Monday, December 31, 2012

The Long End of Year "What Happened In The Last Month" Entry

So here we are, the end of another year, and as usual I find myself with an enormous catch up to do on the blog.  Life is just too crazy at FTC.  At the point of my last point it was Esme's birthday, and then the entirety of December is always spent absorbed into Christmas festivities.

Esme's Birthday fell on a Sunday, and so we booked a table at Fortnum and Mason for us to devour sweets and treats in their ice cream parlour - ice cream being one of her all time favourite foods.  We
were joined by my Dad, Tashas parents, Dawn, Ammie, Sal, Dave and Dan & Joe. 

With the small exception of Joe coming down with a vomiting bug and throwing up all over Dave we had a fantastic time.  It was quite a retro fuelled time, and our table was graced with such delights as Knickerbocker Glory's , Gingerbread houses and Coke Floats!


The Christmas lights were out, we paid Hamleys a visit, and finished the day off with a gorgeous dim sum meal.

And before we knew it Christmas was upon us.  We numbered ten for Christmas dinner, and Alfie was fit to pop ... he'd asked Father Christmas for a Toy Story Woody!

Our friends Claire and Jody were amongst those to join us this year, and come the end of Christmas eve the presents were already making their way into the room ... and thats before the Grandparents arrived!

I spent ages preparing for the big day.  The traditional Christmas pudding, the gravy, prep for mulled cider, even flavoured sugars - but it was Jody who provided the Christmas cake and well and truly came up with a champion showstopper!

Essie must be one of the few children happy to have any number of tacky objects places upon her noggin in the name of festivities.  She does find the cameras flash a bit bright sometimes though!

We kicked about until 10am when the Grandparents arrived, Esme taking on Claires high score on Angry Birds.

Somehow we all squeezed around the table though, and amazingly Esme fell asleep right on food time.  And that sure is a first!

And with crackers pulled and silly hats upon our heads there was chocolate to eat.  This pleased Alfie.

Claire and Jody stayed a few days past Christmas Day, a time I remember mostly for eating cheese.  And games of Cranium and Cluedo where as per usual I was accused of being over competitive.  It was a wonderful Christmas, made all so enjoyable by the faces of Alfie and Esme as they unwrapped presents and generally had a ball with family and friends.

There are other points I should also include about the past month too.  Alfie had his end of year party at school, and I have a video I must upload.  Its brilliant, and clear he loves his time at school so much!

He also developed a genuine love for Jamie Oliver.  It all started when he began watching 15 Minute Meals with me as I tried to multi-task and cook at the same time.  From the kitchen all I could hear was comment after comment of "mmm, nice".  It was when Nigella came on TV and Alfie turned to me and proclaimed "No nice Daddy, I wan' Jamie" that I realised quite how particular he was with his TV chefs!

With the year now ending I am going to try something new for 2012.  I saw a diary in one of those little catalogues that always get assigned to 'toilet reading' here.  It basically had space for a sentence (or 140 characters to maximise twitter generation appeal) per day.  I'd always thought that that approach wouldn't be thorough enough, but I struggle to find time to keep the blog up to date and there is loads of day to day stuff I miss.  And so I'm gonna try it.  An entry a day, no matter how short, and ideally with at least one photo.  I can do it all from my phone, so I really have no excuse.  Anyone betting on how long I manage to keep it up??

And so onto 2013.  Quite possibly our last in the UK!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Not Yer Normal Day Off Work

Tash had Friday off work.  The main reason was for the 12 week scan of the latest mini Batsford that's currently growing inside her and causing no end of discomfort.  It ended up being a lot more non-stop than we imagined tho!

This was largely caused by a voicemail left on Tash's phone. Now when we first had ideas on New Zealand, and we are talking well over a year ago here, I filled out an application form for the TV show Wanted Down Under. The main reason being it would be the only shot we'd have at taking a look at Wellington before actually taking the plunge.  Anyway, we heard nothing back.

