Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas and Christmas Cooking (Part 2 - Christmas Day 2015)

A relaxing start to Christmas day (the kids had a couple of small presents to keep them happy) and E. cooked a "full English" for all of us - I had a quick visit to Park 'n' Shop to get hold of some more sausages.

Present opening was as usual a highlight of the day - I was fortunate enough to get lots of books and DVDs - A. was ecstatic with his X - Box and Vs main present was a "big" bike.

We then had our traditional visit to the beach (just below us next to where the Jumeirah Beach Park used to be before they decided to build the canal). It was a bright day with high cloud but plenty of sunshine and whilst initially a little cold the water was great and Dad, A and I all had a swim and V. had a paddle.

Christmas day dinner was with our Aussie friends K and J in the Villas - in total there was 15 of us as K's sister and her family were over for the holidays. It was a little hectic in getting there as my Ham - happily cooking away for around 20 hours decided to fall apart when I was applying the glazing - Nigella recommended cutting off some of the fat, scoring the remaining fat and then inserting the cloves and the Demerara/Treacle mixture but in removing the top layer of fat I had to cut the string that (as it turned out) kept the Ham together so there was an awkward 20 minutes as I tried to keep everything from flopping out (used tin foil in the end). We arrived a little late but everyone was in a party mood and after a couple of glasses of champagne (courtesy of Dad)and a Mojito (Julian's Christmas Day speciality) we settled down for a great Christmas Dinner outside in the afternoon sunshine. The Ham was well received and a good time was had by all.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Scores on the Doors

As foreshadowed by an earlier post at the end of this year's post a day challenge, I have just gone back to look at how this year's challenge faired in comparison with previous years and the results are as follows (year followed by posts vs nos. of days (ie 30)):

2015: 22/30
2014: 17/30
2013: 0/30
2012: 19/30
2011: 6/30
2010: 27/30

Not sure why 2013 was ignored altogether (although I do note that I was quite prolific earlier that Summer so perhaps I had run out of inspiration). 2011 also looks rather light.

I also took a look at the stats from my earlier blog dealing with Hong Kong days (visit here if you are interested: ).
These are very disappointing:

2009: 6/30
2008: 1/30
2007: 1/30
2006 1/30

One of the things that this does show it that I have been blogging for nearly 10 years - and I guess that would be about right as I started this around the time that V. was born. I think the original intention was to try to do it every week or every month. I have not had a huge amount of success at that but if you tot up my posts from my HK blog (c. 40 - which is quite interesting in itself as I thought that I had posted much more regularly than that)) and the 125 posts from here that is still a fairly healthy 160 + posts over a 9 year period.

Christmas and Christmas Cooking Part 1

Having used up pretty much all my holiday entitlement this year - mainly as a consequence of our Skiing holiday in Switzerland and our language lessons in Granada together with our Autumn RWC themed break in UK, I was rather fortuitously able to cobble together a 5 day break mainly because of an unexpected public holiday on Christmas Eve (Prophet's Birthday) and being able to add the 1 1/2 days I had to work over Martyr's Day/National Day holidays to the 1/2 day holiday I had left over for the year (and a weekend) so it turned into a very pleasant break - timed nicely to coincide with Dad's arrival from UK. Christmas Eve was spent on last minute gift purchases (E.) and a visit to Galleries Lafayette for lunch followed by the ceremonial cooking of the Ham ready for Christmas Day. Dad and I had gone to Park 'n' Shop to pick up a larger ham and spotted a turkey at the Pork section counter so nabbed that (6kg - possibly a little on the large side) as well as a wrapped Gammon. There was a lady behind us also eyeing up the Turkey as her name had been missed off the Turkey reservation list (it as apparently on the ham list so obviously a breakdown in communication) and so was a little concerned about sourcing a bird on Christmas Eve.

We have been avidly watching Nigella Lawson's cookery show and she had done a spectacular ham in black treacle which (a) looked amazing and (b) looked very simple. E. had bought me the book for Christmas s o I was allowed to write out the recipe (essentially 1 ham, black treacle and some whole cloves/Demerara sugar and more treacle for the glazing). The most difficult bit was wrapping up the ham in tin foil so it was fully sealed after applying the treacle. The next step was to cook for between 15 and 24 hours....

After the ham, we went to the Children's Mass at St Francis. I had hoped to get there for the carols at 5 but the traffic was terrible so we arrived just in time for the start of mass - it was absolutely packed with no room in the Church o the hall so we sat out side where they had set up seating and big screen. It was very nicely done although we were right next tot he speaker so a little noisy!

We got home at about 7pm and I did Dad and I a quick BBQ - lamp chops for him and some salmon which I had marinade in an olive oil/balsamic/garlic/Thyme sauce which was very nice indeed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hollywood Boulevard

A. and I went to see Paul Hollywood at the BBC Good Food road show at the WTC on Saturday - it was supposed to be me and E but V. has been unwell so No. 1 son and I made the trip to see the TGBBO (see previous posts)star in action. He did not disappoint. We had a couple of recipes and some chat followed by a Q&A and autograph session. Both A. and I asked some questions (and by a curious symmetry me being the first of the session and A. having the last one - both captured on Video) although we were handily placed in the front row as A. had left the last session (quite interesting with a chap called Andy Bates) as soon as it had finished and rushed to bagsy some spaces.

My question about his greatest disaster (having told him about the calamitous great Raymont/Grabham bake off in October)led to two stories from him - one about the Sultan of Brunei and the other about accidentally salting rather than sugaring 1,000 doughnuts at his Father's bakery.

The WTC venue is right next to where our new offices will be located and it was good to see them progressing well.

A. was also delighted to get PH's autograph on his Bread book and last night I put one of is recipes into action - Soda Bread. As those of you who know me will recall, Soda Bread - particularly made by Mother - is one of my favourite things and so I was keen to give it a go and the directions seemed to suggest that it would be relatively straightforward.

A. and I have been going for walks after I have been getting home from work as a pre-Christmas fitness drive (baby steps...) and so we went down to Park 'n' Shop to get the ingredients. The first problem was the complete absence of plain wholemeal flour - there was pretty much every other kind of flour you could imagine but not the one we actually wanted so we ended up with some all purpose flour. The second issue is that there was only low fat buttermilk. I am pretty sure that this did not feature at any point in my Mother's rendition of this recipe but in the absence of any alternatives we pushed on with this. Given that there is in fact only 5 ingredients (plain flour, wholemeal flour, salt, bicarb and buttermilk) this was not a particularly auspicious start. Nevertheless, V. and A were soon vigorously mixing everything together and whilst the resultant doughy mixture was not exactly like the picture is in the book, it was a fairly close approximation.

It does say in the book to wait until everything has cooled down before eating. However, I could not resist warm soda bread with butter and honey and actually it tasted very good (even though I say so my self). I also had it for breakfast this morning (and hopefully at lunch) - I cannot wait to make it with the correct ingredients!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Finsh line is in Site

I have not had time to check but it would be interesting to compare how I have managed this year on my post per day for November with previous years. It feels like I have managed more posts although I have still not achieved a post per day but I will check when things are less hectic (busy writing business plans amongst other things) and am lacking in sleep.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

More Cricket

Dad and I went to the 20/20 - England -v- Pakistan on Thursday last week and were entertained once again to an excellent match which England won by 14 runs - mainly due to an enterprising half century from Sam Billings which tipped the balance in England's favour after an early collapse. Apparently this was the second fastest 50 ever by and Englishman so sits compares favourable with Jos Butler's 100 in the ODI we saw last week. The atmosphere in Dubai Sports City Cricket Stadium can only be described as "raucous" as the c. 20,000 crowd (predominantly supporting Pakistan) raised the roof whenever a 4 or 6 was scored.

