Thursday, 23 June 2016

The benefits of future-proofing your phone...

For a while now, my phone has been acting up a little. I'd already addressed the two-year-old degrading battery (it wasn't able to hold a consistently long charge any more, which is fairly normal for regularly-charged batteries) by replacing it for a new one, but there were other problems to contend with; Some apps had been locking up, others falling over. It was all down to a lack of available space on the device storage, both onboard (32gb) and on the storage card (another 32gb).

There are only so many things you can do in these situations, and I'd done most of those by yesterday; those were, in no particular order:

  • Deleting unused or seldom-used apps;
  • Deleting old photos (I use Dropbox to back them up, so nothing's been lost);
  • Clearing out old data (pruning).

But it was clear yesterday that I had to do one last thing. I got a bigger storage card. The phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, running Android, is capable of addressing a maxim card size of 64gb. So, I went looking.

A LOT of high street tech shops were asking silly money for both branded and unbranded kit, so I began looking online instead. However, I wasn't about to go to e-bay for this, being mission-critical kit (some things, yeah, I'll use e-bay, but not vital electronics like this, as there are too many knock-offs). Amazon, however, stepped up nicely.

With Amazon, you can generally be safe in the knowledge that even their third-party 'marketplace' concession retailers have an assured supply chain to the brand-name kit. In this case, I found a 64gb microSD card from Samsung listed for under FIFTEEN QUID?! Wow. I snapped that one up for same-day delivery faster than you could say "Cool!"

Amazingly, it arrived by 6.30 p.m.! Good Job, Amazon Logistics! :D

It's a Samsung-branded 64gb class 10 microSD card, and was in the proper packaging, WITH hologram. It had Japanese printing on the packaging, nothing surprising there, it was likely a grey import, hence the price. I have no problem with that for simple tech like this.

So, I set-to immediately and backed up the old card (I'd done this a couple of days ago already, but it's a good habit to get into when swapping around storage media.

I then de-mounted the old 32Gb card, installed the new 64gb one, mounted it, formatted it just like you're supposed to using the phone, and that's when I hit a hiccup. The phone did not now want to talk to my computer. So, I tried putting the card directly into the card slot on the laptop (via a card adaptor). No dice, it couldn't read it. So, back into the phone, and try again. No joy.

Time to check the old internet. And came up successful in my search for a solution. Seems that occasionally, when changing cards, the interface settings get upset. So, I confirmed it to be set to 'USB Mass Storage Device' instead of 'MTP Device', and we were back on the rails again. Nice :)

So, I copied the backup of the 32 gig cad onto the new card, did some more general data pruning, moved a few on-board apps to the card, and whoopee - I've got back close to 15 gigs of space on the on-board storage on the phone, and still have over 40 gigs of space on the new card :) I call that a win, folks :D

As a result, this phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 3), which was 3G (4G-capable) when I got it, and which three months later was software-enabled to 4G (UK Three network), has probably another year to two years of practical life left in it (by which time, chances are some form of 4.5G or 5G will be on the horizon, if not in service already) :)

This is another reason why I buy phones with card slots and removable batteries :) It's called Future-proofing a phone ;)

Also, a hint - take regular back-ups of your data, whether it be a phone or a computer; you NEVER know when you might need to access those backups!

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Normandy 2016: Postscripts and notes...

OK, a couple of things I forgot to mention.

Roy, the RMP veteran who took a tumble at the 46 RM memorial, got back to England alright, and as at the last information I had on him, was recovering at home. We're looking forward to seeing him next year, if he can make it.

Lessons learned:
  • Sunburn's a right royal pain in the wherevers!
    Remember the damned sunscreen cream!
  • Kids and early starts tend not to mix.
    It's been agreed that the kids are staying home next year!
  • Péage works from the left of the wagon - they drive on the WRONG side of the road over there!
    Consider using a Sanef electronic tag payment method for next year - there are five - possibly more - Péage stations to negotiate next year, and the less hassle and fiddling for change, the more relaxed the trip, thus more enjoyment!
  • Sundays are generally closed in France.
    If not in a hotel or B&B accommodations bring, or buy in-country, food for decent English-style breakfasts (and the facilities to prepare/cook it, too)!
Aside from the above, it was all good - and I'm looking forward to next year!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Normandy 2016, Day 4 (Last day)...

