Friday, 11 August 2017

Friday 11th August 2017

The last blog for a while.

The biggest and most stressful event of the day was the great cat roundup. Herding three cats whilst appearing not to be stressed, and three cats being very stressed. And then there is Mulder's bowels.

The plan was to lay in bed until seven, go down and give them a few kitty kibles, then WHAM, ambush each one and put them in a basket. That was the plan, and a plan which we executed perfectly, and by ten past seven, three cats, in baskets, and we could relax. And after covering them with blankets, the meowing calmed down, until it was eerily quiet.

Two hundred and twenty three Jools went to work at half seven, I had breakfast, got dressed, so that at five past eight I was loading the hire car up with cats and camera gear, and leisurely driving to Denton to the cattery, not getting mixed up with the boy racers on their way to work, no just tootling along at the speed limit, soothing Mulder as we go.

And it worked out perfectly well, I arrive just as the cate to the farm was open, paperwork checked and cats put in their pens. And the task was done.

So the trickiest part was over, but that doesn't mean we won't miss the mogs, we will. But as bad as putting them in the cattery is this time, the reverse is true when we collect them upon our return.

I have an appointment in St Margaret's, but have 50 minutes in which to get there, so I take the country lanes through Barfrestone, Coldred and Eythorne to West Langdon and home, along many sis foot sixers, as the road signs stated. I do come home, have breakfast, scrambled eggs on fried stale bread. Lovely. But it is already quiet in the house, no meows to break the silence, just me slurping my brew.

I am at the monument at quarter to ten, and search for the ALT spikes, to prove to the council there are there. Dan, the man from the council is no time, I show him the pikes, and reveals that his conservation expert had not been able to find them two days ago. Well, I found 11 spikes in total, and he agreed no mowing at the front until the end of the month. I explain the life cycle of the orchid, as they have Bees outside their offices and are thrilled about that, so I advise him to make sure the rosettes are not mowed after Christmas.

I can then go to Temple Ewell, to the downs above the village and hunt for orchid sand butterflies in the glorious sunshine, until the wind was due to pick up after lunchtime. I wanted to see more Adonis Blues, and see at least a dozen within 50 yards of the gate to the meadow, all bathing in the sunshine and glinting like sapphires against the green of the vegetation.

I was also looking for the Silver Spotted Skipper, a rare butterfly, now only found in the south east. But nearly two hours of searching revealed no skippers. I bump into two other snappers, and they had not found any Adonis but had snapped the skipper, so we swap info, in fact I take them to where I had seen most of the Adonis, and indeed within two minutes I had spotted one a few yards away.

To find the skipper, I had to climb further up the down, and where the trees die out, among an ancient track, is where the skippers should be. I see clouds of blues and Meadow Browns, but nothing that looked like a skipper. I few yards up the bank, I see an insect crawling among the grass. It was a Silver Spotted Skipper!

Silver Spotted Skipper Hesperia comma I get a few shots, not good ones, but good enough for me, meaning I could say I had completed my task and now the princess should be freed.

I walk back down to the car park and drive into town, I have supplies to get; insect repellant and cream for bites and stings. Just in case. I buy some shorts, meaning the US will be treated to my knobbly knees.

And that is that, all jobs done, tasks completed, I go home via Reach Road as I love to look over the Channel to France. And once home, I put the radio on to wait for Jools to come home, and so falling asleep on the sofa. Being on holiday is hard work!

Jools comes back at half four, and we make the decision to return the hire car back right away, meaning we didn't have to do it later on in the evening or tomorrow. Traffic lokked bad, but we get the job done in half an hour, back home and me cooking rice to go with the defrosted chili I had got out of the freezer that morning.

With the chili we much our way through the most of a bag of doritos and a bottle of pink fizz too. It is a fine way to start the holiday.

We pack, repack and put in stuff we had forgotten, but by nine we had two cases and my big camera bag packed, all ready for the morning. I think we are ready, is America?

Thursday 10th August 2017

And so, on Thursday began the holibobs.

And in order for his nibs to have some automotive transport the next two days, he had to collect a hire car. So it came to pass after the early morning coffee, Jools drove me to the lay by near Dover Castle leaving me to walk down the full length of Castle Hill.

