Yearly Archives of: 2003


Never Turn Right


Ah yes, this is the life. The executive life. So we arrive at Manchester airport and there’s a huge queue to check in for Singapore Airlines. We start ambling towards the queue and this guy says “Singapore Air?” to which I reply yes. He points to the back of the queue and as cool as you like I say “we’re business class” and just like a 1980’s Martini advert suddenly we’re important and are immediately taken to the front of the line to the check in. Fantastic. We toddle off to the executive lounge to wait for the flight and for some breakfast.

We then get onto the plane before the rabble (turning left as we do) and I felt like I’d come home. When my girlfriend and I flew back from Antigua in the summer it was on a chartered flight with zero inches of legroom and we were praying the plane would crash and save us from our misery (we decided then and there to never fly economy long haul again – it helped us through the pain barrier). I’d already read about the flat-folding beds in Raffles class (as it’s called) so I knew what to expect but I was well impressed by just how much space we got. Not just the space in front but the seats are much wider than normal, and oh-so-comfy. With constant drinks, 4 course meal (and 3 course breakfast), being called by my name, and of course comfortable seats we arrived in Singapore 12.5 hours later feeling surprisingly fresh. It’s amazing just how much less it takes out of you flying properly.

Anyway, we fly to Christchurch tonight after 3 days here in Singapore and that should finish off the executive lifestyle. It’ll be back to basics, sleeping bags, tents, bed and breakfasts. Can’t wait. In the meantime have a look at some photos I’ve taken around Singapore that capture the essence of the place for me.


Swings and Roundabouts


I mentioned before that it looked like my office was being closed down. Well after a pretty good attempt at a management buyout we’re still getting closed down at the end of the year. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve made some pretty good friends but alas it’s all coming to an end. I’ve got mixed feelings. On the one hand I’m sad that our product is going to end up on a shelf somewhere in America (I think our colleagues believe they’ll still be able to sell kit without us but, to be honest, I’d tend to doubt it). I’m also sad that our team is being broken up and I’ll most likely never work with any of them again.

JBC Bliss

But on the other hand I’m getting a very good redundancy package that will last me quite some time and if I get a job quickly enough it’ll give me some decent savings for a rainy day. It also means change, I’ll be looking to work for someone else on a different product with different people and that should be fun. I’ll be able to bring everything I’ve learned to my next employer and learn from them too. I’ll also get a chance to step back from the coal-face of software engineering for a while and write some software I’ve been meaning to get around to and strengthen some of my skills. I’ll even get the chance to redecorate my house (great).

But I suppose the main reason for my optimism is that I can’t really take anything in just now because I’m flying to New Zealand next Wednesday for a month. Better than that, I’m flying business class to New Zealand next Wednesday for a month! Honestly, I’m not trying to gloat (after all, I’ll be switching executive travel for the dole queue when I get back to the UK), I’m just really excited. And that doesn’t happen to me very often.

We’re staying with friends in Christchurch and are hiring a car for the full stay. Our plan is to just drive to places that seem interesting and make Christchurch our base of operations. We have a few destinations in mind but we’re mostly going to play it by ear. Of course we have the Lonely Planet guide so we’ll never run out of ideas but we’ve decided not to plan too much and avoid turning it into some kind of military operation and take the fun out of it. Likewise we don’t want to just sit around and not see anything, we’re looking for the happy median. I’ll do my best to update this site with photos and stories of what I’m up to when I return to Christchurch between trips but I’m not making any promises – I might not!

But one thing’s for sure. When I come back from New Zealand I’ll be coming back to a fresh start. That is, if I ever come back at all…


A Cold Afternoon In The Dales


I spent Sunday touring around the Yorkshire Dales with my father in tow and happened to bring my camera along to capture some moody winter scenes. I know the British are supposed to be weather fixated so here are some pictures of some British weather.


Night Biking Extreme!


Fireball LightsWay back in February I mentioned the joys of night mountain biking. This is where during the winter months you put on some warm clothes, get some lights and go off-roading at night. As a keen mountain biker I find winter rather depressing as it gets dark by about 4pm during the week and that pretty much negates any mid-week biking and by the weekend it’s normally snowing or something. However, a friend came up with the idea of night biking and a lot of fun it was too.

The only drawbacks as I mentioned in February are gates, cows, flat light (no depth perception – you couldn’t tell if the rocks ahead were large or small) and the extreme cold where all your gears stop shifting and your chain blocks up with ice. Well, I’ve found a cure to three out of four of those problems. I’ve bought some seriously bright lights, Fireball lights to be precise. They won the editor’s choice in a recent issue of “What Mountain Bike” magazine scoring 9/10 and while they’re rather expensive, I decided it was worth the cost to do some biking over the coming months.

