How I saved someone’s weekend at Luton airport

Belfast International view
Belfast International view

Friday would not be my day of choice to fly out of Luton, particularly in the morning, but needs must and I had a face to face meeting with my boss in our Belfast offices. Apparently I read somewhere that 40% of flights out of Luton leave before 08:00. Luckily I was up before the alarm and out of the house earlier than planned at 05:40, because when I got to the airport the signs were not good, the check in hall was packed and the escalators to security were stopped for safety reasons to stop a car crash of people at the top as the travellers were dumped in the area where people were queuing.

I had splashed out the £3 to use the priority lane for which there is not normally a queue, but today there was. A few people tried to push in and in true irritated travel fashion they were told in no uncertain terms that there was a queue which they needed to get to the back of. Not a beep was heard as I passed through the metal detectors. In the lounge I had the time to check the over night system emails to check all the processes had run successfully.

Worryingly the Belfast flight had no indication of when the gate would open, which was unusual. My fears were soon allayed when we were ordered to board at gate 9, about as far from the departure lounge as you can get. I grabbed a coffee from Pret and headed on down, my delay getting coffee was about to save someone’s day. I was stood in the queue behind two young lads with Irish accents, one of them was using the Easyjet app. I commented that it is a brave person that uses the app, for two reasons: one apps can be unreliable (as I have learnt to my expense) and two what if you run out of batteries? One of them explained that he had run out of batteries!

Waiting on the tarmac
Waiting on the tarmac

I had the app but had also printed my boarding card, so I offered to let him see if he could use my phone to get his boarding card. It did not work as the app and the phone and the Easyjet account seem to be somehow tied together. Things were looking unfortunate for the poor guy who was probably on his way home for the weekend.

Then I remembered I had a USB battery pack with me, you charge it up and then can use it to change up phones and the likes. He plugged in his Galaxy Note II and it sprung in to life. Things were looking up, but the battery was so low it refused to start. We waited as we inched forward in the queue and the desk got closer for the battery to get enough juice. When we got to the desk it still was not on so we stood aside for a while and waited.

Eventually it turned on and after a long boot and a wait for the mobile signal to lock in he got the app open and his boarding card was displayed. He quickly shoved it under the bar code reader just before the batteries died again, but he was checked in that is all that mattered to him. We were one of the last to board the bus to the plane which was clearly running late.

The flight made up time and arrived on time at Belfast. Some tourists were grabbing their car from the Enterprise queue but also wanted to discuss the best way to get somewhere, they were on holiday and had all the time in the world. I was already behind schedule and thought to myself we need queues for tourists and queues for business people. When I got to the front of the queue they had made a mistake with my booking the car was waiting for me at the other Belfast airport, so it took a bit longer to transfer the booking to International, but I was grateful and soon on my way.

Boarding the Airbus
Waiting on the tarmac

I arrived at the offices slightly later than anticipated at 10:15, I had time to catch up with a few people before my face to face with BF at 11:00. The meeting went well and reminded me that phones and video conferencing is all very well but sometimes it works much better face to face, and this was one of those occasions. That meeting was followed by another one which took me up to the time I needed to leave to get to the airport with enough margin to ensure getting the flight. The traffic was a bit heavier than usual and I had time to fill up the rental car on the way.

At the airport I handed back the keys and then sped up as I got into the building to get in front of the two Hen parties and a Stag do that were heading towards security, I did not want to have to queue up behind them if I could help it. As it happened I was in the lounge with plenty of time for a coffee before the gate was called. I passed the time catching up on my emails and making a few phone calls which I had not been able to do whilst in meetings at the office.

The flight was called at gate 17, not one of the usual gates for EZY186 to Luton. It has a strange herding system I have not seen elsewhere, after they have checked your boarding pass you are send to a pen made up of rows of seats bolted together, where you stand and wait while the plane is prepared. The flight left slightly early and we were back in Luton before the scheduled time of 18:15. Traffic was light and I was home just after 19:00, it had been a long day but I had the weekend to look forward to.

Dogs on the loose

Control room at RAF Neatishead Norfolk
Control room at RAF Neatishead Norfolk

We were up and about at a reasonable time of 08:00, and we had a plan. Near by at Neatishead there is an retired RAF station which since the 2nd world war, and through the cold war was a radar station. There is museum there run by volunteers, and it opens at 10:00 with a tour starting at 10:30. We had breakfast then headed out following the sat nav, but because we could not find the (well spell) Neatishead, we set the destination as Horning. Helen then took charge and put the correct spelling in but then we then had to go anti-clockwise round the broad we had been travelling clockwise around!

As it happened we got there at bank on 10:00, and there was plenty of room in the car park. The entrance fee is only £6 but we opted to pay the slightly extra fee and agreed to the gift aid deal, which means that the charity can claim back the tax. A couple arrived behind us and the guy was explaining to the manager that he had been posted at Neatishead twice during hs career in the RAF, both times in the 80’s. The place reminded me a bit of Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, the place would be nothing without the volunteers, but I can imagine that the committees and working groups behind the scenes must be a bit of a nightmare for the only paid employee, the manager.

Douglas Baders bunny at RAF Neatishead Norfolk
Douglas Baders bunny at RAF Neatishead Norfolk

The tour was very interesting and the speakers all very skilled at explaining the way that RADAR works, and how the RAF had perfected and used the technology to monitor the aircraft nearing the United Kingdoms airspace over the years. The first exhibit started with WWII where everything had to be done by hand, with token, and telephone lines being used to push the information up the chain of command. As RADAR improved the systems became slightly more sophisticated  and eventually, crude by today’s standards, computers were introduced. The final exhibit was a bit like the NASA mission control room, but all the large screens on the wall were maintained by operatives writing backwards on glass screens, to relay the information. When the tour was over we looked at most of the other exhibitions all RAF and RADAR related, including one where they explained how space was started to be monitored as satellites became the norm. We finished off by having a toasted sandwich and coffee at the cafeteria, which was find and good value.

