Long ago I collected coins, pre-decimal coins. Nothing spectacular, no Victorian Sovereigns or Edwardian Guineas, just plain circulating, well-worn coins of the mid twentieth century. During a recent rummage through my suitcase of mementos I uneartherd the box of coins and felt a desire to examine and catalogue them.
A couple of hours inventory work revealed:
394 British coins (including 120 1967 Pennies and 60 1967 Halfpennies)
37 American coins
34 Canadian coins
93 foreign coins
How do you catalogue coins the Virgo way? It's not quick, it takes several days! You start by very lightly rinsing them in warm soapy water then drying them. Next you place them in batches into the scanner and scan large hi-definition images into the laptop, first the heads then flip them over and record the tails. The next job is to change the file names to reflect the monarch, date and denomination of each scan. Finally you open each file in Photoshop and rotate the image so it is perfectly level.
In the spirit of completeness for my British coins I drew a spreadsheet incorporating the Monarchs from Victoria onwards and all the monetary denominations circulated. It quickly became apparent that I could fill nearly half the spaces in the spreadsheet from my existing treasure chest.
A few days eBay work later and I am now awaiting forty-nine coins in the mail from a variety of sources, which will complete my collection of all denominations from all reigns of the last one hundred and seventy years. Coins and stamps (another interest I rekindled earlier this year) sit well together. The one being tendered in Post Offices to purchase the other.
Silver has become quite valuable in these economically depressed times so the intrinsic value has been boosting the sentimental value of older coins. For example, an 1890 Victorian Crown in uncirculated condition will set you back fifty pounds. I acquired a worn but still beautiful one for twelve pounds. However, this needn't be a hobby solely for the rich. The majority of my new acquisitions have cost just a pound or two each.
This is all somewhat time consuming (and probably a touch anal) but I have ended up with a rather easier way to view and enjoy my coins. I can look at dinner-plate sized images of sixpences and see tremendous detail that my old naked eyes would never see.
It's quite alarming in these days of tarnished cupronickel to think a century ago peoples' pockets jingled with high-grade silver and even gold coins. Our passage into the modern era can be exemplified by how coins have lost their precious metal value, shrunk and become wafer-thin, with simple, bland designs. I have a small bag of modern Euros but they are downright ugly lumps of cheap metal. They pale when compared with the silver of my George V Half Crown above or the gentle brass of my Victorian penny below.
18 December 2009
04 December 2009
Four addresses in three years. Hmm, not my usual style. This latest move has been partly to flee an Albanian hostel (description of former abode) and partly to acquire much more usable living space, better storage, a nicer building and a quieter, more pedestrian-friendly area.
Mail is already being safely redirected to the new address. I am rebuilding (and enlarging) the stamp collection I sold in the eighties and components have arrived from far flung regions:
Scunthorpe: Two stockbooks comtaining five thousand stamps.
Leicester: 'Stamp Organiser' software.
Romsey: Miniature Sheets, Twopenny Blues
Salisbury: Miniature Sheets
Hornchurch: Miniature Sheets
Amesbury: Miniature Sheets
London, Royal Mail Philately Shop: Stamps, Miniature Sheets
Woodland Hills, California: Small mint stamp collection
Duchesne, Utah: Jeweller's loupe
Owing Mills, Maryland: Penny Black
Barrie, Ontario - Boscastle Stamps: Two Padded leather stockbooks
Farnham, Quebec - Arpin Philately: Tongs, hinges, glassine envelopes
Kingston, Nova Scotia: Penny Reds
Thanks to the Internet you no longer need to be in England to collect British Stamps. This winter I will sit down with tongs, loupe and scrubbed hands and set about a big cataloguing project. My kind of winter!
There is more afoot, my feet have changed shape. I look down and see muscles on my toes, instep and ankle which were never there before. I often complain about tender feet and ankles from running and now I can see why. Rather odd - they don't look like feet I recognise.
09 November 2009
I was a stamp collector. My collection was certainly no family heirloom but was still of great value to me since I had built it up at a time when we were struggling financially. I collected mint British stamps starting from the Coronation of Elizabeth II, and also accumulated a fair quantity of used examples of Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian stamps. The Penny Red above is a photo taken in 1976 from one of my original albums.
