Thursday, 25 February 2010

Thursday 25th February 2010

Hooray for blocked sinuses! Just when you thought things maybe getting back on track you get a stinking headache all day.

Hooray then, for drugs! Or at least headache removal ones at least. Although they did take all morning to kick in.

It's another cold and grey day in the Garden of England, otherwise known as Kent. Jools has the car all day and I am doing housework and scanning some old slides from a trip to Italy six years ago. It's a slow process, due to the thinking the laptop needs to do, and so I can't have any other windows open, not even for the net; and so I have vacuumed, bleached the floor, and generally tidied up and now the long dark soul of the afternoon stretches ahead like a long stretchy thing.

At about four, I will begin doing dinner, herb encrusted pork steaks, curried lentils and lots of vegetables, and a helping of the spicy potato bread. We are still living quite well.

Wednesday was even duller and more overcast thatn today; but the BBC promised that it would brighten up at around midday, and as there was a steam locomotive crossing the Romney Marsh, I thought I would take my cameras and me in the car to spend the day in photography and steam and smoke and speed. And churches.

The drive to the marsh is along the M20, through Folkestone and alongside the high speed rail line to London; the drizzle fell and the traffic kicked up loads of spray. I took my time and spent the trip in the slow lane with the trucks and lorries, it seemed safer. I drove on to Ashford, and instead of most people turned away from the shopping outlet village and headed out onto the marshes.

The Parish church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Appledore, Kent

Traffic was light, but there is always the occasional idiot who thinks that the speed limit is not enough and that tail-gating is going to make me go faster. I slow down and enjoy his frustration, as it usually is a male, isn't it? Anyway, I turn off the main road and then it's down country lanes to the village of Appledore where there is a station with great views along the track, as well as a church I had yet to snap.

The Parish church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Appledore, Kent

The station is a couple of miles outside the village, I stop to check out the sightlines and make sure there is parking, and then head into the village. I park up and walk to the church, looking grey and uninviting under leaden skies. I walk to the door set in the middle of the base of the tower; it opens and inside the church is bathed in the marm light of many stained glass windows. Lining the seats of the pews are lots of brightly knitted prayer cushions, not sure if this is the right name for them, but that's what they're for, something for tired knees to rest on when speaking to The Lord. Most are adorned with Royal images, celebrating wedding of European Royal's finest in decades past.

The Parish church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Appledore, Kent

I buy a well written guide, and put another pound in the wall box for the church fund. I take many pictures, no easy in the dim light, but most come off.

The Parish church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Appledore, Kent

Back outside, I consult my reference book and see there is another church at Stone-in-Oxney, a village a few miles away. Through fields on narrow lanes I go, over single track hump-back bridges and into a picturesque village packed with timber-framed houses and thatched cottages, and up the hill of the down that over looks not just the town, but the marsh too. And on a turn in the road is St Mary the Virgin, another splendid church.

The churchyard is scattered with snowdrops, just opening for the spring they know is just around the corner. I walk up the brick made path to the door and push; it is unlocked too, and go inside.

Another wonderful village church, full of history and many years of village life there contained. It is all simple but elegant arches, and the walls bear the marks of when it was either bigger or different. The simple coloured glass of the windows cast a blue light over half the church. Around the underside of the roof is a wooden frame that presumably holds the structure of the pitched roof in place. The floor is made up of small tiles, red and black; very simple but looks very effective. Under the bell tower is a pagan alter, Roman in origin, it's carved face now unclear as to what the markings once were. The guidebook suggests images of bulls were on each side; maybe it is right.

Oliver Cromwell at Appledore

Time then, to head to the station for the arrival of the train, and maybe to read a copy of Private Eye I bought in Dover that morning. As it turned out, all parking was taken in the small yard, and there were already two people waiting; we chatted some, and then my plan to have a pint in the Railway Hotel was scuppered as they were closed until four; bugger.

Oliver Cromwell at Appledore

So, I go onto the station to chat with those already there, and hope that the light would improve. In fact, it already had, and the sun had broke through the clouds, and the greys had given way to greens and browns on the land. More and more people arrived, soon there were twenty of us filling the platform; some just to watch, but some very serious photographers, with lenses of great size.

By the time the smoke could be seen a few miles away, I guess forty of us crammed onto the platform, and then Oliver Cromwell came into view, leaving a great cloud of smoke in her wake. She was held at the distant signal to allow a local service to come the other way through the single track section; once that was beside us in the station, with a shriek from her whistle, Oliver Cromwell moved off, one puff at a time.

Oliver Cromwell at Appledore

The puffs got closer together as she gathered pace, and soon passed the local service, and then was upon us, whistle shrieking again, filling my viewfinder. The camera whirred away, and then, she was here and then passing and done. All in a flash, leaving us being silently showered with ash from her funnel.

Oliver Cromwell at Appledore

It was worth it, I promise you.

Time then to head back home and prepare to pick up Jools from work.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Waiting Game



Maybe a little after.

Outside it has started to drizzle, just as the BBC said it would. I have walked into the village to drop of a form at the surgery, come home, made coffee, toasted cheese sandwiches, checked websites for jobs. Decided to turn the heating on as it's darned cold in the house.

Jools left for work at just gone seven, she hardly slept, as our two cats both decided our bed was the place to sleep last night, giving us just half of the rest of the bed. I slept OK, but Jools didn't; at one point she had no duvet and went into the spare room.

So, the lesson is not to give the cats too much or they will take a mile.

Yesterday the rain did fall. Heavily. I stood looking out the window as the rain ran down the window, on the outside. It drummed on the roof of the spare bedroom, as it has a flat roof. The cats looked mournfully out of the windows as their bladders filled. So to help, I put them out of the front door so they had to run to the back door where the flap is. And hopefully did their stuff whilst they were out.

No news on the job front still. Still waiting from the usual suspects, I guess the wheels move slowly.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Saturday 20th February 2010

What to do with a bright and sunny day? We were awake bright and early as we were woken by our cats, over the valley and towards the cliffs, the sky turned red then orange and then the sun rose bright and clear into a wonderful blue sky.

