Saturday, 4 October 2008
In work news I am travelling to La Rochelle (France) in a week to do an install there, and then to Interlaken (Switzerland) to speak at a mass spec conference. I have had this week back in the office – it has been good to have my feet on the ground for a bit.
I have put a number of photos up here which are a combination of the stories below
Cornwall / London Bike Trip / Greenie’s 30th 5/7
Back in July I rode to Falmouth, in the far south west corner of England on my VFR. I caught up with Zita, visited Lands End and the Minack Theatre. This is an amazing amphitheatre built into the side of the southernmost cliff of England. The Tempest didn’t stop, even for the rain!
On the Saturday I rode across to London to celebrate Greenie’s 30th birthday. It was great to catch up with you mate, it was a good show.
Lintott Wedding 27/7
At the end of July I was privileged to be the best man at Andrew and Karen’s wedding. I met Andrew, a kiwi, through UCanDance in Christchurch. The weather in Suffolk was brilliant, the wedding beautiful and everybody happy.
Farmer Phil’s Festival 15/8
The annual festival was another wholesome experience only dampened somewhat by very soggy weather toward the end. Phil had another great line-up of bands and as always it was great to catch up with all the family and friends again. I reckon I had the best job, in behind the bar under cover. I parked on high ground so was able to drive out, but most of the punters had to be towed out by tractors and 4 wheel drives.
Scotland Bike Trip 19-23/8
One big tick-in-the-box trip for me was to ride up to Northern Scotland and find a bit of family history. Over 5 days I rode from Warrington – Edinburgh via York – Aberdeen – Inverness – Dunbeath – John-O-Groats – Inverness – Isle of Skye – Falkirk – Warrington.
My Great Grandmother Gunn, who lived till 98 and moved the family out to New Zealand originally came from the Braemore-Dunbeath area. It is a tiny fishing village up in the far North-East of Scotland, where little remains except for the Gunn museum. I found her picture in the archives and had a good chat to the historian.
The roads up in Scotland are fantastic. I liken them to 4-wheel-drive tracks for motorbikes as many are single lane, undulating their way across the amazing countryside. They are not fast, but more of an adventure, the only passing opportunities are marked “Passing Place”.
I discovered an amazing piece of twisty road over the Bealach Na Bo, between Applecross and Tornapress. Top Gear rated it as one of UK’s best roads. You can understand why I was grinning! It was one of many highlights, this is a place that has to be seen to be believed:
I have had a few work trips to Belgium already, and on this occasion I took a weekend trip to Paris. I had never been to France previously, and the weather was glorious. I spent the two days just walking about the usual touristy areas – Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomph, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur. Many people were splashing about in the fountain pools and generally lazing about in the parks as it was so hot.
Chester and Lake District
Marcel (Austria) and Sarah (London, but from NZ) travelled up to Warrington by train to meet me for the start of a road trip up into the Lake District. We began with a leisurely visit to chester, walking around the city walls and town. Following day we headed for Keswick and climbed the walker’s compulsory introduction – the Catbells. It is an easy ridge which gives great views over Derwent Water:
Next day Marcel and I left Sarah in Keswick and took on the Langdale Pikes walk. This was a pretty serious walk (for me) in the high peaks of England with some breathtaking views:
We followed with a day of rest and hired an Indian canoe, paddling to most of the islands on Derwent Water. Later we drove up to Hadrian’s Wall and over a couple of days has a good explore of Vindolanda and several stretches of the wall.
For my birthday celebrations I organized an afternoon at “Go Ape” which is a high-wires adventure company with several sites around the UK. I took a group of 5 to the Delamere Forest site and had a blast hanging from the trees. It is a combination of obstacles and swings, ending in a 240m zipline into the distance.
Wednesday, 2 July 2008
Very changeable weather this month with more than a few days of heavy rain threatening to cause floods reminiscent of this time last year. Thankfully there have been a few nice days too. Local friends Rich and Helen had a barbeque recently in their back yard to celebrate the end of term. They happened across an excellent burger cookbook and were dead keen to try it out. I could hardly walk at the end of that night.