Dark clouds were already gathering, so I snap them towering over the remaining towers of RAF Swingate, then walked down towards the castle, and being rewarded by 5 minutes sunshine, illuminating the castle, the church and Pharos. Worth the work just for that moment if I'm honest.

Two hundred and twenty two I walk down the hill, crossing over and taking random shots as I walk. I have an hour to waste, or to spend in an unproductive manner, and I'm an expert on that!

Yet another walk into Dover I walk all round the St James development, recording the progress, snow that the walls are on some buildings, and those having been covered with plaster or something similar. And as the pavement along Townwall Street was closed, I had to walk back up Castle Street then on towards the port. But as I neared Eastern Docks, dark clouds appeared over the cliffs, and a hard rain began to fall. But I had an umbrella, which meant just my ankles and feet got wet. And so I scampered into the port where my car was waiting; just sign here, here, here, initial there, there and there, and away you go.

Yet another walk into Dover Meaning I was back home by half eight, and treating myself to yet more oatcakes with butter and marmalade. A breakfast if not of kings, then worthy of the first of fourteen working days off. With rain continuing to hammer down outside, I thought I would get the worst of the chores out of the way first, a haircut.

Yet another walk into Dover So into town, park on Cherrytree and straight into an empty chair, and was shorn. We talked of the holiday and eclipses, she had not heard of the event, nor knew where Wyoming was. But sounded excited enough that we were going. A tenner sees me looking sharp and some pounds lighter.

Yet another walk into Dover I decide there isn't any point in going home, as I am to meet a friend in Faversham, so drive to Temple Ewell in order to follow up a lead on some errant orchids. It is still raining, not hard, but it had been hard,, but I am a son of Norfolk and made of hardy stock. I walk up the path, only to find the nettles and brambles bent over by the weight of water, blocking the path. I try to push by, but get stung and scratched, until I have to give up. Those darn orchids were going to have to wait.

As it seemed to be brightening up, so I thought if I went to meet Mark at Faversham, we could go out early and go orchid chasing. As I drove towards Canterbury, the rain fell harder and harder, and so it seemed madness that we were going to spend the rest of the day outside looking for orchids and butterflies, but then as my old Dad might say, its just a clearing up shower.

In Faversham it was grim, raining and gloomy, but not disheartened, I said it was brightening up near the coast, so lets go to Barham to see the Violet Helleborines. Back down the A2, along the road with nearly an inch of standing water. It seems madness, but we were happy just being out.

And at Barham it did seem to be brighter. We walk to along the woodland path, up the hill and found the spikes with no problem. I didn't take any shots as I got the ones I wanted at the weekend, so I watched as Mark got his shots and drooled over the wonderful flowering spikes. I mentioned my encounter with John and his insistence that there were ALTs at Temple Ewell, and with the weather brightening up further, we decide to go there next for a hunt.

He guided me to the car park, halfway up the down, meaning the walk to the meadow wasn't too bad at all. Now, despite lots of hunting in what looked ideal ALT habitat, we found no spikes at all. But I distracted by the abundance of butterflies, and some were clearly Adonis Blues.

Adonis Blue Polyommatus bellargus I gave up on the orchids and wait until I find a male Adonis, then have camera poised as I wait for a clear patch of sky to allow sunshine down, and despite me saying that I bet he won't open is winds. As the sun shone, the small butterfly opened both wings, blinding me with its azure brilliance. That was worth the whole day right there. I also see Common Blues, Chalkhill Blues, Brown Argus, Large White, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Small Heaths, and in less than ideal conditions. I decide to return on the morrow when phoebe was due to shine.

We walk back to the car, and decide a ten minute diversion to the Dover Patrol monument was a good idea, but once there, a close search revealed just two spikes, and neither close to flowering. Oh well.

That left us with the last port of call, back along the A2 to Sittingbourne to a nature reserve where the Autumn Ladies Tresses are said to be earliest. It rained some more on the way, but was dry, at least in the air, by the time we arrived. We searched and searched, and finally Mark found a single flowering spike, beside the bottom footpath. We both take dozens of shots, as it was open. But despite looking all over for more, just a few non-flowering spikes were found. Mark does stumble across a Silver Spotted Skipper and napped it. I had never seen one, but despite another hour of searching, I see hide nor hair of a skipper.

