Year: 2022

November Update.

I’ll probably do one more post before the end of the year, but for now I just thought I’d write up some of the stuff I’ve been doing lately.

Two really big adventures happened since my last post (too involved to fully write up here, so I’ll be doing an entire section on them later).

Firstly, Greece, Island hopping. We stayed on 4 different Islands, and ended up visiting 3 others. Travelling by ferry over a 2 week trip, it was enormous fun but quite busy and involved.

I even got to rent the vehicle above for a day, which was the highlight of the trip.

A much more relaxing trip, and somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for 30 years ! – Barbados.

We visited various museums and went to the Fish fry evening.

But the highlight of that week long trip, was a trip in a Submarine.

Not cheap, but how many people can say they’ve been 200 feet down in an actual Submarine.

With the Barbados trip, we had an early flight, so stayed over in Manchester.

I got the chance for a drink in Cloud 23. Manchester changes, every time I come home, but looking out through the windows you can see the massive ammount of building work that’s already happened and the work in progress.

All the good stuff happening in Manchester, seemed to co-incide with my moving to live in Chester (I must have been holding things up !)

Speaking of Manchester, I attended a talk at the Chester Literary Festival.

I’m not particularly Literary (my kindle is filled with Wilbur Smith novels) but when I read who was attending, I was instantly excited.

Mark Berry, aka Bez from the Happy Mondays, one of the bands that launched the Manchester music scene in the late 90’s.

He really was one of the most down to earth people I’d ever met and spoke passionately about fracking and other things he felt strongly about. He also swore quite a lot and didn’t mess around with conversational flannel.

He was, you could say the archutypal “Manc”.

Unfortunately, Nikki had to leave early so I had to rely on a member of storyhouse staff to take this picture.

I’ve attended several wine tasting events over the last two months, but the major one was Vin Santo at Chester Cathedral.

Some wine tastings are “guided” where the host talks you through the wine. In this case, there were multiple stalls, each one with five or six wine’s you could tast and the stall host would give you a quick overview of the wine you were trying.

It was a fantastic evening, with all the usual personalities like Tom, Simon and Sino.

And I was able to stock my wine store ready for Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas preperations, I’ve started to upgrade the photo board in my living room.

Lots of cool things have happened in the last 18 months and unfortunately, the photo board doesn’t reflect this.

I know I could put up a tv with a rolling presentation or something like that, but I’ve always prefered “normal” photographs.

It’s a brilliant way to motivate myself. Sometimes (just like everyone else) I get a bit down and wonder sometimes why I try so hard and why I bother to commit and make things happen.

When I look at the board, I know why.

The tree and Christmas decorations are all being put up on the 1st of December in my house.

This year, I’ve bought a 2nd set of Mini Christmas jumpers to put up in my office and extend the Christmas spirit to there.

They cost £1 each, with the money going to cancer research.

This years train rig will be the biggest one ever and now features a tunnel and foot bridge.

I’ve bought 3 new trains this year, the picture above shows all the trains I presently own including the “fairwell tour” 125, the APT and the new hybrid Azuma.

Speaking of trains, I attended a 00 Guage train fair at the British Motor Museum.

Tony and I wen’t down for the day. Thing was, the trains were quite interesting, but the Motor Museum itself was superb.

Above, something I’ve always wanted to see but never managed to, a Delorean sports car.

They had the original jeaps used by the SAS in the desert, the first Jaguar E type and the first mini to come off the production line.

Obviously, James Bond cars featured heavily, but above, the Jaguar from Austin Powers, and next to it the Jaguar driven by Zao’s in Die another day (it was pointed out that the minigun was plastic and didn’t fire reall bullets !).

One of the things I missed during lock down was the Chester Globetrotters.

It’s a group I attend every 2 months, where there are 2 interesting talks on travel and adventure at Chester museum lecture theatre. Afterwards we go for a drink together in the pub and were able to chat about interesting destinations.

The Globetrotters is now back in full swing, and above, a picture of everyone getting together in the The Golden Eagle after the meeting.

After the pub, I usualy get together with a few friends and we have some more drinks around town and have dinner somewhere nice.

One thing I’ve been looking forward too for some time is the opening of the Chester Northgate development and the new Chester Market. We wandered over to see it, but honestly, it was chaos and most of the food was very expensive.

I’m sure things will sort themselves out, but for the time being I’m going to give it a miss.

After our exciting visit to the air museum and bushcraft show in Cambridge, Mike and I decided on another road trip.

This time, we’d go to Hebden Bridge. The countryside around was superb, so we headed out for a few hours of walking, before returning to the town.

We stayed at the strangely named IOU hostel.

It’s name was the only thing odd about it, otherwise, it was very comfortable and in a superb spot.

Following day, something I was quite looking forward to.

A querky outfit called Hebtroco make superb jeans and I’ve always wanted to own a pair (at the moment most of the jeans I own are from Rohan obviously).

The 2 people who run Hebtroco had the idea in a bar they used to frequent called “Drink”. A sort of bottle shop with a bar. They don’t have a shop, and when you order something from them, it’s normaly delivered to your house, but they also do deliveries to “Drink”.

Mike and I decided to have a few drinks in there, and it really was a superb bar.

And while I was there, I picked up my parcel.

And when I got home I tried them on. They really are excelent.

Unfortunately, I’ve now had to buy an iron.

This years walking group weekend away came around.

This time, held in Llanduno. We arrived on Friday evening and were picked up by my mate Andy (who lives in Llandudno).

He’d frequently mentioned pub he liked called the Old Stag. Right in the countryside, in the middle of nowhwhere and filled with farmers.

A friendly bunch and the food was superb.

Following day, a wander around Conwy. Everyone else puts up pictures of the castle, so I’d thought I’d put up some boats in the harbour for variety.

While I was away in Greece, I got an email saying Marc Almond was performing at the Liverpool Philharmonic.