We had breakfast and then decided to forgo the trip to Tesco and to head out for a walk and take photographs instead. Nearer to London that the Isle of Sheppy on the Thames Estuary is the Isle of Grain, which is no longer an island, but is still called one nonetheless.

Grain is flat with rolling low hills, more like folds in an unruly duvet, and is home to two power stations and a large container port. It is unusual for sure, but interesting in that is different.

So, we head up the A2 past the tower of Canterbury Cathedral and then up the M2 with views over the Sheppy, past the Medway towns and then onto the Isle itself. On the banks of the River Medway is the massive tower of Kingsnorth power station, although just gently steaming and not generating electricity. We park up on a slight rise next to a farm and photograph the power station from under massive pylons.

Happy with that, we drive on to the town of Grain itself, there, there is another power station, and a massive column of steam rose from cooling fans of the other power station. It rose into a clear blue sky, with barely a breath of wind to disturb it before it peters out.

Kingsnorth Power Station

We park beside a large flood defensive wall, grass covered, and set out for a walk along it. We had view over mud flats and to the salt marshes beyond. Further away Kingsnorth steamed quietly. Etched into the mud were the foot tracks of countless water birds and paths of water run off making wonderful squiggly patterns in the mud. Abandoned boats lay half covered in the mud and weeds too, making it feel like a part of the world that people had forgotten.

Thamesport, Isle of Grain

We walked back to the car and drove into the village itself. It is a quite undistinguished place, overshadowed as it is by huge industry and power generation and the docks from Grain's Thamesport and the cranes on Sheppy too. We parked up at the edge of the village and walked to the sea wall and saw what we had come to see.

Cooling Fans, Grain Power Station

All around the southern coast is a series of forts and castles, from many different periods of history. There are Tudor castles, Napoleonic forts and WW1 and WW2 gun emplacements. Grain has a fort built 600 yards on the mudflats, erected in the middle of the 19th century, enlarged for guns in WW1 and WW2 and promptly abandoned in 1946. It is reached by a causeway at low tide, and is quite stunning, if not beautiful. By more than luck than our planning, we had come at low tide, and so set off over the mudflats with firm stone path beneath our feet to the fort.

Grain Tower

It felt quite odd to be so far out over mud that could have us waist deep if we wandered from the path, it was broken in places, but felt safe enough. I felt we had walked for ages, but looking back to shore I saw that we were less than 100 yards from the safety of the shore.

Grain Tower

But, in time we made it to the slight stone bank on what the fort was built upon, we walked around it, snapping away. But, I kept thinking I could hear running water, and deciding it be better, we headed for the shore.

Andy P?  I thought that was Andy McGowan's signature he left!!

The sky was reflected in the water between the ripples of the mud. It felt very good to reach the shore, and looking back the tower seemed unimpressed with it's encounter with us.

We head back to the car and have a mid-morning snack of a nearly life-expired chicken wrap from Tesco and a bag of Quavers, whilst looking over the Thames to Southend over in Essex.

I snapped a church at the edge of the beach, seems like it's tower had been rebuilt in the last hundred years, and the tower somehow was shorter than the roof of the church, making it look quite odd.

On the way back to Dover we stopped off that the Medway bridges that carry the M2 and the new high speed rail lane to and from London. I wanted to get a shot of one of the Highspeed trains as last time I was here the shot was not as good as I wanted. And so we waited and waiting, and then we saw the approaching lights of a train over the valley, and at great speed the train thundered towards us; I set the camera up and waited for the train to get into frame, and then press the shutter and the camera went whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. And I had dozens of shots, the final one being the shot I had wanted.

Javelin crosses the Medway Bridge

We resisted the temptation of going into Burger King at the services on the way home, and instead braved the crowds of early afternoon at Tesco and did our weekly shop. Not quite as bad as it felt at the time, we were in and out in half an hour.

We had been invited for dinner at friends in Ashford, and so had a bit to eat when we got home and then got ready to drive along the motorway to Ashford.

Matt and Dadi have moved into what is a replica of an oast house, and they live in the flat in the roof, it is very nice, and since I was last there two weeks ago they have had more furniture delivered and I am sure it feels more like home for them.

Dadi cooked goulash for us, which was very good, and whilst we ate we chatted about life and all that stuff.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Friday 19th February 2010


So, here I am, no sniff of a job. Just waiting to hear from the places I have applied to. I should have been going to Leeds Castle today, but the group I was going to meet cancelled last night because of family problems. And so, rather than do double the miles in our car, I am staying at home for the day. Again.

Fridays are not so bad, I know I have Jools with me the next couple of days, we will go walking tomorrow, and visit friends for dinner. And first of all we have to go to Tesco, should be empty at half seven when we go shopping. That even the most basic weeks shopping now costs £70. Life is getting ridiculous to be honest.

So, I am listening to the radio, Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode are on at two talking about the week's new films and stuff. All very entertaining. Outside the weather failed to turn sunny after all, and so once again the forecasted sunshine failed to turn up; so maybe better we did not to the castle.

Last night it was camera club in Dover. I am really struggling to work up enthusiasm to go each week. In fact this is the first time I have been for a month. There was a print competition to be judged, and then a slide show that was promised to be at least an hour long.
After the judging dragged on for an hour and a half, I left during the break otherwise I would not have been home until eleven. My friend, gary, said the slides were poor and no one was happy with the late finish. The print competition had ony a few outstanding images, sadly, I did not enter, but these are always interesting to see if the judge thinks as I do.

Anyway, the weekend is here, almost.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Midweek blues

And on Tuesday the rain did fall and the snow did melt. Fast.

Not much to do than to stay inside and search online to find a job; no luck of course.

For dinner I made paprika mince burek, a kind of Slovak samosa, a recipe I have worked out for myself. All wrapped in filo pastry, they came out well and made enough for snacks during the week. Although I have yet to master the art of making neat triangles, and instead made amorphous shapes, but they all taste the same, or that's what I tell myself.

And then on Wednesday, a flaming ball of gas did rise in the east and make the land warm. I say warm, warmer than it has been, and more snow did melt. I dropped Jools off at work and got ready for an interview.