That was until Friday when Tash came running in saying ' you have to listen to this voicemail!'  As you can imagine, it was the producers of Wanted Down Under who wanted to speak to us!  We both did our telephone interviews and apparently we'll hear back within a fortnight if we're successful.  Personally I don't think we will, I think we're too far down the process and too committed to already going.  But it's quite exciting never the less.  If we're successful I might have to apply for Strictly!

To complete my day of madness she then found the most awesome Christmas present for Alfie - which apparently he wouldn't put down in the store- but didn't buy it.  So I had to head out in Friday rush hour to make sure we got one.  You know that Christmas film where Arnie has to get that action figure for his boy, and races around everywhere to get one?  That's pretty much how I felt!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Closer to Becoming Kiwis!

Last Friday (16th) was a significant step in our movement towards emigrating to New Zealand.  We finally submitted our ITA (invitation to apply).  This is a massive collection of documents that you have to get together to prove everything you have previously claimed.  You're given 6 months to do it, and our time was getting tight - Tasha's passport was the missing piece in the jigsaw which thankfully arrived within 2 weeks of us applying for it!  You have to give passports, birth certificates, proof of education, police checks, proof of job and job roles etc.  The package I posted was comfortably over an inch thick!

We know its a slow process from now.  Being assigned a Case Officer seems to be taking up to five months, and from there you are facing possibilities of having to gather further documents or attend interviews.  Hopefully we have been thorough enough though and our process will be smooth once we are assigned our Case Officer.

As well as documents you also have to provide the means of payment - yet another four figure sum.

I checked the balance on my card today and saw the ITA has been debited.  I've never been so happy to see so much money exit my card!  Hopefully that means we're in the queue somewhere now ... 

A massive thanks to our friend Larry - I bet he hopes he never has to sign the back of another passport photo again ... or be restricted to signing within such a small little box on a form!

Monday, November 19, 2012

El Nino - Chassis Refurb

Does this look as late as it actually was ?

Saturday Bill and I must have worked something like 9am-1am on Nino's chassis.

Lots of rubbing, grinding and blasting was done and we were left with a beautiful surface to work on.

Determined to get some paint on the chassis our day got longer and longer ... but it was so worthwhile!  We went to bed that night with more sand in our shoes than if we had rolled down a dune ... but we had a chassis cleaned, prepped, and in primer.

Yesterday, we even got some 'chassis black' top coat on it. 

Birthdays And Boulders

A week ago (12/11) Alfie turned three.  We had chosen the day before to celebrate his becoming of threenager.  For months this seemed like a good idea.  Alfie likes to climb.  So we'll take him to a climbing wall for his birthday!  Tash found a suitable venue, and then a few days beforehand Ammie and I realised we could do a bouldering intro course there too!  I've wanted to get into climbing for a while, and having a go at the more physical and unroped strand of this sport really appealed to me.

We all met beforehand for at a local pub some food.  And lots of present unwrapping!

Homemade and thoughtful presents always win hands down over lavish expenses in this household and my Dad's present to Alfie beats everything this year - and he got some great stuff too!  My dear boy has something of an obsession with bins.  And somehow my Dad managed to get hold of a small 'green' bin that they have down in Chelmsford and got it all painted up for Alfie.  Not only does it look amazing but Alfie absolutely loves it!

I had spent the morning hurriedly covering our entire kitchen with icing sugar - some call it making cupcakes.  They seemed to go down well with Birthday boy though!

And then the climbing began.  Alfie has always seemed keen to go up 'proper' climbing walls but always seemed to struggle with the footings.  Not so on this day however, and he was straight up the side of the Elephant - yup, the kiddies climbing area even had a scalable 'pa-woo', what could be better for him?!  And whilst he climbed, Ammie and I did similar!

It was a great day and Alfie had SO much fun!  It appears he can learn to climb the proper walls now too ... so I'm it won't be long till his flying up some Welsh rockface or other.  I will definitely be back for more too!