In these modern times, where police officers are seen dancing at pride events, this guy was outspokenly gay at a time when the police parked vans around the corner from gay clubs and beat people up as they were leaving.

I remember listening to his music when I was a teenager. His lyrics about the complexity of relationship, how people are judged and frankly that life isn’t very fair, really connected with me.

But back then, one of my mates would get an album for their birthday and we’d all tape it (thats how skint we were) so the idea of seeing him live was just impossible.

So imagine how delighted I was to see him on stage. Performing all his old hits and a couple of new songs I liked enjoyed as well.

Nikki has arranged for us to go and see her relatives for a weekend away.

One of the people who inspired me to visit Barbados was my old girlfriends mother Mr’s Edgehill. She spoke Patwa beautifully, and honestly it was like listening to a flute.

I remember being suprised that a working class black woman from Barbados would buy the Daily Mail, every Sunday…

But I read it anyway. I remember in their letters page, there were frequent contributions from “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”.

And next weekend, I’ll be visiting Tunbridge Wells for the first time 🙂

When I went to see Marc Almond, he performed a song called Purple Zone.

For the first time in over 40 years, Soft Cell have made a song in collaboration with the Pet Shop boys (another band I think are fantastic). I was watching their video, which features them sitting around a table having a drink.

Just for fun I looked it up. It’s the The Black Prince in Kennington.

When I’m travelling back from Tunbridge Wells on Sunday, I change trains in London, and I’ve left myself a spare hour to visit that pub (it’s the same one where the fight scene in Kingsman – The secret service was filmed).

Well, 14 working days and I’m off to Sicily for the first time. At that point, I’ll have visited 90 countries, with only 10 more until I can join the Travellers century club.

The scenery, food and wine are my main reasons for spending Christmas and New Year there, but a side project I’m really keen on, is visiting the town of Corleon as featured in the Godfather.

My stepfather Fred (a man I deeply detest) always said he wanted to go there. He won’t but I will have and that will make the trip extra special.

Three weekend adventures.

A plan was afoot with Nikki’s family, to visit London.

Nikki’s sister Lyn had bought us a late birthday gift of tickets to go and see Coldplay.

Not a big music fan, but they’re a massively famous band so I was intrigued. I also really like their song “The Scientist” and I’d never been to Wembley.

A weekend in London would be ludicrously expensive (it would have been cheaper to visit Rome or Paris) but since you’re going anyway, you might as well pack as many things into the trip as possible. So that’s what we did.

I’ve often joked, that London should have it’s own currency, instead of £’s, they should use “tenners” and just call them £’s

Travelled down by train and stayed at a nice hotel in Hampstead (I was surprised how big the wardrobes were, then realised one of them contained a small kitchen with a fridge).

We arrived at London Euston at 4:30pm and I split off, to do my own thing.

While everyone else had drinks in Camden, I visited the British Museum, popped into the Rohan shop in Covent Garden (I found out its original name later that weekend) and then walked along the Thames towards the Walkie Talkie.

I grabbed a quick drink in a nearby bar and got changed in the bathroom. For a while now, I’ve had some Rohan clothes which could pass as semi formal evening wear (yet could still be carried in a rucksack and washed in a bucket!).

I decided this was the opportunity to try them out, so suitably dressed I step out for the evening.

The rooftop Sky Garden of the Walkie Talkie is set over 3 floors and features a real garden (like plants and flowers that aren’t made of plastic) and a sort of coffee lounge (which doubles as a nightclub later in the evening).

It’s free to visit, but you had to queue. We had booked a table for dinner, so we were able to fast track (a bit like Holly and Phil). 31 floors in the lift.

It features a viewing platform with spectacular 360-degree vistas of London.

We sit down for dinner at the Darwin Brasserie.

I only had a chicken burger, but it was delicious. We had quite a lot of wine and it cost a fortune, but you don’t get to do stuff like this every day do you?.

Two hours later, we head downstairs. The coffee lounge has transformed into a nightclub, and everyone is doing “shots”.

Back to our hotel in Hampstead. In the morning we find a nice bakery for breakfast (it was like a scene from the film Notting Hill). The days adventure begins.

First off, a tour of the London Underground.

We meet our tour guide Mark outside Baker Street tube station and where better, than next to the Sherlock Holmes statue, paid for by the Sherlock Holmes Society (I didn’t know there was a Sherlock Holmes Society ?).

It was built in 1863 in advance of the mass number of people that were predicted to be living and working in London (an idea that was well ahead of its time).

The original tube was 5 metres deep, and basically involved digging up a major road, digging out a massive trench, then putting a “roof” on it and restoring the road.

The one’s that followed were 20 metres deep. A digging support “pipe” was used, and as the hole dug further, the pipe was picked up and pushed forward. It’s from here that the transport system takes its name, The Tube.

At one point, we passed the abandoned station at Aldwych. I couldn’t see enough of it to take a picture.

The tour finished with this memorial to Frank Pick. After the 1st world war, the underground was expanded massively into the suburbs around London.

We wander further into London (it’s a fantastic day and the weather is 30 centigrade).

Passing Jermyn Street, I pop into Charles Tyrwhitt (why not, I was wearing one of their shirts).

We have lunch at The Ivy. It’s the 3rd time I’ve been to an Ivy restaurant in 2 months and they really are amazing. The food and service are like something from a bygone era.

We head back to get ready with much anticipation.

So now, the main event. I really didn’t know what to expect. We got the tube a few stops (carriage was very busy) and then we’re walking down Wembley way.

I was wondering what chaos would ensue when 90,000 people tried to sit down all at the same time. I shouldn’t have worried; they do this every day and it’s a really slick operation.

People are taking their seats and first up is a performer called Griff (her real name is Sarah Griffiths; Griff is her nickname from school). Only 21 but she was a superb musician.