My parents headed off home from the museum and Helen and I had a date with and NWT nature reserve at Ranworth Broad, so sat nav programmed we set off. As is tradition in this part of Norfolk you have to pass through Wroxham if are going anywhere, and today was no exception. It was comforting to know that Roys of Wroxham is still thriving in what one can only describe as Norfolk Broads on Sea, I would not be surprised if you an purchase “Kiss me quick” hats at Roys. Wroxham is at the cross roads of quite a few roads and has a bridge that joins the roads in the South to the roads in the north. Add to that the moorings and boat trips you can take from there, and everyone wants to be there on a bank holiday Monday, the place was Sergio Ramos. Luckily we were just passing through.

On the way to the Broad we stopped at the Woodfordes brewery of Wherry Bitter fame, we were hoping to get a take out 4 pint container of beer, but unfortunately they did not have the facilities to do that in the shop, but hey did sell the containers, which could be filled at the pub next door. We purchased a container but decided we would get the beer at the pub near the hut, where we knew we could get Bure Gold and kind of summer ale at 4.3%. We parked up in a conveniently placed field below the church at Ranworth, which was free and just a short walk to the nature reserve. To get to the reserve visitors center there is a board walk, which is just a short walk. The building is floating and there are plenty of viewing points on the upper deck where you can look out over the broad. We inquired about the boat trips and as luck would have it there was one due in 15 minutes, so we paid the £5 a head, members price, and waited.

Ranworth Broad floating visitors center
Ranworth Broad floating visitors center

The boat trip was very relaxing the boat just pootled around the edge of the broad at about 2 mph which the informative volunteer told us about the wildlife and management of the place. We saw quite a few species, even though the winter is the busiest season for the broad, including Great Crested Grebe, Teal, Cormorant, Common  Tern as well as the less common Black Tern. We thought that the boat trip would take us back to the floating visitors center but it took us to the next door broad called Malthouse broad at a pub called the Maltsters inn. From there it was just a short walk back to the car.

We took the opportunity to have a look around he church, which had a tower you could climb up to take a look at the view. The notices warned on many narrow steps so I was left on my own to tackle it. And narrow the steps were then there was a metal m ladder followed by a final set of wooden steps which lead to a hatch onto the roof. Luckily for me we only passed two people on the way up could fit into a doorway as I went past. The view from the top was great because not only was the church on a hill top but the tower was a tall one too. I joined about 8 other people heading down I thought that we would have the strength of numbers where it came to who would back off if we came to and impasse. Luckily we did not but at times it was a bit of a squeeze especially as I had a rucksack on my back.

We had a drink and piece of cake at the church cafe, the cake was a bit disappointing as I was expecting home made cake but the Honey and Cream  was obviously shop bought and frozen. The journey home was short and we seemed to be going the right way as there seemed to be lots of cars going the other way but stuck in several queues. They would probably be at work tomorrow, we wouldn’t.

You may be wondering about the title of the blog post, well on two occasions today we had to give way to dogs wandering onto the road from the drive of two houses, the owners seemingly oblivious to the potential fate of their canine friends. Perhaps it is a Norfolk thing?

Home to Hickling Green for a holiday

Ickworth Hall NT
Ickworth Hall NT

We were up early (well I was) in anticipation of going on holiday, to Hickling Green for a week. We had booked a cottage, and my parents were joining us for the first couple of nights. The cottage would be ours from 16:00 so we had plenty of time to get there, and had left the packing to the morning of the day of departure, however as usual we were all packed and ready to go by 10:00, we had 6 hours to do a 3 hour journey.

The plan was to stop off at RSPB Sandy to buy some binoculars that Helen had promised me for my birthday. It took only just over the hour to get to Sandy the RSPB headquarters. We parked up and it started to chuck it down with rain so we ran to the shop and visitors centre, however we did not stay for long, there was no cafe and the optics selection was not that great and no one seemed interested in selling, I would wait till we are next at Minsmere where they have a bigger selection and knowledgeable staff on hand.

Now we had a dilemma where to stop off next? There were a few options, we fancied making the most of our National Trust membership, Wimpole Hall and Anglesey Abbey were near, too close in fact, but we had visited previously. We settled on Ickworth Hall which would take us via Bury St Edmunds thus avoiding Thetford which I feared would be busy as there was a 40mph long stretch of road which was being widened. Thetford has always been a bit of a bottle neck and we have experienced delays passing through on the way to the North Norfolk coast in the past.

Primroses at Ickworth Hall NT
Primroses at Ickworth Hall NT

We stopped for a paper to distract Helen from my driving, and arrived at Ickworth Hall at about 12:30. The weather was warm with blue skies and white fluffy clouds, perfect spring weather for taking photo’s, although we would have to be wary of possible down pours. The main feature f Ickworth Hall is the massive rotunda building that forms the middle of the hall which had two impressive wings as well, one of which was an up market hotel.

First things first we used the facilities then headed for the restaurant, which was not the usual queue up with a tray and choose your fare variety but a wait here for a table and the be waited on variety. We stood by the wait here sign and despite catching the eye of one of the waitresses stood about dong nothing, it was not until two further groups of people had turned up that we got some attention! We ordered spring vegetable gnocchi (Helen) and smoked salmon and bread (Neil) from a waitress who called Alune who quickly came over and took our order when we looked up from our menu, excellent service. The food tasted great and the coffee was great, the next challenge was to pay, we went over to til,and again despite being noticed by a couple of waitresses no one came over to take our money, until we had waited a few minutes!