Autumn Lady's Tresses Spiranthes spiralis It was now 5, and I had to drop Mark off, then make my way home to feed the cats and prepare dinner. It was raining again, meaning that despite the weather, we had a card full of shots and many fine things seen, including a pristine male Adonis for me.

I arrive home ten minutes before Jools comes home, and dinner was to be; cheese and crackers and wine (or cider). It was quick and easy. I do cook a burger each later int eh evening, and that felt much better as somehow I had managed to miss a meal during the day. Anyway, a fine first day off, and many, many more to go.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Wednesday 9th August 2017

We have come to the deadline. No more morning and afternoons sat in front of a laptop keyboard, thinking of things to write, questions that needed to be answered. And come what may, I needed to have some kind of presentable draft ready for review by the end of the day. It was possible I would be burning the midnight oil.

Jools laid in bed until half five, getting up to get ready, and when I can smell coffee brewing, I go down too. Cats were already outside sitting on the patio, having a post-breakfast wash and licking their lips. At least some were happy.

And then it was eyes down with a fresh brew and some oatcakes coated with marmalade, and time for work. Thing is, I had added comments through the document, made notes and crossed other stuff out, and as I worked through the document, it all seemed to fall into place. Anyway, that process took six hours, and as well as that, there was meetings. Always with the meetings.

I had the storm radar on, s there was promise of thunder and lightning by the late afternoon, and there is some fun in watching the strikes get closer as the storm front heads north, and matching the marks on the sensor with what we can see out the back of the house. Only the much promised storm failed to arrive, the fronts drifted south east, and petered out over Flanders.

I work on, and by half three I was done. I mean there was a document I was happy with, a few questions remain, but otherwise, it is done, and with an hour and a half to spare too. I celebrate with a glass of the Sloe Port, still too ginny, but enjoyable. I sit down to watch an episode of Time Team, but the port helps my eyelids droop.

Two hundred and twenty one Outside it has been a fine and sunny day, I had hungs washing out. It dried, meanwhile an hour up the high speed line it poured in London all day. What can I say, on the coast it were lovely.

For dinner there is one of the butcher's chicken kievs each, some leftover pasta salad and a fresh steamed corn. Simple food, but wonderful. There is cider too, and wine. And life is good.

There are no storms that evening, the clouds melt away and we are left with the just past full moon shining from behind the thinning clouds.

But I was on vacation, on another holibob.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Tuesday 8th August 2017

There have been times when I could tell you to the minute what I was doing, flying or driving across Europe, auditing, inspecting or managing. But another week working from home, well, each day is pretty much the same as any other. Except on Thursdays when I put out the bins.

Bearing that in mind, when I come to write that day's blog, I am sometimes at a loss to say what I did all day. I mean I got up, had breakfast and started work sometime near eight. But then? Well, there was lunch, made coffee and tea at regular intervals. Waited on the cats through the day. Made pasta salad and later in the day prepared the aubergine. But other than that?

It was another day that promised thunder and heavy rain, but as the day went on, the threat went away. I am trying not to think that I am on vacation in two days time, or when I come back from holiday the project will be going crazy. These have been real salad days and I have enjoyed them, getting stuff done, but not under pressure, and listening to the radio, writing, or watching Time Team if it was an edition I hadn't seen. But these are now drawing to an end, there is the threat of meetings with the customer, monthly reports.

And then sometimes all it takes is a stray critical comment and all the good intentions go out the window as your inner voice says "why bother?". Why indeed. I had been working in silence, but put the radio on at one, and do manage to work the afternoon through, but the document seems a mess and I have to produce a decent version by the end of Wednesday. So, anyway...

Outside, the sky clouds over and looks like a storm might break out at any point. I have one more day to work, I feel I am on target, but won't know until tomorrow. Until then I pour a beer and think about preparing dinner.

Jools is working longer hours, so gives me three rings on the phone to let me know she is on her way, so I can begin to egg and breadcrumb.

By half five I am working hard, the phone rings. Once. Twice. Three times. Was that a forth. I rush over the phone but it has stopped. I take it as a sign. A sign Jools is coming home, so I light the gas and get cooking.

When Jools walks in the door, dinner is cooked and I have poured the wine/cider. We should go out for a walk really, but we are too hungry and drained. There is something about the cooling freshness of the pasta and the crunchy salty goodness of the aubergine that works so well. Dinner is served, and is good. As always.