Her music really connected with me. She was so good, that when I got home I bought her album (first album I’ve bought in about 10 years).

People are starting to arrive in serious numbers. I’d been given a wrist device to put on, which I presumed they used later to check that everyone had left the stadium. A surprise awaited.

And with the stadium packed and an atmosphere like a religious event, here they are.

Coldplay. Incredible performers who looked like 40-year-olds having a good time… And with over 100,000,000 albums sold world-wide, I’ve read they’re the most successful band of the 21st century.

As I said before, I wouldn’t call myself a fan of theirs, but I instantly recognised a lot of their songs.

Without any warning, the thing on my wrist lit up. As did everyone else’s and the entire stadium lit up. Later, it would make massive heart shapes and stuff like that, so the technology was quite advanced.

Craig David was a surprise guest and the evening ended with a tongue in cheek firework display.

Following day, we have to drop off our bags near the station so we can continue our adventures and pick them up next to the station.

The drop off, involved another first. I’d never been on a London bus before.

Wherever I travel, I try to learn a few words of the local language.

In this case, I was chatting to the driver. I enquired if he knew a good “Battle Cruiser” where I could get some “Britney Spears”. He frowned at me and didn’t reply.

The oldest theatre in its original location, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Burned down and destroyed several times, it was first built in 1663.

We’d arranged a back stage tour, but this being theatre, it was done in an animated fashion by 2 superb actors.

The Theatre had just undergone a £60m upgrade. The whole place was steeped in history.

The longest running theatre show in history Miss Saigon, featured a helicopter landing on the stage.

On another occasion, an actor killed another on stage, the audience didn’t realise and loudly applauded the dying man’s performance

The King and the Prince had a falling out, so the theatre was refitted with 2 doorways. A Kings side and a Princes side, with 2 anti-rooms, 2 bars the whole lot.

They also explained where some theatre tropes come from.

At one time, the wealthy, could sit on the front of the stage and watch the performance. As they left, sometimes they’d pick up memorabilia from the play. To stop this, the theatre started to print “property of theatre” on the items. This was later shortened to prop, and that’s where the name comes from.

Sailors were only paid while out to sea. While in port, they earned extra money hauling ropes and such like at the theatre (the 2 jobs were very similar). That’s why theatre today use words like the crew, rigging and why it’s bad look to whistle on stage (sailors whistle to each other to communicate, if your an actor and your whistling is misunderstood, you may get a sandbag dropped on your head 🙂

The sad part was the picture above. They were showing performances of the Disney Film Frozen. I say sad becase security had sniffer dogs to check for explosives. A tragedy that things like that need to happen at all.

Also found out, that an area nearby used to be a convent. Due to a misspelling, the garden next to the convent was renamed Covent Garden !.

The final adventure of our trip, something I’ve wanted to do for 15 years.

A visit to the re-created Globe Theatre and a chance to see Shakespeare as it was originally performed nearly 500 years ago.

We got to see The Tempest. I’ve always been fascinated by it, ever since watching the scene in Star Trek with Picard and Data and my friend Frank explaining what was going on.

It was a bit uncomfortable, but you could rent cushions for £2.50 (nothing is cheap in London).

Some dinner at the Fishmarket, then off home. A brilliant weekend, pulling together loads of things I’ve not done before and several things I’ve wanted to do for decades.

The following weekend, I embark on a solo adventure.

I’ve accumulated quite a lot of new equipment in the last few months and it’s really important to test this kind of stuff, before you actually need it.

There’s a campsite about an hours ride from my house called Chester Lakes (so it’s basically in the Chester area and contains 3 manmade lakes). It has normal camping, as well as a forest, where I prefer to stay.

So I got there, set up my tent, made some food and tried out various equipment (that all worked really well).

By late afternoon, I decided to have a walk around the site. The campsite pub was closed, and I wondered why.

Turns out, the rest of the campsite had been hired out for a Truckers convention.

Although they had taken over the campsite, they were friendly and helpful.

At 6pm, I headed off to join Nikki for dinner at the Red Lion in Dodleston (I enjoy living wild, but why go without a nice Steak and glass of red wine if you don’t have to).

After a relaxing evening, Nikki heads home (the country roads around there can be treacherous at night, so she set off about 8:30pm).

I head back to my tent, check everything’s prepped for bed and my bikes locked up and I wander back over to the main campsite (my camping fees for the weekend, included access to all the facilities of the campsite).

Turned out, the campsite pub was closed, as a Marquee had been erected with a bar and dj. The atmosphere was superb, and even better, at 9:30pm, a live band playing Irish music took to the stage.

Two hours later, and back to my tent. Hot chocolate on my Jetboil stove and then off to sleep (I slept very well).

Up early the next day, got cleaned up and then cooked breakfast before heading home.

Everything had gone to plan, plus a few extra benefits I hadn’t bargained on.

Weekend following, it’s Nikki’s mum’s birthday.

A bank holiday weekend and were staying at the George hotel (it’s about the 5th time, we love it here).

We arrive on Friday, evening, Fish and Chips in the pub and then off to bed.

The following day we head off for a walk. We’re heading for Kinder Scout from Hayfield and retracing the steps of the Mass Trespass. I’m always contemplative when I do this route. I’m aware that people went to prison for my right to walk up this hill and I’m respectful of that sacrifice.

This wasn’t like an outing with the walking group, and I had concerns about everyone’s fitness (apart from Nikki’s).

But we did fine, it was fantastic to be back in the Peak district with amazing views of open land, like the one above.

The view above Kinder reservoir.

Nikki and I have been here many times on different walks, it’s one of our favourite spots, so the flask comes out and we have coffee and biscuits.

We get too Kinder and walk back. Everyone is tired, but we’re back in one piece, after an amazing day.

But the fun’s not over.

The Saturday is actually Sheila’s (Nikki’s mum) birthday.

Nothing less than a fine dining experience for this evening, so we sit down at the Pack Horse.

