Australia – Kings Park Botanical Gardens

Tree top bridge Perth Kings Park
Tree top bridge Perth Kings Park

I woke up with a slight headache, I call it my travel hangover, always the second day after travelling. I took my time having breakfast and left my accommodation just after nine. I chose to walk and headed towards the city center, grabbing a coffee on the way. By the time I had reached the Botanical park, the headache was gone. The weather was sunny, warm but there was a cool breeze.

Pokémon Fans

The gardens are up high overlooking the bay, on the way up I stopped to take some pictures of the view above Jacobs ladder, locals were walking up and down to get exercise. At the visitors center I got a guide to the birds in the park and then went for a stroll around. Pokémon is still big it seems on Ox, I kept bumping into groups of people tapping away on their phones, sometimes the group was as big as 25.

Spring Flowers Kings Park Perth

There were plenty of birds to spot, including a White Ibis pair flying over, whilst I sat in the shade of a large Eucalyptus. I was at the café at 14:00 so I opted for a late lunch, of fish and chips which would save me having to got out in the evening. I had a table with a view across the gardens, the bay and the Perth skyline beyond. Fish was battered Flathead fillets very handy because they form.long fingers which make it easy to eat with your fingers.

Perth Skyline from Kings Park

Time was getting on so I decided to head back to the apartment via a different route to see some new stuff. I passed thought a very neat area that seemed to contain the Perth parliament buildings, in the trees leading to it were the every present Rainbow Lorikeets. Then I passed through a shopping area which was like any shopping area.  Just close to my destination I discovered the Perth Mint which contains the world’s largest gold coin, unfortunately it was to close in 30 minutes, so rather than wasting £10 I chose to leave for another day.

I grabbed some supplies for dinner and retired to my room to watch the Grand Prix and process my photos.

Australia – Rottnest island

As expected I was awake at some point in the night, my body needed to adjust. I checked my phone, wondering what to do on Saturday, I came across Rottnest island, only a few miles off the coast of Perth. I figured I figured I would probably be up early so getting the 10 o’clock boat would be easy, or so I thought.

I woke up quite sleepy at 07:00 so I forced myself out of bed and had a quick breakfast. The drive to Fremantle where the shortest ferry goes from was straight forward. It was the first view of Perth in daylight, it was just like the promotion photos you see clear blue sky with not a cloud in sight. Luckily once in Fremantle there was signs to the the Rottnest ferry.

Rottnest Island views

I decided my best bet was the days bus pass, with stops all round the island I could get on and off as I pleased. At about stop four, the bus driver mentioned a volunteer was there to talk about the island and walk to the next bus stop. Mimi the volunteer had moved to Australia 44 years ago, and it turns out had lived in the Chilterns around Chartridge, an area I knew well. She was very informative, I spotted Pelicans, Nankeen Kestrel, and even saw a King Skink.

Rottnest Island lighthouse

I walked on to another bus stop after Mimi returned to her post. I got a bus to the stop near the lighthouse, where for $10 you could climb the stairs to get a view over the island. The lady doing the tour has a distinct Scottish accent. The building was made of stone from the island, had been built twice each team by aboriginal prisoners, and took 7 years each time.

From the lighthouse I followed a trail to skip a couple of bus stops. I got to the bus stop just after the bus was due so I waited for a while, but realised I must have missed, so I carried on the purple trail, and I was glad I did. The trail eventually runs along the beach at Strickland bay, which is beautiful and with the sun shining the sea was a bright turquoise. At the end of the beach I checked the bus time table, I had 30 minutes to get to the next stop which was close by, so I got a time lapse set.

Rottnest Island view

It was quite hot out, and I think I was a bit jet lagged so I was not up for a lot of walking so I got the bus for a few stops. Whilst waiting I saw three Osprey. The bus had to stop to let a King Skink get out of the way. I got off near a salt lagoon hoping to see some waders, I dipped on the waders but there were some Pacific Shelduck, same shape as the European ones but much darker and brown where I would expect white. A few bus stops down I got back on for the last leg back back to the settlement where I got a cheese and onion sausage roll and a custard tart for lunch. I had to watch out for the Australian Ravens and Silver Gulls from stealing my food, and the very tame Quokka hung about eager for a crumb. My next venue was the small but informative museum which told the human and natural history of the island.

