Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Shetland blogs; Christmas 2008

The reunion:

I have to write this now as apparently documents written on newer versions of MS Word cannot be read by older versions. What kind of sense is this? What is the point of carrying data on portable drives if not all computers can read the data?

Anyway, last weekend.Events turned out to mean it was possible to attend the annual reunion of members of the trade in which I served in the Air Force; armourers. For those who do not know an armourer deals with things that go bang; so most of my time in the RAF I built bombs and the suchlike. We also look after all weapons, ejection seats and bomb disposal. Our patron saint is St Barbara, and the Saturday nearest her day is when we have our get togethers.

My old schoolfriend, Dick, lives near Lincoln and as he is home from the sea in preparation to start at the same new company as I will be, he said I could crash at his place in Gainsborough.So, after the rush hour I set off on the train to London; dash across the city on the Tube to catch my connection at Kings Cross and then up into the Fens of Lincolnshire and eventually to Lincoln and then on to Gainsborough.

All was going well until the second from last train broke down; 500 yards from Lincoln railways station. No matter how much the driver made the engine roared, the brakes would not come off. After some banging under the floor and some swearing we juddered into the station and I could at least catch my connection.Dick was waiting for me at the station and after a quick slice of pizza and a beer we set about the nights task; preparing his son's bands gig that night. He has 5 boys and four of them are in Colour:Code, abut it all fell down to assorted parents and grown-ups to lug the gear from the car and set it up wilst the boys looked and acted all cool with their friends and girlfriends.When the doors opened, dozens of skinny indie kids came in; those old enough made their way to the bar, whilst the others just sat around trying not to look too excited.

Colour: Code

It was great that so mnay of the boys friends came along to support their friends on stage, and in truth the boys were very good playing a mix of Green Day and Blink 182 covers sprinkled with a few originals. I took pictures and everyone went home happy.

Quite whose idea it was to have the reunion in the centre of Lincoln on the busiest day of the Christmas Fair, right at the top of the aptly named Steep Hill, is not clear. But at least the landlord was happy enough to have the extra business.We caught a bus into the city as neither of us would be in a state to drive back later; as usual, the bus meandered around several villages before heading into the gridlocked traffic; we jumped out near the city centre and headed off op the cobbled Steep Hill into the ancient heart of the city, perched on a hill overlooking the Lincolnshire fens. The street is all lined with black and white timber framed houses and is stunning, really. Waslking on the cobbles isn't easy, and the steepness of the hill is surprising as Lincolnshire is usually so flat.

The venue, The Snake and Lion, is in the shadow of the Gothic cathedral and the castle, and is really a wonderful spot. All along the street outside stalls had been set up selling all sorts of crafts and food. All very nice.Once indide we had the first beers of the day and settled back to see if we could guess who the other armourers in the place might be. A young lad came and asked us if we were armourers; we were, once we said; and so sat down and told tales of old and of hedonsistic nights around the globs; as you do.Within an hour the place was full of armourers and ex-armourers, all making new friendships or renweing old ones. And much quaffing of ale was done. We all had to buy a drink and put it in a communal pot, and then take turns in a large draught of the brew was taken by each of us. Salutes were taken of those who had passed away and those who could not be there.Then more drinking. Much more drinking. But, not as much as you would think; for some of us, the years had taken their toll, and we needed something to eat. We had vouchers from an Australian themed place (don't ask) and so four of us split and went down for free buger, fries and beer.And why not.It was with some panic Dick realised we had 5 minutes to catch the last bus back, at half six, and so we staggared/ran through the city centre and grabbed seats on the bus.

And fell asleep.The driver woke us up in Gainsborough, and we set off in the general direction of his house.Dick fell asleep on the sofa and could only be raised to eat the chinese meal that had been fetched from town, and then he headed off to bed. I had to endure the horror that was The X Factor, and Simol Cowell's caustic comments and the bitter tears of disappointment as another young hopeful got the boot. It was worse the night before when we watched the final mkoments of I'm a Celebrity Get me Out of Here, and listened to tales of insect eating a faux bonding between Z listers.

Each to their own, and it was time for me to send back the z's until morning

I awoke at six with the usual confusion that comes after a heavy night. As it began to get light the murals of Bob the Builder and assorted cartoons became clear. I was sleeping in Dick's youngest room. Dick was up and made bacon sarnies with some thick bacon and doorstops; and after a couple of pints of tea I felt it was time for me to leave and asked Dick to drop me off in Lincoln so I could take some pictures before the crowds arrived for the last day of the market.

It was a crisp, frosty but bright morning, and after scraping off the frost from the windsreen we drove to the centre of Gainsborough where there is a manor house. Built by Henry VIII and it is still in stunning condition, but just sits in the middle of town.

Gainsborough Manor

Over the centuries, the timber frams had warped and so the walls were at all angles and overlooking the courtyard it was all black and white timber frames. Very nice.We drove out of the town and through the rolling Lincolnshire countryside, the light of the rising sun bathed everything in a rich golden light; even the power stations looked beautiful, and we stopped so i could take pictures.Dick dropped me near the castle in Lincoln, and so I wandered the cobbled streets taking pictures of this and that; some of them really quite good even if I say so myself. A quiet fair, stall holders setting up, the steep cobbled streets leading down into the modern centre of town, the cathedral, the castle.


All really very beautiful, and looking even better in the morning light of a bright winters morning.

By half nine the crowds were beginning to arrive and the food stalls were cooking the first batches of food for the day. I walked into town down Steep Hill, glancing backwards to see the towers of the cathedral above the surrounding hoses and shops.

Christmas Market

Steep Hill, Lincoln

Lincoln Cathedral

The first train out of town wasn't until eleven, so I stopped for a coffee and a mince pie of two in a cafe and got out the Sunday Times to read. The train was packed, and showing how thittle thought goes into running railways not running them as a service any more. Oh well.

At Newark the platform was also packed, and I decided to upgrade to first class just to get a seat. Thankfully they had a special offer for Sundays; just £20 to upgrade. So I sank into a chair as comfortable as your favourite aarmchair, and watched as the countryside rolled past. I bought a small bottle of red wine and the day got even better.

Jools was waiting for me at Kings Cross, and the first task was to find somewhere for lunch. A quick ride on the tube to Tottenham Court Road found us in a traditional boozer; we ordered roast beef and all the timmings and a pint of frothy ale and just watched the world go by out of the window.One of our favourite things to do in London is to walk the streets of Soho and theatreland just for the fun of it and to people watch. Sadly the light was already failing, but it was great walking the streets and smelling the mix of food from the various eateries.We made our way to Vicoria, and as the sun set we made our way through the south London suburbs into night time and Kent.

11 Dec 2008:

So, there I was on Tuesday, flying north to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. This is nice I thought, maybe have a few days bad weather and go see the neolithic monuments. I could see some impressive ones from the harbour over the sound.The weather dropped some and so we sailed, we did two hours work in the wee small hours yesterday, and then stopped as the winds started to gust to 35kts again.I wake up this morning and find we're heading back down south to Great Yarmouth again, as the client thought the weather forecast was going to be so bad they cancelled the rest of the job.

But, I had one night in Lerwick; in a bar, very tired, but drinking a fine local ale, and being entertained by the locals. Or one of them. He was the old soak, the town drunk who was already rocking and rolling by three in the afternoon when he was kicked out. We made do with the Juke Box, and who could get the cheesiest selection for a quid. Without doubt the worse song was the Brotherhood of Man's Eurovision entry, to which time has not been kind. The female old soak did dance and clap herself around the bar for the duration, though.

So, we are now heading south; have about a 1,000 miles to go which will take us over two days; so my body clock which is already shot to pieces by having to be made to work nights will now have to get used to being on days for a while, until Sunday at least. But, we still get paid though. Still no news on getting Christmas off; I am resigned to my fate though, as is the family. Jools' Nan was upset; she's 94 and thinks this is her last Christmas and so wanted me there. She could be wrong about being her last year of course. But I stand little chance next year either with a new job.I have lots to write about; the weekend I went to an Air Force reunion; I have typed it all up and reads quite good; will try to do that in the next couple of days if I can squeeze it into my schedule.Hope you are all well and playing nicely. Santas watching

13 Dec 2008:

In the past two years since I started this job I have travelled to some wonderful places; Holland, Java, Borneo, Sulawesi, New Guinea, West Timor, Norway, Great Yarmouth, etc. And people ask me what is so-and-so like?The truth is, I don't really know. For the most part I fly here like everyone else, and then someone meets us at the airport, takes us to the ship and we sail. At the end of the voyage its just a reverse of arriving. If we're lucky, we may get an evening of our own in which to find a bar and sink a few.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for sympathy here, I have seen some wonderful things, visited some tremendous places, but really just passed through. When I get off a ship all I want to do usually is to get home as soon as possible; which is what I do.I guess the Shetlands is another example; I flew in, we didn't sail for a day, but I couldn't really see much more than the centre of town, and for me getting out and taking some shots is what it's all about for me. I can tell you that Lerwick is a small town, with some shops and a couple of bars, and that's it.yeah, this is me, complaining again. But just to have a few hours free to look round some places, you know? I guess we can add the Shetlands to our list of places we want to visit right after Japan, Tierra Del Fuego, The PNW, most of Euope, Egypt, Cambodia and all the other things we have either read about of saw on TV. Just too much to do and not enough time.

