Wednesday, 22 September 2010


Yeah, really. Luton. It's not a holiday, but I'm in a hotel for three days so I guess it counts as time away and is Travelling-in-a-box-eligible. I've been sent here by my day job masters, a kind of imprisonment for something really bad I must have done to them once. I can't tell you anything about what I'm doing here, not because it's secret, but because I don't have much of a clue what I'm doing here myself.

So, a quick review of the Icon Hotel in Luton. When I arrived at 7-30pm my room wasn't ready. Not a good sign. Food service was slow, nearly an hour waiting for the starter.. The TV in my room only picks up one channel, not that I'm really all that bothered as there's no time for watching telly or, more importantly reading or even writing.

Here's the restaurant review: On the second night we went to a marvellous little Italian called the Mona Lisa. Been there before and will go again if ever I have to return to these parts. Its cosy and friendly and the food is excellent.

Last nice a group of about 30 descended on the Red Chilli, and Indian restaurant just around the corner from the hotel. I don't get much chance to eat Indian so I can't compare it with anywhere else. But the service was excellent and I enjoyed the food, even though late night Indian food in vast quantities does not seem to be the best recipe for a good night's sleep. (I must be putting on so much weight this week. No exercise at all and too much food, way too much.

So, I'm packing my bags today, woo hoo. Still got a long day ahead locked in a room doing incomprehensible things with numbers, but at least I'll be home soon.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Isle of Man

This is a flash post because I'm doing it on my phone. Flew to Isle of Man this morning, arrived 7.30. Walked around coast path to Port Erin. 17 miles give or take. We got wet. We got sunburned. We got blisters. But this has got to be close on the best coast path we we've ever done.

Friday, 30 July 2010


I've been out of internet coverage for eight days while we camped in a field just outside Weymouth. We intended to stay two or three nights but we couldn't drag ourselves away. Love Weymouth. Couldn't believe how much there was to see. Apart from Weymouth itself there was Portland Bill and Chesil Beach, and further afield we went fossil hunting in Charmouth and walking in Jane Austin's footsteps along The Cob in Lyme Regis. And while the rest of the country has been washed out, we've had wall-to-wall sunshine every day.

One of the highlights was a production of Oliver by Weymouth Amateur Operatic. A very professional job they made of it, and it made a change to be in the audience instead of in the pit – at least, for once, I got to see what happens during the songs.

We also visited Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens. Didn't expect much, in the end I ran out of superlatives. Abbotsbury was, no question, the best gardens either of us have ever visited. Fabulous.

Prize for most fun goes to fossil-hunting at Charmouth Beach. Expected to be tripping over fossils, found nothing. But the beach was full of kids with amateur fossil hunting kits beating hell out of the cliffs with hammers and chisels. One kid, about five years old, had plastic goggles for eye protections while devastated the cliff-side with a pick axe. At this rate there'll be nothing left in a couple of years. The cliffs had visibly eroded in the couple of hours we were there.

Today, though, we had to move. Back at work on Monday and I wanted to escape the worst of the M5 before the weekend, so we moved to Slimbridge in Gloucestershire. We didn't quite escape the worst of the M5, though. A two hour trip became three hours. Worst was the chaos in the motorway services. We tried them all and couldn't get into any until reaching my namesake services only fifteen miles from our destination. Had to stop, though. There's only so much bladder control a person can exercise. It's mad. The M5 always suffers, every summer. And it's not the fault of caravanners, it's everyone. The M5 is the gateway to Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset... A lot of people want to go there. So why don't they do something about the motorway and the lack of services. We don't need shops selling sweets and CDs and windbreaks and latte. Just a bloody-big carpark every now and again, with toilets and a place to rest would be fine. They keep putting up the signs "Tiredness can Kill, Take Break." Hell, yes, agreed. So give us somewhere to take one!!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Old Plastic Stuff

For two days we have dodged the rain. Here's what the view from the sight looks like when the weather is behaving. Yesterday we went inland and visited Montecute House, a National Trust Elizabethan Manor, and we spent the day in the house and wandering round the gardens with the sun shining and no hint of the biblical deluge that was ravaging the rest of the country.

Today we have stayed local because its laundry day. There's a tatty but serviceable coin-op in Willeton village and this served us well.