We exited via the shop, but Helen forewent the shopping delaying it till later in our visit. Next we went out to the sunny side of the building to get some pictures. There were plenty of Cowslips and Primroses under some Magnolia bushes which kept me distracted while Helen smoked the evil weed. The gardens were well maintained, and manicured around the back of the house, and around the front the landscape was more parkland but there were thousands of daffodils in flower to add some foreground to my pictures.

Magnolia at Ickworth Hall NT
Magnolia at Ickworth Hall NT

The house was quite interesting it seems that it had been built in phases over the generations as each generation fell on good and bad times. The rotunda must have cost a bit with all the curved components required to build it. Helen and I speculated how they might of done the floor boards were the cut curved or cuts straight then bent to shape. I reckon they were bent to shape it would have been very difficult to get the curve correct and I guess you would have ended up bending them a bit anyway to make them fit with the others.

We left the hall at just after 14:00 and the sat nav was predicting and arrival at Hickling Green at 15:57 perfect. The drive was pleasant especially with the Golfs adaptive cruise control dealing with the throttle pedal. We passed through territory that was familiar to me as we got closer to and passed Norwich. We were soon following signs for the broads and arrived at Hickling Green at 15:58 not a bad prediction by the sat nav.

View of field from Hickling village
View of field from Hickling village

The cottage we had rented from Norfolk Country Cottages was well appointed and equipped, we would be very comfortable for our week. After settling in we took a stroll down to the broad at Hickling itself and took in the area on the way. We decided that many of the houses were weekend cottages but there also seemed to be a really good sense of community, with many notices for clubs and society meetings and events going on.

That evening we went to the Greyhound Pub to eat, we had booked a table but judging but we probably had not needed to. The fare was pub food mainly fried but that suited me fine, Helen and I had veggie burgers dad had seafood medley and mum had some chicken dish which to her surprise came in a bun. Helen and I decided not to have a dessert but I ended up eating half of dads lemon meringue sundae which was really tasty, you really can’t go wrong with cream, ice cream and meringue with a lemon sauce.

After getting up early we were in bed early too!

Heathrow airport

Sunset over Heathrow
Sunset over Heathrow

For reasons I won’t go into I find myself at Heathrow airport terminal 1 late Sunday afternoon waiting for a flight to Belfast, so as is traditional I thought I world share my thoughts worth you, in a compare and contrast with the experience I am used to from using Luton airport, sorry that’s London (Luton) airport. The journey to Heathrow involves a slightly longer drive but by motorway, compared to a country route, but at the time of day that I would normally travel I am not at the that it would make much of a difference. I for of the M25 at junction 14 because my satnav told me to but it was a bit tricky funding the car park from that direction, next time I will take the M4 spur route as the route is simpler. There were plenty ofs parking spaces and the bus pick up was prompt. The cost to park was very much more costly than Luton but I could not get in the parkway hotel parking as they were booked out.

Next step security it seemed packed but they run a very slick operation and the queues just move constantly forward and in no time I was scanned and sent on my way. At Luton I would have done priority lane through security, so I guess they are both different but I would not choose one over the other. The security is for more sophisticated at LHR as security take a photo then when your gate is called they take you to another security section before you are allowed towards the departure gate and they check you against the photo they took earlier. Strangely they had not up to that point actually checked my ID but having said that would it have made any difference if they had checked who I was. I guess the airline will check my identity checker as I board the plane. Thinking about it that is also the car at Luton, it is only Easyjet who check that you are who you say you are, all security want to know is do you have a valid boarding card. Although I missed the flight being called and did my best to wander and amble along to the gate to kill time I was one of the first to reach the gate area. They were free newpapers, mail and independent but they had run out of independent then I noticed that the dispenser had a display copy under plastic on the front, result I had a paper to read on the plane. And need it I did.

Fire engines and aircraft
Fire engines and aircraft

Once on board and seated the captain explained the 15 minute delay because the deck was delayed from terminal 5. During the announcement he also mentioned that traffic control had informed him of an indeterminate delay due to an event. 10 minutes later the plane next to us was surrounded by fire engines with blue lights flashing. The passengers were disembarked on to a coach and firemen went the steps. I saw no smoke and we eventually taxied off the stands a bit late then the plane seemed to take ages to find its place in the queue to take off. Finally we took off about an hour and twenty minutes late, not very encouraging.

One of the benefits of flying BA is that you get complimentary drinks, I had a Tiger beer and a packet of crisps, although the packet of crisps only had about 8 crisps in it as it was a very small packet. The cabin staff really had their work for out serving up drinks then clearing them away, they literally serve up the drinks from two trolleys with two staff on each trolley working flat out, then start clearing up straight away. It is a good job they serve small drinks and crisps we would not have been able to finish them otherwise.

There was no queue at Avis hire car, so I grabbed the keys to a black Audi A3 and hit the road. Apart from some confusing junctions in the centre of Belfast my journey is all on the motorway till I get to the other end, and by 21:00 I was booked into my room at the hotel. It was too late to eat so I went to the bar and had a quick bottle of beer and a packet of peanuts.

I slept well (unusual for me in a strange bed) and was up and having breakfast by 07:30, then it was off to work for a series of meetings. The most important being catching up with colleagues who are working on the project to merge 3 different Sage Line 500 databases, into one trading database. Sometimes it really helps to meet up with people in person things seem to actually get done, there and then rather than agreeing to do something after a phone call has finished.

