lettersTrying to get back into regular ‘personal’ blogging I have the dilemma of what to blog about – skipping from food and cooking to another hobby, eg photography, writing, classic cars, or varied hobby horses, etc, as I used to do – or stick to one topic, as advised by the blogging gurus. I’ve decided on the former, for the moment. It suits me. I am working up to a cooking one soon, in which I’ll be asking for advice from the many brilliant cooks I follow, but today here’s something completely different, though it was brought on by a guest post from Joanne Gennard on the Ilford blog ‘Best in Black and White’.

Memories brought flooding back

When my mother died several years ago I found that she had kept letters which I wrote to her during my time in Romania. Many friends have suggested I should turn them into a book; though I wasn’t sure about that, I did promise myself that ‘one day’ I would save them in another, more widely accessible, form by scanning them and storing them also digitally. I have never looked at them until the past few days and, when I found them, assumed that she had kept all the letters, from March 1993 to mid-2004. Having recently been reminded forcefully that I am not immortal I decided to do something about it. Having read about a quarter of the letters, I’m so glad I have started the job: there is so much that I had forgotten which I’ve been delighted to be reminded of – eg, experiences with the many children I taught, for example the ‘Bunnies’, a delightful special needs class, pictured on the right (some of them have featured before, in a post on 27 January 2013) and even experiences at the start of my relationship with my wife leading up to New Year’s Eve (her birthday) 1999. We married in 2000.

ltr2-toner_ed

Not a letter but included with a letter to show my mother something about my internet projects and show her a picture of a class of delightful special needs children I worked with. I could not print colour then so stuck on a colour photo.

Sorting through the packet a few days ago, I found that the earliest letter is from over four years after I arrived in Romania, when they began to be written on ‘computer’ and printed. The many before, written by hand on what I seem to remember were called ‘aerograms’ are not there, not one. Why the printed ones were saved, but the handwritten ones not, I cannot explain.

Simple OCR

One of the reasons I had never got around to the task was that I thought I would have to transcribe from handwriting. No excuse now, I thought, as OCR (optical character recognition) should make the job easier. I’ve also found that it can be done in a much more relaxed manner than using a scanner and computer, by using an iPad and a great free ‘app’ called ‘Doc Scanner + OCR’. It takes a while to figure out how to work it but once that hurdle is jumped it is very good. It is not happy when the printing to be scanned is light, ie a pale grey, but really excellent when the type is a strong black. I’m still working on that, and on getting reasonably even lighting across the page being scanned.

scansetup_edFor my first attempts I just put a sheet of typing on the floor and handheld the iPad over it. It was quite difficult to hold the iPad steady enough and parallel to the sheet so I’ve now made a simple jig by carving up a suitably sized cardboard box (pictured). The zoom slider in the latest iPad OS camera is a big help in getting the image to the optimum size.

Once scanned and converted to text, I’m copying it and pasting into another free app called Pages, in which it is easy to edit (the OCR conversion is good but never perfect). Pages is another really great app which I use a lot, for everything from writing letters to drafting blog posts. Finally I’m backing it up to Dropbox and my ‘Personal Cloud’ as a pdf. When I’ve completed all the letters I’ll print them out.

I might even make a book 😉 .

Playing the trout. In the hot June sun, the fly arches towards a cooler spot, suspended for a moment then alighting, still yet ominous. Only the midges bite, swooping again and again on bare skin. The daisies behind smile at the sun, a white army, each bearing his shield of gold. Buttercups spread their delicious gold. No rod here, no hook with barb nor tortured fish. Just Schubert’s quintet, spilling with joy from an iPad.


Some of you will know of my love for the ‘traditional’ haiku, the discipline of writing to a very short set format – 5-7-5 syllables – to communicate a thought or feeling.

Recently I was introduced, by Becky whose blog is called Evening Scribbles, to another format which appeals to me for similar reasons: to write a story or introductory stand-alone paragraph of exactly 75 words. They may be published, if accepted, on the website: http://www.paragraphplanet.com/

I have just submitted my first, though have yet to hear whether it will be published on the site. It was prompted by seeing a neighbour loading his car to go fishing shortly before I ventured downstairs to sit in the sun for the first time since my recent surgery, where I wrote the above 75 words. 