Sunday, 1 June 2008
Amsterdam 9-12 May
Some time ago my manager Steve began organizing a boat trip from Newcastle to Amsterdam. Four of his mates and I went along with him in the end on a very memorable trip. We caught the ferry from Newcastle on Friday evening and returned on the Sunday evening having spent Saturday night in Amsterdam. It ended up costing less than £100 for the 3 nights including the boat trip. The ferry is run by DFDS in Newcastle. I can’t recommend it enough.
I had not visited Amsterdam before. Many people think of pot smoking and red lights, but that’s just the top of the iceberg really. The city is designed mainly for boats, cycles and pedestrians. There are dedicated cycle lanes everywhere, which is a welcome relief from the narrowly curbed streets of the UK where traffic is forced to stay behind cycles till there is no oncoming traffic. I was however witness to a couple of incidents where pedestrians walked purposefully across the lanes and bore the brunt of Dutch blasphemy from the cyclists. Having said that, from experience it is the best way to see the city.
We all boarded a tour boat and had a motor around the canals. Buildings line the busiest canals in a continuous façade. They stand 4 or 5 levels high, and almost as deep, but are narrowly packed in like a crowded bookshelf on the prime real estate. They are taxed on their width, hence the shoulder-squeeze. The stairways suffer the most, so furniture moving is dealt with in a unique way. Each gable has a short beam protruding with a hook. Tenants attach a pulley block to the hook and raise their bulky possessions on the outside.
There are many new buildings and as many museums housing works from artists such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh. We spent a lot of time simply exploring the streets, cafés and canals. I’ll certainly go back to this amazing place.
See photos at
Belper and Ryan's Christening 17/18 May
I worked in a couple of visits on this weekend – On Saturday to Belper and Sunday Shrewsbury. My mate Greenie had recently returned from his trip south to New Zealand, so we met up with Marianna and Carol (another Kiwi friend) on the Saturday. We went for a pleasant walk along the canals near Whatstandwell and had a very English tea and scones with jam and cream at a secluded café. I had a great catch-up with the Kiwis, then headed south-west to Shrewsbury the next morning.
I began the day with a delicious meat pie lunch with Cousins Vin and Linda in Hadnall. We all then jumped in the car, picked up Ruth in Shrewsbury and headed to Ratlinghope church for new cousin Ryan’s Christening. I had not seen Phil and the crew since last year, so it was a good opportunity to catch up with them all again. The christening was followed by a reception in Annscroft, where we all mingled for the afternoon.
See photos at
Sonia’s leaving weekend 24/25 May
Sonia and Eva are both from Barcelona. I got to know them over the past year through salsa dancing, and they were coming to the end of their time teaching English here in the UK. They put on a nice evening of Spanish food, and I completed the banquet with one of my tiramisu specialities. Liverpool friends Sonia, Hannah, Chris, Ali and I headed to Liverpool for the evening and visited a number of places I had not seen or heard of. One nice bar was Alma da Cuba – a church fitted out in a carribean theme. Another place that I can’t remember the name of was so humid and wet that the condensation on the low roof had made the floor completely wet. Don’t think I’ll be going back there!
The next day Chris, Hannah and I went back into Liverpool for an explore. Following a nice brunch we walked through the main street to the Albert Docks. We paused for a coffee next to the “The Beatles Story” area and looked on the new arena dominating the foreshore. There are more things to do than I imagined in this place. Previously undiscovered yet on my doorstep, so thanks guys.
