Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Helping Out

I had consciously reduced my workload before we headed off to Sri Lanka at the beginning of April. As result of the this approach I have some spare capacity and have volunteered to assist a colleague and mentor* with a particularly nasty RFP.

I need to advise that it is not the scope of the RFP that is nasty it is just that there have been problems getting the support needed to complete the Proposal and Pricing so I have offered moral support, intellectual capital from some of my previous efforts and have volunteered to chase up on a couple of deliverables to give her more bandwidth.

It has been an interesting day and it seems that I may have ruffled a few feathers when an enquiry I initiated showed that there was limited chance of getting a certain cost as the provider was on vacation until the day before the RFP response is due. The ruffled feathers belonged to a chap who apparently "had this in hand" …

… He obviously did not and wasn't too pleased with this exposure.

I have also picked up a new project which is very vague in its scope and deliverables so can see that I will be spending some time attempting to peer through the metaphorical fog.

A free hour late in the afternoon gave time for a walk with T&M before I needed back to the laptop for an hour's call before dinner.

I now feel like I am just about back in the saddle after returning from holiday.
* As in; she Mentors me, although she does say that it is a two way flow

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Keeping Busy

This morning I was suited, booted and out of the door a little before eight o'clock. The reason for this unusual behaviour was that I had been asked to attend a presentation from a potential supplier, who would be responsible for delivering a significant element described in an RFP we are responding to.

My Satellite Navigation unit estimated that I had an hour to spare so the rush hour traffic delays were of no concern and I was delighted to find that my journey was mostly on quiet A roads.*

I arrived at my destination about thirty minutes before the event was due to commence and all would have been well if my destination had been anywhere but Milton Keynes. I had conveniently forgotten what an anonymous, soulless place it is and how hard it can be to actually identify destinations from the road system, even with the aid of Sat Nav …

… to cut a long story short I eventually arrived a fashionable ten minutes late but the event had still not kicked off.

It was an interesting day and I learnt a lot of useful things about the products of a major provider in the Mobility Services arena. I'm not sure about the relevancy of the event to the RFP and I am guessing that only a couple of paragraphs of my ten pages of notes will need to be discussed at the debriefing.

I was also fortunate in that the day ended well in advance of it's scheduled 18.00 hrs close and I was actually home and back in front of my laptop by a little after four in the afternoon. I had time for a quick chat with my colleague in Nevada before heading out in the afternoon sunshine with T&M for a circuit of the Three Miler. A chance encounter with Paul the Plumber also allowed me to line him up for a visit once he has returned from his holidays.
* Apart from an eighteen miles stretch of the M40

Monday, 28 April 2014

I got wood!

Rest assured that the title is not a euphemism and I am not about to recount a tale of "sap rising', renewed male vigour or seasonal increases in testosterone levels …

… I finally found time today to leap in to the Defender, head in to Redditch and procure the necessary timber and architrave for the skirting boards and door frames in the Hall.

The rest of the day was spent in briefing sessions as I am supporting a frolleague by attending a session with a potential suppler tomorrow.*

Oh, and I walked the dogs too.
* Funnily enough Financial Prudence prevented her from attending due to her being conveniently based in the Lake Tahoe area and the session had been arranged in Milton Keynes.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Lazy Day

If I am honest I really tried to do as little as possible today. The weather featured intermittent heavy showers and, after yesterday's soaking I didn't feel like walking T&M in the rain again.*

The consequence of my lethargy and poor weather meant that I had a relatively lazy day and definitely did not extend myself. In the morning I ran TP over to the Rugby Club where he was playing in a Sevens Tournament. I didn't stay to watch and instead returned and spent a tedious time carefully scraping away paint from the woodwork in the Hall.

After Lunch, and a second trip to collect TP, I finally finished stage 1 of the woodwork preparation. My lack of timber meant that no second fix carpentry was going to take place so I pondered what to do next …

… On the right of the Inglenook there is a badly broken slate flag that has been patched with mortar at some point in the past. The repair was dreadful and the flag needed to be removed and replaced. The obvious problem was getting hold of a slate flag that would match the rest of the Hall floor. Fortunately I had a plan and headed out to the garage where I had stashed a slate hearth stone that had literally come to light when we dismantled the old wardrobes in our bedroom. The wardrobes had concealed a bricked up fireplace with it's hearth stone still in place. I had removed the flag before the new wardrobes had been constructed and finally it's moment had arrived.

It took a good hour of scrubbing and careful scraping to remove the grime and copious paint splashes obliterating it's surface but at the end of this process I could see that I had a near perfect match. It was then a simple matter of some judicious hammer work to dislodge the pieces of broken flag. The aperture will need to be tidied up and the flag trimmed to size before I can tick this as completed but I have made a sound start.

I now need to add mortar to my shopping list at the Builder's Merchant.
* They didn't seem particularly perturbed by the lack of a walk. IF they did their protest was registered by means of an extended sleep on the sofa in the lounge!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

A synonym of Exaggeration is Inflation

This morning involved an early start and by half past seven all three of us were in the car, heading off down the road. The reason for this exodus was that 30% had bought TP and me a Hovercraft Experience for Christmas and today was the day we would get to experience well … err … hovercrafting … or whatever the appropriate verb is.

