Friday, 27 May 2016

Wednesday 25th May 2016

I audit therefore I am.

First day back actually working, and I have arranged an audit of our base in Esbjerg. It means having to think and ask the right questions and stuff.

But first, a shower. And breakfast. Then I can drive, in sports mode, in the BMW to the port. Then park it up for the day, walk to the office where there is a shriek from inside. This means Shelly is back from Vegas, even more jetlagged than I am, but her liver says she had a good time in Sin City.

Pleasantries out of the way, I get my notebook, clipboard and audit guide and begin asking difficult questions. Well, not difficult, but the morning passes, and I plough on.

At lunchtime, Brian and I go to Aunt Betty's, a place that does filled bagels, and I have a garlic bagel with chili chicken, garlic mayo and lots of pickles. It is wonderful.

I finish the audit, then begin to write the report. Outside the sun still refuses to shine, and there is a breeze blowing, but not actually cold. Not warm either.

That night, another colleague is coming to stay in the hotel, so Rune, Brian and myself go to Flammen over the road for meat. Meat. And more meat. And beer. Thing is, you can go back for as much as you want, and although I went back for seconds, they must have been closing because the guy carving filled my plate with pulled pork. Oh, it hurt.

We eat no more, but it is a good end to the day, and only a short walk back to the hotel. OK< a short waddle. Then I could lay on the bed, listening to the radio, and snooze.

Tuesday 24th May 2016

And here we are, awake at half four on a Tuesday morning, after 20 days off, with another trip to Denmark to look forward to. I lay in bed, listening to the sounds of nature outside, and Mulder pacing around waiting for breakfast.

I get up and make coffee, feed the cats and just do the stuff one of us does in the mornings. I am at least all packed and ready to go, just have to get dressed. All exciting stuff of course.

At quarter to six we are walking out the door, locking up, and me gone until Friday lunchtime.

It is a wonderful late spring morning, all of Kent seems to be either in bloom or the darkest shade of healthy green. Seems a shame to be leaving. And I had failed to check on the weather, so it could be doing anything in Denmark. Three years back we had snow in late April up there.

She drops me at Folkestone Central, so I buy my ticket and walk up to the platform to wait for the train to arrive. I start my mobile phone, but can't get it to sync with my mailbox, so the avalanche of e mails will have to wait until I'm in the office.

The train arrives and I take a seat on the left hand side, and get out the latest copy of WSC to read until we move off. And I continue to read even once under way, missing the passing of the familiar landmarks

The train isn't even that full even after stopping at Ebbsfleet; maybe some are starting their holidays early? We cross into Essex, then under east London as usual. I get off at Stratford, and with two and a half hours to kill, I stop at a cafe for breakfast and another coffee before making my way to the DLR station for the 20 minute ride to the airport.

You know the drill by now: check in, immigration, security and through to the lounge before I find a place to sit and begin to deal with issues on the laptop.

There are just eight of us on the flight to Billund, a row of three seats each, near enough. But I have 7A as usual. We take off in the opposite direction we normally do, I so I don't get the grandstand view as we turn north. Instead I get a good look of the marshes as we climb into the air, crossing the river.

I read another magazine, have breakfast. And by the time we are half way to Denmark, the good weather has gone and we are surrounded by thick cloud. And it should come as no surprise to hear that as we descended towards Billund and we broke through the cloud, we found it grey and raining.

Welcome to Denmark.

But I am spoilt at the car hire by being given a brand new BMW 320D stationwagon, which goes like shit off a shovel, as Dad would say. I know the way to Esbjerg, so after working out how to switch the engine on and find a gear whilst getting the electronic parking break to disengage, I was ready to move out of the car park and on the road to Esbjerg. Just as well I din't find the sports setting on the car until I was parking the car at the office.

I get some work done, plugging way for two hours until it was time to go to the hotel to check in, do some relaxing before the evening hunt for food and entertainment. I had called on Steffan to see if he wanted to meet. He did, so it was a short walk to Dronning Louise and beer n burgers and catching up.