We have now worked out that by getting the driver to drop us by the Stadium and pick us from the same place we cut down the hassle factor of getting to and from the stadium by around 90%.

While we were enjoying our "staycation" at JBH we were also able to watch the subsequent match on Friday (again in Dubai) which was a lot closer with England winning by 3 runs. If anything the Stadium looked fuller than the previous evening so I would imagine the atmosphere was electric.

Variable reception

I did intend to post over the weekend but when I got a spare moment to myself I was unable to get sufficient wi-fi reception to do anything from my Ipad - my bedroom seems to be the only area in the house where the signal is so weak that anything other than the most basic internet activities is a time-consuming affair - even reading the paper is hard work with pages only partially downloading or not down-loading at all so trying to compose and then post something is an extremely thankless tasks.

I have on occasion tried to remedy the situation by extending the wifi coverage from our PC in the lounge but whilst every other room in the house seems to be fine (even when there are multiple users), the strength in the Master bedroom states resolutely on 1 or no bars. If anyone has suggestions (I have tried range extending dvices etc.) then please feel free to use the comment box.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cricket, Lovely Cricket

We are off to see the England -v- Pakistan 20/20 tonight after the excitement of last weeks ODI. This marks the mid-point in Dad's sporting odyssey to Dubai this year. We saw the Golf last weekend (Rory getting out of jail on the 17th made for compelling viewing although we did not go on the Sunday) and we have the Rugby 7s to look forward to next week. Let's hope Mr Buttler has his run getting hat on again today!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Damp in Dubai

I know I have managed to miss a couple of days posting - absolutely horrendously busy at work so simply have not had time to come up with anything even short to post. Today is no exception so I will simply report on the downpour that we had here yesterday that turned what was already a fairly difficult transport situation into virtual gridlock around the Trade Centre Roundabout. Monday and Tuesday I seemed to have spent most of the day stuck in traffic jams as I went from meeting to meeting and yesterday I had a 4pm meeting scheduled for the airport. Fortunately it was cancelled as I am sure that I would still be waiting in the traffic to get home as the rain hit at around lunchtime.

It has been very grey again today. We are due to be going to JBH on Friday and Saturday so fingers crossed that the rain departs.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

You've been framed

From my office window I have views over towards the Trade Centre Roundabout and Zabeel Park where one of the more interesting architectural developments has been taking shape. This is the "Frame" which as far as I can make out is a square shaped structure comprising two narrow towers joined at the top by what looks like a high-level bridge. Apparently the idea is that if you are looking from old Dubai towards the Sheikh Zayad Road and "new" Dubai you will have the gleaming skyscrapers and the Burg Khalifa presented in a picture postcard frame and likewise if you are looking from the "new" Dubai side you will see Bur Dubai and its environs similarly pictured. I also understand that the bridge will have a glass floor so when you are walking from one tower tot he other you will be able to see the ground beneath your feet- sounds terrifying!.

Dubai has always been a place for the new - but generally it goes for bigger (towers, malls, ferris wheels, roads etc.). The Frame is however something I have never rally come across before and so it will be interesting to see whether this bit of Dubai innovation will catch on in other cities.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Butler Service

I have missed a couple of days mainly due to being very busy - no excuse but still a little unfortunate given how well I was doing.

The sporting extravaganza that characterises my Fathers visits to UAE is in full swing golf today and the last England v Pakistan ODI was yesterday. Sports City is a great cricket venue as the atmosphere is electric even if less than a third full. There was plenty of singing and chanting yesterday as first Roy and then Jos Buttler scored excellent centuries as England beat Pakistan to clinch the one day series. Butler's innings was a joy - 120 in around 56 balls and the fastest test hundred by an Englishmen - he was cracking the ball to all parts and while Pakistan managed to keep up with the 7 an over run rate they kept losing wickets at key times and the victory was well deserved.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Taking the Pisco

The last time I had a Pisco Sour was around 16 years ago when E. and I made our epic trip to Peru as part of our world tour of 1999. The town of Pisco in Peru is famous for the eponymous drink (made from recollection from egg white, lemon juice and a spirit called Pisco unsurprisingly made in the town) and of course we partook with enthusiasm during our visit. We even purchased a bottle (which we then proceeded to transport in our rucksack for the rest of the trip - E. eventually got sick of carrying it and decided to finish the bottle in our campervan in Adelaide during the Australian leg of our tour with hilarious (for me) consequences - it is quite strong!).

Anyway last night I went to the Peruvian restaurant in the Four Seasons. The food was excellent (certainly far superior to what we were eating on our 1999 visit to Peru.....) but the evening was made particularly memorable by my re-acquaintance with the Pisco Sour - it did seem significantly stronger than I remembered it - but that might be because I getting old - it certainly tasted very good and I will be definitely returning to that restaurant.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Twist or stick?

Given my desk bound working life I generally try to go for a walk at lunchtime for some exercise. There is a longish patch of grass outside the office that adjoins the Sheikh Zayad Road (SZR)so whilst it is reasonably green and pleasant and suitable for a work (and there are generally some picknickers enjoying their lunch or an afternoon nap)there is an accompanying roar from the traffic.

I am preparing a presentation this afternoon but decided I needed some fresh air so set off for my walk - it usually takes around 15 - 20 minutes but given the poor progress I had made in finalising my presentation I decided I would try to cover the same ground but in a quicker time so my pace was (comparatively) brisk.

All was going well until towards the end of the grass patch where the path next to the SZR starts. I managed to step on a piece of uneven ground and tumbled with my usual lack of elegance to the ground twisting my ankle in the process. There were two competing emotions. The first was acute embarrassment as my antics were clearly visible to all the traffic thundering past on the way to Abu Dhabi so I was keenly aware that somebody who might know me would have witnessed my clumsiness and secondly acute pain - anybody who has twisted their ankle will know that at first it feels like you have actually broken your ankle such is the intensity of the pain. Eventually this died down and I was able to hobble (covered in grass stains and twigs) back to the office - of course on the way back I had to pass two work colleagues who were enjoying the afternoon sun outside so I was forced to try to explain why I looked like I had been dragged through a hedge backwards.

So now I am at my desk trying to finish the presentation and wondering quite what sort of impression I will be making on the audience this afternoon as I limp up to the podium although hopefully I will have got rid of some of the grass stains by then.

