Monday, December 22, 2008

Lyke Wake Walk on x-country skis

Well until a few days ago there was still enough snow around The Lion Inn at Blakey to make it worth while getting my x-country skis out of the bag they have been hoarded for the last several years. +3c in Whitby it was -1c up here.

The last time I was up here skiing in the snow was in February 15th/16th 1986 but we were skiing the Lyke Wake Walk. From my diary:-

"Departed Scarborough Rd (not enough snow towards the coast) 1030 and arrived Lilla Howe 1230, Ellerbeck at 1pm. Other skiers were obviously out as there were several other tracks. We eventually made it to The Red Lion at 7pm, the final two hours skiing in the dark."

My companion for this trip was Jeff Brand. We had discussed skiing in the dark and according to a royal marine friend of mine, Ian Holtby who was an expert x-country skier, it would present no problems. Alas for us relative newcomers to this we found it desperately tiring as we continually had to brace and balance against falling into unseen hollows and bumps which we felt but never saw.

At the pub we met Tony Gray who had kindly agreed to drive up to the pub and leave our tents, sleeping bags, food & stove etc. Due to the amount of snow he'd not been able to bring the vehicle all the way to the pub and had carried our stuff the rest of the way on foot. Anxious to return before he got blocked in we said our thanks and our good byes. Outside the pub, in the dark and cold we quickly put up our tent and got sorted out. Hungry we looked for our food. It was no where to be seen and we learned later that it'd been left in the vehicle by mistake. Luckily I had just enough money for some pub grub and a pint! otherwise we'd have had a rather miserable night.

The following day we were off at 8:30 but despite the good deep snow cover the going was very slow and we couldn't even get a down hill run from the pub to the old railway line at the western side of the Red Lion. There was certainly plenty of snow but it stuck to our skis and prevented us from sliding quickly over the moors, On top of this problem we also found that elsewhere much of the snow had been blow off and had exposed an older frozen crust of ice which often collapsed under our skis. These two problems slowed and tired us considerably and blisters started to sap our will. No doubt having to carry our tents, bags and useless stoves did not help our morale much either. As we passed Hasty bank we noted an improvised ski tow in operation in nearby fields. The next few miles were agonising ups and difficult downs in poor conditions and the graceful down hill runs I'd hoped for turned into frustratingly difficult downhill traverses trying to avoid icey patches and falls through the snow into the heather. A cold easterly wind blew in our faces. At 4pm just before the gliding club at Carlton Bank we decided to call it a day a few K's from our objective, Osmotherly. We'd probably covered around 35 miles in total.

When we did this in the 1980s x-country skiing had just become very popular and almost every outdoor shop stocked a variety of equipment. Now some twenty years later I have yet to see an outdoor shop with any x-country equipment. There's something to be said for being a hoarder after all.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Winter Snow - Goathland

Last week we had snow and frost. The first snow outside the mountains of Ireland I'd seen in ages. And It was something I'd missed and been looking forward to seeing again. So quickly after we arrived in yorkshire was a surprise especially as everyone was telling me about global warming!
So a walk over one of my favourite areas, Goathland & Wheeldale moor to Pinkney's Hunt was called for. As always in the snow it was difficult to find somewhere to park in Goathland but the existing car park was flat and I guessed I could drive out. Hopefully the sun which was creeping out from behind the clouds would melt the snow off the main roads on my return journey.

Goathland, the scene of the Heartbeat series had changed over the fifteen years of my absence. Pavements, shops with 'Aidensfield' signs, numerous directional signs and double yellow lines signified huge numbers of visitors. And there were the incomers. Bling or what, The Stone House with its mullioned windows now had a brand new drystone wall outside, a challenger tank parked outside and many of the fine old trees had been chopped down. Glancing over the new wall I could see why. A helicopter landing pad!!

The mere was frozen solid and numerous cairns had sprouted in my absence, some of which I demolished. The snow lay several inches deep across the fields and even deeper in Wheeldale plantation. Jilly enjoyed the deep snow and spent most of time running in every direction possible. It was her first experience of snow outside the Irish mountains.

Just over an hour after leaving Goathland I arrived at Pinkney's, a Mountain Bothy Association Hut. From the comments in the log book it was obvious that many groups were using and abusing this place and some had been holding drinks parties, leaving behind much filth and litter. I have spent many enjoyable evenings in this place before moving to Ireland but there would be little chance of spending a night here in peace anymore judging by the use it was now getting. My first visit was probably in 1965 when it was little known and only used as a shooting house for shooting parties.

We walked back via the plantation spotting many grouse and a few reed buntings on the way. In the distance I could see that a quad bike had crossed my path during my walk to the hut earlier. Probably a farmer checking his sheep.

This hut, burned down by vandals several years ago has been rebuilt. It was once an iron and wood affair and predated the second world war. The whole area had been used as a training ground and I recall being able to look at bullet holes which in many cases went completely through the sides of the hut. Needless to say there are many unexploded shells - I've found many - and several places where there are piles of discarded machine gun bullets.
All in a good day. It was like meeting old friends

Friday, November 21, 2008

Whitby - coming home

Well here we are. Home. And thats just what it feels like. So many old friends. I guess this is what someone who has spent ten years in prison must feel like.
English pubs, real beer, shops with choices that aren't sixty miles away. New faces every day. Ahhh!! A breath of fresh air.

We are now in a tiny 2 bedroomed terrace house. Busy road - the main road into Whitby. Noisy. No garden. No workshops - no sheds. most of our gear is in storage but so what. We wondered whether leaving our acre of garden and lovely house may be a mistake but no. This just feels right.

Now we must look for a house (we've seen one that ticks lots of boxes) and get the car registration transferred to an English plate. This looks like its complicated but who cares. Another challenge.

And the cold!! such a surprise after mild southwest Ireland. But we love it

Thursday, October 16, 2008


7 days to go and were off. Last day working to day apart from a minor 'hand over' at one spot I've been looking after the house and garden for the last few years.

Most of my stuff is packed - workshop and outdoor gear. My gosh It's true what they say that equipment increases to fit the space allocated. Most of our stuff is going into storeage. It won't fit into our new temporary home.

We've got parking issues when we get to Whitby - there's no off road parking at 41 Mayfield Rd - our destination - and we only arrive the day before the removal men after a 17 hour night drive. I hope there is enough time to make sure no one is parked in the way of the lorry.

I've sold my car so we're down to one car. The removal men say they can get a canoe in the lorry. But I have two. A kayak and an open canoe. Will they fit both in? Or do I drive all the way to Whitby with one of them on the roof rack?
We've got rid of loads of stuff but we have got so much more than when we had the total load estimated by a local removal company two years ago.

We've still not heard any more about our completion date. We only have a window of a few hours before we have to be on the ferry. Worry, Worry!!

