Sunday, 6 July 2014

284 Recap of activities, February to June 2014

Well, we have had a comparatively easy few months since returning from Argentina and what follows is a recap of the trips etc that we have done since.

Will and Craig, Sandy's Border Collies. 2 of the most intelligent dogs I have ever come across.

4th March 2014
Whilst in Scotland at Mum and Sandy's place we took a trip down to John and Tim's new house in Cumbria. It is a work in progress but it is nearly finished and looks lovely. It is in a small village with a small river only yards from the front door.

John and Tim's new home.
Karen and John in full pose mode.
Once back in Scotland we collected Sandy's old VW Passat that he had very kindly donated to us having bought a new Vauxhall Mocca. We then  headed back down south.

We returned back from Scotland and the family that look after out Landrover and caravan whilst we were away asked us if we wanted to rent a Mobile home off of them. It was parked in the garden and recently vacated by one of Peters sons.

Simple but a great stop gap while we decide what we are going to do next and with our own house.
It would have at least give us a base for a while, something that we both needed after 4 years of being Nomads. We took up the offer and moved in straight away.

So now we were to settle into village life in a place called Roydon. It is a lovely place and we are about 1/2 a mile away from the centre which has 3 marvelous old English pubs within 50m of each other. Bliss....

Our favourite pub, the New Inn.
The one we favour, the New Inn, sells Greene King IPA. A murky real ale best drunk at room temperature. 
I took the slack time to do a thorough strip down and clean of Wallace. At one point all that remained was the frame, the engine and lot of black spaghetti wiring. I replaced the wheel and steering bearings along with some of the parts damaged from our crash in Argentina. Whilst in pieces, I also got Wallace's ECU (brain) reprogrammed.
Reassembly went back well till I tried to restart Wallace. Lots of farting, banging and odd noises. My heart sank somewhat as I thought that I had broken something serious. It turned out that I had swapped 2 plugs inadvertently and they are the only 2 plugs on the whole bike that fit each other. Wallace now goes like a scalded cat. Yeehaaaa....

30th March 2013
Trula and Jim invited us to the Carvery for a very pleasant meal and we caught up on the news over a few beers.
Jim, Ray, Karen and our Daughter Trula.

And their offspring. Mikey (Jim's son) and Paige (Trula's Daughter/our granddaughter).

26th April 2014:
I attended a long weekend up in Cumbria and Yorkshire doing some off road riding with some biker acquaintances. It was a lot of fun and nice to get the bike dirty again. We stayed at a campsite in Kirkby Stephen owned by Paul and Maria Holroyd. 2 of the worlds beautiful people.

Maria outside her camp kitchen doing what she does best....smiling.

Wallace getting dirty again.

Wallace did better than this guy
A gaggle of contented riders at the end of a days mud plugging.

30th April 2014
I took a day out to visit the Royal Engineers Museum at Chatham for 2 reasons. Firstly to find out what my Dads wartime history consisted of and secondly to reminisce as I was also an RE and worked my last 3 military years across the road from the museum and never got around to visiting it.

I failed to get any enlightenment regarding my father but on seeing the Falklands exhibit I spotted an Argentine ration pack that contained a small bottle of Scottish whiskey. I was taken aback as I had also come across one of them whilst serving there and I drank it when I got news of Trula's (daughter number 2) birth on the 21st of June 1982.

9th May 2014
Karen and I decided to go and fit in some twitching (an unfortunate name for birdwatching isn't it ?) at the local reserve. Being the time of year we saw many fledged birds and this one has got to be the weirdest one of all. A coot chick.
This is one ugly duckling
10th May 2014
Rebecca, the daughter of Karen's friend, Mac, had a bright idea to have an ABBA night to coincide with the Euro-vision song contest so we all dressed up in ridiculous outfits to attend Mac house and make complete fools of ourselves. The picture below shows just how uncomfortable I was....

Ray, Rebecca, Karen and Mac.
24th May 2014
Karen and Mac with many other ladies took to the fun fair at Southend. It was not my cup of tea so I tactfully stayed at home.