The start of Day Four was pretty-much the usual thing: Roll out of bed on hearing an alarm clock. Check the time. Realise it's 05:30 and you're not due to be up for another HOUR AND A SODDING HALF. Mutter dark imprecations, and fail to get back to sleep. So, I grabbed a shower, and got up in slow time manner.

There then followed an episode that I'm not particularly happy or proud about, but which was, in hindsight, probably inevitable. A drama with one of our teams kids came along. The increasingly sulky teenager, who had decided to be an irritating little twit from pretty-much day two, and who had been causing frayed tempers a lot, had been refusing to move out of bed (a sleeping bag on a folding camp bed, both of which had to be packed away before we could make a move towards Bayeux and breakfast). So as we all chuckled about the laziness of youth, I played reveille to her (it's one of the alarm clock themes on my phone!). Everyone but her was amused by this. Not her. She made a VERY ill-judged comment towards me, and got my temper on Dial Setting Five (see with sixty seconds-worth of parade ground-level roar of non-repeated non-sweary English Language from me as a result.

Regrettable or not, it had the desired result, however, as she vanished at high speed to the ablutions immediately thereafter.

And yeah, I apologised to her Dad* once I'd taken a short walk to get a grip again (said kid hardly said a word to me for the rest of the day: Bliss!). Anyhow, that aside, we were packed and ready to go by 08:30, half an hour ahead of schedule!

The CMP Memorial
Close-up of the
CMP memorial
Our first port of call was for breakfast at the café in Bayeux again (Ham and eggs, of course), and we then made our way to the Museum of the Battle For Normandy, where the Liberators service for the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, 2nd Battalion the Essex Regiment, and the Corps of Military Police was to take place.

Staff Sergeant Redpost!
Note that it was still the CMP in 1944; the Corps only received the Royal prefix after the war, in 1946, then becoming the Corps of Royal Military Police (RMP).

It was while we were waiting for everything to get set up for the service, that we ran into our old mate, Staff Sergeant Redpost. Still having his beetroot-red complexion (from all the shouting, while being a 'drill pig', we were led to believe), it seems he's taken up a post-army career as a fire hydrant!

The Essex Regiment
The Sherwood Rangers
Yeomanry memorial

The service, attended by the RBL, the Mayor of Bayeux, and various local dignitaries, was a small affair by comparison to the previous days event.

It was at this service that we laid a wreath on behalf of those who have served, and those still serving, in the CMP and RMP. Notably, given that three regiments have memorials here, we were the only former members of regiments present to lay wreaths: there were no representatives for the Yeomanry or the now-amalgamated Essex Regiment (the Essex Regiment is continued, following several amalgamations, by 'C' Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment), which I thought rather poor show.

Maybe they'll fix that next year. One lives in hope, anyhow.

Hottot CWGC Cemetery
The RBL and local standard
bearers at the Tilly
CWGC Cemetery
After a sort drive into the French countryside, the next service was at the Hottot CWGC Cemetery (many of the fallen from the Bocage lie here), assisting the locals by request.

As you can see from the photo, the sun was really cracking down here, and, as it had been for the last couple of days, it really left an impression. I'd forgotten to pack my sun cream, and boy, were my face and arms starting to burn!

This service was followed by another short drive to Tilly sur Seulles, at the Place d'Essex Regiment, for another similar service by the museum there.

During the war, Tilly came under sustained and repeated attack from both sides, it changing hands over forty times in a matter of days. Little was left of the town by the end of its liberation. In one tragic incident, during one of the many counter attacks, an artillery shell, misdirected by an observer attached to the Essex Regiment, sadly landed amongst sheltering civilians, and the memorial is to both those victims, and the forces (including the Essex Regiment) who liberated the town from the Germans.