So last night I went out with a couple of friends to test them against the pitch blackness of a Yorkshire November. I had a 20W flood and 20W spot which seemed roughly equivalent to a car headlight. I used the flood for most of the time and blasted the spot on as well for the downhills. They were superb! You could spot gates, cows, sheep, puddles or anything else from a fair distance and in fact your field of view isn’t much different from daylight biking (in that I could see as far ahead as I’d look during the day). I could also see depth and be able to pick a line through rocky sections, know when a ditch really was a ditch and avoid shocks from before like when that small bump actually turned out to be a pointy boulder. The lights were so bright that if the three of us were within a few metres of each other there was enough light to go around. When I fell off on the final descent the lights were so bright that I could actually see where to put my hand down and avoid landing on some painfully sharp rocks! Luckily it wasn’t cold enough to freeze my chain so I didn’t need to test drawback number four.

What I will say for those of you out there thinking of getting some spotlights and going night biking is to forget flood lights. I’m going to use two 20W spots from now on (and maybe a 35W one for a laugh now and then) and point one just in front of me and the other further ahead. When on the climbs I’ll use the near light and put the far one on for the fast stuff. The spots cover a huge area and you can even get away with one for downhills if you want to conserve power, but two is like Daylight II if you need it. I’ll bring my camera next time and get some photos – I didn’t realise there would be enough light for night photography but there is, amazingly. Oh, and the other thing I’ll say to anyone considering night biking is Do It! It’s a lot of fun and makes great use of the long nights – plus it’s far more fun than trying to find something decent to watch on the TV.


Only In England


A picture of a rally carOnly in England would the police set out speed traps next to the shakedown area for World Rally Championship racers hoping to catch them speeding. I mean, really. These guys are driving cars worth over quarter of a million pounds, they are top-class drivers who can easily handle spinning their cars at 100mph. Compare that to me who managed to pass my driving test after only 10 lessons and suddenly I was let loose on the roads of the world – if my car lost traction at 30mph I would have crashed it without any problems (and I have done!). And compare that to a 75 year old man with the reflexes of a lamp post, can only see 100 yards in front of them and the first thing they’d know about being involved in a crash was reading about it in the papers the next day.

You can argue that “rules are rules” but that’s simply rubbish. We’re not all equal and to believe that we are is naive in the extreme. If somebody ran out in front of Richard Burns while he was doing 83mph in a 70mph zone or there was a crash in front of him with his fancy car, fancy reflexes and amazing skill behind the wheel of a car, he’d be able to stop long before Mr. Old Geezer has the chance to react even if he’d been doing 70mph. Pathetic. And in the words of the defence lawyer:

“People are prosecuted for speeding because of the risk to other road-users but the degree of danger from these men is likely to be far less than with other drivers. They’re the most sophisticated vehicles, with better-functioning brake systems than normal cars.”

It could easily jeopardise the British Rally. And people wonder why the police are so resented in this country…

Update: Well, according to BBC News, the motorsport ruling body really is considering dropping the British rally from the calendar. Marvellous.


Hunting Chris Ryan


Chris RyanI just watched the last in a 3-part series last night called “Hunting Chris Ryan”. Ryan was the member of the infamous Bravo Two Zero SAS squad that was compromised behind enemy lines in the 1991 Gulf War. He was the one who evaded capture and walked 200 miles into Syria, and he’s one tough son-of-a-bitch. The premise of the program was that he’d be dropped somewhere and given a mission. There would be a hunter force of other ex-special forces soldiers on his tail trying to capture him and prevent him carrying out the mission. It was run like a military exercise so the normal rules applied.

The first week saw Chris dropped in the jungle with a mission of picking up some information from a cache and escape on a boat pick-up at a certain point. Despite the fact that the hunter force got close to him (they included two US Navy SEALs, a Royal Marine and a Pathfinder) they never managed to actually capture him. It was easy to see on a map the clever diversions and deception trails he put in to throw the trackers off but when you saw what it was like on the ground you wonder how he managed to see the bigger picture and keep a clear head. He booby trapped the cache by putting a small satchel on it connected to a grenade. But knowing he had military people after him trained to leave that sort of thing alone he put in a secondary trap with a trip wire, hoping they’d be too busy looking at the bag to notice it. And so it proved, if it were for real he’d have killed the hunter force in one fell swoop. The end was tense as Chris was holed up in some trees as the hunter force patrolled to within metres of him. When his rescue boat came in he sprinted and managed to escape – quality viewing.

