Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

Just a quickie as I thought I would hit the 100 post mark before the year is out. Emma and I haven't bothered with seeing in the New Year for quite some time but the boys, Sam and Will that is are doing so on their own for the first time. I missed out last year and slept in the back of a car, maybe next year will be different.

Happy New Year once more and I sincerely hope that 2012 delivers all that we wish and hope for.

Another year over

2011 has been a rather peculiar year with plenty going on and much to remember.

I saw the year in with my brother, Tony, at a security post halfway up a mountain in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. This was during or charity rally to Timbuktu, tensions were high during our time in Mauritania and their government were keen to show obvious signs that they were looking after the interests, and the lives of those foreigners visiting their country over the festive period. This entailed, amongst other things, an armed escort whilst travelling through the capital, Nouakchott and by ensuring that we in a safe, guarded area during the hours of darkness. The latter sounds sensible as all encounters of the last few years involving either terrorists or criminals had taken place at night, the bodies of the victims not being found until the following day when the perpetrators were long gone. The problem with this enforced curfew was that our guides had neglected to infer us of this fact. The road between Nouakchott and Kiffa was reasonably good but as we were moving in convoy we were restricted to the slowest, least equipped or least interested and as such managed 200km in seven and a half hours (or so).  We reached a large army checkpoint and they refused to let us pass, in fact it transpired that there was another convoy from an Irish rally passing through at the same time. We spent the evening parked up amidst years of accumulated debris and saw in the New Year with two cans of beer cooled with an emergency medical cool pack. In the morning we were awoken with cries of 'Allah Akbar' or similar, calling the faithful to prayer. We packed up and were on our way before the sun had risen very far.

I hadn't been back from my trip to Timbuktu long before it was Sam's eighteenth birthday. A rather fun night was had by all but on the negative side someone, I'm looking at you Sam, ripped the bathroom door off it's hinges. It took a while to clean up afterwards but I think Sam enjoyed it. Sam passed his driving test in January also, well done lad do, but unfortunately the price of insurance was so prohibitively expensive that it was not possible to get Sam on the road with the Micra he had inherited. Dad was still staying with us so it was decided that we would sign the car over to him until such time as Sam could could afford to run it. Sad but true.

Over a year ago Emma and I had booked a long weekend break at a Landmark Trust site in Devon. I'd almost forgotten when the reminder email popped up in my inbox. The weekend spent at Kingswear Castle in Dartmouth was relaxing and a real experience.





Dad had been staying with us on and off for some time including over Christmas when Tony and I were on our long drive to Africa. He travelled north to stay with Susan and Jimmy and also to stay with Tony for a bit. When April rolled around it was time for him to return to France. I accompanied him stayed for few days before flying home. It was good to meet up with Dawn and Jason Folley at Dad's barbecue and as usual there was plenty of wine. Dad and I discussed the upcoming plans for this years for a trip to Greece, driving through Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia. For a number of reasons this did not happen and it made it me aware that it's easy to agree to something that is due to happen in the future without considering the implications. Lesson learned.

June was time to remember Mum who passed away on my Dad's 66th birthday, June 10th. A memorial gathering was held back up North in Wallsend at the Comrades club. Many of mum and dad's old friends who still vied in the area took time to pay their respects. There are so many to thank but I was especially please to see Pat, mums longest friend and her daughters, Michelle and Katrina. It's amazing how time passes so quickly but there are some people that you can meet after many years yet still chat as though it was only yesterday. We all had a fantastic time and special thanks must go to Susan and Jimmy who have been there throughout all of the difficult times and without who I doubt if some of us, myself included, could have coped during the dark days immediately after mum passed. Cheers guys, I'll never forget your kindness and support.

The summer arrived and the time when the trip to Greece should have taken place was instead spent on holiday in a small village in Wiltshire. Sam remained at home to look after the dog but the rest of the family had a great time including a memorable day out in Avebury where we blundered through a bunch of travellers holding some festival of nonsense or something, fail to see the point. Will and I hiked along the Wansdyke, fifteen miles over some extremely hilly terrain made me realise how unfit I had become. Will, Beth, Ed and I tried our hand at Geocaching, to the uninitiated this is where you use a GPS to fid previously secreted boxes or 'caches' at designated GPS waypoints. You find them and enter your visit in the log. This was far more my pace and didn't leave me out of breath and covered in welsh and bruises. Would recommend this to anyone, especially with kids, great smart phone apps to help you out too.

August also saw a weekend camping trip for Will and I to The New Forest. Will had turned 16 in June and had taken his CBT and saved up enough money to get himself a moped. The idea for the sausage trail was forming nicely and the farm where we stayed also sold a fine example of sausage, 'Nobby's special' was made with prime pork and smokey bacon. The BBQ Will and I had that night was the most memorable for a long time. This was the first time we had take our small motorised vehicles for a jaunt, Will on his 50cc moped and me on my Cub90. The intention was that we would build up to our planned trip to Mongolia next year on two Honda Cub 90s. Once more these planes were put on hold, mainly because securing visas for some of the Central Asian countries would be difficult because Will would still be under 18 when we were due to travel. A years postponement isn't the end of the world though.

September saw us on another camping trip, this time to the rally launch party at the Bradninch music festival in Devon. Tony, Gareth and Hayley travelled down to join Sam, Will and I. We all hoped that the event would prove to be up to the same standard as the launch party last year. This, however failed to be the case. Certain undesirable elements made their presence felt towards the end of the night causing fights and attempting to set caravans alight. We learned later that there was another party for the veterans of previous rallys held at the same venue as the previous year and which went far better than the one we attended.

September was also the month when Sam and I visited Amsterdam. Predominantly for Sam to meet up with a couple of friends he had made online in the five years or so he had been playing the MMORPG Everquest II. We did meet up and Wieb and his brother took us to a lovely backstreet bar that made the weekend worthwhile. It had been some years since I had been to Amsterdam, well almost, I had been in 2009 but as we arrived around midnight we spent very little time living the whole Amsterdam experience. This time we stayed in a hostel, which I will not do again, and was right in the centre of the party district, again not a good idea.
We did manage to get to the Van Gogh museum, which was OK but I have never liked spending any time in museums and this was no exception and as Sam felt the same we ended up spending more time in the bar at the hostel than anywhere else.

October saw Dad staying with us once more, he accompanied us to the local Thai restaurant for Beth's 12th birthday party. The food at the Nateetip was excellent as usual, although Beth and the boys ordered food far too spicy for them. Emma and I attempted to help out but were also defeated. I can't believe how much Beth has grown up in the past twelve months, she is turning into a beautiful young woman albeit with a very strong and sometimes abrasive personality. Ed looks up to her immensely but she fails to see this. I hope that the next twelve months see her develop with an awareness for the feelings of others. I hope she can finally see how much we all love and respect her and realise that she holds a very special place in the family.

October was the time for Emma and I to renew our marriage vows. As 2011 was our 20th anniversary, we decided to return to Cumbria, we had met in 1990 in Carlisle so the county held memories for us both, and to renew our vows at The Langdale Chase Hotel. Charlotte had worked here as a teenager and had fond memories of the sprawling mansion house. We took the opportunity, during autumn half term holiday, to book a weeks holiday at Centre Parcs in Whinfell Forest near Penrith. Emma and the kids thoroughly enjoyed our time there, so close to nature but also so close your neighbours. I honestly felt restricted and hemmed in, a captive in an expensive money grabbing environment where nothing was included in the price other than the accommodation. The setting was lovely however, we especially loved the cheeky red squirrels who would creep into our lounge following the trail of nuts left by Will, Beth and Ed.

The ceremony at The Langdale Chase was marred only by the absence of Sam who had to remain with Dad in Gosport as he had to undergo a selection process for a job at ASDA and we all agreed that this took priority. The Hotel was fantastic and for Charlotte held many happy memories, me too now. I felt that we had made the right decision immediately, the venue was special, the staff were helpful and the registrar was perfect. I realised that my feelings for Emma are even deeper than they ever have been and  I hope to repeat this exercise once more in ten years. Keri and Michael, Emmas Uncle and Auntie were present and this made the day even more special for my wife. I wish we had more time to stay and talk with Keri and her husband but curfew back at Stalag Whinfell meant we had to be back over the wire before sunset. OK, we had a restaurant booked.

November was the time for the sausage trail to begin. I travelled to The Shetland Islands to commence my search for sausages. I won't labour the event but please take time to read the blog from this period. I am still writing up the events but made some new friends and somehow managed to agree to a return for Up Helly Aa at the end of January where I would join the British Legion Marching Bang to accompany the festivities. It has been some while since I marched and played but I am hoping it will al come back to me. The next twelve months or so will see many more trips following this peculiar, self imposed quest but I am sure it will very rewarding and worthwhile.