I will let you know how I get on.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Seasons of mist

One of things that we do not get in Dubai is clearly delineated seasons - it is either very hot (during the Summer months - May - September but particularly hot in June/July/August) or nice and warm (roughly October through to April) and the seasons tend to merge into each other. This time of year is generally lovely - although while I was away last week in Seoul in apparently rained (there were definitely puddles around the place when I got home on account of the almost complete absence of drainage). However, it was only during our recent visit back to the UK and my trip to Korea last week that it really brought home to me how much I miss the shades of Autumn - both England and Korea were a riot of colour as the leaves ranged from golden brown to deepest red (although I was told that in UK only 4% of tree leaves are in fact red - will need to check that). Nothing really beats a clear, crisp November day with piles of leaves under foot just ready to be kicked! Obviously I don't really miss everything that goes with it - the raking of the lawn to clear the dead leaves and the dank drizzly days with bare trees that follow but on the whole it is nice to have the opportunity to see Autumn at its best and then have the option to move back to the warmer climes of the Middle East - the best of both worlds!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ride on Time

Now I am back in Dubai from my recent trip to the Far east, I am facing my usual challenges of getting my sleeping pattern back to normal. Although, I was only in Seoul for 4 days, the 5 hour time difference meant that my 7:30am alarm call for our morning meetings during our trip was a particularly unpleasant experience - equivalent to a 2:30am start on Dubai time so breakfast was not particularly alluring (although that did not stop me from tucking in....). By lunch time I would be feeling vaguely human and by late afternoon/early evening I would be firing on all cylinders which did not make getting off to sleep very easy. I read somewhere that it take a day to adjust for each hour time difference. I am not sure how correct that is, but I certainly struggle with jet lag when I get back from the UK (not so much going) and in the case of trips to the Far East, it is generally whilst I am there that I feel the differences although I did struggle to get to sleep last night even though I was back in my own bed.

A. has been asking me questions recent such as "Would you rather be able to teleport or to be invisible"? I think teleportation has a lot going for it but you would still need to find a cure for jet lag!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Shaken not stirred

The flight back to Dubai from Seoul takes around 9 1/2 hours - considerably longer than the flight out which I guess is because in part the plane is flying into the winds - certainly the flight was quite a bumpy one. However the longer flight time at least gave me a chance to check out the bar on our A380. There is something very James Bondesque about propping up a bar at 35,000 feet chatting to a German professor of Information Technology and a couple of South Africans who claimed to work for a sports wear manufacturer (could they have been spies?). In any event, I could not resist the temptation to order a vodka Martina - shaken not stirred of course!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Now you see it

We finally managed to catch sight of the elusive Lotte Tower mentioned in my last post. I guess Seoul is a little more crowded with competing buildings than Dubai as it was obviously a big building but it did not seem to dwarf the surrounding area in the same way as the Burg Khalifa. Having said this, it is not yet finished so perhaps they will adding some additional towers.

Our trip to Seoul is drawing to an end, and as with previous trips, the overriding impression has been of welcoming people keen that you eat as much food as possible! This trip was however made to a glorious backdrop of golden leaves and beautiful sunshine and we even managed a trip to one of the palaces (with the Secret Garden although we did not have time to see the garden) so in many ways the trip has been very memorable. Apparently it has been raining today in Dubai so a reverse of the usual expectation that the weather we are returning to will be better!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hidden Tower

The title sounds like a Tolkienesque novel but actually refers to the Lotte Tower which is apparently under construction (and close to completion) here in Seoul. However, notwithstanding keeping a sharp look out during our voyages around the city we have not yet seen it despite the fact it is apparently similar in size to the Burg Khalifa. Give the fact that in Dubai it is difficult not to catch a glimpse of the BK I am intriqued as to what the Lotte version actually looks like - perhaps long and thin and painted sky blue which would explain its lack of presence.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Whole Lotta Seoul

Another quick post in between meetings. I am now in the land of the Han river having arrived late yesterday afternoon. The traffic in Seoul is as dense as ever so I have spent much of the last day ior so in a car waiting in a traffic jam for things to get moving. Like England, Autumn in Korea is currently in glorious technicolor with the leaves a rich ran age of golden brown through to red. The temperature is in the early teens so quite a contrast to Dubai where it is the balmy early 30s. other than business issues, the main preoccupation of Koreans is food so I hope to be able to report on some nice meals over the next few days!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Seoul Man

Not much time for a post today as I have been frantically getting ready for a trip to Seoul tonight which will take up most of my week. Whilst such trips can be very demanding (the flight leaves at an unpromising 3:30am this morning and we do not touch down until around 5pm Korean time) they are generally worth while as the Korean people are usually very accommodating although getting around Seoul can be very challenging wit the traffic and the rather haphazard nature of the satnavs used by the taxis! Hopefully see you on the other side!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The name's Bond

James Bond. We went to see the latest Bond movie this afternoon and it is very much up to the standard of recent offerings with Daniel Craig excelling again in the title role. I think Sean Connery is probably still the best Bond but Craig certainly gives the role a bit of menace and style. It was an excellent movie and well worth the wait since Skyfall which I saw again on the plane over on our recent UK trip. Both movies feature parts of Bonds past and this one raises some interesting questions as to whether he will be around for another edition. When we got home we put on You Only Live Twice which gave us a chance to compare the two and Craig certainly measures up well.

Can't wait for the next one!

Friday, November 6, 2015

I want to ride my bicycle

I think I have mentioned elsewhere that we have been gearing up for some cycling here in the Dubai this Winter (including modifying Em's car to include a bike rack at a fairly significant cost...). Today was a perfect day for having a ride - beautiful sunshine, temperatures in early 30s etc Unfortunately V. choose today (the first time her Mother has accompanied us on a ride we have done a number of times before) to fall off - twice - fortunatley no major injuries but I suspect having a ride around the block might be less easy to wrangle next time!

Long Lunch

A rugby 7s tradition in Dubai is the long lunch where the great and the (not so) good gather for a nice meal and a few drinks to be entertained by a couple of speakers (usually ex-rugby players). Yesterday the Crown Plaza at Festival City held the 2015 edition and I was lucky enough to be invited. I have been t this event a few times in the past and it is always good value. This year we had ex-Scotland and Lions scrum half Andy Nichol and Eric Rush as speakers. Eric Rush was particualaly good. I recall him as a ferocious competitor in the All Black jersey but he was an excellent speaker - apparently his Father was from Northern Ireland and he had soem very good stories. It as a terrific day only spoiled by the fact that I managed to put my blackberry in the jacket pocket of the jacket on the back of the chair I was sitting on towards the end of the afternoon having forgotten that I had moved chairs. Having then returned to my original seat and put my jacket on to leave when I could not find my blackberry and spent a fruitless 40 minutes rootling around amongst the debris of the Dinner for it - particulally inconvenient as I am due to go to Korea next week. Fortunately the Gentlemen whose jacket I had chosen to deposit my blackberry contacted me this morning so I have been re-united but it was an uncomfortable period being blackberry-less!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Summer Holiday 2015 - England Part 3

I have had this in draft for a while and have therefore decided to try to finish off the details of our Summer holidays before I have completed forgotten what happened! Part 2 can be found . As was perhaps to be expected, after the excitement of my big party, the rest of the week was a little very quieter and we spent it pottering around Maidstone and its environs. Fortunately, the weather improved (it could hardly have rained any harder!) during the course of the week and allowed us to catch up with M, and N and J and for most afternoons the kids were able to play together. This included a visit to "Go Ape" at Leeds castle which allowed V. to overcome her concerns about traveling down zip lines and for all the kids to walk around the treetops. It actually looked a lot of fun (although as with everything else it was not cheap). We also managed our traditional trip down to Hastings - this time on V's birthday (9 already! - a separate post to follow on this) where she had expressed an interest in visiting the traditional sweet shop in the old town followed by lunch at White's fish restaurant where they do excellent platters of seafood which the kids tucked into with gusto. I drove the kids down and we had a great time singing a medley of songs from the musicals (mainly Mary Poppins and Chitty, Chitty Bang, Bang) and more recent hits from Katy Perry et al. We were met down there by E., M. and Dad and parked up on Rock a Nore car park where I was able to admire the new apartments (some still for sale even though they were completed 2 or 3 years ago) built in the style of the Fishermen huts.