Karen and Rebecca scheming as to whom to attack next.

5th June 2014
Took a planned (this time - Doh!) trip with a load of old Army mates to the D-Day commemorations. 
I rode down alone via the channel tunnel and the rest got the ferry all the way. I arrived at silly o'clock and got my bivvy bag and sleeping bag out for a few hours sleep.  I was due to meet the others from the ferry at 8am so was up early and saw the sun rise over Pegasus Bridge. This was the first piece of real estate to be taken back by the allies on the D-Day assault. The photo shows the original bridge that has been moved about 100m, having been replaced by a new one. It was renamed, following the assault, after the 'Pegasus', winged horse, shoulder badges worn by airbourne forces throughout the world, including the Germans.

The first house to be liberated, at the end of the bridge is now a cafe and is run by the family that owned it at the time. The present owner was about 7 years old at the time of the action. She still runs the cafe.

A parachute drop had been arranged near the bridge the next day, the 6th of June. Many countries were involved, British, American, Canadian and French paras took part. All in all I estimate that around 150 personnel made the jump. It started with the British Red Devils display team.

 Also making an appearance were a couple of WW2 Spitfires.

The first military drop was via an old DC3 Dakota.

And amongst others, a British Hercules. Ah......memories.....painful ones...but memories never the less.

That night there were fireworks over the town of Lion sur Mer. The french do put on a good display and this being the 70th anniversary, it is probably doing to be that last big commemoration where the soldiers that took part are still with us.

All along the Normandy beach front are plaques to all the units that took part. This one is to the Canadian Kings Rifle Regiment. Below it is a plaque to the British Dragoons, flail tanks that cleared the beach of mines and at the bottom is one to the British Royal Engineers who facilitated getting the tanks and vehicles ashore.

At every beach there was an are a set aside for a 'camp'. Here, WW2 vehicles and actors added to the atmosphere. This one is Gold Beach.

This is Wallace parked up on Juno beach.

This is the 'camp' for Juno beach and church at Sait Aubin sur Mer.

7th June 2014
We rode to the town of Saint mere Eglise, where the American paratroopers were dropped in error.
Being the American landing area, there was a full on Harley Davidson rally in full swing. Why British Police were on hand to make them behave themselves is completely beyond me but it was a nice touch.

If you look closely, you will see the commemoration to US Private John Steele. During the incorrectly dropped paras, he was caught up on the church spire and played dead till taken prisoner by the Germans 2 hours later. He later escaped, rejoined his unit and joined in the fight for the village. He was later awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his actions and wounds.

This is a tribute to Bill Millin. A piper who piped and walked up and down this sector of Sword Beach as the assault was ongoing. Bill was the only soldier in a kilt and captured Germans later stated that they did not shoot him as they though he was off his head. The picture shows a Dutch piper emulating Bill.

8th June 2014
It was now time to head home and along with another guy we paid a visit to the Pegasus Bridge museum. On display they have this, a Bailey bridge complete with launching nose. I have seen many of these all over the world, but this is the fist in 'launch' mode. This was one of my specialties when in the Royal engineers and I go all silly when I see one.

Back on the Channel Tunnel train to England. 90mph and 250 feet under the English Channel.

13th June 2014
Having had a long term invite, I attended an old Police class re-union on the South bank in London. These guys are the ones I went through Police training school with in 1988. They all still have 4 years to serve till retirement. I did not gloat too much - honest.These, fortunately are the ones I liked. The muppets did not turn up. Why... because they are muppets. (Except Mark Harrison who turned up later).

14th June 2014
Today we set off in the car for a week-end away. Initially to Norwich as we have never been there and then on to Snetterton, nearby for some motorcycle racing. The centre piece of Norwich is its cathedral. It is an impressive piece of architecture.
The outside view.

The inside view is enormous. It is like a Tardis.

The detail is incredible. This is one of the beam junctions in the ceiling.

How about this for a patriotic window. Onward Christian Soldiers etc..