An hour's drive found us on a rural Industrial Estate a few miles North of Coventry, looking at green fields, a small lake, a scruffy modern interpretation of a Nissen Hut and a few Hovercraft abandoned on the sward.

Now, before we go any further, I need to go on the record by saying that the experience was thoroughly enjoyable and it is fair to say that I would leap at the opportunity to have another go in one of these inherently wayward vehicles. They are an absolute scream once you have got to grips with the fact that there is minimal contact between the vehicle and the land/water and as a consequence getting them to steer takes some novel skills. It is fair to say that they are like nothing I have ever driven before.

The basic approach is to kneel in the craft as far forward as possible. The controls are unbelievable basic; there is a set of handlebars for steering and a throttle lever. That is it. No dials, no trim levers, nothing but left, right and faster …

… so I was somewhat surprised when our instructor casually dropped in to his lecture that one "flies" a hovercraft. Really? Flies? I think not!

After a few basic instructions TP and I were soon let loose in the craft. After all the instructions can be summarised as follows:-

Forward: Simply increase the throttle until the craft rises and moves forward. The greater the amount of throttle the faster it goes.
Braking: Simply release the throttle and the craft will loose it's cushion of air and come to a halt. It is not a good idea to release the throttle at full speed, a controlled approach is recommended.
Turning: Kneeling well forward in the craft, simply turn the handlebars to their full extent. At the same time ensure that you move your entire body as far over in the direction that you wish to turn. The handlebars alter the direction of the air flow from the fan at the rear and shifting your body weight  increases the drag on the skirt and allows the craft to grip the ground and turn. Basically; if you don't lean, it won't turn and the more throttle you apply in the turn the easier the manoeuvre is.

That, basically, is it. The above instructions will not make you a hovercraft genius but it should allow you to steer one across a field. With nothing more that the above we were soon kneeling in the craft and  completing slaloms and full power turns. It was great fun and the taster session culminated with being let loose around a course for a couple of laps. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I would definitely like to take the more advanced course where one is allowed to take the craft on water as well as the land.

Now going back to the point I made earlier, the Instructor informed us that one flies a hovercraft. I have to say that I consider that something of an exaggeration. To me flying is something that involves complicated machinery, countless hours of practice, examinations, tests and medicals. Flying does not involve turning up in a field in Leicestershire, getting 5 minutes instruction and then being allowed to blat about a field in a fibreglass shell with a 1000 cc air conditioning motor and a fan blade strapped to the back of it.

It was great fun but the most I am going to accept is that you Pilot a hovercraft.

Friday, 25 April 2014

It was a good plan ...

… Unfortunately fouled by an unmitigated risk.

Today I planned to pop in to the nearest depot of the Neat & Tidy Piano Movers. I had some expense claims that I needed to submit and I thought that I could call in to the Builders' Merchants at lunchtime to collect the timber and architrave I needed for the Hall.

It seemed a simple enough plan of the killing two birds with one stone variety. My expenses would be claimed and I would have the timber I need to progress with the refurbishment of the Hall. What could possibly go wrong?

Obviously I needed to take the Defender and this meant that I had to get in to work reasonably early. The overspill car park has a 2m height limit and the Defender's roof rack will not permit entry. I therefore needed to arrive early enough to secure a space in the limited parking in front of the office where there is no heigh restriction. I rolled in to work at quarter past eight and had my pick of spaces …

… Result!

I headed in to the Office and had both a sociable and productive morning. I linked up with a few colleagues and also managed to respond to a set of comments and questions that my customer had made on a recently presented proposal.

The morning flew by and as midday approached I packed up my laptop and headed out towards reception…

… I looked out across the car park and noticed that is was absolutely pissing down with rain. I had no coat and was quite most by the time had dashed 50 yards and clambered in to my Land Rover.

As I started her up I contemplated the joys of clambering about on the roof rack in the pouring rain securing several lengths of timber. I then mentally leapt forward in time and considered unloading them when I reached home …

… I did what any sensible man would do, thought "Fuck It, I'll get it next week" and headed home to finish the working day from the home office.

As I said in the title, it was a great plan but there was sod all I could do about the weather and I hate getting soaked.

I really do hate getting wet.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

This week could have been so much worse

I am delighted to report that my return to work has been quite gentle. There was not a mass of Customer Requests waiting to be addressed and my work had been managed by colleagues whilst I was away. As a result I have returned to work and been allowed to make my way through an overflowing in-box safe in the knowledge that my active projects have been cared for in my absence.

In the weeks before we headed off to Sri Lanka I was careful to manage my workload so that the number of active projects was scaled back and I am delighted to say that that my colleagues did a great job of keeping the plates spinning so I have had a gentle week rather than the more usual chaos that negates the postive effects of a holiday within 5 minutes of returning to work.

As a result I have now addressed all of my mail and can report that my projects are all back on track...

... one of them is still a complete horror but it is a horror that is on track rather than an unmanaged horror.

Away from work I managed another walk around the Three Miler and removed more paint from the woodwork in the Hall. The paint stripping is going to be quite an ordeal as I am aiming for a waxed and polished finish which means that there will need to be chemical stripping and repeated sanding to remove every last trace of paint from woodwork that has been repeatedly painted over the past 250 years. The large cupboard that houses the electricity meter has been stained rather than painted and is unlikely to strip well. As a result that cupboard may well end up being painted with just the doors being stripped, courtesy of an extended period in a tank of caustic soda solution.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Picture Post

It was relatively quiet at work today and this was fortunate as a combination of strong pain killers and an infection meant that I am not feeling 100%. Outside of the working day I managed a walk around the Three Miler and made a start o n stripping the frame of the larger cupboard to the right of the Inglenook in the Hall.