All the photos (taken by Fred and Ammie) can be found here.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Might As Well Jump!

Finally I get to finish the story of the camping weekend!  

The journey home was always going to be eventful.  I had spent the previous week hearing about the escapes of Felix Baumgartner and his attempt to break the speed barrier in freefall and complete the record highest parachute jump - from over 128,000 feet!

Everything about it fascinated me, and it really became my 'man on the moon' moment.  I felt like a real hole had been left when NASA finished the space shuttle program, but here was an extreme sports enthusiast (crucially, backed by Red Bull) who was certainly plugging that gap!  It was a real space program too!

During the midweek there had been a planned launch.  The internet came into play like I have never seen before, and I spent most of the day following events live on YouTube and Twitter.  Sadly the wind picked up and the launch was postponed.  And eventually rescheduled for Sunday.  Which was what presented us with our logistical dilemma!

I had just acquired a Samsung Galaxy S3 mobile phone and it would see its first real test on this day!  After a weekend away it was dead.  We had the laptop with us so I plugged it in to charge.  After a short while I tried to use the phones 3G connection to tether to the laptop.  Sadly the video wouldn't stream.  I caught a tweet from Stan Collymore (of all people) that said BBC News were about to broadcast the jump.  And I remembered I had downloaded an app which claimed to stream TV.  I fired it up, grinned like a kid at the sight of its logo on the channel list, and squealed with glee as the video streamed.  And continued to steam, even when going through the Dartford Tunnel!

I held the phone forward so we could all watch, and we gasped as Felix stepped off the ledge of his capsule.  And then halfway down his decent a horrible noise came from the caravan and we shortly found ourselves on the hard shoulder with a huge section of tread missing from a tyre.

I caught wind that he'd landed, but our evening ended up dragging on much much more - and involved a rolling road block on the M25, the caravan being towed off it, us waiting for yet another tow, McDonalds in Enfield, and finally a tow home.

Turns out that Felix's jump had over 7 million people watching it live on YouTube, and was certainly one of the most unbelievable things I've ever seen.  You felt like everyone was watching, supporting, and cheering him on.  Its great to see that there's still people pushing boundaries, doing things that will inspire kids, and just generally doing 'cool space shit'.

If you missed it, this is the jump.  There are a fair few ads you have to close which is a shame, but it seems hard to find the full video online.

After the event there was a great documentary on the BBC.  Its called Space Dive, and its well worth watching.  It shows all the years of buildup and the troubles faced - and moments like when Felix accidently cut one of his chutes loose on a practice jump!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Four Seasons In One ... Weekend

I'm not quite sure how it came about but a fortnight ago (13/14 Oct) we found ourselves waking up to the sound of soungbirds as rays of sunshine came streaming through the open zip of our bivouac.  Actually, I lie, that's what was supposed to happen ...

We'd agreed to go away with Claire and Jody.  In the middle of October.  With two kids.  I promised myself England must be due another Indian Summer and so all would be well.  Thou shall not freeze.

I picked up Tash from work with the caravan hitched on the back of the Benz and set battle with Friday night M25 to find our way down to the East Sussex/Kent border.  We arrived a little before Claire and Jody which gave us ample chance to make camp.  By now it was dark and so we hurriedly erected the Gazebo, assembled the tent, and left the caravan where I parked it.  Why would we need a tent if we have a caravan I hear you ask?  Well we have a caravan for two and our son has the ability to act like a kangaroo on acid at anytime from 5am.

The arrival of Claire and Jody signalled the arrival of the firepit ... and heat!  With Esme asleep in the caravan and Alfie snuggled up in the 'den' (tent) we had a lovely evening, largely fuelled by stew and ale.  It was tremendous.  As Friday became Saturday we headed for our beds, and I was pleased to find Alfie was nice and comfy under the numerous blankets, duvets and hot water bottle that filled up our Den.