I wrote a letter to The Irish Times clarifying the issue of public access to the countryside in Europe. This is a controversial issue here and we've had regular 'Hillwalkers & Farmers', correspondence in this paper. The evening it was published Richard called. "Dave have you been writing to the papers?". He's the area farmers representative and he's had numerous farmers raise the letter and complaining about my views. "Sorry Richard". That evening I get an angry phone call from the Beara. He's the co-ordinator of 'Greenways Ireland and is trying to convince farmers to open up more walking routes and feels that my letter has made his job harder. He soon calms down and I agree to write a clarification to my letter.

The shower has broken down and I can't fix it. Luckily the plumber, based in Cork City some 60 miles away was nearbye and called by within an hour of my phone call and fixed it. Now I've only got to get our local electritian to fix another minor fault I can't trace.

Our friends and neighbours Richard Connell, Violet and their 3 children came round to see us the other evening. They gave us a wonderful 'Good Bye' card which they had all written personal messages on. They also bought us a Tom Tom sat. nav. & a smashing Camcorder!. These neighbours will be well and truly missed. They have turned out to be our best friends and Richard has taught me loads. Everything from castrating bullocks to building houses!.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Moving to Whitby

Well, another busy week and the pressure to be out by the 22nd of October is on. We've just about completed the packing, Not only did we get an out of the blue offer on the house, I even managed to get a late offer on my old megane. But everything has been breaking down on us.

First the washing machine went bust a couple of weeks ago. Richard our friend and neighbour kindly lent us one of theirs. This too has now broken and leaked all over our office floor which is loaded with packed cardboard boxes. We're now washing by hand. The power shower is also on the blink. It keeps cutting out and takes nearly a minute to turn off. Our PC, a vital form of communications when you live out in the sticks has been on the blink. This morning I got back from Erwin, our Swiss ex microsoft expert, who has pronounced our old PC 'dead'. I'm now bashing the keys with an old second hand machine which you have to wind up first. I've just returned from the local mechanic, Billy Barry who came up trumps and rewelded the broken exhaust on Trish's car for only €20. Now we've just discovered a tap is not working. And all my tools have been packed! On top of all this I've had to deal with our horrible neighbour who owns a strip of land at the bottom of our garden and has just tried to create a new entrance onto the road. Totally without planning and something he said he would not do until the new owners moved in. Luckily George Barratt stopped after my sixth F*****ing B******d!! It's all quite again.

Providing nothing else breaks down we'll be moving on the 22nd of this month.

The financial crisis, which would normally pass me by, is affecting us but Trish has that almost sorted. Because were moving from the euro to the pound we can loose thousands with the poor exchange rates. It may not matter for your holiday money but for the kind of money you buy a reasonable house for, it could leave you several thousands short. However Trish has found a currency broker and we've secured all our pounds at a fixed rate of exchange ahead of actually getting our hands on the cash we'll get from our buyer. In the space of six days we've already prevented two thousand pounds from being lost in devaluation!! Now we just need to worry about where do we stash the cash safely, until we put it into our next house!

Oh, and then there was the worry about getting the removal van parked outside my mother's house in Whitby which has no off road parking and is on a busy road. Luckily I 'phoned Scarborough Borough Council's parking office who came up trumps and offered to drop of a couple of the 'no parking' cones for us.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Auctioneers

Buying & selling houses in Ireland has its quirks and can be 'quaint' to put it mildly. When we came here a little over ten years ago, I recall all the house details we were given had hand written directions on them. The usefullness of these varied as some had such directions as, "Turn left where the old school was".

A typical encounter, and a true one, was the day we walked into 'Key Properties' in Bantry. In my hand I had another auctioneer's details of a house we had been looking at. The same property was listed in this auctioneers houses for sale. I compared the two descriptions. Both were very different, especially when it came to room sizes, distances from villages and the amount of land. "Excuse me", I asked, "How come the room sizes are different on this property from the description I have here from another auctioneer's?"
"Let me see" he said as he snatched the offending document out from my hand. He carefully studied the document through the glasses perched on the end of his nose and then looked up at me. "The same man wrote both".
"How was that possible?", I asked. He went on to tell me that the surveyor who did the description for him & Key Properties had written the description, then left and got a job with a rival auctioneers and that this new auctioneers had commissioned the said surveyer to measure up the same house. He recognised the handwriting! Indeed, on checking they were by the same hand.

On another visit to another auctioneer's we came away with two property details to view. Both had very different directions to follow. We arrived at the first house and met the owners. As we left and got into our car another couple pulled up also clutching an auctioneer's house details. "Do you know where this is?", they asked, flourishing the property details at me. I looked at the property details - it was the same property as the one we were due to see in half an hour. On closer inspection both sets of directions for the same property and from the same town were quiet different. Before I could work out whose were right a lady came out of a small lane and at the end a small white cottage could be seen. She announced cheerfully she was waiting for people who were coming to see her house. In return we asked for directions to the houses on our property details. "Why thats this house!" she exclaimed, looking at the details. The other couple offered their house description & hand drawn map. Why thats this house too!" The auctioneer had given us two completely different sets of very different directions for two houses which in effect were next door to each other!! Despite having two separate appointment times, the owner kindly invited to look round her house together. She looked up the road and quietly whispered to us. "Thats Ian Bailey's house -- Sophie Du Plantier!!!". Seeing our complete lack of understanding she explained that Ian Bailey was the only suspect in a brutal murder the previous year. We did not buy this house. But unbelievingly we did buy the house next door we had just looked at. And we bought it from Ian Bailey's partner, Jules Thomas!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Going Home

We're going home! After ten years of living here in Ireland, we're returning to Whitby and the North Yorkshire Moors. We should be leaving on the 23rd of October 2008. Trish and I have been asked many times why we want to leave our beautiful house and garden. (See it here)
There are many reasons. In no particular order:-
  • If you want to travel anywhere beyond europe you've got travel to the Uk first
  • If you want to get anything done properly don't count on getting done here
  • There's nothing to do when you've done everything else
  • They don't like dogs here. Or walkers. There's no public footpaths. Everywhere is private
  • I'm sick of Guinness & Murphy's
  • I miss the snow & the sound of church bells
  • It's too far from anywhere and too difficult to get to
  • Yorkshire is where we're from.
  • I want more excitement in life before I die.
  • The driving standards here are dangerous. Worse than Calcutta at rush hour.(see here)
However this being Ireland there are a few problems in the way. We''ve discovered there was no planning permission on the house when it was significantly altered in the 70's - the original solicitor didn't pick this up. But then he was the solicitor who tried to sell us the wrong house for several weeks until I pointed out his mistake, and he was also the solicitor that told me I was wrong about our boundaries ( I was right. We've lost some land!!!)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hedgelaying Course - Ireland

The weekend before the Kerry Way Walking tour I ran a weekend hedgelaying course on the Manche Estate for the Irish Natural Forestry Foundation

I'm only one of six qualified hedgelayers in Ireland and a member of the Hedge Laying Association or Ireland. There were only four booked on the course which meant it was easier for me to make sure they all got some supervised training. As they introduced themselves I eyed up their clothing and boots making sure they were adequate for the purpose. Peter, a doctor from Dublin had the added protection of eye protectors, something a colleague of mine had discussed previously whether these should be made compulsory on training courses. We compare sharpness of our cutting tools. This is important as without very sharp axes & billhooks you will struggle. They get a quick lesson in sharpening. I quickly got to know the group and the weekend passed quickly. The best part for me was when i introduced them to a relatively easy hedge to lay and just about left them to themselves only interviening when asked or to offer some guidance. Here you can see the result of their efforts. They should be justifiably proud after just 12 hours of instruction. This will almost certainly be the last of my annual training workshops as we are returning to the UK.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tour guiding the Kerry Way.Co.Kerry

I meet the group of six in a Killarny Restaurant on Sunday evening having missed the first full day as I was running a hedgelaying course for the Irish Natural Forestry Foundation. The hand-over from the previous tour guide goes without hitch and I swat up on the notes for the trip in my room later.