The interview was for a job down the cruise terminal at the docks for seasonal workers. Not the job I would have chosen, but is work for four months, and that counts for lots. I can't rely on a week here and there from survey companies. It is for being a luggage porter, but I'm willing to do anything.

I showered, shaved and put on my suit. I link I looked good. An hour before the interview I set off so not to get caught in traffic if a ferry had docked and the roads clogged up. I arrived in plenty of time and sat in the car park of the terminal listening to politicians arguing as to who would cut more services but make things better. Both were lying.

The interview was in two parts, the first part was a general part where they check your identification and check that you can smell, see and hear. The smell check was sniff three bottles and say what they smelt of; that I heard the previous persons answers made it easy, but the smells were almonds, oranges and peppermint. So if your smuggling any of those three items, beware, we can sniff you out!

The sight test was reading the line on the opticians board with letters apparently two inches high; I passed that. And the hearing test was that you could hear the questions the lady was asking.

Dover's Olympic TV screen attracts crowds for the snowboarding coverage.

Next part was to chat whilst filling in a form for a background check, and that was it. I drove back home in the glorious sunshine, changed, had lunch and then went out with camera to snap in the sunshine.

I went down to the seafront to photograph the new watersports centre; it's an angular building, and looked great with the wide angle lens against the blue sky. And then into the town centre to snap a church and the town hall whilst the light was so good.

The dead centre of Dover

Sadly, it was then to the creche that is Tesco during half-term. Tired mothers with a gaggle of complaining or screaming children filled the aisles; I grabbed the things I needed, found a nearly empty till and got the heck out of Dodge.

Maison Dieu, Dover

Time to visit the in-laws in whitfield; they were all fine and then back home to prepare to make Beef Wellington with the meat left from the Sunday roast. They came out brilliant, along with the roast potatoes and steamed vegetables.

And now it is Thursday, the mist hangs round the house like a shroud; no sniff of a job, and so I am listening to a radio show from last night via the interwebs.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Sunday, Monday

We had arranged to meet a friend on Sunday, to go out take pictures and then back to ours for dinner of roast beef, Yorkshire Pudding and all the trimmings, but it being Valentine's Day and all, he said he would rather not come for dinner, but would love to still go out to take pictures in the morning.

Chillenden Mill

And so we headed out onto the Kentish tundra to head to Chillenden to snap the wooden windmill they have there (pictures to follow). The snow was much deeper there, and parking so not to cause an obstruction on the narrow lane was hard, but we managed it and climbed over the drifts and crossed the field to the windmill.

Chillenden Mill

It has just be restored, and looked fabulous all whitewashed in the middle of a snow covered field. Being thorough, we photograph it from many angles before heading off to find maybe some parish churches.

Chillenden Mill

We arrive back in the village of Chillenden to snap the tiny church there. From inside we caught a snatch of hymns and the whine of an old organ. The light was tricky with the sun out but low down in the sky, but we did our best.

Our next call was at Nonington, where there is a twin vestry church with a fine square tower and a surprisingly large double churchyard. Like many others, it is locked, but trying the door on a Sunday runs the risks of disturbing a service. We are happy enough to photograph the outside.

Our final call is at Womenswold, sometimes spelt Wymynswold. St Marys is a large parish church, with a squat, square tower, but situated on a grassy mound with the village below. It is also locked, but we photograph it from all angles too. And then I decide it's time for a drink.

As we had gone out so early, it was not yet eleven, and so we drive the short distance home and put the coffee machine on before Bob decides he would like to catch a train from down the hill back into Dover.

Jools and I have some Stilton and crusty bread and me a glass or two of red.

That afternoon we do our own thing, Jools; some beading and me; watch some football and mess around with some photographs.

In the evening I cook roast beef, Yorkshire Pudding, roast potatoes and lots of vegetables; it turned out my best attempt yet, and we both agree on that. And then settle down later to watch a documentary on the Darjeeling Himalaya Railway and the people that work on it. All good stuff.

And today, once Jools had gone to work, I get a call from my friend Matt asking if I wanted to go out snapping trains. Why not? And so by eleven I find myself on an icy cold bridge waiting for a passing Eurostar or Javelin to whizz by so I could snap it.

Javelin at Dollands Moor

After an hour we were both cold, and head to the base of the white cliffs at Samphire Hoe where there is a tea bar and we can watch more trains thundering between Dover and Folkestone.

Tonight we have fillet steak for dinner, because we have not had steak for ages, and quite frankly, I can't wait.

Still no news on the job front.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Friday and beyond.

Friday dawned cold and grey, and the land was still covered in a thick blanket of snow, the wind had dropped, and so there was little chance of drifting. And so Jools decided that she would go to work and being a Friday, this was one of those days when I had to go along to the job centre to play their games and they ask those questions;

Have you been looking for work? How?

In what have you been looking?

And so on, so I needed the car to get into town for the ten to two appointment. As usual on such days, I went to Tesco on the way from the factory and did the weekly shop; and being so cold and the snow laying thick, it was nearly empty of people; but the shelves were full, and so I went round, got everything on the list, found a newly opened till with no queue and was on my way home before the morning rush had begun.

A fog had come down, but many idiots were driving around with no lights on, apparently oblivious to the conditions, cocooned in their metal eggs on wheels with Chris Evans blaring out on the radio; why care about any one else, eh?

As the snow had fallen at the end of the week again, we did not get our rubbish picked up, but it is no trouble to put the bags in the bag of the car and drop them off at the council recycling centre. Even now, two days after the scheduled collection, some folks have their bags still out; get this people, the dustmen are not coming until next week!

I'm really not that angry, or don't think I am. Maybe I'm a grumpy old man years before my time??

So, I head to the job centre in the afternoon, and this time as I had actually done some work, and failed to follow the procedure, I had reams of paperwork to fill out. And then berated for not following that procedure, even though I had told the woman two weeks before what I was going to do. Oh well. Put it down to experience I guess. As I walked out, a guy either drunk or high was waiting to explain that he had looked for work the previous two weeks, whilst another one who was 5 minutes late for his appointment was told that he could not be seen and would not be getting money or an appointment until well into next week. Maybe he was a dosser or a waster, maybe he was late for another reason.