The ferry was due in about an hour so wandered around the settlement, and stopped at the beach for a time lapse. Then headed to the boat with 15 minutes to spare. I managed to get one of the few seats outside being solo makes that easy as you just need one space. The seat was next to Linda the volunteer who had showed me round the lighthouse, which was a stroke of luck, as she put me into a couple of ideas. Beaches in the way home and imminent sunset, and in particular Cettesloe Beach where there is a Rainbow Lorikeet roost very colourful birds but noisy and a nuisance apparently. I had a mission, but before I spotted the migrating whales from the back of the boat.

I parked up at Cottesloe beach and immediately saw groups of Rainbow Lorikeet flying in and I could hear the squabbling in the Norfolk pines. Down at the beach everyone was waiting for the sunset, so I joined them and got some fine shots in the warm light. It was dark when I left, but I navigated my way back to where I started and as a bonus I got a parking space round the corner from the apartment which was free till 08:00 Monday.

Cottesloe Beach sunset

I dumped my stuff and headed back to my new favorite Italian restaurant where I had prawn and courgette fettuccine in a light creamy tomato sauce. My Little Creatures pale ale was delivered by the chef, perhaps they consider me a local now! I retired to the apartment just before 20:00 I had some photos to process.

Australia -The journey to Perth WA

Qantas Business class

An exciting opportunity came my, a few months back I was on the phone to our FD and he asked me in passing if I could go to Australia to help out with an ERP implementation, “When do I leave?” Was my response. My wife saw it as a great opportunity, although we would miss each other for the couple of months I would be away. It wasn’t long before my departure date came round, I would be flying to Perth on a Qantas flight via Dubai.

I didn’t sleep too week the night before, as is usual when I have to travel the next day, I think it is the anticipation, that makes my mind busy. Helen had the day off so we had a leisurely breakfast together. The driver was early, so it was a quick good by. It would be really strange to be apart for so long, even when Helen was at university most weekends Helen was back.

Dubai Airport

Did I mention business class? Our company policy is that if your flight over a certain time you can request to go business class, I figured it would be rude not to. The driver was very friendly and we discussed are various hobbies and travel stories. He dropped me off at Heathrow Terminal 3, and I found the Business class check in. Once checked in I was informed that there was a fast security queue as well as access to a lounge.

The lounge had various sections, but it was a strange time to be there between breakfast and dinner so I settled for a coffee and a glass of water. We were called to the gate and I tried a timelapse, but had to balance the camera on a radiator, and the shutter was enough to make the camera move, so it did not work out well. I had a window seat, and luck was on my side as no one was in the seat next to me.

Emirates business class

I settled in and sent my last emails and Facebook posts, before airplane mode was required. Champagne was offered but I resisted, settling for a glass of wine with my four course meal. Bread and a small salad starter, followed by a potato cake and salad, followed by some sort of Kufta with dhal and rice, and finally lemon tart. There was still 4 hours to Dubai when I had consumed all that.

The lie flat beds sound very appealing, but in reality in the noisy setting of an aircraft, ear plugs don’t work, so sleep is very difficult. Don’t gete wrong it is nice to be able to lie flat and change postition, but they are quite hard and the gaps between the cushions where the seat articulates are never in the right place. Give me a proper bed any day. With about an hour and a bit to go the lights came on dim, and coffee and more food was distributed around the cabin, thus making the slim chance of sleep even more remote. I sat up and smelled the coffee, and a nice coffee it was too.