Whilst not exactly freezing, the weather during our time in Maidstone was a bit wet and overcast so we were hoping for some better whether during our forthcoming trip to Ireland (although avoiding rain in Ireland is perhaps not the most likely of outcomes!).

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Rugby World Cup

I was lucky enough to attend two matches during the recent RWC. The first was the NZ - v - South Africa semi-final which I went to with RP on a rainy day in South West London. Although the score was close (20 - 18 to the All Blacks), SA never really looked like they were going to score a try and Dan Carter scored a sublime drop goal to effectively seal the match. It was the first time I had been to Twickenham for years and the Stadium looked in really good nick - the whole day was expertly organised and I caught up with RP at Holborn from where we made our way by Underground to Richmond for a swift pint in the Railway Tavern (actually a rather nice venue - worth a further visit) and then the Rugby special shuttle to the stadium. We were in the first row of the second tier behind the posts and so had a great view of the game (as well as being protected from the rain that swept in as the game progressed). We were also able to take rugby special shuttle back to Waterloo from the stadium (although it took quite a while) and we had an excellent meal at Café du Marche.

The second game I saw was the Final and this took a bit more planning. I secured the tickets in the ballot last year and so flights etc. had been arranged well in advance. I had booked the Novotel at Brentford and so my Sister drove us all up and Dad on the Saturday morning. Although overlooking the M4/Great West Road, the Hotel was fiendishly difficult to locate in a car - our first attempt ended with us being parked next to it but with no access to the car park so we had to go round again and then drive the wrong way in to the underground car park. Dad, A, M and me then took a cab to the Stadium. Despite dire warnings about difficulties in accessing the ground, we were only 5 minutes walk away and it was a beautiful sunny Autumn day - slightly misty with the sun setting over Twickenham.

This was a a really fitting end to a lovely week weather wise - we had met P. V, C and M at Greenwich Park (where we visited the Observatory and the Maritime Museum) the previous weekend where the weather had been equally good) and during the week had a lovely visit to Hastings (where we picked up some ace Crabs) a great few days with M and B down in Chichester where we had managed a walk on the South Downs and a visit to RAF Tangmere. The weather had been less good when we met up with W, K and J (old friends from HK days) in Worthing the following day after a damp stop at Bosham Hoe (where the road literally disappears under water at high tide) but en route to London we had stopped off for a visit to Brighton where our walk around the Lanes in the Autumn sunshine stirred some old memories of Es time in Brighton!

So Final day was an appropriate finale to a glorious week and we arrived in good time to grab some pasties for lunch and A and I secured some commemorative tops from the merchandise shop and also Dad paid for a couple of the "Referee radios" - which gave access to the referee's microphone and also match commentary. We were sitting high up in the stand opposite the players tunnel and had great views all around the ground (I should think so forgiven the cost of the tickets....). We were treated to a terrific match with NZ dominating the first half but the Aussies storming back in the second getting within 4 points of the All Blacks before the boot of Dan Carter (including another sublime drop goal) saw NZ home. The ref radio is a great innovation. Nigel Owens had a good game. We stayed for the firework display and the presentations and then headed back to Richmond on the shuttle bus before getting a cab almost immediately so we were back at the Hotel by 7:30pm. It was a really terrific day. I have never been to a World Cup final before in any sport (in fact none of us had although M had been at Cardiff when the French beat the All Blacks in the World Cup) so this was a very good way to break a duck!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Post a day in November

It is that time of the year again where I try to make a post per day for the whole of November, and true to form I have managed to miss the first day(mainly because we were travelling back from the UK having spent a rugby-themed 10 days there). I will try to do better than last year where I think I managed to cover only half the available days. There are a number of things that I can talk about and hopefully recording them in this post will embarrass me into actually writing about them! Topics include finally completing a comparison between life in HK and life in Dubai which I promised to do 5 years ago when we first arrived in the Sand pit! I think I did a comparison of taxi drivers and taxi-driving (will need to check in the archives) and I guess thee are a number of other interesting comparisons to make. I also need to complete the run down of the Summer holidays (and also our more recent trip to the UK). So all in all, plenty of material!

Thursday, October 8, 2015


(The Great British Bake Off for the initiated).So the final was last night and due to the vagaries of the BBC Iplayer and our time zone I have not yet watched it so have been desperately trying to avoid seeing or hearing any reference to the outcome at the office or in the Media. Not easy given how it seems to have attracted a lot of attention. I must admit that I am a late (very late) convert to this show. I do not watch much TV other than live sport (although the Peter Kaye show "Car share" was an honourable exception). However, I am almost messianic in my enthusiasm for TGBO - talk about the zeal of the convert! E first introduced me about 2 months ago when the most recent series commenced and it has been required viewing ever since - I guess it is the combination of gladiatorial combat (each week a contestant is eliminated based on the assessment of the two judges Mary Berry (all Grandmotherly charm and old fashioned common-sense and briskness) and Paul Hollywood (bad cop to Mary's good cop)) and comfort cooking (that looks amazing, I bet I could make that).

Our devotion has led us to download the whole of the previous series (Series 5 which included the great freezer scandal) which we have been watching in parallel with the present series. Even the kids enjoy it which obviously reduces the length and volubility of the debate about watch we should watch on TV. We have even been moved to do our own baking. A rather underwhelming Ginger "Magic" cake which probably had too much pepper and ended up in the bin as it had the texture of quiche (although having subsequently looked up on the internet what it was supposed to be like does not seem to have been a million miles away from the intended end product - inedible anyway) and a rather more successful cherry cake based on a Mary Berry recipe (flouring the cherries ensuring that they were evenly distributed in the bake).

As is my wont, my new enthusiasm has led to various kitchen related purchases so now I have any number of baking trays, loaf boxes and I am eyeing up a Kitchenaid mixer (only £600 so have tried to curb my enthusiasm on that one). Anyway, will be interesting to see who won when I eventually get to watch the final episode.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Brief Intermission

I was actually doing pretty well on the holiday descriptions (and had even started part 2) before work intervened and I have been up to my ears ever since. I will, hopefully complete the stories of our Summer escapades shortly (and might if I am feeling particularly diligent also recount our skiing adventures in Switzerland in February and our language classes in Granada(!) over Easter (we have been quite busy this year...). However, for today I will content myself with a short update following England's disastrous exit from the RWC last night at the hands of a much superior Australian team. Chelsea also managed to loss yesterday (again) so as sporting weekends go, it has not been a great one. Dad and I were consoling each other on the telephone this morning(obviously about England's loss, he was quite chipper about Chelsea's defeat....) and concluded that at least we saved ourselves heartbreak later on in the competition (not much of a consolation I know!).

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Summer Holday - England part 2 (Party!)

The day of the big party dawned somewhat overcast. Overnight the weather forecast had not got any better although the wind had died down a little so even if it rained, it would at last be vertical rather than horizontal. There was plenty of last minute preparations as we fixed up the house and the garden for the 2pm kick off.

