Tag Archives: Travel

So what are you going to do?

There’s a lot of causes out there. Some good, some not so good, and some so downright fucked up they’re over the insanity event horizon and accelerating past lightspeed. It’s easy to feel snowed under sometimes. Anyway, I’ve done contributing to other peoples causes. Those that were supposed to be good weren’t that good. Those not so good turned out to be stupid and the rest aren’t even worth mentioning. Nowadays it’s hard to find one without a vested interest behind it, so I won’t be looking any more.

Having just been through a double bereavement with all that entails, I’ve been re-evaluating what I want from my life. Where I’m going, what I might do when I get there sort of thing. Becoming the joint senior member of our little clan has come as a major culture shock. No excuses, no deferment, it’s my ball and I have to make the rules now. If they need making. Which more often than not they don’t. My work as a parent has, and continues to be largely done. I’ve morphed role from family guard dog and occasional shepherd to long distance shoulder to cry on, which is as it should be. No doubt grandchildren are somewhere on the horizon, but please, not just yet. What gets me most is the odd sensation that I now have no-one to defer to, which makes me mildly uncomfortable. Adrift and hollow. Much better off financially, but directionless.

So, that begs the question. What do I do now? The world beckons. I’ve a hankering to live in Paris for a month or two next year. Ride those wonderfully curvy Swiss motorways on something like a Triumph Rocket III. Meander through Southern Europe, park the monster 2.3 litre sports cruiser motorcycle outside a little Bar Tabac and let the local kids stare slack jawed at it. Dance the centre line a little along the coast road from Marseille to Genoa. Thence down to Rome, see Naples and live a little. Maybe down to watch Stromboli and Etna spit fire before heading up the coast road with Venice and Vienna in mind. Wander round Prague and Berlin with a side trip through Warsaw. Up through Denmark and across the big bridges into Sweden. Visit a cousin of mine who lives in Gothenburg. Catch a freighter to Immingham and grey, damp olde England. Pay my respects to the wider clan. Ride a container ship back to Canada and run Highway One from Halifax Nova Scotia to mile zero again. Perhaps even zipping south of the border to revisit New York and swing in a wide arc from New Jersey to Texas then North through Nevada. Indulge my wanderlust. Write about what happens as it happens. Perhaps. Then I’ll pitch up on the Pacific shore again and think about the other side of the ring of fire. China, Japan, South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Of course these are all mere dreams and may never come to pass, but I’ve done some instalments of that trip at various times in my life and truly want to do them again. While it’s still possible to do so.

Badarbunga

Transatlantic flights might just get a little rare shortly. Badarbunga in Iceland just went to code red. Just hope the Europeans don’t completely shut down their airspace like last time. Although this is a possibility, as expert opinion is that this Icelandic crustal burp might just turn into a biggie. Right on the flight path to Europe with a 200 nautical mile exclusion zone around the volcano.

Local Webcams are up and down like yo-yo’s because of server overloading, not much to see anyway apart from monochrome, even at four in the afternoon local time.

If you want the real skinny on what’s going on under (or shortly through) the glacier, visit Jon Frimanns site or the Vatnajokull seismicity page of the Icelandic Met Office.

As for flight disruption, all my old resources have gone all touchy-feely and no longer provide the information required. Which is annoying. Travellers don’t want to know how wonderful and sparkly the CEO’s latest marketing wheeze is. They want pertinent information so they don’t have to lie around making extra work for the cleaning staff in brand new sparkly airport termini, waiting for flights that may not arrive. Especially when the airlines won’t help, or tell you anything worthwhile if your long haul flight is cancelled due to weather or in this case, a volcano. Guidelines for Europe are here. The Irish IAA have a page with useful updates here.

Update: One of the things you don’t hear much of in the lamestream is that magma from Badarbunga has been travelling to another volcano some forty kilometres away called Askja. Although Badarbunga has been downgraded to flight status orange, Askja has been updated to yellow. This could get real interesting, real fast.

Update 2: Just started to get interesting. Glowing lava visible on webcam here.

Where does the money go?

Having just got back from the UK, I’m wondering about all the taxes on, well, just about everything. These extra taxes acting as a drag on the rest of the economy. So I asked myself, where is all this money actually going? Cui Bono? Who benefits? Does taxation, as so many of its advocates claim, actually increase, or decrease ‘fairness’? These are all fair questions which need fair answers.