As luck would have it, I am seeing more of the Shetlands than I thought I would; we were supposed to be heading south the Great Yarmouth again to take on some new people for a new job, but the weather had other ideas. A huge storm has blown us and is staying right above us; so we are going up and down a bay staying out of the wind whilst it blows over. This puts us two or three days behind, but its better than being out in open water when we don't need to be.So, we have nothing to do; watch DVDs, play online, maybe even buy some Christmas presents as well. Only meals breaking the day up. And this is work and we get paid regardless of whether we work or not; and I know, we are lucky. I have been watching Bones, the foresnsic series, marvelling at the dreadful acting, but it passes the time.

And it's nearly dinner!Still no word from the office about getting off for Christmas; we should be in port next weekend; I could walk off the boat, but it would mean never being able to come back, and I'm not sure if I want to burn those bridges quite yet. I can't deny it being tempting, though. So, probably be on here for Christmas, maybe even working, stranger things have happened. We are planning a family day with Jools' Nan of course, but the magic won't quite be there. But, we can celebrate whenever we want, and with the sale of the house hopefully going through this week, then we may even more to be happy about.

I'm not looking for sympathy here; I know I'm lucky, maybe sometimes I don't realise just how lucky. But when you see others having the Christmas off year after year, it does get annoying. Frustrating, even. Christmas is for families, and I was just hoping to be spending it this year with mine.

17th Dec 2008:

Its three in the afternoon and its just about dark. Such is life in the Shetlands. For those of you that do not know, the Shetlands are the most northerly of the Scottish islands and are well on the way to Norway in fact. I believe that the nearest main line railway station from Lerwick is in Norway; or I could have imagined that.

We were due to leave here on Friday, but the weather got bad, real bad, and has stayed that way ever since. The news is that we may sail on Saturday, but even that is in doubt. So, we do odd jobs in the morning, roam around the town in the afternoon before hotting the bars at about eight. We have been here so long they know our drinks in Captain Flint's and are already pouring our pints as we walk in from the door. Almost locals, then.

Sadly, there is little to do here; we have about four hours daylight each 'day' and for the most part it has been too gloomy for photography. Today was a little brighter, and we had a common seal watching us as we did things with our streamer on deck. I say common seal; it was wearing Burburry and was casting glances and the souped up cars on the quay.

Still no news on whether I will be in the bosom of my family for Christmas; once again the office fails to answer my e mails and each time it reminds me why I am leaving. Walking off the boat if we get to Great yarmouth before Christmas will bean dicking some other soul at very short notice to take my place, and as tempting as that option is, I don't think I could do that to someone else.So, we have all agreed to do a secret santa for each other; although there is only a limited range of things to get in Lerwick; hopefully each of us will get some colourful knitwear and so we can parade around the town Christmas Morn; if we're still here. Heck, we may even get some snow.And now for the big news:


On Friday the person buying my house in Suffolk will be signing the contract and the transfer of money should go through on Monday or Tuesday.


We have begun the process of buying the house on the cliffs near Dover and as I write this e mails in legal speak are criss-crossing east Kent getting surveyors and the such to do their thang!We have been told that the sale should go through quickly and there is a good chance we will have the keys before I start the new job on February 2nd.

We have a tennant for our flat; someone who works with Jools, and when we sell the house he will just switch to paying Jools' Dad as he will be buying the flat off us.It seems all bases have been covered here; we have the finance, my stuff is out of the old house and Jools has begun to pack the flat up. It seems we have covered most, if not all bases and are stunned at how this has moved forwards so quickly again.

Other than that, not much happening, and so I wish all my friends the best greeting for the season; Merry Christmas.

19th Dec 2008:

OK; we have been here for a week now, and although it is nice to be paid for sitting alongside at the Victoria Pier, the possibilities of fun around here stretch to going to the the bar in the afternoon or evening. Or both.There is only so much brightly coloured knitware anyone could want or buy. The family are going to be so disappointed by their Christmas gifts as everyone will have matching bright red hats. At least they will all match.I failed to buy one for myself as I have a very fashionable Razorbacks wooly hat; well, fashionable in Arkansas anyway. I get admiring glances as I stroll down the main steet; at least that's what I tell myself.

So, today, instead of looking at the rain running down the windows of the lab, Dave and I decided to climb a hill.Because it was there.In fact it still is.So, we set off at first light; half nine this morning! And set off on the scenic route down by the waterside and around the edge of the golf course before heading out of town and upwards.


We timed being at the headland just as the sun rose behind the lighthouse the other side of the sound. I had my camera and recorded that fact to memory card. And to memory.The rain came, and we sheltered in Tescos, and then set off to the hill where there are two very attractive mobile phone transmitters. It was hard against the stiffening breeze. The wind was stiff not anything else; I don't get excited by a westerly wind! Walking beside the main road south was fun as car after car took turns to see just how close they could pass us by.

We turned off and upwards along a farm track through worried sheep and rabbits until we came to the top of the hill. The batteries in my camera failed so I have no shots to prove we got there.It was windier there I can tell you, and we could see a long way, and see the next rain cloud hurrying towards us. We turned back and headed back down.Tomorrow we sail south; maybe. And then the big worry of will we go into port for Christmas, of before and will I be getting off? I don't think so. Jools and I have hatched plans to get me home if a replacement arrives on Christmas Eve.

As this is our last night, maybe, on Shetland, for a achange we are going to go to Captain Flints where they do not know what we drink and have it ready as they can see us walking across the quay from the ship. Honest. There's promis of some traditional music and traditional drunks, which will be nice. We have to be good as representatives from the client arrive in the morning to judge whether we are good enough to go to work by the time we get to Norfolk waters sometime on Monday (if we sail tomorrow).

Nanu nanu.

20th Dec 2008:

Today we were due to sail south through hell and high water to Great Yarmouth, or at least to the new survey area.

We were due to have two new people from our clients looking into health and safety; only that would mean going into port sometime before Christmas to drop them off and losing survey time if the weather is fine.

So, the order came to sail this morning before they arrived. Sail by ten came the order from head office.

The master, being his own man, decided to wait until half past. As we pulled away from the quay the taxi carry the two pulled up, and so they watched us sail away north. See we were going to hide in a bay near the oil terminal and head south at some other point.

Thanks to modern technology, the reps called their head office; who called our head office, and they called the master and ordered him back to port.Which is where we are now. Meetings are taking place. They have been taking place for three hours now. We have missed the weather window to head south and so we will be here for another day or three at least.

My thoughts are; thank goodness I'm leaving this Micky Mouse company and going somewhere else. And still no wrd from my boss either, and days are clearly running out. I have 18 days left and counting down.

Have a great weekend, it'll be fun here.

22nd Dec 2008:

Yes, we are just about to cast off and head south. We have been here for some nine and a half days now and if I'm honest the novelty has worn off. But, we've had some good times, made some friends and the Shetlands are certainly a place worth coming back to, maybe in the summer.

Last night there was a pub quiz in Captain Flints, and four of us decided to take part. We thought there was bound to be a local round, and lots of questions about Scotland; so we thought we didn't stand a chance.Members of the team that won each round got a free shooter and the winning team of the night got more shots and tickets for a Manchester United game. When we had won the first four rounds we realised we were going to win the whole thing. We began giving our free shots to other teams; just to be nice, not to be taking the you know what. The music round we got every question right; and the final general knowledge round we began making wold guesses. We still won by 16 points and at one point I did shout, 'easy, easy.'

Yes, it has been great here; but it is a town with limited attractions for those wanting to let off steam; and now we will have to go and earn our money, because after all this is a job not a cruise.The weather down south is for light winds, which will mean us working until the 26th at least, which means I will not be home for Christmas. Needless to say I am not happy with that, but what can you do? Getting upset won't change anything so I may as well get on with it.

24th Dec 2008:

And so it came to pass that my soon to be ex-boss has now broken a second promise for me to be off the ship by MOnday. He says there are replacement engineers to take my place, and the company wants assurances that I will not just pack my bags when we get into port on Sunday.

It is tempting, I wont lie; but I feel I have to play the game and not burn any bridges. That does not mean he is being unreasonable and dick. The question is if I had no resigned would he have tried harder to get me off? I don't know the answer to that.

What I do know is that if I had a partner who was any less understanding the choice would be between a job and a marriage. And that is no real choice.

And so here I am on Christmas Day surveying the North Sea again and not at home. There will be an empty chair at the dinner table this afternoon, and all the time I am wishing I were there.It is not going to be too bad here; we have our secret santa gifts, a turkey dinner and we will stop working for an hour so we can sit down together. Or would do if there were enough chairs.It aint so bad, I am working and getting paid a kings ransome for being here. I have said that ok for now, but I want to be off for New Years Day as that is when our daily rate and days work counter gets reset. If we are at sea there will be nothing I can do; but if we're in port I can and will walk off.

So, Merry Christmas from me to you, and hoping that your holidays are going well. I know they can be stressful, but enjoy your day, and remember the gift of giving and those less fortunate than yourselves.

25th Dec 2008:

Christmas Day began, quite rightly, at midnight when Slav and myself turned up for the start of our shift. Yes, our second day working in 17 days and it's Christmas; just our luck.

Anyway, it was low pressure stuff, just running our digital survey lines up and down; one of us took turns to work whilst the other relaxed by surfing the net or reading. At half five the mess staff got up; and yet being muslims were more excited about the prospect of Christmas than all of the rest of us. We were greeted by huge smiles and handshakes and exchanged greetings. They had the busiest day of all with the feast to prepare.And what a feast; whilst the rest of us carried on our work, they baked, cooked and did all the other things most of us would take for granted.

