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Bovey Castle, opulence in every stone

This past weekend, four of us made the journey into the West Country to Bovey Castle in Devon to celebrate, a little belatedly, the birthday of my housemate and friend, Frame, aged 29. I’d never been to Devon, about which I have heard many good things, and it was with no small amount of excitement that I awoke on Saturday morning, very early and strangely with no fuzz head, to commence the journey to Paddington to meet up with the other members of the weekends travel party; Laura, Melinda and of course Frame, who at that point had no idea where he was going and indeed with whom. The look of incredulousness on his face at bumping into familiar faces at the Starbucks, in an obviously non-coincidental way, was matched only by our bemusement.

After we’d all gotten our fix we were off on the 9:05 to Exeter St. Davids, the closest station to Bovey Castle, where we were met by our driver in a spacious new Land Rover and it was obvious from that point the Castle would not fail to impress. Some 30 minutes later we entered Dartmoor National Park, 368 square miles in size, home to Bovey Castle and according to our driver, the last true wilderness in England. Shortly thereafter we arrived at Bovey Castle, turned into the drive and passed a helipad and several holes of the estate golf course while winding our way up to the house. Our driver, a very informed and also informative chap, as the reader may by now have deduced, told us the estate was originally built and owned by the Viscount Hambledon, son of W.H Smith, First Sea Lord of the Admiralty and more familiarly, namesake of the stationers and book sellers we now see all over Britain. Later it was purchased by First Great Western rail and converted into a hotel and it is in this capacity which it continues to exist today. Bovey Castle is exactly the type of place one might expect it to be, yet the impact of first laying eyes upon it is at once inspiring and profound. One is awestruck by the largesse and opulence of the place. It appeals to all the senses simultaneously. One can almost taste the scones at high tea, something which in fact we did taste the very next day.

But first things first, after checking in, we wandered the grounds, savouring (viz. photographing) them fully, while waiting for our rooms to ready. It was crisp out. Fly casting lessons were being held on the lawn. The mature golf course unfolded below. The stream at the bottom of the hill glistened with effervescent clarity and ice splinters. The air smelled of the country. Everything was green.

Later we walked to the town of North Bovey, half a mile away along a riverside, where we had lunch (and several glasses of Merlot) at a delightfully quintessential country pub called the Ring of Bells. Pub food can often be boring and bland or else on the other hand, gastro excellence. This pub fell somewhere between the two and made for an excellent afternoons pastime. Merrily we walked back down the lane, through the woods, over the river and up the hill to our rooms which were, as expected, perfect. The hotel is themed strongly in 1920’s style, from the décor, to the font used on the room numbers. A “Hits of the 20’s” CD was playing in the room and at no time was there any compulsion to reach for the iPod and the music of more recent decades.

Dinner that night took place in the hotel dining room. There were high expectations all round but Bovey Castle once again delivered with each course extracting uncontrollable aah’s and biblical references from each diner in our dinner party. I think I may have shed a small tear over the apple crumble such was its perfection.

Sunday morning dawned and it was sunny, a perfect day for exploring. One of the hotel staff had offered us a tour of the Castle the day before and he met us at breakfast to say he’d made arrangements. After watching a charming falconry display we set off in a 6-seater golf car with one of the grounds keepers, an enthusiastic individual, former golf and tennis coach and clearly avid outdoorsman. He proudly showed us the Bovey Castle he knew and loved. The sentiment rubbed off, a lot.

Careful not to lose or waste any time, Frame hatched a plan to take a country walk and our driver was nice enough to take us out to the moor, commenting quite nonchalantly as he went on landmarks of the area, a 500 year old granite cross here, a 3000 year old bridge there. One can begin to feel quite humble amongst things built during the Iron Age. The moor was desolately beautiful.

At last the day was drawing near its close and we departed Bovey Castle after the most excellent and obligatory tea and scones. There was less talk in the car this time.

Bovey Castle is a bastion of English countryside opulence. It stands for the way things used to be and perhaps the way they ought to be. It is an experience not to be soon forgotten and hopefully soon repeated.


