Going Up North not so grim

Snack stop view
Snack stop view

Spent most of last night packing, the phrase “Travelling Light” does not apply in this household. Hopefully the Mrs won’t need the thermal layer she packed. Up with the birds (noisy b*ggers) and managed to fit said luggage into the car boot, which must have Tardis like qualities.

Headed off at 8am for the M40. Had an interesting moment on the A41 near Waddesdon when a large deer ran across the road. We’ve started our holiday bird list, so far we have red kite, rook, wood pigeon, blackbird, magpie, buzzard and kestrel. Heading for the M6 toll in the hope that it might be less busy than going through Birmingham. On the M6 toll hardly any other cars what a fab road. Best £4.80 I’ve spent since, well I last spent £4.80 I suppose. Podcast update: out of the 1300 Neil downloaded for the journey we are on no 2, first Andrew Neil now Anthony Horowitz. Blog update: its been a busy month, 599 hits so far, helped by the 60 odd hits via the RSPB retweet of the Minsmere visitor centre pic. Neil also tells me have reached a nice round no of posts since the blog started, 512 (note from driving Ed to non techies, that’s 2 to the power of 9 or in binary 10000).

View from holiday hut
View from holiday hut

OK thanks for that Ed, back to my in car ramblings. The bad news folks, is that we have 165 miles to go and this is the in flight entertainment. I’ll try for some motorway pics to liven it up a bit but don’t say I did’nt warn you. Sorry but its either posting here or the lorry alphabet game and I can’t face that just yet. Just be grateful we’re only travelling to the Lakes, if we were on the Dumball you’d have my waffle all the way to Odessa! Good luck to all the Dumballers by the way, great adventure, great cause.

We turned off the M6 at junction 36, and the road just climbed for some time. Soon we passed through Windermere, then stopped for diesel and a pee in Ambleside. Then we turned off the A591 onto the A593 a much smaller and twisted road. We found somewhere to park for some sandwiches and espresso from our trusty flask.Whilst sat under a shady tree we saw a Jay and heard a Cuckoo. Embarrassingly I managed to fall off, over backwards from the rock I was sitting on and landed in a pile a couple of metres down the slope. Only my pride was broken!

Next we had a dilemma either up and over Wrynode and Hard Knot passes or the long way round. Helen was all for the long way round but being the driver was not in the best of negotiating positions. The road is single track with either wall or drop at the side, and to boot it is the steepest road in England. I thought the steepest road was in Devon at Porlock?

The holiday hut
The holiday hut

The road is interesting and probably not to be tackled in the dark or winter (when access is banned). Helen managed to get some shaky video between “sharp” intakes of breath. At times you could see only as far as the next bend then you got views as it twisted on up/down for a mile or two. At one point we spotted and large bird of prey, probably and Eagle of some sort, it was too wide to be a Buzzard. Without having to stop too many times we were over the passes and down into the valley, Helen could finally take a breath.

The weather was scorching but there was a brisk wind, to take the edge off it. We got a bit lost finding the hut, mainly because we ignored the advice and went over the passes, Helen was having to do the directions backwards whilst reading a map. Tom Tom was also a bit confused as it knew we were near but not on the right road, perhaps it could see a gravel track to get us there? We only lost five minutes and soon found the place, sat in the side of the hill with views up the valley towards Langdale Pokes.

The next door neighbour made us feel welcome and the owners soon turned up to let us in. The hut is well appointed with a big bed, so we should be great for the next week. We unpacked the car and had a sit down, before taking a stroll out to discover Eskdale Green.

We took the cross country route via foot paths, saw Yellowhammer, Swallow, Robin, Sparrow, and Buzzard. We found the well stocked village shop so we won’t go hungry and we now know where the pubs are. I write this from The Bower House Inn beer garden with a pint of Bower House Ale and an IPA. There are a couple of veggie choices on the menu so we should be ok for eating out later in the week. Suitably refreshed we headed back to the hut to eat the homemade curry we had bought with us.

