Monday, 30 May 2016

Football: an update

Norwich were relegated whilst we were in Japan. We beat Watford at home, but Sunderland won, so sent us down. Our last game ended in a 3-0 defeat, meaning we finished 19th and next to last. And I have no complaints, we were dreadful in the second half of the season, losing every 'must win' game, and meaning all of the Yellow Army suffered pain most weeks.

I will no longer pass judgement on every game now, as I am getting bored with it, so God knows how you readers feel about it.

So, a summer full of European Football, but I will be working away most of it, not much time to watch and do you really think it will be any different for England this time?

Japan: the verdict

We have been back now for some ten days or so, the jet lag is a thing of the pass, I am processing images day by day, and so, what is it we will remember most about the trip the the land of the rising sun?

There were so many highlights, it is hard to pick any one thing out. I suppose that for the most part, for me, there seemed to be the worry of arranging the next stage of the trop; reserving seats, forwarding luggage to the next hotel, or the hotel after next in some cases. Then, we on our full day in Takayama, we had sent our cases to the final hotel, and we had reservations on the trains the next day. And then the realisation was that the holiday was coming to an end. Coming to a sudden end in fact.

It seemed a lifetime ago that we were the newbies trying to find a place to eat in Tokyo near the Thunder Gate, rather than the ten or so days it had actually been. We were experienced travelers in Japan now, we could find our way round metro systems, order at restaurants and eat with chopsticks. Back in those first few days in Tokyo, it all seemed so strange and new, even going on the metro was an adventure. Let alone getting aboard the bullet train to take us to Kyoto and beyond.

I suppose finding our way back to the first hotel after our guide had left us at Shibuya, coming out of the right exit, walking down the street to find the doors to the hotel just where we left them. From that moment on, we had no fear, if in doubt, we could always ask, as we knew that people just wanted to help, either employees of the train or metro company, or just ordinary people. We could find our way, one way or another. From that moment the fear of the unknown fell away, and we could enjoy ourselves properly.

The hotels were fine, if mostly compact, and had smaller rooms than we are used to in the west, but for the most part we just needed somewhere to sleep, so no real problem. The ryokans were a different matter. Arriving with cases full of clothes, and having no place to store them, and seeing how we just made the whole place untidy really has us questioning how e live back home, in fact we have begun to pack away books and stuff we have not looked at for years, and might go beyond that to take stuff to the charity shop or the tip. Putting boxes in the loft is just one step from having self-storage, which is another way of admitting you have too much stuff.

Travel in Japan was so easy and painless, it was hard at time to believe this was the same country that we read about. Even in downtown Tokyo, traffic seemed to flow, and for the most part the six lane roads that pass beside the monster skyscrapers were almost empty. Only on one occasion did we come to a metro train so full we could not get on because it was so full; we waited until the next one came along, and got on that.

Toilets were fun, to say the least. We quickly found the flush button at the first hotel, but at Kyoto there was a sensor in the seat so that flushed as soon as you stood up. At the first ryokan, the toilet knew when you opened the door to the toilet, and the lid rose automatically. Flushed automatically as well. All had a heated seat facility, with settings from sort to hard boiled.

It was never that cold!

Then there was the food, which I covered before in another blog. We still laugh about the Conga Eel which we ate on at least three occasions, but for the most part, we enjoyed the food, the way it was presented and cooked. What we did notice that in the two weeks we were way, none of us suffered from indigestion, I did not suffer from night cramps in my legs, and Jools' skin complaint on her back gave her no problems. Might be a coincidence, but I don't think so. We ate hardly any bread or potatoes, and little dairy, which might explain it, could be any one to be honest.

We came back fitter and thinner, what with the walking and only eating things we could recognise. We will try to carry that one, but work keeps getting in the way, of course.

I suppose what we will remember is the people: I mean, we had heard stories about racism from people who had worked there, and a dislike of foreigners. What we found was a wonderful, friendly people, all too ready to help out if we looked like we needed help. Nothing was too much trouble, and at no point did we experience anything other than kindness and friendship.