The lights came on fully about an hour before we landed slightly early despite hold for a 360. The business class queue through security was short, I had my boarding card so there was no messing about. Apparently the temperature outside in the middle of the night was 35 degrees Celsius, luckily the airport was air conditioned, however you got a sense of how warm and humid it was as we walked up the gangway to the terminal building. Dubai is just like any other airport, but multiplied. The same shops, and food franchises. I had a wander round before heading up to the lounge which was massive. There was plenty of food on offer, as well as drinks you just help yourself. I settled for an apple juice, I did not need any more food.

Emirates Bar flight to Oz

My fellow passengers and I turned up at gate A9 at the allotted time and hung around for a bit while the airline employee took phone calls. Eventually we were told there would be a delay so we all sat down on the lounge again. There was only about a 30 minute wait and we started to board. Interestingly there was an ad-hoc bag search at the gate, they confiscated my water from the previous flight.

The Emirates business setup is better in my opinion they stagger the seats so you can get in and out with disturbing your neighbor if they are lying flat. You have your own little pod with handy shelves to stow stuff. The TV screen is much larger. I found a film I had been wanting to see for a while, The Founder, about the beginning of the MacDonalds business empire, I enjoyed it. I find it hard to watch films in planes as I am easily distracted.

The air stewards came round with a thin mattress for the seat which seemed to make all the difference, as I although I was not aware of getting any sleep I think I did doze off for a few hours. We were served a breakfast at the beginning of the flight, then the lights were dimmed for about six hours. There was a lot of activity in the cabin as I guess there was always someone who could not sleep or needed a pee.

I got up for a pee just before the lights started to go on, and ventured by accident into first class looking for a vacant WC, I was soon shooed out. I passed the bar in my search, and returned with my camera to get a picture of myself drinking coffee! The bar area is quite roomy, and bright. Sweet and savoury food items are available, as well as nuts and olives. Our lunch order was taken when I got back to my seat.

For lunch I had an Arabic Mezze which included Shanklish which is a traditional cheese, they describe it as stinky cheese. Main course for me was grilled cod with a lentil dahl and vegetables. It was all served on Royal Doulton bone china! I skipped desert, and there was an hour and twenty to go. They came round with the fother and final hot towel of the flight during which I had crossed the equator, and was in the southern hemisphere for the first time.

Getting through immigration and customs was a breeze, I had registered my passport so could use the machines, I told them I had no infectious deseases, and they wavedcme through customs. Perth is quite a big airport with 4 terminals, I would be dropping off the hire car at a different one. The car was automatic and has satnav but I was not impressed, it was already dark and every so often the arrow on the satnav had me off road so it was difficult to determine when I should turn. Eventually after a few wrong turns I found a multi-storey car park close to the apprtment that had been booked for me.

The apartment has a kitchen diner, bathroom (with washing machine and tumble dryer) and bedroom. I dumped my stuff and ventured out to get some food, settling for a really close family run Italian, I had pizza and a beer called One Fifty Lashes on the way back I stopped off at a supermarket for breakfast supplies. Then to bed for a long overdue sleep.

Business trip to Poznan Poland

Strange hotel room at the Platinum Palace Poznan

A few of members of my team work out of our Poznan office, and although we manage to function as a team using email, phones and video conferencing there is nothing like meeting face to face. So the start of this week I will be spending my time in Poznan. The flights from Luton were a bit inconvenient, the flight there would be reasonable being at 0800 but the flight back would have meant a start at 0300 to catch the feeding flight of the 0800 out of Luton, I would prefer to avoid that. So I settled on flights from and to London Stansted, the flight out was at1235 then I would return late afternoon on the Wednesday.

i was in the office by 0730 to get two and a half hours in before having to leave for the airport. Unfortunately I could not get started straight away as there was a networking issue and I was the only person in to resolve it, I may have been better off working from home. The drive to the airport was pretty uneventful (around the M25 was clear) I did see a lorry on fire on the M11, there were flames and smoke and a driver stood well back on his mobile. I guess I may have been fortunate as there was the potential that the fire brigade would have shit the motorway due to the dark smoke.