In summary we had a great journey up with no delays, the accomodation is spot on, the local pub serves good beer, and the weather looks fine for at least 3-4 days. Things are looking good.

Priority boarding chaos.

wing over high cloud cover
wing over high cloud cover

After a great weekend with glorious sunny warm weather, I was surprised to see the forecasts for Monday and Tuesday, in Portadown, minimum temperature of -2 night and rain during the day! I had to get my winter coat out.

There was madness going on at the airport, I had to queue to buy a priority boarding ticket, if you could have seen the queue to get through security it was well worth the £4, the queue was longer than I have ever seen it, right down the escalators round the and about 40 yards back into the hall in a queue about 6 deep. The golden ticket got me swiftly through, but not before the woman in the lift who had been extolling the virtues of the priority queue and how organised she was pre-booking at £3, spent 5 minutes looking through her folder for here priority proof of purchase and boarding card not very organised!

There was some confusion as we were herded by the Easyjet queue system because the queuing poles and tapes naturally sent people (without advice from the Easyjet staff) down the special assistance section, which soon became full. There were quite a few confused faces at the beginning until everyone got the right idea and the normal people queue, started to fill up. Note I now consider my self a normal person, no speedy boarding for me anymore, who needs it? I was at the front of the normal people and would get a seat towards the back of the plane, which according to my good friend Rory is statistically the section where most plane crash survivors are seated.

Fish, chips and mushy peas
Fish, chips and mushy peas

I had a twitter conversation with @mike_lambert who seems to spend his life at Luton and Schipol airports, apparently the priority boarding was closed, even the machine I found open, in the past, I must make a point to save a £ and pre-book the priority lane in future, it is only going to get worse through the summer.

During the flight there was some confusion over our itinerary when the pilot announced that we were over the Isle of Wight, a few minutes later he came back on the tannoy to put our minds at rest we were over the Isle of Man. Not sure who was the astute person who noticed that, I some how filter the messages, and the details of what is bellow is filtered out. Perhaps I should learn to listen more carefully, one day I could miss an important detail?

An uneventful drive to the office and an equally ordinary day at the office was followed by a short drive to the Hotel. After the busy weekend it would be and early night, so I had a shower and went down to the eatery, for some sustenance.

My choice was Traditional Fish & Chips with mushy peas, and it was delivered in the usual swift fashion, where I swear the chef can mind read because the food is clearly cooked to order but always very quickly. Perhaps they have an army of chefs all just waiting for the next food order. I was in bed and asleep by 21:00.

A view of Belfast International airport
A view of Belfast International airport

After a goods night sleep I opted for tangerine segments, eggs and mushroom, with coffee and toast. Then checked out and headed to the office for 08:00 for another ordinary day at the office. I left at 15:10, arrived at the airport at 15:50. Security was a breeze compared to Monday at Luton.

I wandered down to the quiet end of the airport where there is no queue for a coffee, and overheard that the Luton flight would be departing from that end of the building, so I stayed put and waited for the flight to be called. When things work out like that it is a good day.
The weather was typical for the time of year with sun followed by dramatic rain storms, I was told the weather in Luton was terrible.
I is amazing how much heat you can generate in your Blackberry battery by sending a large email, I took a picture od the clouds over the runway and after about 15 minutes of sending the back of my phone was really quite warm! It just goes to demonstrate why there is such a difference between the talk and standby times quoted by the phone manufacturers.

They announced a 20 minute delay for “operational” problems, but a check with @easyjet on Twitter got a response that it would be 10 minutes late, I wander who would be correct, the people on the ground I suspect.

The plane used for Easyjet flight EYZ184
The plane used for Easyjet flight EYZ184

First they checked our boarding cards then let us wait on the stairs, then they had us stand on the tarmac for 10 minutes, at least it was not raining! They were boarding someone in a wheelchair via the lifting vehicle, so that messed the speedy boarders up, they had to enter via the back but as they got to the steps the cattle class boards got to use the front steps. The captain announced that the operational problem was an aircraft swap, perhaps they couldn’t start the other one.