The food and wine were superb, and an amazing evening was had by all.

Best part was their attention to details (they made their own bread, and stuff like that). They also had these amazing knives for buttering bread. I found out where they’d been purchased and ordered some when I got home.

Next day, we decide to take it easy on our legs so head out to Matlock.

My old favourite, a steam railway run by enthusiasts.

In the town, there’s some sort of fair going on in the park, so I try some local Gin and buy some locally made sweets.

On the way, I finally get to visit The World of Bushcraft Centre. It’s been open a while, but I’ve never gotten around to going. It’s a different sort of bushcraft shop, as not only can you buy items, but you can book training sessions. So for example you could buy a spoon carving knife then have 2 hours where someone teaches you to make a spoon.

It’s operated by Woodland Ways, which is run by a chap called Jason who I spent time with on a trip to Borneo.

As you can imagine, I bought loads of stuff there (it’s just not the same, buying things online). So much so, that after I left and joined everyone at a nearby cafe, I ended up going back to the shop to pick up a cookery book I’d seen.

To my surprise, there was Jason, loading canoes onto the roof of a 4×4 with the guy who runs the shop helping him. I hadn’t seen him in 14 years it was great to see him again.

That evening, we have dinner in Colloseo a brilliant Italian restaurant in Hayfield.

The last night of our trip, so it’s celebration time, and I wake in the morning with a thick head.

We drive into New Mills and do a 4 hour walk around the forests there.

The walk finished in the town centre. Just looking around, you can see years of heritage from mills and the cotton industry.

They also have a working Archimedean screw, which generates electricity which they sell back to the national grid. They were the first local council to do this. I’ve spent 3 days in amazing countryside, so I’m reminded how fragile and precious the environment is.

So, locally sourced Sunday lunch in a nice local pub and then we head home.

What makes a fab weekend ?.

Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure in British Politics (the ultimate Bovril person you might say).
Whatever your thoughts on her as a Prime Minister and a person, there’s a quote of her’s, I think we can all agree with.

“Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.”

I’ve had a couple of adventures and weekends away like that recently, so I thought I’d write about them.

The amazing Making Tracks team setup their 90 meter rig at Chester Cathedral.

For only £2.50 I got to see dozens of 00 guage trains both old and new (it runs until the 3rd of September, so if you haven’t been go now).

The event is assisted by Chester Model Centre, who I frequently visit and have repaired numerous old trains for me.

Interesting thing is one part of the Making Tracks rig is a replica of Rugby railway station, where co-incidentally, I’d be visiting the following day (more about that later).

Another interesting thing is that Making Tracks are a team of volunteers who are headed up by Pete Waterman (formerly of Stock Aitken and Waterman). He was there at the event, and as much a gobshite as I remember (but I was enjoying myself so much, I didn’t care 🙂

Later that evening, were off to Liverpool. I previously worked in the city and really enjoyed it, with so much going on after work.

Since then, a new restaurant has opened, Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen. The food was superb and set us up nicely for the evening.

Gordon wasn’t actually there, this is a poster of him, in the window.

In November, Nikki and I will have been together for 10 years.

Not long after we got together, she suggested a trip to the theatre. I hadn’t been many times, so thought I’d give it a go.

We ended up going to London to see the Book of Mormon. I was blown away by it.

So I was delighted a while later when it was on in Liverpool and (after 2 years of Covid nonsense) we were able to go and see it.

I won’t spoil the story, but if you watch this song from the Tony awards, it captures the power of the play.

I’m not religious at all, but I frequently listen to this song, both to make me laugh and to inspire me.

So, on Saturday, up early some toast and tea before we head of for our weekend road trip.

Nikki decided not to come as she finds bushcraft tedious and due to her father’s love of aeroplanes and being made to go and see them lots of times, hates that too.

Mike decided to join me, and Nikki let us use the car so we were all set.

Our first stop was the Bushcraft show. It’s been running for a number of years, but I’ve never got around to going (in truth I haven’t done any bushcraft activities in a number of years, so didn’t know what to expect).

We wandered around and I saw a lot of familiar faces. There were lots of vendors there, so I bought some equipment (probably more than I should have to be honest).

The food was excellent so we looked around to find somewhere to sit down and eat our chicken burgers.

In the picture above, you can see over 300 people sitting enthusiastically waiting for the next talk of the day.

And they would!. It would be the legendary John “Lofty” Wiseman. SAS Survival instructor for 26 years and author of the SAS Survival handbook which I purchased when I was 17.

The book contained all sorts of interesting things (too many to mention here) but one thing that facinated me, was the idea of a tobacco tin survival kit and what to put in it.

A smoking friend gave me a tin. My grandma helped me put the sewing items together and my mum helped with the medical kit.

I got hold of the other stuff from fishing shops and a magnifying glass and some tweezers from a Christmas cracker. I found that painting matches with nail varnish makes them waterproof !. I was all set.

There wasn’t much optimism in my life then and not much to look forward to. I know it sounds ridiculous now, but once I had my Survival kit tin, I knew it was just a matter of time before adventure called.

But as we sit around a table with a few old guys, who’s this ?. The legendary man himself is sat at the same table.

I’ve found before that amazing people like Chris Bonington have no pretentions and are quite charming when you meet them.

As was Lofty. I told him about buying his book and how it had changed my life. He seemd genuinely delighted (it can’t have been the first time someone had said that to him) and insisted I sit down and have a photo with him.

An incredible experience to finally meet my hero. Shortly afterwards he headed to the stage. His talk lasted an hour and it was really interesting.

He talked about life after Covid. About storing plenty of water in your house, planting your own vegetables and having a years’ worth of tin food in your Garage.

While talking about his work on Duncan Dares, he mentioned the Wilkinsons Sword Survival Knife I remember from my youth (ludicrously over engineered and farcically expensive but I really wanted one). He commented that it had a bottle opener on the blade.