At present UK public spending outdoes the tax take by an estimated £84 billion per year. Most of that disparity is interest payments an the estimated £2.2 trillion public debt if you factor in the public ownership, liabilities and support of RBS, Lloyds TSB etc. Total 2012-13 tax take by HMRC, about £468 billion. According to their own figures. So where’s the £648 billion figure come from? Confused? Join the club. £180 billion isn’t just chump change. Besides, government doesn’t make money, it has none of its own and only spends taxpayer dollar.

The approximate 2013 UK public spending breakdown is as follows. Public Pensions for well, people the workforce has decided it no longer needs. Let’s ignore all those overpaid leeches on salaries well above their real pay grade for the moment; £139 billion. National Health Care, you know, for that wonderful ‘free’ service which includes such joys as the ‘Liverpool Care Pathway‘ and compensation payments to Ambulance chasing Lawyers; over £124 billion. State Education, the edifice which no amount of political meddling seems to improve; over £87 billion. Defence, for all those wars the UK really can’t afford to fight, including the one the EU wants to declare on Russia; about £42 billion. Social Security, which includes all those ‘tax credits’ which would be cheaper to run if the tax wasn’t taken in the first place; over £117 billion. State Protection, whatever that means; over £31 billion. Transport about £17 billion. Which is a lot to cover cones, contraflows and potholes. General Government, an opaque description if ever I saw one; over £14 billion. Other Public Services, hmm, large Rattus Norvegicus smelt here; over £54 billion. Public Sector Interest, on the money the Government borrowed to buy the votes of the ill informed and lazy; over £47 billion. Additional Balance, or should that read ‘petty cash'; over £2 billion. Total Spending about £675 billion, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. The UK’s EU contribution hidden somewhere in those figures is about £8.7 billion. Source here. Somewhere in that lot is the electronic money ‘printed’ by ‘Quantative easing’ of well over £60 billion and paid direct to banks. No wonder we hear about planned raids on savings and other legalised theft like ‘Green taxes’. It’s a financial plughole of doom. Which will be the last metaphorical straw on the proverbial taxpayers back? Bank accounts raided at will?

According to this neat little infrographic from the Guardian, the difference is £84 billion, which needs to be ‘borrowed’. No idea from whom, but £47 billion in interest payments alone? My one remaining reader will note the disparity between the two sets of figures referenced. Hey, but what’s the odd billion or three between friends, eh?

The discerning reader, having done a little digging, will also note the step increase in UK taxation that happened back in 2000 and the flattening in public spending since 2011. So yes, Slaphead and friends are trying, but the purchase of the banks and resultant QE have doomed the UK taxpayer to ever increasing interest payments. Unless those debts and liabilities are sold off, those interest payments will continue to head for the stars faster than a Saturn 5 booster with a nuke up its arse.

Last time it took the UK eighteen years to bring the taxation rate and public spending into financial balance. 1998 / 9 I believe. Then Blair and his pile of grinning idiots were voted in, public debt skyrocketed and the tax take hasn’t caught up since. Figures don’t lie. No wonder the politicians are trying to skim off more and more all the time. We were told all this extra spending was all about ‘fairness’. What it has done is lumber current and future generations with an escalating debt bigger than World War 2. Which I don’t think has been fair at all.

Tinfoil hat adjusted

Excuse the relative silence, but I’ve had to watch relatives die recently. The old grim reaper has been on overtime in our vicinity, and grief has been the baseline emotion underscoring our little clans daily lives. Funny thing grief. Sometimes it’s not the person who dies who has the hard time, but their nearest and dearest. So it is with us. Grieving makes people say and do crazy, out of character things. They lash out. Often at people who only want to help. Dealing with the grief of others is a skill I have obtained a little, if unwanted, education in. Comes with maturity I guess. There are times being a grown up sucks. This is one of many.

So I’m not surprised at the reactions to current speculation surrounding Malaysian Airlines MH370. The Malaysian Government are being accused of not releasing information, which they probably aren’t sure about, and don’t want to look like a bunch of idiots by tipping their hand prematurely. Remember all the fuss about the pilot, a highly experienced professional by all accounts, being branded a ‘Terrorist’? Well, here’s a thing; the FBI found nothing suspicious on his home flight simulator. Apart from a few innocuous ‘deleted files’. So he deleted some files on his hard drive. Who doesn’t? Then there was the much vaunted ‘All right – goodnight’ which was a mis-attribution of the co-pilots sign off remark with ground control? Talk about grasping at straws. The most plausible speculation came from a pilot who argued that a cockpit electrical fire would have firstly caused the transponder failures, and secondly, sent the aircrew looking desperately for the closest place to land, but incapacitated them before they could make a landing. So the plane flew on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea. No terrorists, no kidnaps, just sheer dumb bad luck and maybe a bit of bad maintenance, but that’s for the crash investigators to find out.

