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Doodlecat's Homepage

Picture of Doodle - a 
black cat

Welcome to Doodlecat, where we enjoy the pleasures of life (with a slight bias towards the outdoors). This page is regularly updated with news and views plus information about any additions or changes to the various parts of the site. It acts as Doodlecat’s Blog too, so the odd rant considered opinion may pop up from time to time.

I would love to be able to say that Doodlecat is all my own work, but it isn’t. Much of the outdoors content is courtesy of the splendid people who participate in the annual TGO Challenge (there is a section entirely devoted to this unique event) and many others.

To help in tracking down that elusive morsel on Doodlecat, the search facility under the title bar above is tailored to help you find it, either on this home page (Doodlecat's Blog) all the rest of the site (Main Site) or – if all else fails - the internet!

So have a rummage around the old cat basket and enjoy your time with us!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Letting the train take the strain.

tired cabin crew memberThere is one part of the TGO Challenge that I hate - getting there. Scotland is so inconveniently placed for those of us in the south.

This is the pre-chally Thursday routine. Up far too early, drive to Alan's place, take a ludicrously expensive taxi to the airport, and then suffer the mounting anxiety as the rucksack with all my worldly goods for the next two weeks is swallowed by the baggage handlers' dark satanic mechanism. Herded like cattle onto the plane by tired and fedup cabin staff. Then maybe, just maybe, we take off on time and arrive at the correct destination. We once ended up at Lossiemouth on a flight to Inverness owing to fog. For 'security reasons' we then had to wait sweating on an airless plane until a few scruffy coaches came to collect us. The cabin crew, who had already done Geneva and Paris wilted too. Easyjet? Queasyjet I'd say.

Then all this stress is followed by the mad rush to try to buy gas or meths ( forbidden on aircraft) and still be in time for the train or bus to our final destination. No wonder we're driven to drink by the time we stagger in.

This is meant to be a fun holiday. There has to be a better way...

On average the trip from home in East Anglia to the chosen start point  has worked out to around £85 each in the past, taking into account the air fare, taxi, and ancillary buses and trains etc. Can we have a more relaxed time for the same price?

Given a little forward planning, yes indeed!

In times gone by we used to nip up to Scotland using the sleeper service to Rannoch, Corrour, Blair Atholl or Kingussie on cheap Apex fares, but as these became scarcer than hens' teeth, this habit died away in recent years. Time for a little reappraisal  we thought - and we guessed that a midweek train near midnight would be more likely to have a bargain fare or two. The FirstScotrail website was monitored closely.

old scottish scenic rail posterAnd we came up trumps! The three fenboys have secured two bargain berths and one Apex fare on the Caledonian sleeper from London Euston to Glasgow central - AND pre booked seats on the little rattly train to Lochailort all for total cost per head of £78.24 (plus a cheapo ticket down to London).The cheapest sleeper ticket was £49.00. Not bad for a 400 mile trip that includes bed & breakfast (if a cup of tea & a muffin counts as breakfast).

So for once we'll be able to stay in bed long after our compatriots have set off, and have loads of time when we arrive to amble across the platform to take a leisurely shave & shower before setting out to see a bit more of Glasgow than the run from Tiso's to Queen Street.

After a few years of despairing of getting affordable fares on the Caledonian Sleeper, it seems that the right route at the right time can still produce the odd bargain.

Fellow challengers will easily recognise us at Queen Street. We'll be the relaxed, clean shaven, fragrant chaps at the bar, casting a sardonic eye over frazzled latecomers. Ah ... sweet schadenfreude...
But now, with the real work done (planning the route!) however you choose to get there, here's to a great TGO Challenge 2010. After my forced withdrawal from last year's event, I'm looking forward to renewing old friendships and making new ones.

So to all challengers, old & new, have a great time, and I'll see you for a dram or several in Montrose!

wine case Chateau Montrose

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A kick in the Googles.

Yes, and it hurts!

Most readers who have commented on the home page will know that this part uses Blogger for the posts and comments - and it works brilliantly. But not for much longer, simply because this is my site, hosted on server space that I pay for. It seems that this makes me persona non grata as far as Blogger/ Google are concerned. They are turning off their FTP service, which means that Doodlecat's home page will cease to function from March 26th.

No, I didn't think it was sufficent notice either.

Blogger say that they will have a "migration tool" available from 22nd February to allow me to move the blog section of Doodlecat to a so-called "custom domain" hosted on (you guessed it) their servers.

Is it a good idea to have all my eggs in Google's basket?

I think not. I pay for my domain, and my web space. Therefore it is mine, and no-one can interfere with or censor it.

And Blogger's hosting is pretty thin anyway - allowing just ten static pages. Doodlecat has, well, I don't know how many, but it's a lot! That means I would have this bit hosted with Blogger, leaving the rest where it is and cobble it together. And I'm no techy. I chose this system precisely because I wanted something simple.

Maybe it's churlish to complain about the withdrawal of a 'free' service, but the manner in which this has been done (announcement first - tools to deal with it following weeks later - virtually no notice) demonstrates a high handed and contemptuous attitude to the users that I find pretty repellent.

I would have willingly paid for this service to continue - and I suspect that most of the FTP users would too. But with only around 11/2 million of us I guess that would be chicken feed to Google.

Free services are fine, but independence is more important. So, thanks, Google, Blogger or whoever you are these days, but no thanks. I'm off to have a look at Wordpress before I resort to a book on PHP scripts and try to write my own bloggy bit.

Now, that would be a disaster :)