Hi Honey, I’m Home

Did ya miss me?

Been off touring New Zealand for a few weeks (Mr Torkington, that’s a beautiful country you have there). Got home just before midnight last night (about three hours later than expected due to flight delays).

Not entirely sure what time of day it is, but I’ll be catching up over the next few days. There will be photos. There will be stories. There may even be an update to Movable Type 4.

My main problem currently seems to be that my spam filter broke about two days after I went away and I’ve been getting undiluted spam in my inbox for the last three weeks. I’m being rather cavalier about cleaning it up so if you sent me something important in the last three weeks and you don’t get a reply in the next couple of days, then you might consider resending it.


New Zealand

I mentioned yesterday that we’re off to New Zealand in ten days time. If anyone’s interested, here’s the itinerary (all dates in August):

Sun 5th Leave UK
Mon 6th Arrive Singapore
Tue 7th Singapore
Wed 8th Leave Singapore
Thu 9th Arrive Christchurch
Fri 10th Christchurch
Sat 11th Christchurch to Queenstown
Sun 12th Queenstown
Mon 13th Queenstown
Tue 14th Queenstown to Fox Glacier
Wed 15th Fox Glacier to Christchurch
Thu 16th Christchurch
Fri 17th Christchurch to Wellington
Sat 18th Wellington
Sun 19th Wellington to Rotorua
Mon 20th Rotorua
Tue 21st Rotorua to Paihia
Wed 22nd Paihia
Thu 23rd Paihia
Fri 24th Paihia to Auckland
Sat 25th Auckland
Sun 26th Auckland to Singapore
Mon 27th Singapore
Tues 28th Singapore to UK

I’ve tried to list the whole tour on my Dopplr account, but it doesn’t recognise some of the places.


The Joy of Flying

Martin makes some very good points about the unpleasantness of current airport security procedures. And, of course, once you get past security spending any amount of time in a plane is no fun at all.

I’m seriously considering cutting back on the amount of flying that I do. Not because of global warming, and not because I’m scared of terrorism, but because flying is just such a deeply nasty way to spend time.

We’re booked on flights to New Zealand in August, but apart from that I really can’t see myself wanting to spend more than a couple of hours in a plane. Cruising is definitely the way to go. And only cruises that leave from Harwich :-)

Scientists really need to get cracking on developing teleportation.


The Naze

This weekend I was at my parents’ and on Saturday afternoon we took advantage of global warming and went for a walk along The Naze.

The Naze is a coastal headland just north of Walton in Essex. It was the area that first got me interested in geology when I was a child. There are two types of rock there. At the bottom there is the London Clay which is underneath most of southeast England and above that is the Red Crag which is a sandstone.

The Red Crag is full of fossils. Well, I say fossils, but really they are just shells that fell to the sea-bed and got covered by sand. They’re a couple of million years old and stained red by the sand, but they are really no different than the modern shells that you find on the beach. Apparently there’s a species of Neptunea found there which is rare as the spiral goes in the opposite direction to all other related species. In my parents loft there are probably lots of shoeboxes full of Red Crag fossils gathered from The Naze. The London Clay is much older (about 50 million years) and has its own set of fossils. Apparently the most common thing you’ll find in the clay is a shark’s tooth. But in 35 years of searching I’ve never found one.

But the Naze has a problem. And the problem is this. Sandstone is porous and clay isn’t. When it rains, water passed through the sandstone and collects on top of the clay. This destabilises the cliff. The Naze is therefore one of the fastest eroding parts of the British coastline. As an example, there are two Second World War pillboxes that were built on top of the cliff. Today, only 65 years later, they are on the beach. And they’re not sitting right next to the cliff face either. They’re both a good 50 yards from the cliff. That’s a lot of erosion in a very short time.

You’re no longer allowed to climb on the cliffs as a) it’s too dangerous and b) it adds to the erosion. So there’s a generation of local schoolchildren who haven’t enjoyed a school trip there. Which is a shame.

Other than closing the cliffs, there seems to be nothing being done to counter the erosion. The local council has plenty of more important things to spend its money on. But the erosion continues at a worrying pace. On Saturday I took some photos so that I have a reference point to compare to visits that I make in the next few years. It would be interesting to search for some older photos to show how it has changed.



Montserrat From Helicopter The highlight of my holiday was the helicopter trip that we took to Montserrat to see at first hand the damage done by the Soufriere Hills volcano since it became active in 1995.

The trip is organised by Caribbean Helicopters on Antigua. I only found it because I was idly flicking through my copy of The Rough Guide to the Caribbean and looked at some of the islands that we weren’t visiting. The tour costs $220, which seems expensive, but it’s worth every cent.

We almost didn’t make it though. We arrived at the arranged time, got into the helicopter and set off. But halfway across the sea, the pilot decided that the clouds were too low and we wouldn’t be able to see anything so he turned back. As this was our only day on the island, the company did all they could to rearrange the rest of their day so that we could try again later. We wandered off to have some lunch and then set off again.

And I’m so glad that we didn’t just give up and get a refund. The trip was fantastic. I’ve put up a set of photos, but they can’t convey the effect of actually being there. It’s incredible seeing busy towns completely destroyed and covered in metres of volcanic ash.

We were there on December 22nd and our pilot, Greg, was taking photos too as he said that there were some changes that the scientists at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory would be interested in. Seems that he was right as two days later the MVO raised the volcanic activity level to 4 (on a scale of five) and early in January a village was evacuated as the volcano was getting a bit feisty. This bout of activity is still continuing. I wouldn’t be suprised if flights over the island are restricted at the moment, so we’re lucky to have gone when we did.