The first day of walking for us takes us from Muckross House near Killarny to Gowlane cross roads just over 4km North of Kenmare following the old road. The weather which hasn't been good holds out until we reach the Windy Gap, the Irish name of which translates to, 'Arse to the wind'. It pours down. Luckily no one is too bothered and the weather is not too cold. we arrive at Gowlane and I attempt to call our pick up who is going to transport us to the Derrynane Hotel near Caherdaniel. This proves difficult. In the pouring rain I try to find my contact number, my mobile phone and my glasses. Everything gets wet and the ink runs in the wet. Luckily the group are sheltering in a barn and can't see me. After a few minutes I get myself organised. I make my call only to discover no signal. I pray the bus arrives and we've not been forgotten. On time I see a mini-bus approaching. I hope it is ours. It pulls up and we're soon inside We sit in the bus listening to 'Irish' music and a rather good joke about the Irish moon landings (on CD). A couple of the group doze. Its been a long day and we've covered about 15k in 6.5 hours.

After a pleasant evening getting to know the group better, the following day dawns wet and rainy. We're picked up at 9:30am and the driver takes us to Sneam some 18km away. The lady driving the taxi tells us the weather will clear as it appears bright in the SW where the weather is coming from. We endure a long day through soaking wet hills and wet paths. As we make a short detour to visit the Staigue Fort I realise that unlike the last time I did this route we're not going to be picked up here and have to walk another 7km to the hotel. It turns out to be a long day. Tracey from Canada asks me is it possible to cut short the route the following day by getting a taxi if its raining. Oh dear! I worry if the weather is dampening more than our waterproof clothing. In the hotel that evening I get a couple of taxi numbers just in case.
The hotel has a slightly heated outside swimming pool. I go for a swim and am joined by Liz a doctor from Boston USA and Anne-Marie from Luxemburg. Afterwards Anne-Marie and I sit in the hotel sauna. It's hot. Anne-Marie announces that we should jump back in the pool, which she does. I announce I'm a wimp and go back to my room for a quick (hot) shower and change.

The following morning it is still raining. We now walk around the coast in the rain. Veronique, from France whose only protection from the rain is a poncho accepts my offer of the loan of a spare anorak I have in my rucksac. I listen carefully to see whether the group are dispirited with Irish weather but all appears well. The steep walk up to the Ring of Kerry Road has the wind blowing on our back. A relief from blowing in our faces.The view is stunning. Thick fog, rain and mist. I watch in amusement as tour bus after tour bus off loads their occupants for lunch and to admire the view. Tourists gaze into the mist looking for 'Irelands best known view' as the rain pours down. Our group try to visit the shop. They are evicted as the shop is too full. How times change! We walk on the road for a dangerous short 200mtrs before leaving it to head across the Beenarouke pass. I pray that the bus drivers are not looking for the view! The wind is blowing gale force - luckily at our backs. Crossing a style at the highest part we are blasted by the wind. For me it was like being in a Scottish mountain in winter. It's a few years since I've experienced this kind of weather. Soon we loose height and the worst of the wind is gone. The view, which is normally stunning is reduced to watching mist go by. We gather round a wedge tomb in the wet and wind. The group gets a short description on tombs in the wet, wind and rain. We move on squelching along the wet path until we arrive at the minor road and quickly make our destination, the Charlie Chaplin statue in Waterville. I remind the group that they do funny things to the grass here to make it greener and tell them about a previous visit. (here). We all retire to a cafe and wait 20 minutes whilst the owner prepares our drinks!. Brenda, who went missing several minutes ago re-appears and I relax. Joe entertains the owner's children as they attempt to do their homework on one of the ajoining tables. On time were picked up and taken to our B&B for the night the San Antoine in Caherciveen. Once the group are settled in I go to the nearest supermarket for more food for our lunches the next day.
That evening we go for a walk in the town. A few minutes of window shopping later and we've walked the length of the main street. Tracy asks, "Is that it?, I've nothing to do tomorrow now." Waterville has all the atmosphere of a town in terminal decay. Later that evening over food I outline some choices for their day off the next day.

Our day off dawns clear and sunny. I take a walk the few kilometers to catch the ferry to Valentia Island. If it rains I won't be sheltering in the terminal building. (click here to read more) The road seems a long walk on my own and catch the ferry and pay my two euro return fare to the Polish ticket collector. Liz joins me on the next ferry and we have an enjoyable walk around Knights Town. Liz's camera runs out of power and we go to the shop for batteries. The old boy in the shop points out that they won't work in digital cameras. Liz insists they will and he looks at me as if he expects support. He gets none. Liz buys her new batteries despite his objections and the camera works again - but only for another day!! The walk back passes quickly as Liz and I talk.

The final day of walking dawns clear and we're taken to our drop off near the Kells Post office and enjoy & pleasant walk along still wet tracks until we gain the the old road which takes us without incident to our final destination 18km away at Ross Behy. We enjoy some fine views across the hills and down onto the Ring of Kerry road, watching the tour buses far below us. I don't envy them one bit! Sitting on the wall of the car park at Ross Behy a few hours later we relax and I bring out the bottle of wine I was given at the Derrynane Hotel. Ross Behy as a long area of fine beach and sand dunes. A newly built children's play ground dominates the scene. Clearly the visitors here cannot be bothered to play on the miles of beach!.
That evening over our final meal together I ask the group about the trip and we all share pleasant memories. Luckily I can't be blamed for the weather!

The following morning we all say our good-byes. Some are going on to Dingle and others returning home. I'm handed a generous tip in an envelope. With some embarrassment I mumble some thanks. I'm never too sure what to say or do. I later hope that I did not sound too ungrateful. Tips are a considerable part of a guides income as the basic pay is rather small. (OK you get to stay in nice hotels and eat excellent food for nothing as well, so I'm not really complaining!). For me this will probably be my last work as tour guide in Ireland as we are to move back to the UK in October. Its been good fun and I can honestly say I've enjoyed the company of every participant and have learned a lot from them.
This tour was planned and organised by South West Walks Ireland based in Tralee, Co.Kerry. Slainte!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Charlie Chaplin (The Statue)

Whilst most towns and cities erect statues to their famous born sons or daughters its clear that Waterville, in Co.Kerry Ireland is a bit short on this front. In fact, so short are they of anyone to note ever having come from the place, they have erected this life size statue to Charlie Chaplin. We all know he wasn't born here - but they needed a statue. Who to choose? Oh!, I know, Charlie Chaplin! According to the information board our Charlie came here on holidays. Yes its true! One famous person has been to Waterville - apart from me that is.
It does not suprise me that the poor folk of Waterville do this because they are also the people who have such a complex about the color of their golf course they did this to it.