The other attraction in Willeton is the Bakelite Museum. It sounds a bit dubious, and I do have an aversion against privately owned seaside museums where the aim is often to lure tourists in from the rain for less than five minutes of marginal entertainment, but at great cost. The Bakelite Museum wasn't like that at all. It was a gem. No labels on most of the stuff so you make your own mind up, but the place was packed with fascinating tat from the past. I had no idea Bakelite was ever so versatile. Trouble is, though, I remembered a lot of it, especially the old hoovers like the one my Nan had, which lurked in a dark corner under the stairs and provided me with hours of childhood recurring nightmares. Maybe they will recur again. Maybe I will wake in the night screaming that Hoover is back, and its out to get me. Time for a cuppa, I think.

So we end up in Watchet, drinking tea. Watchet is nice enough. There's a cracking museum. Another museum. This one is free and it's full of fossils and old axe haeds and although its small it is really interesting.

And then, at four thirty, we both have the same idea. The field is dry and mud free. We've seen Somerset. Time to move on. We're hooked up and on the road again by five and heading for Weymouth in Dorset. Never been to Weymouth before. I hope we've made the right decision.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Heading South

That just about sums up the plan for our main holiday this year. We wanted to be spontaneous. So, with nothing booked, just a glove-box full of camping books, we headed south to see what would happen. Exciting stuff.

So, here's the view from our caravan window. This is Somerset. The Quantocks to be precise. We haven't been before, so it's a new experience. The rain isn't, though.

Here's the thing: the rain in Somerset is the same as rain anywhere else. So after sitting out the best summer for years, in air-conditioned office misery, I get to see the start of the familiar old "unsettled patch" coinciding with the first day of our summer holiday. It will be better tomorrow, I'm sure. In fact it's brightening up on the horizon as I type this.

We're staying on a temporary holiday site run by Somerset DA, to begin with. We'll stay until we've seen enough. It's a well-run site with a marvellous view down to Blue Anchor Bay (when we can see it). Today we visited Minehead, which seems okay, although it's hard to form a fair opinion of a seaside resort during a five-hour deluge. There are plenty of tea shops, and that is an important attribute in times such as these, although right now I'm just about tea'd out.

We also went to Dunster Castle. A good place to hide from the rain, too. Especially as it's free to us, as NT members. At first I thought that it could do with a tea room, too, but the picturesque village of Dunster, a couple of minutes walk away, more than makes up for this. Sarah enjoyed the doll museum in Dunster. I found it a bit creepy. Dolls. It must be a girl thing.

Okay, the rain has eased to a mere drizzle so I'm off to the tap to fill up the aquaroll. Happy days.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Geneva Airport

Ahh, the logistics of air travel. The hire car had to be back by 5pm. Being of a nervous disposition I had it back by 4:15pm. Our flight home is 21:50. So five and a half hours to kill. Can't even go for a walk. Airports are not laid out for it, unless dodging across motorways with loaded suitcases is what you do for laughs.

No worries, I have this nice sofa and a free hour of internet courtesy of Swiss Air - Just so long as the laptop batteries hang in there. I brought dozens of cables for charging mobiles and laptops and satnavs... but I didn't bring the adapter plug. I thought about it. Then I forgot about it. So I have been rationing my ampage in a way that is reminiscent of Apollo 13.

It has been a good weekend. I've already blogged about CERN. Yesterday we went to Chamonix to walk in the Alps. Didn't walk much because it rained and the cloud ceiling was just above the rooftops of the houses, but it was nice to reminisce about the last time we were there, and we did get a bit of a wet walk, even though we'd only brought summer clothes.

Today we did the Jardin Botanique - mainly for Sarah, but I always enjoy a garden visit, too - and then we took a walk along the south bank of the lake. Very windy. Quite cold. A phone call home to wish our Dads a happy father's day revealed that in the far northern climes of frigid England the sun is cracking the flags and hitting 80F. C'est la vie.

You like the French? I've been determined to speak French this weekend. I so want to be able to converse. I thought I was doing okay last night in the Tutti Spaghetti at Archamps until my request for the bill brought a second cup of tea. Nice guy, though. Seemed thrilled to be able to practice some of his English on us. We were very polite, we smiled and nodded, but we couldn't tell which bits were French and which were English. I'm certain he had the same problems with our attempts in his language.