He joked, any man who can’t open a bottle without tools deserves to perish :).

He finished with another joke: My father went to prison for his beliefs… He believed the night watchman was asleep 🙂

We had more plans for that end of the country, so I found myself staying over in Cambridge (I’d been there twice before when my company were paying) this time I realised how expensive it was. I stayed at the Ibis Cambridge Central Station – the cheapest I could find @ £160 a night for a twin room (nothing flash) city centre car parking overnight £28.

We had a few drinks around the town, then Mike found this really good curry house called the Tiffin Truck. The end of an amazing day, I drifted off to sleep with a real sense of contentment (and relief that I hadn’t crashed Nikki’s car).

In the morning I start another special day, so what else for breakfast than Scrambled eggs on toast at a respectable restaurant next to our hotel called the Station Tavern (Cambridge is expensive, but they do things with style).

And were off on our next adventure – The Duxford Air Museum. IF YOU FIND PLANES BORING (like someone I’m in love with who’s initials are NY), you should probably SCROLL DOWN TO THE PICTURE OF THE MAN ON THE WHITE HORSE BELLOW.

If you don’t find planes boring, the one above will rock your world.

The SR71 Blackbird. Designed in the 60’s with pencils and paper.

It remains to this day, the fastest plane in the world and that morning I finally got to see one for real (it’s the only one outside the US).

At the back, they had removed the engines so you can see how big and powerful they are.

This is the only plane in the world that can fly on continuous afterburn (for several hours). It flies at Mac 3, which is about 34 miles per minute and normal flying height 85,000 feet, about 18 miles in the air.

No wonder that the X Men fly around in one !.

The Imperial War Museum Duxford (to use its full title) has several exhibtions over an enormous site.

For £30 I thought it was amazing value, and they even had WW2 fighters and bombers that you could watch take off from the runway.

Wandering further around the American part of the museum, they had an explanation of the War on Terror and pieces of the Twin Towers.

Further along, this metal tube is part of the famous Iraqi supergun.

The Cold War exhibition was very interesting to me (it was my era), and they even had an original section of the Berlin Wall.

You might remember the Greenham Common women, who protested about American nuclear weapons on British soil.

This is the trailer that would have launched the weapons (they weren’t going to be launched from the base I found out, they would drive away quickly so they could still fire if the base became “compromised”.

On the left is the Tomahawk Cruise Missile it was designed to fire. They aren’t typically nuclear capable, but these ones would have been.

Using older technology, they had a bult in map that allowed them to fly nap of the earth, to avoid detection and interception.

Greenham Common closed in 1992 and the protesting women all went back home.

Above is the U2 spy plane similar to the one flown by Gary Powers in 1960.

On the bottom left is the Soviet SA2 missile which shot it down. The Americans had believed the plane couldn’t be hit at 60,000 feet.

Gary Powers was put on trail (you can find out about it in the film Bridge of Spies). This lead to the design of the SR71 Blackbird, which could fly at 85,000 feet. It was also made so it could outrun any missile fired at it (and still could to this day).

In other parts of the museum, they had “enemy” aircraft.

Here, a Mig 21.

Messerschmitt from the WW2.

One of my favourite planes, the Tornado.

And another, The Typhoon Eurofighter.

It’s interesting that a lot of American ordnance is named around native Americans. Tomahawk missile, Apache Gunship, Chinook Helicopter.

British Planes seem to be named after “wind” based themes (Tornado and Typhoon and the next generation will be called Tempest).

Bombers have an amazing relationship with people.

For example, when I say this is a B52, some of you will start humming Rock Lobster.

Mike standing under the wing of one. It’s longevity is such that it’s one of the few planes in the existence where you, your father and your grandfather could all have flown one!.

Equally, when I mention the name: Lancaster Bomber, some of you will think of a pint of real ale.

A fascinating museum about the parachute regiment showing them equipped for action throughout the ages.

And finally, the P51 Mustang.

Featured in the film Top Gun Maverick. The plane in the film, actually belongs to Tom Cruise (you can buy old ones for about $4 million).

With that over, I head to the shop, buy a few books, and our weekend is over.

Driving back, I reflect on my experience. I’d seen one of the biggest 00 guage train installations, met Pete Waterman (not sure if that’s a plus), eaten at the Bread Street Kitchen, Watched book of Mormon, met Lofty Wiseman, had drinks and a curry with a mate and seen an SR71 blackbird. I was exhausted but euphoric.

A bit like the day Margaret Thatcher was describing.

Following weekend, a more modest, but no less exciting proposition.

After 6 series, the Peaky Blinders finally finished, with Tommy Shelby on a white horse in front of Chrome hill in the Peak District.

I’ve always been a massive fan of the “blinders”.

On a previous trip, Nikki and I had been in the Museum of Liverpool (I’ve said before how good I think it is).

There was an entire new section called Scouse not English, and an explanation of why scousers are seen as loud and boisterous. At one point, a young lad on camera says, there’s no point, some people are never going to respect us, but if were loud then at least we’ll be listened to!.

In another section of the museum, they had Tommy Shelby’s hat and pocket watch.

I’ve previously stood in Tommy Shelby’s office at Arley Hall, but I found out lots of locations in Liverpool had been used in the filming of the Peaky Blinders. I got in touch with Mike who lives in Liverpool somewhere and we organised to have a Peaky Blinders, day out.

Peaky Blinders “home” and betting office on the depressing looking Watery Street in the series.

In reality, it’s called Powys Street. On the right, just before it was done up, and used during filming of the Peaky Blinders.

On the left is what the street looks like now.

And with Mike acting as photographer, I get this picture of me with the peaky blinders “house” in the background.

We wandered around a few places and had a couple of drinks.

Mike had never expressed any interest in the Peaky Blinders, so as a thank you for helping out, I got him his own hat. It isn’t as good as mine though, my hat is official PB merchandise, purchased from the Black Country museum.

