Podcast Recommendations

I listen to at least 2 hours of podcasts/audiobooks every day. I listen while walking to/from work, while cleaning the dishes, while drawing or wood-carving. Podcasts and audiobooks have filled the hole in my life that books left when my life’s schedule meant I could no longer single-task anything.

As a result I’m constantly referencing podcasts I’ve listened to, or recommending episodes and series to friends and family. These recommendations are peppered across chat apps, emails, in-person conversations etc – it’s hard to track what I’ve recommended, and who to.

So I figured I’d try to curate a list of my most recommended pods in one place.

Note these aren’t necessarily listed in any specific order of importance or significance. They’re all gold.

Click here for the list.

More Cartoons

So ever since signing up to Instagram recently, I’ve been trying to post a new piece of art or cartoon every day (or as close as possible), to exercise my topical muscles a bit.

In the rush of it all I’ve not had the chance to update this site, so here are my most recent cartoons in one lump sum.

To get more regular cartoon updates, follow me on instagram.

Cartoons below – hope you enjoy them.

Speedy Boarding – 16th April 2017 – You have to ask yourself if the guy at the end of the Priority Queue really feels like he’s got his money’s worth
Turkeys Voting for Christmas – April 17th 2017 – Both specific to the Turkish referendum granting dictatorial powers to Erdogan, and a more general point on the recent (or is it?) trend for people to consistently vote against their own interests

 

“Who else wants a shot??” – April 18th – Theresa May calls a snap election before the reality or ramifications of Brexit become manifest
Empty Chair – April 20th 2017 – In the wake of Theresa May refusing to take part in any debates, BBC and ITV both threatened to replace her with an empty chair.

Painting Bruce Lee

So over a year ago I painted a Christmas present for my mum. Despite how painful the process was, I was inspired to continue, and decided to paint something for my dad (for balance).

The subject of the first piece was David Bowie, who sadly – and ominously – passed away 2 weeks after I finished the painting. Not wanting to tempt fate again, I opted to pick someone who was already well and truly dead – my dad’s hero, Bruce Lee.

In any case this process was even more painful than the last. I started painting early in 2016, and things quickly went awry: the proportions were wrong, the colours were flat and monochromatic. It looked terrible, and I dropped it completely for a solid year. In February of this year I resumed efforts, and decided to largely paint over it. I threw a further 20 hours into the project in the space of a week and finally finished it off.

So below, the final article:

Bruce Lee – by Seb Charrot, 2017 — 18″ by 14″ acrylics

And here is a progress gif:

Bruce Lee Progress
In Progress

Maybe next time I’ll wait less than a year before painting again!

Cheers,
Seb

Fixing Ford Focus heating

In the spirit of dumping absolutely any old knowledge I acquire onto this blog, here are steps to fixing a common fault in 2008 Ford Focus’s where the hot air suddenly doesn’t work.

Cause

(There could obviously be a dozen causes for your hot air not working, and I spent a while Googling and finding suggestions about all sorts of diagnostics. Obviously feel free to exhaust all possibilities but for me, the cause of the issue was the one below.)

In the Focus, the hot/cold air dial is attached to a cable in the back. Turning the dial either pulls or pushes the cable down some housing to (I assume) divert hot or cold air into the system. Kind of like a bike’s brake cable – the cable moves freely within its housing.

This issue occurs when the cable gets a kink in it and instead of pushing down the housing, bends and stays where it is, effectively keeping the air on “cold”. In my case, I had obviously cranked the dial to such a degree that the cable connector actually popped off the back of the dial.

Steps to fix

1. Pop the dashboard fascia off

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This video was helpful for me – I didn’t have a “bojo” tool but I used a plastic picnic knife which worked great.

2. Pull the radio out
Pull the radio out – you don’t need to unplug anything, just let it hang carefully from the bundle of cables – they’re tough enough. Note – I disconnected my radio cable since it was a bit shorter, so make sure to reconnect it when you reassemble everything later.

3. Take a gander at this cable

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The silver cable with the floating disconnected white hoop at the end is the problem. When the dial is turned clockwise, the cable pushes left, when the dial is turned anti-clockwise, the cable is pulled further out. It’s totally disconnected, which accounts for why the dial does nothing. And you can see there was a big kink in it too, which probably caused everything by not allowing the cable to feed into the housing, causing it to pop off the dial.

4. Straighten that cable up
It’s actually quite malleable so straighten the kink out of the cable with your hands.

5. Pop the cable back on

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Simply push the connector back onto the corresponding clip on the back of the dial

6. Test the dial

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Turn the dial back and forth to make sure it’s moving in and out of the housing ok.

7. Reassemble everything
Stick it all back together and enjoy your hot air.

And appreciate the immense satisfaction that comes with fixing a minor issue in your own vehicle!

Cheers,
Seb

Havana Travel Tips

Malecon (c) Seb Charrot 2016
Malecon (c) Seb Charrot 2016

My girlfriend and I recently travelled to the incredible city of Havana for 10 days – an experience I would highly recommend.

Before travelling I did a fair bit of research and found some travel tips and suggestions (I’ll provide links to the most useful of these at the end of this post). While some tips came in handy, others were either inapplicable to Havana (versus the more rural areas of Cuba) or out of date (a lot has changed in Cuba, in a relatively short time).

So I thought I would make own additions to the raft of tips online. Tips that I wish I had read before heading out there.

Note: These tips were accurate as of August 2016, and only apply to Havana, so your mileage may vary.