Ferry Terminal - Irish style

One of the interesting things about tour guiding is the things you see. As you can see this carefully built and pristine terminal is designed for, erhhh??? Well, certainly not passengers and was clearly used by fisherman to store smelly wellingtons, dead fish, dirty waterproofs, nets and unidentified rusting objects.
This is the ferry to Valentia Island in Co.Kerry, Ireland.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Most Southerly Thatched building in Ireland

Only a few hundred yards from the North Harbour on Cape Clear Island off the southwest coast of Ireland lies this unique thatched barn. Yet few visitors ever see it. I've been to the island many times birdwatching. It was only this year when I went to visit the O'Driscoll castle that I noticed this barn. It is the only thatched building left on the island and therefore is the most southerly thatched barn or building in Ireland. Curious to find out how the thatch was fixed, I looked in and discovered that rope had been used. The rope was coiled around the roofing timbers and over each bundle of thatch. Covered in old fish netting this unique structure probably won't last much longer.

Canoeing the R.Flesk, Co.Kerry

Well, another Sunday and after yet another wet week I got the canoe out again.
The lower R. Flesk is around grade II but there's plenty of water to be had. It's about a 65 miles journey from our house.

Left the canoe at the start, drove to Killarny and parked the car at the bridge before it enters the lake and ran the six miles back to the canoe. Got changed into canoeing gear and paddled off. Two and a half hours later and I was at the bridge and ready to go home. No capsizes but one slight problem when the thwart I was kneeling against broke and nearly caused an upset. Didn't see another paddler on the river.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I've been busy!

I've been a bit busy lately. The weather has been unseasonally poor, rain, rain, more rain and mist. Oh, and I had a week's guiding work which was with a group of seven on Sherkin, Heir & Cape Clear islands off the southwest coast here in Cork Co. I've been making and designing a couple of web-sites which will cater for two of my many interests. One devoted to drystone walls of the South West or Ireland and another for hedgelaying. I've done the walls one which you can view here . My hedgelaying one will follow soon.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Milking the cows - the hardest skill

My neighbour Richard is also my good friend. I've watched him milk his 60 cows for several years. As I've lived in the country most of my life I asked him if he'd teach me. So for three weeks morning & night I turned up and helped. Its the hardest job I've ever had to learn. Far harder than learning employment law or learning an eskimo roll in a kayak for example.
This is what you have to do:-
  • Get the cows in from the field. - move electric fence so cows have access to fresh grass.
  • Clean all the milking equipment
  • Milk & feed the cows
  • Clean all the milking equipment
  • Return them to the field.
Now you might think this is easy but nothing is as simple as it sounds. Get the cows in sounds easy and it is just about the simplest of procedures, provided the cows co-operate as you usher them from the field. A trained dog helps.

But, cleaning the equipment! First you turn on the pumps, Then flush sterilising solution through all the parts of the milking system. There are a number of precautions to be made prior to this. The most important is to make sure that the flushed water does not enter the milk refrigeration tank. This could ruin the milk already in there, perhaps five days worth.

Now you've done that you need to flush fresh water through the system to clean out the sterilising solution. The switches & valves must all be in the correct positions to do this differently at each stage.

The cows are milked in two rows of stalls each row having 7 bays. You are stood in a well some two or three feet below their rear ends. Yes it can - and it does get messy as you cannot house train a cow!! The clusters, which go on the cow's teats are attached to a glass receiving bowl attached above your head and this in turn is attached to various other tubes all performing different functions. one of the most important is the vacuum suction. All this equipment is readied for use. There are yet more switches here too!

Now you have to get seven cows into the bays. This involves ushering enough cows in at the same time ensuring the remaining cows are kept locked out.

Then you attach the clusters X4 to each cow in turn. This takes practice as the cow may not like your amateur attempts and kick out. Under no circumstances can you make a mistake. Their legs are at face height! (but you are protected by steel bars) The last thing you want to happen is drop a cluster onto the ground. If you don't attach a cluster properly it will drop off. If you don't notice then the entire lot may fall off due to the drop in the vacuum assisted suction. You quickly work along the ranks of cows and as each one is about to be milked you pull a handle suspended above your head and this drops feed into a trough in each stall. By the time you've got through one side of the two rows the cows you started to milk first will have finished, so you pump the milk to the tank and attach to clusters to the cow now waiting milking in the second row.

Once each row has been milked they are released into a separate holding pen until they can all be released into another part of the field. Whilst you are doing this you get another seven cows in the vacated row of stalls.

This is repeated until all the cows have been done.

You then have to connect all the milking machines together and pump clean the holding tanks, clusters everything else, flush with steriliser, switch everything off and hose everything down to remove all the s***t and urine, which hopefully missed you as you were stood below their rear ends.

Up until Sunday I'd always done this with Richard. But this Sunday he was away and was late back. It was time to start the milking myself. Everything went well. I doubled checked against my numerous notes. I got the first lot of cows in, the second row in - without being crushed. The first row I completed and released. I started to attach the clusters on the second row onto one poor cow, when one of clusters fell off to the ground. Disaster! as it hit the ground it sucked up S***t with a loud slurping sound. Shit! This had not happened before and I was at a loss what to do. I didn't know how to empty the glass receiving bowl other than direct into the main refrigeration tank. To do so here would have been a disaster. Nor is it possible to not use the now soiled bay. The cows simply automatically go to every vacant bay in turn and there is absolutely no way you can force two ton of beef to leave the stall it has just entered as it will be sandwiched by several other unwilling and unco-operative cows. Nor could I only milk one row at a time for the simple reason that the milking machines are shared by both two rows.

Whilst I was panicking the cows were getting frustrated and bellowing. Others waiting their turn to milk were depositing more crap and urine on the floor. This never happened to Richard. Help!!

Just as I was requesting divine intervention a face appeared at the door!! Richard! Saved!. He quickly showed me how to deposit the now dirty milk onto the floor by a so far unused switch, we pumped fresh water from a bucket via the dirty clusters until everything was clean again.

Three weeks learning and I released that this was going to be my last attempt. It's too hard for me!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Piss Pot

This wonderful image I captured in Australia. Sydney 2006. As you would guess it was a part of a art exhibition where I captured the melting ice-cream van

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Wollemi Pine

Many people like to have their picture taken with the latest film star or minor celebrity, but me? I like my picture with real rarities. This is me with a Wollemi Pine. Discovered only a few years ago in NSW Australia, this tree was thought to be extinct. There are only a few hundred in the wild, and all in one group, but luckily for us - and the trees - they are easy to propagate. I could have afforded to take this one home ($60aus) but it would not fit in my case. I suspect it would do well here in the SW of Eire. I have met many remarkable trees in my time but this is the rarest. I just hope that whoever buys one of these does not put it in their garden in front of their window, only to have to cut it down several years later when it blocks the view as all trees will if planted in the wrong place. This specimen was photographed at Mount Annan botanical gardens near Sydney Australia in 2006.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tour Guide

Just spent a week working as a walking tour-guide for South West Walks Ireland. Only two on the walk. another never turned up even though they paid!

