Monday, 31 March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014


Mothering Sunday.

Mother’s Day; Mothering Sunday used to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary. But somehow this has been turned, at first, into some sort of occasion where we have to buy flowers, chocolates and/or book a table for 75 at the local Berni Inn to celebrate the day. That I been spammed in the last week several times by various flower suppliers about whether I would consider ordering some flowers from them. Needless to say, I didn’t.

That suppliers of cut flowers/chocolates and owners of Berni Inns double the prices for their good and services on those days means we are getting conned. It is all down to supply and demand I suppose, but a tenner for a few wilted daises that Mother dearest is going to put into a vase and forget about seems a bit pricy to me.

As the fateful day approaches, we have to decide what to get Mother/whether we write ‘love’ in the car or, in this year’s case, whether we should drive up and visit. And so in the end, mainly as we failed to buy flowers/chocolate/a kitten meant that at the crack of dawn we were up and getting ready for a drive up to leafy Suffolk. For the day. And to compound the folly of this, the clocks went forward the night before, which meant we had an hour’s less in which to squeeze the 400 mile round trip into.

And away we go, up the A20, M20 along the M25, under the Thames and into Essex. Up the A12 and into the 1950s. The weather was glorious and the traffic light. It was just nice enough driving along looking at the countryside waking up and spring forth new life. Of course now I don’t live in Suffolk there are temptations all the way up to Lowestoft, from a cold war museum at Bentwaters, Sutton Hoo and a drive along the coast road.

But, we pressed on. North of Ipswich, the good roads still run out and the average speed of the traffic got ever lower. At Darsham we got fed up and headed out across country to Halesworth, Bungay to cross to Oulton via the marsh road at Haddiscoe. The rhododendrons along the road in St Olaves were not yet in bloom, but great to see them recover after the severe pruning they got last year. It seemed such an anti-climax to arrive at Mum’s and go through the usual dances around the large elephant in the room.

As we had arrived unannounced, there was fag smoke in the air and tubes of Pringles on the tables. All her lies once again laid bare. I don’t mind if she smokes, eats nothing but Pringles, it’s her life. But the lies she spins to cover this up insults us. Insults me.

So, we stay for a couple of hours, nearly three. And we have exhausted all conversations and we revert to our usual things; Mum studying the TV schedules, Jools doing Sudoku and me messing around with my mobile. We say we have to go, bid our farewells and we’re free.

I decided to head to Hales to find a church that a friend of mine had snapped last month. The drive back over the marshes was wonderful, and again in light traffic. Once in Hales, I find a sign to a church and we follow the narrow lane to a church. No Hales but Heckingham, which is Hales’ twin apparently. It is unlocked and is a delight.

On a nearby tree, dozens of butterflies flit about, gathering pollen and being very happy to be photographed.

We return to the car and head back south, stopping at a picturesque village for a drink before braving the A14 from Bury and then the M11 and the M25 again. But as planned, as we arrived at Dartford at nearly 5, the traffic was light and we were delayed for just 5 minutes before we were back in Kent and on the last leg home. It had been a fine day, and I had done the dutiful son thing, but it is a drag.

We were greeted by three hungry cats. Once fed, I make a coffee and we much on more dark chocolate and slump on the sofa waiting for darkness to fall. It is at least an hour later now, which means it has only just got dark before our constant yawning meant we headed up yon wooden hill to Beddingtonshire……

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Sunday 30th March 2014


The weekend. Sweet weekend. So, why was I awake at a quarter to six? Excitement? Possibly.

I get up, feed the cats and put on pot of coffee on, and soon the house is full of the percolating grinds. I mess around on the computer, Jools makes another pot of coffee and bakes a tray of croissants. A mixture of smells fills the house, whilst outside sunshine radiates warmly in the still of air of what can only be described as spring.

Jolly Boys Outing

I laze around as today, it is a jolly boys outing consisting of: churches, a pub and two passes of a steam engine. Jools decided that she did not want to come along, so it was me and my two friends, Gary and Will. Will was arriving at 11 from Herne Bay and then I would pick up Gary. So, off I set having packed just about all my camera gear; just in case!

As Will was coming in on a slightly later train, i went to River to pick up Gary before heading down to Dover Priory to wait for Will. We headed out with the plan to go to Westbere to see Braunton go by for the first time. Thankfully I realised I had got the route wrong in my head and so changed the destination to Chartham where we could snap it at the level crossing, a perfect shot. And the change in plan meant we had time for a drink and a bite to eat at The Artichoke.

Southern Steam Days

I got the drinks and three sandwiches, and we sat in the beer garden in the warm sunshine talking photography and drinking. We had enough time to take our positions at the station nearby ready for one o'clock when it was showtime. I just used the 6D with the 50mm and got some good results, but in hindsight I think I should have gone on the bridge as normal, but then it pays to try new things and shots on occasion.

34046 "Braunton" at Minster-in-Thanet

We then headed back across east Kent, via Wingham and Preston, stopping at Stourmouth church before arriving at Minster with 90 minutes to spare. We looked inside St Mary's again as well as snapping the village some, before we once again took our positions on the station with half and hour to spare before Braunton was due to pass again. Anyway, you know the location by now, and why I go there as the steam locomotive slows down, changes road and takes the chord to Deal. Plenty of time for plenty of pictures, and lots of smoke from the loco.

34046 "Braunton" at Minster-in-Thanet

So, we got our shots, and very good they were too in the late afternoon sunshine.

I We dropped Will of in Sturry so he could catch the bus, then headed back via Fordwich and wigham to drop Gary back off in River. By this time the football had ended and City had collapsed to a 3-0 defeat at Swansea, and played very badly indeed. I have long since given up on them, and we now have just 6 games to get to the 40 point mark, and the last four of those games are against Arsenal, Man Utd, Arsenal and liverpool. Sigh.

34046 Braunton at Minster-in-Thanet

at least I have the photos of the day and the great time with my friends.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Friday 28th March 2014


I wake up with not a trace of the flu-like symptoms I had the day before. Heck, I even felt full of the joys of spring. Maybe I should patent the triple drug and bottle of wine treatment? well, it worked for me. Jools is as dumbfounded as I am about this latest recovery, which shows again that it is an allergy, as flu or a virus would not appear and vanish in 12 hours like this has.

One day I will recount the gory details of the journey we have been going through heading towards or merger. To say that at times things have not been clear would be an understatement. As of Tuesday morning, our little bit of Vestas will be cut asunder, and we will enter a merger with MHI. I'll let you do the googling.

So much is yet unclear as to what will actually happen on Tuesday morning, the only thing we can be fairly certain about is that it will not go well. Yesterday, the first stage of the roll out of the new digital landscape failed to happen. Those who were due to get new software, failed. That for the rest of us we were waiting for the download so we could use it to prepare our computers.

Oh well. I'm sure it'll be alright on the night, as they say. What could possibly go wrong?

We shall leave it there.

So, I went into the office did my work, wrote mails, stared out the windows at the lack of work that goes on around the harbour in Ramsgate now. Even still there is more than enough to distract me. The day slowly passes and as the shadows lengthen I pack my stuff and head out to the car, my camera stuff in the boot, unused.

Back home I put on my trainers and head to the cross-trainer. I put on the i pod and tread away. Scully lays on the spare bed wondering why I do this most nights. Sometimes I wonder why I do this most nights. But I do feel better, healthier and I can feel my clothes getting slightly looser.

We have scotch eggs for dinner, along with posh piccailli, which is still a winner. The night is well underway as we settle down to watch lambing live on TV, which is life-affirming as another breach-berth lamb is helped into the world, swung round in helping it begin breathing. And within 15 minutes it is climbing onto its jelly-like legs, looking for the first meal from Mum.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Thursday 27th March 2014


A glorious day dawned, and yet I had to head to work in Ramsgate. Although, I have to say it a real pleasure to have this prolonged period of being based in the UK, with no trips planned to Denmark until the end of April. Which does give me the chance to use the crosstrainer on a regular basis. And I have, and has Jools. So, each time I try to do a little more, or up the resistance to make me work that little bit harder. On top of that we are doing more and more walking on top of that, and are also planning more work in the garden.

So I drive through Deal and onto Sandwich, re-joining my old route across the Stour and onto Ramsgate. Heading out of the tunnel, I am greeted with the sun above the Channel, but then back to the mundane and into the office dealing with the usual stuff in malfunctioning IT.


And now for the odd feeling: working from home whilst Jools is there too. She tries to make herself scarce as I make calls and write mails, and is also witness to some of the fallow periods when I wait for reaction to some mails I have written. Is it always like this, she asks.

She takes the bus into town, leaving the car sitting on the drive as I work away. So then it is just me and them cats. As normal.

Once it is clear my colleagues have gone home in Denmark, I power down the laptop and get ready for a session on the cross trainer again. Ho ha! It is getting easier with each session, and even after a good half hour, I am only just beginning to break sweat. Although it can be hard to start, once completed the feeling of accomplishment is great.

After a snack for dinner, I take to the sofa to listen to the football on the radio and Citeh put three past Utd in the manc derby. That this was not a surprise at all, is perhaps the most remarkable thing.


I woke up Wednesday with a sneezing fit. I take another allergy pill, and get on with the day. Working from home once again, and dealing with the usual stuff. At lunchtime we head out to sort some stuff out at the bank and to have lunch out. We dine at La Salle Vert, and it was pretty poor for panninis. It seemed part-baked baguette filled with the minimum of cheese, then toasted. But then we did not have to wash up!

