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Saturday, 9 September 2017

Making Life an Adventure

I recall that, as a small child, I was given tours around his iron and steel works by my maternal grandfather. He was responsible for the building of the world's very first 12,000 lb high explosive bomb called the blockbuster, and was later decorated by King George VI for his efforts. Grandpa Brooks kept a scrap book of early aviation feats during the first World War and later paid for my education at Bromsgrove School.

The 12,000 lb blockbuster built by my grandfather
My first job after leaving school was in a bank - a mundane job that I soon became bored with. I moved on to Imperial Metal Industries at their Summerfield Research Station where, on being shown around on my first day, my boss threw me a vial containing a colorless liquid. "Here, catch!" he called. I did. "What is it?" I asked him. "Oh, nitroglycerine." was the reply. I later found out that the liquid was indeed nitroglycerine, but that it was stabilized with NDPA (nitro diphenylamine). I worked in a laboratory preparing insulation materials and nozzles for solid fuel rocket motors. I believe that a number of military missiles were also manufactured there.

Outside of work I spent much of my time helping out at my dad's hotel - mostly serving behind one of the five bars. I was a member of a group of friends (the crowd) who used to frequently meet at country pubs to consume draught bitter. I also spent time either hitch hiking in France and Germany, or on a couple of occasions touring in a hired vehicle. But I was still not content, and so after much consideration, I applied to join the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy.

HMS Eagle at speed
My years in the Navy were full of adventure and thrills. I got to fly at 200 feet and below over the Omani desert, over the Malaysian jungle and the Scottish Highlands and, most of all over the sea. The flying was not without its moments. I recall flying over the sea low level when "ba-ba-ba-ba", four live thousand pound bombs fell from the aircraft before time and a quick thinking pilot pulled much g to become vertical and avoid any possible blast. I recall being involved in a mid-air collision between two Hawker Hunter jet fighters as well as a controlled crash landing of a third after engine failure at 24,000 feet.

The Hawker Hunter in which I crashed - and survived
On leaving the Navy in 1972, I decided to further my adventures by emigrating to Rhodesia. By the time I arrived there I had already visited some 24 countries - now it is up to 37! I will never regret my decision to move to Africa, although in hindsight I may have fared better on a different continent.
During my time in southern Africa, I got to add a few more countries to my tally and even managed a few free trips to Europe in the back of a sanctions-breaking DC8 full of Rhodesian beef. I became involved in repertory theatre, and spent many hours treading the boards. It was during this time that I had numerous trysts with some very beautiful ladies, got married and fathered a beautiful daughter. I visited numerous burned out farmsteads with an armored police escort, saw a few dead terrorists, but after the Mugabe take over I left the country and went back to the UK.

A burned out Rhodesian farmhouse
I had been appointed Senior Air Traffic Controller at Biggin Hill, Britain's busiest general aviation airfield. However government red-tape refused to recognise my Rhodesian ATC license, and so after six months - back to Africa and the Johannesburg's Jan Smuts International Airport. A spell there and at Abu Dhabi before I decided to quit ATC. Anyway I have to confess that I was getting a little long in the tooth for active controlling. I developed a keen interest in the then infant Internet, and secured a position at a large private school running their computer networks and administration computers. It was here that I got to meet Nelson Mandela. At about this time I met my second wife, Liz from North Carolina, on the Internet, and soon after she arrived in South Africa to visit me my then wife handed me divorce papers. Divorce had been on the cards for a long time and we had been separated for several years.

Martindale Farm
Liz and I got married, I retired and we purchased a small farm in Martindale, close to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. It was there that I started writing, and when I last counted I had well over 6,000 articles published on the Internet. This was also when I started writing my memoirs, The Graceful Retirement of an English Gentleman which is now well on the way to completion, and of which this narrative could, I suppose, be called a precis.

Myself and Liz on the Dinner Train
Liz returned to America in 2012 when her passport was about to expire - we didn't want to risk getting a new one in South Africa. I stayed behind to sell the farm and eventually followed her 2 years later. We have now been married for 12 years without a single fight or argument. I am now well aware that I have entered the winter period of my life. I have certainly made it an adventure - one that is ongoing and hopefully will go on for a few more years.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Scrambled Eggs

Wow! This morning I ate the best scrambled eggs that I have ever tasted or contrived, They were so good that I had to share the recipe with you. For one serving you will need:

2 Jumbo Eggs
1 tbsp heavy cream
2 tbsp butter

Whip the eggs together with the heavy cream until they are fully mixed, and meanwhile melt the butter in a (non-stick) saucepan - I never went hotter than no. 6 on my electric stove, so keep the heat fairly low.

Pour the egg/cream mixture into the butter once it has melted, then stir continuously until the eggs have reached your desired consistency - you should be able to pour them out of the saucepan.

Serve on buttered toast and season according to your taste.


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Mother Nature's April Fool's Joke

I mean, we all thought we had seen the last of last winter's snow The last remnants were almost gone, and Spring officially started a week or two back - then out of the blue came this winter storm on the last night of March and April 1st.

Of course this just happened to be the morning that Liz and I had planned to drive the 60-odd miles from St Johnsbury in Vermont to Berlin in New Hampshire.