Flt Lt
Peter Roper
Flt Lt Roper's Plaque
There's also a memorial to a certain Flight Lieutenant Peter Roper, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who was shot down over Tilly, in a 'borrowed' Hawker Typhoon - we had the absolute honour and pleasure of meeting this fine gentleman, who remembers everything about that day, and retains one heck of a sense of humour about it too - and mentioned in passing that he hoped no-one sent him the bill for the - ahem - 'borrowed' aircraft!

Then, it was off to Dieppe for dinner, and the ferry home again.

Dinner was taken in a restaurant that had opened that very day, Le Petit Bouchon, at 4 Rue Vauquelin, 76200 Dieppe, France
Menu du Jour,
Le Petit Bouchon,

The meal consisted (as best I could translate and taste):

  • Starter:
    Miniature melon with thinly sliced ham
  • Main Course:
    Chicken in mushroom and onion sauce with green beans and fries
  • Dessert:
    An apple tart with vanilla sauce

I've shown a photo of the menu (menu du jour), in case there are any French speakers amongst you who can translate this for me properly!

The staff were helpful, friendly, and we had a whale of a time. We'll definitely be back there again next year!

The ferry, however, was a rather mixed affair, and put an unfortunate dent in the week. We aimed for the midnight ferry, the idea being that it'd be fairly quiet, and less busy, thus easier to find a decent seat upon-which to crash out and get some much needed sleep.

The situation regarding illegal migrants from France to the UK has been in the headlines a lot over the last couple of years. It's finally hitting Dieppe, and while they've boosted the physical defences for the port (good quality security fencing and razor wire), the security manning at the entrance to the parking/waiting columns and the HGV entrance, is down to one unarmed, unarmoured youngster in a uniform, with a torch made of plastic. So much for either the British or French governments "doing all they can to prevent illegal migration".

We counted perhaps fifty or so of these "illegals", most of whom tried for the heavy Goods Vehicles (easy targets), but a couple made worrying approaches to cars and camper vans in the queues for the check point gates.

The single guard just couldn't cope, and we had to strongly discourage these couple of illegals from making any approach to our vehicles, which in the event was us standing outside the wagons, and suggesting to them that it would be a bloody bad idea to present any kind of perception of menace or threat, given that we had women and kids in the wagons. It seemed to work, as then didn't bother us afterwards, and we got through ticket and passport checks easily enough.

Departing La France - Au revoir, Dieppe!
Once on the ferry, the idea regarding the seating was taken up, and in my case, discounted immediately. Padded? Check. Comfortable to sit in? Check. Good enough to sleep in? BZZ, nope.

I eventually found a pair of chairs against a wall in the lounge, and managed to get a couple of hours of kip in those, but I had a crick in the small of my back, darnit. Those seats just aren't designed to be slept in (it's not an airliner or an overnight train, after all!).

Anyhow, while the trip there was four hours long, the trip back was five hours duration - seems the ferries travel a bit slower for safety reasons after dark. Makes sense.

Rolling off the ferry at 04:00 UK time (Europe is an hour ahead of the UK, remember), we got through the 'UK Border' - a.k.a. passport control, and headed off to Eastbourne, where upon coffee and a rest was had, before the rest of us headed back to points London and north, and home.

We found out, while catching up on the television news, once we got back to Eastbourne, that the EU Court has decided, in their infinite stupidity, that said illegal migrants cannot now be arrested for breaking the laws on border controls between France and the UK. What utter and complete rot and nonsense.

Anyhow, discounting the problems with irritable brats and garretty migrants, the week was a resounding success, we achieved everything we set out to do and more besides, and we're going again next year!

* Given that I have yet to receive an apology from the teenager for the comment she made, I don't feel in the slightest inclined to apologise to her for the parade-ground-level roar in response.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Normandy 2016, Day 3...