There is one aspect of the whole MH370 affair that I find oddly comforting. In the wake of the Snowden revelations about world wide and domestic surveillance, it’s funny that this massive big brother machine hasn’t a clue about where something as big as a Boeing 777-200R, and little media mention of the incident reports on this aircraft type. Maybe the reports of ‘intelligence’ omnipotence and competence are being massively over sold?

Boats and other impedimentia

Last weekend we went looking at boats. The object of this exercise is to sidestep all the dullness of living on land to find a slightly more interesting way of life. We’ve looked at houses, but quite frankly there’s not a place where Mrs S and I feel we would fit in. On a torrentially rainy day, on a muddy stretch of the Fraser river I think we found an answer. Not perfect, but certainly with all the comforts of home. GPS, depth sounder, radio, recent anti-fouling, Blue water capable, solid diesels, spare generators, which with a little internal remodelling, electrical upgrade and a satellite interweb connection would prove very liveable indeed. Reminder to self, shop around for a radar set. The boat has a washing machine, dishwasher and joy of joys a tumble dryer, as there’s nothing worse than not having a dry stitch to put on. Did I mention I spent some of my formative years bumming around on canals and canal boats? Before getting used to the vagaries of the English Channel. Being wet for days on end is no fun at all.

We came up with this wheeze a couple of years ago, but the stories of municipalities all around BC shoving out all the liveaboards gave us pause. What indeed is the point of having a decent boat as a base if you keep on getting moved on like some water borne Pikey? Now the heat is dying down, and there are places to moor up without the threat of summary eviction. I’ve also been cultivating contacts in the Marine section of the RCMP and local Harbour watch as a kind of insurance. Took an enhanced security check, but now I have legit ID to flash if need be. Never hurts to show you can jump the hoops. Having worked in municipal enforcement, I know how handy officially sanctioned ID can be in some circumstances. The trick is knowing when and how sparingly to use it.

What attracts me is the ability to simply up sticks for the weekend, scoot across to the bright lights of Vancouver or Seattle, moor up and go visit the bright lights for a few hours before coming home to your own cosy floating apartment. Or go work in Vancouver (without paying Vancouver prices), then shove off at the weekend for pastures new. Don’t like the neighbours? Hey, move on. Repel boarders (and snub the day boys and prefects- arr matey) There’s obstacles of course, surveys, insurance, fuel costs, boat security, permits etcetera, but nothing insuperable.

All together now….. Arh!

This weekend sees me off looking for a boat. And it’s snowing. Which might actually work in my favour, the market in maritime gear being more depressed than a depressive whose wife has just run off with all his money and the psychiatrist, leaving him outside in a downpour with his house and car keys stuck down the drain. So yes, as far as I can see it’s a buyers market.

The kind of boat I’m looking for isn’t a sailing boat with all those fiddly ropes, stays, corsets and centreboards, but something like a forty to fifty foot long converted deep sea fishing boat with a single, get-you-home-in-dire-emergency roller reef rig. Something with capacious fuel and water tanks and maybe even an onboard water maker.

Something in fact, like one of George Buhlers power boat designs. Love his engine rooms. You can actually get at the diesel and gearbox to fix it if anything goes wrong. I also have a well thumbed copy of “The Troller Yacht book” whose subtitle is; ‘How to cross oceans without getting wet or going broke’. How can you not love that for a title?

The intention is to buy just such a boat, live aboard for three to six months of the year whilst learning about handling it properly for the first couple of years or so, doing short (2-400km) trips around the local islands, dodging stray logs as we go (A constant hazard in coastal BC). Longer trips down the west coast to Mexico, then visions are of travelling further afield. Like trans-pacific to see relatives in Australia. Possibly across the southern Indian Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope, over to Tristan Da Cuhna, Ascension and the Canary Islands, then a sojourn in La Belle France, where family have a small residence, and maybe a perambulation around the Med before stopping off in the UK to see family and friends, thence back into warmer waters and all points south, maybe through Drakes passage at the southern end of Chile, and coast hop north all the way home to BC. Well, that’s the plan, anyways. Weather and circumstance permitting.