Morning came - earlier for some of us than others - but it wasn't long before we were all tucking into breakfast inside the caravan .... sadly we were doing so as the rain echoed off our single skin roof.

It didn't last long though, which meant we were soon getting the bikes ready for a quick pedal to blow away the cobwebs.

We were on the outskirts of a little village called Bodiam, which has a castle - and therefore made for an ideal destination for us to head towards.  The castle is just the other side of this bridge.  Apparently in WW2 they removed the walls of the bridge to enable them to destroy any attempting German invasion.

We played the typical English 'card' and sat down to tea and scones whilst stubbornly sitting out through the downpour around us.

Essie particularly liked the cream part of a cream tea.

I love this photo of the view out from where we took our tea.  The clouds just seem to splay out across from the tops of the trees.

And then carried on our pedal in a homewardly fashion.

Once we reached the campsite we had a little play at the on-site park

And then we went on the hunt for wood.  By now it was 5pm and with the sun disappearing the temperature was dropping sharply!  Jody's firepit is made from parts of his old Transit and its awesome - just looking at these photos I swear I can feel the heat cuddling around me.

More stew was had.  More ale was drunk.  Good times were had!

One thing was for sure though, and that's that it was colder than the previous night!

The next morning Alfie was up early again.  As I slid the zipper back on the tent the freezing air came rushing into our 'den'.  I tried to keep him under layers and inside the canvas whilst I went outside to see if anyone else was up.  Some would call it a lovely fresh morning but I don't need sights like this when I wake up from having camped out overnight!

Just as Alfie's  early morning over-enthusiasm was starting to result in lack of feeling to his finger tips Tash and Esme work up and so we went and gate crashed their party.  A few minutes of running the stove soon had the caravan warmed up nicely.

Thankfully the sun decided to burn through the early morning chill and we were soon presented with a gorgeous day.

Bacon was soon on the Barbie;

Alfie got to work on the eggs with Jody;

And within moments another monster breakfast was being devoured.  Essie was overjoyed at the sight of MOAR FOOD!

A plan was soon hatched to get our beef joint in the BBQ and leave it to roast lovingly for an hour or so whilst we went on a hunger inducing ride through the wilds.  What actually happened was we then embarked on the most eventful cycle I have ever endured.  I commented the previous day I thought my bike needed a service as it didn't seem to drop into gear well.  No more than 10 or 15 minutes into our ride Jody acquired a puncture whilst I was presented with this. 

And not for the last time on this ride we were assembled around up-ended bikes.  I repaired Jodys puncture whilst he scampered back to the campsite to grab his chain tool.  He then removed the offending link from my chain and all was good once more.

It wasn't all doom and gloom though, we did pass some lovely bits of country too.

We soon reached Bodiam;

and then its was Claires turn for a flat!

We had one puncture repair kit with us and Jody has already had two from it in the past 24 hours.  We now learnt his remaining few had 'lost their stick'.  After failed attempts to find a fellow cyclist who might have a spare patch Jody opted to leave one of his 'past their best' patches swimming in a pool of glue in the hope it might hold just long enough for us to cycle back.  And so we loaded the kids back into the trailer and grabbed the bikes to head back.  Upon which point we all realised Tash also had a puncture.  After much deliberation we agreed Jody and I would cycle back and the girls would walk.

Jody and I reached camp to the sight of these two in the trailer.  Such cutes!

We can only have cycled three or four miles but the roast had had much longer than the hour we wanted to offer it.  Although a touch well-done it still looked and smelt amazing.  Proving just how short a distance we'd travelled, the girls even made it back before we had the veg on!

Dinner was amazing!  Beef, sweet potatoes, aubergines and peppers.  A real team effort and the perfect way to end a fabulous weekend.

Sadly it was later than we'd intended which pretty much meant we tidied up and hit the road for home.

A homeward journey that was as eventful as our bike ride!  But I kinda need to cover that in my next post.

Pictures from the weekend are all here.