I picked Jools up at 5, and we came home along the lane that goes along the clifftop; all narrow and twisty, and only half ploughed in places. The light was clear, sunlight illuminated the cliffs 23 miles away in France and the lights shone out in Calais.
That night I cooked pan-fried smoked salmon, some herb-boiled potatoes and some steamed vegetables. It was wonderful and light, and I realise how long it has been since I cooked fish.Not so long next time, Ian.

We were up with the larks on Saturday. Earlier than them, probably, as we wanted to catch the quarter to seven train out of Dover to head up to London for a wander and take some pictures, and maybe go to a gallery or two. In the end we did not get to a gallery, but had a fine time anyways.

Dover Priory Station

It was still dark as we drove into town, dawn breaking over the channel as we parked to car near the station and walked the 100 yards through the roadworks to the station and on to the train. The new high speed trains get us to London in 67 minutes, and for a while we travel beside the motorway, leaving the cars travelling at 70mph training in our snowy wake. Then through the Weald and across the Medway bridge along the Thames estuary and then under the river, out into the Essex marshes before entering a tunnel to take us to St Pancras. It is all rather wonderful and quite modern.
St Pancras is always heaving with people, waiting for a Eurostar to take then to Paris or beyond, as well as trains to the Midlands and places further north. We make our way to the underground to take us to Paddington station, the main station to the West Country, as I had not photographed it before, as to the north of there, we planned to walk along the Regents Canal to London Zoo and then climb Primrose Hill to look over the rooftops of central London.

It was a plan.

Sandro; Sandwich and Salad Bar, Spring Lane, W2

I took the shots inside the station, and then we both decided that we were both a bit hungry, and so we headed over the main road to a sidestreet where we spotted a Cafe Uno, but opposite was a genuine Italian cafe. So we went in and had hot paninis and huge Americanos. I enjoyed the food and the surroundings so much, I took a shot of the place and the owners and promised to put them online; which I have done.

Sandro; Sandwich and Salad Bar, Spring Lane, W2

Fully refreshed, we head past the station and head north. Along Eastbourne Terrace, new office building stand gleaming and empty, their flush lines reflecting the sunshine and clouds; I snap a couple and they come out real good. We cross the lines leaving the station and get bird-eye views as the diesel trains power out west, right under our feet.

Cloud Congestion

Under the Westway, we head through a leafy street lined with white stone expensive looking town-houses until we come to a small bridge. This was one of the canals leading to an area of London I had not visited before, Little Venice.

Little Venice is the confluence of three canals, and where they meet is a large triangular area of water, with narrow boats tied up. We walk along the Regents Canal, more and more boats are tied up, and look very nice, if ramshackle. Some are works of art, some are clearly falling apart. And yet, those that had chosen to live afloat, thse boats had not moved for years, and many had small gardens near their moring points, with chairs, decking and barbeques; and it seemed to us to rather defeat the whole idea of having a boat. But who am I, or we, to judge?

Maida Tunnel, Regents Canal

We follow the canal as it goes through more leafy suburbs, past churches and Bohemian cafes and shops. It disappears in a tunnel and we cross a main road and inbetween some industrial places before our way rejoins the canal. We pass many joggers, puffing away, but most seem to enjoy it, and I realise that we should be doing something like that, if not running, but walking, more often.

Nearer Regents Park, we pass huge houses that overlook the canal, which would cost millions to buy, and wonder what the owners had done now or in the past to be able to afford such places. Best not to think about it.

At the park we set off in search or some toilets, and pass parents watching on as their children play football or learn Rugby; the cricket nets hand empty, but summer is not far away. Once refreshed, we head back across the canal and up Primrose Hill, runners and joggers pass us; families let dogs run free, it's not a bad way to spend the morning.

Once at the top we see over to central London and beyond to docklands and Canary Wharf. We could follow the course of the Thames by the buildings alongside it., right to the Houses of Parliament.
Once satisfied with our pictures, we head down the hill, past the entrance to the zoo and into Camden, where we stop for more coffee and a slice of pecan pie.

Camden Town

Julie wants to go to nearby Kentish Town where there is a bead shop, so we walk to the tube station, I snap a couple of shots, and again in Kentish Town, and they all come out really well, all lovely lines and angles. It was one of those moments when you know you just know the shots were good; hard to explain.

Kentish Town Underground Station

We then think of going to Waterloo, to the IMAX cinema and maybe take in a showing of Avatar in 3D; but once we had travelled across London on the tube and found our way into the cinema, not as easy as you would have thought, we find it sold out all day.

Kentish Town Underground Station

So we walk beside the railway line that goes into Charing Cross, over the footbridge across the river towards the Strand, and to Villiers Street, where I had seem a dingy wine bar, that I thought may be interesting. We paused outside before pushing open the door and heading down the narrow stairs. The bar opened out into a cellar, with a curved roof, and many small spaces with small table with candles burning, no electric lights.
I order a tawny port and Jools a Chardonnay, and we retire to a table and watch the other customers. It's a stunning place, under the feet of most of London, but felt hundreds of years old.

Once we had finished off our wine, we headed back out and decided that we had walked enough and so was time to go home. Once inside St Pancras we buy a chorizo and spicy chickpea salad each, and settle down in our seats and wait for the train to leave. And soon enough the Essex and then Kentish countryside is flashing by. As we near the coast, the snow begins and gets thicker, until we leave Folkestone and run beside the cliffs with the Channel on our right side.

We are home again.

Once back inside, we crank the heating up, put the coffee machine on and have a couple of saffron buns. Outside the sun goes down, and dusk spreads from the east.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Thursday, Snow Day mk 2

So, five weeks after we had our last blanket of the white stuff, we get more. Estimates vary from four to eight inches, but in the gale force easterly winds, it is drifting into what seems like much, much more.

The forecast said it would begin to fall hard from six last night, in fact it was a little earlier, but good enough so most people left for home early.

I spent the middle part of the day helping my friends move their stuff around in their new flat in Ashford. I took my cameras along just in case the light got better and I could snap something. It didn't, and before lunch it started to snow. Just showers, but some heavy enough to make my excuses and head back to Dover.
I called Julie and I picked her up from work at half one, and soon we were climbing the hill out of town onto the high road along the cliffs. Typically, there was little snow, but Jools had brought some work with her that she could e mail back to the office, so it was not as if she was playing hooky.