National Route 2 runs East - West across the northern edge of Mount Washington, which is the tallest mountain in the eastern United States, at 6,289 feet. For my readers who are not aware of it, the second highest wind speed ever recorded on the Earth's surface was 231 mph (372 km/h) at the observatory on the peak of the mountain in April 1934.

Fortunately our sprightly Volvo C30 has studded winter tires and, with me driving (Liz gets quite nervous in those conditions), the weather presented no problems, although the road was quite treacherous at times. I was reminded of a winter weekend way back in the '60s when, while stationed at RNAS Lossiemouth, the squadron aircrew drove across northern Scotland to the Altnacealgath Hotel in Ledmore, and had to dig our vehicles out of snow drifts. That was one of the last times I was to see snow for 42 years! 

I am writing this on Tuesday, April 4th. We did have more snow forecast for today but the temperature is up to 40˚ (4˚C) with rain and a week from today is forecast to be 71˚F (21˚C). 

To completely change the subject, I wrote a while back about nepotism, in particular when related to Jacob Zuma. I never imagined at that time (four years ago) that a president of the United States would be openly practicing nepotism, but that appears to be more and more so. The gaudy materialistic person now in charge of this country seems to be going the same way as Jacob Zuma. Like Zuma he seems incapable of running the country, knowing nothing about politics or the way Washington works. In short, he is out of his depth, and covers every setback by tweeting that it is all the lying press and false news. 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Winter Storm Warning

Yesterday we received a Winter Storm Warning on our mobile phones - starting midday Sunday and continuing for 31 hours we were to expect between 8" and 18" of snow, with winds gusting up to 40 mph.So bad was the warning that Vermont's governor advised all residents to stay off of the roads unless it was for an emergency.

I took this first picture just before dusk on Sunday night, and the one below a little after 10 am this morning. It is now a little after midday and still snowing. At least it is not as cold as it was - up to 22˚F (-6˚C) today as opposed to -2˚F (-19˚C) just a couple of days ago. When I was living in southern Africa and checking the weather conditions where my daughter lived I could not believe that it could go for weeks and even months with the temperature remaining below freezing. Now I know differently.

I have to give the New England meteorological community their due - weather forecasts in this part of the World are for the most part extremely accurate. Unlike what I have been used to in warmer climes. It does also help to be able to open up the Microsoft weather app on my laptop and actually watch the weather radar on time lapse. I have to admit though that I do miss the tropical heat of southern Africa, and although I have no desire to return there, I do have a sort of yearning to visit such relatively close places as Saint-Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Martinique and Guadaloupe (that's the Francophile in me coming out). 

Alors! Je n'ai pas eu beaucoup d'occasion de pratiquer mon français au cours des dernières années - en fait la dernière fois que j'ai été en mesure de passer un certain temps à parler ma langue seconde a été lors d'un couple de vacances à Ile Maurice chemin de retour dans la fin des années 70. Cela a peut-être changé récemment, car quand shopping pendant les mois d'été dans un supermarché local, j'ai entendu un couple parler français, donc a commencé une conversation avec eux. Ils ont été réellement surpris d'avoir quelqu'un qui pourrait les comprendre. Je dois expliquer que nous sommes à seulement 85 kilometres de la province du Québec au Canada et que nous recevons un grand nombre de visiteurs québécois durant les mois d'été et d'automne.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Trump Debacle

So Trump won the United States presidential election - supposedly! Clinton won the popular vote, and by more than 2½ million votes, but because of the strange and antiquated "system"in this country the president is not elected by popular vote, but by an Electoral College. They voted for the arrogant Mr Trump, who has been called a pathological and self-possessed liar, misogynist, racist, bigot, xenophobe, a gaudy materialist, a megalomaniac and a number of other not-so-popular words. His frequent remarks on Twitter have shown just how ignorant precedent (sic) elect Trump is - for example in setting presidents (sic).

Liz and I have moved across the state border and are now temporarily living in Vermont. Thee house we had been renting for the last 24 months was eventually sold, and we had to move out in December. So, a frantic month packing a large house into boxes, a rented U-haul truck, and here we are in the beautiful Vermont countryside, surrounded by now-bare maples and white birch with the occasional fir tree, all set off by a white blanket of snow. We are now "house hunting" and hoping to find something akin to what we have been used to over the last couple of years. Everything is soooo expensive up here in the North Country though.

I was hit quite badly by the brexit vote. Unfortunately one of the drawbacks of being a British expat is that we don't get to vote. In my opinion that is a big fault in the UK system. So how was I hit badly. I get a relatively small pension that is paid into my UK bank account, so it is in pounds. The day after the result of the brexit vote was known the pound dollar exchange rate plunged from $1.66 down to $1.22. That meant that after converting to dollars my monthly income fell by roughly 25% ! Maybe with a bit of lick, when Trump is inaugurated the dollar will fall against the pound making me better off.

Enough self-pity! It's close to noon, and the temperature outside is just 2˚F (that's -17˚C) and has been below freezing for several days now. It is supposed to warm up a little overnight and even be up in the 40's over the next few days. Going to snow tonight, turning to rain by the early morning. Yeough! Ah the beauty of living New England.