Since declaring my intent to follow a quest for sausages a colleague, Johnny W, has expressed a keen interest and indeed has given me many pointers and suggestions. So much so that the idea for a follow up book has already developed into quite a mature concept. The Roman trail, perhaps more generally centred on food and the impact the Romans had, was born. John and I visited Fishbourne Palace near Chichester and I for one was surprised at the fantastically preserved mosaics and artefacts. There is a recreated Roman garden which includes herbs, fruits and vegetables used at the time and prompted me to research even further. This will be an excellent project and I win to start it about this time next year, The Sausage Trail final draft allowing of course. The intention is to trace a route from the birth of certain cuisine in Rome to the British Isles and how it changed and developed when incorporating local influences along the way. (Any publishers reading please send your commissioning ideas and bids to my normal email address;-)

All in all 2011 has been busy. I am married once more, the children are all growing up very, very quickly and time is accelerating at an unpleasant pace. So much planned for 2012, so much so that the blog will continue, hopefully with more feedback from any readers I have picked up.

Happy New Year all, I hope it brings all that you wish.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Getting old and shit...

There was a time when I could remember every Christmas, New Year and birthday. This faded when I was about thirty, right about the time when kids appeared and made a massive import to my life. This year, for the first time I have had a chance to stop and think, and relax.

I realise that last year, on the drive across Europe and Western Africa, to Timbuktu, was a means to ignore my emotional state. I knew this, but yet kept myself so busy that I had no tie to consider my feelings or emotions after the death of my mum. This year has been somewhat different.

I have so much to do, so much to write, so much to research, but yet, so much to accept. Time will tell.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The important, pressing issue today - Military Wives

With North Korea and Egypt in turmoil, the Eurozone on the verge of collapse and scientists finding new Earth-like planets what is the most pressing issue as far as the Daily Mail is concerned. That's right, the VAT on military wives Christmas No 1! Let's face it I doubt if anyone who has thought about buying this worthwhile Christmas release has been put off by the fact that VAT is included. Let's break the price down a bit more. What about all costs to be recovered? I'm sure that they could be waived or at least in part to make a bit more money for this cause.

What is front page news is that the entirely awful 'Little Mix' have been put firmly in their place by the Military Wives choir, excellent. With any luck Simon Cowell will take this as an omen and desist from any future nonsensical, talentless production. As far as Christmas TV is concerned, well I don't even buy the Radio Times Christmas edition any more. It's far more entertaining watching the kids fight, squabble and break stuff through a comfortable alcohol induced haze. On that note, the note of alcohol that is, I was prompted to check out James May's man lab, the most recent one, a Christmas special no less. Oz Clark, I think, introduced the fop to a 'Whisky Cloud'. This marvellous discovery involves placing a small amount of whisky (or I assume any spirit) into a large plastic bottle. The bottle is then positively pressurised by way of a plastic bung and a pump , a foot pump was used in the show, then released. The rapid change in pressure vaporises the whisky, the subsequent 'cloud' is inhaled to give the imbiber a warm glow. I am definitely going to try this on Christmas Day.

Monday, 19 December 2011

This year/last year or even last year/this year

Can't believe that this time last year Tony and I were on the most traumatic leg of our journey to Timbuktu, ironically we were still in Europe. The drive from Burgos to Tarifa saw the worst weather I had experienced since my time in the Amazon rain forest and to compound the misery our brakes failed only a few miles from our goal. Driving through the mountains close to Tarifa we were pounded by rain and lashed with lightning, I do have a video somewhere, ah found it...



Then the brakes failed and we were stuck in Tarifa for four days. Had a great time, the car was fixed and we never really caught up, it was chasing the clock all the way to Timbuktu.

This year the weather is still a bit poo but the intention is to bring my horn out of mothballs, ooeeer missus, and go carol singing with anyone who is available. At the very least it will be a laugh, after all I do need to practice before Up Helly Aa next year.

More Jeremy Kyle than James Bond

It was 'Mad Friday' last week, the day when every workplace holds their Christmas p*ss-up, including ours. The upshot of this is that if you are with a large group of blokes you have little or no chance of getting into any decent pubs. When this transpired to be the case o Friday a small group of us filtered away from the main group opting for a visit to the Casino as an alternative to the proposed en-masse exodus to a nearby strip club. I had already made my mind up to get home before the last ferry at midnight and so looked forward to a brief interlude at the Grosvenor Casino at Gunwharf Quays. I wish I'd just gone home.

Once again my growing intolerance colours my impression as the place was packed with young drunk idiots, who were not gambling and older, shaven headed Pompey mushes with rolls of fifty pound notes who were. Of those gambling it would fair to say that they had very little idea on how to play, how to act or in most cases how to count. I have visited Casinos a fair bit, not habitually nor with a view to develop a habit, and on the whole have enjoyed the experience; from the laid back island approach of Antigua to the very cheap roughness of Mombassa they all have their own particular charm and character. Not so The Grosvenor. The usual hushed conversation hovering in the background of the sounds of roulette, slots and dice was not in attendance, instead the raucous cackle of orange skinned slappers and the frequent barked profanity of their drunk partners drifted around the packed floor. A snap shot would have given the viewer an impression of a cross between Jeremy Kyle and Hogarths Gin Lane. After losing a hundred quid or so we cashed in our chips, so to speak then chipped in twenty quid each for a final throw of the dice, or as it transpired, spin of the wheel. Red or black? We went Red and the ball landed in, predictably, black!! That was it for me, the other lads returned to the festive throng in Southsea and I boarded the awaiting Gosport ferry.

There are some things that we do well in the UK, casinos are not one of them. I will restrict my future visits to times when I am either abroad or in the company of someone who knows about these things.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Public transport, Preston and Parathas