As this paltry set of achievements can be summarised in about fifty words I have trawled my Sri Lanka photographs and settled on this pair of youngsters taking a mud bath in the Udawalawe National Park.
These two youngsters are about five years old and were in the company of a single adult cow. They were the first elephants we encountered on entering the park and were right beside the track. They were so close that I had to change my camera lens as I couldn't frame them, even at the lower end of the 70 - 300 zoom

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

If I was a Horse they would shoot me

Tuesday; the first day back at work after a long Easter Break…

… The combination of a snotty nose and a toothache that is well on its way to intolerable meant that I did not open my inbox with renewed vigour and enthusiasm. Fortunately the Neat & Tidy Piano Movers have a novel perspective on vacation in that they ensure that colleagues support one's work load. I therefore knew that I would not be returning to chaos and demands for immediate action.

I took a quick peep at the amount of unread email* and immediately opened up my web browser and searched for my Dentist's 'phone number. After a quick call I had an appointment for quarter to three.**  The rest of the morning was spent sorting through mail, deleting the irrelevant and reviewing and filing the relevant.

Shortly after two o'clock I headed over to the dentist and was soon sat in the chair with an x-ray film clamped between my jaws. The dentist advised that I appear to have an infection and prescribed antibiotics. I have another appointment in a week's time to see whether it has settled down.

If the infection persists things become interesting …

… I could have the tooth removed but this is not an attractive prospect. The alternative is root canal fillings but my dentist warned that one of the roots is very narrow and National Health Dentistry would not make a good job of this. My only option is to be referred to a private dentist and face a bill in the region of £500 - £600. She also pointed out that there is still no guarantee that the tooth can be saved.

I need to have a think about this.

Away from work I did manage to strip some more of the paint in the Hall and manage to complete the frame of the small cupboard that sits to the left of the Inglenook.
* 330, or thereabouts
** It is a shame I couldn't get the half past two slot***
*** two thirty … geddit?

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Wanderer Returns

It is Easter Monday and today is the day that TP returns from deepest, darkest Africa…

… the 'phone rang shortly after ten o'clock and TP advised that he was about twenty minutes away from school. 30% and I clambered in to the car and arrived to see a very tanned TP, clutching a cow skin drum and dressed in a very fetching pair of Zambian trousers in a fabric featuring zebras.

He has had a fantastic time and, whilst glad to be home, is sad that his experience is over. It is also a matter of some relief that he got on really well with his exchange partner, who we will get to meet when he comes to stay next Summer. TP's tales are many, including eating fried caterpillars and the fantastic sight of Victoria Falls. I hope that he puts pen to paper and notes them down while they are still fresh in his mind.

My toothache worsens and I feel like the proverbial bear with a sore head. I don't feel much like doing anything and I don't feel much like doing nothing either. I did pick up the hot air stripper and finish taking the paint from the mantle shelf over the Inglenook. This filled some time and did help to take my mind off the pain.*

Apart from that I had a lazy day, chatting on and off with TP about his Africa trip.
* I also discovered a stash of prescription Codeine tablets in the medicine cupboard which, combined with Ibuprofen,  have killed most of the pain but it is probably best if I neither drink nor approach heavy machinery for a while.

Sunday, 20 April 2014


Over the past couple of weeks I have noticed that one of my teeth was becoming increasingly sensitive to extremes of temperature. A hot or cold drink would give me a twinge in one of the molars in my lower, right jaw.

The sensitivity has now progressed to full blown toothache and I have two days before the Dentists reopens. I hope I can get an early appointment as this is bloody painful!

To add insult to injury, I also appear to have caught a cold so I have a scratchy throat and a snotty nose to add to my list of symptoms …

… Fuck!

A side effect of these two maladies is that I have not felt particularly enthused today and have been operating on tick over rather than full steam ahead.

I spent a couple of hours in the Hall removing the cupboard doors so that they can be dropped off with Dave The Stripper at some point in the next week. Some of these doors have been in place since the house was built back in the mid 18th Century so it was with a fair degree of trepidation that I approached this task…

… after all we were talking about 250 year old metal with rust and paint encrusted heads, not a shiny, precision fixing with a pozidrive head. I used most of the tricks of the trade to remove the seven doors including slight tightening before unscrewing, heat and on the more stubborn screws I had to cut new slots in the heads. On the final hinge I even had to resort to drilling out the heads to remove the door.

The doors were then neatly stacked to be taken to the strippers and my eyes fell on the hot air stopper nestling in a corner of the room. I had a few minutes before dinner so I made a start on stripping the paint from the shelf over the Inglenook. The worst of it comes off reasonably easily but there will also need to be chemical stripping and much sanding to achieve the desired finish.

Oh well, at least the day was not a complete write off.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Auction Wins and Woodwork

I once again woke at an ungodly hour and tossed and turned as sleep eluded me.* 30%'s snoring didn't help so I moved to a quieter location** and eventually fell back to sleep. I reawoke at a much more civilised seven, thirty and started the day at a gentle pace.