What was fascinating was that in all the video footage Chris took of himself he was constantly out of breath. When you watch these jungle SAS-style programmes you see how incredibly hard it is and the fact that Chris was able to push himself to the limit all the time is what separates these guys from normal people. He also spent 4 days in the jungle, his feet cut to ribbons, unsupported, dehydrated and being chased all the way. The hunter force had the option of being helicoptered out, had plenty of supplies and the directing staff giving them hints of information when they lost Chris. One of the ex-SEALs had to be put on a drip thanks to a touch of heat stroke and they were completely knackered by the end. Never mind that Chris was having a far harder time, but was able to put in a sprint at the end to escape. Very impressive.

Week two was set in Siberia where the temperatures dropped to -42C and Chris very nearly died of hypothermia. Due to the conditions he had to abandon the original mission of destroying a crashed satellite but had to escape instead. Once again deception tracks threw the hunter force off as they tried to track him through the snow and were it not for the directing staff telling them one of Chris’s RV’s they’d never have gotten close to him. As it was Chris managed to escape by the skin of his teeth and right from under the hunter force’s nose. Once again, Chris was pushing himself to the limit all the way and barely caught his breath over the 3 days he was out there.

Last night’s episode saw him trying to rescue a downed pilot in Botswana. It was clear from the start that the hunter force would be lucky to catch him so the Botswana Defence Force were called in to assist in the chase. The hunters had quad bikes, land rovers, fast boats and a helicopter to catch Chris – surely they’d get their man. Chris started by jumping out of a plane and landing in the bush. He then proceeded to a cache containing some water, a rifle and some clothes, but no food. He went down river and started going across country to the hills where the pilot was, with the hunter force hot on his heels. As they tried to skip ahead of him using quad bikes Chris stole a horse during the night and moved ahead of them (a nice touch). After much sneaking around and the hunter force trying in vain to follow his tracks (losing them on several occasions) Chris made it to the hills and climbed up high to watch the hunter force coming in. This was when he realised he had the whole BDF on his case.

As he climbed towards where the pilot was he realised that the hunter force had set up an ambush as the directing staff had told them where the pilot was (which I thought was particularly unfair on Chris). So he decided to can the mission and try to escape instead, realising that the rescue was impossible. On the next morning before sunrise he made his way to a hidden micro light to make his escape. However the hunter force were wise to it and managed to find it from the helicopter as Chris was about to take off. Just as he did one of the soldiers got right in front of him and had it been real he’d have been dead. So I guess you could call that one for the bad guys. Although I think the odds were ridiculously against Chris on this one, they wanted him to fail on TV!

It was an interesting series and showed me how these SAS guys aren’t just tough (which they are) but they can think clearly when under pressure. They can look at their situation from the outside and take decisions on what they need to do. It all comes down to good soldiering and that’s what really separates them from the rest. I hear there’s another series in the pipeline so it’ll be interesting to see what else they can throw at him.


That Starbucks Feeling


It’s a sad state of affairs when the highlight of your day is making a hot beverage. It’s an even sadder state of affairs when the highlight of your day is reading about the highlight of somebody else’s day which is making a hot beverage. So if you’re in this unfortunate situation then this is for you. And if you think this site’s content is going downhill then bear in mind that I’m just killing time until I go to New Zealand in December – I promise it’ll get interesting thereafter!

Tools of the trade

A heaped teaspoon

Add cold water and stir

The finished product

Tasting the merchandise


Luxury Weekend For Two At Wood Hall


There’s this TV advert I love that ran a few years ago. It starts with a business-suit-wearing guy who is clearly a very important businessman walking into the plush, marble-floored lobby of an amazingly opulent hotel (the kind you only get in Las Vegas or Dubai). The next few scenes cut around the hotel from an outside shot showing what an awesome structure it is, to a waiter lining up glasses in the restaurant with a long stick (you also note the gleaming silverware and shining glasses). A few scenes later you see the very important businessman leaping onto his bed on his back in a manner that shows he loves his executive lifestyle. Then the voice-over man comes on and says something like:

If you want the best when you travel then get your travel consultant to contact The Leading Hotels of the World”.

I thought to myself that you really know you’ve made it when you have your own travel consultant! Well it just so happens that my girlfriend is a travel consultant and while the reality of the role isn’t quite what I’d imagined, it does have some benefits.