As you can see there is always a welcome for dog owners in Ireland. This is on Bear Island off the SW coast of Ireland, Co.Cork. And this is on the Beara Way, a signposted walking route!

ere we have the real MacCarthy's bar which is on the front cover of the book by the same name written by Pete McCarthy. This is in Castletownbere on the Beara Penninsular, Co.Cork

The result of all that publicity means the place is in every guide book going. A must place to visit. (Its pretty ordinary inside and sells the usual Irish offering of G.........ess & H.........n larger)

A rather wet day on our visit (17th June 2008)

And here is just about the most southwesterly village you can get in Europe - Allihies. This place was once a thriving mining town in the 1800's until eventually closing in the 1960's. Many of the miners were from Cornwall in the UK and English names are frequent here.

Walking 14km - 18km on foot each day is a good way to keep fit and often gets me to places I don't normally choose to walk. Being a tour guide is a great way to meet new faces, listen to how other people live and share your knowledge of Ireland. If there is a downside, then it's not particularly well paid, you don't 'clock-off' at 5pm and you may not particularly want to walk six days in a row but .... you get a wonderful hotel room and the same excellent food as your guests. All in all I'm not complaining.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Lisbon Treaty "no"

Well its done. 820,000 citizens of Ireland told the 400 million who live in the rest of Europe that they don't approve of the Treaty. Some democracy this is that allows so few to dictate to so many. Now it gets even better. There is no plan B, no one now knows what is going to happen both in Ireland or Europe. As I write our politicians are blaming each other and everyone else for the no vote. We are now being told the likely implications are not going to be pleasant. (Where were these people before the election I wonder?). An EU minister was on the radio saying that we need to find out why the Irish didn't vote yes and work from there. This will be difficult as people here voted no for reasons as diverse as not wanting compulsory enlistment into the armed forces or they didn't like the price of petrol. None of these things were in the treaty of course but it didn't stop the masses here from thinking they were.

Oh, and John McCarthy our neighbour voted no because the EU was responsible for one of his cows going down with an infection.

"Jaysus boy that EU lot have introduced soooo... much I'm sure it twas dem wot brought in dat voyrus that moy cow caught. It twas never loyk dis before dem europeans started".

Giving us the vote was like asking children to vote for more school and homework. Even better, only Irish citizens were supposed to vote. They got that wrong too and gave us voting cards!!! (We voted, thanks!)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Lisbon Treaty

Tomorrow we, the citizens of Ireland are being asked to vote 'yes' or 'no' to the Treaty of Lisbon. We are the only country in the European Union who have to decide whether to ratify the treaty. If we vote no the treaty will not come into effect. It is causing much hot air both in the pubs and on on the airwaves as the citizens of this country decide which way to vote. There is as you would expect a large amount of contrary advice and misinformation. Somewhat suprising given that we've only had 12 years to read the full treaty. Except it appears that only three people in Ireland have actually read the whole 56 page document. (

I tried to read it when it arrived with the Sunday Times. I took one look at and decided it was beyond human comprehension and returned to do something more interesting. Just to give you an idea it goes something like this.

"Section 12, paragraph 8 as amended by section two sub paragraph 8b shall be amended to read, "Where subsection 8b is relevant then paragraph 2b shall be the relevant paragraph for all purposes except when Section 35, sub section 29f applies". And so on.

The Referendum Commission has however kindly given every citizen a helpful booklet outlining the changes in what it calls simple language. It runs to only 14 pages in English and 18 in Irish. I cannot bring myself to understand it even after trying. For example on page 11 it says that one of the changes is in competence and the treaty will give the EU joint competence with member states in a number of areas and these include energy and aspects of the environment and public health. Thats clear then isn't it?

Many people will vote no because they simply don't see why they should vote for something they don't understand and there are those who will vote yes because, "the EU has been good to us and we should trust our polititians". There are those who claim it will allow the EU to force us citizens of Ireland to eat rice or fight on Sundays if the EU goes to war over herring quotas. Some people think that we will have compulsory abortion if the person is born in wales and lives outside Italy. There are those who think that the EU will claim the moon the following week (sub section 24, para 9) and so on.

Me? I'll vote yes for the simple reason that the EU has so far been the only institution that has sprotecting the Irish from destroying their own environment over the last ten or fifteen years.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Driving in Ireland - an update

Last October the Minister for Transport postponed his decision to change the law on learner drivers driving unaccompanied. Next month he's going to try again. (See

This is another doomed attempt by the Minister to compel learner drivers in Ireland to have a qualified driver with them at all times. Why? Well to start with only 140,000 of the 400,000 unqualified drivers have applied to take their tests so it is unlikely that these drivers will have taken the test by then anyway. So what will happen? One of two things. The Minister will back down again to demands by the unqualified drivers, or the law will be introduced - but like so many laws here, it will not be enforced.

Unfortunately many Irish drivers just don't see the need to be qualified and complain that liviing in the countryside is impossible unless you drive and that it isn't always possible to get a qualified driver to accompany you. Yes I know every other country in the world manages this one, but not here. I was reading the Irish Times this Saturday and an article on this subject by Rosita Boland just goes to demonstrate the Irish desgregard for being qualified. One female, reported Rosita, had decided that she will just "Just dodge the Guards", but more appallingly was the attitude of one mother, who in her own words failed "big time" when she took her test but admitted to driving with her baby in the car. This woman should be locked up. Not for her own good but that of her baby. But then I shouldn't be surprised at this attitude as parents here can often be seen driving around with their little Rug-Rats jumping around in the front or back seats without seat belts. I've even seen babies only able to crawl laid on the back seat waiting to be thrown through the car windscreen when the next idiot crashes into them. The odd thing is that mum can often be seen wearing a belt. Assuming they know what it is for, they feel no need to extend the safety to their offspring.

We'll see what the Minister does next month. Don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Don't Fly Aer Lingus

Aer Lingus Have a simple but cunning plan in place to deal with customer claims and complaints.

  • The 'Customer Care' department will only accept complaints in writing.
  • They will not accept telephone calls.
  • They do not answer any complaints or correspondence.
It was in March 2008 that my return flight with Aer Lingus from Amsterdam to Cork was cancelled at around 11pm due to bad weather. I was offered the next available flight back to Eire the following day which only went to Dublin rather than Cork. As the next Cork flight was an even longer wait of some 24 hrs I accepted the Dublin flight which was due to leave the next day at around 10am. We were refused any food or any overnight accommodation. "It's not our responsibility as the cancellation was due to the bad weather".