Two hours to go. Getting jumpy, now. There seem to be a lot of Easyjet cancellations on the PA. Not ours, though. Not yet. Don't want another night like Trevisio, although I've found myself spying out the best floor spot for a night on the lino. There's a nice corner behind Starbucks with radiators to keep us warm.

Okay. Two hours. Batteries fading fast. Time to join the shuffling masses into departures. Won't be any sofas there, I guess. Or free internet.

Geneva: The LHC in The City in the City

I've just been reading China Mieville's The City in the City. What a stunning book it is. The concept is so simple and believable and yet so strange all at the same time.

Right now I'm in Geneva, just outside the city on the French side, and I'm struck by the similarities between this city and that in Mieville's book. I'm a Brit driving a Swiss car staying in France. Every day we pass across the border only ten minutes from the hotel. Yesterday I paid for a car park in Euro's and the machine gave me change in Swiss Francs. For the locals it is all so normal, so... business-as-usual. The border crossing is the real deal where you can be stopped and grilled and searched, and there's one particular car lane that is so narrow and twisting you have to creep along in first gear, threading between vicious cones that look like they could do serious bodily harm to your shiny hire car, for which you have a scary 1500 euro damage excess because you are a cheapskate.

Don't want to sound negative, though, because I love Geneva. It is a real cosmopolitan city and it feels so comfortable. Yesterday we did the tourist stuff, you know, walking out to as near to the Jet d'Eau as possible without getting totally soaked, then the wind changes and you get totally soaked, and it's fun until you have to walk around town in wet clothes. It was sunny though, and I dried quickly enough.

In the afternoon, the real highlight for me: a tour of CERN. When I booked this, a month or so ago, I knew only that it was a tour, in English. No other details. What we got (for free) was a film show, a fascinating guided tour of Atlas (one of the four detectors on the Large Hadron Collider) and a 3D film presentation about the building of the LHC. Our tour guide was one of the physicists whose day job involves working with Atlas. He was knowledgeable (as you'd guess) and full of infectious enthusiasm for the project. The highlight, for me, was seeing the Atlas control room. Okay, it was a quiet day, there were no collisions scheduled, but two beams of protons were being circulated around the LHC to test the systems, (over 10,000 laps per second). Every now and again the detectors would pick up something that looked like a collision but was, in fact, just stray cosmic rays zapping through the detectors, but hey, it was exciting seeing all the displays light up every time it happened. CERN is impressive. Way impressive. There are statistics, numbers, bandied around during the presentation and they make the mind boggle.

I came to CERN with the mind-set that this was research; that a story would come. A story didn't come (not yet). Instead I spent the day in slack-jawed awe of the place. I bought a CERN T-shirt. The note book never came out of my bag. I was a tourist. Loved it.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Hay Festival

We're back in Hay-on-Wye for the annual literary festival. This is a fixed item on our calendar now and we make sure we get down here every year, even if it's only for the weekend.

This year the demands of the day job meant that we couldn't stay for the whole week, so we tried something different. Rather than make do with just the four days of the opening weekend, we left the caravan on the site and returned home mid-week. Then on Friday I finished early and we loaded fresh clothes, towels and food into the car and came back. It's about three hours to Hay. If the traffic is good we can sometimes shave fifteen minutes off that. We've tried different routes and we have now settled on the quickest option, both with and without the caravan. I'm rambling. The point is this: it's a long way, and doing it four times within a week had us wondering if this really was such a good idea.

So, yes, Friday night we arrived here at about eight-thirty in the evening. As we drove into the field I reached into my pocket for the caravan keys and...

You see, I have a routine. The last thing I do before we leave home is go inside and make sure the fridge is closed and switched over to car battery power. Then I lock it. And this time we didn't have the caravan. So the keys were in the key box at home.

Sarah had her's. She's better than me at remembering stuff. But although we could get inside the caravan she didn't have the key which unlocked the hardened steel, many-tumblered security wheel lock. That was on my keyring. The wheel lock would have to be removed before we could bring the caravan home on Sunday. So what do we do? At some time either today, Saturday or Sunday we faced a six-hour round trip home to get the key. If we do it on Friday we wouldn't be back until two or three AM and we were already tired. If we did it on Saturday we've wreck Saturday and would miss all of the four events we'd booked and paid for, and if we did it on Sunday we faced nine hours in the car and a whole day and half of anticipating the fun of it.

I checked my tool box. Screwdrivers, tyre lever, pliers, electrical tape... not the sort of kit that might be used tackle tempered machine steel. We'd have to go home. Tonight. Right away.