Some weeks ago it seemed like a great idea when Emma suggested that our planned trip to Preston should take place aboard public transport. I tried to appeal to her better senses but as this was to be a potentially stressful visit to an elderly relative then I caved in with the promise that I could take a fully charged hip-flask. I should have seen the warning signs early on when the route we agreed on was to be via Reading to rendezvous with Liza, Emma's twin sister. My experiences and memories of Reading station were not great, when I was stationed in Portland I would travel back from Carlisle to Weymouth on weekends and invariably miss my connection at Reading and end up spending some time haranguing and negotiating with the station staff in order to get to my destination on time so I wouldn't be fined by the Navy. To me Reading station will always remain, cold in heart and climate, difficult and 'kin dull. But I didn't take the hint and dutifully booked the tickets and seats.
The day arrived and we began our journey from Fareham station. I ignored a sign that described the weekend working taking place, this will have an effect later, as I evidently 'knew better'. We changed at Southampton Parkway and boarded the X-Country train from Southampton to Manchester, quite a long way and an important arterial route. There were FOUR carriages on the train, there were four on the train from Fareham to Southampton for F***s sake. The four carriages were already full when we boarded, and were lucky yo find seats, we stopped at Winchester and Basingstoke taking on more passengers. We were relieved to disembark at Reading, thankful that we had seats booked for the remainder of the journey.
After hooking up with Liza and an awful Burger King breakfast we decamped to the appropriate platform to await our train to Birmingham New Street where we would change onwards to Preston. Predictably our train was a later service from Southampton to Manchester operated by none other than the ultra efficient and fore-sighted X-country. X-men yes, X-country a resounding NO!! Again FOUR coaches, unbelievable. A rather rough looking family, a couple and a young child were in our seats gnawing on chicken bones. I anticipated a Jeremy Kyle-esque argument but no, the bloke apologised, stood and ushered his family out into another carriage. Result!
Birmingham New Street was as I remembered, shit. Thirty pence to take a piss and a twenty minute queue to buy a bottle of water. I glanced into the bar briefly but any thoughts of a quick pint were swiftly eliminated when I saw the clientele, it was not unlike the bunch of mutants seen in the Mos Eisley bar in Star Wars. Instead we opted to await our train in waiting station on the platform, we didn't have long to wait. The final leg of our outbound journey was aboard a Virgin Trains carrier, who have a completely different approach to f***ing up things. Half of the six carriages were first class, which they put on presumably to entice as many passengers as possible to upgrade to this service. As the standard class were choked with humanity we upgraded and spent an hour and a half in relative comfort, free wi-fi, complimentary tea-coffee and biscuits etc. all at fifteen quid each, thanks HMRC.
We arrived at Preston to a city I first visited when England lost to Germany in the 1990 World cup. I watched the match in a friends student house and the bitter taste of defeat when they team was so close to a glorious victory has always coloured my perception of Preston. We found the hotel and checked in. A nice little guest house within easy walking distance of the station it was an inspired choice, well I thought so anyway. I will spin on a bit as the activities involving the intended purpose of our visit aren't relevant to this blog, for various reasons.
Our evening meal was taken at Tottos Italian/Mediterranean restaurant which I had come across on my trawl through the internet. Another mistake, the starters were above average, garlic bread with tomato, garlic-cheesy mushrooms and stuffed aubergines, all fantastic. The main course however was straight from the ready meals section of Asda, at least my Kleftiko was. So a massive thumbs down for that. After leaving the restaurant, unsatisfied with the value for money, we ended wandering aimlessly around a bizarre sculpture of a firing squad portrayed in a very cartoony fashion. Unsure of how to get back to our hotel I decided to fall back on the only method I was sure would give us the required information, I gave a Scottish beggar two quid and asked him. Sure enough he told me, and a few minutes later we were preparing for bed. The room next door was very noisy, it sounded like a small group of people were having a very fine time. I was disgusted and told the two attractive, blonde twins with whom I was sharing a room, that it shouldn't be allowed. And so to bed.
The morning saw Preston reveal itself as I will always remember, dank, dark and gloomy drenched in oily, greasy rain. After a very adequate half English (like a full English but without the effort of real sausages, black pudding and three types of eggs) I sat and gazed out of the first floor window at the intermittent traffic passing below as the girls packed and prepared for our early departure. We had booked seats on the 14:21 departure from Preston but we had all agreed that a journey in the future is best started sooner rather than later. We reached the station a little after nine-thirty and sat in cafe while I checked the route. Three changes were required, Wolverhampton, Banbury and Oxford; that would take us back to Reading where Emma and I would have to purchase our tickets to Fareham. So far so not so bad. The train to Wolverhampton was reasonably empty, we managed good seats together and discussed the previous evenings activities. There was a slight delay but our subsequent train as behind us and as such was also delayed, not too bad. As we stood on the platform at Wolverhampton and the X-country train to Banbury approached I knew what awaited us, four carriages and more people than there were seats. I was right, we struggled to get seats anywhere near each other but finally succeeded just before we disembarked at Banbury.
The station at Banbury was curiously quiet, no trains were evident and there was nothing on the departures board. I asked a short spotty man where there trains to Oxford were, his badge proclaimed him to be 'customer services' but when he told me that there were only buses I failed to see where the service element lay in this. Indeed the service level of X-Country trains this weekend had failed to impress to say the least. I boarded the bus and cracked open my hip-flask to dull the pain on our dull motorway trip to Oxford. Predictably we turned up at Oxford just in time to see our train pull away from the platform leaving us another twenty minutes to wait until the next rain. I had checked the timetables online and the results had prompted a massive gulp or three from my hip-flask. Train ran hourly from Reading to Southampton Central where we would have to wait for another 'kin bus to take us to Fareham and then a taxi. My blood was boiling when we reached Reading. The 14:53 had been missed because of our bus trip and gave us sufficient time to grab a burger. Liza had to leave almost immediately, back to Ealing Broadway and then home. Emma and I had some time to wait. An ice-cream cooled me somewhat but my calm state didn't last long.
Reading station has quite a few options to embark or disembark and as an extensive refurbishment project was underway some of these platforms were not obvious. We eventually found the platform allocated for our train to Southampton and joined the milling throng waiting for the train. The announcement came five minutes before the due departure time, a platform change, a platform we could see but due to the topology of the station was the furthest from us as it could possibly be. Reaching the train we were greeted by a multitude of faces pressed against rain streaked glass staring hopefully at the exterior and the wide open spaces of the platform. Emma and took our chances with the front carriage, success!!
We sat for the next forty-five minutes in our coats amongst crowds of passengers crammed in like goats in a Hi-lux. That was it, as the train pulled into Southampton Parkway, one stop before Central we got off. The taxi home was over fifty quid but at that point I had ceased caring, there was a curry with my name on it and the sooner we met the better.
As I say facing a plate of chicken rezwala, daal malsala and parathas I reflected on the past two days travel. Taking trains whilst travelling abroad to meet people and experience new things is one thing but an unnecessary journey taking three times longer than it should is something else. Emma agreed, we would never contemplate another train journey if we had any other alternative, including dog sled.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Breaking wind, and Spain...again

After the high winds in the North of England and Scotland we are, according to the Daily Doomsayer, in for a 'cold snap'. This is the same paper, remember, that predicted an Arctic winter last year and a Polish Queen on the English throne before tea-time on Christmas day. I spent a few miserable seconds reading the Mail's website and felt rather depressed afterwards. A periodical that focusses so obviously on the negative elements deserves all of the abuse it gets, just my opinion btw.

Thankfully we escaped most of the windiness on the South coast but never the less there were those who had to suffer my own personal hurricane outburst last night, sorry all!! On a positive note however it's good to hear some Christmas cheer on the radio, John Rutter on Classic FM, Tchaikovsky on radio 3 and JLS on Capital FM, lovely. Ironically I love the idea and atmosphere leading up to Chrimbo but these days, alas, I fail to see anything other than a massive commercial festival of bullish*t on the actual day. My kids have never seen the true meaning of Christmas, that's my fault I know, nor do they understand the concept of selfless giving, well not yet anyway. Only sixteen days until the day itself and as usual Emma is doing it all, I am such a sh*t when this season comes around. Last year of course I was preparing for my trip to Mali and missed it all, the outcome of this was that I had no real feeling of closure to the year, this year will be different.

Looking at the sausage calendar today, available at the foot of the page on this blog, I realised that I need to begin some planning for Spain and Serbia. The trip to Turija, Serbia will be awesome as I have someone who knows all about it to, hopefully, show me around, but Spain is different. I toyed with the idea of driving or using public transport but as time will be tight opted to fly and then to use whatever means I can to get around, but I have no-one to show me around or to share the best places and sausages. I will try a few posts on the sausage forums but there is anyone reading this with any ideas please drop me a line: john@gledson.co.uk

Fingers crossed!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Serbian sausages

I realise that I'm slipping back into the habit of not writing, blogs, emails and even my book. That is not a great state of affairs and in fact was feeling somewhat down about the whole creative process. Then, out of the blue, well almost, I received a phone call from an ld buddy I had not seen for ten years, when I was in Kourou. Marko, still not really sure about his surname, was from Serbia and had joined the French Foreign Legion (Legion Entranger) as a very real career choice. His wish to learn and converse in English drew us together and we had some pretty good times in French Guiana (and if he's reading I do remember the time when you returned my company supplied car with a dent in rear). I even let him have a Newcastle United shirt, as you can see. I have been in contact, on and off with Marko since I returned from South America in 2002. He subsequently left the Legion and married a very lovely Australian lady, sorry I couldn't make it to the pre wedding piss up btw, and moved to our Antipodes. A few weeks ago, must be months now I guess, I contacted Marko for a quick update and mentioned that I was looking to visit his homeland to take part in the largest sausage festival in the country. He got back to me and said he would sort something out, I waited. Yesterday Marko rang me to tell me he is in the UK this weekend, it transpires that I am up in Preston with Emma sorting out some family affairs and won'e be around, ARSE!! However he is now back in Paris and is only a hop, skip and jump away. Better that that! His brother-in-law? is a journalist in Serbia who covers the sausage festival and I am to hook up with hime for the Serbian sausage experience of a lifetime, that always sounds dubious using the word sausage in that way.
That's the good news. The bad news is that the 'kin X-factor is still on TV.
So, as I am inspired to write once more, cheers Marko, and will have the opportunity to do so on the train journey to Preston, cheers Emma and Liza, I will hopefully be up to date on the sausage trail by Monday.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A grand day out at Fishbourne Palace

Cheers Big JW, it was a great afternoon at the thoroughly underestimated Fishbourne Palace. I was surprised at the sheer scale of the construction, I knew it was a sizeable building but failed to grasp the colossal magnitude of the place. Today there is little to see apart from a few walls and floors, spectacular mosaics would be more a accurate description of the remaining floors. Even though only a portion of the West wing has been preserved you can still get a feeling of the majesty that was once evident at Fishbourne.

The reason for the visit was an attempt to throw some light on the subject of Roman cooking in general and sausages specifically. All in all a very successful day our, not only we see a reconstructed Roman garden complete with vegetables, medicinal herbs, culinary herbs and ritualistic plants but we managed to take in a sausage and has meal at a pub.