The flight was a bit bumpy as we hit turbulence closer to Luton, when we landed at 18:45 it was chucking it down with rain. Was home by 19:45 for a home made frozen curry and a naan.

Miscellany or musings

The mouth of the river Mersey
The mouth of the river Mersey

If you read the last post you will know I am travelling today, and I am obviously inspired to write as this is the second one and it is only 08:26 in the morning. I am sat on an easyjet flight.

The trip to the airport was full of surprises. I missed the parking bus so walked to the terminal. I noticed in the verge what looked like an orchid but it was blue, I must investigate. The priority lane has become popular and I ended up queuing, but still had time for and express and a pain au raisin.

The flight was called on time departing from gate 18 the closest one to the terminal building. I am definitely convinced that speedy boarding is a waste of time. I was at the front of the queue and got a window seat near the back, with little effort, and none of the rush you have when you have Speedy boarding and feel you must be at the front to get the seats you have a right to because you paid extra.

The plane was at 2/3 to 3/4 full. The rain had cleared the atmosphere and the views from the window of the aircraft were great. The Irish sea still looked a bit choppy and we hit some turbulent air as we left the west coast over Liverpool. I also noticed that the Rape crops are starting to flower, it is surprising haw much of the English country side is taken up with it. Does it go to human consumption or animal? I have had cold pressed oil but I prefer the flavour of olive oil.

Arrived only 10 minutes late, and picked up the hire car. The weather in Northern ireland was similar to the mainland typical spring blueskies with big cumulus clouds threatening, a down pour.

Meetings went well, and it was soon time to head back, I left a bit later than I would have liked, so did not bother to fill the car up, luckily for me the petrol gauge was the LCD block type and had not registered any usage so I got away with it. No sooner had I got through security the flight was called to gate 18, don’t you just love it when things run smoothly, (that comment may have been a bad mistake!).

Easyjet plane from gate 18 Belfast International
Easyjet plane from gate 18 Belfast International

The flight was quite crowded, more than 95% full, they were looking for volunteers to put baggage in the hold free of charge, to ensure enough room in the overhead lockers. You could tell we were running to capacity because the steward was making announcements to the effect “hurry up and stow you baggage, then sit down so we can take off” but using the politeness only air stewards are capable of.

Despite no speedy boarding I got a decent window seat near the back. I managed to drop my pen twice whilst seated, it can be very difficult to retrieve anything from the aircraft floor once seated. If you lean forward hand have long enough arms then you can just about reach the floor, if the item is any where other that where you feet go forget it, the item is lost. I was lucky twice I dropped my pen and twice I was able to retrieve it.

Apparently we flew over Liverpool at 37,000 feet which compared to Everest nearly 30,000 feet is pretty high, the sun was shining we were way above the clouds, I could see some bubbling up into storms but nothing really very big, so I guess the weather below was probably quite pleasant. The captain announced that we were 20 minutes ahead of schedule, they day just got better and better.
If I was a real writer I would now have to turn this post in to a story where everything was going well then… But I won’t.

Business trip to Belfast

New luton departure signs
New luton departure signs

That time has come round again for the month business trip to Northern Ireland, thought I would share some thoughts with my regular readers while I sit in airport lounges. Flight was at 07:50 so planned to leave 50 minutes later than the usual 5:15 but I woke up early and left the house just after 05:35.

Traffic at Luton was light and I was quickly able to park up and get the bus to the main building.

Priority lane tickets have gone up by a massive 33% to £4, but I still think worth the money. This trip I have decided to do without Easyjet’s speedy boarding, which if like me you can get to the gate quickly is not really of much value.
I grabbed and espresso and a pain au raisin from Pret a Manger, and settled down at a table waiting for the flight to be called. They have changed the flight information displays you now get a carrier logo and expected gate opening time which allows you to plan your coffee and/or comfort breaks.

