Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Time for a RANT!

This is one of those occasional philatelic themed posts. I started collecting stamps as a schoolboy. I had the usual subscription to an 'approvals' supplier who would send me a selection of stamps plus the odd packet of 'Mixed Whole World' Stamps, to spend my pocket money on. Unlike most of my friends, I continued to have a fascination with stamps through into adult life by which time I had specialised my collecting to pre 1952, genuinely postally used stamps (not cancelled to order) and especially the Victorian, line engraved
Line engraved 1d Black
issues. Having started collecting first day covers as a kid, I had a good run by the time I was leaving home. I was not so interested in this side of the hobby, so my Father continued to collect mint commemorative stamps along with their First Day Covers (FDCs). This continued until his death in June 2011. As this collection was an almost complete run of Queen Elizabeth II covers I decided to keep it up. I took over his Royal Mail subscription and have kept the collection going. Recently this has become a ridiculously expensive venture. 

Royal mail have turned the service into a giant money spinner producing all sorts of variations on the stamps with booklets, mini sheets, Smilers (sponsored sheets) and all sorts of inane rubbish like mugs, framed sets, cast medallions and so on. None of which have anything to do with postage. The FDCs are not even sent through the post any more but ink-jet franked on a production like and then placed inside another cover to be send out. Not surprisingly these covers have very little resale value and I can understand why.

Too many - too much for me!
Yesterday the latest set of stamps and covers arrived. I only subscribe to the mint stamps, mini sheets and booklets plus the FDCs. In the past an issue might have a mini sheet and a few stamps or just a set of four or five stamps. Recently not only have the sets been getting bigger (eleven 1st class plus another 1st and four 2nd class in the mini sheet making 16 stamps different  stamps in this issue!) but the 'value' of each stamp has greatly increased due to last years postal charge increases. This is not stamp collecting, this is just subscribing to a 'collection' it could be wall plaques, die-cast models or any one of the manufactured collectables that are all over the Sunday supplements claiming to be 'limited editions' and the like. But the real rub is the bill. Take a look at this...

...and that is without any fancy stuff. That is it I am not playing this game any more. I will continue to buy the mint stamps as that is a genuine postal product but the rest they can keep - over £40.00 for just one issue is ludicrous. There will be people who will continue to buy them under the misapprehension that there will be some value in them at a later date or, like me, just wanted to keep a collection going. This was the final straw for me and the nail in the coffin came when I discovered that the Football Heroes miniature sheet will also be accompanied by a prestige booklet wrapped in a foil wrapper, reminiscent of the football cards of our youth. How tacky is that? - Will there be a wafer of pink bubble gum enclosed as well? And guess what? There are eleven stamps in the set as well - all first class.

What a real case of exploitation. You will not find me buying a pile of FDCs to support that sort of blatant profiteering - shame on you Royal Mail!


I spoke too soon

It has been a few weeks since my last post on the Workshop blog and all the things I intended to do in that time have all been sitting there awaiting my attention - to be honest, it has just been too cold out there. The weather here in London has been uncharacteristically cold for the past few weeks and I have been concentrating on things I can do indoors. I decided to use some of the time getting to grips with a Meccano drawing programme called VirtualMec. You can see what I have been up to, on the Meccano front, by checking out our Meccano News blog HERE, so I will not repeat it all on this one!

40 years ago... a small way, I studied art and passed all my exams. I then got involved in publishing, design and graphics, and the 'art' got forgotten. Since then I have always had an interest in The Arts and have had plenty of ideas for works but have never followed them through - until now. A few weeks ago we were doing a bit of shopping in our local Aldi store when I spotted a watercolour set. Pad, pencil, paint and brushes all for £3.50. To good to pass, I thought, the purchase was made and my 'bargain' was carried off home. Filled with enthusiasm I unwrapped my purchase and set about giving it a go... You know what they say about if it seems too good to be true... Well, it was a disaster. The paint was horrible, the brush lost most of its hairs within the first few minutes, and the paper was very poor. In fact so poor was the quality I have not even bothered to photograph it! My new-found enthusiasm was quashed and I put it down to experience while depositing the paint and pad in the charity box - the paint will be fine for a nipper to play with.

