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Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Arctic Winter

When I lived in sub-tropical Africa, it was rare for the temperature to drop below 16˚C (61˚F) even in the depth of Winter, Now that I have relocated I have had to acclimatise to a whole new environment, one where it can go for weeks on end with temperatures straight out of the Arctic Circle. Today is a good example. Those temperatures that you see on this jpeg are all Fahrenheit where, for those who are not familiar with the scale, the freezing point is 32˚F. So the temperatores on the graph below represent -16˚C to -25˚C!

I cannot say that I was not forewarned, for when basking in the African sun I used to follow the New England weather that my daughter was experiencing. On Christmas Eve we had a Winter Storm. The weather forecasting here is excellent. When a winter storm is forecast to start in a certain place at a certain time, the chances are that it will do just that. This one was predicted to start at 11 p.m. and to go on until 4 a.m. on Christmas morning, depositing between 6 and 8 inches of snow, and it did just that. In fact because the forecasting is so reliable, Lizzie and I went to drop off our presents with Julie and Jake on Christmas Eve. Sure enough when we awoke on Christmas morning, there was a good 8 inches on and around the Volvo, and the area did not geet snow ploughed until the late afternoon - so we would not have gotten out on the snow-covered Route 5 anyway.

The Christmas Eve storm
I have to admit that I miss the weather of southern Africa - but then I spent 42 years there, certainly more than enough time to get acclimatised. With a change in climate comes the inevitable change in the wildlife. We have Moose, white-tailed deer, black bears, turkeys galore, skunks, foxes, coyotes, lynx, and a few others. No big five, although in some parts of the country you can find the mountain lion and the grey wolf.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Doctoral Degree

I recently read a study of the Gulf War air campaign that was written by Tom Clancey with the help of retired Air Force General Chuck Horner, who led the air campaign. In chapter 3 he describes the 6-month course at the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base. The course is essentially the same as the Royal Navy's Air Warfare Instructors' course that I completed in  July 1968. The course includes a full month at HMS Excellent, the Royal Navy's weapons school at Whale Island and several months' tactical flying. Subjects include avionics, ballistics, air navigation, the theory of flight, radar and electronics, air combat and air weapons and fuzes, and is a high-intensity learning curve. In addition, candidates receive training in instruction techniques as they will be passing their knowledge on to squadron comrades in briefings and lectures once they have completed the course.

What struck me about General Horner's description of the course was that he claims that those few pilots that have successfully completed the course have, in effect, completed a doctoral degree in Fighter Operations. The academics of which, he claims, are fiercely difficult, and the flying almost endless. It was during the equivalent Royal Navy course at RNAS Lossiemouth that I experienced my two "close calls" when in the one we lost an engine at 24,000 feet (my pilot was killed when he ejected at the last second) and in the other I experienced a mid-air collision with a second aircraft in our formation.

The Hawker Hunter after forced flame out landing
I recall that, according to the Daily Telegraph, a few years before my joining the Royal Navy, a group of air warfare instructors went to NAS Miramar to give instruction in air warfare to US Navy aviators. The original eight navy aviators became the original instructors at Miramar's Top Gun school. The modern version of the manual that was brought about by these AWI's can be seen here. Looking back in retrospect I wonder how different my post navy life could have been if I had included a doctorate in my résumé. I guess I'll never know.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Passing Time

It seems like only yesterday that I was writing my post of seven months ago when we had just suffered our final Winter storm of the season, yet here I am about to have my studded winter tires fitted to the Volvo's 18" wheels. In the average year, it would have already snowed some time during late October. But to date, there is none forecast in the foreseeable future - which in my case is about 12 days. Good. I hope that we are in for a mild Winter for a change. However, it is still a wise precaution to have the tires changed (and anyway, Liz insists!).

April 1st, 2017
I make no apology for writing once again about Time as I am well aware that I am slowly running out of it. I have certainly tried to make the best of that which was allocated to me. Along my passage, I have made plenty of mistakes, and there are many times when I wish that I could travel back forty-something years. However, I know that that is not possible just yet. Maybe when scientists have learned how to play with quantum mechanics someday in the future, it will be. Not for me though - unless that quantum world includes Life after Death (which has been suggested by some, by the way). Time has taken its toll on my body, in particular, my spine and my knees. I have had major spine surgery twice - once to screw a plate across C6 and C7, and once for a laminectomy L2 to S1. The former does not bother me at all, but the latter has me taking painkillers each morning. I had my annual medical last week and it looks as if I may still be around for another 10 years or so.

