Month: December 2010

Phonak Christmas Party

The hotel room I stayed in at the Village Hotel.

The 2nd of my 2 Christmas Do’s.

This one was as bit closer to home, in a marquee right next to the village hotel where I work.

I normally hook up with all my friends over Christmas, and since Glenn was nearby, I invited him to pop over and meet some of our friends.  Glenn had actually booked a Twin room in the hotel, which meant I wouldn’t have to leave at 11, to get the train home.

I finished work at 5pm, and went to check in. I made some coffee in the room, and started watching Star Trek 3, the search for Spock on my laptop. I was beginning to relax, when a loud banging noise, came from the room next door which was very annoying.

I decided I would take immediate action.

I put on my iPod earphones so I couldn’t hear it, and waited for Glenn to arrive so that he could sort it out. In life, somebody always has to be Mr Shit, to get things done (for my part, I am to much of a coward, to volunteer willingly).

Glenn arrives, with 2 bottles of Bud. Its discovered that the noise is perfectly normal. After all, we are in the room next to the Squash court !.

They offer us an alternative room, but instead, 2 of their excellent breakfasts are negotiated.

We meet up at the Waterside, with a few lads from the Warehouse.

Its been decided that a core of people, will meet up at 7pm in the Waterside pub (a sort of pretend Witherspoons, with much more expensive prices).

Glenn asks me about setting up a VPN backup solution between his 2 sites. Using empty glasses, I construct an infrastructure model and talk him through it. As our project nears completion, the “test network” is dismantled by a barmaid, so the conversation changes to more traditional Christmas faire.

A load of lads from the Warehouse arrive (Joking aside, its been a good year for me, and I’m great full to a lot of people for their help. Among them, the Warehouse lads have never let me down and are always upbeat and friendly whenever I see them).

At this point, its mentioned that some people have cancelled but their tables have been paid for. Its suggested that Glenn becomes an imposter. With this in mind, we buy Pete a pint of Cider, and begin modeling his work practices (the idea being, Glenn will be able to identify where the toilets are, what time break is etc, should hotel staff question him).

Another pint, and we head across the road to commence the formal part of our evening. Tracey and Lisa are with us, and since the navigating is left to them, we wander around the back of the bar, where their employees are smoking, and around the side, where empty bottles have been stacked. This adds about 10 extra minutes to our journey, on a freezing night.

The actual do with Carvery and Austin Powers dancers.

Once in the Marquee, I get some drinks (I wont say that the prices are expensive, but they don’t even kiss you afterwards in there). I catch up with a few people, say happy Christmas, offer pints etc.

We are ushered straight to our table, so Glenn’s “undercover cop” performance won’t be needed.

On another serious note, I had a really good evening. It was great meeting loads of people, I normally only see at work. We had a table with Tracey and Lisa to ourselves.

A DJ, played the usual Christmas stuff, then it was time for food. I really enjoyed it. I sometimes find that organised Christmas parties, throw it on a plate, since they’ve got your money already. The food in this case, wouldn’t have looked (or tasted) out of place in the best Chester restaurants.

A sort of 60’s look band, kept everyone dancing (especially our polish girls who were in high spirits)

The evening ends. With the last squash session booked at 9pm, I thought we were okay. But what’s this, 4 inches of snow have fallen during the evening, and most taxi companies have sent their staff home.

The Snow "refugees" contemplate their fate.

We decide (like most of the evening guests) to head for the hotel bar. We’re fine, but our women-folk are stranded.

I briefly consider going to bed and leaving them, but through my drunken haze, had the following thoughts:

A. I wouldn’t want someone to leave me in that situation.
B,  Its Christmas after all.


C, Word will spread around work, and I will be branded a cad and bounder (or perhaps more contemporary versions of those words).

We have a pretty good time, hanging around the bar, there was a real bustle to the evening (which reminded me of the bar in Star Wars).

Last orders at 2:30am, presented us with a problem (and anyway, I didn’t know bar’s closed to hotel residents). We take everyone back to our room as its warm, and we can make a cup of tea and see if the taxi situation changes.

A knock at the door, an hour later, and we have a 3rd refugee. Its getting late now, so bed space, is distributed evenly, and I end up on the floor with a bath towel for a pillow and my coat for a quilt (one of the girls puts a blanket over me, which they found in the cupboard (and I could have found myself, if I’d had any common sense).