If you’re ever in Antigua and have an hour to spare, then I strongly recommend that you contact the nice people at Caribbean Helicopters and arrange a trip. You won’t regret it.

photography travel


They still need a lot more tagging and reorganisation, but I’ve just dumped about 350 photos from the cruise onto Flickr.



Delta Blues

I rarely have a need to use a US airline, so I don’t really know anything about their relative merits. I do, however, now have one useful data point.

Delta is staffed entirely by incompetent fools and I’ll never be using them again.

Our return from Costa Rica involved two Delta flights on Friday. DL245 from San Jose (the one in Costa Rica) to Atlanta and (after a four hour wait) DL12 from Atlanta to Gatwick.

The check-in in Costa Rica was horrible. The flight was full, so we queued for over an hour. And when we finally got to the desk they made us repack our bags as one of them was too heavy. In the rush to fix that, we repacked a bottle of Madeira (which we’d been carrying with us since Funchal) in my hand luggage – so it then got confiscated going through security.

I don’t remember much about that flight. We’d been up since 4:30am so I was running on autopilot. I’m pretty sure that we were about half an hour late taking off (for reasons I don’t remember). The plane was really old. No video screens in the seat backs, and Gill’s seatbelt was covered in what appeared to be the dried up remains of someone’s dinner from a previous flight.

Oh, and they charge ($5!) for alcoholic drinks.

The one good thing that happened was that our luggage was tagged all the way through to Gatwick, so we didn’t have to deal with it in Atlanta. But just as we landed, the crew made an announcement that we would have to collect all of our luggage and check it in again. They were wrong – as our orange labels proved.

I hadn’t been to the US since before September 2001. This has been a concious decision. I have no interest in visiting a country that doesn’t really seem to be interested in having visitors. I was only passing through because that was the route that was part of the cruise package. And having now experienced current US immigration procedures at first hand I won’t be rushing back. I’ve never before been fingerprinted or had my photo taken in order to enter a country. It’s like they’re assuming that all visitors are criminals. Another couple who were travelling with us were detained for twenty minutes because they had Lebanese stamps in their passports. I was grateful that we hadn’t had our passports stamped in Cuba!

But none of that is Delta’s fault. Let’s get back to the main story. Boarding for our flight was delayed for about forty-five minutes as the plane was late arriving, but eventually we got on. Then it got very strange.

Firstly, the pilot announced that there were some problems with the way the luggage had been loaded and that it would take twenty minutes to move some of the luggage into a different hold. Then, about twenty minutes later, he came back on to tell us that there hadn’t been a problem after all and that someone had just done some calculations incorrectly. All of which doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence. But we’d lost our take-off slot and when we eventually took off, we were an hour and a half late.

The flight itself was the usual long-haul, night flight hell. We landed in Gatwick about an hour later than expected, got off the plane, went through immigration and headed for the baggage reclaim hall.

We had three bags checked in. After twenty minutes or so, two of them arrived. After waiting another half an hour, the third bag still hadn’t appeared. And it looked like no other bags were appearing. We asked a Delta employee who was collecting bags and he confirmed that all of the bags had been unloaded and that they were all on the carousel. So we headed to the baggage enquiries desk.

There were about thirty passengers with bags missing. So the desk quickly turned into a bit of a scrum. The two employees there were completely bemused by the number of people they had to deal with and reacted by working as slowly as possible. They also gave up any idea of dealing with people in any kind of sane order and just spoke to the person who was shouting loudest at any given point.

It took about thirty minutes to get a form, fill it in, and give it back to one of the chaps on the desk. Initially they said they had no idea what had happened to the bags, but later they seemed to be pretty sure that the missing bags were on the next flight. Which made us start to wonder if the pilots messages to us were accurate. Maybe, as the flight was so full, they had solved their overloading problems by leaving some of the luggage on the tarmac.

Anyway, we eventually gave our form back and were told that they would deliver our luggage by 5pm the next day. We then went off to find our taxi and go home. Of course, he charged us an extra ten pounds waiting time, but I intend to get that back from Delta.

The missing bag did turn up the next day. But I still want to find out what happened. Everyone that we speak to at Delta seems keen to tell us that this kind of thing happens all the time to all airlines. But in the twenty-five years that I’ve been flying, I’ve never before before had a bag end up on the wrong plan. And I’ve never before flown Delta. Is that just a coincidence?


Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.

We’re heading towards Cuba. We arrive there tomorrow morning for a four day stay. We’re all hoping that Castro doesn’t die in the next few days – as that could apparently be a bit of a problem for tourists in the country.


A Mystery

Yesterday, following a series of confusions that may never be adequately explained, we ended up having a very nice dinner in Barbados with my step-mother-in-law (is that a real term?)

During the meal, she mentioned that at some point earlier in the year she had met someone who knew me. Someone who worked in computers. But being at bit… er… disorganised she couldn’t remember who it was or where she met them.

I’d be interested to find out who it was though. So if you were in Barbados earlier this year and met a rather mad woman who asked if you knew me, then please let me know.

I’m currently in St Lucia. This morning I went on a helicopter trip over the island. Then we had a nice lunch and spent the afternoon on the beach. Tonight we sail for Martinique.

It’s a hard life!



I’m writing this from a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Net access is (understandably) patchy – we’re sharing a 64k pipe with all the ship’s official data traffic – so I haven’t kept as in touch as I hoped that I would.

We’ve been to Gibraltar and Madeira and for the last four days we’ve been crossing the Atlantic. We reach Barbados in a couple of days and from there we wander around the Caribbean for a few days before heading off to Central America.

There will be stories and photos once I get a better connection.