I head back home and into another sneezing fit. I take the third pill in 18 hours, and then the congestion began. Oh, it was horrible. Then came the headache, and so I take to the bed and close the curtains. It is just yuk. I can just breathe through my mouth.

I have to get up to collect Jools after she missed a bis from the factory after yet another training session in the art of looking for a job. I warm up the left-over roast beef, steam some veggies so we can have another roast. I open a bottle of wine, and I am not shy with it, I guess I make three quarters of it vanish. I have a shower and take to the bed again, just wanting the attack to end. I must have dropped off sometime before the end of the game on the radio.

I wake up at two with the lights off in the bedroom, and my nose and sinuses clear once again as though there was never anything wrong. BAH!

I wish I could tell you about the implementation of the new IT systems and the preparation for the impending merger with MHI. But, I feel that would be wrong of me. However we do know what the new company is to be called and our logo which will adorn all our e-mails, business cards and the suchlike.

Just so you know: the goat is out and running.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Monday 24th March 2014


The rose into a clear blue sky, and barely a breath of wind stirred the buds on the various plants greeting the impending arrival of spring. We had a coffee, then I cooked bacon butties, washed down with more coffee. Ready for the world, we pulled on our walking boots and set out for another walk.

Sunday morning walk to Windy Ridge

This time we chose the route up to the woods near Windy Ridge. We pass people out walking their dogs, and her we are, just walking for the fun of it, and for me to take yet more pictures. We did not see much, certainly no butterflies, or at least one I could snap. We reached the wood and then walked east until we reached the fine view down to Kingsdown. We turned back and walked through the wood, I snapped a couple of species of fungi.

Sunday morning walk to Windy Ridge

I guess we were out for just an hour or so, but it seemed to be enough for us. After a breather, in the car to visit Nan and then the old folks in Whitfield. Nan is fine, knitting furiously, and now able to listen to the TV thanks to a pair of headphones. The old folks are the same, Tony has a bad smokers cough which he apologises for whilst he rolls up his next fag.

Sunday morning walk to Windy Ridge

Back home we have lunch and I watch MOTD, revelling in the glory of a Norwich won and we scored what might be one of the goals of the season. We shall see. Arsenal’s 6-0 defeat is as bad as it sounded on the radio, and always finny to see Mr Wenger explain it away.

King Alfred's Cake, Daldinia concentrica

Later in the afternoon I cook roast beef and all the trimmings whilst listening to yet more football. But it is good, and soon the house is filled with the smell of cooking. I even manage to squeeze in another session on the cross-trainer whilst dinner cooked.

That night four badgers just about fill the front garden, all searching for peanuts. I get a shot of three of them, including the one who get the nuts off the top of the wall. All is well with the world.

Can you see the third badger?

Apart it being Monday tomorrow, of course.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sunday 23rd March 2014


Once again we had let the chore of heading to Tesco until the last minute. There was enough milk for a coffee before we headed out to brave the early crowds at eight. Back home before the Danny Baker show began at nine, we unpacked our goodies working as a well-oiled team. There were no croissants, so we made do with a pain de Champagne with lashings of fresh butter and vintage marmalade with yet more coffee.

I headed out soon after to the butcher at preston, and maybe to try to gain entry to a couple of tricky churches. After my double success the week before I felt sure I could get in Westcliffe and Preston. That Westcliffe is one of two churches in sight from our house, and I have never seen inside has become a bugbear for me for a while, and it is no trouble to park in the layby on the way out.

as expected it was locked, and frustratingly, no details in the porch as to who might have a key. So, I took a leaflet and see that there an evensong on Sunday, which could mean me attending church for some God-bothering just to get my shots.

Next up was Ash. ash is in sight of Sandwich, and is a fine looking village, although the narrow main street is choked with cars and I was unable to find a parking space, so I drove on through the village and back out to the main road. Over that to the Nash road and on to Preston where I buy: a joint of topside, some kofte kebabs, steak for that night's dinner, pork pies, home cured bacon and some more of the fresh wild garlic sausages.

Finally I drove up the lane to St Mildred's, with little hope in my heart. And, sadly, I was proved right as it was also locked fast, and once again no details of a key holder. At no church had I even got my gear out of the car, let alone take a shot. I drove home a little bit down, but Fighting Talk on the radio raised my spirits.

Back home I make lunch: fresh rolls with some thick cut ham and a huge cuppa. Brilliant. Then sit down to write the 900th blog and listen to the football. City played at three, but before that Arsenal travelled to Chelski to play Wenger's 1000th game in charge. All did not go to plan for him as Chelsea ran out 6-0 winners and really underlined the shortage of players, a result of the club's, or manager's reluctance to buy players.

Later, City ran out 2-0 winners against Sunderland, almost 29 years to the day of the Milk Cup Final. In truth Sunderland were dreadful, and that we scored just 2 showed how poor we have been in front of goal. But at least it is three points and maybe we have enough to survive.

I cooked two rib-eyes, and Jools went to the chippy, so we sat down to a fine dinner whilst listening to Saturday Live, well, until the internet connection couldn't support even streaming the radio.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Blog #900

For the 900th blog, I thought you might like some highlights of some of my old posts. First up is my first eber post, just a few weeks before our marriage.....

Friday 29th August 2008.

And so after three days at home, I can now say I am getting used to it.

After having the limited space and restricted time on ship; to be home and have the time to do whatever I want is just great.I wish I could say that I have used my time in a fruitful manner and achieved many of the tasks I have to do. Some things have been done, some mail answered, magazines read and pictures uploaded to Flickr. But there is plenty more to do.

I have struggled with switching sleeping patterns, and have woken at half three, half four and today, five o'clock. By mid afternoon I feel like a zombie and the sofa calls for a snooze. And so Sulu and I take 40 winks beside the French windows with just the sound of the fledgling seagulls and the occasional passing train to break the silence.

I took Julie's Nan out for lunch yesterday; a quiet country pub nearby that does great ploughman's and real ale. She has her 94th birthday next month, just after the wedding, and I have spent most of yesterday designing a photobook full of pictures and the blogs from our trip to Cornwall. I can't wait to see how it turns out, as more of them could be the ideal presents for birthdays and Christmasses for years to come.

Three weeks right now will see us as the new Mr and Mrs H; and how great that still sounds. We have hammered the final details of the wedding with the planner, and now all we need is the weather. Fingers crossed.

This weekend we have several things planned. First of all, tomorrow morning Julie goes to pick up her dress if the fitting goes well. And then we head out to the Isle of Sheppy for a 10 mile walk along the mud flats and broken ribs of countless ancient wooden ships. And then on Sunday we head to Loughborough to ride on a preserved railway, and see the first all new steam locomotive built in Britain since the beginning of the 1960s. 'Tornado' is not yet running, but is undergoing trials before the final painting and then main line tests before she can run on the main line and thrill a new generation of children, and many older ones as well!Summer is threatening to come back tomorrow, but they said that for today and it didn't happen. We'll take each day as it comes.

Have a splendid weekend, folks.

And now for the account of the greatest wedding of the century!

We woke at dawn to find the chaos from the barbeque all around. Seagulls had feasted long on discarded flavour of ribs and the suchlike. Quite where to start. So, bin bags were filled, washing up done and all other tasks that needed to be done.We woke at dawn to find the chaos from the barbeque all around. Seagulls had feasted long on discarded flavour of ribs and the suchlike. Quite where to start. So, bin bags were filled, washing up done and all other tasks that needed to be done.

There was just time for a shower; Julie went in as a calm woman, the same I had known for the past two years, but came out ‘with a panic head on.’

One of the jobs that needed to be done was going to the tailor to change the top hat. Somehow the wrong size one had been put in the box, and the hat sat on top of my head in a very humorous way, but not at all becoming. Julie also had to go and have her nails done; a first for her, and she had been growing them for weeks, making typing ever more difficult. Dropping her off in the centre of town, I headed to the main car park nearest the tailor.

Hughes is an old fashioned shop; full of suits, but served with manners from days gone by. The door would be opened, and all the other such things that are vanishing from the modern world. With minimum fuss a replacement hat was found, this one a perfect fit, and I was on my way back home.

I got a call from the planner asking about ice, and a mild form of panic formed in my head; and upon Julie’s return we checked with Jen and realised there was going to be no ice to keep the drinks cold. So, against all our plans we found ourselves having to go to Tesco’s on a Saturday morning, mixing it with families and the confused to get bags of ice. We filled the trolley with bags, checking that we could use the express checkout and have 10 items or less.

The cashier looked at us strange after looking at our purchases, ‘do you have some kind of ice fetish,’ she asked. ‘Wedding; drink; no ice; panic!’ I replied. She seemed happy at this. She had been passing the time of day with an old friend as we waited to pay, and as the minutes dragged by I could see the minute hand on a clock in my hand sweep round like the blade of a fan. We then had to get to the other side of town, mixing it with traffic heading to the port as the tunnel was still closed. Thankfully, we did not get held up, and we arrived at the barn as the planner did and at least it was open.

As we stood there, the florist arrived, dropping off the table arrangements before heading to Julie’s Dads to deposit the bouquet and buttonholes. The caterer was there, already preparing our wedding breakfast, and seeing everything come together was reassuring, but also creating an even greater sense of panic as we realised it was now less than three hours to the beginning of the ceremony, and we had to get home, then Julie to her Dad’s, my best man arrive, get ready.