Easyjet inside plane
Easyjet inside plane

We were allocated gate 11 which is the furthest gate from the lounge, which for me is good I have long legs and can walk fast so usually manage to get near the front of the queue, today was no exception 5th. Not many speedie boarders today less than 10.

When I travel I like to check in as much as I can on the social networking app is becoming more popular recently. It works like this, you use an app on your phone to check in to venues based on those in proximity to your phone. If you check in more often than another user to a venue you become the mayor and can sometimes get discounts at a venue. It has not really caught on in that sense in the UK yet. Badges are also awarded for visiting types of venue or events, for example “the great outdoor” “jet setter” wino etc etc.

We boarded the plane at 07:30, I chose a seat one row from the back on the right hand window, and I had the whole row to myself, my decision to dump speedy boarding was justified. According to my good friend Rory the back of the plane is where most survivors of plane crashes come from, with speedy boarding I tended to go for the front row where there was extra leg room, so dumping the extra charge might just save my life one day!

Easyjet aeroplane wing
Easyjet aeroplane wing

I managed to grab back a few mayorships while waiting, W H Smiths, and Gate 18, I also lined up the Baggage reclaim by checking in, and tomorrow I should nail it with a second check in two days.

The plane departed a few minutes ahead of schedule, the trip along the runway was a bit wavy while the pilot/computers struggled against the wind to keep on the straight and narrow. One airborne things settled down and we were up above the clouds in the sun.

My usual way to while the time away on the flight is to attempt the advanced Sudoku puzzle in The Independent before the plane lands which I managed about one time in every three. Today went to form I got right down to about 10 squares unsolved and made a mistake! One of the things I find frustrating about Sudoku is that once a mistake has got into the grid it is nigh on impossible to work back to where it all went wrong.

The pilot announced our descent into Belfast and that we would be on stand almost 20 minutes early, that is always good news, but very loud when you are sat in the row near the speaker, which they insist on having at the highest volume.

Seagoe Hotel Seafood Medley
Seagoe Hotel Seafood Medley

Peugeot 106 was the weapon provided to me by Avis, the friendly car rental company, after being in a queue of two people. Was soon on the road to the office, and got there before 10:00 the traffic was pretty quiet.

Spent most of the day in meetings, and help colleagues with things whilst I was on site, and left work just before 18:00 to go to the Seago Hotel.

I had a quick shower and headed down for some food. The selection is pretty good, and the service is super fast and very friendly. I went for the Seafood medley but substituted the boiled potatoes for chips I’m afraid. I soon polished the meal off then headed back to my room for an early night, to make up for the early start.

Belfast City (George Best) Airport

George Best Airport
George Best Airport

Travelling again to Belfast, different this time though I am flying in and out of Belfast City (George Best) Airport rather Belfast international. City (as the locals call it) is right in the heart of the city of Belfast situated in I guess what would have been Harland and Wolf docks, I think they built the Titanic here. It is smaller than International with less gates. They give you plastic bags in security rather than charging a pound. I arrived early and took the opportunity for a bite to eat from Harvest Market. The fish pie and mushy peas is to be recommended. When I arrived in the departure lounge it was quite crowded but a couple of flights left and it emptied out.

Luton Ferrari

ferrari-at-luton-airport
ferrari-at-luton-airport

They are raffling off a Ferrari at Luton airport. I wonder what the chances of winning are? Off to Gilford Road with Shirley and Vanessa.

Wendover Woods

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Quick bike ride to finish off Easter. Dropped off travel bug, at the anti gravity hill cache. Walked up through Dancers End nature reserve, Pheasant. At the Cafe in the woods say for a while loads of Wrens, a couple of Coal Tits, Great Tit, good view of Crow. Woodpecker hammering, Collared Dove cooing.