The real deal
A week or so later and we were off to the Science Museum to check out a rumour that there was some Meccano in a showcase in the entrance. Sure enough there was - but that is another story for the Meccano blog. From the Science Museum we headed into Soho for a bite to eat and found a really nice restaurant in Berwick Street (You knew food would figure somewhere didn't you!).

After working our way through three courses and a bottle of red, we were off to Oxford street to pay homage to one of the famous department stores, where we had a pile of tokens that needed spending - well, you wouldn't find us shopping otherwise! On the way through the back streets of Soho, we stumbled across Cowling & Wilcox's central London branch (they are art suppliers - as if you didn't know!). Well, the place is heaving with lots of goodies, I could have got really carried away in there. I found what I wanted; a nice little pocket box of twelve, half pan, decent quality watercolours and a folding brush... plus a nice new set of full length watercolour brushes and... No I am not confessing to any more. Anyway suffice to say I have been having some fun. I might even show you one day...


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Good day sunshine!

Let's get going again...

Jack frost covered the car and van in white crystals overnight but it is brightening up outside, here at Laughton Towers. Time to consider getting back out into the workshop and start tinkering with something. I have several projects on the boil at the moment, including several steam engines that need rebuilding, Some railway modelling that needs attention and a whole heap of electronic projects including a couple of flat-screen computer monitors that need a quick rummage around in the back to see if I can get them working again.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have a pile of what might be referred to as Vintage Hi-Fi (inherited from my Father) to play with. This is not that old, but it is good old solid Japanese separates at their best. Including a nice 10½ inch  reel-to-real Teac tape recorder. All outdated, in this digital world, but perfect for playing jazz from the 20s, 30s and 40s and before. Hmmm... Thinking about it, most of it must be 30 years old if not more - Blimey! Where did all that time go?

On a more down-to-earth note, I also have a pile of sweet and biscuit tins, left over from Christmas, that are going to get the chop in order to be used, in conjunction with olive oil, cotton wool and a few other bits, to have a bit of fun. I will show you later...

Now the temperature is on its way north of zero, I'll get out there later, evict the winter residents and have a bit of a tidy up. The workshop gets used as a dumping ground over the winter. so I need to go and stake my claim. I did get a morning of woodworking done last week, building a bespoke stand for our huge  Meccano loom. But that was built outside as the workshop is not functional at the moment. Time to change that, me thinks!



Monday, 4 March 2013

Speed Freak!

Too good to be true?

Every now and then the old adage about it sounding too good to be true is proved wrong. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you I am the last person to listen to cold-call salesmen (Sorry; Sales-person!) or react to e-mails purporting to be telling me something "I really should know". Well, a year or so back I was caught off guard by a cold call from BT telling me I could upgrade my broadband connection to a high speed optical line. In my best not impressed-tone, I cynically made some remark about paying for something I did not really need. The voice on the other end of the telephone line, that must be commended for persevering, quoted a figure at me that was a pound and a few pennies less than is was currently paying. In a reluctant tone I agreed to take them up on their offer. At this point I was fully expecting a phone call apologising for their mistake or to hear nothing. At that time, the Broadband was downloading at about 7.5 Mbps which seemed more than fast enough to me.

A few days later, a bloke arrived, screwed yet another box onto the wall in Command Central, here at Laughton Towers (AKA the cupboard under the stairs!) A bit of rushing about to and from "The box, Mate" and he had increased the speed of the connection by several times to about 38 Mbps. And so it stayed, the bill went down and this chap was happy as Larry.

Then, at the end of last week, out of the blue, came an e-mail from those nice guys at BT offering to increase the speed of the connection for free! All I had to do was to 'Click here' so I did. It stated that I need do nothing, just wait and in a few days my connection would speed up all on its own - no man at the door, nothing. Well, to my surprise, this morning the speed had almost doubled, see below: 

My Broadband Speed Test
Twice the speed overnight!

The original e-mail stated that the speed will increase over the next week or so to a maximum of 100Mbs but a realistic 90Mbs is more likely. To be honest it really does not need to be any faster for me. I am not into streaming HD video up or down the line, and i-player, and the like, run fine at 40Mbps. Any faster and I will receive stuff before it has been sent. I am not complaining - it is great. I just can't believe it is Free!