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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

In Memory of Dad


My father suffered a 2nd heart attack on the 20th May and unfortunately, following a 3 week wait in Papworth for a 2nd heart bypass, he passed away 4 weeks after the operation whilst still in intensive care. There were a number of issues which meant a delay of a further 4 weeks before his funeral, but it was finally held yesterday. I gathered together a number of photos of Dad through his lifetime, and as a tribute to him presented them in a folder for family and friends to look through after the funeral. Later, I intend to make them into a photo book. This was my tribute I enclosed in the folder:

Dad will leave a huge hole in my life. I will miss his love, help, advice and most of all a hug as he said goodbye to return home. During his time in intensive care I had the chance to tell him how proud I was of him, and I know if I can be as good a Dad to my children as he’s been to me, then I will have succeeded. He always worried so much about us; even ringing in the early hours of the morning asking me to check the inside of the kitchen wall wasn’t alight, following some pipe repairs we had undertaken the night before.

Dad had a difficult life as a child, but from the tales he told me he also had many happy memories. He had incredible strength to get through the trials of life, surviving three major operations, a strength that would later see him give his all following his 2nd bypass. Despite this loss, I am so grateful of the extra years I had with him due to the success of his first bypass at Papworth. To me Dad has won the Olympic gold for life.

It’s now time for Dad to think of himself by returning to his mum’s arms to be with his family who has already passed on. One day I will see him again and look forward to those hugs, but until then I will carry him in my heart and feel him close by, watching over and guiding me as he has always done.

Take care Dad. You will never be forgotten and I will write down your stories to tell your grandchildren to be passed down for eternity.

 I will love you always,

Andy.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do we have Educational Choice or Inequality?


Suffolk is going through huge changes to its education system. This is encompassing everything from the move to 2 tier, new academies and free schools, to changing catchment areas for free travel. It never ceases to amaze me, how as a culture, we seem to always find complicated solutions to what should be simple problems. We have endless bureaucratic meetings under the guise of a consultation for decisions already made, to complex and unfair travel catchment areas that could easily be determined by feeder school.

Out of all of this chaos the word that always seems to be prominent is “choice”. However, if you look at the reason for parents to want to choose one school over another, the majority of the time it’s down to the performance difference between them. Surely then, if all schools were equal, this “choice” would not be necessary except in a few minority cases. I think it is fair to say, that these differences are down to quality of infrastructure and teaching materials, quality of teachers and techniques, school leadership and the environment in which the school is located. Last summer I attended the open evenings for several upper schools to evaluate them as candidates to teach my child. What struck me most was the vast difference in quality of infrastructure, such as quality of buildings and facilities, and one does have to ask why some schools are able to achieve such a high standard compared to others.

In my opinion the time and money spent on trying to facilitate choice would be better spent on bringing all schools and teachers to the same standard. Yes, average results for a school will vary depending upon the social environment of its intake, but each school should provide an equal opportunity for a child to achieve the same level of education according to their ability, and not the capability of the school.

Taking a simplistic approach, I wonder if the best person to achieve this would be one of the current heads of those schools that are successful today, acting almost as a super head of one large virtual school. They would take best practice from successful schools and implement it across the county, allocating budget proportionally to bring all schools to the same level. Now I’m not part of the education system myself, apart from as a parent, so  I expect there’s a whole range of issues I’m not aware of, but does the education system really need to be so complex and unequal as it is today?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Custom Made Exhausts

Recently the mounting brackets started failing on my 9 year old exhaust. I'd previously had them welded, but they were now looking increasing likely to fail at the most inopportune moment. Unfortunately I could only source a replacement from the main dealer as there isn't a third party alternative to the manufacturer's exhaust. The cost seemed extortionate at £171 + VAT plus fitting.

However, I was talking to my father and he mentioned a company called Demand Engineering in Stonham Aspal, who construct custom stainless steel exhausts using LongLife components. Given the quality of the stainless steel materials and custom workmanship I thought the cost would be considerably more, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the quote at just over the cost of the main dealer exhaust prior to any VAT or labour. In fact I could get the exhaust replaced to the catalytic converter for the same cost as the main dealer box only.

It took David and Dan about 4 hours to manufacture and fit the exhaust, and it looks amazing.


I didn't want additional noise or any increase to my insurance premium, so I chose to go for a straight replacement, with no performance increase and the same noise levels. The exhaust delivers, quiet as before aside from a very slight throaty groan as you accelerate at higher speeds, which sounds good. My insurer also confirmed there is no increase in insurance premium as I've not modified the performance of the car.