It is now light up here until well into the late evening, and this will only get later and later as we near mid-summer. I walk home in daylight, the sit on the bed looking out the window as the light fades the floodlights at the port come on.

Monday 23rd May 2016

This is my 19th and final day of the holiday. Jools is back to work, and I have orchids on my mind. Not a huge surprise, as it is the height of the main season, with a new species flowering daily, apparently.

Jools gets ready for work, and I know I would be doing that in just 24 hours, getting ready for the dash to the airport.

The weather was going to be tricky, but I should be able to get the shots I want, or so I hope.

Once Jools leaves, I have breakfast, and once done I look outside to see the sun shining, and the light is pretty wonderful, but cloud is sweeping in from the west already. I work out that if I dash I might make it to Folkestone to see the Late Spiders before the light got lost. I swung into action, packing my camera stuff, and loading the car.

It was just after seven.

I am the only one up on the downs, which is just perfect. However, the sun has been lost behind a cloud, but it is bright enough to get shots, if there were orchids to snap. I know where they are, so strap my bag to my back, clamber over the fence and walk back towards Dover.

Late Spider Orchid Ophrys fuciflora One stretch of chalk bank might look the same to us, but for these rarest of rare orchids, there is one part, maybe 10m long, that is better than anywhere else, and that is where they grow. I walk down the full length of the bank, and at the very end I see two small spikes, both flowering, after maybe a dozen of spikes yet to flower.

Late Spider Orchid Ophrys fuciflora I get down to take shots, hoping that at some point the sun would break through. I am standing up, looking at the sky wondering when the sunlight would arrive, when a small gap in the clouds must have passed in front of the sun, meaning there was golden light. Casting my mind back to my military training, and so throw myself to the ground as if under attack, with the camera being held as if it was a rifle, so I would be ready to fire off a few rounds, or shots.

Late Spider Orchid Ophrys fuciflora Sadly, in the passing decade, I have become a klutz, and managed to hit myself in the mouth with the camera. I rattle off the shots, before I realise I am bleeding, quite a bit where both lips have been cut my the camera. How silly I feel.

I drive from Folkestone to one of the best known sites to see if the Lady Orchids were out. I had heard that a week before nothing was out. Along narrow lanes, through woods, up and down small valleys until I come to the parking area, which looks like any other parking area, but this one leads to the Mother Lode.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea It is a 15 walk down to the gate to the reserve, and is always a pleasant one, even with heavy plant on the moves as the wood cut down two years back must now be seasoned and is being transported. Anyway, I soon get past all the noise and am soon alone with the sounds of nature.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea As soon as I approach the gate, I see the first flowering spike, A single upright Lady, promising a wonderful visit. Inside, just about every Lady spike is flowering. There are spikes in all directions, spikes of all sizes, shapes, colours. I start to snap many of them, but soon give up as there were thousands of them.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea Being a dull day, and even with some drizzle in the air, there were no butterflies on the wing or basking. Shame as this is the home of the Duke.

In a quiet corner, I find three very pale spikes, almost pale enough to be var. alba, but not quite, close enough for cash though. I snap them all.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea With such a high hit rate, I thought I would really push it by looking for a new species for me in Kent; the Burnt Tip. This grows in a small area of a chalk down near to Dover.

I park at the village hall and begin the steep climb on the path u the down, through overgrown woods until the path emerges onto open down land. From there is it a steady climb further up as the path heads in a northward direction.

In half an hour I come to the spot, and although I had low hopes, I did search even as rain swept in. After an hour I find a rosette with a spike forming; is it? Apparently not, it seems to be a Chalk Fragrant, but I can go back in about a week to check.

It was now lunchtime, so I go back home to eat and review the shots and write yet more blog posts. The afternoon is frittered away, the radio plays in the background and I get stuff done.

At five I go to post Mum's birthday card, then go to the Eastern Docks to wait for Jools to drop off the hire car s we can go home for dinner. She is done with the car by quarter to six, so we drive home where I then have to cook dinner; chorizo hash.

Even with it being a straightforward meal, it was seven before we sat down to eat. Then there is the packing and reparation for the trip to Denmark, and before I knew it, it was nearing nine and time for a shower and bed.