See photos at
Monday, 5 May 2008
This was my third trip to Belgium, and like the last two it was for work. I went to install one of our instruments at a new customer’s premises near Seneffe, south-west of Brussels. As I have said before I am not overly inspired by the low-lying country here, but the slightly more terraced nature of the local area necessitated the invention of a couple of impressive structures that are unique to Belgium. The canals often change levels, and boat passage is normally done as they are in the UK through gated locks with a height difference not a lot more than 3 metres. Where there is a greater height difference the job is normally done by a series of “staircase” locks stepping down a section of hillside. Belgium has two very impressive boat lifting structures in the Seneffe area, which deal with height differences of 68 and 73m.
The first is the Ronquiers inclined plane, roughly a mile long which shuttles huge tubs of canal water up and down. At both ends the tub is able to mate with the canals, allowing coal barges to motor right into them. Each of the two operating tubs are lifted by counterweights traveling in a channel under each tub. The tubs straddle the channels on two rows of 59 rail-axle sets each side. Impressive
The second is the Strepy-Thieu boat lift, which moves tubs of water vertically on both sides of a central structure using counterweights and hydraulics. This boat-lift currently has the greatest height difference in the world at 73m, but will soon be dwarfed by the ship lifter on the three-gorges dam in China…
See photos at:
Kalman, Kate and Claire in Warrington
Weekend of the 19th April, had a visit from Kate and Claire from Warrington and Kalman from London. This was nothing more than an excuse for a party! Kalman cooked a fabulous Chinese meal and we all headed out to the new Warrington club Synergy. Sunday morning the girls headed home and I took Kalman to our local gem which is Chester.
London Weekend 26,27/4/08
This was my second real weekend in London, and the highlights were going with Sarah Moore to see both the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Fat Freddy’s drop on two different nights, The former is a brilliant latin band with brass, singers, percussion, piano, sax, flute, the lot. The latter a dubby New Zealand band on tour. Both were great nights. On the days Sarah and I walked, ferried, tubed and trained our way around London. We toured the Tower bridge, visited the Royal observatory, markets, Hyde Park and Harrods. Kalman was stuck working for most of the weekend, so I paid him a visit at his work in an apartment block.
I had not taken the train before, but I did this time from Warrington to London. The Virgin trains were a bit of a novelty for me as they tilt their way around the twisty sections of track. I watched the carriages from my seat in the rear, up through the centre of the train. It was almost like a rollercoaster seeing the leading carriages cant and veer away in anticipation of mine doing the same. Why was nobody else as interested as me I wonder?
See photos at:
A new toy
Just this week I spotted and bought a motorbike on ebay. It is something I have wanted since arriving in the UK, but a mixture of things like travel, money and a miserable winter have prevented it thus far. I already had an unassembled shed, so with help from my mate Rich we had it up in about a day. Thankfully the bike fits in – just.
Spoke to my brother Matt in Aus yesterday, and uncannily he bought an identical model bike about 2 weeks ago, a Honda VFR750FS. Now, off to the Isle of Man!
See photos at:
Sunday, 30 March 2008
On the work front, Syft has extended its reach into Canada with the first install of several machines there. I have been involved in remote support to a degree. Here in the UK we received a new “Voice200” instrument for demonstration and trials. There are several different organizations lined up to come and see it, so I will be busy. Next week I will be in Belgium installing an instrument at a contract laboratory, and training the users and our distributors over there in its use.
Now for the weekends:
1-2 March, Cornwall
Back at the start of the month I flew down to Newquay on the North coast of Cornwall to catch up with Zita and see the area. I met Zita briefly on my travels through Canada 3 years ago, and since then have kept in touch.
Zita introduced me to her pride and joy – an old blue MG BGT that she bought recently, though her Mum Pat had owned the car several years and owners earlier. We began a tour of the countryside with a picnic lunch overlooking the harbour. It was windy and cold, but still very nice. We visited several small bays and fishing towns, including St. Mawes, and the gun emplacements protecting Falmouth Harbour. Near Zita’s childhood town of Ponsanooth is a forested valley containing old mining relics. The river in the valley is dammed several times along a short stretch, each with a water race feeding one or two water wheels. There were 5 or 6 wheelhouses but no wheels, the timber and steel components having rotted away, leaving the water to fall through the channels. We took the ferry at King Harry and finished at Pat’s place in Falmouth. We had a very nice home cooked dinner and relaxed for the evening.