Where to finish the day. Well, where better than the Peaky Blinders bar, where we have a few pints, sporting our new hats.

Back in Town

Delighted to be back Blogging again. Loads of interesting things have happened including a walking trip to Rivington and I finally got to see the 7 arch bridge.

A lot of the stuff is about Chester and things that are happening here. I really am luck to live in such an amazing place and thought I’d write a bit more about it.

Well, it only happens 6 times a year, but tomorrow is the Chester Globetrotters meeting.

Two really interesting talks. Nikki will be compering, drinks afterwards and dinner with friends later.

It’s at Chester museum, 1pm, for a 1:30pm start, if your around in Chester, come along.

I was briefly seeing a girl some years ago.

She was status obsessed. One quote by her that I remember was during dinner, she asked “Don’t you ever wish you were really successful”.

To which I replied: I’ve always wanted to work in computers. I do. So I am sucessful.

One thing that delighted me was when she criticised my clothes and as an antidote bought me a Hugo Boss shirt as a gift.

The shirt far outlasted the “relationship”. I loved that thing and wore it all the time until it practically fell apart.

I’m going to buy another one this year.

The Hugo Boss shirt came into my head earlier this week after reading something in a book I’ve just bought (The Modern Gentleman’s Handbook.)

Apparently, in the 1800’s shirts were incredibly valuable. Most people only had one and even the wealthy only two or three.

If a chap got into a spot of bother and things were about to turn physical, by agreement, all concerned would pause and remove their shirts so as not to damage them in the affray.

A person who kept a cool head and avoided this situation was said to have “Kept his shirt on”. This is why, we use the phrase “Keep your shirt on” today.

Interesting some of the things you hear while out hill walking. The original Advanced Passenger Train from the 80’s could be viewed at Crewe Heritage Centre.

Due to covid, it was closed, but as soon as it re-opened I jumped on the train to Crewe to see it (and it turned out there were quite a few other interesting things to see as well).

The main thing about the APT was that it could “tilt”. The problem with trains in the UK (and a lot of the world) is that once a train goes around a bend it has to reduce it’s speed significantly. This train was designed with what was then the most advanced technology available in the world. It was cancelled when it was around 96% finished (more about that later).

In the 70’s Rail travel was pretty grim and unreliable.

I remember those days well. Nobody got the train unless they had to and the idea of actually enjoying a train journey as I do now, was unheard off. The only thing it had going for it was it was a lot more comfortable than a coach 🙂

Above is the first class seating. I was able to walk around the train and sit down. Although it was built in the 80’s the seats are still very spacious and comfortable.

Back then, the idea of a bar you could just walk up to like a pub was unheard off (of course in first class you would be served meals at your table in the manor of a restaurant). Bars like this are pretty standard now on most Virgin/Avanti trains (more about that later).

I found a seat and watched a 45 minute video they had about the history of the train. It really was fascinating.

As I continued to wander around, they had 2 HST 125 trains, this one in it’s original livery like the one I’d seen at the Rail Museum in York.

Train strikes have returned to the UK recently, and much talk has been made of how hard it is to drive a train considering they are paid 60k

I’ve never driven a train, so it would be daft to comment, but this is the drivers cabin of a 125 HST. Not sure I’d want to sit in this all day long.

Amazing. One of the first Manchester Trams in it’s original colours (they are sort of yellow now).

When they came on the scene, they revolutionised travel in Manchester (as they continue to do today).

It was a tram like this, which enabled me to get a job at IBM. A bus into town, then the tram to Sale.

I used to sit in the same seat (well most of the time) every day on my commute to work.

So just for fun, I got someone to photograph me back in that seat with so many happy memories.

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It took me about 25 mins to walk to the Heritage Centre from Crewe Railway station.

On the way back, I found they had a vintage bus that travelled there and back every 30 mins, so I travelled back on that.

As I stand on the platform about to head back to Chester, I spot an Avanti Pendolino.

Italian made, they can lean, use the same technology as the APT and are capable of incredible speeds on all kinds of track.

You see the technology we failed to finish off, was bought by the Italians. They made it work, then sold it back to us.

But there’s a positive end to the story. As well as a really nice café and a brick a brack shop (more about that later) they had several Hornby train installations. One of them was the 80’s version of the APT (they have a newer version but it’s £500 quid !).

A week later I bought one myself and here it is on my test track at home.

And it actually lean’s when it goes around the bend 🙂

An imminent adventure weekend planned in about a fortnight.

I’m fascinated by survival and Bushcraft, and I’ve spent literally weeks living outdoors, catching my own food and living in a shelter I’ve built myself (the one above took me an hour to make and I slept in it for 3 nights.

But the journey began in 1986 when I bought the SAS survival handbook.

I didn’t have the money or resources to do much adventure then, but I made a tobacco tin survival kit and practiced a lot of the things taught in the book.

After all these years, I’m heading down to the Bushcraft show to actually meet John “Lofty” Wiseman, the author of the book.

There’s lots of other stuff going on there, and many of the famous names from bushcraft will be giving talks. Theres a chance to learn new skills and see lot of bushcraft equipment in action.

It is possible to take a tent or bivvi out, but instead, I’ve decided to stay in a hotel overnight near Duxford Air Museum.

The 2nd part of this amazing weekend on Sunday, will allow me to visit the museum and see some of the worlds most amazing planes first hand. The Wessex helicopter that rescued the SAS from the South Sandwich Island during the Falklands conflict.

They also have a P51 Mustang (the plane at the end of Top Gun – Maverick, believe it or not, that one is actualy owned by Tom Cruise). An Avro Vulcan, a Spitfire, I’m really looking forward to it.