There are plenty of things that I would like to have accomplished during my Time on Earth. I would love to have visited the islands in the Carribean - especially some of the French-speaking ones like Guadeloupe and Saint Martin. However, to offset that disappointment I did once spend a few weeks vacationing on Isle Maurice in the Indian Ocean (Mauritius for those that are not aware of it). As Maurice is largely French-speaking I was very happy and felt "at home". I even get to speak the language here in the Northern Kingdom from time to time, as we are less than 100-km from Quebec Province and get many French Canadian tourists visiting the region.

Fall in New England
Another Halloween has come and gone, and last Saturday evening Liz and I got to spend some very valuable Time with family - this time with Julie, Jake and the Grandkids around the firepit toasting marshmallows. A couple of weeks back we drove down to Massachusetts to spend the Saturday night with Liz's side of the family, Dena, Andrew and family. Fall has really hit hard - just a month ago the leaves were starting their annual change to the brilliant colors of the New England Autumn. Today, the trees are almost bare and the ground beneath them covered with their shed colors.

My message to my readers is this. Time is the only asset that is given to you for free. It is up to you to make the best of it for you do not have any idea how much of it remains in your account. Whereas you may believe that you have plenty of it left - in reality, what is remaining can be taken away from you in a flash, and there is absolutely nothing that you can do about it. I recall in my youth wondering whether I would still be around to see the turn of the Century - well I guess I am lucky for I am now 17 years past it.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Trump - a Disaster

Those who either know me or who follow my Facebook posts will almost certainly know that I am not a Trump supporter - I could never support a buffoon, a racist, a misogynist and a liar. I am well into the Winter of my years and have traveled to 30 or more countries. During my travels, I have met all kinds of people of many races. Presidents, princesses, prima ballerinas, and prime ministers lie at the one end of the scale, and at the other are down-to-earth people like Headman, the local preacher close to my Eastern Cape farm and who enjoyed a joint of dagga, and Julia, who ran the local shebeen. Since I was a young man I have always had a second sense about people - and in particular whether they were genuine or not, or whether they were trying a con. Now everyone knows or at least should know, that all politicians, whichever country they are from, are liars. That is something that comes with the job. But some are bigger liars than others. And Trump is one of the biggest.

I heard an apt description of today's White House the other day - Senator Corker last week likened it to an Adult Day-care Center. Trump is a joke. I mean, can you imagine any other president visiting a hurricane-devastated island and throwing paper towels into the crowd? What on Earth was the man thinking? He is extremely ignorant (water purification pills - do you really drink the water afterward - durr!), and clearly spends much of his spare time watching television and tweeting when he could be bettering his mind before it goes off the rails altogether. At our expense, he spends every weekend playing golf - what is his handicap, btw? No - not that handicap! At the time of writing and after nine months in office, there is still no Secretary of Homeland Security. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is said to have recently called Trump a f***ing moron. We appear to be at a stage where no-one wants to work for him for fear of losing their reputation when his name appears on their résumé.

Trump and his original team - courtesy CNN
Trump's time in the White Tower has been something of a debacle. None of the original team in the CNN photograph above are now in the picture - although some are being investigated by Mueller.  The main problem seems to be that Trump is completely impulsive. When something comes to his child-like mind he immediately tweets about it - whether or not his thoughts are those of his staff. Only two days ago when holding a photo session with his top generals and their spouses he stated that "This is the calm before the storm". "What storm?" demanded the press. "You'll see." was his non-presidential reply.

Mostly because of Trump, I have become an avid follower of several late-night comedians - Trevor Noah, Stephan Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and John Oliver being my favorites (in no particular order). I enjoy the way that they mock him. If you are one of my followers that have not had the opportunity to do so, I urge you to check out some of the Facebook clips of those television personalities listed above.

Copyright © 2017 All Rights Reserved.

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. The 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.