Pirate breath fresh advert bWhen we told our friends what we intended, we were swamped with the usual tall tales from non-seafaring folk. They told us about volcanoes, sea beasties and rogue waves so big they can swallow entire fleets. You know, like on Discovery Channel. So something with the flotation properties of a rubber duck is probably in order. Good watertight hatches that won’t cave in the first time we take a big hit. Watching the weather forecasts with the eye of a competent raptor might also be a good idea. Oh noes, but there’s icebergs and sea ice that can crush a hull to smithereens overnight. You know, like on Discovery Channel. Okay, but I’m not that keen on going where the cold is. Good salt water resistant electrics and electronics, a fog horn, and a decent quality liferaft might be a good idea. Arr, but Bill, matey, what about when it rains so hard it makes yer head bleed. We saw it on YouTube. So waiting inside a nice dry cabin until the rain stops might be a good idea then? But, but, but, Bill, there’s storms so wild they go on for weeks. We heard about them from my best friend’s brother in law who used to work in a dock side pub. Weeks of rough weather during which I plan to be safely moored up, spending quality time ashore in a nice cosy bar. Arr, but matey, there do be pirates out there who’ll slit yer gizzards and steal all your booty. Yes, yes I’m sure, but there are very well updated websites about piracy hotspots, and the intent is not to go anywhere near them. Any pirates can keep their hands on their own booty, thank you very much indeed. Saucy fellows. The very nerve. Hmm. Wonder if I can get away with mounting a couple of these and saying they’re just for distress flare launching? Just in case.

To be honest, I’m more concerned about the various customs regulations, and how to get in and out of various ports at a time of my choosing without being skimmed and scammed by local authorities. Like the Argentinians, who don’t like people visiting the Falkland Islands without a note from their mother, which will cost you Gringo. The rest will be down to the tide tables.

Other friends, whose opinions in such matters I value, have simply shrugged and said “Go for it.” Which has been encouraging. As some of these have spent serious time afloat, there has been some good advice from this quarter. Stuff you won’t get told by sales persons or those with bottomless pockets.

Notwithstanding, the whole enterprise is fraught with perils, both real and imaginary, and that’s just making sure what we buy has a sound hull and reliable diesels. Wiring has to be good, water resistant and connections tinned with solder to prevent corrosion along with a myriad other critical details. All of which has to be accomplished without breaking the bank.

The project is a challenge. It’s a really steep learning curve, and that’s probably what appeals. However, we’ve already got some serious interest from like minded souls who want to do a similar trip, and are experienced enough to stand a watch, pay for the odd tank of diesel and generally help out, so crew recruitment isn’t going to be a problem.

You only live once.

Black ice

Well wasn’t that interesting young Bill? I was out late last night, around midnight, on my way home from a job. No big deal, just routine. When I got a rude reminder about Winter driving.

There was a thaw yesterday, so I left the four wheel drive at home and used our thrifty little commuter car instead. Big, big mistake. As I fired up the engine, the internal thermometer read five Celsius. So being the trusting soul I am, took it as read that there would be no road icing and didn’t think to go extra easy. Clear roads. Some sanding had been done, but I was expecting fog and damp that evening. Not ice. Moron.

Two hefty broadslides later…… Yes, wasn’t that interesting? Almost too quick for that heart in mouth sensation to kick in. Also comforting that I haven’t forgotten how to control a skidding vehicle.

The first heart in mouth moment was on a clear looking ninety degree right hand bend. Yes, we do have bends in Canada. Knew things weren’t right when the back end kicked out unexpectedly to the left. Foot off throttle, and bugger, it’s an automatic so the down through the box engine braking trick wasn’t going to work. Telegraph pole looming on road edge to right, dab on brake to increase the skid and slip round the bend sideways, fading left and looking for a safe runoff point. Corner telegraph pole had slightly menacing extra solid look as it flashed past less than half a metre away. Steer out, straighten up as traction returns and slide over to the correct side of the road. Phew. That got the old adrenalin pumping.

The second rude shock was on another clear looking bend down towards the Parkway. Back end began to break just before the apex, and my car took the rest of the hundred metre curve a good forty degrees to the direction of travel, me countersteering frantically to compensate. Managed to control it all the way through, but oh my.