Thankfully there is a back way into Dover and right to our street, and so we were back home and only mildly worried within a few minutes. Julie had all her stuff in a bag, and so grabbed that and headed up to her dad’s, leaving me to shower and get ready, and wait for Mike, Julie’s brother and my best man, to arrive.

Unbeknown to me; Mike had decided to walk up from his house, and therefore be fashionably late and causing the panic level to rise still further. Causing me more worry was the discovery that there were no cufflinks in with the suits and shirts. My fault for not checking, for sure, but this meant I had to call Tony, Julie’s father to see if he had any; no dice. The only thing to do was to call Hughes and ask them; apparently the cufflinks were in the inside pocket of the jacket; I failed to see that there were two inside pockets and so checked just the one.

Another panic over, Mike arrived and it really started to come together. Thankfully the suits fitted, and somehow I had managed not to cut myself shaving, and it was time to head out to the pub down the road for some Dutch courage and to wait for the limo to take me to the barn. Whilst walking down I received a call from the limo driver, he was coming into town from a different direction and the directions to the pub did not work. I say I received a call, I had a voice mail asking me to ring him back and guide him to the Five Cups.

I did not have his mobile number; the only thing to do was to call Julie, and she call him back as she had the number. I really did not want to worry her right at that moment, but I had no other choice.

So, with that sorted there was just time to have a pint of Australia’s finest amber nectar before the Mercedes pulled up outside.

Our arrival at the barn was seen by no one, and walking into the barn itself we met just the photographer who was checking light levels and other such things. He set up a few shots of Mike and I outside, and it was during this that the registrar arrived; as did the first guests.

I have to admit that seeing that there was no one at all in the barn was a shock, but with 30 minutes to go before kick off I thought it a little early to worry too much. I had a short chat with the registrar, just confirming details I had given before, and then I was all ready to be wed.

More and more people started to arrive; I went round and thanked them for coming; then as two o’clock approached Julie arrived and I waited, back turned, for her appearance in the barn.

To be honest I was nervous, more than I thought I was going to be. The ceremony went by quite quickly; I slipped up on one part forgetting what I was supposed to say. It was a civil ceremony, nothing religious, no readings to be done, but instead there were passages about love and commitment; it was all rather wonderful, and I will try to post about that when I get home(I am writing this in Tuscany right now, more about that another time).

And after many nice words it was time to put the ring on her finger and for me to kiss Julie; and we were declared husband and wife. Everyone applauded, and we walked up the aisle outside to the marquee where we could meet each of our friends and welcome them as a married couple.

Second through was Julie’s father, but he could not stop and speak as he was choking back the tears. I gave him a look and went over and hugged him; he sobbed some more and patted me on the back.

Then it was time for the photos; with my Mother and Julie’s Nan sitting on chairs we arranged ourselves in ever bigger groups, as Colin snapped away. We then moved down to the Georgian townhouse that also stands there to take up places on the steps leading to the main door for some more pictures. The late afternoon sun beat down on us; the birds sang in the trees and all was right with the world.

We went back into the marquee where elderflower pressé was being served in champagne flutes. Seeing so many friends around was a real joy, and Jools and I circulated talking to as many friends as we could.

Then it was time to eat; we were seated at four round tables; Julie and I next to each other with each family next to us. This meant I was next to Mother dearest, but this was ok. We had steak, salmon, buttered potatoes, with salads of various kinds; followed by a choice of three desserts. The hobbits amongst the guest had two or even all three.

Then there were the speeches; Mike did not really know me, so there were not the usual embarrassing stories about the groom. I spoke only really to thank both Julie’s Father and my Mother for helping towards the cost, and to thank everyone for coming and making it such a joyful occasion.

Then the free bar opened.

We both mingled more; we watched the sun go down and the trees change colour. The DJ arrived and I said to play the usual cheese that gets played at weddings as I don’t think anyone would have liked Blister in The Sun, Wave of Mutilation or Train in Vain instead of Lambada, The Birdie Song or Agadoo.

The evening guests arrived from seven, and some of the older people began to leave. From that point on events get a little sketchy. One thing I do remember is that on of my friends of the matchdoctor site was there, and I forgot all about her until Julie mentioned her. How terrible I felt, all I could do was to blame the day and my mind being all messed up. But once I went over to say ‘hello’ to her, it was so good to meet someone for the first time that I felt had been friends for many years.

I think it would be fair to say I had had enough, but there were those who had much, much more. Glasses were dropped; people did fall around on the ground and I am sure people felt very silly in the morning.

It was left to Julie and I to get people into taxis and order plenty more, before it was time for us to climb into one of our own to get us back to the flat, and crash out for just three hours before it was time to get up, this time to get to the airport for the flight to Italy.

We woke at dawn to find the chaos from the barbeque all around. Seagulls had feasted long on discarded flavour of ribs and the suchlike. Quite where to start. So, bin bags were filled, washing up done and all other tasks that needed to be done.

and now a few words about us moving house back in February 2009....

Monday 9th February 2009.

After dropping Jools off at work it was a day of waiting as I stood by the phone to find out that the final part of the move went through, and both sets of solicitors agreed that all tees had been crossed and eyes dotted and we could get our hands on the keys and go in owning the house.

The call came through just before midday, and I could pick up the keys at half one to be there at the house for the carpet layers. The house was empty, just about; The previous owner left us a couple of bottles of wine and a few items of furniture.

As usual, the workmen were late, but did the job well enough and the bedroom looked great with a dusty pink carpet.

Time to go by to pick Jools up from work and then back to the house and after mooning about the rooms it was down to the more serious job of working out where everything we owned was going to go.

Time to draw a deep breath and get ready for the bug day ahead.

Tuesday 10th.

We were all out of milk and most food, so we went to the local travel inn and had breakfast there before meeting tghe man with a van and friend at the storage place to fill said van with our stuff. They said they worked best alone, and so Jools went to the house to prepare things, and I to the flat to pack up the final items.

I guess I could go on as to how each load went and how the house was soon filling up with furniture in bits and boxes and boxes of stuff. But, by three in the afternoon, most of it was in the house; it was just daunting as to know where to start.

That was easy, as we needed a place to sleep, so we put the bed up and moved stuff to the bedroom before we called it a day and went to the local pub for a deserved dinner and a drink or two.

Wednesday 11th.

Another day of unpacking and repeated trip to the tip of old electrical items and boxes for recycling. Sadly the piles of boxes never seemed to be going down, but the shelves filled up with stuff, and it was a little easier as we had well marked each box as we packed. We also collected the cats, and after some trepidation, they soon settled down into their much larger new house.

One thing that did make it better was seeing our stuff fill the house, and for me, stuff from my old place I had not seen in 18 month reappear and then what to do with the multiples of things we had.

Thursday 12th.

A quiet day for shopping.

As well as shopping, Jools' dad helped us move the last stuff from the flat with his trailer and we now filled upthe driveway of the house with our garden stuff and bbq.

Afterwards, Jools and I went shopping; first to the country butchers we us. I got racks of lamb for Friday nights dinner, as well as a guinea fowl for Sunday lunch; just hoping that the cookbooks would raise their head before then.

In the evening, the camera club proved to be harder to get to now; instead of walking down the hill to the mill, it is now a 15 minute drive, and then transport back at the end was needed. A friend said he would do just that, and so to my delight they had Adnams Old on draught, and I filled my boots with the ale as well as the more serious job of looking at others pictures.

Friday 13th.

Jools went back to work, and I got down the the job of unpacking the final boxes at the house. I positioned the boxes in the right place and set to work, and by three in the afternoon it was all pretty much done; or as much as I was going to do. So I settled down on the sofa and listened to the movie reveiews on the radio with Mark Kermode whilst covered in cats.

That evening, I cooked the two racks of lamb with sauted potatoes; the lamb was crusted with herbs and was wonderful. By the time we finished the meal, we were both shattered, and there was just time to wash up before heading up the stairs to bed.

BT have repeatedly messed up our phone and we are now on our sixth number of the week, and cancelled our broadband order! After speaking with people in Dehli for the umpteenth time I decided I couldn't be bothered and swapped ISPs, even though it would take a week longer to arrange. Anything was better than BT and their appalling srevice.

So, we will not be online until the weekend, when it is time for me to head back to work. My first trip is back to Norwich on a survivial course, and the chance to meet old friends as well as a possible drowning in the helicopter dunking pool.

Oh well. I had better start earning some money again.

How about a trip to Kazakhstan? Sunday 5th April.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was Borat. And the first rule of \Borat is don’t talk about Borat. It seems Kazakhstanis don’t have a sense of humour and have found the whole affair unfunny. We arrived at Almaty in the small hours and had a five hour wait for our flight onto Aktau in the morning. We had a two hour wait in the arrival hall; I call it arrival hall, it was just a small room, the only consolation was that there was a wifi available. And so we checked on the news and football scores as the wheels of immigration turned slowly round and our passports were stamped after the right amount of lubrication was applied.

Once through immigration we were shown into the VIP lounge, which turned out to look like a ballroom from imperial times, because that is probably what it was. We were allowed free drinks and food, and once stirred the barmaid did prepare the saddest of open sandwiches and some lemon tea.