At midday the other shift took over, and it was decided to assemble in the lab at a quarter to one for Secret Santa. One of us dressed up with fake beard and red boilersuit to pretend to be Santa, and each one of us had to sit on his knee when our present was pulled out of his full sack. We had just £10 to spend, but the best were those funny gifts like the 'naughty' box of delights our geoligist received. I won't add to her embarrasment any further by listing the contents, but it did turn her cheeks the brightest of crimson.

After that we were called down to eat, and in the mess the most wonderful cold buffet was laid out, and those of who had been up for twelve hours were indeed hungry and filled our plates. It was then sprung on us that this was just the first course as a full turkey dinner was to follow!So with another laden plate we grabbed what seats we could and tucked in whilst The Two Ronnies played out unfunnily on the tv behind.There was even Christmas Pudding for those still hungry, and then mince pies, nuts, Quality Street, Christmas Cake, nuts and Chocolate Log to top the meal out and stretch those belts a little further.

Trying to sleep with a full stomach was difficult I have to say, but I did drop off to the gentle rocking of the ship and the booming of the seismic guns the other side of the hull.

27th Dec 2008:

Yes, it's already Sunday morning here. And I see when I filled in my diary this evening that I have maybe eight or nine days left on board before I can go home for sure. Of course it could even before then, but I'm not counting any chickens quite yet.

So, here we are about 5 hours steaming east of Great Yarmouth, right now just going round in circles waiting for the weather to come down so we can get back to work.

Last night we spent eleven hours getting samples of sand and stones from the seabed. We get paid to do it, so I don't really question the futility of it. What I can tell you is that after a couple of hours in a force six, it don't matter how many layers you have on, it still gets darn cold.But, just before breakfast it was getting too dangerous for work out there, and we came inside. And that really has been the pattern for the last couple of days; just waiting around. We are due to head into port tomorrow; the one where I was supposed to get off. But, as everyone in the office, including my boss, has had Christmas off, the chances of anything been done are a little above zero.

I have sent my boss a mail saying that I want to be off by January 1; that is because that is when double payments for us end. It may sound a little mercenary, but it's the truth. For each day we work this month we get two days pay. How good is that? Well, for those who have worked even more days than I have, they are getting triple pay! And they don't wanna get off, which was the whole point for the company to introduce it.

Jools has been entertaining my Mother; I think at times it has been hard, and I guess it would have been easier with me there. And although Mother and I have had our issues, well I have the issues with her, I would still loved to have been there. Jools made Christmas dinner sound so wonderful, with both her siblings being there. I could only imagine really what it was like.

Other than that, things are pretty much the same around here; there is an abundance of Christmas food left over; the chef made a really hot and spicy Indonesian dish out of the leftover turkey, which was really great. And a change from the usual cold cuts or sandwiches. There is only so much Christmas cake one can eat though.

29th Dec 2008:

And verrily it came to pass that the forces of good did vanquish the forces of evil and brave Prince Jelltex did get permission to go home for the fest of New Year and the feast that is the NFL playoffs.

Maybe it was his force of will, his use of the power of the interweb and e mail that did it; but his arch-enemy the boss did say yeah, go home and stop yer whining.

And the people did cry out in great jubilation at this turn of events and there was weeping.And he did call out using the power of the mobile phone to his beloved, the Princess Jools, and she did grab her trusty chariot, VW Polo and did she head up the Queen's highways known as ye M20 and A12 headed she northwards where the arms of her husband did indeed wait.

And there was more weeping of joy. And thus the brave Price Jelltex did break the spell of employment under the cloaked figure known only as 'the boss' or that t#+t.' And looketh did he forward to the golden of lands of the new job living did they in the new camelot known as The House on the Cliffs.

And liveth did they happily ever after.

30th Dec 2008:

And so I settle back into life back home.The drive back down to Kent was uneventful, as we had to wait until my replacement turned up. The result was that we didn't set off until half seven, and at least by then what traffic there was had long since passed. Dover was quiet and frosty when we arrived, and our three cats were waiting in the hallway demanding what the heck we thought we were doing in leaving it to half ten to feed them dinner; some five hours late.

There was just enough energy to have a shower and a wee dram before bedtime. This morning Jools went into work whilst i battled with the adjusting of switching to living in the daylight that comes with working nights for the last week. I sat in the sofa and watched the sun rise over the frosty hill of River. Trains went by whisking those unlucky enough to be working.

I made do with cranking the heating up another notch and another cup of flavoured coffee with flavoured syrup.

Jools picked me up and we went to our favourite pub for lunch; we both had the pub staple; scampi. And I had a couple of pints of frothy Old Speckled Hen. It's a beer guys. And then we went to visit Jools' Dad and Nan. Nan dd not know I was home and so it came as a huge surprise for her. And we made plans for a long day at the weekend when we would have her over at the flat.

Arriving back I opened the presents that Santa failed to deliver to the ship. Clever Santa brought me two bottles of malt whisky; a high tech bottle opener for those fruity reds, various items branded with the crest of my favourite football team and thermal socks for those long hours standing on the pitching deck at sea.Clever Santa.Back here for more wonderful coffee, chocolate shortbread and the Christmas Wallace and Grommit whilst we shared the sofa with two of our cats.It's good to be home.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The Grimsby Blogs (part 2)

20th October 2008.

The weather today is grim; I mean it really is grey and windy, and on the walk back from the Seeker, the heavens did open and we did indeed get wet. We had been over to get some protective coverings for some cable on deck here; Mike and I walked to the Seeker to get some stuff for work, but on the way back the heavens did open and we got very wet indeed.
I slept all afternoon, and arranged to meet up with Andy and the guys from his boat this evening.

Jumping ahead, I thought of going to The White bear where they were yesterday, but it was empty; save for a couple of teens asking for a penny for the guy; something I had not heard for ten or so years.

It was some walk over from the White Bear to the centre of town and the pub where the others were tonight. Grimsby, once upon a time must have been a prosperous town; signs of this are everywhere. But seeing it today, it looks very sad. On a couple of street corners, ladies of the night tried to drum up business; the street on which the White Bear stands is now one where most of the shops have closed down, and the pub itself is a modern day version of the spit and sawdust type.

The rain had given the streets a sheen that made it look almost nice, but a closer look revealed a down well and truly on its uppers. A new road cut through the end of the High Street, creating a six lane highway where once were shops and houses. The town centre could be anytown, UK; with the usual mix of shops and banks. At least the town centre pubs had not been turned into fun-pubs the way Hull’s had.

I caught up with the lads in one of these; a nice enough place, with beer at a northern price of less than £2.50 a pint, and a large TV filling one wall and most people watching the game.
Newcastle were playing Manchester City on the large screen, and it was almost a good game. In the end it finished a 2-2 draw, and not that bad.

One beer followed another, followed another until it was kebab time and then grab a taxi and come back to the ship. The taxi stopped right outside the gangplank, and I was soon enough eating the kebab and enjoying a diet Coke or two.

News of tomorrows early departure have been may be false; those from the Seeker suggest it has been agreed we stay here until Friday like them. Such is life.

Time for bed.


In previous writings recently, I may have been unkind to Grimsby. It’s not hard to do; it’s now a run down, downmarket, down at heel kind of place; full of abandoned warehouses, disused rail tracks and just hints at past glories. The wring turn from the bright lights of the American style strip mall takes the unwary to a world of vice, drugs and cheep booze. Teenagers hang round in alleyways, drunks stagger in circles and young women sell the one thing they have; their bodies. The shops are long since abandoned in this area, the pubs a modern variant on the old spit and sawdust, where it’s all ways happy hour in name if not atmosphere.

It would oh so easy to write the town off as hopeless; and yet there are signs at how wealthy and prosperous the town once was. Grand warehouses, wide roads and the faded names of dozen of merchants stand testament to the rich past the harvest of the sea brought to the town. Now the only fish being landed are frozen after being caught in more fertile waters around the globe; the docks now stand empty of fishing boats, and the quaysides have become car parks for cars and trucks from around the world that other nations have built for us to consume.

The High Street, once the heart of the town has been cut in several places by grand road schemes which have only served to take custom to larger, box like stores on the edge of town. Every shop is having a sale, but failing to tempt the early drinker from his course to the pub with the £1.25 drinks. Later, these same people can be seen either staggering home, or just slumped under lamps where their legs gave out, oblivious to what goes on around them; usually skater boys and girls using the pedestrianised streets as a place of fun; at least someone does.
Is there any hope for Grimsby? I guess so; it has potential, vast areas of land await the developer’s shovels. Sadly for Grimsby, the global economy means those days are long off. And so, Grimsby’s past stands to remind the present of what was and just how bad things are.

22nd October 2008.

Another day, as they say. And here we are still in Grimsby, waiting on the weather, whilst here in port it has been glorious sunny day with stunning blue skies. Not much work on, so I took the afternoon off and walked into town to find the library and do some internetting.

This morning, Wendy asked if I took photographs; I told her the truth and so I was given the job of taking the official pictures to be put on the company website. She seemed impressed with what I did, although in my mind they were a little over exposed, but not too bad.

After the library, I found the local Starbucks and had a huge coffee before bumping into Mik and Ewa in the Yarborough. I had some Polish beer before heading off to get some reading material before settling down on my own with a pint to read Private Eye and a couple of train mags.
After a dinner of scampi, Liverpool played Athletico Madrid; in an insipid game which ended one all; thus proving what a bore the Champion’s League can be when such a result benefits the teams playing.

