They give and they take way
Two items landed on my mat in the post this morning.

One told me that I am now eligible for winter fuel payments. Just, the cut-off date is two weeks after my birthday.

The other was my latest electricity bill.

According to The Observer, Mike Leigh has been filming Peterloo in Guildford this summer, Guildford standing in for 1819 Manchester. I remember hearing about Peterloo in school history, and there's an overture by Malcolm Arnold commemorating it.

Can't say I've seen any evidence of the filming.

I don't believe I did that
On the whole, I am happy with watching television through a Sky box. I now rarely watch anything "live", even waiting fifteen minutes after a programme has started so I can watch the recording and fast-forward through the ad breaks.

The only problem is that my box is now ten years old. A few years ago, Sky did some software upgrades and it turned out the older spec boxes had trouble with these. Specifically, if the box has been running too long without a reboot, it will freeze. No button on the remote control has any effect, although it will keep streaming the current programme, either live or a recording. The first time this happened with me I actually was fast-forwarding through an ad break and when the ad break ended and I pressed the button to go back to normal speed, it just kept going. Even when it got to the end of the recording, it just sat there with an "end of recording" message but wouldn't allow me to go back to live TV. Bizarrely, I was recording another show at the time, and that kept recording, but even then it kept recording even after the show had finished.

When this happens, the only thing to do is to reboot. The Sky box has no on/off switch. The only way to reboot is to unplug the box at the power socket, wait a few seconds for the capacitors to discharge and plug it back in. And then wait at least ten minutes whilst the software re-initialises.

I have now got into the habit of powering the box off a couple of times a week, which seems to reduce the number of times it freezes. Doing this just before going to bed means I don't have a problem waiting for the reboot to complete.

So, last night I was watching a programme whilst having a meal. I paused the programme to go to the kitchen for a refill. When I got back, I pressed the button on the Sky remote and nothing happened. I pressed several other buttons. The LED on the front of the box responded to show it was receiving the button presses, but the picture stayed frozen. As I'd just powered the box off the night before, I was annoyed that it had not gone a whole day before freezing. That doesn't usually happen.

I went behind the TV and unplugged the box, waited a few seconds and plugged it back in. When I got round the front of the set, the frozen picture was still there. That shouldn't happen. This flummoxed me for a time until I remembered I'd actually been watching a programme on a DVD, and I should have used the DVD remote to restart the programme.

A blast from the past
Sometime in the late sixties, I was in my local newsagent's in a small town in the north of England when I saw a copy of Analog. I had heard of the magazine as my local library had anthologies from it, but I'd never seen a copy before.

When I started Leeds university in 1970, I discovered it was usually available from W.H. Smith's in the railway station and I started collecting it. And when I got to London after graduating it was easily available at Smith's all over town, not to mention the speciality bookshops like Forbidden Planet.

Sometime in the early nineties, this stopped but I found I could order it from Andromeda. When they went out of business, I discovered I could now subscribe to it from the publisher's website and have been doing so ever since. (Although issues do seem to occasionally go astray and I have to contact their customer service team to get replacements.)

I was in W.H. Smith's just now and there were several copies of the July/August issue of Analog on their magazine racks. I haven't seen that for over twenty years!

Going to Helsinki - the planning
I've just finished doing all my bookings for travelling to Helsinki for this year's Worldcon. Should have done this ages ago, but first there was a trip to Scotland then a trip to Germany to plan and I never got round to starting the booking till I got back from Germany.

I did book an hotel for the convention at the beginning of the year, which was a start. I knew when I wanted to arrive in Helsinki and when I would be leaving.

It will not surprise people that I'm travelling over land to Stockholm and then getting a ferry to Helsinki. The Man in Seat 61 gives two routes from London to Helsinki by train and ferry, one via Hamburg and Travemünde and the other via Hamburg and Stockholm. I thought I'd go to Stockholm again. There are two ferry companies that do this route, and they both have overnight sailings. Turned out to be very easy booking the ferry over the internet. I even have reservations in the restaurant for dinner both nights.

Now, theoretically, I could travel by train from London to Hamburg in one day and then from Hamburg to Stockholm the next, but to get to the Eurostar terminal I'd have to leave Guildford early in the morning, which would mean a train crowded with commuters going to London, and then crossing London with a heavy suitcase during the rush hour. I decided to break my journey both ways in Cologne and Hamburg.

So I worked from the middle out. Next I needed a return trip from Hamburg to Stockholm. That sounded easy. I'd done it a couple of times before. The problem was that the ferry gets into Stockholm in the early morning so I thought I'd be able book the return trip late enough in the day that I could go straight from the ferry terminal to the central station in Stockholm. I went to the Deutsche Bahn website, which I've often used, and there was a return train at about midday. This seemed perfect. The trouble was, this involved an additional change. Going out, I'd change only at Copenhagen. The return trip involves changing at Lund. And the DB website couldn't sell me a ticket, only give my a quotation in an e-mail.

The e-mail arrived the next day and had a phone number to call to book the ticket. Unfortunately, the person at the other end spoke only German. I think she said she was transferring me to the English speaking line, but I then found myself on hold for half an hour before I hung up.