Where did all the time go?

Monday, 23 May 2016

Sunday 22nd May 2016

Did I want to have a tour round the Faversham Orchid sites, I was asked on Saturday.

Let me think about that for three nano-seconds.

Yes.

So, up at, well, five in the morning thanks to jet lag, breakfast and coffee and fed the cats and made Jools a coffee. Check camera memory card and battery. And I'm good to go.

I was off to Faversham to meet my friend Mark at a garage forecourt, as you do, before driving off to see some lovely orchids.

Helix pomatia First of all we went to look at a site good for White Helleborines, most not out yet, but some mighty spkes already on show. But more amazing was the number and size of the Burgunday, or Edible, Snails around the area in abundance. A 2,000 year old gift from our Roman overlords.

Monkey/Man Hybrid Orchid Orchis x bergonii That done we then went to see the fabulous Faversham Monkey Man; a very rare and unusual hybrid of two native orchids. This is only the third time this variation has been recorded in Britain, so this was a rare chance.

Monkey/Man Hybrid Orchid Orchis x bergonii It is found in a large paddock, which is a reserve. We climbed over the electric fence via the style, and walked over to the cage, under which the orchids on site are kept. The hybrid is amazing, clearly showing elements of both its parents, and a wonderful dark red in colour. I snapped it good.

Monkey/Man Hybrid Orchid Orchis x bergonii Elsewhere there were other Monkeys, from which the seeds for those at PGD were taken from.

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia Where to next? Darland Bank? OK, lets do it.

A short blast up the M2 to the Medway Towns, and right through the middle of Gillingham, through an estate, and suddenly the vista opens up to show us on the edge of a chalk escarpment. We park up and walk down onto the down, and soon we see spikes everywhere, spikes on Man Orchid in their thousands. I had changed my camera settings to snap a church as we passed, so most of my shots here are useless, but I have three that were worth rescuing. Shows I should always check.

Final port of call was Steps, as I shall now call it, as there were some fine Lady there. And the chance of a Lesser Butterfly too.

Back to the motorway, down one junction and a quick turn off, and the noise of the motorway was soon last as we walked in the ancient wood. The bluebells are now just a memory, as their flowers have now gone to seed, but the Early Purples are still hanging on. Further down the slope there are a few Lady Orchids. No, lots of Ladys. I have not been here at this time of the year, and I thought there were just a handful, not the 100 at least we saw. I snapped a few, realised the camera settings were wrong, but by then it was too late and the damage done.

Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora It was ten to opening time, and The Harrow was just over the hill. So we walk back to the car and drive the couple of miles to the pub, where roast dinner was available. It smelt delicious, and I could be tempted, and they really wanted to sell us a couple, as they had no takers soon after opening. But we stick to a bottle of Bishop's Finger each and a packet of crisps sitting in the beer garden in the weak sunshine.

I took Mark back home, then went home myself, taking it easy listening to The Damned on the radio as they talked about the early days of punk and New Rose.

Jools was just back home too, having cleared Nan's room out. Her possessions amounted to one suitcase and three plastic bags of clothes. So sad, really....

That is it really for the day, as far as exciting stuff. We clear up the left over aubergine and pasta salad for lunch, then I spend the afternoon writing and editing photos. I find out that England were playing in the early evening against Turkey. I cannot summon up the enthusiasm to watch, so follow it via the BBC website.

Asparagus and crusty bread for dinner, with the bottle of Japanese IPA I brought home, at 7.5% it was dangerous stuff, but I manage just to keep awake afterwards.

But we still head to bed at half eight, pooped. Now if we could just sleep to six, that would be great.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Saturday 21st May 2016

Needless to say, we were both awake at about half four. Outside the birds were singing, and our bed was full of cats. The outside of our bed was full of cats.

We laid in bed until 5, then with Mulder not letting us be, demanding that it was breakfast time, or at least his breakfast time, we got up.

With Nan passing away, and with all the stuff that needs to be doing, Jools thought it best to have a 2nd car for the weekend, so until eight she tried to find a spare hire car in the town, finally getting one with Avis. I drop Jools off at the Eastern Docks so she can collect the car, then drive out along the A20 to Fokestone, then up the Elham Valley to PGD to see how the Monkey Orchids were coming along.