Next day I was to experience Pilot Gig rowing first hand. These are long clinker-built dinghys used to row Ship pilots to their vessels in old times. The teams of 6 rowers became competitive as they were not paid if their pilot arrived at the ship second. Now days this is an international sport, but still containing 95% Cornish participants. Zita’s Mum Pat lives it. Pilot gigs are on the coffee mugs, tea towels and in most of the pictures on the wall. This day I was planted in the bow of one such Gig and given a gentle ride out to the harbour head. It was then my turn to row back. Thankfully I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself having rowed similar dinghys with the scouts back home. Shortly after we jumped into the MG and headed to Lizard point for a pasty. No ordinary pasty, but the best I think I’ll ever have. You’ll need to go to the most southern tip of the UK for it, but there you go. Not far from Lizard is the Predannack airfield where Zita spent many years of her youth flying with the Air Cadets and now trains new cadets in glider flight. The air speed was “out of limits” on this day, so there were no gliders in the air but I did enjoy having a close look at the gliders. We also explored the old hulks of aircraft in the “fire dump” area, including Harrier jets, an air ambulance and several helicopters.
Final day we explored the north coast, traveling toward Redruth. The Carn Brea restaurant sits precariously on an outcrop of rocks overlooking Redruth, an unusually isolated place for a restaurant. We moved onto the coast and had lunch on the beach. Here the coast road runs along the edge of rugged cliffs. At one point there is a good view over the edge, known for suicides unfortunately. Didn’t have too much time before I had to catch my flight back so we scampered back up the coast to Newquay.
Thanks Zita for an amazing weekend!
See photos at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=103251&l=5a2e1&id=882525575
8-9 March, Kate’s Birthday, Shrewsbury
I have spent several weekends of late in Hadnall and Shrewsbury with family. I have come to know the family well, enjoying Farmer Phil’s Festival, a wedding, birthday occasions and random nights out. The previous visit was for cousin Linda’s birthday. We enjoyed a nice dinner at the local Crazy Horse restaurant, and I left the next day with a ’74 Honda CB125 in a bucket… This time was for Kate’s birthday, which began with several wines round at friend Claire’s house. We had dressed in a “school” theme (who would have guessed, being a teacher?) and proceeded to visit our favourite Shrewsbury spots, The Hole in the wall, Liquid and Diva. Kate is not talking to me now, after I posted a picture of her in an inebriated state at the end of the night.
Next Day we all visited WJ Furber’s recovery yard. Think vehicles and motorcycles of every age and type, in various states of insurance write-off from minor scrapes to full endos. I’m told that every vehicle in the Blackhurst/Harding family for the last decade has come from this place. There is an old military vehicle there with grass growing in it that Vin is still trying to bargain out. This place opened my eyes and fed my twitch for mechanical projects. I might go there tomorrow. No, must not. No. Yes.
See photos at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=98081&l=639ce&id=882525575
15,16 March, Bonsall and Belper
I had promised my cousin Judy (in Bonsall) a visit after my 2 months away in New Zealand. Literally down the road in, my old mate Marianna lives with boyfriend Chris in Belper. The trip across the Peak District via the Cat and Lion was beautiful and twisty. It makes me wish I was on a motorcycle as there are usually several blasting past the cars, only to be re-passed at the Cat and Lion pub.
England has had a typical winter of rain, wind and moaning poms. The former has made the countryside quite green - a nice sight through the prominence of skeletal trees and hedges only now showing remote signs of bud.
Judy had arranged one of her famous English meals with dessert accompaniment from Phil, Sue and Caroline. Phyllis also made it out, making it a nice family get-together. Next morning Judy and I had breakfast at the Queens head near the Bonsall Cross, then I made my way south to Belper. I stopped briefly at Matlock Bath to see the motorcycles but with the weather still being wintry cold there were only a handful.