The DB website did give a number for English language help, but that too was busy. I wasn't on hold for long, but then asked to leave a message. At this point, I started looking into flights from London to Stockholm, just in case. A couple of hours later, not having got a return call, I tried the English language number again and immediately got through to a helpful person who was able to book my tickets and post them to me. They arrived this morning.

After that, it was just a matter of booking the Cologne-Hamburg return trip, which I could do via the DB website, and then London to Cologne, done on the Eurostar site.

The final step was booking some hotels via There's an hotel in Cologne right next to the station that I've stayed at before - I was there last month on my way home from Berlin - and I was able to get rooms there for the two nights. There's also an hotel I know in Hamburg that I stayed in a couple of years ago and I was able to book there for the outward part of the trip. Alas, it was full for the return part and I've had to settle for a different, more expensive hotel. As I'm getting in to Hamburg fairly late, I think I'll find out where it is when I get into Hamburg the first time, so I don't have trouble finding it.

And finally, two nights in an hotel in Stockholm near the station. It's fairly expensive, but that's Stockholm for you.

It's going to be a long trip. But probably more fun than just flying straight to Helsinki.

Travelling from Berlin
As it happens, my fear of heights was not my only problem in catching my train.

I'd left myself an hour to get from my hotel to the station. In fact, the hotel desk had a button to call a taxi and one arrived within five minutes. And it was about 15 minutes to get to the station. (I find it slightly ironic that it is difficult to get to the new station by U-bahn. There is an underground station there, but the line only goes three stops, as far as the Brandenburg Gate, which is about five minutes walk away. It would take two changes of train to get there from the underground station right next to my hotel. However, Unter den Linden is one long roadwork where they are building a new line.)

I sat down to read for a bit on the ground floor with the seat facing away from the drop to the lower level. I then thought it would be a good idea to check my seat reservation. German stations have displays telling you where to stand for your allocated seat.

But when I checked my ticket, I discovered I'd failed to reserve a seat. I asked at the information counter near where I'd been sitting and they told me I didn't actually need one to board the train, but I could still buy one from the ticket office on the next floor up.

So I was able to ascend the escalator without too much difficulty and trundled my case along, as far away from the edge as I could, and entered the Reisezentrum, which at least was enclosed. It operated a ticket queueing system. I still had about 20 minutes to my train and my number was soon called. They could still sell me a reservation for €4.50.

The escalator to my platform was right next to the entrance to the ticket office, so I had no trouble going up another level. And there were no precipitous drops nearby. I still had ten minutes to spare.

I'd have been more impressed it they'd manage to re-program the over-seat display to show my reservation, but I had no trouble claiming my seat.

After I'd been travelling for an hour or so, I decided to get up and go to the loo. At the door to the carriage I met a young woman with two kids in tow who asked me a question in German. "Ich sprache nicht deutsch," I said. She said something in reply and turned round and went back the way she came. I've no idea what she'd asked, nor why my not speaking German meant she promptly left.

Fear of railway stations
I have to catch a train at Berlin Hauptbahnhof tomorrow morning, and that worries me.

The new central station for Berlin is a magnificent building. It was built on waste ground near where the wall used to stand. It was still being built when I first visited Berlin in 2004 and it was opened a couple of years later.

The trouble is, it's on five levels. The east-west tracks are two levels above ground level, the north-south tracks two levels below ground level. But they've left gaps in the floors so that from the top level you can see all the way down to the lowest level.

And I can't stand heights.

Every time I visit the station I find myself approaching a drop and my legs stop working. I find it difficult to ride the escalators. And, of course, all the lifts are glass.

I need to get to the top level tomorrow to start my journey home.

Back to front
I was walking by the river in Berlin when I saw a boat go past. The boat's name was, I presume, Star, but of course it was in German. Now, I know what the German for Star is, but it still seemed odd to see a boat with "Stern" written on its bow.

Incidentally, I've just noticed I'm getting German clickbait.

Travelling to Berlin
I travelled from Dortmund to Berlin yesterday. Trains at Dortmund were subject to delays when I got to the station just after ten. My train, due at 10:48 was marked as running five minutes late, but arrive about 35 minutes late. It got into Berlin about an hour late.

Being so used to delays on British trains, I thought nothing of this, but when I came down to breakfast this morning, there was a copy of the local paper on the counter and I noticed a big picture of a railway line. I just googled for news of German trains and I see there were a number of arson attacks on the lines Sunday night that led to the delays.

I'm in Dortmund now for Eurocon. Spent most of the day travelling on trains.

But something happened before I set off this morning.

One of the disadvantages of being in most days is that if delivery people can't get a reply from my neighbours, they ask if they can leave packages with me. There are students next door. Just before Easter I was asked to take in a package and no-one came to pick it up before I went to Eastercon, and then nobody seemed to be at home, and the package was sitting in my hall for about three weeks before I saw someone going in the front door and managed to catch them.

Yes, you guessed it. I was just finishing my packing this morning when the doorbell rang. A man was standing there with a very large package - came up to his waist. Could I take it. I told him I was going on holiday in ten minutes, which seemed to be the best thing to say.

But I've now told a complete stranger my house is going to be empty for a week.


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