In a rage I gripped the hardened steel, saw-proof, drill-proof, angle-grinder-proof security clamp and tried to rip it off with my bare hands.

It moved.

I wiggled it. It came loose. I took the tyre lever to it and within two minutes it was off and lying on the grass.

Now, once I'd recovered from the emotion of the event. Once I'd stopped cheering and running laps of honour around the field, a thought occurred to me. I am not a criminal. I have no experience in burglary and theft. It had taken me just two minutes to remove the foolproof anti-theft device. How long would it have taken a dedicated caravan thief? How comfortable would I now be in using this device to secure my pride and joy against the cream of criminal masterminds?

This is something I am going to have to think about.

Sunday, 23 May 2010


This weekend we've brought the caravan to a small temporary site just south of Bala. This is a site we've never been to before, and there's always a worry when coming to a new place, especially on a Friday night when the bail-out alternatives are limited (and we've had a few of those in our time). Needn't have worried though, the site is good one, very quiet, feels remote – even though it's only a half hour walk into the town of Bala.

And look at the view!

We're up on a hill looking out over the lake, and it's the kind of place that you don't need to leave to find entertainment – it's fine just to sit a look and enjoy.

But that's not what we did this morning (Saturday) – we walked into Bala, coffee in the coffee shop, mooched around in the Welsh book shop (and spent fifteen quid on books, mine's a small press near-future SF novel set in North Wales, it's in English, not Welsh, and I won't name names until I've had a chance to read it) then a spot of lunch and back to the caravan. Doesn't sound a lot but today it is hot hot hot! Last time we felt a sun so fierce we were in California. Is this it? Is this the start of the summer? Our first summer in England for three years? I hope it lasts because Hay Festival is next weekend and weather like this would be wonderful.

Monday, 3 May 2010


This weekend we've brought the 'van to Llangollen, to a temporary site beside the canal about 20 minutes walk from the town. The site is run, through the Camping and Caravanning club by the friendly folks of North East Cheshire DA, and we've been coming to this one for the past six years. Why? Because it's less than an hour's tow from home, it has all the right lay-lines and once here there is no need to ever use the car, so it is way more eco-friendly than staying at home, The weather has been okay, despite dire forebodings from the BBC (we've long since learned to ignore these), apart from a bit of rain on Saturday and a cold day Sunday.

So what do we do here that brings us back every year? Llangollen has two things that draw us like a magnet. It has coffee and tea shops in abundance, and it has one of the best second-hand bookshops for miles. True to form I staggered back along the canal, on Saturday, with a bag-load of books that I can add to my growing pile of must-reads. (I really must train myself to read quicker). And NECDA do a picture quiz each year that we've never won (no exception this year) but its fun to do. There's a theme, this year was pop bands, and you have to draw a pictorial clue for your particular band (pulled from a hat) that you display in the caravan window. Then you grap a pen and paper and wander round the site looking at every other clue to try and figure out as many as possible


Today we've been up to castel Dinas Bran. It was the perfect weather for it, fluffy clouds and good visibility, and I was pleased to get through it without knackering either of my knees, which is the way I usually start the summer. Here's me and Sarah on the top sharing bodily warmth (because the wind was a bit nippy up there). We came down into Llangollen and found a coffee shop, not easy on a Bank Holiday Monday because Llangollen was chocka. But here's the nice thing about temporary sites – there's no pressure to leave by a certain time. We'll have tea here then a leisurely pack. By the time we hit the road the Bank Holiday traffic will be back home watching the telly.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Quiet Zone

We went back into London today. Just a flying visit. Sarah had some unsold paintings to collect from an exhibition. The train takes about 40 mins. We'd done it before, seen what there is to see out of the window, so we picked the quiet zone carriage so we could read. Quiet zone? We were the only ones not on mobile phones. Mind you there was some serious business being transacted.

  • Hi, it's Jim. I'm on the train.
  • The train, yeah.
  • You okay?
  • Yeah, good.
  • Yeah
  • Yeah
  • Sounds Cool
  • Lovely.

And on and on. I'm staring at the pages of my book and I'm thinking, someone from South West Trains will be along soon and will tell them all to keep it down, because my glaring, furrowed-brow attitude isn't working. And then...

