Monday, May 28, 2007

Tutorial School in West Midlands

If you're looking for tutors for your kids in the Dudley or Wolverhampton area, fret not because a tutorial school operates in the area.

The Phoenix Tutorial College operates in Dudley and Wolverhampton. They offer tutors for all levels of education from Infants school to AS/A-levels. Tuition is available for most subjects even languages. Students are taught by tutors (specialists on their subjects) usually in groups of 5 or less. That was just fine with us since they charge very reasonable fees. We were just so relieved to find them during the time when my eldest J1 desperately needs help with his English Literature and Language for his GCSE exams. They seem to have sorted him out. We're just hoping this will reflect well in his exam results.

Here's a blurb from their leaflet:

Phoenix Tutorial College was established in 1982 by Mr. R. Sealy, then newly retired from his post as Senior Lecturer in Education (Psychology) at the West Midlands College of Higher Education. The business was set up to provide students of all ages from primary age upwards with access to high quality individual tuition either in their homes or at premises in Dudley.

The college began in premises in Dudley, soon moving to the lecture room in the Dudley Central Library, then expanding into The Brooke Robinson Room in Dudley Town Hall, and now in the Dudley Art Gallery & Museum (opposite the town Hall) and at The Language Centre in Wolverhampton.

Phoenix Tutorial College
Contact: Dr. Mariam Janjua
Tel No.: 01384 359 272
07950 727 743

Saturdays 9AM - 1PM
Dudley Art Gallery & Museum
St. James's Road
Dudley DY1 1HU

Fridays 4PM - 8PM
The Language Centre
Waterloo Road

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cornwall (part 4)

We now come to one of my favourite spots here in my favourite place in UK. The last time we were here was around 1996 - more than 10 years ago! St. Michael's Mount is a castle on top of a hill in a small island only a few meters from the beaches of the ancient town of Marazion. It is indeed an island during high tide while at low tides it is connected to the mainland via a causeway. Just a glimpse of the silhoutte of this island takes my breath away - truly beautiful setting for a castle.

Here we are walking towards the island through the causeway. We were a bit in a hurry since we've got only two hours to spare before the tide comes in and we will be trapped there. Well actually there are small boats that can ferry visitors to and from the place. But we don't want to dig £2.50 for each of us for that short distance.

Once you reach the island itself your ordeal is just beginning for you have to climb a steep walkways and a number of steps to get to the castle. There are no lifts so a definite no-go place for the wheelchair bound or physically frail.

After panting from the climbing exercise you come to a rampart replete with cannons.

You're also rewarded with a magnificent unimpeded view of Marazion and Penzance. Exhilarating to see!

After catching your breath while enjoying the view of the cannons and nearby beaches, you have to climb more steps to get to the front door.

Unfortunately, photos are not allowed in the castle so I didn't get to take a lot. Here is a collage of the main dining room with the various armours decorating the wall, the very interesting wooden support on the ceiling, and the stained glass windows.

Above is a view of the courtyard outside a portion of the castle ...

where you have turrets that have magnificent views of the ocean ...

or the lush well-tended gardens surrounding it. On another note, I noticed that the kids became a increasingly hyper and giggly and happy as we were touring the castle. Could it be because allegedly four major ley lines intersect in this very island? Could it be that they're strong enough to affect people in a positive way? I sure hope so, that would really make our visit very special.

On the way out of the castle I noticed this peculiar solid stone round pole mounted upright. (A round peg in a square hole?) What could they possibly use that for?

Towards the end we were practically running out of the place because we knew that the tide was coming in and we didn't want to be caught out in the island.

Sure enough as we were crossing the causeway, it was just getting covered with water. And within 5 minutes, the causeway was completely submerged.

I loved every minute of our visit there who knows we might come back after 10 years. As we wound down the day, we realised we still have several hours of daylight. So we decided to take the long way back to base by driving along the B road that hugged the coast between Land's End and St. Ives. It was quite interesting, not only in terms of views and quaint little villages but also with the very narrow roads. In some sections it is reduced to a single track so cars have to take turns.

As I reflect on our visit to Cornwall, I can only say that staying in caravan holiday homes is quite nifty, the motorway traffic to and from were atrocious, and I'm afraid I won't be eating fish and chips in the next 6 months!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Cornwall (part 3)

After our late night theatre escapade the previous night, it was time to go 'techie'. So we drove only 15 minutes from where we were staying. Goonhilly is dubbed as the largest satellite earth station on earth. It doesn't mean the largest satellite antenna but the largest collection of satellite antennas in the world. Me and the husband were particularly interested since we both majored in Electronics and Communications way back in university. If we followed what we were educated for we might have been employed in one of these sites.