VISAs

This caused some substantial stress in the run-up to our holiday, as I had forgotten to check whether we needed VISAs to travel from the UK to Cuba. Some Googling will tell you various things, including how to apply for one for £35 per person, but forget all that. The facts are:

  1. Yes, you need a Tourist Card
  2. Air Canada provides one on the flight

I’ve read that any Thomson Holidays flight also provides them – to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if every airline did. In any case, it’s academic, since the Havana Airport website also states that you can buy one at the airport for 20 CUC.

PS – I read that you need to keep 25 CUC (per person) spare to pay an exit tax at the airport. As far as I can tell, this is poppycock: nobody charged us, we kept the money until we got on the plane, then realised we were left with an extra 50 CUC which we couldn’t exchange outside the country!

Money: A Tale of Two Currencies

Cuba uses 2 currencies: the CUC (pronounced “cook”), which is the tourist currency, and the CUP, the local peso. As a traveller you will almost certainly be only concerned with CUC.

Havana was, as far as I could tell, exclusively a cash-only economy. Not a single business or hotel took credit/debit cards.

Exchanging Money

The CUC is a closed currency, which means you can’t get it outside the country. You’re generally encouraged to therefore bring all your money as cash with you and exchange it once you land. This is what we did but I personally found it quite stressful to carry all that money around – and I never felt very secure relying on the hotel room safes.

There are various exchange places dotted around known as CADECAs (short for Casas de Cambio) – the exchange rate is set by the government (and tied to the US dollar) so if you go to any of these you know you’re getting the best deal. Other places, such as hotels, will exchange money but their commissions/rates are scandalous – don’t use a hotel unless you’re in dire need. The airport also has a cadeca out front, so I’d recommend using that to get some initial dough.

As it turns out there are a number of banks and ATMs scattered around Havana from which you could withdraw money. This isn’t without risk – as you’ll have to check beforehand that your card and bank are accepted (don’t take that for granted). If I was to visit again I might consider using an ATM and taking less hard cash with me.

We were travelling from Scotland, so it’s worth noting – Scottish pounds are not accepted. Thankfully we knew this beforehand, so took a combination of English pounds and Canadian dollars.

Touring

We got a tour from Cuban Connections and our excellent guide was Anthony. He spent the whole day taking us around the centre, to the private harbours out west of Havana, to the forest areas at the back of Vedado where the Santeria worshippers sacrifice animals, to Old Havana, then home in a 50s convertible. Outstanding.

Eating

For years the only restaurants in Cuba were state-run, and the word on the street is that the food wasn’t great. However changes in 2010 have caused an explosion of privately-owned restaurants knowns as paladares, where the food is diverse and incredible.

You’ll find the best-rated ones on Tripadvisor but Chanchullero, near Centro, is an absolute must-visit. I would also highly recommend Nao, in Old Havana; and El Litoral, halfway between Vedado and Centro along the Malecon. The atmosphere at these places is warm, vibrant and homely. Nao and many other restaurants also allow bands to come in and play quick sets, then leave again, and they lend a great authenticity to the experience.

If I ever go back I’ll eschew any visits to state-run restaurants, which are OK but no more, draw up a list of paladares, and eat my way through it.

WiFi

Incredibly, WiFi is fairly prevalent, not ridiculously slow, and moderately cheap, too.

You can identify most state-run WiFi networks as they’ll have “ETECSA” in the name – this is the telecommunications provider for Cuba. You can buy WiFi cards in most hotel lobbies, and they’ll work for any ETECSA WiFi network you find. These last an hour at a time (you can pause and resume) and generally cost 4 or 5 CUC (e.g $5 or £4). Hot tip though:

Cigars

The obvious export choice is to grab some fine Cuban cigars the share out upon your return. This is a fine idea since they are ridiculously cheap compared to prices back home.

By the way – make sure you check the export limits. When we left, we were allowed 50 cigars each, and 1.25L of alcohol. I’ve heard that unlabelled cigars aren’t looked upon well, so may not be worth the risk. Smoking unlabelled cigars while you’re in Havana, however… 🙂

Avoid Buena Vista / Bar Taberna

I’m loathe to include something so negative but this is an important point.

The missus and I were keen to catch a music show, and on paper this should have been a great event: a multitude of Cuban legends, most of which were grammy winners, performing a show while you got a 3 course dinner and free cocktails. What I hadn’t deduced was that if these performers had won grammies, that would have been in the 50s. Sadly, the show was a tired affair – the place was half-empty, and the music was the same as we’d heard from a dozen street bands (who had been better). The food was the worst we had the misfortune of consuming: the saddest, rubberiest, cheapest and most inedible meal I’ve had in a long time.

We judiciously drank all our cocktails in an effort to kill any microbial or bacterial flora we may have consumed, but unfortunately that was in vain. The next day, and for the week after, Buena Vista left its mark not only in the memories of a mediocre night, but in the form of a syncopated rumba in our bowels. Trying to walk around Havana while remaining at all times within dashing distance of a toilet is tedious and not conducive to fun exploration.

Miscellaneous

Conclusion

There are a million things to do and see in Havana and it would be daft of me to try to enumerate them all here (not least because I am no expert). Take some time to do your research beforehand, and learn some Spanish, and you’ll be in a great position.

Havana is an amazing place – it took us a few days to acclimate to the fact that it was so different, and so remote, like a time capsule frozen half a century ago.

It’s an exciting time for Cuba – relations with the U.S. are being normalised, the city of Havana is in restoration after it was named a Unesco Heritage Site, changes to the law mean that private businesses are booming. There’s a feeling of optimism. Visiting Havana was fantastic, and I would recommend it to anyone.

Appendix: Links