That about a week into the trip, Jools was asking me when we could come back tells you all you really need to know how much we loved Japan and the whole holiday. I can't recommend it highly enough, and would encourage any of you to go. And the thing that people ask was how much did it cost? Well, not as much as you might think. Much less in fact. And we stayed in nothing less than four star hotels, ate well and drank French or Italain bottles of wine. In other words, we were determined to have a great time, and we did.

So, when can we go back?

Monday 30th May 2016

It is midway through the afternoon on a dull, grey, windy bank holiday Monday. It should come as no surprise to learn that the weather is so poor once again. I suppose we have been lucky enough over the weekend, plenty of sunshine, plenty enough for orchid snaps for sure.

This morning we had bacon butties for breakfast before doing two tip runs, then the British ritual, going to a garden centre to buy plants for the garden.

I had a crap night's sleep, I feel like shit, and so am stumbling through the day in a haze. Later, I will have to pack ready for another week in Denmark. Such is life, could be worse, could be off to Hammerfest or somewhere equally grim, rather than Esbjerg to meet with friends, with some added work.

The cats are demanding food all the while. Its their job. We ignore them. That's our job.

I suppose I will feel better in the morning. Maybe not. Who knows.

Anyway, you take care until the weekend, y'hear.

Sunday 29th May 2016

Since 5th May I have spent about 6 days at home, at least two of those days were spent orchid chasing. No, make that 3 or 4. Or 5. So that when the bank holiday weekend comes round, I would like to spend at least one of those three days, doing nothing at home. But every Whitsun Bank Holiday, we have to travel to Suffolk and back to visit Mother as it is her birthday on the 27th, and this year was to be no different. What was different was that this was our first trip up since Boxing Day, so 5 months since we last met and spoke, so should have been OK. No?

Well, as I explained to my frined Rob, when we talk there seems to be interest in what we do, or have done, but after the initial question, there isn't a follow up, so there is no ebb and flow of conversation, so it all becomes stilted, which explains why after no more than 2 hours, we have run out of things to say and so take our leave. Her house is in such a state that I dare not even have a glass of water, let along have something to eat. Piled up in her kitchen beside the sink is a stack of at least six Fray Bentos tinned pies. This is something of a British thing, I had no idea whe ate stuff like this, but with all her cupboards filled with yet more food, there are few places to store the new food she buys each week. Beside the cooker, there are two stacks of cup-a-soups, each one eight packs high, and each pack containing at least 5 packs. 40 cup-a-soups is prbably enough I would have thought.

But then, this is the life she has chosen, and as her circle of friends has now shrunken to just one, Janet who lives opposite, she can do what she wants, when she wants. Which is quite right; it took me several years to get that into my head, and if she wants to spend thousands of pounds a year on catalogue shopping, stuff that remains unopened on her bed, then that is her choice. I spend my time chasing orchids, photographing churches or listening to music. It is our choice, and after a lifetime of work and bringing me up, then she can get to choose what she does with her time and money. Just seems a shame to me.

Green Wing Orchid Anacamptis morio Mum seems to have no interest, other than what could be considered polite, in anything that I or Jools does, even with a holiday to Japan to talk about, the question was of food, when we mentioned Conga Eel, she replied that she had had seafood linguine last week from M&S and it was OK. Nothing about Japan.

She did ask about photographs, and I had to say, that I am not being nasty when I say this, but when we have brought photos up in the past, after 5 minutes her eyes glaze over. She feigns hurt, but I think she knows this is true. I am not nasty, just honest.

Green Wing Orchid Anacamptis morio In order to sweeten these 12 hour road trips, we either visit friends, orchid sites or churches, because after about 90 minutes, we are on the road and looking for somewhere for lunch and what to do before heading back home. As was the case this time, we visited an ancient meadow filled with orchids, and on the way back called into see an old friend, Rob who lives just off the A140.

Green Wing Orchid Anacamptis morio However, we are getting ahead of ourselves a bit here. If you want to know my past history with Mother, then previous postings regarding such visits at this time of year or at Christmas might shed some light.

We wake up just before six, and despite the weather warnings, it seemed to be a fine day, if a little cloudy. We do the usual things; feed the cats, make breakfast and get dressed, before loading the car up and getting on the road just before seven. With about 200 miles to go, and an almost empty road ahead, the radio played and all seemed right, even if we were off to see Mother. It wasa good run up the M20, then to the tunnel with traffic now hardly pausing at we go through the numberplate reader and dive down under the river.

