Wall within Vindolanda.

I could reveal more about these segments but I'm waiting to see what is in/what is out of the final edit. All the pieces from all the contributors will (hopefully) end up on Hadrian Wall Heritage's website. I await with bated (and unabated) breath. They say that looking at yourself on film is an excruciating process. Watch this space! (As they say....)

Nevertheless I am very pleased to say that I enjoyed every minute of it (despite all my expectations). So it's huge thank you from Hadriana to the guy and gals at Endemol who made the last couple of days so pleasurable. Thank you muchly! !  Gratias vobis ago!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Muriel and Wilma's Easy Divers - We Salute You!

FathiBob, Nicola and Staff on Princess HendEasy Divers' Dive Centre at Three Corners Amal Village HotelParty!You can see Muriel in the white shirt (2nd right)  Wilma on top form (on safari)!Nigel (Mr.H) in his HEPCA gearThe 1999 Easy Diver Crew (Muriel is sitting down 3rd in from the right. Wilma is laughing 2nd in from left on "middle" row)

I don't really know what to say. It's come as a complete shock.

We heard the news yesterday. One of our diving colleagues - Muriel Coenen died in her sleep a few days ago. We received the invitation to her funeral today and it was then that I realised that she was born two weeks after me. Sadly we might not get to her funeral. So I would like to honour her here and her friend, Wilma, and in a way, thinking about it, our precious Easy Divers Family.

Muriel was a good dive instructor and a very lovely person. Very open and friendly. Always laughing. My husband, Nigel, did some of my scuba training as I'm a BSAC  (British Sub Aqua Club) trained diver to Sports Diver Level whereas Muriel was a PADI (American System) trained diver. She did some of my training too. In fact she may have even saved my life when one dive went a tad wrong. (I ended up in a decompression chamber for my troubles.) In the event I was fine and it certainly wasn't her fault that the dive went a bit skewwhiff. The main thing was that she handled the whole event like a trouper and she went out of her way to check that I was OK (for days afterwards)...

She leaves a husband, Hamada and two little girls - Noura and Marwa.

I've also mentioned Wilma in the photos above. Yes..she too, very sadly, passed away a year or so ago. She left a husband and a little boy. She was great fun, bubbly, wonderful, amazing too. Very athletic - a good instructor and diver.

Both girls (I cannot think of them otherwise) came from Holland. They are both from the Eindhoven area, I believe. They had both moved back to the Netherlands some years ago to start families.

We all had the time of our lives at Easy Divers.

My husband, Nigel, decided to convert his hobby into a full time career and ended up running a scuba diving centre in Hurghada, Egypt, called Easy Divers from the early 1990s through until 2003 and beyond. It largely attracted divers from Holland but many more came from Germany, Belgium, the UK, Switzerland, some from France, Italy and Spain and lots from Scandinavian countries. We even opened up another dive centre in Safaga and franchised a centre in El Gouna (both a short distance from Hurghada in either direction).

When the Luxor shooting happened in November 1997 a lot of dive centres decided to close their doors but Nigel rather stubbornly stayed put and kept the Easy Divers' doors open. The centre flourished and the tourists and divers just kept coming.

I've blogged about this before (see side panel for those blog entries)... I met him ten years ago when we met through our London dive club called Clidive at the London Dive Show. I didn't pay much attention to him then but certainly did when he took me for my first dive in the wonderful waters of The Red Sea.  It was blissful. That week can be summed up in these words: heat, turquoise, mask squeeze, black eyes, boat, yummy boat food, dive after dive after dive, very clear water, seeing multicoloured fish and other strange creatures, bubbles, managing our air consumption, looking at our consoles, watches, computers, Luxor, exotic Egypt, hearing Arabic spoken for the first time, meeting the compressor team and staff, getting logbooks stamped, laughter, jokes, figuring out our equipment, trying not to get run over by Egyptian drivers, dust, hotel, air conditioning, minibuses, transfers to the harbour, hearing Egyptian music for the first time, sharing my hotel room with Jo, gossip, hearing the call to prayer at dawn.... short...a very different life to the one I lead now and the one I had at the beginning of 2000. I was in banking then. Stuck up on the 49th floor of Canary Wharf dreading a fire alarm ever taking place. So instead of running off to the circus I ran off to an Egyptian Dive Centre....(I didn't need much persuading!)....

...and met all these marvellous, gorgeous, great people. Folk from all walks of life - having fun, living life to the full, not caring too much about the tomorrow or the day after really was a "carpe diem"  lifestyle....

So I dedicate this blog entry to all those at Easy Divers: past and the divers who became our friends, to the staff from all those different countries (who became our good friends).  To Mr. Lotfi, who was the owner of the Staff House, to the mini bus drivers, to the chaps at the harbour, to the taxi drivers, to the guys with the food stalls, to the folk in the different hotels, shops, restaurants and bars. To everyone we knew in Hurghada...we do miss you we really do...but we'll never ever forget you.

You (and our memories of you) will stay in our hearts and heads forever more.