At least the taxi driver tonight brought me to the right side of the dock, and no lengthy wait on the other side of the lock gates were needed.

Heck, we may even sail tomorrow; then again…

23rd October 2008.

Another day, another day in Grimsby. No news on a departure date or time, it’s just not today. Spent the morning dealing with the freight, the OCs get their own TVs and DVD players, whilst the rest to make to with a Wii.

I did sleep for about six hours last night, and so when I came to try to get my head down this afternoon, I tossed and turned but sleep would not come. So, I opened the latest Robert Goddard book and immersed myself in his twists and turns. How wonderful those six hours flew by.

News of James; he is leaving the house on Friday; maybe: I’ll believe that when it happens. Jools is still to go up on Saturday to begin to clear the house out.

I walked into town to the town centre pub; only to find it full of students as it was just £1.25 a pint. Quite a selection of freaks and misfits; mostly were students of those of an age where they look like students, a scattering of Goths and a couple of old soaks who couldn’t pass up the chance of cheap beer, even with a banging Iron Maiden soundtrack coming out of the Juke Box.

As time went on, people began to stand in front of the TV making watching the game impossible and less than enjoyable. I met Thom the first mate, and we ended up going to a quiet bar for supper and more beer. He left as Mike arrived, and we chatted some. I caught a taxi back, only for the driver to drop me off the wrong side of the dock, and I found the lock gates open and I had to spend 90 minutes until the tide turned before the gates were closed and I could cross.
Man Utd beat Celtic 3-0, the Gooners win 5-2 in Turkey but Norwich thrash Wolves, top of the league Wolves, 5-2; and I get to see the goals over and over on Sky Sports News.

The Fruit Fairy Cometh.

Since arriving on the good ship Vigilant, there has been a distinct lack of food; in particular, fruit. This situation made me walk to Tescos the first afternoon on board and buy a bag of oranges as well as a couple of boxes of bran flakes, as there only is cornflakes on board.

Meal times were no better, no choice about what to eat, just Hobson’s Choice, take it or leave it. And as fish was the overwhelming favourite, it just meant that some went hungry. Also, it has to be said the portions were small, with no dessert and none of the usual garlic bread. And as the night shift ate second at lunch, the other shift had munched their way through the only plate of salad.

Talking of night shift; only one night was any food left out for us at all; and we had to the one step above eating each other; Pot Noodles. Even then, there were just enough for one each. It felt like being on hard tack.

And despite repeated promised from Wendy that something was going to be done; nothing changed; until yesterday.

Suddenly a huge bowl of fruit appeared, with apples, oranges, kiwi and bananas, as well as a large plate of melon and pineapple chunks, and as soon as that plate was empty another pineapple was put under the knife.

Even better was the appearance of a menu at lunch, with choices of course, the looked of surprise on the rest of the crew was quite funny. But really did go to show how bad things had become on board. At least now there seems to be enough food, and the promise of gym equipment arriving today, although no where to put it, it seems that we will soon be ship shape and all that.

Sadly, the weather isn’t going to play ball, and it seems we are going to be here until Sunday now. We’ll just have to make the best of it I guess.

27th October 2008.

And so, after a week in Grimsby, we find ourselves back on the high seas, some 80 miles due east of the Humber. Although we’re not working; almost, but not quite, due to the weather. We did try to work, put the sonar in the water, but the data was rubbish, and we damaged to towing points getting it back on board.

Typically, we sailed yesterday just as the games in the Premier League kicked off; and so we poured over irregular updates via our shaky internet connection. Once we had sailed, it was to bed to try to get some sleep before arriving on site in the early hours of today.

The wind had calmed down, and it was a wonderful late afternoon that we pulled out of the dock and headed into the darkness that lay to the east. A couple of thrill seekers on jet bikes came over and used our wake to jump off. Final calls were made to loved ones, and we settled down once more to the life at sea.

A week in port, even in October is a little unusual, and some of us made it off into town at least once a day; whilst others just played on the video game that was delivered to the ship last week.
My days fell into a familiar routine; wake up at about 6; have breakfast, and then hang around in the lab in case of any odd jobs needed to be done; and then a walk into the town, to the library for some internetting, before heading to Starbucks for a vente latte with an extra shot whilst reading the Times; And finally maybe meeting up with either Dave or Thom for a pint in the Yarborough.

28th October 2008.

Nearly midnight, and here we are for the second whole day and third night bobbing around on site waiting on weather. Talk is of heading into port on Saturday; but it’s just that; talk.
Didn’t sleep much today with the ship lurching around in the heavy swell. I say heavy, just 2 metres, but enough even on the lower deck to disrupt sleep. So, do we try to stay awake all night or grab some sleep if the weather allows? We shall see.

And the big question is; why did we sail on Sunday as we knew what the weather was going to be? It’s just been a waste of time and fuel to be sitting out here hour after hour waiting for the swell to drop to one metre. In fact in the next few hours it will increase to two and a half, so no chance of work at all.

We have all settled into a routine; with meals and time off to do our own thing. Some play on the Wii, others like me, doesn’t. Although I did try out one of the driving games in the wee small hours.

A year ago we were in Cardiff for the Arcade Fire concert, and then we went up to Yorkshire to the cottage on the edge of the moors. I know I am getting paid for this, but I wish we were back on our travels again. Time moves on for sure, and soon it will be November and thoughts will turn to leaving the ship in the weeks that follow. We could be off sooner than we think as there is a real danger the job will be cancelled due to the weather, and some of us will have to find a new ship, possibly further north than this. The Explorer has a crew change this week, so that would be out for me. So Hammerfest is at least out.

There are worse ways to spend a working day.

And the Rich Shall Inherit the Earth. Apparently.

And in front of the multitude, Jesus spake, ‘the rich shall inherit the world; blessed are the insurance brokers.’

Go back to your homes and build ye a gated community, so no poor can trouble your door, and employ ye an accountant so you pay minimum tax by funnelling it through an offshore account. Do this, and truly the kingdom of heaven shall be yours.

Sorry, I got carried away, but I think he may have said something different. Didn’t his disciples have to give away all their possessions before following Jesus? Did he not say it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven? And no it didn’t mean a gate in Jerusalem.

What stuns me, is for the most part those who seem to resent tax dollars being spent on the poor and old are the ones who seem to advocate religion, and Christianity in particular.
How strange.

Even if the deranged arguments were right about the tax dollars being wasted, surely the phrase ‘some fell on stony ground’ comes into play here. The act of being charitable is what counts, not whether it makes any difference.

There is a phrase in Britain, which has fallen out of use; I’m alright Jack; meaning, screw you, I doing fine. And that is what I am hearing from people claiming to be Republicans; those with God on their side; apparently.

November 12th 2008.

So, I sit here in my cabin the morning we sailed from Grimsby, again. We have tried to work, and failed due to the weather. We are just in site of land, so a run to port if the weather turns will be easy.

We sat in Grimsby all week, and sailed today because there is supposed to be a weather window of a few hours. After today, it will be late Saturday before we can work. Even then we have to be so careful, as fishing pots litter the area, and we have a chase boat running the lines ahead of us so we don’t snag our gear.

I guess I should mention last week’s election; Obama won by not quite a landslide, but a big enough margin of victory to cause the conservatives to turn on themselves to lay blame. We worked in the lab whilst the results came in, and at about four the Florida results came in and the ticker counted over 270 meaning an Obama win. It caused the heart to jump with joy.
Now, other bloggers are claiming all sorts of things as to why he should not be the 44th president; hopefully even they will get used to the idea in the weeks to come. So, change has come; quite whether it will be for the good, or he can live up to his promises is another matter; but in winning the world certainly changed.

The one bad taste in the moth has been the vitriol hurled in Obama’s direction; it has been horrible to see; And proves that although some people have moved into the twenty first century, some quite clearly are stuck in the dim and distant past.

The other main news is that someone has offered us plenty to buy my house, and we have decided to take what they bid. It’s something less than £20,000 less than the house worth a year ago, but we have to take what we can. So, now we have to instruct solicitors on both sides to draw up contracts; as well as removing the final possession that I have there. Julie had to come up to Grimsby over the weekend as I had forms to sign so she could sign the contracts in my stead when the time comes.

It will also allow us to move forward and to look for a place of our own when the time comes, and that might be as soon as Christmas when I’m home next. Moordown is still for sale, and for £216,000. It could just work.

As I said, Julie came up at the weekend; we had some 15 hours together, and it was wonderful to spend time together and just talk and talk. We stayed in a Travelodge, it was ok, and comfortable enough. The hours flew by, and we both crashed out before nine as we were so very tired. She also brought up new magazines and books, as well as supplies of fruit.

We talked of the future and our plans, all of which seem to be getting better all the time. We are just so darned lucky.

The Grimsby Blogs (part 1)

Just a collection of writing I did when the net did not work.

15th October 2008.

How best to describe what happened these past five days? Well, it all began quite simply with the news on Thursday that I was to join the Researcher sometime this week, or in about five days, in Great Yarmouth. So, no problems there, plenty of notice, time to arrange a last weekend with Jools. Easy. All too easy it seems.

So, we arranged a weekend of going to Loughborough to take pictures of steam trains, Sunday in London at Ally Pally where there was a craft exhibition that Jools wanted to go to. And then go on Monday or Tuesday to the ship; what could go wrong?