After breakfast we headed over to Evesham to arrange for a pair of prints to be framed. These are the pair that we acquired at the auction two week ago. Closer inspection has revealed that they are around 250 years old and during the course of their existence they have ended up in a pair of grotty frames and are need of some care and attention. Hopefully the framer can work his magic as he did with our  last piece of auction artwork.

After visiting the Picture Framers we headed back over to the auction rooms and settled down with a coffee and a bacon roll to watch the last half of the auction. The oak canteen of cutlery we admired yesterday was the penultimate lot. Eventually it's turn arrived and there was a reasonable amount of interest. It is fair to say that we ended up paying slightly more that we expected for it.***

Upon our return home we lunched and I headed back in to The Hall. This afternoon's task was to fit the architrave to the office door frame. Normally this would be a thirty minute job comprising three measurements and a few minute with a bevel gauge to ensure the mitred cuts are accurate. Unfortunately the combination of uneven 18th Century walls and Dot and Dab Plastering has resulted in a need to cut and apply packing strips to the architrave to ensure it sits flush with both walls and door frame…

… This half hour job took most of the afternoon but it was worth it as it would have looked terrible without the extra effort.

I then headed out for a late afternoon/early evening walk with T&M before slumping on the sofa for a TV dinner with 30%.
* The combination of many early mornings plus Sri Lanka's BST + 4.5 hrs time zone has completely knackered my body clock.
** Warwickshire
*** Slightly! Nearly Double!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Home Again

For the past couple of days we have slowly been getting back in to the domestic routine here at The Pile.

Our first major task upon our return was a major clean up to remove the dust released by Andy & Steve's efforts while we were away. They have done a great job in The Hall and I now need to get the carpentry sorted and the original woodwork stripped and prepared so that we can get them back in to decorate. It looks like I will have a busy few weeks as there is still much to do.

After getting the house semi-ship shape we headed over to collect T&M from the Dog-Sitter. It was apparent that they had had a lovely time over there and we were much reassured, especially after our last experience with Boarding Kennels.

The rest of Thursday was spent doing the usual post holiday things; unpacking, washing, putting cases away and so forth. I did also find time for a walk around the Three Miler before we all collapsed on the sofas in the lounge and headed upstairs shortly after the ten o'clock news.

Friday continued in a similar vein with more domestic activity and a morning trip over to Littleton Auctions to preview the lots. 30% was rather taken by a magnificent canteen of cutlery but I am unsure was to whether she will actually bid on it or simply covet briefly.

Upon our return I made a start in the Hall and calculated what timber I would need for skirting boards and architraves. It was then a trip out to the garage to see what I had in The Bad Man timber repository. My luck was in and I have enough to make a start, although I will need to head over to the Builder's Merchants to pick up a few lengths at some point next week.*

There seemed little point in routing skirting boards only to have to do the same again when the remainder of the timber arrives next week so it looks like I will be concentrating on the window sill and architraves over the next few days. I can report that the next couple of hours saw me convert a length of   8" oak floor board in to a very fetching window sill that has been installed and is almost ready for a coat of protective oil.

There was time for a walk around The Tree Miler in the early evening sunshine before 30%'s siblings joined us for a Good Friday Dinner.
* At present The Defender is stuck on the drive behind a skip full of plaster debris.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

A 28.5 Hour Day*

Wednesday 16th April

It is our final day in Sri Lanka and we were checked out of the Colombo Courtyard** by seven o'clock sharp. 

We then had a forty minute drive to the airport where we said our goodbyes to Ajith and exchanged contact details. He has been a superb Guide and Travelling Companion and we had found out from Ayesha at the Tamarind Garden that he had received a Presidential award for travel and tourism in 2011. We certainly plan to come back to this beautiful island and hope that we can recruit Ajith to be part of our next trip. 

By eight o'clock we were checked in and were in the air a little after ten thirty. Fourteen and a half hours later we finally touched down in Birmingham and were soon through immigration and the mayhem of the baggage carousels. 

It was only a forty minute drive home where we were met by a very vociferous Eddy. Noggin appeared a short while later but it will not feel quite right at home until T&M are collected tomorrow. 
* Sri Lanka is peculiar in that it is 4.5 hours ahead of BST rather than a full four or five hours. 
** this was an award winning "Boutique" Hotel and I have to say that I was really disappointed with it. I could have been in any major city in the world. It lacked all of the things that had made our holiday so enjoyable; the open, friendly people, the sophisticated local cuisine and that special but difficult to define "something" that all of our other hotels had. This was five star anonymity. 

Tuesday 15th April

This morning, after a quick coffee, found us waiting patiently in the cool, pre dawn at the front of the hotel. 

Ajith arrived promptly at five, forty and we climbed aboard the four wheel drive for our early morning Game Drive. We were the first guests in to The National Park and it was beautiful as the first rays of sun light were cast across the shrubs and scattered trees of the secondary forest*. 

The highlight of this morning's drive was an encounter with a young bull. He may have only been eight years old and about seven feet tall at the shoulder but his false charge that pulled up ten yards short of our vehicle certainly got the heart pumping. 

After the drive we returned to Kalu's for breakfast, then packed and checked out. 