What do these 'dishes' do? They transmit and receive live TV transmissions, millions of phone calls, video calls, email, data, faxes, and even weather and navigation data. There are also undersea cable lines that connects the communications station to various parts of the world.

The satelllite dish that greeted us (see above) at the entrance was certainly impressive, big and commanding, towering very high above us little midget humans. This my friends is the satellite dish called Arthur (I love the names they gave them). It's the oldest and one of the biggest in the lot.

Let's take a closer look at Arthur. It was built in 1962 to track the Telstar - a fast and low orbiting satellite. This means that Arthur can do a full swing of its face in just 3 minutes. Mind you, these are working antennas so tour can sometimes be cancelled at the last minute.

On the right-hand side is Merlin and in the middle of the 3 smaller dishes on the left is Geraint currently tasked to track an Inmarsat satellite over the Atlantic.

Here is a closer look at Merlin the largest on site with a dish diameter of 32 meters. It was used in 1985 to transmit the Live Aid concert worldwide.

It also has a Blue Peter badge for being featured in that children's TV program.

Because of advances in technology, huge satellite dishes such as Arthur and Merlin need not be built. Smaller satellite dishes such as above can adequately provide the same service on a smaller physical scale. If you notice, a number of windmills are in the background. That windfarm is not actually part of Goonhilly. It just adds to the peculiar sight of the place.

This is Guinevere. The only east facing satellite dish on site. It tracks the Intelsat satellite hovering over the Indian ocean.

There are a big number of other satellite dishes that I wasn't able to photograph - such as Uther, Lancelot, Isolde, Tristan, etc.

After the guided tour in a tourist bus we were escorted back to the visitor centre.

It has a lot of interactive displays for both adults and school children. There is of course the requisite gift shop and restaurant. I was also excited to find lots of iMacs in a corner with free internet access. The downside is I can't access gmail. :(

Some interactive displays that will keep the kids busy pushing buttons, pulling levers, etc.

But for me, the most eye-popping feature of this visitor centre is the 3-minute free phone call anywhere in the world! You guessed right, I phoned all my relatives and friends that I know that are still awake at that time.

It was a very stimulating experience for all of us most especially for me. I count ourselves lucky for this might be the last time we will see all these satellites as it is in the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall. Because BT (the owner) has decided that by 2008 all of the satellites, except for Arthur, will be dismantled and moved to Hampshire. Shame they will remove these technological wonders in this beautiful location. :(

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cornwall (part 2)

The next day we came to see Land's End - the westernmost tip of the British Isles. It's just unfortunate that it was not spared from the encroachment of commercialism. To gain access you have to go through this facade for a range of shops, theme park type of shows and restaurants. Of course, if you go via the Cornwall Coastal Path you won't have to pollute your senses of this commercialism. I say ignore all these and walk further ahead until you come to the beautiful rocky scene of the real Land's End.

Paths around here are paved and clearly marked so you can get from one vantage point to another.

This is the view from the other vantage point looking over at the commercial area at the entrance to Land's End. If you notice at the left-hand side of the picture there is a hanging bridge (green one) that may give some people the creepies. It hangs over a cliff where a fall would land you some 200+ feet down the crashing waves below.

That's Cape Cornwall on the foreground - notice the cave carved out by the sea? I walked around that area during a stormy windy day several years ago when I walked the dog (Jack) of a local friend. The sound and power of the waves crashing on the rocks was just amazing.

Some scenes in Land's End. Almost every building here is named 'first and last' this and that. So you have the first and last pub or the first and last inn - ad nauseaum.

After a great time touring Land's End, we decided to do a little cultural thing with the kids. So off we went to Minack Theatre, an open-air theatre having the full expanse of the sea as a backdrop. How's that for drama?

The theatre itself was carved out of the rocks on the cliffside. Such amazing lifetime effort from the woman who started this - Rowena Cade. Their garden was amazing, too. All plants there are made to withstand sea breeze and most probably sea gales as well.

Since this theatre is open to the elements we naturally brought our jackets. But we were wondering what we were getting ourselves into because at the car park we saw a number of people dressed in winter garbs as in layered thick outdoors clothes, wooly hats, gloves, boots, the whole lot. Some even brought in sleeping bags! We decided to play it safe and buy a few wooly hats and jumpers in their gift shops. I know it's expensive but I'd rather pay than be stone cold for a few hours.

This is the stage of the Minack. As you can see the audiences' seating is quite steep. We had to hire (£1 each) cushions to protect us from the cold hard granite seating. See that rocky headland in the middle of the picture? Way before the play started we saw a couple of fishermen walked there, positioned themselves and cast their rods. We thought they would leave by dusk. But what do you know, they were still at it even after the play finished at 10PM !