This weekend she was invited to an Agent Meeting. This is where a hotel wants to showcase all it has to offer the business sector and so lays on free accommodation, free food, free alcohol and a good look at the facilities for travel consultants so that when they get back they’ll recommend the place to their clients. For that read free trip to a swanky hotel. At least that’s how I saw it. So off we went to Wood Hall near Wetherby. They’ve just spent £2.5 million refurbishing the hotel and it really shows.

room panorama

The rooms were fantastic. The picture above shows our room and note the huge wide screen plasma tv. The remote control was like a PDA with touch-screen and was very swish. The bathroom was lovely and the bed was both huge and comfy (is there anything else a bed needs to be?). The furniture looked expensive, classy and modern. I was well impressed. So off I went to the spa with sauna, Jacuzzi, swimming pool, gym with super-high-tech equipment. Although I was going for a full body massage so I wasn’t interested in any of that. An hour later I returned to the room thoroughly relaxed and put the football on. Perfect.

That was short-lived as we had to go down and attend the function that we were there for. I soon discovered to my delight that it was a free meal and free drink! I’ll cut the dinner short because it’s a bit blurry now, but the food was absolutely superb. Really top class stuff. The waiting staff were very professional and slick (I used to be a waiter in a swanky hotel and would even be left to run the place some nights so I like to think I know good service when I see it). We were seated on the same table as the general manager and he struck me again as a real pro, the kind of guy who really knows how to run a hotel, just like the general manager of the hotel I used to work at (Steven Kelly was his name, I wonder what ever happened to him…). Fortunately I wasn’t the only freeloader there. Most of the people there brought along their boyfriends / husbands / friends so I didn’t have to feel guilty for getting the treatment for nowt.


Overall I was really impressed with the place. The rooms were excellent, the service was exemplary and the food was to die for. The surroundings were beautiful too which was the icing on the cake. Apparently they do a lot of weddings there and given the scenery and the building itself, I’m not surprised. Would I stay there again? Yes I would. Do I think you should stay there if you’re ever in Yorkshire? Again, I really do. So much so that any time someone’s looking for any kind of venue I’ll recommend it to them. I may not get commission but it’ll make me feel like I’ve given something back!


The Kind of Thing That Lasts a Lifetime


Way, way back in January I reported that I bought the game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City along with a Sony Playstation 2. I mentioned that I was somewhat addicted to it and that it turned me into a game-addicted teenager all over again. Well you’ll be glad to hear that I did eventually complete the game and must say it was and is the best game I’ve ever played. I got completely sucked into its’ world. I’d be thinking about the missions during the day and playing them out during the night. The thrill of stealing cars, taking over drug barons houses, evading cops, doing robberies, racing biker gangs, assassinating people, flying helicopters, driving speed boats and running a porno film studio were dreams I’d had for years. To actually live them out (through the magic of a games console) was fantastic.

So here I am nine months later and it’s still with me. No, not the violence and need for speed. It’s the music. You see Vice City is set in the 1980’s which – in case I’ve not mentioned it before – is my absolute favourite era for music. I may have been a young lad through the decade but I loved the music then and I love it now (hey, I went to Antigua mainly because it featured in the video to Rio by Duran Duran, that’s how much I love the 80’s). The music in Vice City is literally an encyclopedia of all the best (and some of the more dodgy) music that make the 80’s such a special era for me.

When you steal a car in Vice City you can control the radio. It has several stations and while you’re being chased by the cops you can select from a wide range of musical styles. And I swear, when I walk into a shop and hear “More Than This” by Roxy Music playing over the tannoy (as happened last week), I find myself driving a stolen car up the east island weaving in and out of traffic as the sun goes down. I snap out of it and realise that I’ve just been staring into space with a crooked grin on my face. The game really has had a profound effect on me. For the record, my brother gets this too so it’s not just me!

When I’m old and lying on my death bed I’ll look back on my life and all the things I’ve done, people I’ve met and achievements I’ve had (I’m assuming that my memory still works at this point). And I know that deep down there will be a memory of playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I’ll smirk and the nurses will just assume that the morphine is kicking in but it won’t be that. I’ll be re-living the time I killed Diaz in his own mansion – I shot a load of his henchmen with my machine gun before taking him out with a volley from my rocket launcher. Oh how satisfying that was, especially after I’d been killed myself the first three times I’d attempted the mission (including one where I blew myself up by firing the rocket launcher at the railing right in front of me). Oh memories. At the end of the day that’s all we have.


Autumnal Wanderings


I was lucky enough to have a couple of hours to kill in Harrogate yesterday while waiting for my car to be serviced. I brought my camera along and took a few pictures of the nice autumn colours. This is what Harrogate looks like at this time of year.