Being rather prudent when I booked on-line I took out Aer Lingus insurance and consequently kept all the receipts for the extra costs. (Elvia travel insurance) Of course they will not allow my claim to proceed without written confirmation from Aer Lingus that my flight was cancelled. Aer Lingus simply do not respond to any request, nor will the switch board put you through to the so called customer care centre. "Only in writing" they say. Meanwhile Aer Lingus travel claims refuse to process any claim without that magic letter from Aer Lingus.

No amount of searching will allow you to contact them other than by letter.

Meanwhile I'll e-mail the insurance company to see whether they will pay out for the hotel, food and travel from Dublin to Cork without that magic letter from the insurers. I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Melting Ice Cream Van

This is what happens to Mr Whippy Ice cream vans when it gets hot on this Australian beach near Sydney in 2006. (OK so it didn't really melt but was a part of a rather interesting 'art' exhibition)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Driving In Ireland

If you're used to driving on roads in the UK or Europe there are some interesting differences between those countries and ours. Most people notice how little traffic there is on our roads and how the pace of driving is much more relaxed. This is true, you just don't seem to get the aggressive tailgating, mad overtaking and excessive speeding which occurs in many other european countries - but beware!!
  • 400,000 are driving without a full licence here!!
  • 20% of Irish drivers on full licences never took a test

Yes thats right. There is such a backlog of learning drivers wanting to take the test that the vast majority simply drive on the roads anyway. There is a requirement to have a qualified driver with you, - but not after your second provisional licence, regardless of how many times you have failed a test. Nor is common to see 'L' plates. An attempt this year to tighten up the regulations regarding unacompanied drivers and to stop people driving on provisional licences failed due to overwhelming complaints from our citizens. This is the only country in Europe, and possibly the world, where you can drive to a test centre unaccompanied, fail the test miserably, and then pop into the car and drive home, again unaccompanied.

And even more remarkable 20% of those people with full driver's licences never took a test because the government took the easy way out and overcame the backlog of people waiting to be tested by simply issueing full driver's licences to any applicants who had held two or more provisional licences in a row. These 'amnesties' happened twice. Yes, its true!

This is one of the few countries where you can set up as a driving instructor without any qualifications or training. I have no doubt that many of the driving instructors currently operating obtained their licences following the two goverment amnesties.

So if you're out and about watch out!!!

Here are some interesting observations on (bad) Irish driving habits with my own personal explanation as to why this happens:-

  • Do not indicate. This prevents people from knowing where your going. Its not of their business anyway.
  • When going across a roundabout indicate left when you join the round about. This will puzzle drivers who are used to people indicating only when they leave the round about. And if going right, indicate left when you join the round about because this indicates you are making a left turn at the start??................(no I don't understand why either)
  • Allows drive too close to the car in front. After all you've got your Paidrig Peo sticker in the window to keep you safe.
  • Drive with fog lights on. Especially in good visibility and for extra marks use fog lights only.
  • Park on double yellow lines. These indicate good parking places.
  • Try parking on junctions. It’ll save you time
  • Double park if the double yellow lines are occupied and the nearest junction is more than 10 yards away.
  • Drive with fog lights on. Especially in good visibility. Even better, try using only fog lights..
  • Never reverse into a parking space – always drive forwards into it. It provides others with lots of amusement when you discover you can't manage it.
  • Do not wear a seatbelt or allow others to do so. You know you’ll never have an accident and anyway your kids won't go through the windscreen and if they do you can always make a few more. After all your a good Catholic.
  • If you have to stop on the road always park on a bend or blind spot.
  • To avoid stopping always use a phone whilst moving.
  • Always drive much much slower than the traffic behind you. You didn’t go much faster on a donkey did you? And sure, what’s the hurry?
  • When wanting to make a right turn to the leave the road, indicate right, but then pull over to the left even though you are signalling to turn right. Wait until all the confused drivers have stopped crashing, then turn right.
  • As a varient to the above indicate left to turn right and right to turn left.

If you think any of these are exagerated then think again. I once saw someone use 14 forward and backwards manouvers to get into a normal sized parking space on our village street!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bear Grylls - aka 'Born Survivor'

Bear Gryll's has done several programmes which purport to show survival skills in a number of 'dangerous locations'. Well, call me a sucker but I've never watched such rubbish professing to demonstrate survival skills in all my life.
  • These programmes have exactly the same format. Each one shows him climbing up and down something steep. (Logs or trees will do if there is no rock) It is obvious from a safety point of view you should walk round such objects.
  • Jumping into freezing water. This is guaranteed to kill you in the arctic, alps or scotland in winter. (Unless you have a hotel at hand).
  • Eating the most ridiculous insects and animals/fish mostly raw.
  • Turning to the camera just before the next stunt and announcing, "only last month someone tried this and died", or something similar.
  • Getting covered in dirt at every opportunity.
  • Carrying around a water bottle even in wet, cold environments.
  • Out of camera shot he stays in a nice hotel and eats normal food. He may even like a beer or two.
In the episode where he was in the Alps I laughed when he claimed to have slept the night in a snow hole. The shot purporting to show him punch his fist & head through the top of the snow hole first thing in the morning had Bear Grylls announce "It snowed a lot last night", Anyone who has any experience of snow could see that the snow was old and was off-white. The next shot showed him walking over a landscape that was free of new snow - the rocks were bare (sorry Bear). And best of all, judging by the shadows, it was taken at about mid-day. He clearly had a long lie in at the hotel.

In Scotland he was shown jumping into a bog to demonstrate how to survive. Now I've spent many a winter in Scotland climbing and have never, ever, had this problem as they are either frozen or obviously visible. (To survive you have to take your clothes off before falling in as he demonstrated) It is certainly not on the Scottish Mountaineering Council list of required mountain skills. Ok I know he loves taking his clothes off but.... And we saw him again with that stupid water bottle. Does this man not know that Scotland is rather wet and always has plenty of safe drinkable water in every stream in the Highlands?

Another episode had him in the desert. In Morocco, I think, blurting out about how hot the temperature was and so on. Could he not recall his own advice from the episode when he claimed he was in an American desert that "You should never walk during the day, I must find a cave to wait out until the temperature drops at night"?

In another pointless stunt he crawled inside a (dead) camel's body cavity claiming it was an example of a survival skill He also has a fascination with his own urine. He just loves to pee. This time in large quantities all around his camel. "to ward of predators such as Jackals". The man's mad!!. How many Jackals have ever attacked a man inside a camel for god sake? I've seen plenty of Jackels sniff human pee and they runaway as soon as they spot you. Ask any wildlife camera-man.
He came out of the camel in the morning, shirt covered in gore and blood as one would expect. I wondered how he was now going to keep the flies at bay the rest of the day until I noted he moved off (after having consumed an ant for breakfast) Bear Grylls was wearing a very clean and fresh shirt. Obviously the camel he stayed in was up market and had excellent room service. I must pack a camel in my survival bag next time I go walk about!.