The main Post Office in Bournemouth used to have a philatelic counter run by a man who was himself a collector. He neatly tore off strips, blocks and singles, then transferred them to little clear envelopes with some deft tweezer work. I would queue there four or five times each year to buy the latest commemorative sets. There were also several stamp shops in town and all sold bags stuffed with used stamps still stuck to the corners of envelopes. These were a cheap but worthwhile investment often producing unexpected gems. Ah those Saturday mornings spent soaking the stamps off!
In about 1982 I sold my stamp collection. It was a case of necessity but the fifty pounds I made wasn't even close to the face value of the stamps, never mind their catalogue or sentimental value. I always regretted that move, especially since, within a few years, I could have managed comfortably without the proceeds.
Now, twenty-six years later, I have decided to atone for my mistake. The philatelic counter in Bournemouth (if it still exists) is now three and a half thousand miles away so I must use some imagination to reassemble things here in Canada. The electronic era has ushered in a new style of stamp collecting. An abundance of web sites sell individual stamps, sets, whole collections, albums and accessories. A few keystrokes have revealed whole albums and stock books which haven't increased hugely since my 1980's sale. I think I can replace my stamps and indeed improve upon the collection for only a couple of hundred pounds. EBay has proved to be a goldmine, full of collections for sale following the deaths of ageing uncles.
Luckily the market is not as buoyant as I expected. Collectors with spare cash have perhaps dropped away in the recession. The odd thing is, I am ordering and bidding on collections of British stamps being sold in Canada and the United States. There must have been plenty of immigrant uncles! Ironically, the heaviest cost is for postage to Prince Edward Island! An album posted here from, let's say Los Angeles, costs about thirty pounds. I wonder what my ancestors would have made of such an outrageous waste of what would have been two years' earnings in Victorian times?
I have equipped myself with tweezers, magnifying glass, hinges and a Stanley Gibbons catalogue and set up a few auctions to watch on eBay. Now I'll be watching out for the postman for the next few days!
06 November 2009
The route to the summit is glaringly obvious from this angle: follow the path of steep ice which flows relentlessly from the interior of the three giant peaks, Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse; shin up a steep ice wall and take a left turn where it's a mere hop and a skip to the top of the world. By all accounts Everest is not a technically difficult mountain to climb. An ambitious novice with excellent fitness, a steely nerve for heights and a huge bank balance can have a fair stab at it.
Armchair enthusiasts are developing high expectations, fostered by the latest high definition TV documentaries in which a cosmopolitan range of middle-aged adventurers reach for the sky and send video messages home to loved ones. True, today's synthetic materials have previously unimagined thermal qualities and mountaineering equipment is now stronger yet lighter than ever but it is money that is at the heart of the problem with Everest. Elite Guiding Companies all but promise to get you safely to the summit (and back) for a barely credible fee of $70,000, per client.
Bottled oxygen has become standard issue above 23,000 feet, an altitude above which the natural atmosphere does not sustain human life for more than a couple of days. A seemingly inexhaustible supply of altitude-adjusted Sherpas are keen to enlist as expeditionary guides and porters, at $2,000 earning ten times more than their farming income. The Nepalese Government long ago spotted the financial advantage of charging ludicrous sums for permits to climb the country's greatest asset.
Put simply, commercial pressures are putting too many people on the mountain, many of whom would never make it there on merit. These figures tell a story of rapid acceleration:
One might deduce that the mountain is becoming safer to climb but these statistics by decade are masking years when fatalities ran at higher percentages. A combination of weather and over-crowding in 1996 resulted in fifteen deaths in a year when ninety-eight people reached the summit and considerably fewer returned.
Despite the increasingly friendly statistics, this is no hike. Some people suffer the ravages of altitude sickness even before the real climb has begun. Base Camp is at 17,000 feet above sea level (already comfortably twenty per cent higher than the highest Alpine peak, Mont Blanc. As you climb toward the Troposphere, pulmonary and cerebral edemas occur frequently even among apparently fit people as bodies stop working in this hostile realm. Helicopters can barely stay aloft in the thin air of Base Camp so evacuations high on the mountain are simply not possible. If you get sick then your companions are unlikely to be strong enough to carry you down to safety. You will be abandoned to your fate and join the corpses of those who lie where they fell, frozen hard as ice. That is the code which has developed although it is one over which bitter debate rages.
