Maplehurst Ramblings


(1) Broadband

Dave Toye has been on Broadband Internet access for a year now and apparently its the "in-thing". No more waiting hours for files to download or getting cut off in the middle of a surfing session, oh no!

BT sell their "anytime" (5KB per second download speed) product for £15 per month with almost unlimited access, although getting connected is a chore in itself. It seems like a good deal, therefore, to spend the extra £14 a month and get upgraded to the ADSL network and enjoy 256-512 KB per second access.

The best bit about this fast internet access is that you can use your phone-line as per normal while surfing and you can leave your PC on all the time for no extra cost.

Not everyone is able to access this service yet, though. BT are limiting where they supply it to exchanges in towns or near them. To find out if you are eligible for high-speed surfing, check out this link

Apparently BT have no plans to introduce broadband to the 891 exchange in the near future, which is a nuisance.

(2) Fun in Portugal.

At the end of June, two colleagues and I set out for Oporto in Portugal as guests of the Robertson family who are major players in the Port wine business. We had won the City Conker challenge last October and now it was time to claim our prize of spending a weekend at The Festival of St. James. The flight passed reasonably uneventfully, although two rag heads on the plane had their collars felt for sellotaping photographs of Osama bin Laden to the front of their seats. Apparently they had also been up to something "untoward" in the rear loo but I never really found out what!

For some obscure reason the flight took us to Lisbon first and then back up the coast to Oporto. We landed late on Saturday evening and headed straight for the hotel – a most agreeable venue called the Hotel Infante de Sagres which was just a stones throw away from the central square in the city.

After a few preparatory beers, served by possibly the slowest waiter in the world, we headed out into the fresh night. Despite being far South, Portugal is blessed with cool breezes from The Atlantic Ocean which prevent it from overheating too much. We headed down a series of steep cobbled side-streets and eventually found the main quay on the River Douro.

Two of us ate, drank (to excess) and spent a very pleasant and refined few hours drooling over the local wenches. At 2.00 am the next morning, we were presented with a bar bill for €14 ( less than £10). I checked the bill and to my amazement found it accurate. This can't be bad - two people out for three hours in a major European city, getting fed and watered for £5 a head.

We headed off to bed and rose for breakfast at 9.00 am the next day. Mid-morning we were taken by a large limousine to the same quayside we had been at several hours earlier. This time the fun began in earnest. We were ushered onto a vessel that looked like a cross between a Chinese junk and an Arabian Dhow. Once aboard we were greeted by a spectacularly affable old cove by the name of Alastair Robertson who, it transpired, is Le Grande Fromage in the port business (Fonseca is one of his!).

He thrust the first of many glasses of the most delicious white port into our hand and we cast off downstream to watch the beginning of the Barco Rabello barge race. One peculiar aspect of this race is that each barge has a person wearing a large black cape and a hat with a feather in it, just like the bloke on the Sandeman television advert from the 70’s

The race begins with a Le Mans style start, if that is possible for boats. Each barco draws lots to decide its starting place across the river. The race is timed to coincide with the tide turning. As soon as the starting cannon has been fired, the crews rush to hoist the lateen rig and head of downwind. Each barge is slightly different in shape, weight and sail area so the handicap system is more of an art than a science (and this is putting it very mildly).

As the race progresses up river, the wind becomes more fickle and the tide begins to materially affect the running order. We counted the lead changing hands several times over the course of the race with tail-end Charlie's frequently storming around the outside of the fleet and taking the lead, only to fall back once they get becalmed downwind of the following pack.

All this proved far too exciting for me so, throwing caution to the wind and gout pills down my gullet, I began to try and pace the leaders in the port drinking on the boat. Big mistake.

The Fonseca boat came in second by a short length to the overall winners so some honour was restored. We then proceeded to have lunch on the barge and enjoyed a wonderful trip up the river for several hours.

We stumbled back ashore during the afternoon where the brighter members of the group went back to the hotel for a siesta. We lesser mortals decided to go on an expedition into the nether reaches of Oporto. Dressing down and leaving all our valuables in the hotel safe, we headed across the main square and into the old quarter.

