Saturday, May 30, 2009

Trip to Paris

The Eiffel Tower, May 2009Having thought my wife hated Paris I got a real surprise for my 40th birthday when she presented me with a 2 day trip. Apparently, some seven years ago I had told her I had never been and would love to go so she started saving and lying at every opportunity, telling me what an over priced dive it is and how I'd hate it, not least because a cup of tea is about £5 (she knows how to wound me). Being such a "fan" of cities (dirty horrible places) I fell for it hook line and sinker.

Anyway, this made the present a real shock and in the week before setting off I found it very hard to get round the fact that she didn't hate it at all and was, if anything, more excited about the trip than I was (and I was really looking forward to it so that made her fairly excited).

So, on Tuesday morning we all (kids as well) set off to Manchester airport and caught an Air France flight to the "city of love". The flight was good (by good I mean I didn't scream or stop breathing once). The landing was a little hairy, but only by my standards - nobody else even realised it had landed!

It was a little disappointing to get there and realise we had left behind a glorious sunny day and arrived in a downpour. The day got no better as most of the Metro was on strike for the day and it took 3 hours to get to the hotel. It appears to be something the French do regularly and this time they were striking to complain about the fact there hadn't been a strike for over a week. Actually it was something to do with the economy, and when the price of a cup of tea was nearer £7 I think I see what they mean :)

Novotel Hotel from Eiffel TowerWe eventually got to the hotel which was a plush 4-star jobby and outwardly very nice (by outwardly I mean the inside finishes: from the outside it truly was ugly and I realised why it wasn't shown on the web site - it is the one made of red Lego in the picture).

It was nice enough though and the staff were amazingly helpful and friendly. And boy did they put up with a lot - there was a Japanese bloke giving them hell every time I walked past the desk and a multitude of Americans stepped in whenever he stopped to draw breath. Little things let the hotel down though, like the fact the computers were made by Apple and crashed a lot (actually that bit was amusing, as was the French keyboard) and that the swimming pool was shut for refurbishment. The travel agency could and should have told us about that before taking all my wife's money and upsetting the children. All this made me live up to my "Victor Meldrew" persona so the rest of the family made fun of me a lot, so I calmed myself down with a beer, purposely not looking at how much said beer was costing, or the fact it was Heineken.

Notre Dame, May 2009View from Notre Dame, May 2009As it turned out we were probably far too knackered for swimming after all the walking we did; after dropping off our bags we went to Notre Dame and then a boat ride down the Seine, getting off at the Eiffel Tower and walking back to the hotel.

That evenings meal was taken at the hotel and the food was nice, but nowhere near nice enough to cost £85 for the four of us - I thought I was going to need oxygen to get over paying that one and I paid by credit card because I couldn't bring myself to pay in cash.

The next day we walked to the Eiffel tower and got the lift to the second floor, which has amazing views (see the pictures). We then queued for about an hour to get the lift to the very top, which wasn't nearly as amazing as I thought it should be but well worth it all the same. My legs did have a strange jelly like feel to them and my peripheral vision was a bit blurry if I turned too quick so I'm guessing there was a touch of vertigo kicking in :) We used the steps down from the second floor and that in itself was amazing because you had time to appreciate the views and what an intricate (and extremely sturdy) structure it is.

The Louvre, May 2009Once we got down from that we did the double-decker train of the RER and then the Metro to Sacre Coeur, a place surrounded by shops (never a favourite of mine unless they sell CD's, books or electronic stuff). Another good view and probably our cheapest meal (a mere £35 for the four of us - a pricey burger, but I was getting used to the cost by now and was no longer having to pretend that Euros aren't real money). After a quick run round Sacre Coeur and seeing the artists square we headed off to the Louvre where Tamsyn and Zoe feigned complete disinterest so they could go off shopping. Christopher and I loved it, right up until the point where we got lost and I thought my feet were about to fall off from all the walking. What an amazing place though! Even the miserable Mona Lisa woman was fairly awe-inspiring - not because it's a good picture (it's actually very ordinary and dull) but because of the history and how famous it was. I was quite shocked at how awed I was by it to be honest, though that was eclipsed by some of the other pieces of art and history on display. Christopher and I decided we could spend at least another four days there but we'd need a GPS to find our way around or out.

As it was we managed to get out by accident and we crawled back to the hotel for a meal and in time to see Manchester United get bounced out of the final, something that truly made Christopher's day.

The flight back was again very easy and I even managed to keep my eyes open for the landing. Things are truly looking up in the flying department I think (I can say that now I'm back on land with little prospect of flying again for ages).

Pictures of the trip can be seen at and more will be added when I get round to uploading some of the children's pictures.

The main thing that did strike me was just how like London it all was - except for the cigarettes everywhere (amazing how quick we got used to not being enveloped in smoke over here while they continue to smoke like tyre fires over there). I also wondered briefly whether it would be cheaper for a Parisian to fly over here and eat out every night than eat out over there but it was quickly pointed out that they would probably rather die than eat British food, which made me chuckle a little.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Using Bokashi to grow vegetables in pots

For the last few years I have grown a few vegetables in pots and last year I used Bokashi in the base and was astonished with the results. I had cherry tomatoes continually from mid-July to November and my dwarf beans were also superb.

People often wonder what to do with Bokashi once it has had it's 2 weeks fermenting and the majority either add it to their worm bins or just dump it in a compost bin/heap. By using it to layer the bottom of a large pot that you then plant some veg in means it works right where you need it.

I've just potted on this years cherry tomatoes. I started with a layer of normal potting compost in the bottom, though there's probably no reason you couldn't just start with the Bokashi.

Compost Layer 1

I then added about 3 inches of Bokashi, before filling to about 3/4's full with organic peat free grow bag compost.

Bokashi Layer 1 Top layer compost

The idea here is that by leaving a quarter of the pot empty you can top-dress with either vermicompost, compost from your bin/heap or even just more grow bag. The joy of vermicompost and compost is it will act as a mulch during the hotter days. Vermicompost has the added benefit of being extremely high in nutrients as well, and therefore ideal for hungry tomatoes.


Once more established these plants (and all my veg) will be fed with a good dose of worm tea throughout the growing season.

I also planted up a runner bean in the same way. These should probably be grown outside but this one will be grown in the greenhouse. I did this a few years ago and had a surprisingly good crop, but this will is the first time I have done it with a Bokashi base to the pot. I'll post the (hopefully pleasing) results.

Runner bean in pot