At about three the snow began to fall hard, and by dark a couple of inches had fallen. Through the evening it tried to snow some more, but nothing as bad as forecast.

And even when I woke up at half five this morning, it looked like not much more had fallen. Then, the thunder and lightning began, and the wind howled and the snow fell in blizzard-like conditions. The guy over the road left at the height of the snow and soon returned and could not get his car back up the drive.

We stayed in bed with the curtains open and watched the weather do it's worse.

Now it is mid-morning, it alternates between bright sunlight and more snow flurries. Jools is doing more work via the interwebs as we listen to some CDs. My interview tomorrow has been postponed until next week, and so the week peters out and the weekend looms.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Something old: Port call Kupang, July 2007

When you have been at sea for four weeks, although that is not a long time, the shock of arriving in a bustling port is a shock. Maybe even more so in Indonesia, where the arrival of any ship is a possible money making exercise.

Unloading Flour, Kupang Harbour

To approach Kupang, we have to travel down an ever narrowing channel, as usual, the sun is out, and the side of the channel shelter us from the strong breeze we have had the last few weeks; the result is the temperature out on deck skyrockets. As the jobs that are needed to be done are finished before we get to port are completed, more and more of the crew come out on deck to watch the approach of civilisation. Into the rising sun, a chemical plant can be seen, throwing thick black fumes into the azure sky. Small fishing boats head out at the start of another day, whilst on shore as we pass small villages, the cooking fires are already sending thin wisps of smoke into the heavens. Kupang is the main port in West Timor, the Indonesian part, and once was a haven for back-packers from Australia and New Zealand on their way to Asia and beyond. Since the was in ’99, few tourists now come here, although there are bars, hotels and all the things needed to have a great holiday. The only thing really giving the game away is the faded colours and the peeling paint. The locals are so friendly, and so welcoming, and they just would love to have more visitors, but they know it is unlikely to happen.

Kupang Taxi

The arrival of a ship, especially one registered in Europe attracts a small crowd, lines are thrown as we near the dock, ropes are attached, and slowly we inch to the dockside. Customs officials and Naval officers come aboard and check that we have been where we said we have, and then the usual jobs of a port call swing into action; refuelling; re-supplies and crew change. Street vendors come down, laden with fresh food, newspapers and sweet tea. Others come down with shoulders full of carpets and rugs, these people walk the length of the town trailing the trickle of tourists that still come here. These are a sad bunch of people, right at the bottom of the pile; one has some strange mouth infection that makes his gums appear orange: we see him everywhere we go. Of this I promise, if I see him at next port call, I will buy something from him; his eyes haunt me even now. As we wait to OK to be allowed some shore leave, a ferry arrives in the next dock. Large crowds await it’s arrival, and all on the side facing the shore, the passengers eagerly look out for friends and family, sometimes four or five people deep. The ferry slightly lists to one side due to the passengers. At least form a distance this ferry looks in quite good shape, and seems to have plenty of life rafts; it is not always the case around here, as sadly we know.

Drumming up Business, Kupang

At last we are allowed off, a quick walk past the locals and out onto the main road out of the port, and we wait the arrival of one of the thousands of small taxi vans that get the people in Indonesia around. One pulls up, a teenager hanging out of the open door agrees a fee of 5,000 rupiah to take us the Teddy’s Bar on the beach near the centre of town. Each taxi ahs room for maybe 8 small people, it is usual to see sometimes nearly double that, with others hanging out the door.

Concrete factory, Kupang

The drive into the town takes us up the hill overlooking the port, past the chemical factory, past shacks erected in groves of trees, and past more permanent houses. Every mile or so, the taxi stops to let more people on, or some off. At first we thought we were sitting on seats, but as Bob Marley is pumped out, we realise they are bass speakers. The driver turns round and gives us a grin and with the universal sign two thumbs up, asking if we liked the music. Each taxi is decorated differently, many with western women in various states of partial undress; some with names of leading western brands, many with un-necessary spoilers, go-faster stripes and super wide wheels. We pass many more houses, and small shops, each selling small bottles of cooking oil and cigarettes, some with larger colourful banners showing westernised Indonesians with the branded product; whilst underneath, the truth is what the product is being sold from is akin to a garden shed. We all aspire to something, I guess. As the hill flattens out, we head down to the beach, more houses and shacks are there, in-between the coconut palms and other tropical trees. A small bridge carries us over the river, littered with small fishing boats and huge amounts of trash that is just thrown there. Just in case, we hold our breath too. Over the bridge we pass down a one way street, lined with small shops selling phone cards, jewellery and hundreds of other gaudy and bright things. Walking along the side of the road, you have to be careful of taxis pulling up and nearly running you over. The taxi stops at one end of an alley, at the other end you can see a square open up, and on the other side, palm trees and bright banners advertising the local beer, Bintang. Bintang is a beer, it’s served cold, sometimes, and has an odd taste; but when you’ve been at sea for four weeks, the first hit of that beer is something else. It also comes in family sized one and a half pint bottles, which don’t seem to last as long as they should.

Street Vendor, Kupang

This time, the numerous tables around Teddy’s are crowded with what looks like Europeans, but are in fact Australians. It seems a regatta is due in port today, after covering the 450 miles from Darwin, the Aussies have the same idea as us, and head straight for the bar. New friendships are quickly made, jokes made about accents and the universal sign of friendship; can I get you another beer? Last time we were here, it was dark, and so nothing could be seen outside the bright lights that illuminate the seating area; but now in daytime, we see it’s in a prime location, right on the beach, a line of palm trees mark the promenade. Whilst just off-shore, dozens of yachts and motor launches are at anchor whilst their owners, sunburnt from the journey, re-hydrate in the bar. As the sun goes down, we walk to the beach to watch the great free show, the sky turns a millions shades of reds, oranges and pinks before turning to deep blue and then black. To the left, kids jump off a cliff, as we look on, the sun sets right behind them.