The river that runs through Poznan

I had pre book Mid-term parking which came with the fast track service through security, which was good but did not save me much time as the queues were quite short. Air side was very crowded so they clearly shift a lot of people through so the low queues suggest to me that the airport is well run. The signs and queuing at the gate were a bit confusing and one queue were told to face the other way as they were the end not the front of the queue. Boarding was pretty smooth even though only the front door was being used to board us passengers.

The flight was pretty straight forward I used the time to catch up with emails and type up a few documents. At the other end we were quickly through security. I got the impression that Poznan is not a busy airport as there were not many people about. The taxi driver had a sign with my name on it, which is the first time I have had that, it made me feel more important than I am. It was a short drive to the Platinum Palace Residence my abode for the next two nights. The name is interesting as I could imagine that a marketing department or brand management company did some brain storming and came up with the three works and just strung them together. Platinum a rare metal so think exclusive, Palace is where monarchy live in luxury, and Residence is what they call posh hotels. The hotel was modern and all shiny inside with a big light fitting that draped down in reception. My room was very different, the door was the only black one on the first floor, and when you entered there was a shiny purple wall in front of you, with a 1m corridor down each site to the far end of the room where the bed was under the window. So essentially the room had a room within it like a Russian doll. The internal room consisted of a shower cubicle with glass doors an a W.C. with a glass door, beyond the glass doors there was a mirrored wall. The corridor around the inner and outer room was about 1m wide.

Market Square Poznan

The evenings are light so I took the opportunity to walk into the centre f the city, but not before catching up with my emails and reconciling a report. Walking into town took about 40 minutes the weather was sunny but I needed a light coat. I was heading for the old town but missed it and ended up at the river where not much happens so I turned around and headed towards to the old town using Google maps. The main square in the old town is full or bars/cafes/restaurants but there were also lots of stalls as a festival was going on. Complete with a singer and band on a stage.

I wandered around the square taking in the sites, and took the opportunity to take some hand held panorama sets, you may see the results here if they work out OK. I could not decide what are where to eat as Poland is not that vegetarian friendly, but then I spotted a restaurant that was selling Pizzas so I stopped for pizza and a beer. Suitable replete I walked back the hotel but took a different but parallel route so as to take I more of the sights.

I was in bed pretty early 09:00 I found I kept of getting woken up quite a bit as the hotel was near a main road and tram line and the trams are quite noisy as their solid steel wheels ground along the solid steel tracks. The room however although weird in its layout had air conditioning which worked so the temperature was just as I wanted it. I was up at 07:00 to give me time to have breakfast before the taxi arrived, to take me to the office in Rokietnica.

It was the first time in Poland so I was paraded around the offices and introduced to everyone before I could get a chance for a coffee. Once that was over I got down to some work with the team, the aim was fact finding and to find out what good stuff they do which could be shared across out division and suggest some of the good stuff we do in GB and Ireland that might be appropriate in Poland. The factory is in a fairly rural location and the IT guys office looks out on to a wheat filed and a scrubby but f land, I was pleasantly surprised when I spotted a Marsh Harrier quartering the scrub. Things are very civilised in Poland I was well looked after, for example in the UK if I visit a site someone will usually arrange a sandwich for lunch, in Poland you get a menu and a hot meal is delivered, on the Tuesday I had salmon and potatoes with a salad and on the Wednesday I had grilled trout and potatoes and salad, all delivered by a local company.

The guys had agreed they would take me out and show me the sights in the evening and they picked me up from the hotel and took me to an Italian restaurant that also did contemporary Polish food. I had spinach for a starter with Parmesan, followed by steamed Perch-Pike with apple and cabbage and spinach dumplings which was very nice. For dessert I has proper baked cheese cake. The guys suggested a special beer for me which contained honey in the brewing process, it was very nice. After the meal they wanted to go and try traditional vodka but I was not keen as I find it is very easy to get hangovers so I really do limit my alcohol consumption. Instead they took me a walk showing me some of the sites unfortunately I had seen most of what they showed me, although it was great to know what it was I had seen the day before, and nice to know that by just following my nose I had managed to see a lot of the things worth seeing. They insisted that we at least have one more beer and we ended up in a pool hall where we had a couple of rounds of pool. We eventually left the establishment and I was back at my hotel before midnight (just). I hope this does not become a regular thing when I got to Poland as I am not good at staying up late on school nights especially in a hotel where trams trundle by in the night.