And cap it all, Peregrine Falcons nesting on the roof.
We finished off the night in the hotel bar that had a very good live group playing all manner of classic hits. We went to bed before they finished and as luck would have it our room was above the playing band. Despite that we both fell quickly to sleep.

15th June 2014
After a proper English breakfast at our hotel we set off for Snetterton race track.
Once in we managed to locate a old double decker  bus that had been converted into a bar. Needless to say, we needed to sample all of life's experiences so armed with a beer, from the lower deck we watched the racing from the bus roof.

There was a tribute to two riders that had sadly lost their lives, Simon Andrews and Karl "Bomber" Harris, in the last week and at the end of it, right on que, we had a visit from a B17 Flying Fortress, one of the type that flew from Snetterton during WW2.

The bike racing was as usual for British Super Bikes, very competitive and close. The bikes are so closely matched that it is the riders that provide the competition and not the manufacturers.
James Ellison leading the pack.

This rider (No 20) is Jenny Tinmouth. She is on her own bike, a Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade and she is the first and only female to own her own British race team. She currently holds the Isle Of Man TT female lap record at just under 120mph. The girl can ride and she is a looker too.... sorry Karen.

Sadly, the sidecars are always left till the end of the day and many people have left. However it is well worth staying for. The drivers are nuts and the passengers faith defies belief.

17th June 2014
 I set off, Tuesday morning, on Wallace to an adventure bikers meet beside Donnington race track. Karen set off to her mums in Dumfries. The biker meet was part of a group called Horizons Unlimited, headed up by a Canadian couple named Grant and Susan Johnson who we visited in Vancouver last year.
I was part of the set up crew and thereafter was a general dogs body. I have not worked so hard for years, I was completely knackered at the end of each day and on day 1 my feet were blistered. Fortunately 2 of my very good biker friends also arrived for the set up and it made the task so much more enjoyable. Jane and Steve Banstead.

Jane and Steve.
The event actually got under way on the Thursday and the hosts, Grant and Susan arrived from Dover on a German registered BMW. They are shown here on the left of the photo. Just right of centre, is a guy in a red jacket. He is Bryan Fewkes and we go back a long way together. In 1997 we were on an expedition up the Amazon river when our boat was capsized by a tidal wave in the middle of the night. After a 3 hour swim, the adventure was well under way....
Grant and Susan on the left, Bryan in the red jacket.
22nd June 2014
After the biker meet, I set off rapidly for Scotland as it was Karen's birthday.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

283 Home at last

Having finally arrived back in the UK I take this opportunity to thank all those people that made this trip worthwhile, be it with simple goodwill or a bed in your fantastic houses. We will not forget and hope that one day we can reciprocate. You know who you are. ;-)

Friday 8th February 2014
Miles today....who cares ....  not me..... we're home now....
The flight to Madrid was horrible. For some reason neither of us could sleep and when the plane landed after about 16 hours we were knackered and to London could not get our boots back on. My left leg was huge (having had DVT some years ago) and I was worried that it may have come back. We did however mange to tuck away some films and therefore saved ourselves a few quid on cinema visits.
The window views leaving South America were pretty impressive though.

This is by far the best example of a storm 'Anvil' I have ever seen.