Normally on days off, or on holiday, I tend to sleep late. So much for that idea. At 05:30, I was woken by one of the lads (I’ll mention no names, Dave!) alarm clock. Ugh. So, realising that I wasn’t likely to get much more sleep at all, got up, and grabbed a shower. By 08:00, we were on the road, heading for Bayeux.

The Monday saw more traffic on the Péage motorway, but nowhere near the levels that I’d been expecting, even considering that HGV traffic was once again using the road. It was quite an eye ­opener, and made me wonder just how much of the freight that travels to all parts of France gets there ­ - do they use their railway that much more than we do? Guess that’s a topic for another time, anyway.

By 9 a.m. we were in Bayeux, and found a little café that the lads visited last year, which served a very nice ham and eggs - ­ no damned McDonald today! We also met the dogs that apparently tried to be *very* friendly with Dave’s leg last year... apparently, the poor mutt had learned his lesson from last year, to much amusement from the rest of us!

Still a bit misty, but the
gothic impressiveness
of the place takes your
breath away!
The Cathedral at Bayeux was the reason we were present, and was the focus for the Royal British Legion (RBL) service of remembrance for D­-Day.

There was one major spoilage to the event, however. The Air Cadets, who we met previously, had been asked to attend, and did so in their best uniforms, with flag bearers.

As they understood it, they were to take part in the parade within the cathedral.

Either this was wrong, someone got crossed wires, or someone changed their mind, as a completely and utterly disgusting insult to the Air Training Corps followed: The cadets, in entirety, were told to leave. In full view of the local media’s cameras.

Inside, before the
service started. Minus
the Air Cadets.
So, rather than cause a massive scene, they did as asked, with dignity; the cadets out of the side doors, their flag party smartly marching out the front doors. They were understandably upset, angry, and very hurt over this slap in the face.

Whoever told them to leave needs to be held to account, as it was a completely unnecessary insult to the Air Cadets and Her Majesty, as the cadets obviously bore a Colours flag bearing the Crown insignia (the ATC was formed on the command of a Royal Warrant, unlike the other Cadet services).

This is an argument for another place, by people with scrambled egg on the visors of their caps, but someone in the RBL needs to be brought to account over this disgusting incident. It cast a pall over the rest of the proceedings.

After the service, the remaining flag bearers and band marched up to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at the top of the hill (with one vastly entertaining hiccup ­ the band, leading the parade, took left turn downhill followed by a right turn uphill, smack dab into a cul-de-sac, and had to perform a swift about turn on the march to get back onto line of route!).

Normally, I’d expect the RBL to provide a marshalling team to prevent this sort of foul­-up, but apparently, they either didn’t feel it was necessary, or they didn’t turn up. Either way, it was the only amusing feature of the day.

Once at the cemetery, we kept a weather eye on both the veterans and the cadets again, as the day had turned out to be very hot indeed.

By the end of the service at the cemetery, several veterans and a few cadets had needed to be treated for heat exhaustion; the medics on­-site were excellent, and did what was needed, but the sheer volume of patients they had to work with was somewhat larger than they’d been expecting, so once again, we ended up providing immediate first aid to the cadets, to reduce the paramedics workload.

I’m glad to say that none of those treated required anything more than shade, cooling down, and water, and they all recovered swiftly.

After this, we made our way to Arromanches on the coast. Apparently, last year, the lads had made such a good impression with someone of some import at Rots, that we’d been asked to attend the Arromanches commemorations with a view to lending help with the marshalling of the event.

To cut a long story short, we liaised with the organisers, the Royal Marines (there to provide the Veterans escorts in the parade), the First Aid team provided by the QARANCs (Queen Anne’s Royal Army Nursing Corps), and the local security and Police Municipale. Quite a tall order, but we pulled it off nicely, with no bent noses, and quite a bit of fun along the way. I was too busy to take photos this time, but I’ll try again next year :­)

Dinner that evening was a burger and fries on the sea front (miles better than the McDonald’s stuff over here!)