The next morning the taxi was early and I was ready so I ended up at the office in good time 08:15 (or 07:15 UK time), my flight was at 16:05 so would have to leave at 14:00, but that would give me a chance to meet up with a couple of people in Finance and finish going through the things we had on our list, and have my chosen lunch of grill trout. The queues at the airport were reasonable long but moved long, and they opened a third x-ray machine as I got to the front of the queue. I was right about Poznan not being a busy airport there were none of the crowds that I had encountered at Stansted, there was plenty of room for everyone. Looking at the departure board there was only one screen of flights (15) between 15:30 and 22:15 which is not many.

The flight departed on time, once at cruising altitude I got out the Polish looking custard like pasty I had purchased which was very once and quickly consumed, then I settled in to the flight reading some articles I had downloaded before I departed the office, and caught up with a few emails. We used the Stansted shuttle to get back to the terminal once landed, which was interesting the shuttles are line horizontal list they arrive the doors open you get in the doors close then open again when you get to the terminal all without a driver.

The drive home was about an hour so all in all the flying and travelling was not too bad.


The Luton airport toothpaste test

W H Smiths self-service kiosks run windows XP

Another trip to Northern Ireland thankfully on a Wednesday when the airport is traditionally quiet. I was up and parked in short term in good time and ready to fave security at 06:30 with plenty of time for the 07:50 flight, and I had priority security pass booked.

There was no queue so things were looking up, but I spoke too soon, my tray with coat and liquids was chosen for a check, and it was about fifth in the queue for trust that needed to be checked. Add to that one person was on tray checking duty whilst the other people were on stand around and chat duty. Twenty minutes later after they had checked that my tube of Colgate was a tube of toothpaste, luckily they only needed a sample as we all know once the toothpaste is out of the tube you can’t get it back in.

I had about twenty minutes to wait for the gate to be announced, and splashed out on a coffee with 5 minutes to spare, I prefer to have a hot drink when I get on the plane. We were allocated gate 25 a new experience for me, it is about as far from the departure lounge as you can get but you turn right rather than left as you leave the hall.

I was informed that hot drinks were not allowed on the buses, so I assured them the drink would be cold by the time the buses turn up. We were soon on board a plane which was about 10 percent full but we had to wait a while for the aircraft to be prepared.

I was listening to a Twit network podcast called Tech news today. The big story was about Microsoft buying the Nokia mobile phone business. This has been quite some time coming. Some time ago Microsoft bailed out or went into partnership with Nokia a company that once had 40% of the mobile phone market. It now has only less that 4%, Microsoft needs away to push it’s mobile phone OS as it is supposedly having to pay Apple 30% of the revenue of Office 365 on the app store and a cut to Google at the play store. They have a long way to go because Android has an 80% share of the smart phone market. It is hard to imagine Microsoft overturning that big a share of the market, but given how closely the OS is tied to windows and the office suite they are always likely to have some sort of foot hold in the market.

Once landed, on time, at Belfast I went to the hire car desk only to find out my car was at the City Airport, that is the second time they have done that I made a point when I booked this time to stress International Airport, but the message was obviously lost. My colleague in the queue behind me had the correct booking. Apart from a short delay due to and accident I was in the office in good time to get my name on the sandwich list which has a strict closing time.

Belfast International Airport Tarmac

My day at the office was long, mainly due to a conference call at 17:00, a time when really I want to be going back to my hotel room given the early start. Any way after a chat about phone systems and then budgets with a colleague I was sat eating by 19:30. Roast Monk fish with coconut rice, stir fry Pak Choi, and curry oil was light and tasty, just the ticket. Then it was off early to bed for an early night then back to work to fight another day.