So, Friday I spent the day in the kitchen cooking a wonderful stew laced with a can of John Smith’s and a can of Guinness; it was wonderful. At the same time I baked some wholemeal rolls to have for lunch, and then in the afternoon saffron buns to have when Julie came home.
So, there I was laying on the sofa listening to the radio as I like to do, and then the phone rang; it was Kevin from the office, I was to join a new boat the next day in Great Yarmouth. I was stunned; to be told this at short notice just a week after I had told him by e mail that this was my major bugbear with the company. I hung up on him; only for him to ring back to try to reason with me. It didn’t work; I was livid; there was a story that there was an engineer shortage and the Researcher wasn’t due in port until the end of the week. Sadly for Kevin, an e mail arrived from movements telling me my flight details to Aberdeen on Tuesday. Kevin had lied, and here was the evidence.

I had no choice but to accept it, but I was not happy, and getting drunk. Just for Kevin to call again to offer a compromise. A guy from another department was coming up to Grimsby to meet the boat on Monday; I could come up with him and still have my weekend at home. I just needed to be in Yarmouth early on Monday morning.

Julie and I made our plans for the weekend; a trip up to Loughborough on Saturday to see a variety of steam engines on the Great Central Railway; then on Sunday Julie going to the craft fair in London and then dropping me off at Mother’s before Julie drives home whilst I get a taxi to meet up with the guy.

A bottle of wine to celebrate when Julie came home; and a wonderful steak with field mushrooms accompanied with chip shop chips; it was perfect.


I did not know there was a train at 04:44 in the morning; let along think that we would actually be getting on it. But, sure enough, there we were at half four on the platform joining various workers for the red eye train, and calling at apparently every station, we headed to London. As we dozed, the inky blackness of the Kentish countryside slipped by; and as we entered the outskirts of London, the sky in the east lightened, and the day was nearly on us.

A quick dash across London by tube, to the new St Pancras to pick up an aging train to whisk is north to the Midlands and back to the age of steam. Sadly, the train was aging, 32 years old and showing it; the poorly mould and padded seats were really uncomfortable, and the poor legroom under the table making stretching out without kicking a fellow passenger, impossible.

As we headed north, the day was dawning, deep reds and oranges lit the sky, and the wonderful mist made a wonderful vista for those who cared to look out of the windows. The sun rose blood red, but quickly making the mist and fog disappear.

Loughborough would be another midlands market town, were it not for the crossroads of two main line railway lines; one now sadly gone. The bare bones of one of these lines had been born again and show the public of today how the railways of yesterday worked.

More importantly for us, there was a steam gala to be held this weekend, with two important locomotives making a rare appearance together. Oliver Cromwell was the engine that pulled the last scheduled train on British Railways; a majestic huge Britannia class engine, and newly repaired and painted. The other engine is the first new steam locomotive to be built in Britain for some 50 years; Tornado was designed to pull the growing number of railtours that criss-cross the county every weekend. What better than a brand new engine? This was to be the final weekend that Tornado was to spend on the Great Central before heading to York to have it’s shiny final coats of paint applied, and then mainline trials and tests to be carried out before hauling proper trains on regular lines next year.

Walking out of the station, there were queues for taxis; so we set off with other spotters towards to old Central Station. We passed a taxi company, and Julie asked if they had a car to take us to our chosen vantage point; they did and soon we were being whisked to Main Street by a trainspotting taxi driver telling us the codes for engine sheds in the area.

70013, Oliver Cromwell

Glad to get out of the cab, we walked up the road to the bridge, there were gaps in the hedge, through which a few other photographers had already arrived. As we took up our places, a cloud of smoke rose above the town centre, and soon Oliver Cromwell powered by looking majestic in the morning sun; I snapped away. And then there was a 45 minute wait until Tornado was to pass by in much the same manner. More snapping, and with the pictures in the can, as it were, we headed off to walk back into town to the station to ride on one of these trains.


As we reached to bottom of the road, more spotters arrived in a taxi, which we took back into town, and within 5 minutes we were in the queue to pay our money to get onto the platform and to join the crowds to get on the train when it arrived.

The Driver Inspects

Oliver Cromwell was to be our train, and after getting quite possibly the worst cup of coffee, we managed to get a couple of empty seats and waited whilst the large engine was attached to the front of the train.

70013, wide

In all honesty, there was not much enjoyment to be crammed into a 50 year old carriage like sardines, but it was really an event to raise funds for the railway, so we didn’t really mind.
The Leicestershire countryside rolled by, and special other trains steamed past us on the other line. It was a wonderful day, even with the crowds.


But the crowds were getting worse, and after getting out at Quorn on the way back to sample the beer tent, it was getting impossible to do anything, and making us feel uncomfortable. We decided we had done all what we had wanted to, and so thoughts turned to going home. We walked back to the mainline station, but realised we had a 90 minute wait for the train our seats were reserved on. There were dozens of comfortable looking first class seats on the 5 coach train; we decided to pay the difference and took our places in the armchair like seats. It was almost worth the extra cost; almost.

Anyway, we got back into London earlier than we thought, and we had time to head off to our favourite restaurant for more Italian food. How wonderful it was to head into a little piece of Tuscany from the busy streets of London, some large garlic prawns and that followed by lobster spaghetti washed down with a fruity rosé. Wonderful.

A short walk to Charing Cross and a train to Dover which was to leave in less than 10 minutes; even better it was a fast train in that it only stopped four times before we arrived back at the white cliffs.

And so we watched a wonderful sunset and dusk as we whizzed once more through the suburbs and into the dark countryside of Kent.


Up again early, and some final packing before we headed once again back to London. Just enough time to say goodbye to them cats, and then it was time to walk out the door for the final time in maybe eight weeks.
It was a grey and foggy morning in Kent, and driving up the M2 to London was not too pleasant, but we made good time, and soon we were once again in the suburbs and heading for the tunnel under the Thames. As we approached the tunnel, we glimpsed Canary Warf across the river, all shrouded in fig, with just its golden pyramid top showing above the swirling mist.
Alexandra Palace has been many things; the first BBC studios, and now an exhibition hall, and today a treasure of arts and crafts for what Julie called the WI and blue rinse brigade. And she wasn’t wrong.
He fog had not cleared, and so as Julie went inside, I wandered around snapping away at ghostly shapes of trees and the such, and later dewy cobwebs and friendly birdlife and the traditional Sunday morning football games, played by the hungover and unfit. All fit subjects for the unblinking eye of my camera.
Walking back up the hill to Ally Pally, the Fog had all but cleared and the brickwork now stood out strongly against a bright blue sky instead of trying to hide in the wisps of mist. I got a call, Julie was ready, and so we met up back near the car and headed off; thankfully going against the traffic which was still arriving.
We stopped for lunch in a chain place in Epping Forest; t was just about ok, but was quickly filling up with loud families and was another place to escape from.
And so, back onto the open, but overcrowded roads as we headed north further into Essex and then on to Suffolk and then Norfolk. It was a glorious autumnal afternoon, but there was the shared knowledge that our time together was quickly coming to an end.
The final part was over familiar roads for me, a short run from Norwich to Lowestoft, some down quiet leafy lanes, and across three marshes beside the broads before arriving outside Mothers.
Then the usual pleasantries, and a cup of something hot and it was time for Julie to leave before the mist came down again; it was already probably too late to avoid that. But she did leave, leaving me with the awkward silence and fractured communication that marks our relationship these days.
Sadly, the thought of a whole evening together did not thrill me, and so I called an old friend and he came to pick me up so we could go somewhere where we could share a pint or two. I chose a place where another friend, Mike, worked; as he had fallen on hard times and could not come to the wedding.
The pub was crowded with actors, as a TV series was filming nearby, and this was their chosen watering hole. Two Pints of Lager is something I had not watched, but there were faces I did recognise.
All too soon it was time to head home and to bed, as tomorrow, it was off to work and the sea. How quick the time goes.

North to Grimsby.

After many changes of plan, I was to meet a guy at the offices in Yarmouth Monday morning, and he would take me along with the freight to join the ship in Grimsby. At least I was spared getting up at stupid o’clock to catch a train to Norwich to meet him there. I arranged a taxi for eight, Mum warned me of traffic problems in Yarmouth, and so I thought that allowing an hour would be plenty.
The traffic problem turned out to be one of the two bridges into town closed, and all traffic from the south merging into the single lane over the one remaining bridge. To call it chaos would be an understatement; it took an hour to go the one mile from the hospital to the Haven Bridge, inching along watching the meter creep up in the taxi.

And then once in the office, finding that everyone else has the same problem, and work begins in some departments at maybe half ten. I waited and waited for the guy; and then when he does show up, surprise, there’s been a change of plan and now someone else is taking me at some time later.

So, after nearly three hours waiting around, we head off in the van first to Norwich and then west to Kings Lynn and into Lincolnshire. The driver, Joe, tailgated all the way there, as he wanted to get back to his family that night, and the only conversation was how crap the company was.

We drove through Lincoln, a pleasant place for sure, and somewhere to return with cameras I think. The cathedral is situated in the centre of town on top of one of the few hills for miles, and looks really imposing.

Then it was north through the Lincolnshire Wolds past air bases, some still working and some long since abandoned to the plough, until the chimneys and pipes of Immingham could be seen in the distance. Constant calling to the office failed to get an answer as to what dock the boat would be coming in at; until we were once actually at the gates to the docks we were told that the ship wasn’t actually in yet, or anyone had spoken to the ship and it could still be doing its trials hours out to sea.