Green Wing Orchid Anacamptis morio We turn off at the A12 junction, which is quiet so the usual grand prix start wasn't needed. Into Essex now, and the sun came out and it looked fine. Even iff the occasional boy racer tore past at over 100mph, it was pleasant enough and we crossed over the Suffolk border and so travelled back to the 1950s. I joke about this, and in fact the roads are fine until we get north of Ipswich, past Woodbridge and Whickham Market, where suddenly, the road narrows and the speed drops to a maximum of 40mph.

Despite the countryside being attractive, especially in the spring, when you want to just get where you are going, do your stuff and head back south, that people in front of the train of cars snaking through the countryside slow down to 30mph as soon as there is a bend or they can't see further than 20 yards. There are a couple of stretches of dualcarriageway, and we try to get past the slowest cars, but we all can't before the road narrows again.

Green Wing Orchid Anacamptis morio We reach the outskirts of Lowestoft, so I take the familiar roads to Oulton Broad, joining the queue of traffic over the bridge, past the Wherry Hotel, over the level crossing and on to Mothers.

The rest of the visit, you can guess from above, it was all civil and pleasant, but there is an air of disconnect that I could not ignore, and I suppose after the 3rd or 4th long pause which signified that we had reached the end of her interest, or that Jools and I were fed up bouncing the conversation off each other, I said that it was time to hit the road. We hugged and kissed, but in a kind of formal way that you normally reserve for a person you know only distantly. And we go.

Out through Oulton Village, to Somerleyton and then to Beccles and Bungay via Haddiscoe over the marshes. The sun was out and it was a fine warm afternoon, and an hour past opening time. Back in last August, I had called in at The Bell in Wortwell for a pint, so I thought it might be enough off the main road to be quiet enough to get a seat and maybe something to eat. In the end we settle for a coffee, For Jools, and a pint of Norfolk Nog for me, with packets of crisps. We sat in the beer garden, laughing about things, attracting dirty looks from the only other person in the garden. Should be not be enjoying ourselves?

We drink up and leave, driving to an ancient meadow, which if we were lucky would be filled with orchids. We called in at Wink's Meadow last year, and I wanted to sample the array of colour variations this site has to offer. I remembered where it was, so we park outside and climb over the metal gate to get in. The meadow is full of buttercups and orchids, an incredible sight, and three other people looking round and taking shots. I fill my boots, snapping the whites, salmon pinks, bi-coloured and purples, all marked out by the green ribs in the orchid hoods. It was glorious, but time was getting on, so we retire to the car, program the sat nav from Ron and Sarah's place, and drive back out through the narrow lanes to the main road, then to Diss before turning down the Ipswich road.

Green Wing Orchid Anacamptis morio They were recovering from a bout of Delhi Belly, so we don't stay long. Long enough to be far more engaged in conversation that with Mother. Ron makes a fine pot of tea, and that gives me strength for the journey back home. They have cleared a tree from their small garden, and there is so much more light there now, and we could have sat there all day watching the blackbirds and robins coming back and forth, while their cat, Maggie, slept on.

At half three, we said goodbye and left, driving back to the main road driving south in thick traffic to the A14, then turning east before taking the A12 south.

It wasn't a bad trip, Chris Packham was on the radio, playing some good tunes, but I could hear much of what he was saying between records. In an hour we were at Dartford, crossed into Kent and were powering down the M20 towards home. We didn't hit a jam at all on either leg of the trip, so arrived home just before six, in time not too be so bad to the cats.

I feed them, amke a coffee and we finish some of the dark chocolate Jools had bought that week. Insalata caprese for dinner, with the last of the three cheese bread. And the day was done.

Just before bedtime, we are both sitting in the garden surrounded by candles and cats, looking at the stars coming out and the planes and bats flying over. At least we won't have to make the trip again until Boxing Day again.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Saturday 28th May 2016

When, I hear you ask, is the orchid season ever going to an end.

Or that is the questions I imagines readers of this blog who may not be orchid-centric as me. Well, the last orchid of the season usually appears at the end of July and can last to the end of September. Before then, there are many more species to be seen and snapped.