I pulled up to Chris’s parents place in Belper where Marianna, Chris and family welcomed me. Marianna had our day all planned out, so first we were off to her and Chris’s flat in Holloway - She calls it the Granny. We walked from the Granny to her work in Lea – a huge outdoor education facility for school groups.
Later we met Chris and his brother for a meal in Belper. The rain was coming down, and to our surprise we came across several sections of road that were littered with toads. Some dead, but mostly live at the time, padding their way across the roads looking for a mate. Anyone who knows Marianna will imagine the loud reaction to every toad.. “Watch out it’s a live one!”
We enjoyed our dinner together and followed it with a Guinness at the local. On the verge of St. Partick’s day this was the right choice. On our way home, to our sadness we came across scores of dead toads. As we neared the Granny on a less traveled road, there were still a few making their way or mounted in the puddles. In a gesture of life preservation, Marianna and Chris jogged ahead in the car headlights scooping them up, lobbing them into the safety of the bushes.
Sunday morning we visited Masson Mills in Matlock Bath. This is one of Sir Richard Arkwright’s signature mills, used for the manufacture of textiles. There is an amazing range of old machinery inside, all preserved and used right up till about 10 years ago. The levels are used for a shopping centre now, which was Marianna’s reason for going. I was delighted to find out why Arkwright is the “Father of the Factory System”.
Thanks Judy and Marianna for a delightful and interesting weekend.
See photos at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=103263&l=a948b&id=882525575
21-24 March, Scotland
This trip was a bit of a last minute decision for an Easter filler, but I am so glad I went. I traveled as far north as Inverness, well and truly getting my fix of mountains, snow and culture.
Having never been into Scotland I was very pleased that friend Margaret (Mags) and her boyfriend put me up for Friday night in her house in Glasgow. Last time I saw Mags was on a four-wheel-drive trip into the Clarence Reserve in New Zealand about a year and a half ago. It was good chance for a catch up and wander through the city. Mags lives fairly central, close the Squinty bridge and Armadillo structures. We walked past several historical sites, through the museum and Strathclyde, Glasgow Universities. That night we enjoyed a few pints in town with a few of her mates.
Saturday I began my mission up the west side of Scotland, past Loch Lomond and through the beautiful Grampian Mountains. The roads and scenery reminded me very much of New Zealand: The roads were wide enough to see around corners, there were very few stone walls obstructing the view to the countryside, and the countryside was well worth looking at. In the ranges is a particular tourist spot where the wildlife comes right up to tourists – some a little too close! A great view spot, complete with Scottish piper. I headed inland at Glencoe for a look at Kinlochleven. This is a classic old town at the head of Lock Leven. I went for a walk up the valley following the six hydro penstocks up toward Blackwater Reservoir.
Back on the road I passed by the majestic Ben Nevis and set compass for the North-East. The “Great Glen” as many know virtually cuts the country in two, and contains a series of lakes including the famous Loch Ness. On this leg I stopped at several monuments – The Commandos, Well of Seven Heads at Lock Oich, Fort Augustus and Urqhuart Castle beside Lock Ness. At the end of a long day I found a place to camp on a farm in Drumnadrochit, on the verges of Loch Ness.
It had snowed through the night and was sleeting in the morning so I packed up pretty quick and continued on to Inverness. I found lunch in town then headed south to Edinburgh. There was a lot of snow crossing the Grampian Mountains once more. At 405m it was snowing heavily at the Slochd summit, but not enough to settle on the salt-saturated road surfaces.
Edinburgh has rightly earned the title of “Best place to live in the UK” as far as I’m concerned. It has the right balance of town life and culture with outdoor spaces, ocean and activities. I found a central backpackers for the night, and mixed in with the locals – mainly Kiwis and Aussies, for the evening. Next day I spent the morning walking about town, and climbed the townside peak of Holyrood Park for a view of the city.