Hours went by, we went into what from the outside looked like a nice county hotel, but inside were scattered characters of dubious repute, and the walls of the bar covered in warnings about drug deals and advice lines. Request for two coffees were greeted with surprise; and a kettle was boiled and instant was made, and for this we were charged £1.20 a cup.

Finally, at five, a call from the office with news; the boat had missed the tide and would not be in until four or five in the morning, and here are the details of your hotel. Joe was not happy, as he had made clear that he did not want to spend the night away, but now had no choice.

I got the sat nav to work on my new phone, and so we drove through the evening traffic to the Hotel Elizabeth. It’s a modern place, well was in the 1970s when it was built, blocky looking, but comfortable inside, and for a change our reservations were actually waiting for us when we came to check in.

I spent the night using the Wi-Fi in the lobby, and then joined Joe for a couple of beers before heading up to my room.

The next morning, it was still dark when we met for breakfast at seven; and after a plateful of scrambled eggs and lots of coffee we headed out to meet the boat, which we now knew was arriving at East Royal Dock. Joe just forgot to ask in which town that was.
At Immingham, they said there was no such dock there, but there was one in Grimsby, and so turning round we headed back into the heavy morning rush to find the dock.

And there she was, just sitting there hiding on the quay amongst stacks of wood imported from some rain forest the other side of the planet. The Vigilant used to be a Dutch naval ship, but now converted to our requirements, it looked OK at first; it was then I saw that our lab was two transport containers welded together and strapped to the back deck; it was going to get in there once the storms hit.

Joe and I parted our ways on the deck, as I set out to find some familiar faces and hopefully a cabin in which to dump my stuff, and then begin my first day of work in oh so long.

The Son of Jimmi Hendrix.

So, here we are back in wonderful Grimsby again. It’s a Sunday night and the town is ours for the taking. Even better, there is another ship from our fleet in port, and we’re all due to meet up in a bar; how hard could it be?

Mobile phones make modern life possible, and should, therefore make it easier for one party tell another exactly which bar they may, or not be in. So, once docked, someone called a friend on the other ship; the name of a bar exchanged, and we head out into the cold and windy night.
I was given the name of the bar, and putting that name into my clever new mobile phone I find the bar is 130 yards away behind us. Well, that was once we found our way off the dockside.
Unbeknown to us, we had been berthed at the far side of the dock; which meant a route march through miles of parked trucks, across the gates to the dock along a rickety walk along the top of the lock gates, down a narrow unlit road and then a mile along deserted warehouses before coming to what was once the merchant’s quarter.

Others in the party thought they knew the bar, and so we headed off away from our eventual destination and into what was once the centre of town. Mile after mile of shop fronts passed by until we gave up walking in circles. Another call told us the name of the new rock bar, and checking with the taxi line revealed that it was now a 10 minute taxi ride back to where we started.
We had already passed many bars and pubs already selling lovely beers and wines; but the others in the rock bar made it sound so nice we paid the money and climbed into a couple of taxis and headed back into docklands.

The Yardbird is a rock bar; no doubt about that. It is run by the local biker chapter, The Warlocks, and is a rough as a rough thing. There were drug deals being done, and we looked out of place a portion of ribs at a Jewish wedding. We bought drinks and settled down to watch the trip on stage try to do a passing impression of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

They weren’t that bad in truth. The wah-wah peddle was over worked, but the tunes were recognisable, and the few in the bar were getting down to the show. Heck; even the drinks were cheap, although talk was impossible, it wasn’t that bad.

I guess what was worrying, was the baby-boomers getting down with the groove and puffing away on fat roll ups; is this our future; listening to the sounds of our youth until we’re in our dotage? I shuddered as someone’s granddad played an invisible flying V to the intro of Voodoo Chile.

We caught the final half hour of the show, and then it was time to head back into docklands, or what was left of it, to find our way back to the ship past miles of white vans and stacks of wood.
The view is more of the same tomorrow night; sure beats working.

Monday, 17 November 2008

There goes five weeks

So, how best to sum up five weeks at sea and at work in one blog?

It's tough, especially as for many days there was no work at all due to the seas and weather, and during those long nights we make the best of things we can thanks to the Wii and a collection of DVDs.

Upon waking up at a quarter to eleven, one lays in bed trying to determine whether the baot is moving enough for work to have been cancelled; in which case there is time to lay and doze, or stare at the ceiling. otherwise it's soon time to leap out of the bunk and get ready for another 12 hours of monitoring data.

The fact is we have done nothing since three o'clock Saturday morning, as each day promised good conditions and failed to deliver. Monday was supposed to be the best day, and its true we had half an hour of calm sea, but by the time we steamed towards the start of the survey line, the swell and wind had built up and the ship was rocking like you wouldn't believe. It woke just about the whole of the day shift. And at lunchtime it became clear that the weather was awful until Sunday, the client pulled the plug on the job and the ship turned south and headed for our home port of Great Yarmouth.

And then the news that three of the four engineers would not be needed, and so we have been making plans to go home tomorrow. Or I would have done had I not slept in until ten this evening, and the only plans I could make were for the hire car in the morning. So, back to Dover sometime after nine, and no need to call in to see the house or Mother.

Aah yes, the house. In a miricle, we have found a buyer for the house in Lowestoft, and are going through the process of getting contracts written out and all sorts of paperwork filled in. Or Julie is. As I have been at sea. But, it seems to be going well, and although I am not counting my chickens about the sale, I am at least checking recipes.

We had to slash the price of the house; I can't lie it hurt. But the question is how much did we want to sell it and so move on with our own plans? The truth is that all houses are down, and so our reduced money will buy the same amount of bricks and mortar as the original asking price. Just how bad do they want to sell?

So, this week I have mortgages to arrange and maybe plan on looking in on some houses, and thinking of our future. Yes, it's all exciting stuff in our life. And I mean that in a good way. Once upon a time exciting meant divorces, family dying and mad ex-spouses trying to get me thrown in jail. This is just good stuff.

An old school friend joined me on the ship; and we passed the long nights with tales of our shared past. He also joined the RAF as an armourer, but we never met, and it was only through Friends Reunited that we caught up and found out about our shared experiences. So, once he got out of the mob, I put him in contact with the company, and they snapped him up right away. And so we have been jolly boys on the seven seas and in the pubs of downtown Grimsby.

Other than that, life goes on. I have to decide whether to seek a job with another better organised company, or stick with this one whilst the economy takes a run and jump off a cliff. Being in the oil business, we have a bumper pay award this year, and that softens the blow of staying with acompany that can't organise a pee up in a brewery. Or at least my department can't.

I can't even say that I know how long I will be home for; a day, a week, a month? I just don't know. No e mails from the office, and indeed there is a little confusion even if I am supposed to be getting off in the morning. But having been told unoffically that I am, transport is now arranged and plans beginning to be made for Julie's birthday at the weekend.

So a couple of days either organising our furture or in front of the PC at home or if I feel so inclined, sorting through the parts of my bachelor lifestyle that Julie has cleared from the house this weekend. Well, having this time off now I have no excuses not to do it.

See you on the other side.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Its grim in Grimsby

Yay, here we are still in Grimsby, and we will probably be here until the end of the weekend at least. Out all new ship rides the waves like a beached whale and badly currupts the dats; meaning we can't work in anything other than an almost flat calm. Oh well.

At least the ship is comfortable enough, and the crew really good. Sadly, the food has been awful, and it took a week of badgering for there to be a choice at mealtimes, and then fruit and other snacks outside those times. Honestly, it felt like being on hard tack at times. I even went to tescos to get some oranges and bran flakes to keep the hunger pangs at bay, as no food was left out for the night shift, and we had to wait seven hours until breakfast to have anything.

Unless you count a Pot Noodle, which isn't really food is it?

There is another one of our ships in port, and on Sunday night we met up at a rock bar for a few late night cold beers. What they didn't tell us was that it was run by the local biker gang, The Warlocks, and was rough as anything. But, they seemed happy enough with us being there, and the beer was cheap enough. Music was by a Jimi Hendrix soundalike band; didn't catch the name, but they were quite good. The rockin' Baby Boomers seemed to like it.

Grimsby has fallen on hard times; the fishing industry has all but closed, and so the fish dock area of town are in a terrible state. Many warehouses have preservation orders on them, but there is little money to do them up, so time is slowly breaking them down as they become derilict. It is sad to see what was once, quite clearly, a vibrant and properous town fall on such hard times, and once streets full of shops and merchants now appealing to the lowest common denominators; cheap beer and prositution; and then theres the drugs.

So, I have found the library in which to run to in the afternoons, before finding some of the crew for a sociable drink before heading back to the ship. What amazes me is that although we're in port, technically we're at sea, and getting paid as such. Musn't grumble.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Monday again

I know I shouldn't complain. Here I am fust finishing my 6th week of shore leave, and sat in front of the computer looking through pictures took over the weekend.It's grey and cold outside, but I'm inside just out of the shower with a smattering of cats to keep me company. Sadly, Julie has gone back to work, but there are chores to do, and things to listen to on the radio.Seems like theres another financial meltdown under way in London, Iceland is broke; its true apparently, the Steeler won last night. Yay. Too late for me though to watch it.But, my thoughts are on the phone that does not ring. I have not heard from the office since I got off the last boat six weeks ago. even my letter about them screwing up Septembers pay went unanswered. No news of when I am going to sea again. And as usual it will be a last minute thing, and quite frankly, I think thats unfare on Julie.I sent an e mail into my manager telling him that I am happy enough with my wages, though would not turn down more but I am fed up not being able to plan ahead.Unbeknown to him I have applied for another job in the same industry, and am waiting for an interview and the pay offer. It might not happen, or it might. But it sure is interesting being able to offer myself to the highest bidder.It is probable that we will have to move into my house in the Spring when Julie sells this place to her Dad. She will have to give up her job and look for something in the wilds of Suffolk or Norfolk. But at least we have choices I guess.No word from my ex-friend James who as you may have read is a git and no longer a friend or anyone I really want to speak to. It happens, and I guess we will get over it.