So, if you are getting fed up, then I am sorry. But then I am getting out, walking through ancient woodlands, up and down, er, downs, and along cliffs all in search of orchids. If not, I maybee watching football, so are orchids the lesser of the football evil? Heck, I don't know.

Anyway, with there being a family summit planned in the morning at our gaff, I was told that Jools was doing that and then "bimbling", I should go out. Or something like it anyway. I didn't need to be told twice.

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia I do go to Sainsbury's at seven for beer and bacon; the best of both worlds, and two of the major food groups of course. And after cooking bacon butties, I pack my camera stuff and leave just as Cath and Mike arrive. Where in the world, or Kent, should I go?

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia Well, first of all, I think it is time I checked back on the Monkeys at PGD, so, with a tank full of gas, and hope in my heart, I drive down Alkham Valley thus avoiding the tattooed fuckwits of the EDL who have now decided that each and every bank holiday they should all down to Dover to protest. So, the town centre is to be avoided. Anyway, a quick blast along the M20 to the next junction, then up the valley to Elham before turning off, and to my surprise, I am the only one there.

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia PGD is still a little disappointing at first, seems overgrown with no orchids showing, at first glance at least; however, after a while I began to see the purples and pinks showing where there were orchids. And further in the wonderful Monkey was more numerous, but less than in previous years perhaps.

I go round checking each spike and snapping the best. Then go around a while later once the sun breaks through.

Further on still, I look for Musk, Fly, Lady and GBO. I find them all other than GBO, whose spikes I cannot find, yet having seen several earlier in the week. That I can see a Fly spike from 10m shows I am not totally losing my eye.

Fly Orchid Ophrys insectifera It is with this result, that I decide to go the Denge to check on the Butterfly orchids there, and there is always the chance of seeing a Duke as well. And a few Kentish Lady too, or course.

Fly Orchid Ophrys insectifera At the car park, I meet with Jim and Dawn, first time we have met since last year's season. We hug and swap stories and news on orchid sites. Then they are off to a new site, and I begin the long walk to the Bank.

In the sunshine, the Ladys are even more sensational than before, but there only so many shots you can take of them. I am looking for Butterfly, and soon find three open spikes near to each other, so snap them. And at the end of the site, a Duke lands right in front of me, so I cannot refuse this chance, and get within 6 inches of the wee fella, and get fine shots, despite this being one of Britain's rarest butterflies.

Greater Butterfly Orchid Platanthera chlorantha I walk round the bottom of the site, find another var. alba Lady, which is always good, before walking back to the car before driving to the next site, via a pub.

Greater Butterfly Orchid Platanthera chlorantha I have always wanted to visit the Black Robin, and with it being near the orchid site, and being off the beaten track, I take a pint of Hopdeamon and a packet of crisps into the beer garden to enjoy and take in what was a fine day. So far.

I drive to the parking spot, then climb the hill once more, but this time the LBO, or Lesser Butterfly on my mind.

Duke of Burgundy Hamearis lucina Now, I was pretty sure where they were from last year. I look for half an hour, before realising I was 100m from the right place, then with some looking I find one, then a second partially open spike. Great news.

Over the road the Lady are not much further on, so it seems it will be a poor year for them in this woodland setting, but the Fly are now getting towards their peak. And as usual the Common Twayblade are in astounding numbers.

One final call is for some White Helleborines and Birds Nest. It is a quiet little known site, and just inside the wood I see the Birds Nest spikes showing well, and one with open flowers.

I could have gone onto the look for Bee and Lizard, but I have had enough, and at nearly three, I need some lunch, so go home via the quiet lanes through Barfrestone, Shepherdswell, Coldred and Whitfield, thus missing any traffic holdups caused by the demonstrations in DOver, and probably taking three times the time it would have otherwise have taken.

I make lunch for us both, review my shots, write a blog post, edit some shots, and it is seven already, and there is some big football to watch; the CL final, Athletico v Real, which, as it turned out wasn't a good game, but absorbing. But it goes to extra time and then pentalties before Real snatch it.

It is half past ten, and time for bed.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Friday 27th May 2016

Mum's 72nd birthday.