Base camp, a collection of tents not visible from the high altitude photo above, lies at the bottom right corner of this view, just below the Khumbu Ice Fall. The classically climbed route involves negotiating more than a mile of Khumbu's five-storey high-ice-boulders and sickeningly deep crevasses before ascending the Western Cwm to the Lhotse Face - a thirty degree sheet of hard blue ice. After spending a night under canvas on a ledge halfway up this nightmarish slope you continue to a barren, windswept saddle slung between Lhotse and Everest, known as the South Col. A few hours sleep there and you have to choose whether to try for the summit or return to base.
Those who feel well enough to attempt the summit will strap on oxygen masks and draw several breaths for each step as they climb ever higher, then traverse nauseating knife-edge ridges with a choice of sheer drops into Tibet or Nepal, until they reach that crest where there is nowhere higher to climb. I salute those brave souls and I fear for them.
Websites now regularly report dangerous overcrowding in horrendous places like the Lhotse Face, the Balcony and the Hilary Step. Pedestrian bottlenecks at the same altitude as cruising airliners, are jeopardising the lives of ambitious but ordinary people. It is just possible to climb from final camp (The South Col) to the summit and back in the hours of daylight if all goes well. But the sudden onset of hurricane force winds with thick snow and bone-chilling temperatures and the ever-present threat of avalanches can thwart even the best-lead expeditions. Now imagine queues forming as dozens of light-headed, oxygen-starved climbers wait their turn to clip onto fixed lines, to slowly plod their way through knee-deep snow in the "death zone," to climb their personal Everest.
Now remember among these are often men and women with little or no experience, suffering hallucinations and at the very limits of their endurance. Yes... Everest is dangerously over-crowded.
03 November 2009
I couldn't obtain this little rascal online in Canada and neither Amazon USA nor its resellers will ship the product outside the USA. I ended up ordering it from Amazon UK for delivery in the UK (as per their rules for electronics). My sister kindly repackaged it and forwarded it to me in Canada. So here it is, the latest in miniature digital video camcorders delivered to my door in a roundabout way!
I took the "Extreme Sports Pack" too, as it seemed to offer a good range of mounts and straps to secure the camera to almost anywhere. First impressions are good. It feels solid and surprisingly weighty for its startlingly small size. I also bought a Class Six Micro SD Card as I hear that the basic cards don't write data as smoothly, resulting in some reported jerkiness on playback. The card is so tiny it would be easily lost or blow away in a light breeze.
The three operating buttons are obvious and seem robust and there is a simple warning light system to indicate what the little devil is up to.
The Extreme Sports Pack duplicates the lanyard, pouch and crocodile clip provided with the main unit. Initially I found the tangle of straps, Velcro and plastic somewhat mystifying as there are no instructions. The thing I thought was a jockstrap is actually an armband and the various clips and Velcro bands are almost impossible to identify from the miniscule illustrations on the back of the box. I investigated online and found names for the parts, or at least descriptions.
The pack is worth having and you can probably cobble the bits together anyway you want to suit your peculiar needs. I plan to use the straps to secure the device to my cycle helmet and the armband to film my runs. The crocodile clip will attach the camera to my lapel or backpack strap for discreet filming in the library or wherever! A very useful item is the swivelling metal bracket which I discover is magnetic so you might temporarily fit the camera somewhere in a room for some candid scenes.
Perhaps I'll clip the camera over my rear view mirror and go for a drive around town now.
11 October 2009
07 September 2009
26 August 2009
Click here for some more island views as seen from my bike cockpit.
Running is hard on the joints so I turned to cycling for exercise. I have now found cycling is hard on the neck and the thighs! I am hoping that my legs will get used to pedalling for three hours or more and that my muscles will rise to the task.
When you ride long distances you have to eat and drink to maintain your energy. I take a peanut butter and jam sandwich plus two half-litre drinks bottles, one of water and one of juice. Some people advocate much more than this but I think it's a personal thing. I only eat if I am riding for more than forty miles and I only start drinking when I have done at least ten miles. Any more than this and I feel bloated. However, there is a fine line between too much and too little and only practice reveals what feels right.