The previous nights snow on the roof of Glenns car.

The taxi situation is rectified a couple of hours later and our guests leave.

Back in my own warm bed, I wake up (Its Glenn calling me to breakfast, not my Phonak alarm clock, which vibrates and makes me feel like I’m waking up to an earthquake).

We head downstairs for breakfast and its superb (although someone has stupidly burned toast, and the room smells like a house fire).

The excellent start to the day, goes bad. I’m supposed to go to Manchester to meet some friends in Newton Heath, and to celebrate Tony’s birthday in the evening. Trains have been cancelled, and if I get there, its not guaranteed I’ll get back.

Glenn is driving back to Chester, and I’ve got 1 minute to decide. I head for home, and text apologies, to all concerned.

This is the roof of Glenn’s car. We put a water-bottle into the snow to test its depth.

Back home, I’ve still got loads of prep to do for Christmas, and realise I have 9 hours of free time, which I haven’t budgeted.

I’m all set for Christmas now. Near and far, best wishes. Thanks to everyone who came to the party, I had a smart time.

The search for adventure continues…

Unitron Christmas Party.

Chris, Keith and Mell

I was delighted this year to be invited to 2 works “do’s” for Christmas. In the picture above are Chris and Mell, and a local darts aficionado, Keith (who like me, is from Manchester).

The Unitron party was in Lymm. I arrived in Warrington, did some work in the morning, then walked along the Trans Pennine way to Lymm.

Walking under the Thelwall Viaduct.

It didn’t work out well, and I ended up getting lost. Never mind, I ended up walking under the magnificent Thelwall Viaduct.

I got to the superb MacDonald Hotel in Lymm, changed out of my walking clothes and got ready for the evening. I asked the receptionist if I looked okay (I don’t go out that often, and I’d made quite an effort).

She said I looked fine, and was surprised how I had carried all my clothes in such a small Rucksack. I explained that I wear Rohan … (I managed to keep the explanation under an hour).

Tracey with Guitar Hero in the background.

Things were due to get going around 7:30pm, but I was in the pub for 5pm.

I met some of the locals and the landlord. As pubs go, I was really impressed with the Crown. It had just the right balance between friendliness and efficiency, without being poncy.

In the foreground, is one of my colleagues and friends, Tracey. Behind her, is Jean’s husband, who’s name I can’t quite remember, but I remember that I liked him quite a lot.

Above on the TV, is the ubiquitous Guitar Hero, which we played for a while (and thankfully, being head of IT, nobody asked me to fix or anything).

Gareth asked me to put up the final darts score.

Later, we moved onto Darts. Gareth (who is a cracking lad, but mithers quite a lot) won at Darts. Obviously not understanding the finer points of office politics, Gareth asked me to put up this picture, to prove that he beat his boss at darts. I’m sure this will help his career immensely.

Gareth dancing (we'd had a lot to drink at this point).

After a brief viewing of X Factor (during which, I said I would rather listen to the sound of my own bowels than this kind of rubbish), that musical weapon of festivities, the Kareoki machine was deployed. The girls sang a few of the old “favourites” before Gareth got hold of the microphone (and nobody could get it off him).

Me receiving my Secret Santa present.

Finally, I opened my Secret Santa, and received this Jamie Oliver which, which was exactly what I had wanted (a few well placed comments had worked a treat). I found out that Nicola had bought it yet she was out of the office most of the time. Some intelligence gathering must have taken place.

We have some Yeager Bombs or whatever, then back to the hotel as I a discussion about whether the cloud really can bring the business uses of the Ipad to life.

I’d like to thank Chris, the Managing director of Unitron for inviting me and all of my friends (including Pam’s boyfriend, Gareth’s girlfriend and Jean’s partner) for a really smart evening.

I retire to bed and watch Fringe on my laptop.

Walking back to Warrington along the Trans Penine Trail.

On the way back, I finally crack the Trans Pennine route. Early in the morning, 6 miles, superb.

Back at the office, I do a few more hours work, before heading out for some more walking.

A fun weekend. Work, Walking and Parties. As it should be.


Christmas is here.

Ice skating and the Chester Wheel

Well, all the signs are that Christmas has arrived. This heavily airbrushed picture of the Chester wheel and Victorian market, is just one indicator.