The flight to Aktau was full to bursting, mainly of families with screaming children, and so the two hour flight seemed much longer than it was; doubly so as there was a screaming child just one seat away from me. I did have a window seat, and so got the full effect of the view of desert for hundreds and hundreds of miles: broken only by dried up lake beds and the fast receding shoreline of The Aral Sea. Former islands poked up through long since dried silt, coated white is salt: it looked for all the world like the moon.

When we walked to the plane back in Almaty, the sun was just rising, casting golden shadows on the foothills of the Himalayas. Rising from mere hills, they quickly rose into snow-capped mountains, meanwhile to the south, the flat plain of desert or near desert spread to the horizon.

If the view from the plane was bleak, then the view from the coach window was even worse. As we trundled down a dirt track, the brown spread to the horizon without break. The bus slowed down every few minutes as passed over a larger pothole than usual. We turned onto the main Aktau to Bautino road; it wasn’t much better. At least on my side of the bus the Caspian Sea could just be seen, starting for no particular reason just down the steep cliff about half a mile away.

We stopped 90 minutes into the journey for a toilet break; the toilet turned out to be a concrete building with a hole in the floor. Tales from those who went in tell of it being like the entrance to hell with a smell to match; gladly we climbed back on the bus and headed north.

Roadside Services; Kazakh Style. Bautino is a port, and existed for the sturgeon industry, and now for the oil industry. It rises, brown out of the dirt, all cinder block houses thrown together with rough grey mortar, set back from the semi-dirt tracks that count for roads. We pass Muslim cemeteries, orthodox cemeteries, all built in the desert, rising out of the earth with crosses pointing to the sky of the occasional mausoleum to beak to lines.

We had an hour wait while immigration looked at our passports and visas again, and decided that we only had business visas and therefore could not work until more lubrication in the form of dollar bills was applied to the wheels. As our freight was stuck in customs, this was not of immediate worry. We headed off to our boat, ship; The Caspian Maria, to find our home for the next month would be the back deck of a supply vessel and several converted shipping containers. I was sharing with my mate Richard, and being first one in claimed the prized bottom bunk. I say bunk; these what you would buy for your children to sleep in, and didn’t look strong enough for burly jolly jack tars, especially if at sea with a keep nor’wester blowing.

Monday April 6th.

I awoke after some 14 hours sleep to find breakfast served, which was various pink bit of unknown animals; I had an orange. Lubrication applied, we can at least now work, if only our freight was cleared by customs. We settled down to wait; the sun came out and we sat on the back deck and read in the warmish sunshine. In the sunshine, the sea sparkles with a turquoise blue and looks wonderful. The truth is it’s polluted to hell. Kazakhstan has been a dumping ground of Russia for decades; they mine uranium round here, the Soviets exploded nukes up the road, they dumped chemicals in lakes and poisoned the water. There is a lake in the centre of Bautino that glows red; no one is sure what the Soviets left there.

Tuesday April 7th.

Still no freight.

A cold wind blows and we put on extra layers of clothes. Our clients come round to look at the ship and us, before we are bussed to one of the three hotels in town for a safety meeting and formal handshakes. On the way we bounce through the desert, see a couple of camels looking for food, before heading down into the town. Our client is Shell, and they have rules; lots of rules. They are all explained to us as if we are children, and the consequences of breaking them. We are allowed a sandwich each and a cup of coffee before being bussed back. But the good news is that the client is going to pay for beer for us tonight in another hotel where there is a bar with beer and food and stuff.

We are excited.

Freight has cleared customs and is being driven up from Aktau in the morning; we are told we are representing the company, lots of important locals will be in the bar, don’t drink too much, don’t say you hate the country, but above all, don’t mention Borat,

The bar is full of ex pats from all over the world, all in the oil industry. Smoking is allowed here, and soon the bar is thick with smoke and talk of work. A large screen TV shows a basketball game from Russia. We have three beers each and then we are herded out back onto the bus to be taken back to she ship before we turn into pumpkins, or worse.

Bautino Harbour Wednesday April 8th.

The freight arrives stroke on half nine. The crane arrives just after lunch. We begin to get the skids and equipment off the trailers and onto the quay. We lift the skids onto the ship and anchor them to the deck; it’s a tortuous procedure, as the crane driver speaks no English, we no local language and he is permanently angry. At three he packs up and drives off saying another crane will come later.

Thursday April 9th.

Thursday passed much as Wednesday did, with work from dawn until dusk. So much to do and we all did what we could. Hundreds of problems to solve, and all the while the cold wind blew from the sea. We got on with things, and slowly the plan came together.

Food is pretty simple here; most nutrition comes from dairy, with milk being either 3.5, 6.0, 10, 25 or 50% fat! Lots of cakes and pastry is eaten, I fear for my waistline; I eat more fruit and vegetables.

By the end of the day we are fit for nothing other than sleep, which we do.

Friday April 10th.

Good Friday.

The wind really howled today, and it was really cold, like a winters day back home. I tried my hand at soldering, which went well, considering. I only burnt four fingers, which was a small price to pay for three split computer leads.

One of the final pieces of the jigsaw arrives when the pillar drill turns up, and we get to the task of fixing the davits to one of the skids. Essential in the deployment of our kit, and one mistake would kill the job stone dead, as we have no spares. It goes well, and we lift the final skid into place; tomorrow the davits would be lifted in, and then we would see if the measurements were right and they would actually reach over the side of the ship.

Another good nights sleep.

Saturday April 11th.

Easter Saturday.

The job continues; most of it is now done; we just have to hope everything works now when we plug it in. Equipment is welded to the skids, leads connected, tomorrow everything will be turned on, and then we will see.

Another promised pub trip faded as the towns only bus is going to take some offgoing marine crew to Aktau to catch a train back for their three day trip back to Russia.

Another early night.

Sunday April 12th.

Easter Sunday.

The age old problem of too many chiefs and not enough workers reared it’s head again, with orders and counter orders given. Tempers frayed, toys were thrown out of cots. Work continued, and slowly it all began to work.

We get one 20 minute call home, and I take mine on Sunday; bliss.

The bus arrived at six, and soon we are bouncing off across the moon to the town and our few hours in the bar. The setting sun shines through the thousands of plastic bags caught in the dead branches of small bushes, more camels forage about. The bar is open.

The bar is a little piece of the west in the east. The price of a beer in here is several hundred times what it is outside. We get football on TV, pizzas to eat, and local gassy beer to drink, and three hours in which to unwind.


The drive back to the ship is so dark it’s like every light in the rest of the world has been turned off, stars twinkle above, and passengers snooze whilst the loud Australian tells bawdy jokes; we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday April 13th.

Bank Holiday Monday.

A final day of getting things to work; thankfully all our kit does, and most other systems do too. Although navigation is still crashing, and without that we won’t be able to run survey lines. People look at monitors and scratch their heads and swear. And computers makes our lives SO much better.

We work until dark to get everything done before we are told management are happy enough for us to rest. The chaos begins in the morning.

Tuesday April 14th.

We sail in the morning for a day of trials in which we have to convince the client that we can get the job done and the data would be good enough. It’s a glorious day, not a breath of wind, and once again the Caspian sparkles; the cliffs of the moon rise steeply about a mile away and the small harbour huddles in-between

We pass the tests and head back to port at nine.

Wednesday April 15th.

I had tried to sleep to get into shift pattern, but sleep would not come at all. But, lucky for me, that shift would be spent transiting to site. Although the site was just 100 Km away, we had to go almost double that to find the deep channel. In this part the Caspian is just 9m at it’s deepest, and just 2m in places, and yet is 100s of Km wide.

By the end of shift I was so tired, and as we arrive on site, my shift ends. And so, over to you, Richard.

Thursday April 16th.

After 10 hours sleep the world seems a better place, and I woke up to find that strong wind have stopped us from working; I spend a hard shift reading Morton’s ‘In Search of England”, it makes me homesick, and longing for places new to explore.

We watched the sun rise gloriously before breakfast, into a sky of pinks and reds. The wind still blew.

Day 14; two weeks ago I was packing, and now here we are, feeling like we have been here forever. I begin to read Jane Eyre, and so passed 8 hours of another shift.

After breakfast, the wind drops, and word comes that we are to start work. Not all that easy, we have to deploy the gear first and then get the digital stuff working.

First of all is to get the 600m long streamer all out and make sure it floats. Oh look, that four hours gone and shift change.


Saturday April 18th.

A shift in which we actually worked. For a while. Our sonar went down, water in the termination, and so we have to fix that before putting it back out, bit of a bodge job, but then, if it works……

Just after seven one of the guns goes down, and we have to get the array in. It had caught some nets; illegal sturgeon fishing is a real problem, and we have caught a huge net in our gear. In the net were five rotting sturgeon, stinking to high heaven, and weighing it down were bits of aircraft and half a breezeblock. Everyone came out to see what we had, but no one thought of lending a hand as the extra weight made the task of pulling the guns in just about impossible. But, we did it, and cleared the nets; bagging them up as evidence for the authorities.

Easter Sunday (Orthodox).

When awake, my first task is to listen for noises of the deck and engine to see if I can guess what the state of play is. I usually get it wrong, but today there is no doubting the bang of the guns going off. Work it is then. And an untroubled shift unfolds. We do lines, gather good data and begin to get the job done.

Another stunning sunrise, the flat calm sea reflecting perfectly, and the swooping seagulls in our wake would have made a great shot if I had my camera with me instead of being in the cabin.

For breakfast there were multi-coloured boiled eggs, and several types of cake. Happy Easter. Again.