Back at the hotel I had the cauliflower, chickpea, and spinach curry with pilau rice, then retired to my room to watch Eastenders then got to sleep early for another day at the office. I left the office at 15:30 to get the 18:05 to Heathrow. The traffic in Belfast was quite heavy so compared to getting to International it was more tedious, but this must be weighted against the frequency of the flights. BA and Aer Lingus fly to Heathrow from City airport so again there are pro and cons. On the way I needed to fill the hire car the easiest way to do that is to go past the airport to the local Sainsbury’s or Tesco then double back it probably adds about 10 minutes to the journey.

I grabbed a cheese and tomato toastie from the Lavazza Expression coffee/food establishment and settled in for a 30 minute wait for the flight to be called. We taxied out to the runway then sat around for a while the captain announced that the washout was for to them waiting for a download from head office regarding those balance and trim, bit eventually we took off. As we approached London the captain further announced that we had mace good time bit for top traffic we would have to circle for a while but expected us to land at 19:25 which I believe was on time, with a fair wind I would be home by 20:30 which is a reasonable time given that I was travelling.

Tomorrow I would be back again at terminal 1 to pick up a colleague flying in to join me visiting a potential supplier!

(Note from Ed: I wish we could have left the original text, I have never heard a panther being disembarked from a BA passenger flight before)

My week commuting to London

Euston Station with Learning Tree building
Euston Station with Learning Tree building

This week I am commuting to London for four straight days to attend a course in London a at the Learning Tree training centre just outside Euston, which means the travel should be really easy. I purchased 4 return tickets but latest wondered if it might have been cheaper to get a 7 day season ticket, which I’d what I did for the parking. Registration for the course on the first day was between 0800 and 0845 so I aimed for the 0728 train from Tring which takes 37 minutes. There were plenty of parking spaces, I was unsure what to do about displaying a parking ticket, the booking said they recognised.number plates but to be on the safe side I left the receipt on the dash board. I was disappointed I could not get a paper at the station, there’s an opportunity of someone there. The train arrived on time and pretty empty, I find my style a window seat. What is the course you ask? The title is something like SQL server business intelligence, it covers the use of SQL in a BI and the user of all the things that come worth it that have confusing acronyms, such as SSAS, MDX, SSRS etc etc.

The train arrived on time I bought a paper and took the short walk to the training centre. Registration was easy I was given a name tag and a folded cards with my name on it for the desk. Next stop was the code lounge for a leisurely coffee. They have fancy machines capable of doing most things a barista could dream up, I chose the latte machiato.

The course stayed slowly by explaining all the usual house keeping stiff and a summary of what the whole course would be about, then we got into the nitty gritty, which for me was covering some old ground but it was a good importantly to cover all the terms involved. Later on there were practical exercises convert the stuff we had covered. Breaks and lunch we followed by more of the same. Timing was very precise and I was able to get away at the scheduled 1630, my train was at 1654, so I hung around and dealt with some emails. I got a window on the train and selected in once it left on time.

Speedtest at train station
Speedtest at train station

I was home before 1800 and had found the commute quite relaxing. OK it was a longer than normal day (2hrs longer) but I had had an opportunity to read the paper, and listened to some podcasts. So first impressions are I would much rather have a local job but if it came to it it would not be the end of the world. Lets see what tomorrow has to bring.

Day two I left a little later before leaving the house, through Tring a passed a fellow commuter on his Brompton folding bicycle. I had noticed him the day before on the platform folding his bike like he had done it a thousand times before, today I thought maybe he was leaving it a bit too late. He arrived on the station platform 5 with coffee in hand about 30 seconds before the train, just enough time to do the folding routine. I am actually surprised at the number of people turning up on the train in bicycle gear sometimes with and sometimes without a bike. Clearly many of them park a bike at Euston and use it for the transit from the station to the office.

I thought I would try out the wifi hot spot features of my HTC Desire X, and was pleasantly surprised. You just select the program set the SSID name and a password then start the hotspot. As I write I have uploaded this post to the server. A speedtest from the moving train revealed 1.23Mb down but 0 up i will do some more testing throughout the day and share the results. I will need to keep an eye on the battery usage, as yesterday I had run out of batteries by the time I got to Tring. Last night I uninstalled a data monitor program that had used 20% of the battery power that day, I want to check my data usage but not at the price of battery, had it been in the 1-2% range then fair enough. I also invested in one of those battery packs that allow you to charge your phone a few times, I think it will come in really useful. It is a far better idea to get one of those than extended batteries to fit a phone because one they will charge any device and two they hold far more juice Han an extended battery the one I chose was an 8000mAh which is over four times the power of my phones battery.

Arrived in London on time and headed over to the training centre. I was there by 0810 which gave me plenety of time to sit around and drink coffee and chat with the other students on the course.

Day three weather much warmer the snow that had been lying around is melting. Got the usual 0728 from Tring my timing was better this morning only a five minute wait, I guess you get better the more you do it. I imagine that it is quite a popular rain as it is quick 37 minutes, and it is not crowded, I have only seen the odd individual having to stand, that is odd as in number not odd as in peculiar. The course got far more difficult today we were doing MDX queries and KPIs which involve more than just dragging and dropping stuff about, it is a bit like SQL queries but different and it takes a while to get your head round it all.

Japanese Ramen Neil style
Japanese Ramen Neil style

I have learnt the hard way that when you commute you need to have everything you need with you when you leave the house, this morning I had a flat phone because the charger has failed, so I put a USB lead in my bag an would grab the charger bit on the way out, but forgot. I had to buy a charger at Euston at £14.99, and charge when I could out in the coffee area. I also managed to forget half my lunch, if it was at the office I could have just popped home and sorted it out but today I will just have to have more biscuits to keep me going!