It is sup rising to learn how many fruits and vegetables which form such a staple within our day to day cooking were introduced by our ancient Italian friends; Parsnips, beetroots, apples damsons and pears for example, indeed a great many herbs were also brought across by the Romans. I also managed to pick up a couple of good books which will help in tracing the Roman sausage trail.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Clarkson

I was going to have a whinge about the sad losers who have complained about Jeremy Clarkson's comments on the One Show, but to be quite honest I can't be bothered. There will always be those who have a need to complain and will look for any avenue of attack even without need or personal context. These idiots aren't really offended or upset they just have a opportunity to make their voices heard. I get a bit pissed off how anyone, no matter how petty, can be bothered to be bothered about this, for F's sake channel your emotion into something worthwhile, raise money for charity or write a book just stop whinging. Complain about shit TV, any reality show will do. The ignorant verbal shite spouted from these shows should keep these complaining idiots busy for years.

Rant over.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Measuring miles by word count

Travel writing is a peculiar discipline, well it is proving so for me, especially after writing nothing but comedy and horror for the past few years. Incidentally I have a new short story being published shortly, I quite liked it and it's rare for me to actually not hate something I've written, details will follow. I have an empathic shortfall in my comedy and horror writing, this is something that Emma does very well and I am jealous. But, starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction is perfectly acceptable in our house, as my travel writing springs from my personal experiences, thoughts and feelings empathy is a natural by-product, or not, and I will be judged as a subject and protagonist on this basis. I guess what I am saying is that I write my observations and expect to be labelled a bell-end or not accordingly.

The other fantastic thing about writing about my experiences whilst bumming around various bits of this wonderful planet is that it's impossible to be wrong or to run out of ideas. I received an encouraging email form an old buddy this morning about my blogs, so much so that I must say that any doubts that I may have harboured have dissipated somewhat, cheers Matt I appreciate your comments.

It's very clear to me right now that I have to see this through, looking at the calendar (which should be visible at the bottom of this page) I am really excited about next year, Spain and Serbia follow my next trip to the Shetlands. Then Hungary and a few UK venues followed by the pig festival in France, Germany and finally the USA. There are already changes, a trip to Sorrento to take in Naples, Pompeii and Herculaneum in a quest for the Lucanian sausage is a must. This will be a preliminary trip for the next book, on the trail of the Roman feast (or something pretty similar).

Ok, back to writing whilst listening to Mumford and sons.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Cornets, cavities and coena

Looking back at my blogging history I realised that I'm not posting half as often as I did this time last month. It may be that I don't have time to write, or it may be that nothing interesting happening at the moment, or it may be that all of my writing time is spent laying down a few words on my sausage trail book. In fact all of the above are true,it's a little of all of them. I really need to enforce some motivational approach to writing that will get the process moving once more.

It's always the same with me; I accept a challenge (list to follow later) in good faith and before I know it the time has arrived and I have to deliver. OK, basic list here of this type of recent-ish nonsense:

Accepting a years contract in Kourou launching satellites
Leaving a perfectly good job to start my own webcasting company with no business or ideas
Working in Outside Broadcast
Accepting a job with Ken Deacon
Calais 2 Casablanca rally
Stand up comedy
Charity gigs
Karaoke in general
Timbuktu trip
Oh, and having kids

The most of which is accepting the invitation from Barbara, in Shetland, to joining their marching band for Up Helly Aa and embarrassing myself on the cornet. I used to play a lot and at one point I wasn't that bad, or so I believe, but this is a massive event with the eyes of the world upon it. Barbara and her family have played in the impressive northern brass bands and her daughter has played at The Albert Hall!! My pinnacle was a bugle call on Canadian TV (hardly close harmony in an inspired arrangement). I promise that if I can achieve this I will never, ever extend myself beyond my capabilities again. Well, not until the next time. I have opened the case of my old brass instrument and what I've found did not impress and as such I've decided to trade in my old horn for a new one, OOOH MATRON!!

On a completely separate note Eddy has been complaining about toothache all weekend, on and off at least. It even got to the point where I phoned the emergency dental help-line. The call was answered by a very helpful dental nurse who went so far as to offer us an appointment, when she learned how old the patient was, which they don't normally do. Thankfully it transpired that Ed was complaining more due to an attention seeking reason rather than any real medical requirement. He does have some back teeth coming through which causes a slight swelling and ache but I don't think he needs a Laurence Olivier 'is it safe' attack just yet. The next step was to get him booked in, as a private patient as most dentists don't accept new NHS patients without a great deal of pressure from someone. Phil Mitchell probably. He now has an appointment for this Wednesday, best of luck Eds.

Big JW has been doing a fair bit of research on the Roman lifestyle and as such has uncovered a lot of sausage related facts. I am still reasonably excited about my current writing project, the sausage trail (no capitals now) is maturing well and the aims, goals and destinations are slowly coming into full focus. The people and the subject seem to lend themselves well to my style of writing, in fact I have too much to write about; at this rate my 100,000 word target could easily be achieved in two trips. The coena was the main Roman meal that lasted from mid-afternoon until finished, a Mediterranean trait that has endured and is still the envy of all Brits.

More blogs? Perhaps.


Thursday, 24 November 2011

Reality TV and Spain

Now that we are well into 'I'm a third rate cretinous loser get me out of here', back for another season, I'm glad to say that I have avoided it completely. I still can't believe that these cheap, pathetic, excuses for entertainment are accepted by the public. I realise that in the age of specialist viewing that terrestrial television has to try to cater for the widest possible audience i.e. the lowest common denominator. This is evident from the sponsor, Kerry Katona's favourite shop, Iceland. It's ironic how her financial affairs have mirrored the country of the same name, shame she hasn't been blown up and grounded, much. This reality show aside, the competition isn't that great either. Strictly come gardening, or Britain's new apprenticeship new model, or the old favourite The Eggs factor; what do they all have in common? Apart from being shite they are all relatively cheap to make. At a mad point of my professional life I worked for an outfit that dabbled in outside broadcast, their intentions were good but the practice was a completely different affair. I didn't help as I didn't fit the transmission monkey profile they wanted. In fact by tis time I had been the technical manager at an ESA site in Kourou, ran a failed innovative satellite consultancy company (we were the first to do a live video webcast transmission directly via satellite in the UK) and fathered an other brilliant young life. I suppose after my company folded I was grateful that I was offered a lifeline, under normal circumstances I would have laughed at the idea. Anyway after working 20 hour days on and off for a year I was made redundant, two days after I had returned from my Nanna's funeral. That's all very interesting but I am deviating from my original point, time for a new paragraph.

During my time as a transmission monkey I worked on a couple of reality TV shows for Endemol UK, 'The Farm' (both series) and 'Space Cadets'. The first is self-explanatory, a reality show where celebrities were forced to live on a 'real' working farm. In fact the farm was a convincing mock-up constructed in the old stables of a property owned by 'The real meat company' located just outside Warminster. I had to turn up for the live transmissions and also to transmit edited highlights back to the transmission suite at Channel 5 (how many times can you transmit the transmission word?). The most interesting thing about the production was that the common canteen area saw all teams coming together to air their thoughts suggestions and grievances. One morning I found myself sitting with a young runner who had been assigned to the writers, a really intelligent young guy he was so enthusiastic about his job. It transpired that the remit of the writers on this, and indeed any show produced by Endemol (Big Brother included), was to induce, expose and aggravate any conflicts between the idiots on the show. Rebecca Looes wanking off a pig was one of the highlights, this coupled with Orville the duck verbally abusing Paul Daniels made the time I spent on the production bearable.

At the other end of the spectrum, Space Cadets contained no celebrities and in fact no brain cells. A bunch of really thick losers were duped into thinking they were training at a top secret Russian space facility when in fact they were isolated at an ex-American base in Suffolk used predominantly as a turkey farm. I saw the turkeys a lot, in fact I had to run an armoured optic fibre through three inches of turkey slurry, thanks to my employer. The ultra irony was that I was the only person on site who had been involved with a space mission. No real highlights on this one.

I do sound like a bitter toss-pot but believe me when I say that reality TV is a convoluted, planned, scripted venomous pot of bile.

Spain? My next planned sausage trip is to the Requena, Spain. My idea of Spanish sausages was limited but thanks, again, to big Johnny W, I now have a firmer idea of what Spain has to offer.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Comedy is dead

Well my comedy is anyway. Writing this book is taking all of my time that I'm not working or arseing about I'm writing the Sausage Trail, so much so that I have had no time to look at writing anything vaguely amusing for my upcoming gigs and as such I've scrapped any future plans to stand in front of people to make them laugh. If I do in fact stand in front of a group of people and they laugh at me it will be entirely coincidental and I will probably be either fighting a wasp or losing my trousers. I asked myself on my time driving around in Shetland why I was even entering for comedy competitions and lining myself up for gigs in the time leading up to the competition.