And yes, we made a fair few new friends along the way :­)

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Normandy 2016: Day 2...

This was written following our return to England...

Day two was supposed to start at 07:00.

However, for some strange reason, I woke up at 06:00.

Still, it let me move in a slower manner than I otherwise would have needed to, and this set the routine for me, for the remainder of the visit.

We were hoping to take breakfast in a little café in Rots, but they were closed on Sundays. That wasn't really too much of a surprise, as unlike England, Sundays in France are fairly quiet, and very few places open for business. McDonalds was open, though.

Their breakfast menu was completely different to the English one, though. We wound up having Bacon McMuffins and coffee. Note that their McMuffins are about a THIRD smaller than ours, if you visit. Forewarned is forearmed, of course.

By 08:30, we were outside the Rots Church, and ready to do our bit for their commemorations. Being the only former RMP there, we were asked to assist by providing an honour guard to their memorial monument, which we were more than honoured and happy to do (there are no photos of this, I'm afraid, as I was not in a position to take them!).

Then, it was off to the 46 Royal Marines Commando memorial.

Rots was a bloody battle; the members of 'A', 'B', 'X', and 'Z' Troops, 46 RM, faced the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, and it was apparently a meat grinder of an encounter.

Supported by artillery, the RM moved in, and it went house to house, with the RM eventually dislodging the SS, who withdrew. An expected counter attack never happened, thankfully, but the RM suffered nasty losses in the battle. 22 of their number fell, never to return home. The monument and plaques remember their ultimate sacrifices to freedom.

On a more close to home note, one of the audience for this service was a former redcap, Roy, who suffered a dizzy spell, fell over, and had to be carted off to the local hospital for checks. I was one of those who rushed to his side as he fell over, and aside from some grazes to his leg (he caught a chair as he went down, but his head never hit anything, which was a relief), he appeared fine, if slightly irritated and surprised. We followed this up on Monday, and he was kept in for observation through Sunday and Monday. Our hopes and best wishes went with him, and we hope he returned home, safely (we'll be following this up privately, as we weren't able to check on him on Tuesday as we were running around like mad things).

The afternoon found us taking a detour to Pegasus Bridge, which was busy with traffic, and Merville Battery, which was hosting a memorial to 9 Para.

Merville was one of the first combat parachute drops of the war, and the mission for 9 Para was to destroy the armoured and bunkered artillery pieces there, that were threatening the allied armada in the English Channel. There's a good accounting of this on Wikipedia:

Three former members of 9 Para were inducted to the Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur at this remembrance service, which is one the highest French military honours, for their roles in this action.

There were also some Air Cadets present, and they were there to show the flag; their colour party was alongside the other flag bearers there, which I found to be a nice touch.

Unfortunately for them, it was a rather cold evening, and when they'd disembarked from their coach, it was apparently blazingly hot, so their parade party was in ATC Tee Shirts. With all the prolonged oratory from the many distinguished visitors there (read: Politicians), they were shivering rather worryingly.

So, not for the first time this visit, we were helping to provide immediate first aid to those needing it. Three of their number, the first being their Flag bearer, the poor lad, had to be taken to the warmth of our car to prevent exposure injuries (warmth from a car vent blowing at high speed, a blanket around them, and a hot cup of sweet tea down the throat works wonders). I'm happy to report that they were fine again within half an hour. Their OC was present, and was not at all amused by the long period of standing around they had to endure; I can't say I disagree.

After Merville, it was back to our accommodations, and dinner. Which in the event turned out to be McDonalds again.

And that was Day two... day three to follow...!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Normandy 2016, Day 1...

Well, been a while, so I suppose I better get writing on here again!

Note that this entry has been updated on my return from France, with photos and added notes, as the original entry was written on my phone!

Having been volunteered (read: roped in) to assisting a couple of friends, I'm on the way to Normandy in France, to provide low-profile escorts to veterans at a few commemorative events leading up to, and perform a wreaths laying, over the D-day commemorations there this year.