Two hundred and twenty Meanwhile outside rain begins to fall. Hard. Cats run in to escape being wet.

And suddenly, the rain eases up, sun comes out, and there is a rainbow in the dip outside.I rush to get a camera to record the optical effect, and do so for many angles and focal lengths. There is football on the radio, the Caribou cup or something, Norwich play Swindon, and win 3-2, closer than it should have been if I'm honest. But a win's a win, right?

Frontline Brexit

There is a chain of thought, that goes like this:

If Brexit is going to happen on 29th March 2019, then there should be a lot of work going on; lorry parks, waiting areas, recruiting customs officials both here in Dover, but at all ports and along the Irish border. In fact nothing is happening, other then the new bulk freight handling terminal at Dover being behind schedule and now being refused using aggregates from the Goodwin Sands. But there is nothing being done; the roads have been "improved" in light of the bulk freight terminal; roundabout removed and replaced with traffic lights, and the reduced speed limits and traffic lights at Aycliffe. Where are the lorry parks for thousands of trucks that will be held up? Just looking at Kent POlice's Operation Stack page on the net, it seems that Manston Airport will be used, at least for port traffic.

But if the worse case scenario happens and there is a permanent operation stack, what then?

Well, for locals, not just here in Dover and Folkestone, but all those living along the M20, the mere act of going to the shops or on the school run becomes difficult, if not impossible. Indeed delivery trucks for shops and supermarkets would also get stuck in the traffic and it is likely there will be food shortages. At least to some extent.

Others might say that this is scaremongering, but once Britain diverges from EU standards, or might have trade deals with countries with different standards, origin checks on some if not all goods will have to happen at entry points into the EU; at Dover, Felixstowe, Southampton, the Irish border and so on.

It could be that there is the belief that Brexit might not happen, at least in Cabinet meaning these things will not have to be built or prepared for, or they are just hoping to do the British thing and muddle through. Or even more likely, they haven't even looked that far ahead as yet.

Meanwhile in Dover, residents in Aycliffe have been complaining about the noise from queuing trucks down the hill, so that a "no unnecessary horn" sign has been put up, and finally the temporary speed limit of 40mph have been made variable, Dovorians have been complaining about this for months since it was introduced. Quite how they will react if the semi-permanent operation stack happens, thd there will be lines of waiting freight backed up to Birmingham waiting to get through.

As with the Irish border, there are two things that have to happen regarding the border at Dover/Calais, and each one precludes the other, so fixing this is going to be interesting to say the least. The two issues are:

1. Frictionless border
2.Ensuring all goods entering the EU are within EU standards, and that point of origin paperwork checked.

As previously stated, one of the main concerns from the EU side is the divergence of standards, especially if Britain signs up to a separate trade deal with America or other countries, and there is a risk that any goods of a lower standard could be snuck through into the EU.

Whatever the eventual outcome, the effects will be felt here in Dover and along to irish border before anywhere else, and failures in this area alone would not bode well for all the other areas affected.

Away from Dover, some realism has crept into some areas of Brexit, with the acceptance, by some, that Britain will have to pay a bill to leave the EU. ALl that needs to be done is agree a formula on how to come to an actual figure, (which is the way the EU wants to do it), rather than decide on a set amount now (which is what Britain wants. Or some of it, John Redwood, Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson apart).

Be thankful perhaps, that this might well be last Brexit post for some three weeks, if not longer.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Monday 7th August 2017

Those of you with sharp eyes, or those who have been taking notes, will realise that time is getting short before we head way out west, and so from Friday there will be no blogs for nearly three weeks, but upon our return there will be an avalanche of them, as I hope to write on our pocket book tablet thingy. Maybe, if you're lucky, I will be able to update photos as we go to Flickr, but the blog site really doesn't like me to travel as the new ISP seem to confuse it.

So for now, I have three days work left, and working from home too. Which means me working at the dining room table, and trying to concentrate on the job in hand. Which is preparing a document for the new project, whose name I can't tell you, yet. But soon, my precious.

Jools is snowed under still, which means getting up at the crack of dawn, getting ready for work and driving to Hythe at half six, then working for at least 11 hours to try to get ahead. I don't have such issues, thankfully. I just plod on, writing, cross-checking references.