I managed to get on the 1634 again, the course usually finishes with a practical exercise and if you get it right first time you can get away a couple of minutes before 1630, then you have about 6 minutes to get to platform 7, for the train. I must say that the trains are as smooth as you would want, but the seats are a bit squashed up, if you have someone sat next to you, but the journey is at most 40 minutes so not such a hardship.

I have been inspired by our trip to Japan, and have regularly been making bowls of Japanese noodles. They are really quick to make, just boil some water and chop up some vegetables. Then fry the vegetables as you cook the noodles (5 minutes one noodle wrap per person) add in some Japanese sauces and some chilli. I optionally add reconstituted mushrooms and some prawns. Once the noodles are cooked add some Miso to the water and pour into the bowls, top off with the vegetables, mushrooms, prawns, and some sliced spring onions. It takes all of 15 minutes to make, but is a bit messy as you have to do it all quick, so the clearing out takes a bit longer than normal.

Day four and final day, got up a little later and left the house just a smidgen later, but still had a 10 minute wait before the train arrived. I think the ideal would be to get there after the 0722 and before the 0728. Today we finish the course by covering off odd topics that do not fit in to the other main topics so far covered, such as data mining forecasting, tabular models, etc. At 1500 we review and then there is an opportunity to take a multiple choice question exam, they call it free but you essentially pay for it when you pay for the course. With any luck I will be away early enough to get the train before the 1634.

The course was all done by 1500 a couple who were not taking the exam left, we had a quick break before the exam. There were three different exams handed out to stop cheating, and the answers were filled in on a sheet, which had blobs to fill in like on a lottery card. It is a very American thing I believe, when I was at a school with a American curriculum I remember having to fill out similar forms for what. I think they we’re describes as SAT tests, and when we got the results they were compared to the whole of the USA, I would love to know how I faired, perhaps my parents still have the results in a box in the attic?

The exam was quite tough, because it expected to answer quite a few questions asking for very specific technical terms, rather than testing your judgement about what we had learnt. Back in the office if i did not know the technical name for something I would just google it, does to matter that I don’t know the name for something the important thing is that I know that a feature exists and that I can use it. I got through the 40 questions fairly quickly, but not as fast as some I guess I was average. There was then nothing else to do than get the train, I managed to get the 1524 to Milton Keynes, which was a fairly fast one calling at no stations before Watford junction, so I would be home before 1700, which would be a bonus as I have some more travelling to do later.

New year at the Eels Foot Inn

View from Eelsfoot Inn Eastbridge Suffolk
View from Eelsfoot Inn Eastbridge Suffolk

We are off to the Eels Foot pub in Eastbridge Suffolk for New Year. The plan was to spend three nights there and leave on News Years day. We left the house at a reasonable time and stopped off on route to visit my aunt. We arrived at Minsmere by 14:30 and did a quick route towards the wooded area and island mere before heading of to Adleburgh for a quick look round the shops.

We got to the pub at 17:30 and checked in, this time we were in room 3 on the first floor with a view over the pub garden. N&H arrived early evening and we had something to eat and caught up over a few beers.

We are up at a reasonable 08:30 for breakfast, then we headed out for a day on foot H had a bad tooth so we weren’t sure how far we would get,but we headed towards Dunwich heath, on the inland path because we had heard that the path to the sluice bushes was water logged and wellington boots were needed.

The Ship Inn Dunwich Suffolk
The Ship Inn Dunwich Suffolk

The weather was gorgeous and it was great to be out in the sun after the recent bad weather that had kept us indoors. The chip hut at Dunwich was shut for the winter so we went to the Ship Inn which was packed to the gunnels (did you see what I did there?) So we had to take a table in the garden which was not ideal on a sunny but cold and windy day. There was a queue at the bar, we got drinks and ordered for bowls of chips which considering how busy the pub was came fairly quickly.

After a rest we headed back towards coastguards cottages for a coffee then we headed through the reserve of Minsmere the through the reed beds to the Island Mere hide, by which time it was getting dark, and all you could see were the Moorhens  and Coots. The walk back from there to the pub was dark but even so we passed two or three sets of people walking the other way. We had another quiet evening in the pub.

The weather the next day promised to be wet and windy but when the day dawned the forecasts were good up until midday so rather than shopping we walked to Dunwich Heath and then back through the reserve, but where possible we tried to keep on different paths. We tried to get to the north east hide but the path was flooded and Wellingtons would have been needed, so we went to the north hide. There was not much to see other than the usual ducks. Helen thought she had seen a Smew and it was confirmed when we asked at the visitors centre. At the cafe we all had a coffee and something to eat, then we headed straight back as it was getting late and H&N wanted to pop to the Yoxford Antique centre, as it was not open on the 1st January.

Grey and windy North Sea view
Grey and windy North Sea view

New Years Eve in the pub started quiet, we hit the bar at 18:30 to ensure a table for something to eat, I suspected that I would not last till midnight. We had some more great pub grub, then chewed the cud for a few hours. I retired at 23:00 the others stayed till just after midnight. I did not get much sleep for a bit as our room was on the pub side of the building. There were fireworks at 00:00.

The next morning we had agreed with Julian the landlord to have breakfast at 09:30, as it happens he had been up since 07:30 and had not got to bed until 05:00, we did not envy him having to push on through, the pub was open all day and they expected it to be busy as the sun was out and it looked like it would be a great day weather wise.