We had arranged a hog roast and the caterers arrived at about 11am to start setting up - there first act was to set up a canopy as it had by now started to rain. I was busy fixing the bar area which we set up outside the annex to the garage so that the drinks could be kept in and around the fridge in the Annex and the wine glasses/cups/beakers etc. were within in easy striking distance. We had a table for "adult" drinks and a tale for kids drinks as well as three ice buckets (ice being the last think we actually needed as I am sure I could see condensation when I breathed out - it was not particularly warm....). I had put a couple of the boxes of champagne into the freezer so they were very chilled and we had a couple of boxes of white wine and red wine as well as a Keg of beer (picked up from Frankies) called I think "Rustic" - brewed locally as well as bottles of lager/Guinness/cider/lemonade/coke/and fruit juices. M had sourced a couple of teenagers to run the bar and when they arrived I gave them a quick run through emphasising the importance of keeping everyone's wine glass filled with champagne (I had bought three boxes of Monopole Heidsick bronze top from Majestic at £14.99 each so was determined that we make a good dent in the supply).

E, was busy with dad in fixing the house and we had already set up the tables in the Marquee (seating for around 40 in the expectation that it would be too wet to do it on the day - a correct expectation as it tuned out!) and M and B arrived to help with the final preparations as the rain started to intensify!
Apart from a slight blip when I managed to incorrectly sign the cheque for the Hog roast people (I had to sign another - it is years since I wrote a cheque in UK!), the party was terrific. It was a really lovely combination of old friends and family. Among the first to arrive was GW and M who I had not seen since they stopped off in HK to visit us around 6/7 years ago although I had been regular email contact. Last time I had spoken to him last year G had recently had a hip replacement (and was now completely teetotal and given up smoking!) and was looking very suave. They both looked really well and promised to visit us in Dubai when they next visited M's family in Oz. Also arriving early was OF and his family. I had not seen his wife S for ages and had never actually met the children - his daughter looked very like O. I regularly see O when I visit London to keep up to speed about what is happening with the old CAF football team (seems to have disbanded although they still catch up for a drink occasionally) and also the Unplayables so was able to catch up on the latest gossip. JG also turned up which was great as I had not seen him for 3 or 4 years. He now works for a college in Sussex (C and Lulu still at home so he commutes every week living at his Mother's in East Grinstead during the week) and having forsaken the law, now travels the world recruiting students - in fact had been in Hong Mong only the previous week which was a little ironic as we never saw him there. JG was a mine of interesting tid-bits including the fact that his Father is married again (to a 38 year old Pilipino ) and he now has a 2 year old half sister!

RP and his wife also arrived early - given that they have travelled the furthest (from IOM) was quite a feat and they had brought a big collection of IOM treats including beers and sweets and they were joined by RC and his family –still recovering from the Lassies and Lads v Dads game on Friday. There was some talk of arranging a rugby trip to Paris for the England 6 nations game next year so will need to follow up on that.
AL arrived a little later and it was nice to se him again (last time as in Dubai) and he had a good chat with JG.

The rain was now lashing down so everyone was either under the hog roast canopy or in the Marquee next door. The Hog roast was fantastic – we got a great picture of it before people started eating – it was an enormous pig done to absolute perfection.
The Marquee was also looking terrific with a big banner and lots of balloons and the barstaff were swept of their feet as everyone tucked into the food and drink. There were some unexpected arrivals amongst the relatives - Uncle K was their although I had understood he was away and was in fine form. R and D (with Dan but not T) were also there – R was supposed to be in Sicily but had cancelled because he could not climb. D and R were also their with their two boys (A and ?) (actually young men) who I had not seen for ages – really nice chaps and I had good chat to them about their visit to Dubai at Christmas where they had stayed at our villa and R said it was one of the best holidays she had ever had (commemorated on Facebook with a Christmas Diner with Minnie our cat taking entre stage). There was also some more unexpected arrivals including my Cousin Michael and his wife from Bognor (who I had not seen since their wedding years ago) and also his Sister Teresa (with her husband) also from the Bognor branch of the family who I had last caught up with in Killarney at Ks 60th).

The West Country contingent (A and J, and his daughter L with her family K, and the two children – the dog was banished to the study) who we saw last night also arrive bearing yet further gifts of beer and my Cousin C with his wife L also arrived. It was great to see them all and the uproar from everyone trying to speak at once in the Marquee had to be heard to be believed! K and A also arrive with S and his girlfriend H and C and D with K and O (all of whom would be attending part 2 of the party in Ireland next week). S had shares in Chapel Down vineyard and so had bought a selection of sparling wines (as well as an LP – Revolver – I had not received one of them in many years!) which we were able to add to the general stock of champagne/sparkling wine which was rapidly reducing! K. and A had also prepared a great photo album with some great shots of Mum dad Mary and me as well as some of the family (including Mum's family in Ireland). We also had J and J from next door having recovered from their BBQ or yesterday (slightly sunnier than ours!) and E's parents P and T were also able to come (although they had also struggled due to accommodation issues).

I had an absolutely great time chatting with everyone and K. gave a short speech which was very well received. M had also distributed some quiz questions about me which everyone was invited to team up with the rest of their table – the questions wee answered to much hilarity – in fact there was a couple that I did not get myself – apparently I had interviewed the Secretary of State for northern Ireland when I was at University – I vaguely remember something about that but even now cannot recall who this was {Just checked wikipedia - Tom King was Secretary of State at that time and I did not interview him - it must have been Merlyn Rees - who I did interview while I worked as Features Editor at URN. He was better known as Home Secretary but had at one time been Secretary of State for Northern Ireland).

JG won the quiz (he always was quite competitive) and as it was a Sunday afternoon and many people were working in the morning, things started to wind down at around 6:30/7pm with the last guests leaving at around 9:30pm. I had eaten my own body Wyeth in Hog roast and cake and had made a considerable dent in the champagne – although we still had a couple of bottles left to send with K and A on their drive trip to Ireland (they were setting off immediately after the party for the ferry) for part 2 in Castletownbere along with some Chapel Down.

Despite the rain (and the fact that everybody had to congregate in the marquee probably helped)it was a lovely day – a real pleasure to be part of it all and a great testament to my family - particularly M, dad and E in putting it all on. And we still had a further leg to go next Sunday at K's house in Cork!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 - England part 1

After the excitement of our adventures in France, we now have a week in UK before heading off to Ireland. First up is my big birthday party (part 1) for UK based friends and relations which E and my Sister M had been plotting for some considerable time.

The day of our return from France had been wet and windy. However, the next day (Saturday) was sunny and dry - perfect for putting up the marquee that we were using to forestall the vagaries of England's summers. We had all been looking forward to the erection of this edifice with some trepidation - mainly based on our experience a few years earlier of the challenges of putting up a gazebo for our annual UK BBQ and also some concerns about the likely weather given a somewhat dire forecast for the whole of the weekend. In the event, whilst a little breezy, the Marquee was put together in bright sunshine under the expert guidance of Ms friend (who was lending it to us) in a little under two hours which was excellent going although did require a team of 7 (including Dad and also J from next door)working pretty much full time.