The musical play we saw was Les Miserables staged by the Kidz R Us amateur theatre company from St. Ives. As their name suggests, all of the cast are kids and teenagers. Despite that the play was marvellous. The singers especially were good. The orchestral music was even live and judging from their sound, all done by kids as well. However, I could just imagine the worry of the parents of these kids because by nightfall the wind was gently blowing with chilly early springtime breeze. I hope none of them fell ill in their sometimes skimpy clothes.

We were shivering as well though we managed to survive with our warm clothes on. The beauty of the setting was apparent from the start but is most especially fantastically dramatic as the sun was setting throwing all red and yellow hues in the horizon. Then a lighthouse from a distance turned on and a brightly lit fishing boat sailed past. Such memorable sight they all are as a backdrop for a very good production of Les Miserable.

On our way home, Deng revealed why he was particularly keen on this musical. It turned out he (or rather a classmate) made a book report on the novel where it is based. He said it's only now decades later that he fully understood the whole story! ;)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cornwall (part 1)

I tried very hard for us to go away during the Easter break a few weeks ago because the stress at work is getting to me and I need to unwind. Probably not necessarily rest but a change from routine and scenery is a very much welcome change. Also, I know once the major project at work gets into full swing in late May I can't have any days off later.

Our choice of holiday place was heavily influenced by a 50% discount promotion of a caravan holiday homes in Cornwall besides the fact that the western tip of that county is probably my most favourite place in UK. I've been there at least 4 times and I have always loved the vibes of the area and the beautiful coastal sceneries that could rival any in the world. This time around I've got the whole family with me plus Tony nephew, Dennis, with his kids J and K. We stayed in a caravan park called Weststar Holiday Park in Mullion which is in the Lizard Peninsula.

I'm chronicling here in four parts the places we visited in Cornwall. As usual, these posts will be picture intensive. If you want a bigger view just click on the picture itself. First off, we went to this place called Kynance Cove in the Lizard peninsula.

We had to pay £3.00 to park our car but it was well worth it.

The path leading to the cove is downhill and winding. Later on you have to go down a steep path down a cliff to get to the beach itself.

Then you get a view of this awesome sight of cliffs, massive rocks, fine white sand beach and clear aquamarine waters. For awhile you could think that it's a Hollywood movie set - everything was perfectly arranged as if it was someone's handiwork. Mother nature is truly a great artist.

It was breathtaking so much so that J2 said - "I didn't know there were places as beautiful as this in England!"

The waters were so clean and the beach so pristine that we can't help wading in.

There were a lot of beautiful and intriguing rock formations.

Everywhere you turn ...

... you see a lot of beautiful rock formations, little nooks ...

... and a lot of caves carved out by the sea into the solid rock faces of the cliffs. We had a great time exploring these. I could just imagine pirates of old times coming here to hide things, do business, etc.

We actually loved it so much that we went back again in the afternoon on the same day. We sat hunkered down in the western edge only for about 15 minutes when a lady kindly told us that the tide was coming in and we need to get to the other side so we won't get cut off from the exit steps in the cliffs. Thank goodness for that we got out with just minutes to spare.

Sadly we have to leave Kynance cove. Here's a last look at a truly beautiful place.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Foire de Geneve

I visited my sister and her new son last November in Geneva. She just gave birth about a month before and we coincided the visit with a birthday break for myself and J3's very first airplane ride. Mind you, Easyjet wasn't too bad just make sure you outrun everybody in boarding so you'll get the best seats.

While there, it was fortunate that the Foire de Geneve (Geneva Fair) was in full swing. It's sort of like a covered market with stalls exhibiting or selling a myriad of things and services - from carpets, jacuzzi, kitchens, clothes, to food. As you might have guessed I was totalled engrossed in them, sampling, ogling and sometimes actually forking out to buy.

There was quite a number of Christmas decors and items on display with a matching Santa asking kids on his knees what their wishes were.

Let's start the food exhibits with this stalling selling different fruit flavoured sweets.

This is (I think) a sort of toffee made with butter and milk.

Now I love this stall where I got the lovely smooth delicious foie gras mousse pate. The lady selling these made me taste the foie gras generously spread over a slice of baguette with some fig-chocolate chutney. Oh it was absolutely delicious! So that's how I got 2 additional jars, one of fig-chocolate chutney and a onion-chocolate confit.

Next one was heaving with so many sausages you can hardly see the people behind the counter. All the products were made by a local Geneve company. They did have a wide range on display - from salami, dry and fresh sausages, peperoni, venison salami, etc.

A genuine Italian elateria had this luscious array of fruit flavoured ice creams in their stall. You can just imagine the long queue we had to endure before we could partake of these cool confections.