Helen and I had to head off as we were meeting up with my brother and parents as we had not managed to get together over Christmas. The drive using the tourist route to Haverhill was great. We met up and swapped presents then Helen and I headed home.

We both agreed a pub is a great place to spend a few days at New Year especially the Eels Foot Inn in Eastbridge in Suffolk.

Tokyo, Japan the journey home

Turd topped Tokyo building
Turd topped Tokyo building

Had a goods night sleep woke up with plenty of time to spare, so had an opportunity to catch up with the Japanese soaps on the TV and make a coffee. The taxi was booked for 07:30 we were in reception at 07:20 time to check out, we had not spent a dime at the hotel facilities, at £20 for breakfast who blames us. Helen popped to our favourite convenience store to pick up some bun sticks for breakfast on the train. The taxi was waiting so we left the hotel at 07:25 for the 10 minute journey to the station.

The station was fairly clear, and we were down at platform 4 by 07:40 for the 08:00 train. I had some credit left on my SUICA card so I used one of the vending machines that are everywhere. I chose what appeared to be a black coffee one. It came out hot which was unexpected, so bought another one for Helen one that looked white, however Helen reminded me that no caffeine was allowed before the flight to help the relaxation process. We had plenty of time to spare at the airport in fact the check desks had not opened. After a short wait premium economy were called forward, and we checked in without any hassle.

Helen insisted on going to a smoking room at the entrance to the terminal for what she thought would be her last cigarette in Japan, whilst I busied myself getting more footage for the Japan video. Security and immigration, where they checked that we had left the country, followed they were swift and efficient, Narita does not seem to be a very busy airport but it does have extensive facilities if only Heathrow was so easy to use.

Cat from Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
Cat from Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

We had and and a half to waste in the terminal building so we wandered around and looked at the relatively few shops compared to other airports I have frequented. Helen found the only bar, which was more of a small food establishment, to have a glass of wine, while I went and had a look at the origami shop, and managed to buy some colourful origami paper the remaining credit on my SUICA and some loose change, the final odd yen went into the UNICEF collection box. Helen was please to find a couple of smoking rooms close to our gate. They are quite strange places, there is a sliding door to get you in which closes to seal the smokers in, then there are two or three columns punctuated with an ashtray the continuation of the column above the ashtray serves as an extractor for the smoke, we wouldn’t want them the breath any in would we.

The very cold north of Scandinavia
The very cold north of Scandinavia

The flight was called bang on schedule and we settled down with a small glass of champagne, while we waited for us all to get on board and the plane to be loaded, the plane left the gate about 5 minutes early. After a smooth take off, which took longer the the small planes I am used to, we hit some mild turbulence as we rose through the clouds. Once at cruising flight the entertainment system came on but I was disappointed to see that it was not an on demand system like we had on the way here but a scheduled watch with a choice, just like watching tv. Then as I typed away on my iPad I was handed a Samsung galaxy tab to watch movies and stuff on demand, which is better than on the way here as the video quality is better.

Meal one consisted of pasta with a tomato and pepper sauce, with a salad on he side, followed by apple strudel and custard. Helen reckoned that the meal represented more portions of fruit and veg than she had eaten all week in Japan, I went one portion further and ate Helen’s apple strudel, which had two portions, apples and sultanas. I watched a couple of films one called Savages which had John Travolta in and was about a couple of drug deals who get in too deep, it was quite violent. The other film was Lawless which was set in prohibition times and was about bootleggers which I enjoyed. I got three quarters of the at through a documentary about Bob Marley when the battery ran out on the tablet and it refused to charge. A new power supply was supplied and I was able to finish off the documentary which was very interesting, I have always liked his music but I didn’t know much about the man, but I do now.

Pocari Sweat my favorite
Pocari Sweat my favorite

Some details about the flight. First we headed north up Japan then turned west just south of the Dzhugdzhur mountains over the Aldan plateau, then south of Verkhoykanschiy. Next there was a couple of thousand miles of nothing no towns marked on the map display. We were so far north that we were flying where the sun does not rise. Eventually we hit the very north of Scandinavia and as we turned south the sun appeared again and we were able to see some land. The coast looks very cold, and has very sparse habitation a real wilderness.

What were the highlights of the trip? The thing I will remember the most is the earthquake, and the little noodle bar we were in when it happened, the locals just shrugged it off but for me it was a once in a life time experience. Shrines and lots of them, it was really nice to get out of Tokyo for the day to Kamasuta and see at lead a little bit of the country side. The transport system in my opinion second to none, it just has to be that way how else are they going to transport such a volume of people without it all just grinding to a halt, I am sure there are places where at least 6 systems are layered on top of each other, I saw three layers of trains over a road above a tube station that servers two lines. The cyclists here seem to be a law unto them selves they cycle the right way and the wrong way down 6 lane high streets when they are not cycling on the pavement, all while holding and umbrella, talking on the phone and smoking. The friendliness and politeness of the Japanese themselves always trying to out bow you and never accepting to be the first through a doorway, always smiling. In the country on the little walk we did the all the people we passed said hello. The brown eared bulbuls which were everywhere especially where there were Ginhko trees with their fruits that smelt like dog poo.

The flight continued down the west coast of Scandinavia then across the North Sea then in over Suffolk where a few 360 degree spins were needed to get into the correct landing slot. Then we were back in blighty. Immigration and customs were a doddle after a very short wait for luggage. The taxi was only a few minutes away so I grabbed some bread for breakfast and we headed home.

So that’s it the end of a great weeks holiday, in a far away place.