The first challenge was to see whether it fitted in to the top garden (K my cousin had been confident that it would not). However, with a little bit of manipulation and the judicious removal of some (small) branches from the apple tree we were able to fit it so that the main opening coincided with a step down from the patio which allowed ready access to the hog roast station and allowed M and B's gazebo to provide cover from the house to the Marquee (the weather forecast really was that bad..). It also meant that the kids would have free range to play in the lower part of the garden, weather permitting. By coincidence, next door were also having a BBQ(but that afternoon) and so B dad and I helped put up the gazebo next door so a good example of a community support scheme!

A number of guest for the party had travelled up from the West Country a day early and were staying at various camp sites and hotels in the outer environs of the Maidstone area. We were therefore joined by Dad's Cousin J who had come with us a few years back to the rugby in HK and his daughter L with her family and Dad's other cousin who used to cycle a lot. We had a great meal and learnt at first hand about the problems of getting accommodation in Maidstone this weekend - it was apparently proving very difficult as the "Rambling Man" prog-rock festival was on-going at Mote Park which had caused every hotel and B&B in the Maidstone and outer areas to sell out). Given the rather chilly evening we decided to use the marquee as the venue for our meal and whilst it was nice to be outside we made an easy feast for the midges that congregated inside - this of course did allow us an opportunity to do something about them before the main event tomorrow but at the cost of some rather painful bites.

It was nice to catch up with part of the family who we very rarely see and the kids enjoyed playing with their young cousins as well as M, B and N and J who also came along and a good time was had by all.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 (part 6 - Calais to Harrietsham)

During the course of the holiday I have been trying to read "The Lost Symb*l" by Dan Brown. It is a very thick book and very heavy going and in my room at the top of the van it has been keeping me company at night - not sure whether it has been an aid to the fact that I have been sleeping very soundly (apparent from the occasional wrestling matches with the windows and blinds when I have been trying to open/close them at the dead of night - last night I was having a particularly energetic battle trying to open the window when E. turned on all the lights thinking someone was tiring to break into the van...) but in any event, it is heavy enough to make a good door stop although will need to think carefully about whether to take it to Ireland next week.

After an early wake up call with E thinking there were burglars we were all feeling a little groggy as we woke up in good time for our train back to UK at 9:50. After our usual breakfast we went through the usual de-coupling procedures and were soon on our way back to the Chunnel. By contrast to the chaos in Kent due to Operation Stack you would not have known that there were any problems on the French side - certainly no long queues of lorries or impatient drivers. Check in was very smooth - simply entering our reference code and having our gas bottle checked (to ensure properly closed) and we were in place for our 9:50am departure in good time. However, for reasons not explained the 9:50 was cancelled and we eventually boarded the 10:20 which got us to Folkestone at around 10am (UK time).Fortunately the M20 was open London bound so we set off to Harrietsham with a birds eye view of the car park for lorries that the Southbound lane had been turned into by Operation Stack. I have not seen so many lorries and I would not have envied being a lorry driver at all.

We reached Harrietsham just before 11am and finally met Simon who had provided the van. He was a nice chap who apparently worked with Aston Martin on their racing team and had a small side-line in hiring out camper vans. He had a fleet of three but told us he was adding a brand new van next year which would have a trailer (for Smart cars presumably).

The Roller Team 746 was an excellent van. Whilst we could have made do with a 4 berth it was great to have a lot of space. I think if we do this again we will be a little less ambitious on the amount of driving we do as the route maps indicative driving times were no doubt for cars rather than pantechnicons and it would have been nice to have time to explore the places we stayed in more detail. I would also probably take proper BBQ equipment next time but it was a great trip and the kids seemed to have enjoyed it which was the main thing.

We were met by dad at the van hire centre and we managed to pile everything into his car for the drive home. On the way we stopped at the Roebuck to re-visit the scene of the near miss at the beginning of our adventures but it had not started serving Lunch so we carried onto Frankies in Staplehurst where once again enjoyed the pulled pork and I also bought a keg or beer for the party on Sunday. After we got back to Maidstone we caught up with my Sister's family and the kids played with N. and J and we had a take away from the Coxheath curry house.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 (part 5 - Rouen to Calais)

Most French campsites will have early morning deliveries of fresh croissants/bread etc. which have to be pre-ordered the night before and St Michael's was no exception (in fact I had pre-ordered when we booked in yesterday) so the kids were able to go off and collect our breakfast and bring back our penultimate breakfast on this holiday and it did not disappoint (V. had slept for most of the previous afternoon - presumably exhausted by her bike riding the previous day and was most unhappy when she woke up about the difficulties a mid-afternoon nap have on getting to sleep in the evening). We set off shortly thereafter and after taking an unexpected detour around some picturesque wheat fields in the heat of the French countryside we finally found our way on to the A28 and made our way towards Rouen.

Unlike some of the other major cities we visited, Rouen did not appear to have a ring road (if it did we did not find it) and we were therefore swept close to the city centre where we had a good view of the Cathedral before we were taken on a tour of some of the industrial areas to the East of the City before re-joining the motorway en route to La Touquet. We had decided to stop off there as it was reasonably close to Calais and we were not very sure of what the situation in Calais was like due to the on-going industrial action.

I am pretty sure we did not take the most direct route to the main drag but the tour of the outer suburbs of Le Touquet were very pleasant featuring immaculate holiday homes, tree-lined avenues, equestrian centres and various beaches. We eventually found our way to the main town beach and as if by magic a space appeared to park the van next to a jumping machine and the crazy golf which the kids were most interested in. We had a pleasant stroll down on to the beach and I went for swim and V. went for a paddle on the wide expanse of beach. The Channel was a little colder than Dubai but once I had got under the waves it was lovely - with the sun shining it was very pleasant despite the strong wind. We played some ball games with the tennis ball we keep with us at all times after my swim and then repaired for coffee and ices (caramel with caramel chunks - excellent) at a beach side café before investigation of the jumping area.

The machine was very similar to the one the kids had used in Castletownbere on regatta day a few years ago but unfortunately only one was in operation and there was a big queue so A. and I had a game of crazy golf (which A. won) and we then went back to the van to find that we had been left a note due an alleged parking infraction. Given that we were in a parking space for which we had bought a ticket this seemed a little harsh.

We then made our way out of the main town and stopped off at a Carrefour that we had spotted on the way in to buy provisions for our final BBQ of the trip - consisting of a giant sausage and some beef kebabs and prawns. We were soon back on the road and we found the campsite with a minimum of fuss. It was truly a 5* site set in the grounds of a chateau with a pool etc. (unfortunately closed by the time we arrived)and we were shown to our pitch by a lady driving an electric car.

The grounds were idyllic and once again I felt like the poor country relation in having to scout out a base for the disposable BBQs. My scavenging took me around the back of barn towards the rear of the site where the owners obviously kept all the maintenance equipment. It was also the home of a number of rabbits who ducked and dived as I approached (unfortunately they did not show themselves when I took V. around for a look a bit later) and the rolling lawns of the site in the late evening sun were very picturesque. Less picturesque was the plume of smoke that came of the BBQ and directly onto the British family camped next to us with their bespoke camping dining equipment (stainless steel stand with what looked like the worlds most enormous omelette being cooked in a giant (Stainless steel) saucepan). Not that I was jealous of their equipment (much) - in fact some of the equipment we had seen on this holiday defied belief - at the campsite outside of Rouen we had seen a Vespa fixed to the back of the motorhome and another garaged in the cubicle at the back where we kept the hose on our van. We also saw a number of motorhomes towing trailers with Smart cars on top - presumably to give a little more transport flexibility.