And what should have been a fine day of simple travelling back home turned into, well, and adventure.

I have had enough of the Zleep at the airport; crap rooms, crap food and crap sleep quality. So, I chose to stay in Esbjerg and get up at 5 to drive to the airport. The sunshine, already risen by half four woke me up, so I lay in bed until the alarm went off, then lept, well, slouched into action.

I showered, packed and dressed before going down to check out and load up the car. It was a glorious morning, and a shame to leaving Denmark.

Denmark wears her spring colours well; light and airy, and very attractive when the sun shines. Spring flowers that usually line the roads have just about gone for the year, but the fields are full of buttercups and daisies. All is a vibrant green and yellow, but no time to stop, I have to hurry up to get to the airport. I don't know why I am so worried, I have two and a half hours before flight time, and it should be quiet at the airport. But then I had forgotten it is spring, when all of Denmark flies south for some warm sunshine, so the airport is full of families and older couples, already half dressed for the beach, trying to check in. At the the BA desk is quiet, but then we all have to go through security, but this frequent traveller knows that if he waits, say, have a coffee and a pastry, then by the time he is done, there will be no queues.

Not only are there no queues, but in the departure hall, there is seats aplenty, and there are abandoned beer and spirit glasses too, as some began their holiday even earlier.I catch up on some mails, drop some grenades, then wander to gate 2 for boarding, where I find just six other passengers waiting for the flight, including my old friend who works for Lego, Mr Lego. No, really no idea what his name is, we just chat when we meet for the flights back and forth; he commutes most week to their head office, as for me, just most weeks it seems.

Battersea We have the safety brief, the engines start and we taxi off. All is going well, I relax in my seat and read the magazine i have brought. Just after take off, breakfast is brought round, and there is even an offer of an extra roll if anyone's hungry. No one is though, just too polite.

Parks and Recreation The pilot says the wind is in the east, which means a final approach over central London, and I have no camera except for my phone, so I set it to aircraft mode, and am ready to snap London as we skim over the rooftops.

Aldwych We are kept in a stack somewhere off the coast of Essex, before being allowed to skirt south London, passing over the Medway towns then round to Crystal Palace before turning north, then turning east at Battersea and flying low along the river. I take snaps all along, hoping they would come out. The City Looks so crowded, like there are no streets between the buildings.

LDN We bounce down, taxi to our slot then have to wait to be pushed back and then climb on the bus to take us to the terminal. All seven of us walk to immigration, show our passport and as usual, already our bags are waiting, going round and round the carousel.

I grab the case, walk to the DLR station, only to find I have just missed a train which would have gotten me to Stratford in time for the quarter to ten train This would have severe implications, but this I did not know. Yet.

I go to the cafe, have a coffee and a filled baguette and read Private Eye, just to pass the time.

I go down onto the platform, and at that point I realise there is something wrong, as there are trains on both platforms, and on the one on the country-bound service, the driver is sitting on the step of his cab looking very fed up. His train is already 20 minutes delayed. Turns out there is a train broken down in the tunnels beyond the station between here and Ebbsfleet, and it ain't moving.

I wait to see what happens, on the up line a new Eurostar coasts by at about walking pace, giving me time to get out my phone and take a shot.

Just about when the train to Folkestone should have left, the one waiting was given the road, so I jump on thinking once I get to Ashford I should be able to get a Charing Cross service, at least that was the plan. We cross over onto the up line and accelerate to full speed; in the wrong direction for the line! I hope the signaler knew what he was doing.

Once out of the tunnel we cross back over, and the journey is then normal. Until we reach Ashford, as it is chaos there, with the board apparently saying there would be a 50 minute wait for a train, that couldn't be right, could it? Sadly, it was.

The train now delayed Train after train was cancelled, and the platform filled up with frustrated passengers, whilst staff tried their best to calm the situation. Our train pulls into platofrm 2, so we all rush over, climb on, then told we would have to wait for the train I should have caught from Stratford, the 10:44. It arrives at 12:15, some 60 minutes later than it should. The train is now full, but we were heading int he right direction and all happy. Until we get to Folkestone where we then have to get onto the Rail replacement bus for the run to Dover; how I will be glad when the line is finally repaired.