I had the whole site to myself, which is always very good. The way the down is aligned means that it can be exposed, so only the EPOs are doing really well for now, but on closer inspection I do see some Monkeys, with just one near to be fully open.

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia Further on I find several large Fly, although look dull in the overcast and windy conditions. I snap them anyway.

With more rain forecast in the afternoon forecasted, it seemed silly to go to other sites, so I make my way home for lunch. However, when I review my shots of the mOnkeys, there are great, so that, and coupled with the fact the skies cleared in the afternoon meant I really should have gone to other sites after all.

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia But I had other tasks, namely, mowing the lawn. Before we went away, I had planned on mowing the lawn once I had rounded the cats up and took them to the cattery. Events meant that I did not round them up in the morning, and all got messed up. Anyway, I chose to look for orchids instead of doing the lawn, therefore by the time we got back it looked like a forest out the back, with spring having sprung and all in the garden having shot up.

It took the best part of two hours to do, trimming the edges first, then mowing round the new beds. I collected four huge sacks of clippings, and got bitten to buggery by some unseen insects for my trouble. But, sitting back in one our new deckchairs, I have to say the garden looked a pretty picture. The frits have finished and are now wilting, but the raspberries and gooseberries are growing strongly, and even have fruit forming already.

I am insode in the early evening to watch the Cup Final; no longer the must see event it was in my youth, I never did see last year's due to being orchid obsessed, but with the evening kick off, I thought I would watch it. Man Utd v Palace, not a bad game, not much goal action, but enough excitement to keep me awake, but Utd won in extra time.

We have dinner of more aubergine and pasta before sleep forces me to go to bed at eight, unable to keep my eyes open. I am asleeep whilst Jools is washing up, and don't hear when she joins me.

Friday 20th May 2016

The thing about long haul holidays, is that the major change in time zones ensures that jet lag is the gift that keeps on giving. And in addition, you get to see times of the day you didn't know existed. What I mean is by thins is that on Friday morning I was wide awake and thinking about coffee at just after four in the morning. I laid in bed hoping sleep would come, but it would not.

I get up, make coffee and do some stuff online. At least I can be productive I suppose.

At nine Jools goes to Denton to collect the cats, I tidy up and wait for their return, making sure their water bowl is full, fresh food out. They arrive just after ten, and are meowing very loudly, unsure at this strange turn of events. For a while they follow us about everywhere, and all of them are witin sight at all times, but as the day progresses they get used to being home and being able to go in and out as they please. But they are still wary when we get near to them and threaten to pick them up, but even that fades. The morning passes by with us doing chores, washing clothes and other stuff, until we receive a call that the doctor had been to see Nan and he did not think she would last the day. So, the family gathers around her bedside, Jool included, and I am left with the cats, waiting for news.

Jools comes back, saying a rotor system had been implemented and she was due to go back at six taking over from her brother. Nan is now effectively in a coma.

We have lunch and carry on as before. We go out to look at some orchids, to check on the Men at Lydden. There are nearing their peak and look fine. Needless to say I get looks from passing motorists as I cross the road and camber over the fence to the bank. Good news is that they are spreading, and seem more numerous. Great news.

Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora At Barham I was expecting a huge amount of Lady; but a first scan revealed now, but after a while I do see a few spikes. The season is so late this year, after a fairly early start too. So I snap the best of those that were out and then go to check on the white Early Purples.

Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora They now are at their best, but no var. alba were found, but thoe that were out look wonderful, all varied colours and even bi-coloured.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea Over at Woolage, after a second scan we see Birds Nest Orchids emerging through the leaf litter, looking very robust, but the White Helleborines were at least a week away.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea At half three Jools leaves to go to the home to sit with Nan, but just after four Jools calls to say Nan passed away just before four, she would come home once she had settled a few things. She arrives back two hours later, releaved that Nan's suffering has ended.