I heard a comment today directed at someone very close to me that surprised me, primarily because I cannot believe that anyone could question the motives or integrity of the person involved and secondly that the person making the comments should know better. The comments concerned activities working within the publishing industry and why anyone would do anything without being paid a substantial amount. I have worked on the periphery of this industry for some time now, not as much as the person close to me, and understand that it is a slow and difficult dinosaur to deal with. All of the big authors, publishers and editors have done their time as journeyman in the publishing world. It is not dissimilar to any entertainment industry, movies, TV, video-games or radio; in order to achieve success many, many hours must first be sacrificed. I have the utmost respect for any writers, actors, presenters, performers or musicians who keep plugging away, never losing the faith and maintain a very real personal belief that they will, one day succeed. I don't think that it matters whether or not they ever achieve fame and fortune but that they try. My main gripe is those that achieve success without having to earn it, whether it is fame, financial security or an other form of prestige the journey is everything. Reaching the pinnacle immediately without blood, sweat and tears means nothing. Winning, inheriting or being given bypasses the mental equipment necessary to appreciate the benefits.

I hope that those that matter understand what I have written and act accordingly.

On a more positive note, cheese is great.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Take that Asda, and Morrison's

It was nearly ten years ago that Dewhursts butchers finally closed its beef curtains and stopped trading at their outlet on Gosport High Street. That left us at the mercy of the supermarkets, Asda, Safeway (at the time) and Waitrose. No interaction witha butcher was possible and the choice was limited. Lee-on-Solent, somehow, managed to maintain not only a family butchers but also a specialist sausage maker. For a town smaller than Gosport, Lee has managed to keep a high street which resembles something far more traditional than that at Gosport. We have Macdonalds, Costa coffee, KFC and Subway. OK, Lee has a subway but they also have family butchers and bakers. Where on earth am I going with this? I forgot for a second, but thankfully for all I remembered. When driving back from the caravan today I noticed that there was a new shop front on Stoke Road, if this was not curious enough the lights were on and work was being carried out within, shop-fitting work, on a Sunday. Mr. Tom's family butchers will be opening on Wednesday 23rd November. I hope that their sausages are up to the challenge.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Tense?

There's a couple of reasons for the title. The first and real reason is that the past week has been very tense. Last Friday I received a phone call from Will asking me if I had moved Sam's motorbike, the Cub90, the blue one. I hadn't. I had vowed to do so if he didn't heed my warnings, in fact it wasn't just me, my dad has also warned Sam that leaving the cub outside unlocked in full view was asking for trouble. Of course he knew better and did nothing. That's not strictly true, he did move it into the garden for a single night. A few moments later I received another phone call, from Emma this time asking me the same question, I ensured her that I hadn't moved it. It wasn't long before my phone was ringing again. Sam this time. The police had contacted him as the cub had been found abandoned in the garden of an empty house. Now I was pissed off. He recovered the cub, the speedo and key barrel were gone, cables everywhere and headlight had been ripped out. Great. His earnings from his new job already had already begun to be spent. Two nights later, after the same lad who knew better had been told to lock up the bicycles, one, Wills, was stolen. Strike two Sam. Glad you know better son.

Wednesday just past Sam had his induction day at Asda, he looks as though he will enjoy it. I hope so and of course Will starts his fitness instructor apprenticeship next Monday. Best of luck to both of them.

The other meaning of the title is that I realised that I have been writing my book in the past tense, not great if you want to engage the reader and make them feel as if they are sharing your experiences. In as much the same way as you retell stories in the present tense in stand up comedy, travel books are much better if the present tense is used.

This week has also seen the beginning of 'Sausages for Soldiers' I will almost certainly want to change that title. I've been taking sausages and baps into work and selling them, all proceeds going to charity. It's been OK, I reckon I'll be donating around 30 or 40 quid to British Legion tomorrow, if so I'll do the same next week.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Doubts, I've had a few, but then again...

It's been a week now since I was up north, really up north, and I am still catching up with writing. I've had a chance to get the audio notes onto disk and to have a quick listen, do I really sound like that? I didn't recognise the whiny nasally voice that squeaked out from the speakers on my Mac, in fact to all who have to endure that annoying whine, I apologise. Currently I am writing my account of the trip from memory alone, afterwards I will add to the text from my notes and after that I will add the bits about the Shetlands and about sausages, the facts and history, that kind of thing. The problem is that at the moment the first bit is taking longer than I anticipated, and it is due to this that I am beginning to doubt the whole concept. So much so that a coupe of times last week I considered packing the whole thing in. I aim to take it easy today and not spend any time worrying about this and pick it up tomorrow, writing a few lines here and there is not really helping and I am finding it difficult to motivate myself.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Roman sausage trail

I made it back safe and sound from Shetland, eventually. A swift turnaround at home and I was back at work within an hour, and within a very short period of time it felt as though I had hardly been away at all. Essentially a quiet day and it was over quickly, thank god. Taking time to reflect I had thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Northern most point of the British Isles, I didn't know what I expected but the reality was far better than anything I could have imagined. The bleak isolation of Unst and Yell struck a chord with me, in particular the beach at Norwick.

The whole sausage trail thing is more real to me now. I have met people already that I have managed to connect through my quest for sausages, a subject a little obscure but inoffensive a great ice-breaker. I genuinely do have an affection for sausages, for food in general but sausages in particular. Today has thrown a couple of new ideas into my path, thanks John-Boy, and I realise that to maintain momentum on my sausage sojourn I need to keep writing and in order to do that I need things to write about.

The first thing to do is to rearrange the calendar to reflect a more realistic approach to the whole affair and to book a trip into Naples in the near future with Emma. That was the other thing, the importance of the Roman Empire in the popularisation of the sausage, especially as a mainstay comfort food of the working classes. Naples will happen in due course but in the mean time walking a section of Stane Street, the old Roman road connecting Chichester with London has been suggested, again thanks John-Boy, potentially with the goal of a pub somewhere close by with a bountiful supply of sausage related tasty goodness, The White Horse Inn in (?) Petworth for example would be perfect. On the way I have it on good authority that the route will encompass paths that command spectacular views of the South Downs, I look forward to it immensely.


Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Home at last

I awoke. The numbers on my mobile phone indicated that it was a little before 5AM. The alarm was set for 5:15AM, I could doze for another fifteen minutes, but, and it was a big but, I really needed a shit. Although I am a little cavalier with hotel linen I draw the line at soiling the sheets, particularly as I was wearing my last pair of clean boxer shorts. I drag myself from the comfort of a strange bed and squeeze my ample frame into the bathroom and notice for the first time that there is no shower. I muse on this as I evacuate last nights sausage and mash, the idea must be to maintain a number of 'one night only, single rooms' with only the basic amenities, such as this. Keeps the overheads down and the cost to the punter (incidentally what's the term for the cross between a customer and a punter? A *unter, never mind) low. By now I have the early morning drill pretty well sorted, ablutions then pack then dress then check out. I was approaching the security desk within ten minutes of donning my trousers.

In contrast to my visit to the same hall a few days ago almost every security check-point was operating and I navigated through to flight side swiftly and without getting completely undressed. Without time for a real breakfast I bought the best alternative, a bottle of water and a rice krispies caramel square, the food of legends! Boarding was called, I boarded and fell asleep. The rest of the flight was a series of momentary waking glimpses of a fluffy cloud base far below obscuring the land further below. I shrugged and dozed off again. A pair of suited business types sitting directly behind me chatted incessantly about sailing and associated watery activities and for some reason instigated brief dreams involving a cockney snake with a hat and arms who sang like Michael Buble. I was grateful when the captain announced our imminent landing and pretended not to notice the dried drool on the side of my face and stared out of the window as Winchester and Eastleigh flashed beneath as we rapidly approached.

The landing was better than the one at Glasgow the previous evening but I didn't care. The baggage took some time to arrive, I had to get to work so I looked at my watch frequently, it didn't make any difference. Finally, with my red backpack slipping off my shoulder I exited the baggage hall and, thankfully, my dad was waiting. My Shetland adventure was over and it was time to slip back into the routine of boring, tedious, day-to-day, hum-drum, work type stuff. Roll on Up-Helly-Aa in January.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Never drink and Blog

I should be at home about now, 2045, but instead I am languishing in the Holiday Inn, Glasgow airport, deciding whether or not I should have some food before bed. I have had a coupe or three ciders and feel tired but not too hungry. To be honest, sitting here I have a descending shadowy feel of unreality, I am tired so I guess that is probably a very good reason why.