Monday April 20th.

The forecasted wind and rain had arrived; all the gear was onboard when we got up, and so another shift of reading and drinking tea spread before us. The sea broke over the side of the ship, and we spent a few frantic hours making sure everything was tied down and rain not getting into the lab, which is exposed on the back deck. Finished Jane Eyre, and enjoyed the language and description of life in the early 19th century.

Tuesday April 21st.

The wind and rain eased some, but not enough to work. That, and we have no chase boat to scout lines for nets. So we sit bobbing and waiting. I begin The Pillars of the Earth, although trying to limit myself to 100 pages a day, as this is the last book I have. We are beginning to swap books, and as yet I have resisted the lure of the DVD player, and so if get bored there is always 6 series of Shameless that Dick is working his way through.

Wednesday April 22nd.

We awoke before shift to find the wind a howling and the sea a rough. Etc. We looked round to make sure the equipment was tied down and then settled down for a shift of more reading and tea drinking. The wind dropped just after dawn, and so we slowly deployed the gear, only for the wind to drop to nothing and the sea to calm like a millpond. So, by the end of shift we were working away.

Thursday April 23rd.

St George’s Day

Awoke to find the other shift had snagged another net, abut going one better they had a long dead Caspian Seal caught up, and it stunk. It had wrapped itself around the streamer, ruining data, and so there was no option but to cut it all off. Of course it was right the other end of the streamer, and so the operation took some six hours. And now the weather has come down; and so we wait again, reading, tea drinking and snoozing. We begin shooting at breakfast, as the weather comes down quickly. The sunrise, once again, was spectacular, with flat bottomed fluffy clouds to the horizon turn golden by the rising sun. Must remember to bring my camera each day from now on.

One benefit from the diet is that I am losing weight, quite quickly. I can’t really explain why, but there can be no doubt as I am now using the forth notch on my belt, and all my clothes now hang instead of looking like spandex. Well, almost. If only the night chef would stop baking cakes it would be even better, Oh well.

Friday April 24th.

Another quiet shift as we near the end of the survey area. Sadly, we still have one more to do, but this is a major point, and thoughts turn towards going home. Paul is booked to fly out on the 2nd of May, so we could in theory fly back in the four days after that; if we get the job done. Many people are flying home as soon as we dock, which means just a skeleton crew doing the demob. I would have thought it better to have as many folks helping out as possible; but then if they are all as helpful as Lukaz then they may as well just go.

I am rushing through the Pillars of the World book, and now have just 250 pages left. And thoughts on that are what will I read next as I have now run out of books. Russell Brand’s Booky Wook is around; but am that desperate?

Saturday April 25th.

So, we take over shifts just as we begin to run lines on the new site. Straight away everything starts to go wrong; no water in compressors, noise on streamer and thermoclines on the sidescan. But it settles down, although our data is still rubbish.

Dawn breaks with the sea still as a millpond and not a ripple to disturb the surface. The sunrise was wonderful, and the reflections stunning. The day contuned with no wind and flat calm seas.

We have to avoid multiple nets, one with as many as eight dead seals in; how on earth will we manage at night going virtually blind?

Finished the book, The Pillars of the Earth just before lunch; and now I have nothing to read. So, after lunch instead of reading until three or four, I went straight to bed and sleep. Much better for that.

Sunday April 26th.

On shift to find we had just snagged a new net on one of the more distant birds, and so first job was to get the streamer in and clear more rancid sturgeon off. After cutting it off one bird, it slid down the streamer and snagged the last bird. So, do it again, without gagging on the smell of rotten fish. I swear I’m not going to eat fish again, and my caviar days are well behind me now.

Data still rubbish, and the word on the street is that the client is going to have to accept the sonar due to time as the boat is needed for a 3D job as soon as we have demobbed. I am so looking forward to going home; some coffee, some wine and just be back in Moordown again with Jools and them cats. Bliss.

And then, just before dawn, we snare the mother of all nets, right on the end of the streamer. So, we go out again, haul the streamer on to find several rancid sturgeons and probably a few dead seals all wrapped in nets on the end of the streamer. The smell was something else, and it took some strong knives and stomachs to cut it off, without it snaring on any other gear. We hope that that will be the final time we are on the back deck this shift.

The bane of any football support is hope. All week I have been telling myself Norwich are doomed, only for the results yesterday to go all their way; now all they need to do is win at home to Reading today and again at Charlton, and they are safe. Damn them, I was resigned to our failure and relegation, now I have to live with hope.

Monday April 27th.

Seems like I was wrong thinking the torment would be over today; Norwich play tomorrow night, tonight, Monday, and so I have another 24 hours of lingering hope to bear. Why don’t the overpaid useless tossers just get it over with and go down? And why do I still give two figs about it? Because I can’t stop, that’s why. Brian wants to be manager next season; he’ll have to make sure they win these two next games, then. I really don’t care as long as this never-ending struggle against relegation ends. Of course it could be a struggle against relegation from League 1, and just how bad would that be?

Thinking again about going home; it fills most of my quiet moments, and what we might do: Scotland, Europe on the Eurostar, Switzerland. Ther’re all train related of course, but I feel the need for trains, if I’m honest. Julie wants to go to Mallaig, of course; that might just work.

We are working, I am recording rubbish on the sonar; the client is livid, but if the conditions are awful, what can we do? We can’t change the laws of physics just to suit that squinting weasle of a rep-tile; go away and ask someone else some pointless questions. At least he’s going this week; immigration won’t extend his visa; maybe they don’t trust a man who looks like moleman from The Simpsons. We all hate him, and another day longer spent on here with him than need be we might just commit clientcide.

Rumors persist about the demob and possible date when we will be flying back. I know I shouldn’t listen, but I want to give Julie as much notice as possible. At the moment there seems to be just six of us for the demob, which is not enough if you ask me. I might just want to go home too.

Yes, the sonar data is awful; caused by a thermal layer in the water column; it reflects most of the signal back, and we get some kind of crap modern art instead of a picture of the seabed. It’s so bad I hardly watch the data come through now. The seabed is quite interesting, pack ice has scarred the seabed with lines and curves and is quite beautiful; when you can see it. In places it really is mesmerising, all concentric circles, curves and straight lines; but we haven’t seen that in four or five days now the weather has warmed the sea surface up. If things don’t improve, they might just have to accept what we have, or we’ll have to do the whole site again. Not looking forward to that.

Eleven AM: Well, the news is that the job could be over in less than two days, if Shell accept the data as it is. If not, we’ll have to re-shoot the sonar when the conditions improve. Guess which one we want? Plans to time off at home are in full swing, and talk is of beer and girlfriends and surfing. Although, not in that order. That’s the way it is sometimes, we just never know. We could be home in a week or a month, we just never know. Either way, we should know by tonight once the client and head office decide, whilst I will be sleeping, of course. Less than an hour to go now, and all the while the data slowly improves, damn it.

Tuesday April 28th.

And so, suddenly, it all seems to be ending. Woke this evening to find that the provisional flight details are in for our homeward flights; most are going home Saturday, the rest of us next Wednesday. The client is going to be happy with the sonar data we have, I should think so. And now there are nine days and counting to go. Amazing to think that a couple of days ago I was thinking I could be here at least another two weeks, and now plans are well under way for a return home.

It came as no surprise to find that Norwich could not manage a win tonight. After getting their fate back in their own hands, they had to throw it all away with yet another loss. 46 points from 45 games is just pathetic, and we quite rightly deserve to go down; not that it any easier to accept. Quite where the club goes from here is anyone’s guess. Not that we are quite down yet, a win at already relegated Charlton and Barnsley lose then we stay up; but to be honest, we don’t deserve to.

We are plugging away with work, two more lines done this shift, 18 plus the crossline to do, and then it will be ‘goodnight Vienna’ and tome to pack up and go home. Hurrah.

I almost spoke to see after seeing an e mail from Shell that they did not think the data was good enough, and there seemed a chance that we would have to re-shoot some or all of the lines. That would have meant another 4 or 5 days here, and with the weather closing in on Thursday, possibly another week on this tub. As it was, a couple of infill lines to do, and we’re good to go.

Wednesday April 29th.

And so when we came onto shift, just eight more lines to do, about 14 hours work; if nothing goes wrong. And the plan for the de-mobbing is in, and we’re being given three days to pack boxes. A little over-generous we think. The upshot is we could be home before Wednesday, which will be fine by me. Mike, the safety Shrek, has left, home via Almaty and Bangkok to Oz back home to his wifey. How we won’t miss the grumpy bear with a tab always on the go. Saying that he has been a non-smoker now for some 5 days, which may well explain his bad moods. One thing for certain it will be quieter around here without Mike. We just needed him to take the client with him and it would have been fine.

And so this is probably our last night shift together, the three amigos, the three musketeers, etc. More competitive cards, more cake and more moaning; all of which makes the shift pas quickly, until the rest of the ship wakes up around six in the morning. Those four or five hours when the rest of the crew sleeps, and we’re left along here are the best. As long as we don’t have to go out onto deck to pull the streamer in and cut two tons of rancid fish from it. Those are not quite so good nights.

It is ten in the morning, we just have one more line to do, a velocity dip and then we can head into port. Despite our best efforts to mess up so near the finish line, it seems that the finishing line is in site, the light is there at the end of the tunnel and the fat lady is clearing her throat. Yes, we have done it. All that is left is to pack everything away, and then load it in crates, drink some beer and catch a flight home. But, the last part could be some seven days away. So, plenty more work ahead and then home for tea and medals; sweet.