On second thoughts to keep both cool and warm Bear Grylls should take a tip from the Spanish Foreign legion handbook and dig a hole large enough to get into and cover himself up. This works well to keep you out of the sun during the day and out of the cold at night. (To avoid scores of readers attempting this on the beach next time your on holiday and dying you must keep your head out of the sand. (Cover it up with a shirt or dead camel)

To prevent further programmes, however, I'd suggest the added precaution of digging the hole with a JCB, at least six feet deep, tossing Bear Grylls into the bottom, urinating on him (to keep the jackals away), covering him up with sand and leaving the JCB on top for a couple of weeks just to make sure he can't get out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Royal Mail - a complaint

The Royal Mail does not fare so well. Last year I sent a small gold chain, which had been in the family for many years, to South Africa, a bequest to a niece from my late mother. I was dubious of it ever arriving in South Africa as soon as I noted you had to state the contents on the package. I asked for it to be insured and was told this was included in the price of postage, approximately £5. However as the object was probably worth more I paid for more insurance. It was now insured for up to £100. A small amount for a sentimental piece of family history but probably reflected its face value on an open market.

It never arrived of course. A quick on-line check showed it had only taken a couple of days to leave the UK and thus vanish into the hands of some thief in the South African post office.

I made my insurance claim and was asked again how much the item missing was worth. I told them and wrote to them giving my estimate for its value, (£100) which was what I had estimated and had paid to have ensured. A long wait ensued. Three months later I contacted Royal Mail and was told that they have an international agreement with South Africa which allows each country to ask for information about missing items. The deadline for responding had passed. However I was informed that they would make another request for information about my missing (stolen!!!) item as this was also a part of 'the agreement'. Another three months passed.

I contacted them again. I was again informed that they had still received no reply from South Africa, which was hardly suprising and that my claim was being processed. Another three months passed.

I contacted them again and was told that they could not allow my claim as I had given them a written estimate of the value. Pardon? "Yes, if you give us a self valuation we've no way of knowing whether you are correct so we don't normally pay out". But, I pointed out, that there was no other way of valuing such items. "Sorry sir, we only accept receipts showing valuations". I struggled to explain that getting , or having a receipt for an item of 100 years of age was highly unlikely as the shop selling the item was not likely to have the original record or, still be in business. I was also told that they don't accept self valuations as these are always viewed with suspicion . In effect this means that if you post something in the UK and you insure it with Royal Mail then in the event it goes missing you will not get your money back unless you have your receipt of purchase. I told them I'm not aware of any other insurer that asks for proof of valuation on paper before paying out. After all if your house burns down your not asked for receipts of all the items burnt. I got nowhere. However they would look into it further. Another few months passed.

I contacted them again. In the end I did accept 'a good will payment of £36. Obviously running an insurance business is a highly profitable enterprise for the Royal Mail as you make it very easy for people to pay for insurance and almost impossible for people to make a claim. Oh, and never, ever both contact customers or reply to anyone trying to make a complaint,

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An Post - The postal service

An Post, the Irish postal service has many charms. There are only two letter rates. One for Irish destinations and one for everywhere else in the world. So it costs the same to post a letter to France as it does to Bolivia. However, what makes it special is our postman. When we came here ten years ago (1998) I thought it a good idea to inform the postman of my name. After all Irish houses in the countryside have no name, or number, nor are there street names. Before I had a chance to tell him he dropped a small parcel off for me. "How did you know it was for me?", I asked. "Just put two and two together", he replied.
As most Irish country addresses simply consists of your name, the parish name and local village, I though he might need some help, what with many O'Driscolls, several McCarthys a couple of Connells I must tell him that my partner's surname is also Connell. No need. Before I had my chance a letter arrived addressed to my other half. "How did you know?", I again asked. "I just put two and two together again". he replied.
It gets better. One day a gardening catalogue arrived. The label's address simply stated "Schull, Ireland". No name, no township. All was obscured. When I asked the postman how he knew it was for us, we were told that he'd noticed a few others correctly addressed for us previously and guessed, correctly that this too was for us.
Often when I'm around and about, the postman will recognise my car, maybe parked outside someones house, and drop the mail inside the car. You can't do that with postcodes and automated sorting! .

Walking in Ireland

Well as you all know Ireland welcomes visitors. Or does it?
This notice near the Cliffs of Mhor in Clare and the one below at Moll's Gap near Killarny in Kerry SW Ireland clearly reflects the growing trend amongst the new Irish landlords to ban walkers. In Ireland there are no public footpaths or bridleways. The waymarked trails and long distance paths of Ireland such as 'The Kerry Way', 'The Wicklow Way' and so on are all on a combination of public roads or across farmer's land which the farmer has allowed the walk to cross. Permission can, and has in a several cases been withdrawn. Unlike most European countries you have absolutely no legal right of access to hills, mountains or moors. And as this farmer shows, you are unwelcome. However in their bid to welcome visitors the farmers did propose a year or two ago that for the measly sum of €5000 plus an annual payment of €5 per metre of path crossing their land they would be only too happy to allow access. Luckily the government did not accept this.
So just beware, if you come to walk in Ireland you do so as a tresspasser!
For a more information on access problems in Ireland visit

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Making Irish beaches the 'right' colour

We all know how the Irish spray paint golf courses the 'right' colour. (see 2007) Now we know how the Irish make their beaches (strands) the proper colour. Clearly for the locals of Ballylicky and Bantry the natural light grey was not suitable so here it has been covered up by a lorry load of the right coloured sand to attract tourists!!!.
Next time you drive through Bantry towards Glengarriff in West Cork you'll see two of these 'new' beaches. (If you want to see how they make Ireland green go press here

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Customer Service (No.1)

I'm furious. Roger & Margaret have just visited the house I inherited in Whitby some two years ago. Invoices from 'POWERGEN' or E-On were laid on the floor. Some of the letters said they were handing the bills into debt collectors and this 'would affect my ability to obtain credit'

I had of course written to them soon after I inherited the house in 2006 and told them that the previous owner, my mother, had died and I was responsible for the bills and that I lived in Ireland. No problem I thought. Then some months later in November of 2007 Trish and I visited the house and guess what was on the floor. Yes, more bills from 'Powergen' and threats to hand us over to debt collection agencies. Trish telephoned them. "No we cannot talk to you, only Mr. Perry as the invoices are addressed to him. In any case we don't send invoices overseas it costs too much" .

"But you're sending the invoices to the wrong address, we live in Ireland".

"Mr Perry will have to notify us again of your new billing address in writing"

I arrive home, Trish tells me to stay calm and she tells me the news. What a surprise I think, 'another customer care department that can't. I grab the 'phone and some mentally retarded peanut answers at the other end'; "Powergen, customer service, Tracey speaking how can help youuuuu"?

"I'm sorry sir we can't post invoices overseas". I tell her as politely as possible that she is talking utter crap and nonsense. Does she really believe that none of the owners of houses in the UK whose owners live abroad have their invoices sent to their overseas addresses? If this is true I ask her then how do they pay their bills?. She starts to tell me but I cut her off. "I want to speak to your manager",
"Sorry sir the manager is unavailable at the moment". This is utter rubbish I tell her, surely people like you can't be left alone? You'll have the company bankrupt. Now just go and get me your superior.