Hos on Wheels

After a few beers, we think about something to eat. A local ‘fixer’ named Charlie can organise private cars, taxis to wherever; would we like a massage? Sexy girls, very cheap? We say we would like something to eat; we had heard of a good fish place Moche Moche, does he know it? Yes, and he can get us there, no problems, for 50,000 he organises two 4x4s and off into the night we go. Night time brings out more street vendors; people with handcarts filled with satay and other wonderfully fragrant foods are wheeled out. Each cart has either a small generator and sets of festive lights, or a couple of hurricane lamps to illuminate for the customers. Large crowds of people wander in and out, looking at what is on sale; whilst at some of the larger stalls, seated areas are provided, and families eat together; all on the side of the street.

Moche Moche is a fantastic place, outside braziers of hot coals on which the fish are cooked, split in half in wire containers: to one side, a small, guy with a knife half as tall as he is, splits the fresh snapper and quickly guts them. We select a fish each, and a dozen or two huge shrimp, and find a table. The owners wife comes out and takes our order for rice and drink. Not surprisingly, more Bintang is required. In the corner, an ever-present karaoke machine is powered up, and the owner gets up to sing some Frank Sinatra songs. One time, I look up, and he is looking at me and shouting Danny something, and holding out the mic. I realise, he wants me to sing Danny Boy. Not being Irish, it’s not a song I know, and I say I don’t know the words.
Once the fish is cooked, it taken behind the counter inside, and a mix of herbs and spices are put on each side of the fish, before each one is brought to our table. The snapper is wonderful, not quite sure what the herbs are, but it is just fabulous. I ask where the bathroom is, and are pointed towards the stairs down at one side of the room. Once at the bottom of the steps, I find myself in the family’s living room; children are watching cartoons on the TV; it is a normal living room, sofa, pictures on the wall, nice carpets: and at one side are the public toilets. The children don’t even look up when customers wander down the steps any more.

Charlie is waiting outside; he knows a karaoke disco bar if we would like to go; for another 50,000 more 4x4 arrive and whisk us to a ‘hotel’. Inside are more westerners, including more of our crew, and it is clear it is some kind of brothel. Girls are dancing on stage in their underwear, and we are encouraged to join them. We head to the bar; more Bintang, and just stand and watch the scene unfold. Those who had started to drink at breakneck speed were slowing down, and one has fallen asleep against one of the speakers as more Sinatra booms out, accompanied by a local singing along.

I have no idea how late it is, I know I need my bed. I ask at the door if I can get a taxi. He waves, and another 4x4 pulls up. I ask to take me to the port, and for another 50,00 he will take me. The streets now are empty, no street vendors, no food stalls; nothing. Oddly, for a port, there is no security, just during the day, and so we drive onto the dock, beside the gangplank, and I get out. Tomorrow is a new day, and we sail at midday. Another four weeks at sea, no beers, no crowds and no karaoke.

Something Old: Port call, Bitung, April 2007

And to think it was just three months ago that I was without work and about to lose my house to the bank. And then this job comes along, saves the house, and here I am on a boat in Indonesia heading towards the port of Bitung and a long flight back to England.
Bitung is the main port in the north east of an island you probably have not heard of; Sulawesi. Even Microsoft office has not heard of it. But it is a major island and is in-between Borneo and New Guinea. We have been working around it for the past month, looking for oil and interesting geological data. We have found a new volcano, and a major fault line previously unknown.
And all the time sailing within site of this glorious rain forest covered island made of steep cliffs, hills and ever more volcanoes.

Bitung itself is overshadowed by no less than three volcanoes; one of them the most active in Indonesia; and that is with some competition. The port is situated on the thin strip of fairly flat land at the feet of two of the volcanoes.

Bitung: twin volcanoes

It is a wonderful site, to be sailing into port after four weeks at sea working. The weather is glorious; in the triple digits, and those unwary were to get badly burned standing on deck as we made our way into port.

As soon as we docked; the SUVs carrying our replacements arrived, and the process of refuelling and taking on stores began. These are always hectic times, as us ‘old timers’ show the newbies around and go over the details of the job and the foibles of the ship.
A final meal is taken before we move our luggage out of our cabins and the newbies move in. And then the shout goes out that the wheels are here to take us away to the hotel for the night, and so the first leg of the journey home.

Houses inbetween the palms

The Lonely Planet guide had nothing nice to say about Bitung; it being a working port and busy with the bustle of life. It did warn of the road to Monado, where our hotel was. It described the road as being akin to a race track and to be avoided, doubly so at night.
All Bitung had to offer in the way of tourist interest was a model of the Eiffel Tower at the busiest roundabout in town; which we passed after turning through the gates of the port.
We were in a SUV, along with our luggage. The first thing we noticed was that there was no rules on the road. Being in an SUV, we were top of the pile and the driver expected; no, demanded that everyone else get out of the way. And most of the time everyone did. To make us feel at home, the driver put on some western music for us; Phil Collins! Phil Collins playing live his own brand of bland rock. Although the sounds of the audience suggested tens of thousands there thought otherwise.

The driver muscled his way though the narrow streets downtown, and gradually we climbed up into the more affluent areas of the town. No matter how run down and shack-like the houses were, the children going to school were perfectly clean and dressed in uniforms. We passed shacks selling apparently home distilled fuel and fruit; the fuel because most people use mopeds and ride them until they run out of gas. Or so it seemed anyway. Some shacks were shops, and bedecked in brightly covered advertising, with the usual international brands mixed in amongst unfamiliar local ones.

Soon, we were out of town and safe from death by traffic; or so we thought. The road climbed up onto the shoulder of one of the volcanoes before dropping down the other side of the island to Monado, to the hotel and tomorrow the airport. Overtaking was done in what can be best described as a cavalier attitude, sensing a gap, or most of the time just going for it, the driver just went of over the white line in the middle of the road forcing whatever was coming to make room for us. I sat in the middle of the back seat and was always thinking, at least he’s not going to overtake now as we approached a bend in the jungle; but he always did. Slow, ancient trucks laboured to climb the hills, but we sailed past these as whole families on a single scooter coming the other way were forced into the undergrowth.

