30 December 2012

...and what do you get in the bag?

Travelling First Class with Swiss is great fun - and on certain flights you can do it for just "taxes and charges" plus Lufthansa Miles (135,000 in my case).

Swiss First - BHX to MUSCAT

On my return flight from Muscat (30th December) I was the only passenger in First - so I got the choice of any seat/bed and a welcome greeting provided by the steward's 9 year old daughter, who had come along for a special Xmas trip - three languages spoken and still not 10 years old.

As well as lots of legroom and all you get pyjamas, slippers and a little bag - what does it contain?

SWISS First - Travel Comfort Kit Contents (2012)
  • Kleenex
  • Throat Sweets
  • Hairbrush
  • Sleep mask
  • Ear plugs
  • Socks
  • Tooth brush
  • Tooth paste
  • Hand cream
  • Eye contour cream (whatever that is)
  • Time release moisturizer (intensive)
  • Lip Balm
  • Welcome note

02 December 2012

Can anyone identify this spider

There is a rather unusual spider living just outside my front door.  I have never seen one like this in the UK.  Can anyone identify this.  The body is about 12mm across.  It does not seem to make webs - although when I slam the door shut it sometimes drops on a thread of silk.  I guess it is an active hunting spider - full complement of forward facing eyes...

Update: It seems this is the common garden spider - if so why have I never seen one before? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_garden_spider)

Can you identify this UK spider?

Lots of little eyes staring back at me

24 November 2012

I love London and it is only £8 away

06:50 leave home , 3 perfect transfers later 08:40 arrive London highbury park (£8 via train) 09:00 Parkrun race in 21:33 pos 11. sometimes public transport just works (get yourself an Oyster card - no fuss, no hassle, just function)

At Selly Oak station there were a couple from Slovakia - so chuffed that a) I knew where their country was and the difference between it and Slovenia b) I had been there and had a good time and c) I had ARDF friends from Slovakia.  Studying international relations at Birmingham University their question for me was "where should we visit in England" - ummm - start with Bluebell woods in May perhaps

From Wikipedia

Objective 1: Highbury Fields Parkrun

It is a bit of a tight course - you go round and round five times - but I enjoyed it and for the second time this autumn a W10 said "I like your hat"
I just beat the MD of Lo Recordings (an independent label) on the run in - the first of many creative people I met during my day in London.

Parkrun has such a nice atmosphere - folks so friendly before, during and after - but where now to change? The sports centre wanted £4.40 to use the shower - so I changed in McDonalds (it has its uses) and had my second latte of the day.

Objective 2: Eels and Liquor

Now this was the best bit - I walked from Highbury into the heart of the East End - something of a culinary pilgrimage for me: At 150 Hoxton Street you will find F Cooke's Pie and Mash.  This family business has been going since 1882 - that is 150 years (F. Cooke - Live Eel Importer)

ooh! - Jellied Eels - so scrummy
While enjoying my second breakfast I met the manager for a couple of top DJ's (I did not get their names but they are big in Industrial House - "Industrial music is a style of experimental music that draws on transgressive and provocative themes" and "House music is a genre of electronic dance music that originated in the American city of Chicago in the early 1980s. It was initially popularized circa 1984 in discothèques catering to gay and mixed,primarily African-American and Latino audiences".  None the wiser I engaged the photographer in conversation - after this engagement she is off to the Brixton Academy to cover Crystal Castles.

Coincidence 1: This is exactly where Nephew Simon will be at 19:00 this evening - "If you bump into a 6 foot 4 red haired chap say hello from Uncle David"

Famous DJs review the output of this morning's photo shoot.

I really like F Cooke's - if I have any overseas visitors - this is one place I will take them (in the East End they don't say "cheese" they say... well I really can't repeat it here - it is rude but it gets a smile every time)
 Coincidence 2: The proprietor (on the left) made a trip on the Queen Mary II this year - to celebrate his birthday (just like me) and just like me one of his party failed to grasp the several and different meanings of "Friends of Bill W" and "Friends of Dorothy" - why don't they explain these things at school?

Two of our Queen Mary friends - and also of Dorothy
Highlight of my host's trip on the QMII was an excursion to Bruge - and then we talked 72% cocoa solids chocolate for a long while.

Proper East End - Proper East End Food and Proper East End hospitality

 But now I have to get over to the West End to pick up my tickets

Hoxton is seriously not the most prosperous of places and it is only a mile or so from the centre of "The City of London"

Foreign readers please note - there is London City and then there is The City of London - and these are not the same thing.