It was a jarring 100 mile journey back to Colombo and the roads were heavy with holiday traffic. By the time we reached The Colombo Courtyard we were shattered from the constant swerving and hard braking and collapsed on to the bed. 
* The land at the entrance to the park was originally settled and over the past thirty odd years the forest has slowly started to return creating a Savannah-like scrub much favoured by elephants. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

I think there's a problem with my plums

Jack Fruit at Kalu's Hideaway

Happy New Year

Monday 14th April

The title of this entry is not indicative that I have taken leave of my senses. Today is the Hindu and Sinhalese New Year. 

We started the day with another trip to the Elephant Orphanage (Transit Camp) before returning to the hotel where we relaxed by the pool for the rest of the morning. 

After lunch we headed out for another game drive. This time we explored primary forest in the faint hope of seeing leopard. We were not that lucky but instead were rewarded with Spotted Deer and Mongoose to add to our list of species. Elephants were far fewer in this part of the park and we only saw two individuals well back from the track and obscured by the scrub. 

It was a lovely drive and very different from yesterday's Elephant Bonanza. 

We returned in the late afternoon and the guests and local villagers were all out on the hotel lawns celebrating the New Year. We were enthusiastically greeted by the hotel owner; Kalu. Kalu was the Opening Batsman and Wicket Keeper for the World Cup winning Sri Lankan Cricket Team in the mid nineties. He was a charming and attentive host who did much more than simply "press the flesh" and move on to the next guest. He went and fetched fresh tea for us and as we were chatting the children started to parade around the volley ball court in the hope of being selected as New Year King and Queen. 30% happened to mention that she thought a particular young girl should be Queen. Kalu instantly raced over to the Judges and paused the proceedings. 30% was appointed as Judge and a delighted ten year old's face lit up as she was selected as Queen for the day.*

Kalu later mentioned that he was delighted with the choice as the girl was a local rather than a guest. It was evident from our conversations that he was very keen to improve the lives and opportunities available to the locals. 

The party was lovely and the greasy pole competition was hysterical. We also learnt that Sri Lankans take their Musical Chairs very seriously and this was the first time I have ever seen Judges demand a re-run of the final stage of the game due to an "infringement" by the New Year King. 

After helping present the prizes we headed in for a splendid dinner before retiring early as we have a dawn game drive tomorrow. 
* I did notice a couple of stone faced "Indian Princesses" and warned 30% to keep looking over her shoulder for the remainder of our stay as I am certain one of them had a flick knife. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Sunday 13th April

We met Ajith in the hotel foyer at 7.30 having breakfasted and checked out of our room. 

Our next stop was the National Park at Udawalwe. The drive took much of the morning and apart from a few short stops to photograph the magnificent scenery it was a non-stop four hour journey from the mountains down to lower elevations. 

Ajith's timing was perfect and we reached the Elephant Orphanage just before the midday feed. We were rewarded with the sight of thirty elephants ranging from a few months old to four or five years old patiently taking turns at a milk bar before wandering over to munch on a pile of fresh palm leaves. 

The aim of the Orphanage is to release the elephants back in to the National Park once they are self sufficient and their success is measured by the fact that some released elephants have borne young in the Park. 

After the Orphanage we checked in at Kalu's Hideaway before heading out for a game drive in the park. 

Udawalawe is famous for its elephants and within minutes we we sat watching a cow and three youngsters only a few yards from the Jeep. The park is home to more than 700 of them and over the next couple of hours we saw several small groups of cows and calves plus two magnificent, solitary bulls strolling through the scrub. 

The bird life was spectacular too and eagles, hornbills, hoopoe and many waterfowl were also seen. Monitors and crocodiles represented the Reptilian Order. 

As our drive drew to a close lightening flickered, thunder rumbled and the Heavens opened. We were rewarded with a spectacular storm that provided a fantastic back drop to a cold Lion Beer on the hotel veranda. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Saturday 12th April

This morning was a very early start for me and I found myself dragging on my clothes at a few minutes past five*. 

By five thirty I was stood out in front of The Grand in the cool, dark pre-dawn. Ajith soon arrived and we headed out toward this morning's destination; the Horton Plains. 
The Horton Plains is a Sri Lankan National Park and has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is an area of upland plains and cloud forest that is 1700 m above sea level. 

This morning's endeavour was a 9 km circular trail that took in two spectacular view points that looked out from precipitous cliffs plus water falls and pools on the return leg of the walk. 
I'll take a moment to give a brief summary of the cloud forest as it is an important element in Sri Lanka's water cycle. During the day hot humid air rises up and as it reaches the high altitudes of The Plains it condenses to form mists and clouds. Some of this precipitates as rain but the majority condenses on the surfaces of the cloud forest trees and is returned to the land by that route. 
Bakers Falls, Horton Plains National Park
The Plains are a combination of tussocky grassland and low dense forest. At one time it was  home to more than a thousand wild elephant but Horton and his chums hunted them to local extinction during the colonial period. 

This morning we had to satisfy ourselves with a couple of Samba Deer, a Purple Face Bear Monkey and a Jungle Fowl. 
The Sri Lankan National Bird
I enjoyed the walk and strangely found it vaguely reminiscent of the wood and cliff walks walks I have taken on The Gower in Wales although there is less fear of Leopards there and the bamboo wind chime tink, tink, tink of frogs is also missing. 
Parts of it looked quite alien too - Dwarf Rhododendrons
The walk took just over a couple of hours and we were back at The Grand just before eleven o'clock. 