I have to say, I am really enthusiastic. The last 2 Christmases haven’t been great, but this one, promises a return to form.

I have even downloaded Christmas music to play on Christmas morning, the way mum used to, in the house I grew up in. I am also considering a tree and decorations, although the Jury is still out on this.

Ill be making a special effort to stock up on appropriate food and drunk, so shouldn’t end up in Tesco at 7am on Christmas Eve like last year.

Another dilemma, is Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. The Frog has now closed, and wont be re-opening until at least the spring, so I’ll need to find an alternative “start off” boozer.

I’ll be spending Christmas day at Tony and Lorraine’s, as I have the 2 previous years. Its the first Christmas in the house on my own, and I was going to spend it on my own. Instead, I’ll be spending Christmas morning on my own, and walking to their house to meet Steve for dinner.

On the work front, I’m looking forward to both Christmas parties (one in Lymm and one in Warrington) and, for the first time in 10 years, Ill be taking the whole of Christmas off. I’m also taking part in the Secret Santa.

Refurbishment of my house.

Bedroom finished, next the bathroom.

Its all systems go at home. I have successfully re-decorated (well okay, Painted) my bedroom. I have put up some shelves, and mounted the TV on my bedroom wall. The bathroom is being re-decorated and the carpet shampooed, as I write.

Off the 88 things to do in the house, only 21 remain and I am well on schedule to have the house sorted out by Christmas.

Pete came around.

Pete and Jon Rennie

I had a visit the other evening, from the famous Skinny Pete (on the right of this picture). We had a mug of tea, and discussed Phones, Laptops and Visualization.

Most of you know that we worked together and we enjoyed some pretty cool technical achievements, whilst I organised virtual beauty contests and wound up “The Gepp”.

What isn’t well know, is how much he helped me personally and domestically. He gave me a lift to Manchester to pick up Franks trainers, and did the camera work for many of my Youtube video’s.

He also helped out at home, gave me a TV video unit, spent the whole day at my house helping out at a very difficult time and on another occasion, completely fitted a toilet in my bathroom. Was great to see you again Pete, take care of yourself.

On the subject of friends, my friend’s Nicola and Ben have completed their trip around the world, you can read about it here.

Jon Mallett, a mate who’s company and support can’t even be described, is fulfilling a life long adventure and riding a motorbike to Timbuktu. They have set up a website, that you can read about here.

I recently had a photo book made at they make great Christmas presents, give one to your friends and family, they are superb.

Gerry Cochrane and old times at Fairbridge Drake.

An old picture of Gerry, at Fairbridge Drake.

Talking of old friends, I was contacted recently by Gerry Cochrane (featured in this picture, standing on 1 leg).

It was great to hear from him, after all this time. Funny when you think of all the things you’ve done, and try to remember when you first thought of it.

In a lot of cases, it goes back to Fairbridge Drake when I was 19. Everything from visiting to Chamonix to owning 13 pairs of Rohan trousers !.

Steve’s friend sleeping out for Chester homeless.

Chester sponsored sleep-out for the homeless.

Steve came around the other evening, explaining, that there was a sponsored sleep-out in support of the homeless. His neighbor would be taking part, and sleeping out on one of the coldest nights of the year (around -7).

What could I do ? I immediately swung into action, went into my loft, and willingly lent out my old 4 season sleeping bag.

Oh, sorry. Did you think that I would be taking part in the sleep out as well ?. Years ago, on my basic course with Fairbridge Drake (10 days, that would change my life forever) I was bet that I couldn’t knock together a shelter from polythene, and sleep in it, using only my town coat for warmth.

The shelter I slept in on my basic course at Fairbridge Drake.

We shook hands on the deal, and I left the warmth of the cave, fire and sleeping bag, and slept out in the improvised shelter. I spent the whole night shivering with snow on the ground outside (I hadn’t done numerous survival courses then, my shelter building wasn’t very good and the distinction between the inside and outside of the shelter was a fine one.

In the morning I was disappointed that the instructors didn’t seem at all impressed with my achievement. They explained.

We only put up with discomfort, if its in pursuit of a practical goal. To simply make yourself uncomfortable as some sort of toughness test is silly. Any fool can make themselves wet and cold, what does that prove ?.