Slip sliding awayThought I’d given up these kind of antics years ago. The last time I didn’t have this much fun driving was back in the nineties, hitting an ungritted patch of black ice in my old grey Ford Escort. Before that, driving a Reliant Robin in six to eight inches of snow back in the mid eighties. Although, thinking about it, our old Ford Windstar did have an alarming tendency to wag its tail like an over enthusiastic Labrador in inclement conditions, and our battered old 4×4 was known to like travelling slightly sideways on packed ice.

The rest of the way home I was ultra cautious, and my midnight sashay down unsanded rural Canadian roads passed off without further incident. Once home, I raided my bottle of Jura single malt before falling asleep in a chair. That’s enough excitement for one day.

More changes to the point of view.

Have made a few alterations to the look of the blog. Comments and such are on the front page now, but you`ll have to scroll way down to the bottom as with this theme there is no room for sidebars. I did toy with the idea of an animated header, but that would have been a little over the top, even for me.

Stepdaughters are on their travels shortly. One back to blighty to complete legal studies, the other to Africa, and thence to Australia to work. We`re subbing them out of course, and they are staying with friends and family, so no rent and food bills etc. We`ll get the payback in later years, seeing them comfortably ensconced in good careers. Not that this will be appreciated, but that`s my cynicism for you. There it is! I was wondering where it had gone!

No doubt they will have many travelers tales to recount about the long wait at immigration at Heathrow and how many times they were searched on the way to see certain events at the London Olympics. Not that I`d go myself, worked there for a few years and had a bellyful. Sure the money`s not bad, but quite frankly I`d rather bed down in a nest of rattlesnakes. However, we all have to learn for ourselves.

The sun is taking a rest break behind clouds for the next four days, which will give my sunburn time to turn into tan. The pool is covered and there is work to do.

Home from away

Back home and back to work. Feeling pretty chipper despite having spent 24 hours in airports and aircraft less than 48 hours ago. Two good nights sleep and clean BC air have reset my body clock to a steady tick-tock instead of tick-pyoing!-pchoing!-hic-achoo-ping! like the last two weeks. Bouncing around time zones like a demented yo-yo is no fun at all. Throw in up to (And on one occasion over) ten hours driving a day for half of the trip, and you have an idea of how much fun I haven’t been having.

Why should that be? When not driving all I’ve been doing is eating, trying to sleep and sitting watching whatever televisual entertainment is available in hotel rooms, airports and aircraft. Which, not having TV at home is a novel experience. Although I often found myself desperately channel surfing for some reasonable content while waiting for everyone else to arrive / decide what to do. The BBC and Sky news continual vomiting of the same anaemic content every 20 minutes is less than edifying. I found their lack of depth annoying as ever.

I see that little has changed in the financial markets. The Eurozone is so far in debt that they’re inside some bizarre financial event horizon with no way out but some freakish quantum transdimensional shift. As is the US dollar. The Chinese have an impending property bubble, so they’re potentially in the same sort of fiscal doo-doo that the US and Eurozone are in. Shit, fan, incoming! There a gruesome inevitability to it all, like a slow motion train crash with full musical sound effects.

Elsewhere I’ve heard it said that the man accused of the Norwegian massacre has been described as a ‘Libertarian’. All I can say to that is; is he buggery. That is a foul slur, a monstrous calumny, and complete bollocks, but oh so very predictable. There are elements in the lamestream who don’t like online commentary that they cannot own, and therefore must demonise anyone associated with a certain section, by whatever means. Even if their assertions have about as much truth in them as a G type star has polar ice caps.

Still having a severe attack of schadenfreude over the News International affair. Which newspaper group ‘outed’ bloggers, costing people their jobs for no readily discernible reason? Oh yes. No sympathy. Kamikaze domestic fowl on approach, heading for perches (Evil snigger). Good.

Right. That’s enough smugness for now. Back to work.

Travel observation

Manchester airport; Terminal three.

Had to pass through on my way from one (Naturally closed, this being the UK) car hire office to another at a different terminal. I thought I’d sidestepped through a time warp into Qatar. Go look for yourself if you don’t believe me. I truly felt like a stranger in a strange land. In the country of my birth no less.

The following morning, the cab driver who took us to the airport seemed somehow relieved we were going to a different terminal.

Currently very relieved to be home despite the jet lag.