A generic C# function for casting from Object to any type

A very common scenario in software development is getting data from a database and then reading that data into strongly typed variables. Mostly I do this in an OR (Object Relational) layer, but really it could be done anywhere. Prior to .NET 2.0 and the introduction of generics, one had to cast the values from a DataRow or IDataReader column value, returned as an object, as follows:

string description = Convert.ToString(row["Description"]);

This works, but one needs to do a Convert operation for every data type. Furthermore, the object may be a DBNull, in which case you'll get an InvalidCastException. There are various strategies for getting around this. I offer my solution here.

public static T ToType<T>(object value) {
 if(Convert.IsDBNull(value)) {
  return default(T);

 return (T)Convert.ChangeType(value, typeof(T));

Typically, this function would reside in a helper class of some kind and called in the following way:

string description = DbHelper.ToType<string>(reader["Description"]);

For any other data type, simply replace <string> with whatever cast you wish to perform.

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Iran, is this the beginning of another war?

Last week Iran resumed its nuclear program in defiance of the wishes of, among others, the United States, Britain, France and Germany. According to Tehran, the program pursues only the peaceful aim of nuclear energy and denies any accusations there are plans afoot to develop any nuclear weapons. The suspicions of the international community are further exacerbated by comments made recently by the new president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the state of Israel should be “wiped out”.

One should consider for a moment why a country like Iran, a former ally of the US, shouldn’t be allowed to pursue a nuclear program. President Ahmadinejad’s hate speak is objectionable in every way, but why would anybody use a nuclear weapon on ground held most holy to several faiths, including Islam? Even if Iran had an A-bomb, the case for actually using it quickly dissipates when the aftermath is considered. It is also somewhat hypocritical that the country who feels they are one of the very few who have the right to have nuclear weapons, the United States, is also the only country to ever use such a weapon in anger. Why should Iran be bullied by the so-called superpowers? Surely they have a right to pursue peaceful objectives and reap the benefits of cheap nuclear power, if indeed that is the case. If there is any doubt, Iran is subject to random inspections by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, so by all means, inspect!

My initial impression of these developments raises some alarm bells. It smacks, quite strongly, of pretext for war. Let’s consider for a moment the main purported reason for the US going to war in Iraq was those illusive WMD’s. The fact that they were never found is irrelevant, what matters is the pretext, the pretext for war. I guess it also helped that Iraq was a major oil producer and not to draw too obvious a parallel, but isn’t Iran also? Seems to this writer there is an ever stronger case to be made that plans are afoot to topple yet another undesirable regime and reap similar ill-gotten gains.

We in Britain can only hope that this government is not so easily taken in again and will, for a change, stand for what is right and fair.

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Cape Town, there’s no place like home

After almost a full year away from home, the time came at very long last to make the journey back to Cape Town for the annual familial tradition of Christmas time merry making. I look forward to it with a certain sense of nostalgia each year as the experience of seeing old friends and family, celebrating the years most holy day and edging ever closer to the ushering in of a new year culminates. Yet, there is also a sense of impending excitement as all my hopes for the time spent there tend inexorably toward their fulfilment.

So it was that I set off on December 22nd, half dead and dying from a severe bout of influenza, en route home for the season. After an awful flight where I could actually feel exactly the location of my entire sinus tract in my skull upon landing, I arrived and went directly to my GP, who prescribed rest and anti-biotics. Three days and around 54 hours of sleep later, I emerged to commence the vacation in earnest. Christmas day was spent at my dear sister’s house and Paul’s Christmas turkey was, as expected, perfectly prepared for the second year running. Large helpings of Christmas pudding and tryptophan (found in dark Turkey meat) saw the day end early enough to prevent any idle stargazing.

The rest of the vacation was, as expected, the realisation of all expectations. My father and I played a round of golf on Boxing Day at our home course Westlake and despite the near gale-force conditions, managed 2nd in the competition. Lunch the next day in Kalk Bay preceded a very choice session at the Mount Nelson champagne bar which then lead into an excellent night at the Camps Bay hotspot, Ignite (formerly Eclipse). A day was spent at Paul’s wine farm, Oudekloof, swimming, tanning and generally taking it real easy. In the remaining days, brunch at Balduccis, lunch in Blouberg, dinner at the Millers Thumb, a beach party and a very fine home made potjie by recently engaged-to-be-married and all round great mate Joey, collectively served to make the last three days truly memorable.

Cape Town never fails to impress and every year I see it being dragged, more or less willingly, into the international limelight, a fact evidenced by the price of, well, everything. Yet it still maintains its small town charm and intimate sub-culture. For my own part, as long as there are still some good friends, mountains, beaches and a sense of belonging, there will always be no place like home. Now if only I could get there by clicking my heels three times :~)

If you haven't already been to Cape Town... GO!

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