I have to admit that the high altitude walk took it out of me and I did very little for the next few hours apart from snooze and take a quick look at Nuwara Eliya Main Street. 

At five fifteen Ajith collected us from reception and took us for another Ayurvedic massage**. 

A magnificent dinner followed and we retired early as we have another early start tomorrow. 
* 30% had decided that this morning's activity was not for her and left me to explore the Horton Plains in the company of Ajith. 
** this was superb although being shut in a wooden steam bath did bring out the claustrophobe in me

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Rafting is off

Friday 11th April

It was another relatively early start and we were packed and breakfasted when Ajith came to collect us at eight o'clock. We made our goodbyes to Nalin and Ayesha and clambered in to the car for a three hour drive. At the end of which we were supposed to be white water rafting ...

... Unfortunately that was not going happen as our visit coincides with the end of the Sri Lankan dry season and low water levels made it difficult if not dangerous so rafting was off. 
This is not the Bridge on the River Kwai but it was filmed here back in 1957
We weren't particularly troubled by this change in itinerary and returned to the car for a drive up in to tea country. 
Tea Country
After lunch at a restaurant with fantastic views across the mountains and plantations we headed up to the Mackwoods Plantation where we had a short tour of the processing plant and a tea tasting. It came as no surprise that the lowest grade of tea is used in tea bags and it's official term is "dust". 
Mackwoods Tea Plantation: Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
It was then back in the car for a drive up to Nuwara Eliya where we were checked in for two nights at The Grand Hotel. This 5 Star hotel was originally the home of the Colonial Governor and is splendid to say the least. 

After a fine dinner it was an early night as I have a five o'clock start tomorrow. Note "I" not "we". 


Thursday 10th April

This morning we took a guided walk around the village with our  hostess Ayesha. As we walked she started to talk about the Buddhist belief system and mentioned a peculiar practice ...

... Good deeds are performed as part of living a lifestyle true to the belief system with the hope of ultimately achieving Nirvana. One such deed is to buy a cow destined for slaughter to rescue it from its fate. The net result of this action is that one becomes the owner of a beast that is well past it's sell by date. Now there are some that take good care of these cattle until the natural end of their days but there are others that do not and, instead, foist the cow upon a family that can I'll afford to care for an unproductive animal. 
Milk Collection Station. Digana, Nr Kandy
It is not unknown for an old cow to be "rescued" from the slaughter man several times before it's eventual demise. 

Changing tack somewhat, upon our arrival yesterday we were warned to keep an eye open for small scorpions that can come in to the bungalows after rain. I clarified that a sting from one of these would be like a bee sting rather than excruciating agony, delirium, anti venom and gangrene and was delighted that, at worst, I would need a mild antihistamine. 

Since there had been no rain I put this thought away and went  about my day. Later I visited the bathroom to cool my face with a splash of water. I dried my face with one of the towels and as I returned it to the rail I noticed one of the little sods clinging to the towel. I was amazed by this close encounter and relieved that I had not been stung. I then examined the beast. He was about 3cm in length and quite distinctive because he had lost one of its claws. 

I then followed the advice of our hosts, flicked it on to the floor and attempted to squash it. I can report that they can scuttle very quickly but I cornered it and it seemed immobile when I vacated the bathroom. 

Later I revisited the bathroom and the little sod was mooching around the floor as bold as brass. I knew it was the same one as it only had one claw. I was faster on my toes this time and was rewarded with a crunch that sounded definitively final to me. 

He must have been a pretty crappy scorpion if he was reincarnated as another scorpion....

... And he still didn't get a full compliment of claws.

We're still productive. The Dairy at Tamarind Gardens

Friday, 11 April 2014

Wednesday 9th April

By five past eight we had breakfasted, checked out of the Thilanka and were walking through the Mango orchard towards the car.  
Pruned just like the apple and plum trees at home
Our first stop was a short walk from the Sigirya rock where Ajith had arranged for us to have an elephant ride. We mounted by means of a platform constructed in a conveniently placed tree and had a forty minute ride that took in a short section of forest and marshland as well as the road that leads towards the Lion Rock. 
30% and Me, in heavy disguise ***
The Mahout's assistant persuaded me to buy a bag of stubby bananas and, as we ambled along, our ride would reach up over its head for me to place a fruit between the finger like tips of its trunk. 

After post ride photos and bananas we left and headed for our next stop...

... After an hour or so of dodging Tuk-Tuks we arrived at an Ayurvedic Herb Garden and were given a guided walk around the plot. After seeing the plants that provide us with so many of the spices in our kitchen at home we were treated to an Ayurvedic head, shoulder and back massage before some "gentle" persuasion to buy some of the spices and oils from the garden shop. 
Nutmeg & Mace
We then had another session of weaving around Tuk-Tuks and trucks as we climbed up towards Kandy. Here we lunched and the spent longer than I would have chosen perusing sapphires at a Gem shop. Surprisingly 30% would not be persuaded by the prospect of beautiful multi carat orange sapphire being wrought into a fine pendant and we left without making a purchase …

... although the Gem Store manager did comment that the ring bought from Littleton auctions on Saturday would sell for ten times the price we had actually paid. 