An invaluable lesson learned early. The advise has served me many times in far away places and wild situations over the last 20 years, including the situation with the sleep out !.

I’ve lent the sleeping bag, and donated money to the charity, which I think is the most practical way to achieve the desired goal.

For the record, another lad on the course slept in the shelter as well (in a sleeping bag). Lee Sawbridge and I have been friends ever since.

Operation Mincemeat.

Front cover of The man who never was.

School wasn’t something that I found interesting. In primary school, we were taught an experimental phonetic teaching technique without our parents permission. Its largely discredited around the world, and its the reasons I cant spell very well (actually, its one of 2).

Paradoxically, although I hated English lessons, I loved spending time in the library. I found a fascinating book called The man who never was. Whenever we had a boring English lesson (which was frequent) I would open my draw with the book positioned strategically, so I could continue reading, while nobody else could see.

Its the true story of a dead tramp, who was given a false identity and left off the coast of Spain to misdirect Nazi intelligence. I was fascinated to be reminded of it, in an article on BBC News <link>.

Should I have paid more attention to English lessons. I honestly don’t know. If I could swap my imagination for the ability to spell, I think I’d stick with what I have.

Near and far, have a fantastic Christmas.

The search for adventure continues…

Other half of the Sandstone Trail.

The road from Chester to Whitchurch. The "alternative" Sandtone Trail.

When we left our heroes John and Tony, they were limping back to Chester, after completing the first half of the Sandstone trail, sustaining an injury, sleeping over in an old barn, and being forced to abandon their enterprise.

Time moves on, and the fever still burned.

Two weeks later, Tony arrives at my house on the Friday night, and we plan our weekend, while we enjoy the now ubiquitous fried Chicken from Iceland and cans of Fosters. Its decided that we will walk the road route to Berwardsley, sleep over, then walk the 2nd part of the route to Whitchurch on Sunday.

In the morning, Amelia joins us for breakfast while I clean up the living room, which Tony has flooded, due to miss-management of my bathroom shower.

We set off. Amelia, dressed for a walk around town decides to join us for part of the walk to Berwardsley (I was frankly amazed, when she walked 10 miles Tattenhall).

The walk was largely uneventful. We arrived at Tattenhall. Had a couple of drinks by a roaring fire, then put Amelia on a bus back to Chester (to the loving arms of her boyfriend Mo) and walked the 2 remaining miles to the Old Smithy Barn.

Inside the Smith Barn.

We pop into the Post Office to collect the keys. While there, we buy pies, milk, chocolate, crisps and mineral water for Sundays walk.

Once in the barn, we setup our beds, light up the stove for a drink of hot Chocolate and light the candles. The place is starting to feel like home already.

The rent has gone up from £4 to £5 each. Considering that you cant put a tent up in a field in this country for that, The barn hosts a flushing toilet, running water and sensible places to eat, sleep and cook. A bargain.

We peruse the map and plan the walk for the following day. After a rest, we debate our engagements for the evening.  A pub called the Pheasant is the local in Burwardsley, but there are 4 pubs that look pretty good in Tattenhall.

Tony and I in the Pheasant Pub in Berwardsley

We decide on the Pheasant. We’ve been told that its popular with walkers, but were surprised to find it filled with people wearing ties and jackets (And one unfortunate in orange trousers and a tea towel shirt).

We have a couple of pints and decide to try the Beef and Guiness pie (which Tony very kindly offers to buy, to make up for the bathroom flooding). Expensive, but delicious all the same. A couple more pints, then we walk back in high spirits.

Up early, Tony makes porridge on the stove for breakfast (I eat sausage rolls). As I watch Tony struggling to pack away his Thermarest (inflatable sleeping mat) and watching countless others frustrated doing the same thing, I decide to document my own technique for this.

A muddy section of the Sandstone Trail, and a style that leads nowhere.

Handing back the keys at the post office, we head off. We had decided not to wing it with the signs, and have bought the map, for the lower half of the walk (you can get the whole walk on one map, but the landranger series (the orange ones, to the layman) show a lot more detail, so it takes 2 of those to show the whole walk from Chester to Frodsham.

After some trouble finding the start of the walk, and being accidentally electrocuted by a cow fence, a local shows us the way.

The photo above gives some idea of how muddy the route was, and why it was easy to turn an ankle while walking in the dark. Of interested, is this completely pointless stile.