Shifty stares greeted us wherever we turned, but we needn't have been so fretful - once the locals ascertained that we were British (and not Germans....!) they greeted us with open arms, cheap cigars and gallons of Super Bock beer. Thus was spent a drunken and enjoyable (if slightly surreal) afternoon chewing the fat.

The evening celebrations were due to kick off at around 7.00 pm so it was back to the hotel for tea and medals followed by a hasty departure to the Fonseca Lodge on the far side of the river. We were given a tour of the Fonseca and Grahams cellars. The most unusual sight of the tour was seeing a wooden cask of port that held over 26,000 gallons of port – now that’s one vat I’d like to fall into!

We repaired to the terrace of the Fonseca lodge overlooking the river Douro and the old town of Oporto. We enjoyed a banquet of  several courses – all with white port and ended our meal with a delicious Fonseca from 1970. Very nice indeed.

Shortly after the meal finished the fireworks display started. This lasted over ninety minutes and consisted of four separate displays, organised by the mayor of each district in the city. It would appear that quite a lot of local pride was at stake because each display outdid the previous one in terms of size, noise and colour.

We calculated that some of the rockets had been let off over a mile away and the resulting explosions were at least two hundred yards in diameter. The noise of these was indescribable (so I won’t even try) and we could actually feel a shock wave hitting our bodies. God alone knows how the rockets passed the local Health & Safety laws - perhaps there weren't any! Unfortunately, we didn’t take any photographs of the fireworks because we were too drunk to focus our eyes properly, let alone a camera lens.

It is a tradition in Oporto to launch hot air balloons during the night of the festival of St. James. These home made contraptions have a large balloon about 4 feet in diameter and a small basket underneath to hold a nightlight. This is lit and the resulting hot air fills the balloon and sends it rocketing skywards at some considerable speed. The wind carries these balloons far across the river where they eventually burn up and come crashing to earth in a fiery ball - small wonder that most streets had a very visible fire watch throughout the night.

When the fireworks finished, over five hundred thousand people took to the streets to party until dawn. We left the Lodge at around midnight and spent a highly amusing hour walking the mile back to our hotel.

Another tradition in The Festival of St. James is to bang your neighbours over the head with a plastic hammer that emits an incredibly vexing "pip" sound when it makes contact.

Apparently, the taller someone is, the more desirable it is to belt them. Understandably, I was slightly bemused when the 200th person walloped me.

One of my colleagues took advantage of the relative silence as 20,000 people were crossing the Bridge designed by Eiffel and began a rousing chorus of that annoying Eurotrash anthem "Ole, Ole Ole Ole, O-le, O-le". We were both rather surprised when the 20,000 around us joined in with a very loud refrain!

We eventually returned home to the hotel at around 3.00 am and managed a few hours slumber before returning once more to Britain.

One first glance, Oporto looks slightly tatty and faded. Look beyond the surface grime, however, and you find a city rich in culture with a fascinating heritage. It is quite cheap to get there (BA fly from Gatwick) and very cheap to stay there - visit it before it is spoiled.

You might also like to know that Fonseca are sponsoring this years challenge in The City on October 1st, near the Lloyds insurance building. Fancy challenging us? Then come on up and have a go if you think you are hard enough! I will send you more details as they become available........

(3) Doing it with dogs.

For the past year Janie and I have been trying to get a litter of puppies out of the whippet. We have been using a stud dog belonging to a tycoon that owns a chain of sandwich bars. This dog Chester is very enthusiastic but seems to be lacking in experience. Last Winter I went along to said tycoons house to oversee the process of insemination. Poor Chester was really out of his depth and we retired home with a rather frustrated whippet bitch.

This summer we went up to London for a return match. apparently Chester had used the intervening six months wisely and had fathered two separate litters of puppies. Janie left Tess up in London for the morning and went off shopping. when she returned, the housekeeper informed her that Chester had "done it" six times in the last four hours - this dog must be the Ron Jeremy of the canine world!