Decision made, having sausages. I am becoming increasingly aware that Emma's statement regarding my growing intolerance to practically everything is probably very true. I am becoming intolerant, but by the same token I will attempt to help anyone that I can so I will try to justify my intolerance with an increased drive to assist and be more (no, not careful) helpful.

Effort displacement syndrome. I'm not even sure that it exists but never the less I have it. I realise that I should be writing about my experiences in The Shetland's, but instead I am moaning and whinging about my current situation, which, when you think about it is very good; I am in a hotel which will be paid for by Flybe, drinking cider and eating sausages. I will be in late for work tomorrow and have had a chance to people watch and write bollocks. What is there to whinge about? I do, however, miss Ems and the kids. I should be at home drinking wine and eating sausages, not here.

Stranded in Jockland

The pilot, it may have been Sean Lock (it certainly sounded like him), announced that there was no way we were going to get into Edinburgh due to heavy fog (does that mean fog from beer?) and that we were going to divert to either Glasgow or failing that Aberdeen. There were a few anxious faces and unhappy mutterings, I was about to join in when I suddenly realised I didn't really care. Only a couple of years ago I would have worried immediately and felt very stressed and insecure. Now, well, life's too short to worry about shit that is beyond your control. When we finally landed I joined the milling throng by the hard pressed customer services desk and put my case forward. As a transfer was not inline with the demands of the remainder of the growing mob he was initially confused, but when I explained in simple terms that I was Glasgow and not Edinburgh and no I didn't want to go to Edinburgh but instead would really like to go to my intended final destination, Southampton thank you very much. A flicker of understanding crossed his face and then was gone.
'So you want to go to Southampton from Edinburgh?' He asked hesitatingly.
'No.' I started slowly. 'I have missed my flight there. Can you pay for a hotel for me here please?'
'In Edinburgh?'
'No, here. In Glasgow. I would rather not fly from here now rather than not fly from Edinburgh in three hours' (That bit will change and hopefully get funnier but I did say something like that)
He nodded vigourously. I smiled and relaxed.
'I don't know.' He finished.
I kept smiling. This was great. Wait 'til the book comes out.
'Can you find out?' I asked hopefully.
He held up a finger and disappeared behind the partition bearing the Flybe logo. I waited for a few minutes, I even turned and rolled my eyes in exasperation at the couple who were waiting in line behind me. They nodded grimly in solidarity. The young customer service facilitation engineer reappeared. I made eye contact, he looked away.
'Any joy?' I asked, already knowing the answer.
'No?' He responded simply.
No joy or no chance of getting a room I thought but instead I remained silent and allowed him to speak.
'You can get one, pay for it yourself and claim it back.' He offered almost apologetically.
'Good enough. How about a flight tomorrow?'
This proved to be no problem at al land I was duly, efficiently and satisfactorily booked on to the 0645 hours AM flight tomorrow morning.

The Holiday Inn was directly opposite the departures terminal and a room was quickly secured and within minutes I found myself down the bar with a pair of pints of cider. I need to be up at 5AM but that's OK at least I'll get back at a reasonable time tomorrow.

A writers whinge

I haven't appreciated in the past how difficult it is to maintain momentum as a writer. As I sit here awaiting my plane to Southampton via Edinburgh I am absolutely knakered.

For only two days I stuck to my self enforced schedule of arising at 6:30AM, showered, breakfasted and out the door by 8AM. On the road, phone, internet, whatever it took to line up people to talk to, research places to go and then carry it out. I was back on Saturday at 8PM, Sunday by 5PM but on both days it took me over three hours to arrange photos, write research notes, compile all to a sensible bank of information that would make sense when I came to write it all up and then blog. Following that I would catch up with emails and plan the next day. Don't get me wrong I realise that this is in no way physically demanding or taxing and I do realise that I am privileged in order to be in this position, but, and this is a big but, in order to get a travel book in a state anywhere near that required to submit in even a draft form is a very time consuming and mentally draining process.



KK, whinge over, proper blog, with photos, when I get home tonight. Oh, and Clive is back!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

It didn't look that far on the map

Another reasonably decent start this morning, not bad considering I didn't finish writing until 11PM then had to watch V for Vendetta until it finished. Great brekky again, then just a swift look at a map, in fact I borrowed one without telling Jo, I will replace it after dinner. I took another route to the main road avoiding the long windy road around Whiteness. Instead I went here:
It was the long round to the ferry but worth it for the stunning landscapes. Yell was uninspiring but thankfully the road to the second ferry was short. There were a few odd, abandoned buildings like this one:


Unst was more interesting and I finally found the deserted beach I was seeking, I even went for a paddle and suffered only mild hypothermia, I may only lose a couple of toes.

I also had a drive around the ex-RAF base a Saxa Vord. It's been converted into industrial units and holiday accommodation now but still maintains the MoD stamp of greyness and drab austerity. The road continued North until it ran out at Hermaness, I didn't fancy the two mile hike to the edge of treacherous cliffs on my own so I took some photos and retreated to the visitor centre.
I'm glad I did, as I finally managed to get a snap of a seal. I had seen a couple of the way up but by the time I had my camera prepared they had predictably submerged. The Visitors Centre looked closed. I noticed a mop of hair bobbing behind a fence marked 'PRIVATE' so I said hello and:
'Is anything open?' An innocent question I genuinely wanted answered.
'In November?' He responded in a polished Surrey accent and in the same manner as if I had accused him of selling drugs to primary school kids.
'No problem.' I answered and awaited some pleasantry.
'Have you been to the cliff?' He asked, his meaning obvious, 'There's nothing to see here so f*** off and leave me alone.' Was left unsaid but I knew. I made an excuse and f***ed off.

It was only 1230PM but looking at the height of the sun I judged I had three hours maximum to get back, I wanted to try a shortcut back to Sandness but preferred to do so in daylight. Luckily for me the Unst to Yell ferry, which was preparing to depart, re-opened their barriers to allow me onboard.
The Yell to Mainland counterpart however was a different matter. I must have just missed one as I had to wait nearly two hours. A small convenience store was open at the dockside and allowed to purchase a tasty lunch, nearly sausage but not quite, but at least I managed a cup of tea. The wait passed quickly, due in no small part to the fact that the ferry terminal (and I use that word very loosely) had an excellent and free, Wi-Fi connection. That combined with an episode of Nathan Barley made the pair of hours fly by.

The trip back was uneventful and the short cut worked, by that I mean I didn't get hopelessly lost, again. I managed a few photos at the beach in Sandness before the light faded and I returned to the B & B for dinner, a glass of wine and bed.

Checking out and off home tomorrow but not before I meet up with the guys at Globe Butchers and buy some sausages to prove I was ever here.




Saturday, 5 November 2011

First full day on The Shetlands

I am now tired!

Breakfast was excellent but I ate sparingly as I expected to have a second full Scottish breakfast when I reached Lerwick. Jo and I had a decent chat about what i could expect to achieve in research for my book and also, in addition to Jay from Promote Shetland that is, suggested I give a friend of theirs a call, but more on that later. She also proved to be a fount of information for my background chapter on sausages. The day had started well. Off to Lerwick. The drive took longer than planned as I had to keep stopping to take in the breathtaking scenery, and take photos too of course. Two hours later I pulled up at a parking spot opposite Globe Butchers.

The plan was to pop into the butchers for a quick chat then have a massive brunch at Faerdi Maet just down the road. Not so. Martin, the butcher, asked if we hold off until Monday when his more experienced colleague, Mike, would be present. Not to worry brunch, or as I prefer to be more Hobbit than American, second breakfast was still very much on the cards. I located Faerdi Maet only to discover that it was a takeaway service only.


I ordered saucermeat in a bap and waited, and waited. Subsequent customers appeared, ordered, were served then departed. I stood by the fridge in the corner and waited. Eventually I was served. I ate my roll full of sausagey goodness on the waterfront, I watched a seal just past the breakwater surface, snort then submerge and shared my bread with Clive.

He was not very chatty so, after calling in to Lerwick's Co-op for supplies, water and bannocks, I left to find Tingwall farmer's market.


I wasn't hard to find, all I had to do was to drive along the main road to Tingwall and follow the big signs pointing to the 'Farmer's Market'. This turned out to be more of a village fete than a farmer's market with jam, cake and woolly sock stalls dominating the farmer's produce stands. In fact a bloke selling sacks of spuds in the car park was about it. To be fair there we two butchers stands but I was aiming for the world, well Globe Butchers at least.