In my back pockets I carry a mobile phone, sandwich, lip-balm and sometimes a printed page for a new route. Sometimes I take my compact camera on longer rides. For emergencies I have a small seat bag which holds a multi-tool, punct*re repair kit, tyre levers, spare inner tube, spare gear/brake cables and a twenty dollar bill. On the bike I have a mini-pump. Hopefully I can cope with most minor eventualities even fifty miles from home.
The shoulder is good or adequate for cycling in most places. When I plan a route it is a compromise between quiet roads for solitude and scenery, and major roads for better road surfaces and a wider shoulder. I have also discovered that minor roads tend to have much steeper gradients because they don't have to cater for big trucks.
The Island is swept by strong winds which seem to gust and shift direction. Accordingly even my circular rides are often into a stiff headwind the whole way!
The crankset on my Raleigh Quadra is a racing double. 52-42 chain rings and a rear cassette range of 24-13. My lowest gear is a real grind on the 10% hills but so far I haven't got off to push. Top gear is pretty high and only comes into play on a downhill slope with a tailwind.
I am planning an overhaul of the Raleigh. It's over twenty years old and the components are original. The rear wheel spokes have lost tension on the drive side and the wheel and bottom bracket bearings are worn. I have two new Shimano wheels on order from the USA. The new rear will accommodate up to ten speed cassettes so future gear upgrading will be possible. I also have a new seven speed cassette coming, with a 26-13 range plus a new chain.
I reckon these replacements, plus disassembling and regreasing the bottom bracket will inject new life into the bike. The frame is Reynolds 531 steel tubing and the components mostly Shimano 105 so it is worth maintaining. In due course I would like to buy a new carbon-framed bike with all the modern gears and features. The Raleigh Quadra can be partly retired.
My research shows that bikes in Canada are roughly twice the price of comparable models in England. This must be partly because cycling is considerably less popular than in Europe or the States and also has much do with the logistics and distribution costs across this vast country.
Most UK online cycle and parts suppliers will deliver overseas. They also quote prices without VAT which is sensible because Canadian authorities will apply import duty. I think I might treat myself.
12 August 2009
Yesterday I completed my first hundred mile ride. To be accurate - 106.5 miles in 7 hours, 31 minutes at an average speed of 14.1 mph. I rode my Raleigh Quadra, a 1980s steel road bike from Raleigh's Special Products Division.
I plotted the ride on http://www.mapmyride.com/ to use mostly country roads in a roughly triangular loop taking in the Eastern quarter of Prince Edward Island. Having started cycling again at age fifty-one last year and in recent weeks ridden thirty, forty and fifty mile loops, I felt ready for the challenge.
I set off under grey skies but with a decent weather forecast. Sustenance would be three peanut butter and jam sandwiches and an energy gel stowed in my pockets. One drinks bottle I filled with a mix of water and pure orange juice, the other with water. In my seat pack I carried a spare tube, puncture repair kit, tyre levers, a multi-tool, zip ties and spare gear/brake cables. There was room in my pockets for a lip balm, cell phone and printed route map. (I am still getting to know the Island roads after two years here.)
P.E.I. is windy and hilly. Country roads carry the fewest trucks but for that very reason have steeper gradients. At times I ground up countless tall slopes like the one above, reaching the top gasping for oxygen and thighs burning. For the first quarter of the ride I had a tailwind which helped keep my average above 16mph. This was the easiest part of the day. After that I changed direction and had a strong crosswind in my face. I began to eat my sandwiches on the move and washed them down with juice and water, rationing it until I found a re-filling point.
Canadian roads are attacked by snow, ice, heavy rain and sun. The resulting potholes and the annual summer round of filling them in makes for distinctly variable road surfaces! I kept a watchful eye on the road ahead, threading my way between old and new surfaces. The sun appeared after fifty miles, still high and burning in August at this latitude. The middle third was a tough three hours into a strong headwind and I seldom exceeded 12mph.
My route was entirely on two-way roads and thankfully the trucks which passed me gave me a generously wide berth. Not long after I left the port on the southern tip of the Island, the ferry from Nova Scotia disgorged and a fleet of a dozen mammoths of the road thundered by me. The first had considerately given a long warning blast on his horn a good twenty seconds before passing.
