January 28th, 2016
Last Saturday was the most gorgeous winter day so far this year so obviously I wasn’t going to spend it indoors. Instead I embarked on an epic quest to reach the far away city of Dunstable in the county of Bedfordshire. One of my most exotic destinations yet!
This was early morning leaving Chesham on the start of my adventure. From there I walked slightly in the wrong direction before joining up with the Ridgeway and doing the last little bit of that, so I can at last say I’ve walked the whole thing.
Ivinghoe Beacon in the mid afternoon was wonderful, if a little cold. North of here it’s all flat until… er… the Peak District perhaps? My geography gets a bit hazy around the middle of England. Although this could be a good excuse for further exploring.
I wanted to snoop around the edge of Whipsnade zoo and see some animals but as it was getting a bit late I decided to take a “short cut” down the side of busy road and managed to tear my down jacket while dodging some cars. Oops. Not my best idea. And by the time I got to Dunstable downs it was dark anyway.
Dunstable itself didn’t seem particularly interesting and I made a beeline for the bus station. The bus travelled along an exciting new innovation… the BUSWAY! To where does the busway lead? Luton. Which, I think, deserves its own adventure on another day.
January 21st, 2016
This is the most succinct summary of every Youtube discussion ever:
January 17th, 2016
I booted up one of my old PCs over Christmas and found some photos taken on my old Sony Ericsson camera phone. They were all from around 2005 or 2006 when I was living in Winchester. Phone camera technology has moved on a lot in the last ten years: this one had VGA resolution and seemingly no EXIF (although I may have accidentally clobbered that later).
This is the legendary Horse Monument from the first time I visited it with Pete. (I went back there more recently.)
Some of the photos have an unintended Instagram-esque quality due to the lameness of the phone. Like this one from when I was walking home along the river Itchen on a misty morning.
This is St Cross Hospital on the edge of Winchester.
And this one is a seagull on Eastbourne pier.
Finally, this one I rather like but I’m not sure where it was taken. It’s possibly Portsmouth or near Portchester castle.
January 10th, 2016
The first time I was in Hong Kong I bought some “flowering tea” which I just re-found in my tea cupboard. Here it is in its packet. You get two in a tin.
The first time I made it in my friend’s glass teapot which works rather better than a mug, but I only have china pots so this will have to do.
Here it is hidden inside its little tea-pod. Apply boiling water and something magical happens!
Bubble bubble bubble. The flower is about to burst out!
Tada! Wow! The flower is reborn.
They’re made by wrapping tea leaves around a picked flower and letting the whole thing dry out. No idea why anyone thought to do this originally.
December 31st, 2015
On Monday it finally stopped raining, in the South at least, and I spontaneously decided to go exploring westwards along the coast to Eastbourne. The sunshine didn’t last however and the final ten miles or so were a somewhat bleak trudge along a featureless beach.
Before the sun disappeared I took this photo of Bottle Alley, a unique-to-Hastings two layer promenade built by the “Concrete King” Sidney Little in the 1930s. As well as copious amounts of concrete, Little pioneered recycling by using glass from discarded bottles to provide the distinctive facing on the walls (hence the name). Sadly, like much of the rest of the town, it fell into disrepair. When I was younger it was notorious as a haunt of drug users and other miscreants and no self respecting person would be seen on the lower deck. But now, thanks in part to the recent rebuilding of the pier, there are plans afoot to restore it.
Like Hastings, Eastbourne’s pier also suffered a fire recently, although a much less devastating one. And they got funding from central government to rebuild it.
December 30th, 2015
I always end up walking this route north of Slough around this time of year. It’s a really nice winter walk with lots of woodland and parks, like here at Burnham Beeches:
I managed to finish in record time this year – it was still light when I got home! Mostly because I didn’t stop to take pictures as it was raining all afternoon.