Half way up the volcano, we stopped for gas, and the four us looked at each other and laughed that nervous laugh. I was told in no uncertain terms that it was worse being in the front, as he was the first person over the white line as we were in a right hand drive car.

If we thought it bad then, it began to get dark. Not that this slowed our daredevil drive down any. He just carried on as before.

And Phil Collins sang on, unaware of our fate.

And then the road disappeared. Seems this is the way when they do road repairs, they just take the road up and at some point they will lay new surface down. But not yet.

Apparently, the main road into town was not good enough, and we turned off down a narrow road through a poor residential area. Children and chickens scattered before our headlights, and scooter riders made the best of things by pulling off the road into ditches.

Thankfully, we soon came back onto a main road and jumping the lights turned towards downtown. Right on the waterfront was our hotel, the Comfort Inn, and quite the best hotel I have stayed in, ever. And that is no joke. It was wonderful. I was shown up to my room with a huge double bed; best of all was the walk in shower all finished in black marble. This was especially welcome as the showers on ship only gave out a trickle of water; these on the other hand were like a waterfall in full flow.

After a half hour shower and lay on the bed, I made my way down to the lobby and the bar. As I was the first one there I thought I would try the local brew, Bintang. Bintang means red star, and if cold enough you can almost miss the formaldehyde taste. Almost. Anyway, it had been a month since my last beer, and it went down ok. The others joined me, and after another it was decided to head out into town to see what sort of nightlife there was.

Not that we were party animals, but something to eat, and look at some ladies would be ok.

We went outside the hotel onto the side of the six lane highway and held up our hand shouting taxi. It worked, although the cab was going the other way. We thought nothing of crossing the traffic. The traffic thought something of us, however.

We made the driver understand we wanted to eat satay and so he whisked us in his suspension-less taxi to where the action was. It was an ok place, and the satay was god; I had chilli chicken satay and it was hot; damn hot. All washed down with ice cold Bintang.

The owner told us of a night club in the shopping centre down the road, and also there we could get more money. After several attempts in using the ATMs, we were now millionaires, as there were 17,000 rupiah to the pound. We headed up into the deserted shopping centre to where we hoped the club would be.

Club Ha-ha is without doubt the largest night club I have ever been in; you could have parked a 747 in there and had room to spare.

We were also the only ones in.

We had a bartender each; or so it seemed.

And a band of talented local teenagers went though carbon copy versions of recent hits; mainly ones by Black Eyed Peas and The Feeling. They really were very good, and they seemed to be playing just for us.

As the band wound their set up, other people began to arrive; including the smallest but prettiest girls I have seen. But for me, the evening was over, and along with a fellow Brit we made our way outside to hail a taxi to take us back to our hotel.

Just to be different he took us though the back ally way back, a warp factor nine, in a thunderstorm. But, as everyone else was in bed by that time, we were safe.

Just had to remember to wake up at seven in the morning for the flight to Jakarta.

One Year on.........

It was one year ago that we got the keys to this, our house. So much has happened, that it feels longer. I remember the stress of waiting to see if the sale had gone through and we could have the keys, and then the worry of if we had done the right thing.

Although my lack of work is a worry, we have loved this last year, and living in the village is everything we have dreamed of. It is lovely and quiet, our garden has produced food for us, the cats love it, and I am getting lots of birds to visit now that I am scattering seeds and nuts for them.

Quite what the next year will bring is another thing, of course, but we shall see, we shall see.

Superbowl Sunday

Howdy again.

Well, welcome to Tuesday, market day in Kings Lynn. If you don't know where Kings Lynn is, let me tell you; it's a market town on the edge of Norfolk, just before you get to Lincolnshire, and is the back of beyond. This has nothing to do with this blog or anything that has happened in my life, and I include it for your information only. The market takes place on the Tuesday Market Place, you really can't miss it.

So, back to Tuesday: it is a cold and grey day outside, I have put a load of washing in the machine, and that is doing its thing. I am saving up the sorting out of the tumbled dry stuff already done as I don't really want to peak too early today!
I guess the reality of once again not working has hit home, nothing to get up for, with nothing of much interest to fill the day. Later this week I have an interview with Dover Harbour Board about seasonal working at the cruise terminal, and going to the Job Centre on the same day too.

Yesterday I was very tired after sitting up to nearly four watching the Superbowl; it's one of the bonuses not having a job. And then just kinda drifted through the day, and the only productive thing I did was to fill out timesheets for the last two weeks as so I'd get paid for the work I did. And then walk to the post office to get the letter weighed, as mail now is priced so very differently, and getting the postage wrong means the mail not getting through. So, 63 pence for a simple A4 letter, still not bad, I guess. And I get to walk through a sleet blizzard both ways too! This weather is just great. And once back, sit on the sofa and watch the weather whilst holding a cup of coffee with a cat on my lap.

Sunday was also grey and cold. We did go out, just in the car to Ramsgate to look at the barge in the harbour which was loading legs for wind turbines. I took shots, but the light was so flat so to make the shots look really flat.
We then drove through Broadstairs and on to Margate, nothing quite like a British seaside resort out of season that captures that grimness! We find a place to park and have a coffee and a panini in an Italian coffee shop, whilst looking at locals wrapped up against the cold hurry past the window.
They are building an art gallery in Margate though, the Tate Turner gallery, as he used to paint around here; I am really looking forward to that opening.

Anyway, and then back home where we made coffee and then I sat down to read the papers and watch football; lots of football. Well, two games in the afternoon and then gird my loins for the American version that evening. We cooked dinner, stak and ale pie, vegetables and roast potatoes. All very nice.

At least the game was worth waiting for, nothing too controversial, just good offensive football, two great teams, two great quarterbacks, and the underdog winning, and so the story of redemption being fulfilled.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Saturday 6th February 2010; Dover Flickrmeet and Beer Festival.

My first day off in eight days, and we were awake at half five in the morning. Oh well. Jools fed the cats and put the coffee machine on, and we laid in bed with the smell of brewing coffee coming up the stairs and the sound of the dawn chorus coming in through the window.
The cats came back and joined us, life can be good.

We headed out to Tesco, and did the shop before the crowds of the odder Dover locals turned up. Back home and I put some croissants in the oven and we had more coffee.