So, after trying to sleep in the afternoon, I get up and help to pack away the gear and such for a few hours. It seems strange to be doing it so soon, but the job went well and now the best bit; going home. The anticipation of home is fantastic, and every thought is of things to do, places to visit, and just the sights and sounds of springtime in England. So, in the morning, at seven sharp, the work begins for real. Get into port and really start ripping things to pieces and hopefully loading it all onto trucks. There is talk of a trip to the bar tomorrow, and beery thoughts will spur us on to greater work. Yay.

Thursday April 30th.

Pay Day.


And so switching onto days was never going to be easy, and at just gone four in the morning the whole of the old night shift gathered in the lab, bleary eyed and unable to sleep. Oh well, one last time. Breakfast time, and time for unleavened cheesy bread, strange sausages and omlette and then the work begins.

In the afternoon work really begins; and the desire to get everything done so we can relax over the weekend bangs right up against the Kazakh work ethic which is more relaxed. But, we crack on and by late afternoon most of our equipment is packed and over half the deck is clear, with just the davits to break down and then detach from the skid. We did well. However, trying to make the local transport manager understand, or care what we were trying to do, and getting him to provide the three trailers for Friday was something else. I think getting everything loaded for Tuesday lunchtime, when we begin the long trip home, could be problematic. But I could be wrong.

Our client took us out for beers and pizza last night; we have done a remarkable job this past four week, mobbed the ship, got the data and well on the way to demobbing it all in four week, under budget and losing just 0.7% of time through equipment problems; a company record. So, the beer flowed, the pizza kept coming, and we all got quite drunk. It’s a surreal experience though, being in a hotel yet in Kazakhstan, us spending in one evening on beer what the average worker here earns probably in a year. I looked at the waiters, and seeing them serve drunken oil workers and company executives; I wonder what they think. I guess they have good jobs, but it’s such a difference to the town and life outside the high fence that surrounds all hotels here.

At lunchtime today, half the crew will leave for home, we will all have our own cabins, but things will be a lot quieter. And we who stay will know that our job is coming to an end.

Five more days to go, come on legs, let’s get working.

Friday May 1st.

After a late start due to hangover, the sore heads begin to appear just after breakfast, and so begins more packing, re-packing and re-re-packing, just to get everything in boxes and ready for the long road trip back to England. Sadly we have to wait for the crane so we can begin to clear the back deck, so until then it’s hard to see how much progress we have made, really.

Just after lunch, half the crew leaves; the bus arrives and they take their bags and head off him the dusty road on their way west. And so Paul, John, Marek, Dave me and International Rescue are left behind to finish off. The crane arrives and we work until dusk, and amazingly, we have nearly done. Paul calls the office to arrange earlier flights home, and news arrives that we are to leave at half three tomorrow. The journey will be long and tiring, but we’ll be home at breakfast time on Monday, and that’s all that matters.

Saturday May 2nd.

And so, all things come to an end. We get up, me at the crack of sparrows again, but watching the sun rise of a still harbor and watching the turns wheel and dive is a simple pleasure. We pack the rest of the stuff and transfer the last of the boxes to the quay, and now have to wait for the trucks to arrive so we can load and then leave.

Everything is at a different pace out here, and you just have to accept that some things take time and happen when the happen, and no matter how angry you get, how much you want to go home, the two hour lunch breaks and smoke breaks every 15 minutes are just a fact of life.

Half an hour after the stroke of one, the trucks appear, and we get cracking. Everything fits on just the one, and although it all looks precarious to me, Paul declares himself happy and we pack our work things, say goodbye to the ship’s crew, and take our bags and climb into two waiting Land Cruisers for the three hour drive to Aktau to the north.

I get the front sea, and soon enough we’re heading out of Bautino for the final time, and out into the low rolling country of the Caspian coast. Since our arrival, some rain has fallen, and the once brown is now green, and we see herds of camels, horses, cows and donkeys grazing and moving over the grassland which stretches to the horizon. I plug the I pod in, and listen to some favourite tunes as the desolation rushes by.

The road is very rough, and evidence of past accidents are every few miles, cars of various ages and states of decay rush by as we safely head south. The emptiness which I remember from a few weeks ago doesn’t seem so empty; we pass shrines, houses, military bases and gas platforms and cattle and camels moving, grazing. It all seems so other-worldly.

Soon enough, we pass the airport, and on the horizon we see the towers of Aktau poking to the sky. Houses built in the middle of fields pass by, street lights appear, and the road widens, and soon we are driving through the mix of old and new that is Kazakhstan. Each junction has no road markings or lights, so the bravest gets to go first; but it all seems to work, although I cling on for dear life.

We pull up at a modern hotel and pile out. The bright light of the hotel bar greet us, and after checking in we go for a cool frosty beer. It tastes good, doubly so when someone else pays.

I am to share with one of International Rescue, Alessandro. We call them that because they have been no use in either the mob or demob, and for the most part have shied and shirked any work. He means well, but to be honest is a pain, and is very high maintenance. He says he is going to use the hotel gym; I think this is a good idea and decide to join him. Right on the top floor, the views over the town to the sea, stunning.

The pool looks great, but filled with the great, good and corrupt of Aktau society. I make do with the elliptical stepper and plug the I pod in and do half an hour. After a shower, and I take some shots from the top floor, I meet up with the other guys who have just changed bars since arriving and are now very happy and slightly drunk. Paul pays and one beer turns into a few and then many. We have a meal and I a huge Cuban cigar. At ten, most of the others head off into the night for a night of debauchery; Alex and I stay in the hotel; have a coffee and a nightcap before heading to our room.

Sunday May 3rd.

Sore heads began to appear at half seven, the bus for the airport is due to leave at half eight, and so require bedding to be pulled off and then being shoved in the shower. But soon enough we pile into a Soviet era bus and head out past grim looking flats and wide empty roads to the airport. The bus driver looks at us, some still drunk, with contempt, and turns up the Kazakh pop radio station all the way up to 11 to drown out our conversation.

More chaos at the airport as we struggle to find where to check in, but manage to in the end, and we are stung for 40 Kg in overweight baggage, and Paul just manages to make the flight after paying the bill for that.

A bus is waiting for us on the tarmac and whisks us into the busy streets of Almaty. We are to stay in a hotel for the 15 hours before I flight west leaves. We begin passing through leafy roads and quiet housing areas; but soon we are entering downtown. Grim housing blocks look down on pot-holed roads. Outside people have set up makeshift stalls and are selling what possessions they have. We look on from our air-conditioned luxury.

We climb up what must be the main street past shops and stalls selling wonderful smelling grilled food. The traffic is chaotic, and we’re all on edge. All the time we are climbing towards the foothills. We pass many wonderful looking modern hotels, and as the city thins out again and we head out into the countryside again, the music from Deliverance plays in our heads. We drive through a gate into a national park, and grand hotels and restaurants nestle amongst the trees, while snow-capped mountains tower above us.

We are showed into log cabins and then we have time and space for ourselves before the cars are due to pick us up at eleven in the evening before our two AM flight.

I have a wander and bump into Marek, we find tables under some trees, cooking smells fill the air and we realise we are very hungry. After ordering beers, we look at the menu and I go for lamb kebabs cooked in tail fat on an open wood fire. It really very wonderful; thunder echoes around the gorge, and we take shelter around a table in a wooden shelter. Soon enough the clouds break, and hail the size of marbles rattle down, scattering diners and waiters. Our waiter wraps blankets around our shoulder as we eat.

I muse on how far I have come from being a giblet stuffer in a chicken factory to eating lamb kebabs in the foothills of the Himalayas; quite a way.

We take to our rooms; although some take to seats at bars, and the day passes. At eleven, the cars return and take us through the city, all quiet but looking modern as skyscrapers reflect streetlights and moonlight.

Back at the airport, our fixer arranges our exit visa, checks in our bags, and soon enough we climb onto a near empty Lufthansa plane, and we zoom into the night sky and towards lovely Frankfurt to change flights and then onto London.

Monday morning, bleary eyed we walk out into the arrivals hall; Jools is waiting, and just like that, the adventure is over. We shake hands, make promises to keep in touch and meet again; and then I’m walking with Jools towards the car park and then home.

And now to the 19th August 2010 when I was offered a permanent job with Vestas. I think you can tell I was pleased.....

And so it came to pass when the lowly Jelltex was spake unto by his boss. And his boss did say, thou hasest done a fine job and verily I would like to keep you in the manner you have been accustomed; in the dark and fed well with BS.

Yes, it is true, I have been offered permanent position within ‘the company’. Am I thrilled? It means being able to pay the mortgage beyond the 1st of October, so I am thrilled. And in truth I have never fitted a job so well as this. However, the scope of my tasks will increase; I will travel, initially backwards and forwards to head office in the north; but, later, to new projects in Belgium and Germany training people to do this job.

I now realise that I am taking over another guy’s job who resigned this morning, and I was offered what sounds like his job less than half an hour later. I don’t care, really. As long as we can meet our bills and maybe save some cash. The future is rosy, the order book is filling up, and for us, hopefully, our worries are over!

And now, double promotion for Norwich City.

May 4th 2011

Those of you who read my words may have picked up on the fact I support Norwich City. Its true, I do. Its my cross and it has been my burden since 1972.