It's not often you see a weather front this distinctly.
Our connecting flight to London was a couple of hours so we bimbled about aimlessly and ended up supping coffee when we heard the last call for flight 3162 to London. Oops.
The second flight was more basic than the first with no entertainment but we did not care, we just wanted to be home - whatever home is ?
Our daughter Trula was due to meet us  at Heathrow airport and as the plane was early and our bags were out first we were a little early and had to wait a while. We again got got a cup of horribly expensive coffee and as we sat down to drink it there was a 'Tannoy' call for Raymond Hall to go somewhere, the location of which I missed.  Oh my God, what have I done this time ? It took a while to figure out where I needed to go, some airport information people do not know what a 'Tannoy' is. Eventually I went to the airport control office and asked what they wanted. It turned out that they wanted Raymond Hall but not yours truly. Apparently, there was another Raymond Hall in the same coffee shop as us waiting to pick up his son. What are the odds of that. Pleased that I had not been arrested I went back down to join Karen just as Trula and Jim came into the coffee shop.
It was great to see her again after 10 months and it was hugs and kisses all round, except for Jim that is, I am not like that ! He just got shakes and man hugs.
We set off around the worlds largest car park (the M25 London orbital highway for you Americans) and it did not disappoint us with its reputation. The 40 miles took about 3 hours. Nice one and welcome back to London !
We arrived in Harlow at about 1pm and went to the Cornish Cafe where we met Paul, the proprietor who I have known for years. He served us all up the biggest fat boys ENGLISH breakfast. It was fantastic. No other country in the World does a breakfast like the British.
After a very late breakfast we went to Billy Kingsbury's place and collected the Landrover. We now had transport - wohoo. Billy, my brothers best mate had taken it out that morning and put it through its MOT roadworthiness test.  I like to look after my vehicles and this one, despite being 18 years old and having sat for a year sailed through with no problems. Thanks Bill.
We then drove to the 'Green Man' at Old Harlow that had a small hotel tacked onto the back of a great British pub. Another Wohoo.

Saturday 9th February 2014
Todays job was to dig the caravan out of storage and set it up at Hertford site. We went to the site to book a place and were given a Spanish inquisition from the new site manager as to how long we were going to spend there. Apparently they had and still have people living there permenantly and the council busy-bodys didn't like it.
Once that crap was settled we picked up the caravan and gave it a quick was, it was in interesting shade of mildew green. By the time we got onto site it was dark and the only real priority was to set up the bed and the satellite dish for some  English speaking TV. The night was finished off with a smelly but tasty kebab and a few tins of strong, room temperature, English Abbot ale. I have craved this falling down liquid for many months !

Sunday 10th February 2014
A serious sort out day. Whilst being away the roofing felt came off our garage during a storm and a good portion of our worldly goods were stored in there. The roof was repaired professionally by a neighbour but in the mean time a lot of water had come through and soaked the inside. The floor was carpeted and there were 2" diameter mushrooms growing through it. It was horrible, soaking wet and stank. We are luckier than many in the UK at this time, some have water to chest height in their houses. It has apparently been raining in the UK  for about 3 months. It took me a while but I extracted the Wallace's trailer and put it back together. There was a lot of horrible work to be done in here. Hopefully most things will be OK as I wrapped most things in plastic to stop damp over the winter. We live in hope.

Monday 10th February 2014
I have been tracking Wallace's flight progress on the Internet and saw that he had landed over the weekend. So, it was time to hitch up the trailer and drive back to Heathrow to pick up our trusty steed that had looked after us for the last 10 months. I arrived at the British Airways cargo terminal only to be told that they have the bike but I will need to clear it through customs first. Not a problem I thought. It is my bike, it is registered and tax paid here, this is my country and I speak the language. After all the madness of Central and South American countries this should be a breeze. Wrong.
Customs, it turns out has been moved to Manchester, 150miles further North. This is the busiest airport in the World and it has no customs post. Whaaaaaaat !!!
Luckily, the BA staff took pity on me and helped me with the paperwork and faxing of it to Manchester. The customs officers too were helpful and turned the paperwork around in two hours instead of 12 as is the norm.
Once the clearance had been sent through I waited my turn to collect Wallace at the cargo bay. When called forward and I first spotted Wallace I got ridiculously exited, much to the amusement of the cargo handlers. They were watching a 57 year old acting like a 7 year old at Christmas. They let me down gently by saying all us bikers are the same when we are reunited with our bikes. You can take the biker off the bike but you can't take the bike out of the biker.
An hour later and newly reassembled Wallace fired up first flick as usual.
I got him on the trailer, tied him down and got a call from Arun, the Indian guy from last week. After telling him my tale of woe with customs, he hired a cargo handler to do the customs in about an hour. He had just finished clearance and his bike was being wheeled out so I stopped inside the cargo area and helped him put his bike back together. Remember, he had never taken a wheel off a bike so it was logical that he had never put one back on either !
That done, it was back in the Landrover to take on the worlds largest car park again and on to our very humble abode.