An early wake-up (05:30, bloody hell!), and we got to Newhaven ferry port for 07:30.

Getting through passport control and the ticketing booth was easy enough, and then the inevitable waiting started.

We got to wait for 45 minutes, until they began loading the ferry.

It's not as large a ferry as I remember from the crossings at Calais back in my school years, but it left promptly enough at just gone 9 a.m. I'm actually rather impressed with DFDS Ferries; the staff were friendly, polite, approachable, and spoke good English - it's their business to be like this, but their professional attitudes certainly showed, and spoke well of the company.

About half an hour after we left dock, the restaurant opened for business, and one full English ("un petit déjeuner anglais"), two coffees, and a mild walk around the weather decks later, it was just over a third the way through the crossing (four hours, Newhaven to Dieppe).

Views from the two weather decks were alright, but given the weather (damp with sea mist) nothing brilliant; to the aft, our wake, there were good views of the sea mist port and starboard, and the view to the front was obscured by the bridge superstructure and the radio antenna farm there.

Cues to sing "We are sailing"
were loudly shouted down!
Even with the sea mist, it was remarkably less humid outside, than inside - this, despite the air conditioning within the ferry.

I found this slightly odd, but as it wasn't that cold, (not warm either), we spent a lot of time on the upper weather deck, just relaxing (the others could also smoke there, which was handy for them!).

Before long, we had our first sight of the French coastline, and their version of the White Cliffs of Dieppe. With some landslides apparent. Still, it was a nice sight :)

Once docked at Dieppe, offloading was of the hurry up and wait form; never the less, we were off in about half an hour, and were shortly thereafter on the road down to the Normandy area. A couple of hours later found us on the A29 toll (Péage) road towards Caen.

The péage roads are a feature of roads in France; the money made from the tolls are used exclusively to maintain them, and apparently to help to fund the building of new ones. However you cook it, though, they do the job.

For the most part, you enter the motorway, pay a fee, and that's that; in some stretches, where there are multiple entrances and exits, you receive a ticket, and that ticket is used to calculate your toll when you leave the motorway. It's a good system.

I'll also note that their roads, outside the rush hour, have an incredibly lighter usage loading than ours do, especially at weekends; I was told that this is even more noticeable at weekends, as heavy goods vehicles (except for perishable goods loads) are prohibited from using these roads at weekends.

I'll make one more bleeding obvious observation here: say what you will about the French (and we British often do!), but they could teach the ministry of transport back home about how to maintain roads -  these are some of the best roads I've travelled on in years! Even their road repairs were excellent; the asphalt may have been cracked and had holes in it, but their repairs were top-notch: You could have rested a glass of water on the dashboard, and it wouldn't have spilled a drop!

First sight of the
Pont du Normandie
suspension bridge
There is also one of the most picturesque bits of bridge architecture that I've ever seen - the Pont de Normandie suspension bridge, which spans over the River Seine; it's quite a sight as you first see it, and driving over it is a sight as well.

It's like driving under a
massive capital "A"!
Surprisingly for a slightly windy day, there wasn't much - if any - wind buffeting as you might expect on similar bridges - certainly, the QE2 bridge over the Dartford crossing is much more blustery than this one.

Remembering the flooding to the north of France, it wasn't very surprising to see how high the river was along its' banks. It was one heck of a sight, though, very, very impressive.

A couple of hours later, we arrived in Rots, to our accommodations for the next few days, and spent a few hours setting up, before it was off to McDonalds for dinner.

I'm not entirely enthused with Le Premium Royale, which is their version of the Big Mac, there weren't pickles, there was a massive slice of tomato, and what passed for onion was strange and somewhat spongy. I suppose the French like them, but I guess it was the surprise of the new to me. My overall reaction to the burger was a resounding 'Meh'. Pulp Fiction will never be the same ;-)

The coffee, though, was interesting. It was nice, but they have one size. Medium. Be warned: If you like large McD coffees, you won't get one - you'll have to go back and buy another!

So, that's the end of day one. More to follow...