On Hoxton Street you will come across "Hoxton Street Monster Supplies" where they will sell you...

Impacted Earwax (fudge actually)
Hoxton Street Monster Supplies is an operating name for the Ministry of Stories, Company No. 07317370, Registered Charity No. 1138553.  A ministry of stories - oh how I love London.

Another reason why I love London - you never know what you are going to meet:

On the tube from Old Street Station I fell into conversation with three chaps who were wearing rather flamboyant suits.  It turns out that, in between studying medicine at UCL, they have been rehearsing a music act and they are off to the Excel Arena to audition, on national TV, for Britain's Got Talent - three singers and a french horn: 10 out of 10 for Chutzpah

I told them that my Nephew had selected UCL as his backup in case he did not get the grades for Imperial College - to which they replied "is he really looking forward to spending four years without meeting any girls at all?" Are you listening Simon?

Ticketmaster had not yet delivered my tickets so it was off to the British Museum...
...Which is free and you get to see where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital and has a collection, in part, comprising artifacts liberated* by various British army regiments from the entire globe.  "You can have your Elgin Marbles back when you balance your budget Mr Papadopoulos!"  But seriously my favourites are the Assyrian Statuary - just what were they smoking back in BC 934 to 609?

*aka stolen

Centre Point - amazed this notorious building is still standing
Gives me a warm feeling - part of the big Cadbury Family

Having discussed the merits or otherwise of Bruges' Belgian Chocolates and the amazing similarities between his establishment and my favourite Belgian Friterie
 Coincidence 3: I stood looking at this advert for 10 minutes waiting for my tube train to Embankment... 72% Cocoa Solids Chocolate

Lunch was at herman ze german - very nice staff - but then I have a weakness for German Ladies.  Offered the choice of three grades of sauce on my currywurst, I went for mild - now I am calibrated it will be "The Special" next time.
The street down from The Strand to The Embankment (next to Charing Cross) had two Starbucks and one Costa Coffee all within 150 metres.  I am waiting until they open the first Starbucks inside a Starbucks - so you can have a large latte while you are standing in line to order a large latte.

And so to the playhouse for the main event of my visit:

A musical during which, I am informed, a colleague's wife exclaimed "this is just like Monty Python?"

Sadly it was just OK.  I am still humming the tunes though - masterful lyrics from Eric Idle "while you're chewing on life's gristle, just give a little whistle"

After the show went for a meal with Nephew Simon and friend down from Trinity, Cambridge (Natural Science and confused why his maths tutorial was cancelled because of the Ash Dieback - I guess the government wants some serious modelling doing) at Masala Zone Soho - where I discovered I had been working a few hundred metres from the home of our waitress (in Mumbai at Thane factory) and a new taste experience - dahi puri (you have to eat these in one mouthful otherwise, be warned, it gets very messy).  Simon chose the restaurant - but it was one I had marked out on a previous visit.

Immensely proud that my Nephew has made it to Imperial Collage (Physics) - shame he won't meet any girls there (at least according to those UCL medics I met on the Underground - see above. Imperial is #6 in these world rankings Strangely UCL is #4 but not for physics at least.

There only remained for me to make my pilgrimage to Mornington Crescent (see here) before catching the 21:03 back to Birmingham:Selly Oak - I am not going to book a seat in the quiet zone again - there is just at much noise and in the rest of the carriages - only you just get more annoyed. First class for me next time I think.

The End (@ 23:54)

22 November 2012

Moreton WEE

Some trees did blow down and it was a bit wet but, all in, all I am glad I went...

What was forecast - very windy, very wet.
 I called the planner at 16:30 "no its on, not raining here at all"

First start - 18:00 - this is the rainfall radar - we are in Redditch

Excellent Soup Mike (planner, on the right)  I was not able to capture the steam rising from Chris (on the left)

Competitors - damp but happy

The Event Centre

09 November 2012

To Bludenz for my Milka Injection

My employers have factories everywhere, but one of the very best is located in Bludenz in the Voralberg in Austria.  The 100+* year old factory site is a little constrained - squeezed in the very narrow valley floor between the railway/Rhine and the mountains - so some very tall and thin storage tanks and amazing feats of manoeuvring by lorry drivers.

*Looks like it is 125 years

Here is the view from the canteen:

I am here to share knowledge with the Milka team (formerly Suchard, then Kraft Jacobs Suchard, then Kraft Foods and currently Mondelēz International Incorporated)

I am not sure if the Milka Cow has a name - but it was friendly
There is a staff shop/factory outlet - It has an entry in the Lonely Planet Guide

Next morning I saw folks posing for pictures by the shop sign - so I guess it really is popular with visitors and tourists.
The view from my bedroom window at the Gasthof Traube in Braz

And an even better view from the car park - this is a really lovely hotel - and if you can't afford a room you can camp next door - and yes folks were doing this in November.