Turns out that Mum did not lie, and travelled back home on her own, and Pat was just either mistaken or stirring the facts. Not quite sure about this one to be honest. The fact is that I was able to believe the worst in Mother says volumes about our relationship; but I have made up with her, and I hope deflected the questions about who would want to wreck what is left of our relationship.

We had some storms over the weekend, and after seeing the flat sea on Friday night from the cliffs; much better on Saturday as we sat in the car on the edgeof the white cliffs by the Dover Patrol as the winds tried to knock our little Polo off its wheels as we watched the ferries to France come and go from the harbour below, read The Times and listen to the football on Radio 5.

Once back here at dusk we cooked some lamb steaks left over from the pre-wedding bbq; slow cooked in the oven with an onion, half a bottle of red wine and some redcurrents, served with roasted corn and mash; it was a triumph, even if I say so myself.

yesterday, on a wet and windy day we took my Flickr buddy Bob out; and we ended up in Tenderton on the Kent and East Sussex Light Railway; where we had a roast lunch before sitting behind a Great Western 0-6-0 tank in 30s carriages and watched the countryside roll slowly by in the rain until we came to Bodiham and its wonderful castle.

Back agin to Dover through the gathering gloom of a stormy autumnal evening to his for coffee, and marvel at his view of Dover castle high above the town, and lit up wonderfully apparently just for us.

Let Down Again

The first thing is that I found out from my estate agent/realtor that my so called best friend has been sabotaging all efforts to seel my house in Suffolk. The comment from the last people to view it was it'll never sell with James in it. I trusted a large part of our future with James, thinking he would do the right thing by us, after we had let him live there for a pittance rent for 18 months.Seems like I got that wrong; the result is that the last 5 months the house has been on the market we could have lost many potential slaes, and lost something like £15,000 in profit. The market is now dead, and I have had to take the house off the market as there is no point with him there.I had to call him up and rant at hime for stabbing me in the back and costing us so muchtime and money. He had the balls to deny it; but by that point i wasn't listening.So, James and I are now ex-friends again; and he has 26 more days to get the fluck outta Dodge.The house will probablay not sell with the market the way it is; which is causing us to re-think our plans almost daily.

Another so-called good friend has been spreading rumours about my Mother, and that she has been lying to me again. For once it wan't Mother that was not telling porkies, but needless to say this has caused ever more friction between us.So, here I am caught in the middle of two woman who want to be my Mother; one my real Mother and another childless woman. Why me?

No word of a date to go back to sea; so we are enjoying every day to the full; although this is made a harder as first I and now Julie has the flu. Oh well.We have been busy, and last night made quince jelly from the tree in our garden. We added some hops with the quince fruit from the same place and boiled it all down in a big pan. Today we put the mix in jars after adding the setting sugar and testing it was the right temperature.And tonight we had some onion bread, rustic French cheese, and our own Quince jelly for supper along with a cheeky bottle of French red. Man, it was good.Also tonight we made a batch of chilli jam; yes, chilli jam, which we simmered down to sa slush and will store for cold cuts at Christmas. Right now it's firely, but will mellow in a cool dark place.So, the weekend, and nothing much planned. Just the way it should be.

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 8

The alarm went off at half five; it was dark and cold; outside an owl called and the wind rustled the walnut tree outside. With coffee in hand I went out onto the balcony for the last time to take in the dawn, and saw the last sliver of the old moon just above the horizon.
With heavy hears we packed the car, and took one last look around at the monastery; one day we’ll be back.

The roads were pretty empty, apart from the one maniac who chased us onto the main road to Siena before overtaking round a sharp bend. At least at weekends there were very few trucks on the road, and even around Siena there was little traffic.

We made good time up to Florence, only to realise that the steel boxes beside the road with auto-something signs were in fact speed cameras, and it was way too late to worry about that now.

At Florence the signs to Pisa were clear, and we managed to find our way on the Autostrada north. The signs off to Pisa were not easy to spot and it would have been easy to be well on the way to Bologna before we would have realised we had gone wrong.

But that was nothing compared with the turn-off for the airport which was only signposted at the junction, which I am sure most people would have seen as the drove past it. Thankfully, Julie had seen the green cooperate colouring of the car hire place, and warned me to slow down.

There seemed to be no problems with the car and this time walked to the terminal rather than wait for the overcrowded shuttle bus. Inside the terminal, it was chaos; there were far too few screens with departure information, and no one to ask. We did find our wary to terminal B, and where our desks would open; and after asking a rep we queued up behind other early arrivals, whilst behind ever more people lined up well into the car park and across the road.

Once checked in and through immigration, we managed to work out the system for the café and got a coffee and something hot and savoury under the name of a cordon bleu; chicken and cheese in a chiabatta bun.

And then it was time to find our way to the gate, have a scrum to get on board, strap ourselves in and then it was time to go. On our way to the clouds, the plane banked, and from our seats we got a stunning view of the Leaning Tower before Italy slipped out of view beneath the clouds.

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 7

And so our last full day in Tuscany, and a sad farewell to the kitten. Poor Luciano did not know he would be saying goodbye to us so soon; and he played with all the vigour of youth chasing after a cob nut we collected, and some old laces. And then it was time to deliver him to Emy, we handed him over with little fuss, and headed straight out as little Luciano struggled and hissed in Emy’s hands; we knew it for the best, but that did not make it any easier.

We drove out back to the main road, and after filling the tank up, headed north to Siena, for one of the Tuscan jewels. I know how crowded some of the places can be here; and that is why we did not go to Florence. But still, we thought it should not be too crowded this late in September. Sadly, many others had the same idea, and finding somewhere to park was difficult. The second garage we went to seemed to have opened a level, and we found many empty spaces right near the entrance.

Il Campo

Finding our way to Il Campo and the rest of the centre was harder than we thought, and we wandered through many narrow roads with towering mediaeval houses standing shoulder to shoulder on each side.

the road to il campo 3

Soon enough we came to the beginnings of the commercial centre, and around the corner was the main shopping street; lined with the usual Tuscan specialty shops mixed in with the usual fashion houses.

Thieves Like Us

Through an arch on the right I spied the markings of Il Campo, the main city square around which there are horse races several times a year. And gathered all over were groups of tourists clustered around guides clutching brightly coloured umbrellas or some such things to be held up; as people from the whole world did the modern grand tour.


I freely admit to having done such tours in Italy before, and had had the information and history bombarded at my brain too. Much better, I think, to get a guide book and wander the streets to see where your feet would lead.


We found grand churches and cathedrals, palaces, grand houses, narrow alleyways with dark arches to explore; and small cafes and other such wonderful places. All so fantastic, and all the while chic locals sauntered around the only way they know how, all looking cool and confidant.
All roads lead to the Dumo, and so the ever rising paths and alleyways lead us to the grand cathedral. The queues to get in we long as they were legendary; and for the second time I decided not to go inside. We people watched some, and got pictures of the street sellers trying to eek out a living.

And already, the memories begin to fade

Down the steep steps beside the cathedral, there is a passageway leading off, and in that passageway there is a restaurant in a converted church. It is where I had lunch in the city four years ago; and it is where we had lunch on this visit. There were a high concentration of locals, always a good sign I think, and the food really, really good. Julie had toasted rustic bread with melted goat’s cheese and Tuscan honey; which was just wonderful I can tell you; whilst I had the mozzarella with tomatoes again.


We wandered around some more, but decided to head back to the car and then home. I thought about filling the luggage with some such Tuscan ingredients, but thought better of it, and anyway the queues were just horrible.



Errr, what to call this??? How about The Italian Job? Too obvious?

We drove home via country roads; through deep gorges and through high hilltop towns again. It was just wonderful, and we were just about the only travellers about. From high above the villa, we paused at yet another hilltop town, and were thrilled we could see the afternoon sun glinting of the Aegean Sea between Grossetto and Elba. The air was full of the aroma of herbs after someone had been cutting grass; and sadly, tomorrow, we were heading home.

That night we decided to head out for dinner; it was our last night but had enjoyed our meals on the balcony watching sunsets and the wildlife. Emy had given us a list of places to go, and the best for local traditional food was in Civitella Maritima.

Once night had fallen, we walked out to the car in the fragrant air. I am not one to resort to stereotypes; but Italian drivers can be a little impatient to say the least. As we drove to Roccastrada, there were the usual bright headlights just inches from our back bumper. Even funnier was that soon another tailgater was tailgating him and I could see three bright lights in the rear view mirror. One and then the other zoomed past as we headed up the steep hill to Roccastrada, and we could drive in peace.

The 5Km long roman road to Civitella Maritima was not as hectic, but at least budding race drivers could see to overtake and we chugged our way to the restaurant.