Four on the Richter scale

Around imperial palace
Around imperial palace

Following on from the last entry. Once we had unpacked etc we decided to have a quick snooze, before going out for a bite to eat. Two hours later I wake up really tired and struggle to get up and have a shower. Helen is awake once I had showered and we agree we should get out and have something to eat, to force ourselves onto local time if we slept at 17:00 we would be up and awake at some ridiculously early time the next day.

We headed back to a street where we had earlier seen some food establishments, and after some debate we decided on a little place with pictures of food that looked veggie. We sat down and the girl running the place bought us a glass of water each and handed us a menu in English, no pictures but the descriptions we good enough. Whilst we consulted the menu there was a movement much like mild turbulence you get on a plane. The locals expressed surprise but no panic the girl came out and quickly changed the channel to a news channel. Clearly we had experienced out first earthquake, the news channel was suggesting 4 in the Richter scale, a quick look in the Internet suggests it was M4.8 http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/usc000dxm5#summary the news channel stayed with the story for a while showing recordings of camera shaking from various places in Tokyo. After about twenty minutes they moved onto the usual stories but the quake was in the headlines but was not the main topic of conversation.

We had a rice mushroom and egg dish with a small cup of miso on the side, cost was 2,000yen which included 2 large beers. Suitably refreshed we headed back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

Flight VS900 to Tokyo Narita

VS900 To Tokyo
VS900 To Tokyo

The day has finally arrived we are off to Tokyo for a week. Didn’t have the best night sleep in anticipation of the exciting week to come. Got up at about 06:30 and spend a leisurely time having breakfast and finishing off the packing. We are allowed two 23kg bags in Premium Economy we both managed one bag each both less than 14Kg’s. Butlers taxi was five minutes early and we were soon on our way, strangely we stopped for diesel at Watford on the way. The weather was foggy but Heathrow was bathed in sunshine. While Helen was having her last fag before Japan I busied myself taking videos of my self. The plan is to create a video montage of very short (most less than a second) clips of video of our trip. The results should be really good I got the idea from another video on YouTube where a guy had done a tour of Europe, most of the frames consist of the person centre picture but the wide angle lens of the GoPro takes in a large area of background and the surrounding view.

Checking in was a breeze there were no queues at the bag drop, security took some time but the queues kept moving, there is not priority boarding like there is at London Luton. One through security you enter a shopper paradise with many ways found to part you from your money. Looking in Dixons it was a crying shame that white canon lens worth over a thousand pounds were there to be picked up and fondled, no lens cap on either end, there was smudges all over the lens! Note to self I wonder what happens to the lens when the shops close etc is it possible to pick up a bargain?

Around imperial palace
Around imperial palace

Helen grabbed a glass of wine to calm her already calm nerves, whilst I purchased a pillow for the flight. I found a memory foam one for £14 we’ll see how well it works. Our flight was soon called at gate 20 so we wandered on down. There were no queues at the gate and we were soon sat down in the lounge waiting for boarding. Complimentary magazines and newspapers were supplied. We were only sat for about 5 minutes when we were called to board.

The seats in premium are very spacious with plenty of leg room even when the person in front has their seat reclined. We got ourselves comfortable whilst the ground crew delayed our departure shift cargo around in the hold. We had the pleasure of the preflight drink, followed by the safety briefing. Soon we were taxiing out to the runway and taking off, heading out over Clacton in Essex, then across south Scandinavia, then a long stretch over Russia, before reaching the Pacific and then Japan.

We had a choice of dozens of choices of films, TV program’s and music to chose from the in flight entertainment system all provided on demand. I fancied Dark Knight Rising which we missed when it was on at the cinema, but first it was time for pre-dinner drinks then a veggie Thai curry. Suitably refreshed and after turning down a night cap and coffee we tried to get some sleep. Not before going to he loo. On her return Helen managed to catch her head phones plug as she sat down and snapped it clean off in the socket, luckily she was able to extract the end of the plug otherwise it would have been silent movies only for the rest of the flight.

I felt surprising tired at 00:00 Tokyo time, perhaps my body clock had shifted in anticipation. I suspect not you will have to watch the blog for and update. As it happens we have been preparing for the flight by getting up at 05:00 and going to bet at 07:30 for the past week. My theory is that idle can shift our sleep even a few hours then the 9 hours time difference will be just a little bit easier to adjust to. If it does it’ll let you know, and the. Right a best selling self help book on the subject. As after all I will be an expert after one flight!

Two artists in Chiyoda park
Two artists in Chiyoda park

I take my hat off to anyone who can sleep on and aeroplane even the people in Upper Class who get a bed. You can recline and shut your eyes but sleep is something that just escapes me. Having said that I did spend a lot of time relaxing with my eyes closed. Does that count as sleep? Some time in the middle of the night we were handed a hot pastry with mature cheddar in it but it tasted of nothing to me, I had read somewhere that you lose your sense of taste on a long flight, I had! An hour or so later a jug of water and glasses was bought into the cabin. At around 07:00 Tokyo time the sun started to rise and a fantastic landscape could be seen below.

We were in a very cold part of the world, the land scape was plains, pine covered mountains, with the odd frozen lake and rivers. We were over a place in Russia just over a corner of China. The city was called Khabarovsk, it must be cold it is north of Vladivostok. Every so often we would pass over signs of human habitation, fields covered in snow, roads, pipelines, I think I even saw a skiing resort with one oft and three runs down. The sky had that classic white land, rising to the blue sky through yellow and pink.