I had intended to visit the Falkirk wheel (google it, engineers) but with a long trip back to Warrington in the afternoon I decided to leave it for next time.
What a fantastic place, and thanks again Mags.
See photos at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=103268&l=2474b&id=882525575
Wednesday, 13 February 2008
On the Saturday I drove from the airport in Barcelona to Valls in the countryside, mainly to see our client. While there I headed up the local hills to Miramar, a tiny village set high on a ridge with only a single paper road access. I headed on further over the local pass to Montblanc, then headed out to the coast at Tarragona.
On the Sunday I drove up to Barcelona. On the way I spotted a Kart track at Vendrell. They were having a race meeting, so I watched from the viewing platform for a bit. For thrills and spills, see my facebook page : http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=21355915575
Once in Barcelona I parked up in the middle of the city and walked around the sights including Les Rambles, La Sagrada Familia Cathedral and Parc Guell. There were plenty of people about, but certainly nothing like the crowds in Summer I'm told. The Cathedral was pretty impressive, but the higlight of what I saw in the day was Parc Guell. There are so many wonderfully unusual things here, mostly created by the legendary Antonio Gaudi.
Back in Tarragona I had opportunities to walk along the beach, see the coastline and try some new cuisine - swordfish among others!
I have posted photos at
Saturday, 9 February 2008
To complete The New Zealand story, I spent a total 2 months downunder enjoying what was to be one of the best summers Christchurch has seen since I can remember. I arrived at end of November and left end of January, so Christmas was smack in the middle.
I stayed with my Dad while in NZ. We managed several trips out in the Jetboat, 4Wheel drive, and motorcycles. I caught up with many old mates from dancing, old-school, to just old... and a few new additions!
See pre-Christmas photos in New Zealand:
If you have me tagged in facebook you will already have seen my photos as I posted them, but for those who are not I will throw in links where appropriate. This site is also pathetic at doing photos, so I'm going to test the linking thing..
Christmas at Dad's place, Christchurch
I was fortunate to spend 10 days over New Year with Mum Val, her Husband John, my Brother Matt and Karina in Australia. Matt and Karina have been based in Brisbane for 3 years or so, but Mum and John had moved to Noosa about the time I moved to the UK. They bought into a Management Righs scheme in a Resort Hotel near the Noosa River. It was amazing to see all of you again in your new life surroundings!
Unfortunately the weather was rather wet and windy for almost the duration of my stay, but we made do, and got out when we could.
Photos from Brisbane and Noosa, Australia
Back in New Zealand after the brief Australian excursion I was again working on my tan. I can't say enough about the fantastic weather.. I thing my UK mates were getting rather tetchy with me at the time!
The work side of things went really well, including a visit from my Manager Steve from the UK, and also our US sales manager. Dad and I took Steve for a blast up the Waimakariri river in the jetboat which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Other activities illustrated in the photos below are a motorcycling trip to Akaroa, Ruapuna Speedway, the SounDay concert in Hagley park, work/friends/family group shots.
On the return trip I managed to meet up with Carmen Doran in Singapore, an engineer and dancing mate from years past. She now works and lives there. Her apartment is high in one of six(?) buildings horse-shoeing around an impressive garden and pools complex. Stay at Hotel Carmen if you can!
We lazed by the pool for a while, grabbed some dinner in town then headed for drinks and dancing. I thought I wouldn't last long with my jetlag kicking in at about 9pm, but Carmen saw the signs and uplifted the group, and led us into Clark Quay. I think it was somewhere around 4am that we made it back to the apartment?
Well that pretty much ties up the two months away from the UK. I have been back 3 weeks, over the jetlag and finally seeing some improvement in the miserable UK winter. As I said, right now I'm in Tarragona. Tomorrow I will explore Barcelona, then it's work mode from Monday. More on all of that in the next exciting episode!