We spent the next 2 weeks visiting relatives and generally sorting out admin crap that had accumulated over the last 10 months.

One of the problems was sorting out our garage that the roofing felt had stripped off in a December storm. The roof was now completely fixed but the volume of stuff and the carpets inside, kept the place very wet and damp. We took a lot of stuff that had been damaged by water and hence mildew to the rubbish tip. Fortunately I had previously covered much of out furniture etc in plastic to protect it from damp, it kept the water out too.

We managed to borrow a box trailer from a old friend and took a lot of the furniture and perishables to our lock up in Scotland.

It was good to meet up with Karen's Mum and Dad. They were keen blog watchers and were complaining that we have not posted for a while. Fair one.

The weather in the UK has been absolutely horrible for months and everywhere is completely waterlogged if not under water. The rivers have virtually all burst their banks and many people's houses are under water. This is the local river Nith where the river meets the tidal estuary.

There is usually a 7 or 8 foot drop here.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

282 On our way home...

Wednesday 5th Feb 2014

Miles Today 20 Total miles 39,963

I caught the train into Buenos Aires to attend the shipping office and pay for Wallace's flight home. After getting off the train I fired up my GPS and it took me straight across a park. What happened next then left me in tears. I walked straight into the Argentine shrine to their soldiers that died in the Falklands.
It was a huge wall with a large stainless steel emblem of The Malvinas. On the wall were the names of all 649 soldiers that died in the conflict in 1982. Had I planned or know of the shrine I would have been mentally prepared but stumbling across it, hit me like a train. I was a young soldier involved in the war and along with my mates, had a fox hole in the ground in San Carlos Bay and dodged the bombs from the Argentine Mirages.
I gazed upon the shrine with extreme sadness at the unnecessary loss of life instigated by one man, General Galtieri, the Military leader at the time, who wound his country up into a fever pitch to divert their attention from the financial crisis the country was in at the time. A similar situation to what they are in now and their current female Prime Minister has recently tried to do the same via political means at the UN and lost following a referendum of all the islands inhabitants.

The shrine to 'The Malvinas'
What really pushed me over the edge was the fact that I helped bury many of the people named on this wall in makeshift graves. All young men like myself going to war for one mans popularity crisis. War is never a good thing but it is sometimes necessary to ward off aggressors. This was one such occasion.

There are names on this wall that I helped bury. Very sad ans unnecessary.

After composing myself I proceeded to the office to pay for Wallace's ticket home. I again met Arun there and we spent the rest of the morning together bouncing from place to place to finalise the admin. At around 1pm we were both given our Air Waybills and the deed was done.
I tried to bet the train back home but for some reason, that I later found out to be a large explosion that had killed 9 Bombero's (Firemen - RIP) the trains were disrupted. I caught a cab back and we them went out to our local Irish bar and booked our flights home for the next day. Karen was ecstatic. We now knew when we were going home.
Thursday 6th Feb 2014

Miles Today 22 Total miles 39,985
After final packing I wandered down to the local train station, hailed a cab then went back to collect Karen and our luggage. We were now on our way home. The trip to the airport was awful.It was hammering with rain and for once I was glad Wallace was cosy and warm in a cargo bay. 
Once in the airport we checked our luggage in and went straight through to departures. 
Again I saw a monument to the dead soldiers of The Malvinas, this time a photo of the actual burial ground at Darwin, the site of one of the fiercest battles for the islands. 

A suitable fitting and probably long overdue. The Darwin Cemetery.
In 2009, the British Government allowed the Argentina to build a shrine and associated graves on the Islands and also allowed the relatives to visit for the first time.

We are off to catch our flight to the UK now and look forward to a proper English breakfast in a greasy spoon cafe in the morning.