After seventy-five miles I reached civilisation and unclipped for the one and only time at a Tourist Information office. I refilled my bottles there, letting the taps run until the water flowed deliciously cold. As I turned full circle for the final third of the ride I thanked the crosswind which now blew over my right shoulder. The sun was hot, my legs were spent and I ground out the final thirty miles on willpower. Every shift of position on the bars revealed new pains in my upper arms and neck. This is the hardest physical thing I have ever done.
By the time I reached home I was suffering from slight dehydration. I shivered even as I soaked in a warm bath. I should have taken on more water earlier and I needed more food. Next time (if there is a next time!) I will know what to expect. After a huge meal and a sound night's sleep I feel good this morning, better than I expected. Stiff in the upper arms, thighs and neck but otherwise human!
27 July 2009
We drove a two thousand mile round trip to camp in Algonquin Park, Ontario. There are closer options of course but this gave us the chance to explore potential destinations for a possible permanent move off Prince Edward Island. With Maisie in the car we had to split the drive over two days, stopping over in hotels close to Quebec City both ways. Here is a selection of photos from the week.
We booked our pitch weeks in advance as spaces were already running out, so it was disappointing to find ourselves on a sloping noisy spot within sight of the road. Luckily the office was able to move us to a nice level site away from the road. For future reference, what's the point in booking a place when you can walk in and choose from some very nice non-reservable sites even in mid July?
The tent went up smoothly and I lit a campfire in the pit. We heaved out a mountain of gear which had been crammed into every corner of the small Kia. Soon we were sitting around a crackling blaze eating baked beans from mugs! Masie's demanding personality made things tough at times but on the whole she coped with life under canvas pretty well.
The Park is three and a half thousand square miles of forest wilderness with just a few camp sites on the one road which bisects it. The forest is home to large numbers of moose, beaver and black bear, not to mention over seven thousand species of insect, (most of them biting)! It truly is a spectacular place. The forest is almost impenetrable on foot but there are a dozen or so way-marked hiking trails which give a flavour of the typical terrain to be found: Hardwood forest, pine forest, lakes, marsh, rocky ridges and tree-clad mountainsides.
I hiked several of the longer trails and although bothered by swarms of mosquitoes, flies and other insects in this hot and humid environment, I was only bitten a few times thanks to liberal application of repellent. One morning we took an early drive along the only road which snakes up and downhill through the park and took pictures of a moose grazing at the roadside. Sadly two dozen of these animals are ploughed down by cars and trucks each year in Algonquin alone.
Our seven-day stay was cut short by heavy rainstorms and a forecast for more. We pulled up camp and started the long drive eastwards two days early. Had we been better equipped I think we could have held out but getting wet and muddy is no fun especially with an active one year old. Other more seasoned campers had as many as three tents on their pitch, with the whole assembly covered by a giant tarpaulin stretched between trees. Many people use a semi-transparent day tent for dining, living and to keep the bugs out. Next time we will take more equipment and not be beaten by mother nature.
As we drove away from the forest through small nearby settlements, reflecting on the week, I spotted a dark shape lumber up from the left ditch and shuffle quickly across the road. A large black bear close to civilisation and in broad daylight!
13 July 2009
5:00am wake up
5:30am get up
5:45am make toast for me and Maisie
6:00am try to ignore Teletubbies on TV. Drink coffee and read BBC online
7:30am wake Michelle
7:45am one year old R arrives for daycare
8:20am one year old J arrives for daycare
9:00am feed the 3 kids snacks
9:30am nap time for the toddlers
10:00am 35 mile cycle ride via the north shore
12:30pm lunch Pea soup and bread
1:00pm take the kids to the swing park in strollers. I push 2 in a double
2:00pm feed the kids lunch
2:30pm second nap time
4:20pm R's mum arrives to take him home
4:50pm J's mum arrives to take him home
5:00pm start preparing dinner
6:00pm eat dinner
8:00pm Maisie's bedtime
8:30pm watch an episode of some long season on DVD - currently X-Files Series 7
9:30pm Read aloud for 20 mins - currently The Judas Tree by Simon Clark
I made a vegetable curry for tonight's dinner:-
29 June 2009
A mere two years later, in 1873, with crippling debts, PEI joined the Canadian Federation. As part of the deal, Federal Government took over the railway project completely - land and finances. The Railway's growth was rapid and colourful. The Island was soon covered from tip to tip with main and branch lines. In the golden age of steam the track was upgraded from narrow gauge to full gauge to accommodate locomotives arriving on the Ice-Breaker Ferry from Nova Scotia and control of the railways was vested in the nationalised Canadian National Railway (CN).