I had already prepared the aubergine and cooked and chilled the pasta salad, so I get frying, and in half an hour we had a fine dinner, at which we toast Nan.

We are shattered, and I can hardly keep my eyes open, so we head to bed at half eight, and am soon zedding away.

Thursday 19th May 2016

There is very little room for romance in modern travel, everything is so efficient now, that most of the time, things happen just as they should, with little fuss and few frills.12 hours on a plane heading home wasn't something I was looking forward to, but an age ago it was a trip that would have taken maybe a week by flying boat, or a month by ship. While we flew over China, Russia and eastern Europe, we would have a range of films and music on tap with which to fill those recumbent hours. I would read, I decided.

I was awake at dawn for the second morning in a row, watching as the sun's pre-rising light illuminated the ultra-modern city, and all played out from our 31st story vantage point. It was mindblowing, but also the signal that the sands of time had run out, and it was time to fly back home and to reality.

We had already 90% packed, and as Jools had bought another small case yesterday, we had space in which to put our clothes and purchases. We showered, got dressed and waited for seven when we could go down for breakfast. We also checked that Jen was up to and ready to go. She was.

We went down at ten to, and were let in and so got a headstart. Just give me coffee. Lots of coffee. That was the plan.

At eight, with one final sweep of the room, we left it for the last time and handed in our swipe key, waited for Jen to join us, then go down to the entrance to wait for the diver to appear at twenty past. Waiting with us were a group of new-arrivals, waiting for a shuttle bus to take them to meet their guide for the day. We had seen many such tours during our stay, being lead from sight to sight, and I think being able to lead ourselves was a more satisfying experience, but we could be wrong. Their bus arrived and they clambered on.

Dead on twenty past our driver walks through the door with our name on a sign, we expected nothing less. He helped loading our bags, then took us into the crazy traffic, dwarfed by the blocks and blocks of skyscrapers all around us. Onto the motorway, racing with a monorail to the station, we zip through the city, past some docks to the airport, dropping us off at the correct gate for the JAL check in desks. They have a dedicated desk for the Economy Plus class, so we are checked in within 5 minutes, through security and immigration, with an exit stamp too, and into the departure hall.

Jools and Jen do some last minute shopping, whilst I wait. I also buy something, a bottle of Japanese whisky. Once all together, we go up to the lounge as we have been given passes, to find that it is a restaurant where we can have a second breakfast. I have a plate of hash browns and yet more coffee, all is good. Even better is the fact the gate is two minutes from here.

We get to board, and have better seats on this that the BA flight, extra reading lights and more legroom I think. I have my book, jools has her tablet so she can play Angry Birds. We are set.

Once in the air, I get lost in the music of 1971, thanks to David Hepworth's new book. And the hours fly by. I find time to watch Lincoln, with Daniel Day Lewis eating the screen out. It is a thing of beauty to watch, with the set design and photography wonderful. It is also a story of hope with the passage of the 13th amendment being told.

The film finishes, and we are over Minsk in western Russia, or is it Ukraine? I should know.

Nearly home.

I begin to watch Ironman, but it is too bombastic for me, and once I see how the story is being set up for the final reel, I stop it, sure that Iron man would win out. He must do as there were two sequels.

We were over Holland and descending.

Nearer home.

We circle over London, and I get to see the sights over the edge of the wing, but now just want to get onto the ground.

We land, taxi to terminal 3. And once off have the long trek to immigration. Jen says this is to get our legs working again, that they have our welfare at heart, I doubt that. There are no automatic passport gates, so we have to queue for half an hour to be seen and let through.

Our bags are waiting for us, we grab them and call the taxi driver, agreeing on a meeting point outside the terminal.

He arrives, we load up, and he drives off, into the rush hour traffic which is 5 in the afternoon on the M25. He knows some tricks, and gets us through the queues, into Kent and down to Dover in a couple of hours. We are beyond tired. Jools does nod, but I am awake, not wanting to miss anything as we return to Kent, which is in the middle of Spring blooming.

We drop Jen off, then he takes us to St Maggies, where there are no cats waiting, just the empty house, and our now overgrown garden. We let ourselves in.

We did it, and are home.