I get to Dover, and the last taxi is taken, and in the queue there are four people already waiting. I shrug and walk to the Rack of Ale, order a pint of raspberry porter and call for a cab from there; it arrives before I finish the pint, so down it in one, and climb in the car outside.

And then I am home. At last. I make a huge cuppa then go to sit in the garden to drink and wait for the cats to realise I'm home. Turns out I am shattered, and once Jools is home, I cook breaded pork and lentil dahl, a uncork a bottle of red, so I am well relaxed by the time the England game starts at seven forty five. I miss most of the second half as I am sleeping deeply, I wake up to find England 2-1 up. I go to bed. No caring about the football.

Thursday 26th May 2016

And still the sun fails to melt these Scandinavian clouds, so we must look at an overcast sky. Well, until the evening.

But today is a day for work, and I am busy right from seven all the way through.

BMW 320D Rune is persuaded that I should drive him to work in BMW, so I switch it to sports and skid of the car park. Its only a five minute drive to the office, but it is fun.

I have arranged a quality workshop. Not sure whether it was a "quality" workshop, but a couple had come down from Arhus to attend, so I had better make it a good one. If not, the fact I arranged food at lunchtime, yummy Danish open sandwiches, all freshly made, made up for the dull day of Powerpoint Presentations. By one, I am done. There is little to be done now, other than to make the file structure, ready for it to be populated with evidence of work.

Of course, I have the job of writing the report from the previous day's audit, so the day fades out. But the last remnants of jetlag, two night's poor sleep had left me tired. At half three I said to Rune, I had to go back to the hotel for a snooze. And once back in the hotel, I put the radio on, laid on the bed and zedded for two hours, waking up just before six, thus being in time for the team dinner I had arranged.

I met Rune in reception, to wait for Brian to collect us in the car so he could take us to Butcher, although it is just a ten minute walk, but hey, a lift, right? It is by the football ground, where as we ate fine steak, the final game of the season was being played, FC Copenahgen winning 4-1 and thus securing the Danish title.

Inside the restaurant, we all ordered 350g steaks and several sides. It was done to perfection, but once again I have eyes bigger than my belly, but again, I don't eat it all.

Phew, I am stuffed, but not so tired. So, Brian drops us off back at the hotel, but too full t have a nightcap, so I bid the guys farewell and retire to my room to call Jools and then to go to bed.

Esbjerg Sunset From my window, I watch the sun set and the lights come on in the port. The radio plays, and my eyes get tired.

Home tomorrow.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Wednesday 25th May 2016

I audit therefore I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 24th May 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Denmark.

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

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

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

Monday 23rd May 2016

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

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

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

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

It was just after seven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where did all the time go?

Monday, 23 May 2016

Sunday 22nd May 2016

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

Let me think about that for three nano-seconds.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Saturday 21st May 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 20th May 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 19th May 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nearly home.

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

We were over Holland and descending.

Nearer home.

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

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

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

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

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

We did it, and are home.

Wednesday 18th May 2016 (updated)

And so here we are; the last day of the holiday, and all of Tokyo to explore and snap. And we don't have a scooby where to go. We had thought about it, looked on line, and 2nd most popular attraction on Tripadvisor was Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. And as we enjoyed the gardens at the Imperial Palace, we thought this might be a good idea.

We went down for breakfast at 07:10, and found the restaurant in the middle of the lobby packed, but somehow I managed to get a table for us. And seeing as this was more of an international place, breakfast had more of a European feel. The freshly baked rolls looked nice, still warm from baking, so I thought one would be fine with marmalade on. I cut it open only to find it part filled with blue cheese; and I wanted to have marmalade! Oh, what the heck, lets mix flavours, and it came out as being tasty!

A trip to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden I think one of the pleasures of staying in an international place like this hotel, as what people from different countries have for breakfast, and the hotel has to cater for most of them, as all would be impossible I suppose. Most people seem to think coffee is an important part of breakfast, and they would be right of course.

A trip to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden We got our stuff together, ready to brave the madness of the Metro for the first time in 10 days, our route planned; we set off.