In the 1950s and 1960s Provincial Government began paving the major highways to cater for the ever growing popularity of the automobile. As a result, passenger use of the railway declined sharply and the final passenger service ran in 1968. After that freight wagons were still hauled but the rising use of trucks on the roads began to steal that business in the 1970s. The end of the line was in sight, quite literally.
CN abandoned the PEI railway in 1989 and the last operational rail cars and locomotives were taken off Prince Edward Island by sea. Salvage crews worked throughout the early 1990s removing tracks, cross-ties, and other railway facilities.
In 1994, before the routes became completely overgrown with disuse, the Island Government purchased back the entire right of way from CN and began creating the Confederation Trail. Today over 75% of the former railway network on the island can be enjoyed as recreational trails by walkers and cyclists.
Yesterday I rode from our home on the outskirts of Charlottetown along a thirteen mile section of the trail and back, stopping to take these photographs. One puncture but that was quickly repaired and couldn't spoil the ride.
26 May 2009
There are a few more pictures taken during my rides here.
Spring has at last sprung so I relished the opportunity to unpack my bike. Luckily it survived the sea crossing in good shape (which is more than can be said for some of my other possessions - my printer was broken, dozens of CD cases - but I digress...) There is not likely to be another bicycle quite like this on Prince Edward Island - a Raleigh Quadra from the 1980s with a Reynolds 531 frame equipped with fourteen speed Shimano 105.
Cycling in Canada is somewhat different from England. For starters there are few cyclists, at least here on PEI. Car drivers are not used to the sight of a lycra clad pedaller which is sometimes a good thing because they give me a suspiciously wide berth but sometimes a bad thing because they pass way too close and probably don't see me. In addition to wondering if I am invisible, I am riding on the right and trying to decide how boldly to hold my position.
Then there is the road surface. You haven't seen potholes until you have tried Canadian roads after a hard winter! So... remember to cast quick looks over your LEFT shoulder before swinging out three feet to miss an alarming crater. Around town the roads are swept in spring but on the highways the shoulder, where there is one, is strewn with gravel and in the country the red dirt gets washed off the fields in sandy waves.
All this makes it sound as though there is little fun to be had on two wheels here. But that is not the case at all. If you can persevere carefully across town, through the outskirts and onto the country roads the rewards are definitely there. There is no pollution, hardly any traffic, huge blue skies, rolling hills and plenty of peace and quiet.
A long thin island means the coast is never far away, so there are spectacular sea views through sleepy dunes. With the sea comes the perpetual wind. My forty mile circular loops inevitably involve spells in a low gear grinding against a flattening headwind. The benefit of a circular route becomes clear when I am bowling along effortlessly on the big chain ring at 25mph.
Snow and ice will make cycling impossible in a few short months so I'll pedal while I can!
06 May 2009
29 April 2009
15 April 2009
05 March 2009
The air is so cold it slices your lungs. Moisture can't decide how to condense and precipitate so it adheres to everything like a thin glass veneer. Power lines are strung with the clearest crystal pendants; trees are coated with a glistening, frozen skin. Minus ten in March is a nice reminder of winter's long grip on PEI.
In contrast to the weather, the reception which awaited me on my return was as warm as you can imagine. Settling back in was smooth and easy.
On Sunday we took a walk in the frigid air, pushing the buggy along sidewalks rutted with ice. I fell to earth with a huge bang. Michelle says my feet scooted right off the ground in front of me, cartoon style, as I thumped onto the ice. Now I am nursing a tender bruised back and elbow. Hmph!
16 February 2009
19 January 2009
14 January 2009
Thank you all for your kind comments. I am relieved to report that Debbie is on a long, slow road to recovery. As a certain very important person said to me, a kind of Divine Providence placed me in England at the very moment when my presence was most needed.
Time and distance from Canada have allowed space for clear thinking. Difficult and painful conversations, crucial to mine and Michelle's future, have taken place amid much soul-searching. I stand at a crossroads now, ready to choose a path. I am happy that I have said all that I can in England, told people how much I love them and made a kind of peace with myself.