At about 07:30 someone wandered through the cabin in a dressing gown, with his tooth brush! He was a row in front of us and a few seats over he must have got changed into his lounge wear sometime in the night, I would guess he is a seasoned traveller. Soon it was time breakfast was to be served, I could smell the frying of bacon and eggs. Not really I believe they just microwave or bake to get the prepare pared breakfasts hot. We were in for a treat some sort of scrambled egg mushrooms and tomato dish for us.

Tokyo skyline view
Tokyo skyline view

Breakfast was cleared and the staff encouraged us to get ready for landing. Helen and I had managed to trash completely the floor area around our two seats. Once off the plane immigration, luggage collection and customs was a breeze. The airport seemed deserted and there was hardly a queue at immigration, where we had our passports checked and scanned and it photo and finger prints taken. We arrived at the luggage carousel and our bags were more or less waiting. Then we were waved through customs. We sought out a place to buy a Narita Express ticket into Tokyo Station. A kind man pointed out to us that our best bet was to buy a combined return ticket which included a preloaded money card for the metro. It was to be the first test of using a credit card and it was a breeze, we had to sign rather than use a pin. It cost 11,000 yen for the whole lot that’s less than £100 so £25 each way each and we had two cards with 2,000 yen of metro credit on each.

The train left at 10:15 and took about one hour to get to Tokyo station. It was really great to be in a different landscape which we had a good view of from the large train window. At the station I made my first cash purchase, a lighter for Helen, the we found the exit and the very well organised taxi rank. We had prepared a google translation of “please take us to Hotel Niwa” and it worked a treat he driver instantly figured where wanted to go. The ride cos us £10 a bargain.

We were too early to check in so we left our bags and went for a walk towards Chiyoda park where the imperial palace is. It is a lovely park and we both agreed we should return for second look. The sun was shining and there was a bit of a chill in the air. We got back to the Hotel at 14:30 our room was not ready but they put us in one that was not, Helen promptly fell a sleep while I typed up this blog entry.

The Olympic hangover

Easyjet aircraft and Jet Tanker
Easyjet aircraft and Jet Tanker

I set the video for the closing ceremony as I was off to Belfast in the morning. I arrived at Luton a bit later than usual, a work colleague Richard was on the car park bus but had not invested in priority boarding so we went out separate ways at security. In the deep departure lounge there were quite a few people who must have been at the closing ceremony the evening before, they still has faced and hair in thirty national colours. I had time for a pain au raisin and an espresso before the flight was called.

Unusually the gate was number 6 a gate I had never used before, it meant we would be getting a bus to the plane, much to the disappointment of the speedie boarders. The plane was quite full they had to do a call over the tannoy to get a mother and small child seated. The papers were full of reminisces about the last two weeks they were some interesting bronze, silver and gold prizes for unusual categories such as best hair cut and best use of a cardboard tube!

I think the Olympics have gone on for long enough now, it seems that for the past two weeks all I have done is watch sporting events on the tv. Yesterday Helen and I went for a walk around Cholesbury the first time we had done so since the Olympics started, but even then we decided we should be back to see the mountain bike race. Whilst out on the walk I was bitten by a fly which managed to draw blood now as I wrote this I have noticed a red welt on the calf of my right leg. Still it was really nice to get out into the woods and observe nature. There were not many birds about, but we did find two large stripped feathers which we thought might be taking edge feathers of either a Buzzard or a Red Kite. There was a hint of autumn top come the oral leaves were starting to lose those deep green for a more yellowed green.

London 2012 Olympic Park
London 2012 Olympic Park

However I digress, at work I had a few meetings and moved a few projects on. Then it was back to the hotel for a something to eat and some internet surfing, however the WiFi was not giving out UP address and the receptionist could only shrug her shoulders and offer sympathy.

An early breakfast was followed by an early arrival at the office, and another day of the same as the day before. I left the office at 14:45 and headed back to the airport, the weather had improved and the sun was shining. At the airport security was slightly busier than normal, and I was luck enough to have my bag picked out for more scrutiny than the x-ray machine would allow, my asthma inhaler had caused some confusion.

I had 30 minutes to spare before the flihgt was called so I fired up my Android phone and surfed the internet. It seems that the phone works best when it is plugged into the usb post of the laptop, I suspect this is because the phone shuts services down when on battery only and so after about two minutes the wifi hot spot disappears.

I needed my flight to be on time today as we have cinema tickets at the Rex booked to see the film/documentary called The Last Projectionist which is about the decline of the need for real projectors and people to run them in cinemas these days. The Rex in Berkhamsted features in the film (well it did in the trailer anyway).

Whilst sat typing this a grey passenger jet has just taxi’d out to the run way, i’m pretty sure it was an RAF Lockhead Tristar. Whilst it was taxiing there were fire engines with lights flashing standing by, I am not sure if that is standard procedure for the RAF, but the fire engines disappeared once the plane had taken off.

The Queens Barge at London 2012 Olympic Park
The Queens Barge at London 2012 Olympic Park

Pretty non-eventful flight managed to do the soduku from The Guardian classed as moderate. Weather in Luton was sunny and fine. After a short wait for the bus I was back to my car and ready to drive to Berkhamsted. Easy when you have Satnav you say, well it turned out to be quite an interesting trip. There is no main road to Berkhamsted from Luton, so the directions were via some very small roads, surprisingly I did not meet another car on the very narrow roads. I did howvere see loads of places for nice walks. I got to The Rex in good time and got myself a bottle of fizzy water and some chilli nuts.

The film was called The Last Projectionist which I thought was about the decline of the job of the projectionists in cinemas, it was in a way but it was more about the history of projectionists from the point of view The Electric the first cinema in this country and is still a working cinema in Birmingham. There were not many people in The Rex but I enjoyed the film, which feature the owner of The Rex.