A trip to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden Up to now we had seen subway trains with just standing room available, but this was the first time we had seen a train pull in with there no space whatsoever to get on. Some locals did push on, and we saw their faces squashed against the door's windows as the train pulled out. Thankfully, the next one was less full, and we did get one for the few stops before we had to change again.

A trip to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden We arrived at the station near the garden, and the security guard saw us looking at a map and told us to cross the road on street level and then turn right.

A trip to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden Which is what we did, along a shaded promenade walk to the main gate of the park, which only charged 200 Yen to get in. The walks were well signposted, and as we just wanted to see the Japanese garden, we set off through the woods for it. Also in the park were dozens of school parties, all very young children, who had come for some nature-based activities and then a packed lunch.

A trip to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden I suppose what we had hoped for was something akin to the garden at the Imperial Palace, with flowers, insects and ponds. But here there was a pond or two, bridges and paths leading through them, but it lacked the wow factor of the Imperial Palace, and out of blossom season is "just a park". I say that as there isn't a lot of green spaces in downtown Tokyo, but this gives a chance to escape the crowds and have some quiet time, walking through garden or over the grass, maybe have a picnic.

A trip to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden We pause for a cool drink from a vending machine and an ice cream from the small shop.

It was darn hot, so darned hot that by half eleven, we decided not to go to the English garden, which might have been the wrong decision, but then again, it was our holiday, so we get to do what we want.

I was trying to write my blogs out before we left, or at least get the first week written before we left, so I said I would like to spend some time in the hotel with the view, radio and air conditioning on, writing. Jen said she would like to do some last minute shopping and Jools wanted to go back to Beadtown. So it was set, we took the metro back, then walked via a huge subway past shops and yet more vending machines until we came to the correct exit for the hotel.

The afternoon slipped past, I wrote, Jools and Jen shopped. I was writing away when I heard a noise at the window, only to see two blokes cleaning the window via a gondolier. They didn't notice me, and within 15 seconds had moved on to another floor. Just enough time to rattle off a shot or two of them! Always have a camera handy!

Final evening in Japan Jools came back at something like four, and I needed a drink, so we go down to reception and in the same bar where I had drunk the whisky the night before, they presented me with the cocktail menu. I had always though that Jools would like a White Russian, so I order two, happy that if she didn't like it, I would be able to finish it. Which is what happened. We sat in the bar, chatting to the manager about Tokyo, visitors and the difference between Americans and Brits, and that we may speak the same language but we rarely mean the same thing! He smiled.

Final evening in Japan Reflected in the building opposite were the colours of sunset. We went round to the other side of the lobby to look and were treated to a wonderful site; the sky was all oranges and reds with the city beginning to light up, and the iconic Tokyo Tower centre. But best of all, on the horizon, poking through some thin clouds was the silhouette of Mt Fuji. And that, seeing the volcano on the very last sunset of the trip, we had crossed the last thing to see off the list. And what a fine end to the holiday. But not quite the end, as there was dinner to seek out.

Final evening in Japan Jen came down, and we went hunting for dinner. Or somewhere to have it at least. We had in mind more shabu-shabu, and we were sure that we could find somewhere serving that near to the hotel. But then Tokyo seems to be the most people unfriendly place on earth, at least at first. It is all so bewildering, passages and stairways leading in all directions.

Final evening in Japan We wandered aimlessly, pointing out places that clearly were selling food. But not looking too special, and we felt that the last night should be special.

Down in the subway, we saw an ad for "sky high dining"; eating whilst looking at the city far below sounded wonderful, so went up.

Final evening in Japan In a place named after Oregon State, we were given a table right by the picture window, with views to a railway station surrounded by skyscrapers. It was perfect. Instead of shabu-shabu, which what had been planned, we had steak, and wine. It was glorious, a fine end to the holiday, the city laid out for our enjoyment before us. Maybe not the best nor cheapest steak in the world, or the city. But with views like that, it hardly mattered.

Final evening in Japan It has to come to an end of course, and this now had, the final curtain rushed towards us just as we were getting used to Japan. But, we came, saw and enjoyed ourselves. But I yearned to go home, see the cats, have some tea, and just be home in our little piece of England.

Final evening in Japan There's always next time I suppose.

Time for a break.