But most of all, the plane above, the SR71 Blackbird. Designed with pencils and paper in the 60’s it’s still the fastest plane in the world. Capable of Mac 3 (which is 35 miles a minute) it could fly faster than any missile fired at it. It also holds the record for the highest flying plane at 85 thousand feet (16 miles in the air, incredible).

It won’t be flying, they’re all grounded now, but It’s the only one outside the United States.

For nearly 10 years, Chester had no Cinema or Theatre.

Lots of other alternatives were introduced like a restaurant showing films with a meal (Chez Jules), The Chester film society who put on films church halls, Tip Top productions who performed Theatre in a basement and Chester Theatre in the Park.

We now have Storyhouse, which is a combined theatre, music venue, cinema & library (with a bar !). I was initially worried that many of the alternatives would fall by the wayside, but needn’t have worried.

Nikki and I went to see Little Women at Theatre in the Park (were going to see Romeo and Juliet next week).

The shows aren’t cheap (for the best seats, it’s about £45) but sitting in the sunshine and watching a play “In the round” is well worth it we think.

We’re watching something at the actual Globe Theatre in London later in the year, and I’m really looking forward to it (were going to see the Tempest, Frank explained the plot to me some years ago).

Speaking of outdoor entertainment, I was passing Harkers Arms the other evening (probably the best pub in Chester) and saw some Morris Dancers performing.

Wine tasting at Vin Santo recently. Previously Corks out, we had loads of fab evenings there when we first started seeing each other, so we were delighted when it re-opened under new management with Tom and Sino onboard.

But you can’t keep a good man down, so Simon has now opened a wine shop on Brook Street, near my house.

I’ve worked in lots of different industry’s over the years, but it’s much the same for me, as I work in IT.

So, as an employee of a Civil Engineering company I have little knowledge of what our lads do on site, most of the time.

So I was delighted to see the other day that we were doing some mods to our site. We had a digger and a tipper truck in the yard and they were hard at work.

Speaking of work, I’m really lucky with the people I work with.

In construction, time is money. There isn’t time for politics and flannel here.

Face to face communication is the prefered form and it’s quite common for people to visit my office (which has recently been decorated, thanks Ian).

Here, the excellent Ant from estimating pops down to seek assistance. To his right is my “official merchandise” Peaky Blinders hat.

Upstairs at the Grill, modelled on a New York steakhouse, is probably the best venue of it’s kind in Chester.

It’s a bit of a ritual that I go there every year on my birthday.

Due to covid and other reasons, I haven’t been there for 3 years, so when it opened recently I had a late birthday treat.

In the film Se7en, a key plot vehicle is that the government monitor what books you buy and rent so they can profile you.

I wonder if that happens in real life ?. If so, it’s a concern to me. Two interesting books I’ve read recently are Never split the difference and 100 deadly skills.

Never split the difference is written by Chris Voss. He was the chief negotiator for the FBI. In conventional negotiation you might say split the difference. In the world he occupies, that would mean 8 hostages, 4 are released, 4 are killed, so that’s not an option. The books tagline is negotiate as though your life depended on it.

100 deadly skills has some fascinating stuff about how to steal a car, how to get rid of a body (there’s practically a disclaimer on every page). My favourite is how to get into a building via the 4th floor (made me think of the window cleaners at the Liver building, pictured above).

Since January, I’ve visited Latvia, Majorca and Bratislava. Three new countries, so on track for 90 by end of year. At this rate, I should have joined Travellers century club by 2024 and have a certificate hanging in my kitchen.

In the Brick a Brack shop at Crewe Heritage Centre, they had all kinds of interesting stuff (some of it more interesting than useful). I managed to get a cup and saucer from Virgin Trains First Class. One thing that fascinated me and I honestly thought I’d never see again, was this spanner.

Years ago, when you bought a Raleigh bike (something like a Grifter or a Chopper) you got one of these spanners. It was heavy being made of stainless steel, but you carried it in the back pocket of your jeans. You could literally strip down your entire bike, with this tool and some spoons from the kitchen for tyre levers.

Not much use with my present bike (most of my tools are titanium) but for 99p a superb souvenir.


First post of 2022

I haven’t updated this blog in a while. I was feeling a bit down (as I think we all do sometimes). Piles of notes and ideas, I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and write.

Well, I’m back in town now, so what have I been doing ?.

At Christmas we visited Lanzarote (I’ve resisted the urge to post pictures of people with tattoo’s and shaved heads drinking pints in the sunshine) instead, I favour this view of the Volcanic area, which we went to see on a day tour.

The trip wasn’t perfect, I had some sort of Kidney infection while I was there, but overall, I think being out in the sunshine was just what I needed (and beers for £1.50 per pint).

I’m trying to retire from Facebook, but there are still quite a few people who I communicate with regularly on there, so it’s proving more difficult to let go than I’d have liked.

I got a new friend request recently from my friend Amanda. We worked together at Arthur Andersen several years ago. Not sure what happened, but the request didn’t seem to work. Anyway, if you’r reading this Amanda, I hope things are going ok.

Two significant things happened when I was in my 20’s, and I was sat at my desk at work on both occasions. I remember thinking that they would both change the world and how privileged I was to live through them.

Nelson Mandela was released and aparthied, which had blighted humanity for so long had come to an end.

The other was The fall of the Berlin wall. The end of the cold war. For most of my life, the threat of planetary destruction had hung over everyone and it was finally at an end.

So, just as covid in the UK seems to have progressed to a sensible point after 2 years, Russia (not the Warsaw Pact, nor the USSR) are back causing mayhem and destruction. My thoughts are with the people of Ukrain who I got to meet on a trip there 2 years ago.

Just before Christmas, I finally upgraded my train board. It has 2 circuits now, controlled by bluetooth and a station, bridge and various “people” milling about the station.

A few friends know that when I was very young, my dad bought me a train set (the best one in the shop, the brand new Intercity 125 by Hornby). My mum thought I might break the train so put it away for several years. It was during this time, that my dad died. When we unpacked the train, it no longer worked and so we gave it to a jumble sale.