Whilst the next door family were forced to relocate their cooking operations due to the smoke from our BBQ the food itself was great and we enjoyed a great final meal as the sun gradually set over Calais.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 (part 4 - Olonne-Sur-Mer to Rouen)

The kids again managed to collect breakfast for us (having ordered the previous night) and so we had a brief visit to the pool and slides to prepare ourselves for the journey ahead. Our original plan had been to spend three nights in Olonne but given the distances involved it would have meant a whole days drive back up to Calais to get the Friday morning departure to UK so we decided to split the distance by leaving a day early and stay at Rouen. I had located a likely looking site which had been recommended on one of the many camper van websites (wi-fi was available at all the sites we stayed at in France although sometimes at a fee)which was around 30KM to the South of Rouen and was therefore more or less on the motor way directly from where we were via Le Mans. On the way we stopped off at was the only slightly disappointing lunch at a motorway service station/Aire of the holiday - mainly because the chips were not particularly warm although we made up for it with some nice ice creams.

The campsite Camping Saint-Nicolas was near the village of Le Bec-Hellouin and was located in a Forest. It had a covered pool (not really indoor as it was open to the elements through panels at the side) and it also boasted a tennis court. We found a pitch (the owner was very relaxed about where we needed to go) which was next to an extraordinary looking tent/home which was on stilts and appeared to be part of a larger vehicle which had presumably driven off.

The kids and I found some free tennis racquets and a ball and A and I had a game of tennis (not very easy in sandals) and then we went off for a swim. Whilst not boiling hot, the water was slightly heated and so we had a good time playing with a beach ball that seemed to have been left for pool use.

The Site had a nice rustic feel to it (including a chicken coop which A and I found near the tennis Court) and as the afternoon wore on gradually filled up with tents and motorhomes. The highlight of the evening was the meal - Moule et frites which appeared to be a speciality of the campsite(everyone else seemed to have had ordered them) - Euro 11 for a huge pot which me and the kids tucked into with gusto while E had an omelette and some sausage. Having tidied up the mussel shells (and returned the pan to the café area where it was apparent that many other had enjoyed a similar meal to us) and cleaned the plates, we headed off to th eland of nod.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 (part 3 - Bayeux to Olonne-Sur-Mer)

Having booked our croissant, pain au chocolat and French bread the previous evening at the site shop, the kids collected our breakfast first thing in the morning and we feasted on a typical continental breakfast in our dining room over-looking a rather overcast but nevertheless dry day. Motorhomes are essentially large houses on wheels (hence the name!) and are remarkably easy to operate once you get the hang of it. All the campsites have electrical hook up pitches and whilst you need different adaptors for UK and French sites (we had one of both) it is simply a matter of parking up and hooking up. There is generally a water-pipe nearby and we filled up the water tank here for the kitchen tap (very hot water) and also sorted out the internal toilet (fortunately used once only the entire trip although even then....) and a shower (which we used for storage purposes for the wet swimming wear).

Our first stop was central Bayeux where we parked up the van in the municipal carpark and paid a visit to the tapestry - housed in a former convent (now a museum) near the cathedral. It was very impressive (and very popular). There was an audio guide (which came with the ticket - both adult and child) which provided an excellent commentary as to what was happening in each of the panels and basically told the story of William's alleged "betrayal" by Harold having apparently been promised his support in claiming the English crown. As they say, history is a story told by the victors and whilst it is of course entirely possible that William believed that he had been promised the crown it is does seem a little unlikely that Harold would have been quite so supportive given his own claims notwithstanding his kidnapping/release etc. in France. Nevertheless, it a very entertaining story although the audio guide did rather gloss over some of the pictures in the panel without giving an explanation most notably the image of a naked man that appeared around half way through the tapestry - perhaps it was an example of 11th Century graffiti and therefore unworthy of mention?

After the tapestry we had a wonder around the old part of town back to the van. By this time the sun was shining and it was clear that Bayeux would be a very pleasant place to stay in is own right - with a water wheel, medieval streets and plenty of restaurants. However, we had a longish journey down to Olonne to navigate so we set off just before lunch for the drive down to the Vendee.

Whilst getting out of Bayeux was not a problem, we did have some challenges getting around Caen as the Summer of "industrial action" in France finally caught up with us - this time not the French ferry workers but the French farmers who had decided to block the ring road around Caen with their tractors. Having spent 30 minutes in a queue for the motorway we were finally diverted past various bales of hay and ruddy faced farmers sitting on their farm machinery on to a street leading to the middle of town following a couple of huge trucks that were also caught up in the chaos and no doubt wondering whether they would actually fit into the town centre. More by luck than judgement we found another road that led to "la periphique" and by the time we have rumbled back on to the motorway we had cleared the obstacles and had an uninterrupted run down to the South West.

The comfortable driving speed of the van is around 65 - 75MPH although it feels a little happier at the lower end of that speed and as a consequence our progress to the Vendee was stately (or rather stately with lots of rattling) rather than rapid. It also seemed to be very expensive in terms of the road tolls - we had two peage stops where the toll was nearly Euros 50 which seemed quite steep given the fuel consumption was very high as well (roughly 20 miles to the gallon) so we were also refuelling fairly regularly. We eventually rolled into the site at around 7:30pm (notwithstanding some fairly vague directions based on the AA route guide E had printed off which led us down some very narrow country paths in the Olonne hinterland). The weather had been threatening on the way down with occasional showers although it was brighter by the time we got to the camp site and we had picked up some prawns and sausages in a supermarket on the way so we decided to have our first BBQ of the trip.

The site was very pretty and well maintained consisting mainly of cabins and tents with one or two motorhomes like ours. The site was divided by a road and on one side was located the indoor and outdoor swimming pools (complete with a slide that was to prove very popular with the kids) and the admin block/bar. The other side comprised the pitches and accommodation and although the office had shut by the time we arrived the manager happily checked us in (giving us all wristbands which I think A. is still wearing) and directing us to our pitch.

We had packed some disposable BBQs. However, we did not have any stands so I had to improvise with a breeze block I sourced from a pitch around 100 yards from our location - quite heavy to carry and goodness knows what the occupants of surrounding cabins/tents thought as I set up my makeshift BBQ on the ground (the BBQ instructions said not to put it directly on grass)with their immaculately equipped verandahs and state of the art cooking facilities and BBQS. The BBQ was very successful and the prawns and sausage were much enjoyed.

Earlier the kids had tried out the new badminton set in the other part of our pitch but unfortunately the shuttlecock had landed on the van roof and resisted all attempts to retrieve it so we ended up playing our second game of football (albeit in a more confined space) since Friday's Lads -v dads game (still rather stiff!!). The wash hut was very close by and so after cleaning up the plates we all headed off to bed. It was quite warm at night so I had some fun and games with trying to open one of the windows in my eyrie in the middle of the night but managed to avoid waking everybody else up.