Malham Cove, N Yorkshire from close to the rock fae

Malham Cove, N Yorkshire (click the pic to see larger)

A wonderful sunny Yorkshire day rounded off a great week with a trip to Malham for Lofty, the VW Bay camper, to show off his new MOT and annual LPG service by Steve at Gasure (highly recommended) the day before. During the week the first session on the eggs2iPads project, in which teenagers introduce potentially isolated elderly people to the wonders of internet on iPads, was a resounding success (see below).

Malham Cove is one of the many wonders of the Yorkshire Dales and that I was able to do the necessary walk (about 2.1/2 miles – nearest parking is in the village) makes me glad I went through with the hernia operation in January and gave a welcome boost to my ‘enthusiasm’ for the follow up op next week (otherwise there’s sure to be a problem with walks in the future). The pictures are by my wife Petronela as mine, on film, won’t be available for a while (for the classic photographers, an XA4 – colour film – and XA – black and white – in my hands).

A plate with a slice of quiche, lemon drizzle cake and fruit cake in the 'pop-up' cafe in Malham Village Hall.

Quiche, lemon drizzle cake and fruit cake in the ‘pop-up’ cafe in Malham Village Hall.

An ‘Animal safari’ in the village meant there was a very large number of visitors and many Morris dance ‘sides’ performing. But, for me, the highlight apart from the Cove itself was a ‘pop-up’ cafe in the village hall. A really tasty quiche (baked by ‘Rachel’) followed by a slice of a wonderful poppy seed laden lemon drizzle cake and a slice of fruit cake (bakers unknown), all washed down by a cup of freshly made tea, was a bargain at a little over £3, all to raise money for local causes. I felt I deserved a day off from my diet, first ever, having lost over 3kg in a month by cutting out cakes, puddings  and chocolate (ouch!). I had put on 12kg due to the hormone treatment for the prostate problem.

At the Cove itself, I wondered at the climbers inching their way up the sheer face but was even more impressed by the magnificence of a Peregrine Falcon standing guard over her chicks, seen thanks to the powerful spotting scopes set up by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Lofty needs a new petrol pump – a definite requirement for the planned Romania trip in case I cannot find LPG – as he’s not happy running on petrol at the moment. As he almost never runs on petrol a cheap pump should do. His exhaust system also needs renewal so as Custom & Commercial have a good discount offer over this holiday weekend my order will be going off later today.

Teaching grandmother – from eggs to iPads (eggs2iPads)

The eggs2iPads team

The eggs2iPads team (there’s one more not in the pic). Click the pic for more on this project.

The eggs2iPads project got off to a wonderful start on Thursday teatime. Five enthusiastic but potentially isolated elderly people came to my village’s (Menston) Menstone club to get together with the ‘eggs2iPads’ team of six 14/15 year old youngsters (all Explorer Scouts) to experience and learn to use programs like Skype, and more, to stay in touch with distant relatives and friends. For more on this project click the picture.

Surprise of the session? No-one seemed to have heard of the expression ‘Teaching grandmother to suck eggs‘, from which the project title was derived of course. I must be getting old!

Wonderful Yorkshire cheeses

Worth mentioning that our session at The Menstone was followed by the first meeting of the Wharfedale Fine Cheeses Cheese Club, at which Caroline Bell, daughter of the founder of Shepherd’s Purse, cheesemakers of Thirsk, introduced their range of wonderful cheeses of which the blues are my favourites. Companies like this are showing we Brits can compete with the French and have something other than Cheddar and Stilton.

I abhor cheeses with ‘stuff’ like cranberries introduced (making a favourite – Wensleydale – dreadful to my taste) so am unlikely to be impressed with the Shepherd’s Purse lavender infused). But the blues – wonderful. Again, for more on this go to http://menstonvillagewharfedale.com.