Two years ago City were relegated to Division 3 with a whimper at The Valley. A new manager, a new belief saw us promoted back to the championship last year, and this year, we have been promoted again; back to the Premier League.

It was nervy for a while, but more late goals,a Derby demolition and three points against Pompy after Cardiff failed to beat Middlesbrough was enough. Second place and promotion secured with a game to go.

In 1982 I was at the game at Hillsborough where all Norwich had to do was draw to secure promotion. 11,000 other City fans were also there, and saw us lose yet still go up as whoever was behind us failed to win either.

In 1986, a hardy band of us travelled to Odsel In Bradford knowing that we would go up, probably next week, because Portsmouth were playing the team at the bottom of the table and couldn't possibly lose, could they? Yes, they could. And did. And so began another huge party.

And in 2004, City went up again without playing as Crystal Palace lost at home, meaning we could not be caught. There was a reserve game on at Carrow Road and 5,000 fans and Sky TV were there to record the moment.

An in 2011, I was sitting in the dark of our hotel in Germany, waiting for my friend to text me scores as data on the interwebs was so expensive. and at twenty to eleven, the text came through; we are up.

I am going to Norwich on Saturday for a mother of a party and maybe a drink or two.

Picking the player of the year is impossible, as each and every one played their part in this miracle season. It has seen the players, the club and supporters as one all season long; it seems like we can take on the world; lets hope so.

And the promotion part that followed

Saturday 7th May 2011

Norwich City have been promoted, I may have mentioned that before. I may have also mentioned that I am a fan of them. Really. And as it had looked like for a while that City might get promoted, I decided to head up for the last game of the season, even though I knew I would not get a ticket, just to be in the city and for the celebrations.Norwich City have been promoted, I may have mentioned that before. I may have also mentioned that I am a fan of them. Really. And as it had looked like for a while that City might get promoted, I decided to head up for the last game of the season, even though I knew I would not get a ticket, just to be in the city and for the celebrations.

So, I took the train once again, up to Stratford, and waited for the Norwich train, and relaxed into my first class seat and watched the city slip by and then the bright colours of the countryside take over. Through Chelmsford, Colchester and Ipswich, into Suffolk and then Norfolk, arriving in Norwich 18 minutes before kick off. A quick walk to the ground to see if I could buy some tickets, with no luck. Inside the cheers and clapping was deafening, the streets emptied and I walked to a bar and ordered a couple of beers.

The final games all kicked off at the same time and most issues were already sorted. City ended up drawing 2-2, and then the presentations and lap of honour and then the crowds came swarming out and most of them wanting to celebrate with a beer. And then another. And then another; and so on and on.

I met up with my friends, we bought drinks, emptied our glasses and got more beer. The hours passed, and then at eight, I guess under instructions form the police, they wouldn’t serve us any more, which meant some of us would go home, or the crowds disperse anyway. We went to another pub near the ground and had one more, and then I went to my hotel to clean up and sleep.

Next morning I had a good breakfast, packed my bag and headed to the station for the nine o’clock train back to London. And first class once again! Once in London, almost all tube lines were shut, and so I had to get the Central Line back to Stratford as it was easier than getting to St Pancras. Whilst waiting I orderd samosa and a coffee and sat on the platform to wait for my train. And so ended the great adventures, the holiday and City’s triumphant return to the Premier League.

And finally, a typical day of church hunting from last year.

September 13th 2013

What is it about having two weeks off that makes me lay awake at half five waiting for the alarm to go off? Oh I know, it that cat, Mulder, on my chest mewing for breakfast. I get up look outside and see that it may be gloomy and not yet quite light, but not raining. Jools had a late start, so we lazed around the house until half eight; at which point I dropped Jools of at the factory and I headed up the A2 towards the Medway towns.

Those of you who are regular readers will know that last weekend we went hunting for orchids and failed. So, after receiving detailed instructions where they could be found in the meadow. So, what could go wrong? Well, Autumn Lady's-tresses are tiny orchids, and it is late in the season for them, so I would have to be lucky.

I parked up, and walked down through the reserve to the lower gate. And began hunting.

What I did see were dozens of roosting blue butterflies. I mean dozens of them. So I snapped a few as it was like shooting butterflies in a barrel. As it were. A guy walking his dog stopped to see what I was doing. "Not any butterflies about now, is there?" I thought, should I sound argumentative? Instead I said, "No, there are dozens here" I pointed to one, then another and another. I added "Once you know what to look for you see them everywhere." "I thought that was a leaf!" He replied.

The cloud lifted some, and the blue began to climb the stems of grass and open their wings. One was a female Adonis, a real treat.

As I walked along the path for the 6th time, or something like that. I saw a flash of white. Looking down I see one, then another, tiny spiral plant with equally time white flowers all around, also in a spiral. There be orchids! So, I lay down and got got the shots, happy enough with that. And despite spending another half hour looking I saw no more, but once you have seen one (or two) that is enough. I walked back to the car, and programed the sat nave for a mansion in Rochester.

That I ended up at a grimy industrial estate under the shadow of a railway embankment told me i was in the wrong place. I shrugged and after programming the post code set off for the next place on the list, Higham.

Despite having what looked like a fairly central postcode in the Medway area, I headed out onto the Hoo peninsular, and eventually down a long dead end road, and about three miles along, just as about the land was to give way to the Medway stood the church.

I parked up and walked through the lych gate: I was welcomed by someone coming out and she said it was a fine church. What I did not expect inside was the collection of scarecrows. A great deal of effort had gone into these, and it certainly made the visit 'interesting'.

I snapped the church, and then decided to head to Cliffe, where i knew the church there was stunning. I programmed the village in, and guessed that there would be a Church Lane. Four miles, a short trip then.

And as I arrived as the sun broke through the clouds, illuminating the church with golden sunlight. It looked wonderful. Two churchwardens were unloading a car in preparation for an event on Friday, but they were more than happy for me to go in. They made me very welcome and we chatted long about the church, the Church and the airport planned by Boris in the estuary.

i went into the nearby pub for a reviving pint and a bag of crisps, before moving on to Cooling. Yes, Cooling. And this is where Charles Dickens got his inspiration for Great Expectations. But this information I did not know until I got there and read the information. Anyway, the church is situated between the old castle and the village. The church is in a small churchyard, the path was grassed over, and it was a wonderful sight in the sunshine.

Inside the church was wonderful, and the Vestry has been covered in winkle shells, for reasons I will try to find out. Outside there was the grave which gave Dickens the inspiration for Pip, and sure enough there was a grave with 11 child gravestone around it. The fact that this family had suffered 11 child deaths was horrific and showed how hard life was in the 19th century.

Finally, I drove to Hoo St Werburgh. This is the largest town on the peninsular, and is quite busy. I head across the main road, down the High street following the signs for the church. It was situated beside the old library, but was locked tight. I went around it snapping away, only to see a churchwarden heading towards the church. He lets me in.

It is another fine church, and I talk long to the churchwarden. i snap away getting some good shots. I wonder if I should head to Allhallows. I decide not to and head back home instead.

When Jools came home, Jools asked me what was for dinner; baked beans on toast. Or curry.

So at seven we drove to Deal to the Curry House. Yay, curry. Yay, chicken jalfrezi! Yay beer!

Saturday 22nd March 2014

The end of the week kinda blurs into one day. What with the amount of work coming in, and the need to get all organised. Our customer threw us several curve balls, including one for yours truly, which took up most of my time on Friday to sort out, then sit back to wait for a reply.

Friday, I worked from home as Jools needed the car as she headed to the factory for the very last time, but this time for some job retraining.It was organised by the local job centre, and featured one-to-one chats and information about Linkedin, CVs and the suchlike.

Friday afternoon walk

And so the afternoon rolled round, Jools came home and I waited for an e mail that might never come. at three I turn off the computer, and we pull on our walking boots and gird our loins for another long walk. You see I have 'liked' a couple of our local pubs on Facebook, and both now update me on a daily basis what beers they are putting on. Yesterday morning I was informed that they had a porter from the Fat Cat Brewery on. Now, the Fat Cat is a pub in Norwich, which has won the CAMRA pub of the year title twice. That's the national title. And now they brew beer too. I guessed it would be good. The picture looked good.

Friday afternoon walk

So, we should walk to Deal again, like we did last week. and end up at The Berry for a little bit of beer tasting. Good idea.

So we set off into bright sunshine, and a stiff southerly breeze. But that would be fine as we would have that at our backs all the way to the pub. We walked along to the pig's wood, down the dip and up the other side. My back was complaining, but I think that was due to me sitting down for most of the week. I decided to walk through the pain and hope it got better.

Kingsdown in the spring

It did and once we were on the tarmac of the cycle path, all was fine and we were walking in bright sunshine all the way down into Kingsdown. We stopped at the beach for a sit down, on the benches that used to be on the promenade, but now is home to most of the shingle beach that the storms had moved. We walked on past the drinkers sitting outside The Zeltand Arms and on along the coastal path. We could see Walmer Castle getting nearer, then the houses of Walmer itself began. And all at once we were in deal, crossing the coast road, heading down Canada Road and into the warmth of the pub.

Kingsdown in the spring

We were greeted like the regulars we're becoming, and I order half a Thundering Molly for Jools and a pint of the Fat Cat porter for myself. The porter was as good as it looked, but i sent a second down the hatch just to make sure. Jools even had a second half, so by the time we called for a taxi to take us home, we were just fine. Kingsdown in the spring

At home I venture into the kitchen to cook sausages and saute potatoes, which comes out very well. And so we take to the sofa for our weekly dose of The Don.