Dover Priory

Jools dropped me off at the railway station just before ten, and I waited for potential attendees for the Flickrmeet come in from Folkestone or further. In the end none did, but as I was at the station I thought I may as well take the chance and snap a few trains.

Dover Flickrmeet; 6th February 2010

The time to brave the walk up Military Road, a steep climb to Western Heights. At least I didn't have to pretend to stop to look at the view, just pausing for breath and for my knees to stop screaming.

Dover Flickrmeet; 6th February 2010

A group of about 20 people were waiting, not a bad turnout; any more and it becomes less than friendly, or I have trouble remembering peoples names. Well, the truth is I have trouble remembering one persons name, so I was stumped, and with everyone having a 'real' name and a Flickr name, I was lost.

The Grand Shaft : Dover Flickrmeet 6th February 2010

Anyway, Paul, who runs Western Heights made a speech about the history, before taking us down to the top of the Grand Shaft; a triple spiral staircase leading from the top of the cliffs to the harbour. We walked down, took pictures of the staircase and each other, and then walked back up. And then on to the Drop Redoubt fort, built at the same time, but much less known that the castle on the other side of the town. It is a wonderful place, all moats, high walls and buildings, and five forts in total. We took more pictures and and then climbed the dimly lit stair to the parapets with view high over dover and the English Channel. Non-locals were stunned by it all, as few people know about Western Heights, and it is marvellous.

Drop Redoubt : Dover Flickrmeet 6th February 2010

And then it was all over, we all said farewells, and i was dropped down by a couple of friends at the town hall to go to the beer festival. The town hall is a grand building with wonderful stained glass windows, and underneath dozens of barrels of dark winter ales. I had three pints, and after not having lunch, that was enough, and so Jools picked me up and I went home and fell asleep on the sofa listening to the football.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Friday 5th February 2010

Well, it is nine in the evening and I'm sitting here with a large glass of malt, ruminating on a good couple of days. We have done some surveying, in fact we have finished. All good date; well, mostly good data, surveyor happy, Ian happy as I got some shots of a ship with legs and it was standing up!! And of a nice sunset yesterday. And it is the weekend, I have organised a large Flicrmeet from tomorrow, hopefully lots of people will come along to the Napoleonic fort here in Dover, and then on Sunday it's the Superbowl, and I can sit and watch the game as there is no work Monday. Probably. Maybe. The information is not forthcoming on that.

Into the gloom

So, yesterday we sailed at dawn, into the gloom of a misty dawn, and headed out 10 miles to the wind farm and after dropping the sidescan sonar in the water, began to work. And that is what we did until it began to get dark.

Ramsgate wind farm

I won't go into the monotony of it, but once you do one site, and move on to the next and the next and so on, the novelty soon wears off. No break for lunch, just keep working.

Ramsgate windfarm sunset

The sun came out in the afternoon, and then sank into a cauldron of mist over the Isle of Thanet. I snapped away.

The MPI Resolution

At the other end of the site, the MPI Resolution was putting up wind turbine towers; it is a large ship that can raise itself up out of the water on legs and so use its big crane. It looked so great, futuristic, I snapped that some too.

The MPI Resolution

Today was much the same, except we finished and headed to port at three to pack up the gear and then go home for the weekend.


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Wednesday 3rd February 2010

Groundhog Day.



So, we arrive at the boat between eight and half past, and then wait for the electrician to come and fit the radio and beacon. That was the plan. We drank tea. Read newspapers. Looked out of the windows. The radio was done, but the beacon got lost by the courier, and we waited as the guaranteed delivery time passed. The morning passed. The afternoon passed. We drank tea some more.

As luck would have it, the weather on site was perfect, and so we waited all day as the wind slowly built, and conditions turned from perfect to something less than that. From now on until Monday, the weather will get worse, and so the chance of another working weekend is high; it's all money in the bank to be honest.

We might actually sail in the morning if just to see the site if nothing else; we shall see.

I left for Dover at half three to pick Jools up from work, and then back home where I cooked paprika chicken, pesto pasta and fresh steamed vegetables. Not bad, not bad.

Thursday tomorrow.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Tuesday February 2nd 2010

I am getting used to the commute, dropping Jools off at work and then heading towards Ramsgate. Sometimes the sun rises as I drive along Pegwell Bay, and I wish I had time and my cameras with me so I could take pictures, the sky seems to be on fire as the sun rises over the mudflats and the drilling barge laying the electrical cable linking the windfarm with the national grid. No chance of the yesterday, it was grey and drizzling, and the traffic very heavy.

Once I park the car I walk to the harbour to find it at low tide, very low tide. Boats lay on their side and there is no chance of getting out of the harbour even if we wanted to. The water is grey and brown, and so different from the sunny days from the weekend.

There is no news on the boat about sailing. So we sit and talk and wait and drink tea. And wait. At midday news comes that the radio and beacon will not be fitted until Wednesday, and so we pack up and go home. I got in the door by one and have lunch and a coffee, reflecting on how life changes. Then go out to get a haircut, so I look less like a tramp.

So, we meet at half eight in the morning, same place and see what the new day brings.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Monday 1st February

Well, here we are, four days into the survey project and all is going well. Other than we haven't left port yet and we still need some equipment for the boat, and tomorrow when we do get the kit the wind will be blowing so hard we won't be able to sail.


But, hey! I'm getting paid, and after feeling so down in the dumps last week. My day consists of driving to Ramsgate, parking the car in the project compound and walking to the boat, listening to the weather forecast, drinking tea and waiting. Waiting until it is time to go home. Today it was half two, yesterday it was two.


And apart from the wind, the weather has been glorious, sunny with clear blue skies, but cold, frosty; so much that the snow that last fell 23 days ago is still to be seen where it had lain in deep drifts. And so I have gone for walks around the harbour, taken pictures, found cafes for breakfast and generally not worked, whilst getting paid several times more than what I was on at the box factory.

Ramsgate Harbour

I have an interview to work down the cruise terminal for the summer in a couple of weeks, a CV into a different part of BAE and so things are moving.

And the promise is of more tomorrow, waiting, tea and rain. Oh well, welcome to the working week!