Near the end the official route goes over a bridge that appears to have been demolished sometime ago. Maybe I should complain to someone…
December 28th, 2015
On the weekend I left Asia my friend Winni happened to be in Hong Kong for a wedding so instead of flying straight home I flew from Shanghai to Hong Kong and spent a few days exploring some more.
I’d been to Hong Kong just a few months ago and really enjoyed it but this time as the temperature was a bit cooler I wanted to get out to the countryside. As Winni was busy Sunday morning I went for a hike along a section of the Hong Kong Trail between Tai Tam reservoir and the Dragon’s Back Ridge.
Not a lot of people realise that Hong Kong is mostly countryside. Not through choice, I think, but because the terrain is too mountainous to build on. I love the way you can just hop on a bus from the centre of town and be somewhere like this in less than 15 minutes:
Near the end of my route there’s an impressive ridge called “Dragon’s Back Ridge”. I was running out of time so I rather than take the meandering route up I decided to proceed directly up the side. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as I nearly collapsed from exhaustion at the top. You would get very fit hiking in Hong Kong every weekend.
For the remaining day and a half I did some exploring with Winni, which was fun as she actually knows where is good to go. Unfortunately the weather got a bit hazy so the photos aren’t as good as last time.
December 24th, 2015
Suzhou, about 100km west of Shanghai, was where I was working for a week. I liked it a lot better than Shanghai, but unfortunately I only had one afternoon and one morning to explore as I was stuck doing work things during the weekday evenings.
Suzhou is apparently called the “Venice of the East” because it has so many canals. A lot of the city is very modern but some of the old Suzhou has been preserved and I went for a wander around one of these bits after arriving Sunday afternoon.
As well as canals, Suzhou is also famous for its gardens. On the following Saturday before I left I went to look around the most well known, the “Humble Administrator’s Garden”. I’m not by any means knowledgeable about traditional Chinese gardens, but the autumn colours were nice and the water features and little houses were quite impressive. Also the weather finally cleared up for the first time since I reached China!
Lots more pictures below, including a few from Shanghai.
December 18th, 2015
What good things can I say about Shanghai? Hm. Well it has a really nice museum full of ancient pottery and paintings and writings. Very similar to the British Museum, but with only Chinese exhibits. I spent a rainy Saturday afternoon there.
The rest of the city is not worth bothering with. Where to start? The worst thing in Shanghai is the constant stream of hawkers and scammers who come up to you offering fake watches and “massages”. They are everywhere and they do not leave you alone, especially if you are male and by yourself. Maybe I was paranoid because I’d been reading up on the huge number of scams. The best advice seems to be to ignore anyone who approaches you on the street speaking English, which leads to the second problem…
If you are learning Chinese, Shanghai is the worst place you can go to practice. Want to try ordering some bubble tea in 普通话? Don’t bother, no one cares, everyone speaks English and you are wasting their very precious time. This is actually the complete reverse of my experience in Taiwan (and other nearby parts of China later) where people seem genuinely happy if you manage to stumble out even a few words. The best example was when I was trying to buy a train ticket to leave. The ticket office for foreigners is in a different building on another street, because reasons. When I finally found it and queued up I proudly said “我要一张票去苏州!” and the guy just shouted “PASSPORT!” and pointed to the price on the screen. Typical.
Shanghai has a nice enough skyline, which is quite impressive considering it was all built in the last few decades. Do you know what’s under that TV tower? An Apple store.
Around Sunday lunchtime I decided to cut my losses and move on to Suzhou where I was going to spend the week at a contract manufacturer and finally meet up with some of my colleagues. I wish I’d done this sooner as rather than the drab Slough-esque industrial wasteland I’d been led to believe, Suzhou turned out to be surprisingly pleasant.
December 16th, 2015
I’ve been playing this game Train Valley a lot recently. It’s a train puzzle game where you build tracks between stations and then madly switch the points around to route trains to their destinations while avoiding crashes.
I think it really captures the aesthetic I was going for with my somewhat moribund Train Game. The puzzle mechanics are really fun though – wish I’d come up with it!