When I use to have more time I'd undertake my own vehicle servicing and repairs, since it's important to me work is carried out correctly for the safety of my family. For that reason I'm often worried trusting others to work on the car. It was therefore good to chat to the guys actually doing the work rather than a front desk, and it was clear they knew their subject, after all they have both studied engineering at uni.

You can see from their Facebook timeline LongLife exhausts is a relatively new endeavor, for which I wish them the best. I will certainly be recommending them and will look that way when I change cars in the future.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Making the most of our Heritage

I’m currently planning next year’s holiday and I like to include something educational into our trips, often around history or geography. For history I’ve found membership of English Heritage and National Trust invaluable, often choosing the holiday location based around what these historical sites have to offer. For instance on our last family trip to Wales, of the sites we visited, these were either National Trust (NT) or CADW covered by English Heritage (EH) membership after first year:

  • Harlech Castle (CADW)
  • Conwy Castle (CADW)
  • Caernarfon Castle (CADW)
  • Beaumaris Castle (CADW)
  • Bodnant Garden (NT)
  • Penrhyn Castle (NT)
  • Plas Newydd Country House and Gardens (NT)

What I really like is the ability to spend as long as you wish at a site.  Sometimes we might stay a couple of hours, sometimes a day, or sometimes it fits better to spend two half days. A single entrance fee is generally expensive enough, but having to pay twice to visit on separate half days would be prohibitive. Membership allows you the freedom to come and go as you please.

Educationally the sites are excellent and fit well into the National Curriculum for History, as we often find our daughter has/is covering the topic at school. With EH my children have learnt about English and Welsh Castles through the ages. Dover and Pendennis castles are particularly good. Museums, showcases and re-enactments have meant my children have learnt about life during WWII, military espionage, medieval combat, and life in the era of Queen Victoria amongst many things.

20111002_Andy_DMC-GH2_1000897 

In particular I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Audley End House, especially the service wing, which is a great place for photography too.

20111002_Andy_DMC-GH2_1000894
Audley End House Service Wing

Whilst membership does offer a great saving over the cost of paying admission for each site, it still doesn’t make the yearly cost of membership affordable. In fact if we had to pay the normal yearly membership cost then we probably wouldn’t be members, but there are ways to still benefit. For instance EH partner with Tesco points. For us that brings the cost of membership down from £80 to £30 a year. Whilst that might seem like a hit for EH, they recoup far more from what we spend in their restaurants.  If on holiday this might be our lunch out, or if taking picnic we will often treat ourselves to drink and cake in the afternoon. Typically this can add up to £20 - £30 a time, so allowing for costs after three visits EH have recouped their money and are then making additional profit.

003/365 Sheepscape
Ickworth House
Last January we decided to take out NT membership. They don’t have a partnership with Tesco points, but they were offering membership for £66 direct debit rather than the normal £88. Given we have many more NT properties than EH nearby, I felt happier to spend £66. Outside of this last year’s holiday, we have made a number of day trips to NT properties over the last year, Melford Hall, Ickworth House (several times), Anglesey Abbey, Oxburgh Hall, Sutton Hoo, and Hatfield Forest. Many of these now allow non-flash photography, and at Edith Pretty's House in Sutton Hoo nothing is roped off.

Unfortunately, our NT membership ran out in December. It turned out the £66 was a special offer for the first year only and the cost was now to be £88. This lay very uncomfortably with me, as it is a hard sell tactic and not something I would expect from a charity. When NT refused to renew at £66 and were quite terse on the phone, I therefore cancelled our family membership. I feel this is very short sighted as they have not only lost the £66 membership fee, but the approximately £300 a year from the sale of food.

Update Feb 2012: I was able to renew our NT membership at £66 as we were essentially new members. It's just a shame I will need to do this each year, and existing members are less valued.

In summary I would thoroughly recommend EH if you have Tesco points. If you don’t then I still recommend EH and NT attractions, but you need to make your own decision as to whether you can afford the membership.

You can see more of my photos taken at stately homes, country houses and parks here.

Some of the useful EH and NT Twitter accounts I follow:
@east_england_nt
@OxburghHallNT
@AngleseyAbbeyNT
@NT_SuttonHoo
@DunwichHeathNT
@WickenFenNT
@NTWales
@BlicklingHallNT
@NTMagazine
@nationaltrust
@EnglishHeritage
@EHAudleyEnd

 
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