It was the a short drive, or rather it would have been if Ajith hadn't got lost, to the Tamarind Gardens where we will spend the next two nights

The Tamarind Gardens is a ten acre working farm in a poor village where the main industry is dolomite mining. It has basic accommodation and allows tourists to spend some time living like a local and getting involved in local projects. The farm is owned by an ex UK civil servant of Sri Lankan origin and his wife, who is a Tea Planter's* Daughter. They are a delightfully quirky pair and have thrown themselves into this Eco tourism cum working dairy farm project. They are also involved in a local project to install water tanks for all of the local families so that they can make best use of an intermittent water supply**.
Sunrise at The Tamarind Gardens
We spent the remainder of the day getting to know them, eating a fine home cooked meal and sharing a few Lion beers. 
* Don't be fooled by this job title as it is a masterpiece of understatement. The Tea Planter is actually the Estate Manager i.e. The guy who runs the plantation.
** the water tends to flow from the municipal system at around three in the morning and the locals have to stay awake, repeatedly trying the tap and then filling whatever is at hand when it eventually flows.
*** I am the front half

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Monday 7th / Tuesday 8th April

After a kip on arrival at the Cinnamon Grand, 30% and I headed out into Columbo via the hotel coffee shop. Here I sampled a much needed double espresso and the Sri Lankan equivalent of a pork pie. Both were fantastic and refreshed we headed out for a walk around the city centre lake. It was nice to be doing something after being cooped up on an airliner for so long but it was not so energetic as to exhaust us. After taking in the sights, that included Pelicans and a Snake Charmer with a Cobra, we headed back to the hotel and dined at a nearby restaurant on some of the finest curry I have ever had.

After two days with little sleep we hit the sack early as we needed to be ready for our driver at eight o'clock on Tuesday morning ...

... Tuesday started with breakfast buffet worthy of a 5 star hotel. We then checked out and met Ajith in the lobby. 

We then had a four hour drive from Columbo out to Dambulla where we visited the the Golden Temple. This 1st Century BC Buddhist Temple is sited high on a hill and is reached by climbing many steps. It wa exhausting on the heat but the five temples were an incredible reward. They feature 150 statues of Buddha some of which are carved from the living rock of the hill. Each temple was originally an open cave beneath a rock over hang but have now had temple frontages built to enclose these once open caves. The interiors are magnificent and every rock wall and ceiling still bears the original 2000 year old art work and decoration. 
The Golden Temple, Dambulla
The Buddha, meditating
Ceiling detail at The Golden Temple
 After taking our fill we headed back down the hill to the welcome cool of the car. 

We then had a short drive to Sigiriya; The Lion Rock. This is a rock monolith that stand many hundreds of feet above the surrounding countryside. Back in the 5th Century the King laid out ornamental Water gardens within a moat at the foot of the rock. He then had stairways built to the summit where his palace complex was constructed. I am sorry to say that we only made it up as far as the lions paws which is about two thirds of the 1200 steps but it was absolutely pissing down with warm tropical rain and I had expected to be carried up as they did for the King fifteen hundred years ago. 
Sigiriya, from the surrounding plain
Fresco detail, Sigiriya
It was claimed there were originally 500 paintings
The Lion Gate, Sigiriya
We are now back at our hotel; The Thilanka Spa in Dambulla watching an amazing electrical storm light up the sky. 

Monday, 7 April 2014

Long Haul

Sunday 6th / Monday 7th April

On Sunday morning 30% and I breakfasted, completed our ablutions and carried our suitcases downstairs. 

I then spent forty minutes sealing the door ways in the Hall in preparation for Andy & Steve's visit tomorrow. I had to leave this job until just before we left for the airport because the Hall is the hub of the house and once sealed up dust tight* upstairs is inaccessible and moving around downstairs involves detours through the garden.
The Inglenook & Door to the Stairs
Note extensive use of Hardboard and Duct Tape
to protect the 18th Century Flagstones
Instructions for Andy & Steve
Once that final job was completed, we climbed into the car and headed over to Birmingham airport to catch our flight to Dubai. 

The flight was slightly delayed and we left Birmingham at 2.45. Six hours later we landed in Dubai (local time 11.45) and had a two hour wait for our connecting flight to Colombo. 

The Dubai to Colombo flight was only four hous in duration and we landed at eight thirty in the morning local time. 

It is fair to say that we are both pretty shattered after the journey and we had a worrying time at the luggage carousel when one of our bags was literally the last one out of the cargo hold. 

We were met at the airport by Ajith our driver and were soon being chauffeured through a palm filled landscape towards The Cinnamon Grand Hotel. 

After a couple of hours sleep we both felt marginally more human but it is fair to say that we won't be doing much today. 

 * Hopefully!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

We really ought to be packing

Saturday 5th April

Today is 30%'s birthday and we should either have been celebrating or throwing clothes into suitcases for tomorrow's flight. Instead we had a very long list to get through and had to hit the ground running ...

We were out of the house before nine o'clock to drop 30%'s Audi in at the garage where it's ABS sensor will be repaired while we are away. On the way home we dropped a box of items in at the local charity shop and then paid a visit to the vets where T&M had their booster shots and annual check up. 

We were back home by 9.15 and had already checked three items from the to do list. After a quick coffee it was time to divide our efforts ...