I have several trains now (as you can see in the picture above) I have a reconstructed 125, but it’s not the real thing really.

I only found out when I started collecting 00 gauge trains, how hard they can be to come by.

When Hornby bring out a train they do a run of that model and that’s it. So if you decide a few years later, that you want that train it’s a trip to ebay and 2nd hand. I ended up rebuilding one from parts.

On May 15, 2021, EMR retired their final Intercity 125 trains (the real one’s, which I saw at the York train museum) a 4 day national farwell tour was arranged with the train painted in its original livery. To commemorate this, Hornby launched this set earlier in 2022 and I managed to get one.

Out of the box and running on my test track. Working exactly the way my dad would have seen it in the shop in Oldham 40 years ago.

Since I started collecting trains, loads of my friends have been giving me their old trains (either from childhood or belonging to relatives). Many of them don’t work, but those amazing guys at Chester Model Centre have been able to fix them all for a tenner each 🙂

Valentines once again, and I cooked (ok, the same Seabass recipe I cook every year from Jamie Oliver, but I think I cook it well).

Flowers for Nikki. The shop I normally use has closed down, so this year I went with a smaller local shop and some simple red roses.

On another romantic note, my old friend from Phonak, Dan Hand is getting Married in April. Nikki and I are looking forward to attending.

I had a day trip up to meet up with Nick and Julie in Manchester recently. We’ve started to get drink in the Brew Dog. At first, I thought it would be poncy, but it’s actually got a really good vibe. While there, on a Manchester related theme, I saw a guy with a coat from Pretty Green (Liam Gallagher’s brand) that I’m going to buy.

The Globetrotters (a group I attend for interesting travel talks) hasn’t run for nearly 2 years (but due to restart on May21st, when Nikki and I will be giving a talk on Namibia)). It’s normally here, that we meet up with our friend Andy from Llandudno, which sadly hasn’t happened.

So, we headed for Llandudno to meet Andy and had a few drinks and dinner around the town (The Cottage Loaf is a superb pub there). I was also able to do another “somewhere I really wanted to stay when I was younger” experience by staying at the Grand Hotel.

The location is amazing, but “Grand” it certainly isn’t (when we arrived after an evening out, the police had been called to throw some idiots out of the bar!) but the view of the ocean was spectacular and overall, a superb weekend away.

The following day, we ate a medeocre breakfast and then went walking up to the Great Orme.

I own various Swiss Army Knives and Leatherman multi-tools. I also have some larger knives I’ve used on Bushcraft courses, and even larger ones I’ve used in the Jungle.

One thing I’ve always wanted is a pocketknife, made from Damascus Steel. When I saw the Civivi Trailblazer made from this steel, with components made of titanium and carbon fibre, I decide it was time to invest in a late Christmas present.

The great news is, the blade is under 3 inches, doesn’t lock, and doesn’t support 1 handed opening so to all intents and purposes is street legal (which is fine, as most of the time, mine is used for opening parcels and cutting string 🙂

I’m presently at 84 countries so only 16 more before I can join the Travellers Century Club and have my certificate hanging on my kitchen wall. So what adventures have I actually got planned at the moment?

In the UK:

  • Easter in Bath/Bristol with Darwin Escapes
  • 3 Days walking in the Peak District (Hayfield)
  • Weekend in Manchester – Stephen Hawking exhibit.
  • Weekend in Liverpool – Book of Mormon & Dr Who exhibit
  • Long weekend in Anglesey with my Brother
  • Bike-packing weekend in Cheshire
  • Long weekend in London (various stuff and Coldplay at Wembley)
  • Walking group Christmas weekend in Abersoch

Not as many overnight trips in the UK this year, as my main intention is to get out travelling abroad.

Overseas this year:

  • Majorca – walking and cycling
  • Riga, Latvia
  • Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Guernsey/Jersey
  • Greek Islands (2 weeks summer touring)
  • Sicily (2 weeks over Christmas)

I’ve said for a while that 2022 is when Europe will re-open for adventure travel, and 2023 the rest of the world.

Trips booked for 2023

  • Costa Rica – 2 weeks, back to the Jungle
  • The Wonders of the Silk Road – 2 weeks, includes a trip to the Dervaza gas crater pictured above

I’m off to the National Outdoor Expo this weekend at the Birmingham NEC. I’m hoping to find some ideas and inspiration while I’m there.

But you can’t go away all the time (you need some sort of job to pay for all of this, and with that some sort of house to go back to when you’ve finished work 🙂 – So I’ve also been doing a lot of what I call adventure at home.

Chester Storyhouse is somewhere I go practically every week to either watch films, watch a play or get a drink and read some travel books. Chester Northgate development will be completed this summer and we’ll finally have a “proper” 6 screen cinema.

I also enjoy watching films with the Chester Film Society, Dinner & Film at Chez Jules and an injection of Am-Dram at the Chester Little Theatre.

Corks Out in Chester has closed down, but the property has been re-opened by Vin Santo. They’ve started doing evening wine tastings again (Nikki and I used to go there when we first got together so it has lots of memories) so we’ve booked all 3 of them.

Last but not least, home entertainment. I absolutely love watching Billions. I’m also enjoying/looking forward to, the final seasons of Peaky Blinders and Better call Saul. I’m working my way through Halo Infinite, I’ve done battle as the Master Chief since first playing in 2002.

To finish off, a quick word about my sister Emma’s small business Regenr8.

I think everyone is conscious of the planet at the moment. The great thing about Emma’s clothing range is that they are environmentaly friendly, recycled and just as comfortable as any of the clothes I have from Rohan (who set the bar quite high).

I couldn’t recomend them more highly, and as proof, this truly awful picture of me modeling a superbly comfortable hoody in my kitchen.

Thanks once again for “tuning in”. Near and far, the search for adventure continues…