Fingers crossed for the next few weeks while we wait and see if Tess will be a mother.

(4) Defacing Signposts – a “did you know” exclusive.

Did you know that its illegal for road signs to display metric measurements? I didn't.

I was informed recently that Crawley had suffered several acts of wanton vandalism - apparently road signs showing metric distances have been covered up and imperial distances put in their place. the rather curious aspect of this is that it is being carried out by private individuals with the knowledge and, it appears, acquiescence of the local Council.

The individuals carrying out the above acts were arrested by the police but released when the council said that it was not prepared to take any action against them. A circular has been sent out from the DOT to all the councils in the UK recently. this reminds them of the rules which require British road and pedestrian signs to be in Imperial only. The references to statute law mentioned in the Circular are:

Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984, Sections 65 & 142

Traffic Signs Regulations and General Direction 1994s (SI 1999 No 1519),Schedules 1 & 7, Schedule 16 (Items 3 to 8) and Direction 35

Particularly helpful is the statement that "all direction signs, including those to be used on public footpaths and bridleways", must be in British units, and there is a further reference to Sec. 142 RTR Act defining a 'road' as "any length of highway or of any other road to which the public has access...the Act therefore covers privately owned roads to which the

public has access as well as highways maintained at public expense".  

Well I found it interesting, anyway.

(5) Magna Carta

I found a great little website recently - all about historic legal documents that should have supremacy over the annoying legislation that Blair brings in from time to time.

  (6) LPG on Car

The LPG Conversion has been done and after a few initial teething problems I must say that its brilliant. Auto LPG in Bolney did an exceptionally neat conversion for me and as Dave Toye hasn't come round to photograph the resultant job, you will have to wait for next month to see how the thing works.

(7) Game fair.

Did anyone else go to the Game Fair at Brinsbury two weeks ago? I went on both days and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I arrived on Saturday afternoon and parked up nice and close to the entry gate. I spent several hours walking around all the stands where I was able to purchase some Gore-Tex overtrousers, some nice workboots and a few rugs for the dogs.

I also saw some very interesting displays of retrieving, fly casting and horsemanship.

Japser appeared to enjoy himself too - he spent the majority of the afternoon rolling in the quagmire and "playing" with several large German Shepherd dogs!

Fortunately, I departed just before a cloudburst which left the showground under several inches of water and mud. I went back on Sunday and spent a few hours in the various shooting & conservation tents in order to escape the all-pervasive mud.  A chance encounter with someone I had met two years earlier at the Game Fair in Duncton has provided me with a rather nice stud JRT for Lilly Savage in the winter.

Another person I met was interested in Punt Guns - he reckons I can restore my old one over time (more of this next month) and get a unique firearm back into service.



Countryside Alliance 7th August 2002The RSPCA doesn't seem to be a very happy ship these days - there are rumours abounding of cash problems at HQ - partially caused by the gross carbuncle built next to the execu-homes, but I reckon their advertising has also cost them a penny or two also!

Last year we were treated to the spectacle of the "Animal Police" adverts on television - all posed with very healthy looking pets and this year their focus has shifted onto hunting with dogs. I won't bore you with the in's and out's of the arguments but I think it is sufficient to say that I feel the RSPCA has been taken over by a bunch of near-fanatical animal advocates who reckon it is acceptable to squander the legacies they receive from across the country on pursuing their morbid and over zealous campaign to ban hunting. Doctor Jonathan Miller writes a column in the Sunday Times each week called Mean Fields - see what he has to say about them. Then again, you might just like to browse the RSPCA Animadversion website and see what is going on for yourself. (see pictures I have added of Southwater CA meeting DT 23rd August 2002)


Next months thrilling insatallments:-


The Punt Gun (if photos are available)

LPG on the car (ditto photos)

The signs go up (ditto March signs)

On tour in Provence

plus lots, lots more! (if I remember what they are)



Simon  McClean 23rd August 2002     last months MR's


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