30% headed off to the hairdresser for extensive pre-vacation attention while I headed over to Littleton Auction Rooms to sit on a chair for a couple of hours ...

I ought to explain that we had popped over to the viewing yesterday and had been rather taken with a few lots and I was there to place a few bids.  We didn't start too well and I dropped out of the bidding for a Monk's Chair as it neared £200. Things looked a little better when a ring 30% rather liked was bought for a remarkable price. I then had a long wait for my next item so I settled down in Lot141 (rattan cane chair) and enjoyed a coffee, a bacon sandwich and the theatre of the auction room. 

After about an hour our next lot came up and I successfully acquired a pair of old monochrome prints for twenty five quid and it was then but a short wait until the main lot came up ...

It was a beautiful 17th Century inlaid oak coffer and it would have looked fantastic in the hall but I, along with the rest of the room, baulked at the starting price and it received no bids. I paid, collected my two lots and headed home. 

As 30% and I ate lunch I recounted my auction tales while she admired her new precious*. I had been appalled that this beautiful piece of furniture had been used as a seat and picnic site by Auction goers that didn't recognise the quality of the piece. To cut a long story short I rang the auctioneer and made a post auction offer of the price he had tried to start the bidding. A few minutes later my bid had been accepted and I was heading back into The Vale to collect a fine antique. 

By the time I got back it was mid afternoon and we had a short break with 30%'s parents who had arrived with birthday gifts and best wishes.

After they had departed it was time to. Drop T&M off at a local lady who will care for the while we are away before attending to the vital job of sealing up the doorways leading from the hall in an attemp to control the inevitable dust that will be produced when the plaster is removed next week. 

Whilst I did this 30% headed in to town for a few last minute items ... And a Chinese takeaway. 

We ate in front of the TV and then finally headed upstairs to pack. It had been a long and busy day, and perhaps not 30%'s ideal 50th but I am sure the next two weeks will make amends. 


* you need to say this in your best Gollum accent

Friday, 4 April 2014

Wrapping Things Up

Today was always going to be one hell of a day.

The first activity of the day, after essential refueling with strong, black coffee and toast with Marmite, was to take TP to school. Now it has been many, many months since I last did this and on this occasion it was not because he had missed the school bus ...

... today I took him in to school because there was no way on Earth he was going to manage to get two huge suitcases on to the Local Authority provided transport. The reason for the excess baggage was that today is the day that TP heads off to Zambia for an exchange visit*. The jammy little sod gets to visit Victoria Falls, head off in to Botswana for a short Safari as well as experiencing both town and village life in Zambia. He will get involved in projects in local schools and hospitals and it should be a fantastic experience for him.

As I bade him goodbye in the school car park I gave him some wise words to ponder; "Don't sleep with rabid Monkeys, Bats, Cats or Dogs and don't get bitten or scratched by a Prostitute. He can't go far wrong with quality advice like that.

Now don't be thinking that 30% and I are going to be pottering around The Pile with long faces, worrying about TP and the potential mishaps that could befall him in Deepest, Darkest Zambia ...

... Oh No! As soon as we had got his precise travel dates 30% was scouring the internet to find a holiday for us to celebrate our 50th Birthdays, mine was back in December and 30%'s is tomorrow. She has come up with an absolute cracker and at lunchtime on Sunday we will be boarding an Emirates Jet and heading off for ten days in Sri Lanka.

So it will come as no surprise that I am doing my best to wrap up my current set of projects and hand them over to the colleagues who will look after them while I am away. It is fair to say that one of them is a complete monster and I will be battling with it until the very last minute. Today has been spent preparing a slide deck for presentation to a couple of Assistant Vice Presidents with the aim of securing support to allow it to be finalised, priced and presented to the client.

Work has been incredibly busy for the past few months and there hasn't been as much leisure time as I would have liked either because as soon as Sri Lanka was booked 30% thought it would be a really good idea to get Andy & Steve in while we are away to "sort out the Hall" ...

It sounded so simple when she put it like that but the list of activities that needed to be completed was horrendous and meant that we first had to complete the Office refurbishment (plastering, carpentry and redecoration) so that the furniture in the hall could be restored to its proper home.

This has left the Hall just about empty and I could then lay a temporary floor to protect the Slate flags when the plaster rubble is cleared next week.

We have arranged for Andy & Steve to come in and strip out the room then 30%'s Dad will pop in and sort out a few electrical issues. Once he has finished he will contact A&S and they will return and re-plaster.

All being well, we will return from Holiday refreshed and the Hall, which is the final room to be refurbished, will be one huge step nearer completion.

... "All Being Well" ...

* Yes that means that some poor unfortunate Zambian will get to experience the delights of The Pile and all of its joyful inhabitants at some point in 2015 when the return leg of the exchange takes place.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Ne'er cast a clout 'til the May be out

Hmmm!  As I prepared to take T&M out for a walk this morning I looked at my hat, hung on a door handle in the hall, and thought "it's April, I won't need that today" …

… so I rounded up the dogs, filled pockets with bags and treats and headed off around the Three Miler. I reached the top of the hill about a third of the way around the walk and felt a few drops of rain hit the top of my head, within a hundred yards it was pissing down. As a result I did a swift one eighty and headed back home.

Those Yokels knew what they were on about when they cobbled together these simple sayings. I wish I had paid more attention.

Oh, and I'm not dead.