The highest point on the Sandstone Trail.

The early part of the walk, snakes around different hills (the Sandstone trail is considered to be the best walk in Chesire !). Here I pose at Raw head, the highest point on the trail.

The usual trail banter starts. Which are the best pubs in Manchester, The relative merits of past and previous Sci Fi series, plans for adventures further afield (X Factor, pokes its un-invited head in as well).

View from the Sandstone Trail.

Coming down the side of the hill, are breathtaking views like this one.

Some people ask why I enjoy walking. On the face of it, your trudging around in mud, in the cold, being rained on, and you could get lost.

Well, I’ve thought a lot about this. For me, the attractions are.

1. Putting one foot in To state the obvious, its putting one foot in front of the other, and as the world grows ever more sophisticated, its nice to have a simple hobby.

2. Honest companionship. Sometimes you walk on your own, alone with your thoughts and your mind wanders. Other times you talk to your companions, it reduces human interaction to its simplest, nobody has an agenda other than completing the walk.

3. The pleasure of being surrounded by nature. You appreciate things like a cup of coffee or a bar of chocolate, far more in the rain, than you do sitting in your living room.

4. Your on your own. The sense of independence you get, when you don’t know the way, and have to use your  map and compass. Its frustrating when you get it wrong, but liberating and invigorating when you get it right.

5. Its not just the walking. Traveling to places you haven’t been, socialising over pints in the evening, meeting new people.

A Lama we met on the Trail.

We drop out of the hills, and at this point, the path gets a bit boring, as its one rolling field after another (though thankfully, it isnt dark).

To break up the monotony, I eat the Steak and Kidney pie I purchased the previous evening and we see this friendly Lama, in one of the farms we pass through.

The fields end, and we hit a Canal. I know from studying the map, the previous evening that its the last leg of the walk and its 4 miles to Whitchurch.

Now the bad news. In Winter, the buses dont run from Whitchurch to Manchester. They run from Malpass to Chester, which is 4 miles walk back towards Chester.  With 2 hours before the last bus, we go to a friendly pub in Malpass, sit by the fire and watch a program about the making of Harry Potter.

The bus drops Tony at the railway station. Back home. A bath, thin crust pizza, half a bottle of red wine and special victims unit before I go to bed, and another weekend of adventure is over.

Putting away a Thermarest.

A couple of times, I’ve seen people struggle to put away their thermarest sleeping mat, yet stare exasperated, as I do it with ease.

I’ve decided to document my technique, if your reading this and you have a thermarest (something Ben Mcnutt describes as the best piece of outdoor gear he has ever purchased) give this a try (Tony took the pictures, apologies for how crap I look, it was early in the morning).

1. Fundamentals. Always store the Thermarest when not in active use, with the valve open. It will extend its life by 60% and at £100 a pop, that’s a significant potential saving.

Technically, the mat is described as self inflating. Once I’ve unpacked it, I leave it for half an hour to do this, but I also give it 3 lung-fulls of air in addition, to give it a bit of extra spring.

2. The thermarest will normally deflate a little during the night, depending on its age, storage and use. Open the valve, and fold down the middle on its orange (or an older one its bergundy) side.

3. Start to roll up the mat. I see people putting loads of un-needed effort into this, determined to make it as small as possible. Dont bother, just roll it up reasonably small, all will be illuminated in step 6.

4. While rolling, its important to keep the 2 left hand edges together. Best way to do this, is with your left hand, as you roll with your right (it should be a lot easier, as your not applying loads of effort and just gently rolling).

5. The mat is finally rolled. Most people consider the job completed at this stage, but this is where the real trick begins.

6. Unroll the whole mat, which now has most of he air removed. Position the mats stuff sack just to the left of the valve.

Now roll the mat up again. With most of the air gone, it should be possible to remove what remains with little effort. Roll the mat really finely, and make sure the 2 left hand edges are lined up.

7. Once fully rolled, you should be able to hold the rolled up mat easily with your right hand, and put the stuff sack over it with your left (hence the reason for positioning the stuff sack conveniently next to the valve. Its important to put the stuff sack over the mat, and not force the mat into it.

8. The finished mat, sits tidily inside the stuff sack.

Okay, you could say, big deal, you just rolled up the mat twice. I’d agree, the simplest ideas are usually the best.