Two hundred and nineteen I have breakfast, and a really strong cup of tea. And that is all I need to power through until nearly nine when more tea is needed. And again at ten. And again at eleven. I brew up as I was on my way to the downstairs facilities anyway.

Despite the best of intentions, the forces of evil are abroad, diverting me from my chosen task, and at this rate the princess in the tower will never be freed. Sigh.

I have some pate on toasted cornbread with yet more tea, and all is right with the world. Until I am diverted again. Bugger.

I give up, switch the main computer on and have Radcliffe on as I swear at the e mails coming in. I mean, why bother. Why indeed. Half four comes and I give up, saving the document I should have been working on and call it quits for the day, and should have gone straight onto the crystal meth. But there is dinner to cook, of course.

Jools is working an hour and a half extra a day, an hour in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening, so I can mess around through the late afternoon before preparing dinner for us. I had gathered the courgettes from the garden, baked them along with some tomatoes, onion and garlic, then whizzed the results up ready to pour over cooked pasta, once I knew Jools was on the way home. Looked messy, but was lovely, espeically with the stuffed focaccia bread I baked too.

Once washed up, we sit in the garden and eat the last of the Magnums, as darkness falls. Sadly clouds were too thick to see the full moon rise, but we were treated to a yellow smudge between the houses on the other side of the dip, marking where the moon had risen.

Silver anniversary #2

The second anniversary (this week) is that of the Premier League, or the FA Premier League as it was branded, at first.

The reality of the Premier League is that it was a venture born of greed and not wanting to share their dosh with clubs from lower down the pyramid. The first thing to point out is that the teams that contested that first Premier League season which kicked off on 1th August 1992 were exactly the same teams that would would have contested the Football League First Division, and as time went on, each season would have, by and large, had the same clubs competing whether the PL had happened or not.

The only difference between the Premier League and the First Division is marketing. Marketing and money. Marketing, money and satellite TV.

Three things.

The other thing that coincided with the formation of the PL was the dawn of the all-seater stadia, meaning that a premium product could charge premium prices, meaning that on top of the TV money, more and more money came rolling in. It is sobering to reflect upon that it is football, the PL in particular saved the infant B Sky B, or whatever it was back then, as premium film channels were not attracting the punters, but it turned out live football did. Without this symbiotic relationship, then maybe the story would have been different.

The owners of the clubs at the start of the PL cashed in, making huge sums, approaching £100 million in some cases, to other wealthy people who thought, correctly, they could leverage even more money from the supporters and viewers.

That the game itself, and the promises made when setting up the PL failed to materialise, especially how good having the world's best players would mean their English team mates would get better, thus benefitting the national side! no? Regular readers will know this didn't pan out either, as expected.

And what of the vast sums of money the PL now generates? most of all it gets paid to other clubs around the world as the biggest clubs battle to secure the services of the biggest names. So fees rise year on year, wages rise year on year. And fees were paid to agents to set up the deals, they sometimes earning nearly as much as the players.

And what of the game, is it any better 25 years on? Standards are higher, standards of play that is, technically, football never has been better. Nor has it been so expensive to watch, either in person or via the telebox. To say money spoiling the game is a modern phenomena would be a lie. Money has been in the game, even before it went professional in 1888, with clubs finding "jobs" for players in lieu of paying them to play, most player in these deals didn't really work at the jobs found. But with the forming of the Football League, professionalism was here to stay, spread from the north to all corners of the country. Transfers and wages climbed year on year, fans were treated poorly and in most cases, players worse.

Back when I first drove to games, a ticket in the main stand at Carrow Road was £4, and a pound cheaper to stand. It now costs over £40. Prices have not gone up a thousand percent in 35 years, but the cost of games has, or by even more if you're unlucky enough to be an Arsenal fan.

I can't break the habit of a lifetime and switch off. But I won't be conned either. The last time I went to a game, at Chelsea in 2011, it cost £49 for a seat with restricted view. With the cost of getting up to London, a drink or two and you can say goodbye to a hundred quid. Call me crazy, but I don't want to spend north of fifty quid to sit in a tiny plastic seat, when for the same money Jools and I can feed ourselves. I don't pay for Sky of BT Sports, nor do I buy replica shirts, I just support them best I can.

So, happy anniversary to the Premier League. Can we have our game back please?