Breakfast was croissants and bread with excellent tea brewed in our own kitchen (we did not do a huge amount of home cooking apart from the BBQ) and the kids and I then went in search of the pools and also some bikes. Our visit to the pool in Bayeux had given me the opportunity to model my new speedo trunks - compulsory in all French camp sites and, er, not particularly "slimming"! They were still somewhat damp from yesterday but the kids were fine sliding down the slide and trying our the little outdoor pool play area and when we wanted to warm up we went into the adjacent indoor pool (compete with Jacuzzi) which was heated. The views from the top of the slide (which whilst not quite at Wild Wadi levels of size was nonetheless great fun to use) showed that we were situated among fields and waterways/footpaths leading to a forest. It was an excellent location and, having hired 4 bikes(40 Euros - so not cheap) in the afternoon, we set off to explore our environs. It was generally quite flat with small rolling hills and bridges over the water ways/marsh area and although the sky was occasionally threatening it did not rain for the first part of our ride. V. is relatively new to cycling so eventually got a little tired so E and the kids returned to the Site and I pushed on through the Forest until I got to the beach passing another campsite (also with slides) on the way (and virtually on the beach for future reference). I had time for a quick paddle in the (chilly) waters before it started to rain so headed back to the camp site. We had the foresight to order a "free-range" roast chicken and chips at lunchtime for our evening meal and so had a delicious chicken and chips meal (and a couple of rounds of "who and I" played with yellow post it stickers attached to our foreheads - great fun) before turning in for the night.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Summer Holidays 2015 (part 2 - Canterbury to Bayeux))

The journey from Canterbury to the Chunnel was uneventful until we were just about to take the slip road onto the access road into the terminal where we found the road closed and a diversion in place as part of Operation Stack. As a consequence we missed our 9:20am departure time and were put onto the 9:50am train instead (whilst we had heard on the news in Dubai of the problems at Calais and also Operation Stack, I had not appreciated quite what an impact it was having on travel and transport around the M20. All the time we were in Maidstone we were hearing stories about the problems it was causing and the delays to travel in an around towns close to the M20. We were very fortunate to avoid any major problems). We arrived in Calais at around 11:40 having played Boogle with home made letters through the whole journey (I was the winner.....)and spent a fruitless 20 minutes trying to find our way into what looked like an open supermarket in Cite de L'Europe - we had made our usual misjudgement in arriving in a European country (other than UK) on a Sunday so the main supermarkets were closed. However, we could see loads of cars and people happily shopping next door in a compound surrounded by barbed wire and had therefore searched for the entrance. It eventually transpired that it was the Eurotunnel reception and shopping area on the French side......! We therefore decided to head off for our first night on French soil at Bayeux , stopping off on the way for lunch at one of the motorway aire's (for some ham and chips which became a bit of a staple for all of us).

The campsite was in a lovely location just outside of Bayeux in the grounds of a chateau. It had a swimming pool (allegedly heated) and a fishing pond as well as a shop (where we sourced some bread and butter) and a restaurant where we booked our evening meal. The swimming pool was an odd shaped affair with a deep end in the middle (a trap for the unwary as one literally stepped off the edge and disappeared under) and two shallow ends. The water was emphatically not heated - two tiny children, blue with cold and shivering by the side of the pool being testament to this fact. This did not stop V. jumping straight in as is her custom and I followed shortly thereafter. A. was more circumspect but in the end we were all in and did a couple of brisk lengths. I then had to warm up the kids in the hot showers which were in a block next to the pool entrance and so we arrived back at the motorhome very clean and , whilst not exactly warm, at least not freezing cold. By this stage it has started to rain so we headed off to the restaurant where the kids became acquainted with the pool table and the table football while E and I waited for the table in what was very busy restaurant.

Eventually we were seated and we had a great meal (steak for me with pomme fries - a nice change from pork!) and we eventually got back to the motorhome at around 9:30 for an early night. Next stop Bayeux to see the tapestry.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Summer Hols 2015 (part 1)

Having now made my way back to the sand pit, I thought that I would record our adventures from the last few weeks while they are still fresh in my mind. The family are still in Blighty sunning (or perhaps more accurately raining) themselves in Portsmouth en route for Bristol. However, our adventures kicked off in mid-July when I joined up with the family (who had left Dubai at the start of July) in Maidstone and where we caught up with R., A , O. and I for our traditional drink at the Swan in West Peckham where R. and I managed to exact revenge for our defeat in last year's lassies and lads v dad's game against A, O and V including, if I might say an extremely well-taken goal from me to clinch a 9 goal thriller 5 - 4.

It must be said that spending 2 weeks chained to my desk at work followed by a lengthy plane journey that morning was not the ideal preparation and I certainly felt somewhat (in fact, very) stiff for the next couple of days. However, no time to worry about that as our next act was to brave "Operation Stack" (designed to turn the M20 into a giant lorry park while the French ferry workers were on strike) to pick up our campervan (actually quite a large motorhome) in Harrietsham the following day.

Everyone was using the A20 as an alternative to the M20 so traffic to Harrietsham was heavy but after a 40 minute drive in Dad's rather overladen car (he was kind enough to drop us off), we arrived at the pick up to find...nobody home - it transpired that the owner and his son (off to his graduation ball apparently) were not available and had left the introductory tour to a friend of theirs who owned the neighbouring fencing store. The Motorhome was rather larger than I had anticipated (6 berths with a bed over the cabin and a large seating area at the back) and having briefly been introduced to the facilities and its operating processes, my first act was to nearly reverse the back of the vehicle into the Roebuck pub which we had decided to call into for lunch prior to our departure. My attempts to manoeuvre the behemoth around the pub car park without touching the sides was undoubtedly an unexpected highlight for the various drinkers sat outside (and for the landlady, a matter of some alarm), nevertheless, after a good lunch (Gammon for me - by no means the last pork product I would be sampling over the next 7 days......), we set off for our first destination - a campsite just outside Canterbury.

The camp site was on the outskirts of Canterbury and within sight of the Cathedral (about a 40 minute walk as we were later to discover). I have not done a huge amount of camping in the UK but it was pretty much what I had been anticipating - a mix between the slightly dilapidated feel of Carry on Camping and a former farm set in the lush Kent countryside.

We had a walk into town arriving just in time to find that the Cathedral had closed and the currency shops where we were to get our Euros for the next stage of our trip were also closed. We did however have a very pleasant walk along the river and the scented gardens as well as a terrific sea food meal at one of the restaurants (I had an excellent cracked crab - great value for £21).

We could not face the walk back so took a cab and prepared for our first night in our new home by visiting the ablution block. Facilities were pretty basis but clean and having agreed the allocation of beds (I was in the bed above the cab which was long but quite snug!), we settled in for a night under the stars. The rain thundered down in the middle of the night but it had stopped by morning and we had time to have some bread and jam for our breakfast before heading off to the Chunnel for the next stage of our trip.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Radio Silence

Well it has been 6 months since the last post and looking back through the archives a pattern seems to be emerging - I have a flurry of activity around November each year (for the post a day challenge) and then...nothing much. I always make the excuse that life/work is to busy but it is probably not so much a question of having time to dash off a couple of paragraphs but actually sitting down and crafting a post which is a bit more substantial. That of course is the ideal (although you may not have noticed from the quality of the posts I have got round to making...) but it also means that this blog hardly ever gets updated so perhaps it is time to try for quantity rather than quality. In any event, since my Father is now finishing off his 4th book (and I think it is correct to say he wrote the first one after I started this blogging lark) then surely I can be a little more productive. Let's see.