No butchers, no second breakfast and no real chance of a decent conversation on sausages in Tingwall, what next? I sat in the car park and read my notes from my conversation with Jo this morning, there was a phone number and a name; Barbara. I had nothing to lose, I was either going to chance this call or disappear up to Unst (a seventeenth century euphemism for die of leprosy I believe, or was that something else?). I called Barbara.

A lady with a strong Lancashire accent answered, I explained my quest and she was more than happy to meet up that afternoon at two. I now had two and a half hours to kill, what to do. Unsure I took a side road and spent ninety minutes lost. After finding the main road once more I set off to find Barbara's house. On the way I stopped to have my gourmet lunch of doughy, flat bread and a litre of Buxton water, Rock Star!!

Barbara was brilliant. All of the information I needed she knew, I'm saving the detail for the book so there! After a roundabout journey, another way of saying I got lost again, I found myself back in Lerwick. I needed food. The anticipated sausage feast had not transpired and since breakfast (second one included) I had eaten some bollocks, sorry, bannocks (they were OK I must confess). So I withdrew some Scottish money from the Clydestuff Bank and found an Indian curry house. This is where Blogs come into their own as what follows is nothing more than my personal opinion:

DO NOT GO TO RABA INDIAN RESTAURANT IN LERWICK AS IT IS SHIT!!

And I'll say no more on the subject.

The drive back was full of apprehension and some excitement. Jo had mentioned that the Aurora Borealis is particularly active at the moment and if tonight was a clear night, which it was, I may get a glimpse of the ethereal patterns caused by the solar winds. I stopped and gazed North with hope more than once. There was a distinct greenish glow at the edge of the horizon but no fantastic display to compensate me on Bonfire Night so far from the sparklers and fireworks back home in Gosport.

I've been back for an hour now and just about caught up with photos and blogging, all that's left is a glass of wine and to write up a sequence of events so that my scatterbrained notes, voice and written, will make sense when I write about my trip next week.

I'll finish as I started.

I am now tired!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Safe and sound and ready for din-dins

There's something highly disconcerting about the thought of an aircraft landing on water. During the safety briefing on any aircraft there is usually the statement, 'In the unlikely event that the plane lands on water...' there then follows a description of how to exit the aircraft and how to inflate a lifejacket, which, evidently can be found under every seat, I'm not convinced. I'm sure the unedited original sentence would have finished, ' In the unlikely event that the plane lands on water then death is certain.' Instead of claiming that there is a floatation device ensconced beneath each chair be honest and stash a bottle of gin there. I may have stated earlier today that the plane that I embarked for the Glasgow to Sumburgh trip was pretty small, as we approached the Southern tip of Shetland mainland and the brightly illuminated landing strip became clear I suddenly felt that the plane was enormous, far too big to land on the tiny patch of ground bordered with twinkling fairy lights which was very quickly getting closer and closer. I looked down at the choppy waters as the plane swiftly descended, just as I thought the wheels were about to set down on water and I wished that there would indeed be a bottle of gin beneath my seat, the tarmac flashed into view and we almost immediately touched down.

I was met at the airport by the car hire firm representative and was driven to my hire car. The rep was giving a lift to her elderly friend or relative and the talked quietly in the front of the MPV, I listened carefully, straining to understand their accents. It took me a few minutes to realise that the reason I could not make out what they were saying was because they were not speaking English. I hadn't expected this.

As I drove on the almost deserted road North towards Lerwick the mist thickened and darkness fell quite quickly. By the time I had visited Tesco and rejoined the road North it was fully dark. Driving on unfamiliar roads is difficult at the best of times but in treacherous weather conditions and in the dark made the 30 mile trip from Lerwick to Sandness drag on and on. Leaving the main North-South road the road climbed high above the coast and back into the mist. The suddenly, without warning, the two lane road became a single track. I slowed down until I became accustomed to the new layout, a narrow track with frequent wider sections sign-posted 'Passing Place'. This didn't present a problem as I met no oncoming traffic. Just as I began to doubt that I was still on the correct road a sign loomed out of the darkness bearing the legend, 'Sandness 6', pointing right. The new road was narrower with many sharp bends. I did meet three cars on my slow drive to my goal, and it was nearly half an hour before I completed the six miles and reached Sandness. I missed the turn for my B & B and ended up at the end of the road, literally. A car park, with public toilets right at the dark watery edge of the Western point of the mainland. Retracing my tracks I finally pulled up at 'Kalfordhame' my home for the next three nights.

The room was comfortable and the evening meal tasty and satisfying. Tired and worn down I retired to write some notes and rrelax.

Night all.

So far so good

What is it with trampolines? Approaching the wet tarmac of Glasgow airport I looked out of the window of the far too small, turbo-prop aeroplane at the sprawling residential district on the outskirts of the city far below. A seemingly middle-class random arrangement of semi-detached and detached houses all with reasonable large gardens filled my view. And every one, OK that's a slight exaggeration as I didn't really have time to scrutinise the landscape totally, but practically all of them, boasted a large circular trampoline. Then I had it, the reason. If any aircraft encountered difficulties with landing at the airport they would only have to cut the engines and bounce to safety on the hundreds of stretched rubber discs on the ground. Genius!

It's a couple of hours until I have to seek the relevant departure gate so i am killing time in a sanitised soulless lounge tucked away at one end of the airport. No doubt when the time comes I will have to walk the full length of the facility to board my tiny aircraft.

Southampton was plagued by intermittent thunderstorms and heavy rain when I left at 8:45 so I was relieved at the blue skies above when I landed at Glasgow, it has since clouded over and is raining, just how I remember Scotland. After disembarking I was struck at how quiet and empty the place was. The corridor connecting the gates was long and practically devoid of activity. I wandered aimlessly around idly seeking my booked lounge. No joy. I rang Emma as I trudged from end of the corridor to the other. Nothing. Eventually I noticed an exit and hey presto! (whatever happened to the Presto convenience stores?) a bustling arrivals area. This in turn led to a busy departures area and a not so busy security hall. I was processed, re-dressed and sought out the lounge. As I approached the entrance I passed a bar advertising a full Scottish breakfast complete with Lorne and linked sausages and a snip at only £9.95! I hoped that the fare in the lounge was up to this standard. It wasn't. A bread roll and jam was the best I could muster. Plenty of alcohol, after all this is Glasgow but no real food. Arse! Time to make some notes for the book and perhaps treat myself to a bag of nuts. There will almost certainly be another entry later.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Two days until the sausage trail begins

If there is anyone out there, and I know that there a few peculiar individuals, who actually read this blog then they will know that my upcoming journey of sausage discovery (that sounds worse than it needs to be) begins this weekend. As you may, or may not know, the format of the sausage has changed somewhat since int initial inception eight months ago.

Following the return from our epic drive to Timbuktu in 'Captain Flint', the heroic Peugeot 405 estate, I began to look forward to the next trip. There were plans for family rallies and other epic trips but due to circumstances beyond the control of the main proponents they did not transpire. Then, following a trip to Amsterdam with Sam I realised that I was imposing my wishes, hopes and dreams on others. The destinations I chose and the manner of travel were almost completely my choice, chosen to satisfy my craven need to travel and to challenge myself. For that I apologise to everyone.

I now hope that the format of the sausage trail is reasonable and correct. Again, to readers of my blog, there is a calendar at the foot of the blog with the proposed visits for the sausage trail. It is probable that I will not be able to attend all listed events but I truly intend to make every effort to try.

With the digital television revolution there is the opportunity for specialist programmes and in fact channels to appear in a financially viable format. This has led to a BBC food channel, the travel channel to show many food programmes and of course other channels to buy great formats, such as 'The Hairy Bikers' and show them with the same financial viability. This has in turn led to an increased interest in food and the impact and import it has on society and how we, as individuals, can identify with it.

BUT, and a this is a great big but, I have not seen a focus on what I have always considered a traditional British dish, The Sausage. This spark led to some light internet research regarding this ignored delicacy which revealed that it was a global phenomena. This led to a 'light bulb' moment and 'The Sausage Trail' was born.

I am looking forward to this weekend and the people I will meet on the first stage of my search for sausages.


Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween sausages

It transpires that Halloween is also the start of British Sausage week. As I watched the gaggles of short monsters, devils and ghosts scurry from darkened street to street I realised that they were completely unaware of this fact. I mean, if I had the choice between a bag full of Quality-Street,mini Snickers, M & M's and of course toffee-crisps, OR locally produced pork sausages in a bap, there would be no competition. What is wrong with these kids? I blame the last ten years of Labour government, the change of Pope and my blocked drains. No matter what the reality of the situation sausage week started today. At some point this week a rather fancy sausage dish will be served.