"Welcome to the 1312 to Basingstoke. Calling at, Clapham, Surbiton, Walton-on-Thames and just about every other station on God's green earth."

Then there's a pause. I read a sentence of my book.

"Safety notices are displayed throughout the train."

Good, I think. And I read the sentence again.

"If you see any suspicious packages, please tell a member of staff."


  • Hi, Jim again. Forgot to say. Be there about forty minutes.
  • Okay
  • Cool
  • Lovely

And then I put the book away. I look out of the window and consider fifty ways of murdering Jim, including throwing him from a moving train.

Anyway, we said our farewells to Jim, then back to the caravan, a quick pack, and we're on the M40 on our way home. A most enjoyable few days, especially as we know we have found our caravan legs once more. Can't wait for the next outing.


Monday, 26 April 2010

Botanical Days

We've had a couple of days visiting botanical gardens. Yesterday was Wakehurst, today we went to Kew. I'm not an unfit person but there's a certain kind of walking that really takes its toll. It's the slow, shuffling and creeping that does it. Museums are bad enough, and half an hour is usually enough for the first signs of museum foot to show up. Gardens, though. Gardens are like museums with gradient. And two in two days – that is hard. Then throw-in a hike to the railway station at each end, and a stretch along Brighton prom in the middle, and you are heading full steam for the knackers yard.

So we did Wakehurst first, and it really is a terrific garden – lots to see, lots of hills to go up and down. It's also home to the Millenium Seed Bank and this turned out to be a place of wonder and story ideas, so I was more than happy.

Having driven to Wakehurst we thought we might as well go and see Brighton, since it is only down the road and neither of us had been there before. I wasn't expecting much, kind of Blackpool with a cockney accent. But Brighton was a pleasant surprise. It's not over the top and the Pavillion was worth a look, though it was evening when we got there and so the Pavillion was closed and, amazing though it is, we still don't really know what it's all about. And of course we had to try the pier. I'm a sucker for piers. Don't know why. Usually they're horrible tacky places that are a century past their best days, but you can often look past that and see them for what they were designed for. We've been chalking up a few piers lately, what with Santa Barbara and Santa Monica last year, and Brighton is supposed to be one of the best. The surprise is, it really is one of the best. It's cared for. There's pride in Brighton Pier and we were both quite taken with it.

Back to botanical gardens, though, and today we did Kew. I blame the lay lines. Kew is a nice garden, world-class nice, but it is a hard visit. Hard on the legs and hard on the feet. There no hills and it isn't that big, not really. But I always suffer at Kew. This time is no exception, especially after Wakehurst and four miles of Brighton prom yesterday. Tonight I'm suffering. Tonight I will sleep, at least up until that point where I'm torn, screaming from my bed with raging leg cramps.

Saturday, 24 April 2010


Hi, my name is Mike, welcome to my first post. Right now I'm sitting in my box in Chertsey, Surrey, on the banks of the river Thames. The box? The box is a twenty-year-old Avondale caravan. Let's see if I can find a photo.


I'll do better than that in future posts, but this will do for now. This is the view I'm looking at right now (or I would be if it wasn't dark right now).

So, what to expect in forthcoming posts? Well, a lot of ranting. Things annoy me. Things like Dutch lorry drivers who park in the designated caravan parking in service stations (Oxford services on this occasion) and who thus cause one to have to three-point-turn. Three-point-turning a caravan is not fun, especially over concrete curbing, so if anyone from Heijboer Transport is reading this, please give the driver of BT VN 69 a special thank-you from me.

I expect I will post about camp sites I like and camp sites I don't like. There'll probably be a lot about chemical toilet emptying as it tends to dominate the psyche of caravanners to some extent. (So let that be a stern warning to any SF people who venture over from 'Mike with a J')

And there'll be other travel stuff, too. Financial constraints are not what they where, and about 12 months ago I undertook my first ever flight. Airport tales are always more interesting from the point of view of those who have only just started to experience those particular delights. A pity I missed the ash delays - lots of great material there. My brother, Andy, probably wouldn't agree with me on that one, he's only just got home. Still, I'm off to Geneva in a month or so. Loads of opportunities for ranting on that one, I'm sure.

Enough for now. Let's see how this unfolds. Maybe now and again I'll wind the clock back and go into the archives, to the days of tent camping or to when we towed a forty-year-old Sprite Alpine to Switzerland. Who knows.