Compared to yesterday today was one meeting followed by another ranging from project updates through project launches to important “go live” decisions. We also wished a colleague luck on his wedding after the weekend in foreign parts, combined with farewell as he was leaving the team for pastures new. He will be sorely missed but we wished him well in his new challenge.

I left a little bit later than usual as we were celebrating G’s departure with tea and cakes. Even if though I left at 15:10 I was still in time to pass through security with time to spare. Gate 18 was the chosen parking spot for EZY186 today, and it departed a little bit late but nothing that could not be made up on route.

I returned to a very hot mainland where the temperatures had been 28 degrees during the day.

How I saved someone’s weekend at Luton airport

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

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.

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.

Heathrow airport

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

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

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

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

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.

The Olympic hangover

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

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

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.

Priority boarding queue

Arrived at the priority boarding queue only to find that there was a queue of about 20 people, not good news. I guess the school holidays have started and the Olympics start at the end of the week, so there are more than the usual quantity of people trying to get away and others trying to arrive. The queue caused all but a minor delay.

View of Belfast International Airport run way

The queue for a newspaper was equally bigger too, but at W H Smith’s there was something that could bigger some about it. The self help tills are just crap, they ask stupid questions about whether you bought a bag or require a large slab of chocolate, but in a way that it is easy to press the wrong button, then the user gives up and a member of staff is required to enter a password to reset the machine before someone else can have a go. So that was five minutes of my life I won’t get back!

You see some strange and interesting people at airports, I guess it is not often these days that you get a chance to just sit and watch the world go about its business. I spotted a hamster with big gold sovereign rings on, a family on the Belfast flight dressed for the beach, complete with flip flops, to mention a few.

I had a bit of luck at the Avis car rental queue they have a deal where if you are a registered Avis customer and you have to wait more than 2 minutes you get a Marks and Spencer voucher worth £20. There was a long queue so I went to the counter to get my stopwatch to start the timer, but before I had a chance one of the employees was asking my name and handing me the car keys. Result.

The weather n Belfast was awful, when I got off the plane it was drizzling, and the rain continued and become heavier as the day went on. Considering that the weather in Aylesbury was cloudless skies and 30 degrees centigrade was predicted. In a way I am am probably better off in Northern Ireland and it will be difficult to sleep at such temperatures.

I checked the statistics on the blog earlier and noticed that the number of visits in July  is over 1,000 a new record and the month is not over yet. This is a result of posting on the Raspberry Pi forum on how to do the temperature logging.

I ate with a colleague fairly early on, and I had a new meal from the menu, Pale Smoked Haddock on a bed of spinach and curried sauté potatoes, which I enjoyed. I had and early night and was up early for the usual breakfast, then it was back to the off for more of the same.

I had a couple of meetings arranged, one of which was had been put back to late in the afternoon so I had had to book another later flight at 21:10. The cost of changing my existing flight was more than booking a new one so I kept the existing flight. It turned out to be a wise choice, as at about 14:30 I found out that another meeting was over running and so the 16:00 was likely to be cancelled. I thanked my lucky stars and left for the airport, I would be able to get the 17:15 and be back home at a reasonable time.

This blog is turning out to be a record of the the queues I have been in recently, today’s entry will be no exception. The electronic fuel gauge in the Fiat 500 I had hired registered petrol usage so I was going to have to fill out the hire car, which I did at the first opportunity. Trouble is it was a filling station with an attached independent supermarket, and everyone was out doing their shopping only one till was in use so I had to queue up with shoppers with trolleys full of goods, when all I wanted to do was pay for £8 worth of unleaded.

Finally at the airport there was little or no queue to get through security. I grabbed a coffee and got on with a blog post while I looked for things to photo to add some content. This posted is being typed whilst tethered to my Android phone. As you can see from the image I have got reasonable speeds. My mobile phone operator is Giff Gaff and I get unlimited data and texts for £10 per month.

The plane arrived back on time and the weather in Luton was as if someone had turned the heating up just in time for the Olympics.