More importantly Will has his selection day for a Health and Fitness apprenticeship tomorrow. A set of interviews and associated selection tasks will tell whether or not he is the right material for this position. I sincerely hope that he takes the initiative and tried his utmost to take this opportunity and grasp the world of self-empoyment, after all it is the future.

Only three days until I begin the sausage trail when I depart for the Shetland Islands on the first leg of the year long journey. I am in a few minds on how to take notes during the times I will be talking to the Islanders whose lives have been concerned with the manufacture of sausages. I have my phone, a dictaphone (use your finger like anyone else hahaha) pen and pad and my trusty Mac but I really don't want to put any obstacles between myself and the subject.

More thoughts tonight.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Back to reality

It's here again, that vapid lull in a Saturday night that is the X-factor. I really fail to see the appeal, it seems that a large chunk of the viewing demographic cannot distinguish between talent and entertainment. Watching talentless half-wits fall flat on their arse for me is entertainment but when judges and acts start to take themselves a little bit too seriously it's time to combine the show format with a new one, celebrity strictly come sniping where celebrity snipers attempt to pick off the worse acts whilst singing improvised recipes in Klingon, a surefire winner I'm sure all will agree.

It's the day after we returned from our Center Parcs adventure, I can't help feeling that our escape was successful as we've heard nothing from the appropriate authorities. In all seriousness the experience was not for me but I can see how it does appeal to so many, there is so much to do on a single site it is possible to park up on the day of arrival and not sit behind the wheel until it's time to leave for home, it would be expensive but entirely possible.

We chose to spend the weekend at the caravan, from one holiday home with security fencing, armed guards and no real bar to speak of, to another with complete freedom, a bar and no goons. A few too many pints, some wins on the horse racing and a quick go on the karaoke and the spectre of Center Parcs was consigned to the cobwebs of my dusty mind. We won the quiz and I slept very, very well after a short walk back to my comfy bed.

Today I relented to Ed's demands and booked tickets to see 'Real Steel' at noon. The morning was a rush as I had to get back to Gosport to pick up Beth's friend and drop them in Fareham on our way to the cinema at Port Solent, all before twelve. It transpired that we had bags of time to spare and Eddy and I found ourselves facing the screen, alone ten minutes before the start time. A dozen or so others appeared just before the allotted hour and together we waited, and waited and waited until, an announcement.

'I'm afraid that we have a major technical problem, bear with us and I'll update you shortly.' The poor scapegoat smiled her thin apologetic smile and before swiftly scurrying back out. Eddy and I exchanged glances but thankfully the little guy kept his thoughts to himself. We sat quietly listening to the growing murmurs of discontent and alternate plans were audibly hatched. Ten minutes later our doomsayer re-emerged, her initial silence and apprehension spoke volumes.

'The technical problem is worse than we thought and a technician is en-route to sort it out. Unfortunately we don't know when he will get here so if anyone wants a refund or to see another film AND a refund we will completely understand.'

'Told you we should have gone to Vue.' Eddy declared looking up at me with a smirk. I nodded, knowing he was absolutely right.

Murmurs, and mutterings before a group of us opted to shuffle off to another screen to watch Tin-Tin, some to see Johnny English and some, more disgruntled punters, took the money and ran.

Tin-Tin was absolutely brilliant. I think it's always better to see something unplanned as it's less likely that the disappointment fairy will turn up. We both loved it and this film will definitely end up in my digital film library.

After picking up Beth and her friend and returning home to tidy up a few odds and ends we returned to Solent Breezes and the effort to obtain tickets for the Halloween party for Beth, no chance. She pestered me and Emma for over two hours to try a myriad of ridiculous ideas to get tickets, including phoning reception (closed at twelve on a Saturday), walking into the bar and attempting to convince the staff that we should have been assigned tickets (thanks dad). Nothing worked so as a final hurrah Beth just walked in, no problem.. What was all of the whinging for. Eddy has spent the evening dressed as Jack Sparrow, nothing to do with Halloween he just wanted to be a pirate.

Time for bed.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Wedding day of sorts

Is that what it is? I'm not sure to be completely honest, how do you classify a marriage vow renewal ceremony? More of that later.

Wednesday was always going to be the quiet day in the week, other than Will's quad biking we had not planned to do much. After five days in Stalag 14 I was more than ready to pack and prepare for our long drive back to the South coast. The golf driving range nestled temptingly close to the quad bike track so I accompanied Will to his session and for the first time in my life smacked a few hundred balls down the range. I spent most of the time on my own, which is probably why as I discovered I could actually not only hit the ball but send it where I wanted, my confidence grew. My cocky attitude took a nose dive when I moved from the iron I had selected to a more formidable wood. This took me nearly an hour before I could hit the ball with any degree of success let alone accuracy. Finally Will joined me and we spent some time marvelling at his inability to come near to a decent strike. In time he grew in competency and we agreed that golf was something we should have a go at when we got back home. It was almost as though the golf took the shine off the quad biking for Will so I hope we do get an opportunity to have a go at a later date.



We returned to Cafe Rouge for lunch, all of us this time, the Merguez Tartine was again my goal but I was served some mackerel, must be my crap French. Finally I was served the correct dish and we all enjoyed our meal immensely. Before the kids went swimming once more Will managed to sit quietly on the porch and almost managed to get Ian, the red squirrel, to eat from the palm of his hand. The lodge quiet once more I opened a bottle of wine and cooked up a cottage pie. We had a quiet evening, even after the kids got back, playing our new game, 'Making an Impression', this is where we all write down half a dozen characters from films or TV, fold them up and take in turns to select one. We then have to impersonate the character (without using catchphrases). It was very popular. Surprisingly, so was the cottage pie, everyone loved it. The night wore on and we all retired reasonably early. I think I may have been a little bit drunk.


Thursday

I awoke a few times in the night and grew increasingly colder and colder until, at around 4AM I gave in and used the covers. Emma was somewhat worried that unless we left a reasonably early time we would not get to the venue for our ceremony, Langdale Chase Hotel on the shores of Lake Windermere. I dismissed this as nonsense as it was a mere thirty-five miles. How wrong I was. Tom-Tom has many route settings the one which I had selected was of course the wrong bloody one. The most direct route took me away from the main roads and over the Kirkstone Pass. This took us nearly two hours, we did however reach the hotel in good time and squared away the final arrangements with a slightly surly receptionist.

Eddy was complaining, as expected, about feeling sick so Emma remained in the car as I, Bill and Beth strayed into the impressive entrance hall, the kids melted away into the many rooms leading off the high ceilinged hall. I eventually found my way to the reception area and waited for some time for any service. I explained who I was and why I was there.

'Do you know where you're going?' She asked dismissively as another phone rang in

the background. I contemplated answering 'kin insane' but instead opted for:

'No.' Left it at that and was surprised at the sneer I received.

'Through there and straight on.' She waved vaguely as the phone stopped ringing. Her expression hardened as I failed to sprint off in the direction of her waving hand. 'I'll get Ben to come through and explain.' With that she turned her back and disappeared back into the office. For some reason I took this as a sign that our conversation was over and returned to thehall. The warm coal fire glowed welcomely opposite the main entrance within an imposing large carved wooden fireplace. The open space was dimly illuminated with an orange glow and modicum of natural sunlight filtering in through small square windows. A large maritime oil painting dominated one wall whilst smaller faded portraits filled the remaining spaces. I glanced around searching for a member of staff to ask where the small sitting room may be. There was no-one, not even those that had accompanied me as I entered. Pacing forward I was impressed at the layout, the room I sought lay beyond the first archway. A square wooden panelled room was bedecked with portraits and smaller photographs, a large fireplace dominated one wall and I wondered why a small room such as this would have a hearth many times larger than the main hall. The view of Lake Windermere was breathtaking, I believe that the hotel had won the prestigious yet obscure title of 'Britain View of the year 2011' and I believed it. I heard footsteps approaching and Emma and a slightly pale Eddy hoved into view. Almost immediately Michael and Keri, Emma's auntie and uncle, appeared. They had a room at the hotel and were our guests of honour. Our celebrant from Kendal registry office arrived almost immediately and following that point events moved rather quickly.

Emma and I sat with the registrar Paul Cowerd as he explained the ceremony. Our words and vows were agreed and we also opted to ask Will and/or Beth to read a poem, to which they agreed.

After that it all happened so quickly. The photos will speak for themselves.




We arrived at the site by a quicker route and booked dinner, eventually.