It was chilly in the keen breeze; doubly so high above the plain as we parked the car and headed up the poorly lit narrow alleys and up into the centre of the village. There was a smell of wood smoke in the air, and there were groups of rugged looking farmers outside the café enjoying a smoke and an aperitif.

The restaurant was easy to find; its lights brightening the courtyard on which it stands. We walked in and through the small bar to the room with the tables. A large group sat down one side taking over half the tables; we asked if it was OK to eat there; the waitress already looking stressed by the large numbers already dining said in fractured English that we could eat but there would be a wait.

Her fractured English is better than our fractured Italian, that’s for sure.

Julie had a Tuscan pancake filled with unsmoked bacon and Tuscan sheep’s cheese, cooked so it had a caramelised texture on the outside. I had pumpkin mousse with a creamy sauce which was just divine. Julie followed that with local slow roasted lamb whilst I had minestrone soup. I say soup, as did the menu, but it was more like a solid mash of slow cooked vegetables and stock. It was wonderful.

Sadly, the service was slow; there was an unlimited supply of Tuscan breads and the house read was light and fruity. But we had to be up at half five for the three hour drive to the airport at Pisa. We went without the lemon crème brulee and coffee, much to the waitress’s disappointment. Julie mimed sleeping and flying and she seemed to understand.

Outside it was downright cold, and we could see warm light from many of the tightly packed houses on the way down to the car. At least the drive back was calm with no other cars around, and we arrived back at the villa safe, sound and tired. I finished off the bottle of dessert wine and after checking all drawers for forgotten clothes we headed to bed.

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 6

Luciano slept well, as did we, and we awoke to him being hungry and letting us know exactly how he felt about it.

We spoke to Emy and there was no news on adoption, and so we decided to head out after giving the kitty another feed and hoping he would be ok.

Sorano, Tuscany

After looking at the map, we decided to head to a trio of towns far in the south of the region, and it would be a pleasant one and a half hour drive to get there. We drove down the roman road which we can see from our balcony, and so on to Grosseto. We then drove along the Autostrada for a while before heading inland and into the hills again towards Sovana.


Sovana was an Etruscan town, all cobbled streets and little houses; pretty enough, and as it neared lunchtime we chose a nice looking place and had lunch. Just the usual simple things; antipasto, brucsetti and wild boar ribs for main. It was all we needed, the ribs were a real small portion, but it was really good.


We did try to buy some local wine in a bar, but the girl serving was more interested in talking on her mobile and so we went elsewhere.


Sorano was a much different place. Built on the edge of a cliff overlooking a verdant valley, it was a miracle that it was ever built, and another that people live there. There is a stunning new road built down one side of the gorge and up into the town; blasted out of solid rocks and twisting and turning in very tight curves as it went up and down.


The town itself is a rabbit warren of narrow alleyways and stairs, with people living here still, and living a modern life. Being the end of season, we had the town pretty much to ourselves, and how wonderful that was in the autumnal sunshine. The alleyways lead to another panoramica, and what views as on three sides there was a green gorge, and on the rocks below, the town itself; all terracotta tiles and TV aerials. It looked like something out of a dream to be honest, and I past just a couple of people on the way down.

tomatoes and herb

We stopped for a coffee and an iced tea before the journey back; and what a journey, as we passed another stunning town, also perched on the edge of the gorge; Pitigliano looking like another fairy story come to life. We had ran out of time to call in, but did stop a couple of times to take pictures; and then back in the car for the 45 minutes descent to the plain via the usual twisty road and through villages perched on top of more hills.


Emy has told us the cat has a home; in Florence with his Mother. We say goodbye in the morning to him.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 5

During the night we had heard this awful noise; some animal in distress, maybe a cat; but we could not be sure. When we got up, the noise was louder and seemed to be coming from outside our front door. I went out to investigate, to find one of the guard dogs looking with interest at the bush beside our steps and that is where the noise seemed to be coming from.


When I looked there was a screaming hissing ball of fur that was in fact one very frightened kitten. And it was terrified of everything, especially the dog. I tried to grab it, but got a swish of its claws for my trouble.

We knew we could not leave it there, and yet we had no food for it. Julie had the thought of maybe some cheese; seemed a long shot, but worth trying. It lapped it up, and with the second lot we put it further from its hiding hole, and as it reached out to eat, I grabbed it and took it inside.

After a few minutes it settled down, had some more cheese, investigated the villa and made itself at home in Julie’s hands. It was so small, maybe six weeks old and pretty helpless. But it has a healthy set of lungs that it could tell us when it wanted anything.

We have called it Lucianno, after Pavarotti; as they both seem to share an almighty set of lungs.
Emy, the owner is trying to find a home to adopt it, until then we are the owners of a wonderful little kitty; and all plans for the day are on hold.

And so we had a quiet day nursing an increasingly confident kitten, feeding it every four hours and running after it as it raised its tail. We all had a siesta in the afternoon, and then went to bed again at ten after a full day of excitement.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Under the Tuscan Sun; the honeymoon, day 4

We awoke with the pan to head off to see two of the more famous hilltop town in the far east of the region; Pienza and Montepuliciano. It was the same route as on Sunday to Montalcino, so we could put away the maps and just enjoy the journey over the rolling fields and through the wonderful towns on the way. Once again the weather was really good, almost clear blue skies but with those fluffy clouds only seen in children’s tales.

The drive down the side of the hill from Montalcino was amazing, a 10 minute thrill of bend after hairpin bend with no crash barriers, and stunning views over the way we were yet to go.
A few times the road signs to Pienza did disappear, but with a little luck we managed to find our way. The road passes through the new part of town first, all modern two or three story blocks that are nice enough. We found a place to park in a side street and walked the 5 minutes in the older part of town.


Once again it is a mediaeval hilltop town; all narrow streets and ancient houses and churches, with battlements offering stunning views over the Tuscan fields way down below. Already the streets were filling up, but armed with our cameras we found the quieter side streets, and a small street café where we stopped to have a cappuccino and some tasty slice of sweet vanilla filled cake.


In the shops we bought wonderful herbed cheese, some sweet dessert wine, some almond biscuits to dunk in the sweet dessert wine (much better than it sounds) and a copy of the most recent London Times; all full of financial meltdowns which may or may not have been avoided.
We then headed to Montepuliciano before everything closed for lunch and siesta at half one. It was only about ten miles, but took much longer as the road at first dived and then rose to another hilltop town come fortress. There is the most stunning basilica at the foot of the hill on which the town sits, and we stopped there to take a few pictures; before deciding to walk up the 1:3 hill to the town above. The views were stunning, and we at least thought we were going to earn the tasty lunch we promised ourselves.


Montepuliciano is even hillier than the other towns; and its streets are a warren of narrow streets and narrower stairways leading to a grand piazza at the summit. There were tourists from all parts of the world, including the young family we had talked to whilst waiting for our hire car on Saturday; they said ‘hello’ and said they were enjoying their time in Tuscany.

Chiesa di San Bagio

We had spotted a café with views out over the land, but as the heat of the early afternoon rose, we stopped halfway up the town in a street café for antipasto and mozzarella salad and a glass or two of water.


Sadly, two tables away the once typical English tourist was making a scene; ‘don’t you speak English? I asked for a glass of water, not a bottle.’ And she went on in a similar vein. Our food, although simple, was wonderful, and the service wonderfully slow which gave us time to people-watch those making their way up the hill to the grand piazza.

Salcheto, Montepuliciano

We walked slowly back to the car, down the steep cobbled street that we had come up. We passed others making the trip back up, and like us were pretending to admire the view when they were in fact having a breather.

Ristorante Il Cantuccio, Montepuliciano

The final destination was Chianciano Terme. Another ancient hilltop town; but this one with a large modern twin built around a thermal spring. The drive was spectacular as it ever is in Tuscany; and although we decided not to stop, we thought of going out onto the plain on which the main road from Rome to Florence runs, as well as the main railway, to a large lake, Lake Trasimeno. There were two ways down apparently; one along the main road where the heavy traffic goes, and I swear there were signs pointing through the town.

Not having learned from our detour the other day, we headed off into the town centre and through the gats of the old town. Very soon the streets narrowed to little more than alleyways, and the signs now telling us no vehicular traffic allowed at any time was of no help.

Italian Eurostar

We headed on until we came to a turn so tight that the old man sitting outside his house had to get up and move his chair and get in his doorway. And we had to shuffle back and forwards in the car to actually get round the sharp bend. The road was then along the old town walls, but at least going down. More people had to get out of the way, but we did at least get through the other set of town gates and onto something like a normal road.

Italian Eurostar

That this new road had no signs, we thought best to follow the wider road down and see where that lead. It lead down and round many farms and vineyards, until it just petered out as a dusty track. We turned round and headed back to the town, where, after turning the wrong way down a one way street, we did find a main road and in turn the way down.

Once there, there was little to do as the lake was not signposted, and so we sat beside the main railway line waiting for the latest in train technology come whizzing past at something a little less than the speed of sound.

ETR 600.001

And then the journey back; this time through the golden colours of an autumnal Tuscan afternoon. Joining us on their journey home were those who had had a hard day in the fields beginning the olive harvest.

Time enough for some crusty bread and to try out the herby bread with a cup of coffee, before starting work on the evening meal with was spinach and ricotta ravioli and a home made sauce by yours truly, and a glass or two of Vine Nobile de Montepuliciano.

And the sun set, if anything in a more spectacular fashion. Oh, lucky us.