One last thing to regale you with: In the past 20 years, all sorts of bands and acts have reformed to do gigs and grand tours. Bands from the Sex Pistols to the Stone roses to The Eagles and Led Zeppelin have done gigs and shows in recent years. One act I would never thought to return to playing live would be 'The Blessed Kate.' I first got wind of something when a contact tweeted #KateBushinternetmeltdown. I thought nothing of it, really. But his next tweet was a link to the Kate bush website on which she announced 15 gigs in London for September.

Her first shows in 35 years since her ONLY tour ended in 1979. I could imagine men of a certain age in tears around the country as the news sunk in. The scramble for tickets begins next Friday, and needless to say, I will be in the hunt. Especially as i will be on holiday anyway.

NB: tomorrow will see the publication of my 900th blog. Which is an incredible thing, especially when you see how most of my friends gave up after a few posts.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Thursday 20th March 2014


Work from home. Stay in bed until half six, make coffee. Get computer out, power it up, log on. And outlook fails to work. Reboot computer. And it partially works, program itself says it is not connected to internet and requires connection and password, and yet mails can be sent and received. This continues until just after lunch when I lose all connectivity with the e mail server. So I call IT. Spend an hour waiting for an operative. Then they say nothing can be done. I can use webmail, but that has none of my contacts stored, so I have to manually input addresses. I soon lose the will to live and at three switch the computer off and hit the sauce.

Well, I don’t. Jools comes backs from town, we have a coffee and then I head up to the spare room for another session on the cross-trainer. I am glad to say that my endurance has picked up quickly and am back up to half an hour and noticeably less out of breath at the end of the session.

My friend Gary had dropped his Sigma 105 f2.8 macro lens round the house, for me to try in preparation for me to buy yet more glass. The 6D really is great for macro, and like in other situations picks up detail and tones the 50 just can’t. So I go into the garden to snap some of the spring plants and et great results that don’t even need processing. Good work.

Hyacinth by the 6D and Sigma 105mm f2.8

The night is spent very much old school, listening to the European football on the radio, whilst outside the badgers take their fill of free peanuts.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Wednesday 19th March 2014


And the working week rolls round once again. And it is at this point the realisation of Jools losing her job hits home as she does not have to rush to be out of the door with me, nor do i have to head into Dover to drop her off at the factory. Instead, she decides to spend the morning up and down the seafront, speedwalking in an attempt to get fit. Or fitter. She has a weekly bus ticket, so she says she will catch the early bus into town; so I take the car and drive to the office in Ramsgate.

The day passes quickly, as I deal with e mails and phone calls from the confused. At least the glorious sunny weather soon fades as clouds rolls over, covering the sky. When it is like that it does make being at work more bearable. Sadly for Jools it means her walk will not be in bright sunshine though.

I head home at four, passing alongside the viking ship in Pegwell Bay: I was hoping to snap the daffodils there, as so many are out around the house, and they have thousands of them there. But, much to my surprise, most were not yet out, and they did not look so good under the cloudy skies. I carry on home.

We have an early dinner, before Jools drives me over to Sandwich for the monthly CAMRA meeting. Now, although I like a beer or two, as i have said CAMRA can be a little too earnest for my liking, but this meeting the pub of the year was to be announced. And as I had worked hard (ahem) in judging them, I wanted to see who won.

I thought I knew where the George and Dragon was, but i wandered up and down streets lined with ancient houses and cottages, each one wonderfully attractive, but none containing the pub. I did find it in the end, there are only so many streets you can walk up and down. So I went in, got a pint and sat down ready for the meeting and announcement. I can reveal that I judged the pubs in the same order they finished counting the 16 other judge's votes, with The Berry winning the title yet again. And rightly so.

Jools picks me up at quarter to ten, and so we head home with the full moon attempting to break through the thin cloud cover.


And off to work in the car again. what with there being no point in getting to the office until nearly eight when the monkeys would be on their way to the jetty, it means we can lay in bed until after the news headlines on the radio. And the main point of interest is the continuing mystery of how a modern Boeing 777 jetliner with over 200 passengers on board vanished without a trace the weekend before. It is now so odd that them having been kidnapped by aliens would make sense.

I drive to work listening to Radio 4 whilst dodging the lunatics that seem to be on the road, including one woman who overtook me on the outside going round a roundabout. It was a relief to get to work in one piece.

eight hours pass.

And I head back home again.

My friend Gary comes round in the evening to witness the badger parade that we are treated to each night. Three badger turn up for him, which was good, and we spent an hour watching the three of them eating lots and lots of peanuts. Of course, all this food is costing us some money, but it seems to be worth it to see badgers so close.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Monday 17th March 2014


If anything, Sunday was an even better day that Saturday was, well, as far as weather was concerned. When I went out in my dressing gown to put the birdseed out, there was no hint of a chill in the morning. Jools even sat outside to eat her breakfast, although I messed about online with my computer.

Jools was heading to Ashford for a bead fair, and my intention had been to wander round Ashford snapping whilst she went a bead huntin’. In the end, I changed my mind and thought I might like to walk back from Folkestone to Dover. And this was the plan. I did realise that although I might like to try to walk all the way home, that might be very ambitious indeed. And as it turned out, the walk from Capel to Aycliffe was just about perfect, especially after the walk on Friday, my legs were already tight when I began.

Jools dropped me off just beyond the roundabout on the Capel road, and I walked to the beginning of the track heading up to the cycle route and the cliffs. There was no clouds in the sky, and barely a breath of wind moved the air, so I wore my old Red Sox cap to keep the sun out of my eyes and to mop up any sweat I may well produce. That turned out to be a wise choice.

The view when I got to the cliffs was stunning, the sweep of Wear Bay stretched from beneath my feet all the way round to Folkestone Harbour. I snapped the scene several times, especially as way down below an Electrostar wound its way along past the Warren. I tightened the straps on my old camera bag, and set off.

The first stretch was along the cycle path, which in turn was an old war access road, which must have run along the cliffs to the various lookout and gun positions. I went past the old sound mirror which is now standing at an alarming angle, but at least the cliff edge is several decades of erosion away still. I followed the path down to Capel range, the butts now standing empty, except when a motocross rider uses the bank for practice runs. It would have been a wonderfully quiet morning, but two kids on their bikes made it sound like a swarm of angry hornets was abroad. As I walked on at least their volume decreased.

Leaving Shakespeare Tunnel

My plan was to stop at my favourite overlook above the portal to Shakespeare Tunnel, but as I checked my watch I knew that a Javelin would be due out heading London-bound at about ten to the hour. So I sat down , got out my container of squash and had a good 15 minutes rest as I waited to snap it. In the end when it appeared, the train was hardly moving giving me ample time to snap it as the train emerged.

I walked on and did stop where I intended to wait for another Javelin coming from Folkestone, dwarfed as it was by the cliffs on the right side, and looking like a toy way down below. That having been snapped, all that was left was to begin the final stretch along the top of Shakespeare Cliff and then down into Dover. The view are amazing , as it feels like you are walking along the edge of a wave, and on one side the ground drops away several hundred feet to the beach far below.


At the end of the cliff you are greeted with a grand panorama of Dover harbour with the breakwater on one side, the town on the other with the castle above and then the line of cliffs at Langdon Bay in the distance. I waited for the Javalin to come back on its return trip to London and begin my descent.

Jools called saying she was at Ayecliffe, which was only 10 minutes away. I told her that would be fine. I walked past a few folks heading the other way, so they would be climbing Shakespeare in the heat of midday, never a good idea. And like that, I came to the underpass, and there was Jools. We headed home going over the top of Western Heights, down into town, along past the town hall and then up Connaught Hill past the castle and then along to St Margaret’s and home.

We had scotch eggs for lunch, and I popped open a bottle of Bittburger to wash it down with, with the result that I felt sleepy almost straight away. I took the radio into the back garden and so lay on the grass in the warm sunshine listening to the Man Utd/Liverpool game. A 3-0 win for Liverpool seemed the right result to me, and the cats who had followed me out and snoozed around me in the shade of a bush or the hedge.

After dinner, I sat down to watch the nightmare that was the previous night’s MOTD, and to wait for the start of the badger parade, and was rewarded by the appearance of three if not four of them.

There was just enough time at the end of the day for a mouse to run up the leg of Jools’ trousers. As they do.

I was watching a recording on the previous night’s MOTD, and so I wasn’t really concentrating on what was happening in the room. Jools was typing away at the computer whilst outside a badge was hovering up the peanuts in the front garden.

The was a scream. Ten another scream.

“ooh, ooh oooh” Jools screamed whilst hopping from one foot to the other. She then proceeded try to take her trousers off. Her slippers went in opposite directions, whilst she went red in the face. Meanwhile Scully watched entranced. Apparently, Scully had brought in a mouse, dropped it on the floor, where it had run across Jools; foot and up her trouser leg up past her knee.

The mouse ran the other way and onto the floor where Scully scooped it up again. Then dropped it. The mouse ran along the skirting board a few times before finding shelter under the record rack. This meant I could just about et my hand underneath, and after a little struggle pulled the mouse out by the tail and then carrying it out into the porch then out of the main door. Scully looked on eyes a-sparkle.

After that things returned to normal, or what counts as normal in our house.