The food was good as well - this was a clear soup with pasta and a big dumpling

Here Beccy gets first class treatment - chauffeured right to the plane (after someone else had left their phone in the hire car)

But do not believe the "leave at 14:00 for a 17:15 flight" advice from the locals - with only a very short Friday afternoon traffic delay I made it to the gate just 10 minutes before boarding.

Late afternoon at Zurich Airport

And another type of wing to gaze at on our way home - this is a Fokker 100 - and in seat 20A your head is about 500mm from the port engine - take earplugs.

04 November 2012

The Gas Man Cometh - oh b*gg*r...

19:00 Sunday - My neighbour has a sensitive nose - tidying up his garage he smelled gas and called the emergency crew out - just as I was off for an evening viewing of Skyfall...

Yes there is a leak with HIS SUPPLY but they had to dig MY DRIVE up to get to it.  Leak is contained but to do this they have disconnected our gas supply...

...and tomorrow I have lots on in the office so I jogging back and forth to let gas engineers into my house, my garage, neighbours house and so on to dig up my garage floor and run new pipes and more and more and more - and then I am going to have to get the drive re-tarmac-ed and...

I sense it is going to be just like the Flanders and Swann lament...

31 October 2012

I'm Sorry I (really) haven't a Clue

It is a radio programme - that has been on the air for forty years (a fair attempt is made to explain it here)

Tickets for the live recording were advertised on 1st October and went on sale at 10:00am on 16th October - by 10:03 when I finally managed to log on to Symphony Hall Website there are only ~50 tickets remaining (it is a 2000+ auditorium).  I got one of the last - only £5 though - it is a BBC event after all and we all pay our licence fee (even though I don't own a TV).

I have been listening at watching Messrs Cryer, Garden and Brooke-Taylor for all of my (remembered) life - my earliest datable TV memory is "Do not adjust your set" (that Mrs Black was so evil),  I nearly burst a blood vessel laughing to "The Goodies" (somebody did die laughing (See Kung Fu Kapers)) and my earliest Radio memory is "Hello Cheeky" and now I get to see them live:

The whole auditorium is balanced on rubber pads - there is a mainline rail track underneath - all designed and done by my friend Deb Turnbull
 One problem is that the audience is very knowledgeable and is fully in with all the in-jokes.  This leads to a lot of before-the-punchline premature laughter.  After the recording the producer comes on stage and makes us all do those bits again, and again until we get the timing right (especially the midlands history section about the Iron Age tribe from Worcester coming up to the smelt around Shirley)
All ready now - it is a radio show so the staging is pretty simple
 During the show they played a game of "Mornington Crescent" (described here and with a guide to playing here - the rules are a little tricky - you will find playing advice here).  I did not follow it all - being only a novice player but with an hour to kill waiting for my train from Euston I made a little pligrimage:

Contrary to 'received wisdom' I have found Londoners to be friendly and helpful - a chap called Martin offered to take my photo (I think a lot of folks are rather lonely and glad to find someone who has the time to chat)
The goal of the game
And I made it - via Euston, Highbury & Islington, Old Street, Embankment, Tottenham Court Road, Embankment (again, sneaky move) and finally...

Mornington Crescent!

 I win, you lose, ha, ha, ha!

29 September 2012

Flash Mob @ Marston Green

...its gone out over Twitter - XH558 is going on a season's end tour of factory sites (contributing to the original Vulcan prototype, first flight 60 years and a month ago)

Birmingham contributed... tyres so we get a visit... take off from Doncaster was reported at 15:00 so I made a mad dash across town to be greeted by

1000+ folks waiting at the N end of our airport runway and a rather confused security man in a Land-rover

The airport goes very quiet - a pause in the scheduled takeoffs and then... "I can hear it coming"

There is it!

Not exactly a Stealth Bomber - but named after the Roman God of Fire and Destruction*

*according to Wikipedia at least - I always preferred to think of Vulcan as a blacksmith/forgemaster

A big wing waggle for the crowd

and a very low pass

and it is goodbye

and off to Wolverhampton
 Worth every penny of the £15000 in fuel it took for today's tour - in the time it took me to get from one side of 3 to the other XH558 managed 1-2-3 - you can donate here

Twitter feed - ran about 2 minutes behind