A few minutes later another minion greets me and asks what can she do to help. I go through the rigmarole again, clearly their procedures are only designed to reduce you to a state of submission. "So you see Mr Perry you'll have to inform us of your address in Ireland". Complete and utter rubbish I tell her, and ask her which address she has on the screen. She reads it out. Yes thats the correct address, the one I wrote and told you I wanted you to send the bills to. Why do you want it in writing again then if one of your staff is correct in telling me that you don't post invoices abroad? Clearly she is flustered and tells me that the previous, 'how-can-I- help-you', is wrong.

A few days later I calm down and write an angry letter of complaint pointing out the ridiculous nature of their requests. This letter clearly reminds them that they are to send invoices for address xxx in Whitby to address XXX in ireland.

Then Roger & Margaret telephoned. We've been to the house. invoices are on the floor threating civil action etc.,

I go to their website and look for the customer complaints form as in 'Contact us'. After much searching and being told the usual crap about striving for excellence I can't find anything about customer care. Never mind. I start to fill in the complaints box's. It's a joke surely?
One of the box's asks for your address. It won't accept mine in Ireland. It keeps asking for a postcode. Then it asks for your telephone number. It won't accept our number either. Even worse you cannot proceed unless you give it the correct English 'number, this is a joke as the number I give was disconnected two years ago. So my complaint now includes their complete inability to allow complaints to come from abroad. I use my mother's address, the non existent telephone number and press send.

I telephone them. "Powergen, customer service Jenny speaking how can I help youuuuu?".
She asks for the account number, which I give then asks me to confirm my name and address.
"No I won't, I don't want to speak to you. I want to speak to your manager" She asks me what the complaint is. "just get me a manager-and do it now!" She tells me her manager isn't there as its a Saturday. I avoid laughing at her and avoid telling her there is absolutely no way people like her can be left on their own without supervision.
"Go and get me the person who is in charge!" This she does this and Rebecca answers. (Poor Rebecca!).

I ask Rebecca what address she has on the screen for invoice purposes. She correctly tells me my Irish address. "So why are you not sending me invoices to this address?". I get told a story about foreign invoices are done in another customer call centre which doesn't open on Saturdays. Does it have a telephone number I ask?. "I'm sorry sir we can't give their number". So what are you going to do I ask? I'll look into it Mr Perry and get back to you but it might not be until Monday, she says. "Listen Rebecca all I want to know is why are you sending invoices to Whitby when you have the information on screen that they are to be sent to Ireland. And so this charade goes on for a few more minutes. Customer care indeed.

I give in. I live in hope.

(Monday morning). I receive an e-mail from customer services stating, amongst other things, that they note that they have been sending invoices to our Irish address and perhaps we aught to check at our post office. Well I've just e-mailed them back and said that if that is true then why are they sending them still to the Whitby address.

An update
Its now July 2008. Trish has just visited Whitby. Oh dear! Here we go again. More bloody bills laid on the floor threating us with court and bailiffs. If that were not bad enough we had transfered our billing system to the on-line system as e-on had suggested was away of making it foolproof.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Missainabi River, Northern Ontario 2002

Hard paddling on grade III rapids

August 2002 and our small group waited in the Canadian night for the train to arrive at Foleyet in Northern Ontario. The single light bulb on the platform the only illumination. The stars were out in a magnificent display unspoilt by atmospheric pollution. The northern boreal forest and millions of mosquitoes surrounded us, all unseen in the dark.

Eventually the train could be seen and heard down the line, bright headlights slowly increasing in size as it neared. Several minutes later and nearly an hour behind time, three giant diesel locos slowly pulled into view. Each appeared the height of a two-story house and pulled far too many carriages to count. In a flurry of activity our four Canadian canoes and equipment were loaded into the baggage cars and within minutes our journey commenced through the blackness of the northern forest night.

We were dropped off two and a half hours later at the side of the track, the train departed and we were left in the darkness. We could have been anywhere. There was no going back now. We were committed during the next several days to over a hundred miles of paddling the upper section of the Missinaibi, a Canadian Heritage River in northeastern Ontario. It is over 350 miles long and offers one of the longest, unimpeded stretches of wilderness river environments found in Ontario.

We put up our tents on the small clearing next to the line. The temperature outside, even this far north, and at night, was the middle twenties.

The following morning we got our first glimpse of the river, packed our gear and loaded the canoes.

The first rapids soon appeared and Greg, one of our two guides, suggesting a plan of attack. Trish and I elected to go last (we didn’t want to be the first to make fools of ourselves) and I watched in trepidation as the four others made the descent through the only possible route. Our turn came and apart from bumping a couple of boulders we were safely down. We were relieved, even if we didn’t manage it in great style. At least we didn’t go for an early swim. We soon discovered that river levels were rather low for August making the rapids a little easier than expected, however there was a lot of water going down this river and there was no room for complacency as we were hundreds of miles from any help should problems arise. This was the first of numerous grade III & II rapids.

Our first portage came soon on the first day, not because of a rapid, but because of a massive log jamb. It must have been there some time because it was marked on the map.

This log jamb gave evidence of river levels twenty to thirty feet higher in spring when the river was full of melt water. Some of the trees were two or three feet thick and up to eighty feet long.

Most portages were marked, as the river was once an important link on the fur trade route from Lake Superior to the Hudson Bay.

We paddled by many beaver lodges, which to the uninitiated look like huge piles of driftwood on the banks and quite unlike the beaver dams I had expected.

As the morning progressed, the wind strengthened so we rafted our canoes together and erected a makeshift sail from a tarpaulin. This was great fun but difficult to steer.

We finished the days canoeing at around three thirty in the afternoon, camped beside a rapid and had an enjoyable relaxing swim in the warm waters, which was an unexpected surprise as the rivers we normally paddle are never that warm even in summer.

The next morning was sunny, the temperature creeping up into the middle twenties. The river was slow moving between rapids so paddling the loaded canoes took some effort especially when the wind was not on our backs. We savoured the sounds, sights and smell of this wilderness river and kept our eyes peeled for moose and other animals evidenced by many footprints on the banks.

Most of the rapids we ran laden except Greenhill rapids where we portaged the packs over what was to be one of the longest portages of the trip several hundred yards of ups and downs through the forest. Like most of the portages this one was marked and free from fallen trees. In the undergrowth at the end of the portage an abandoned canoe lay broken and twisted. A reminder of what could happen when things go wrong.

The next rapid had hidden in it ‘a can opener’ as the Canadians call them. Just below the surface an angry fan of water was being pushed upwards by a very sharp rock just visible inches below the surface. An error of less than a foot on either side and our canoes would be joining the previous one. Luckily we all managed to miss it. A Broad Winged Hawk spiralled overhead, followed an hour later by an Osprey, the first examples of the many raptors on the river. That night we camped beside St Peter’s Rapids and enjoyed a refreshing swim in the river.

At Split Rock Falls, the river cascaded noisily down a narrow gorge impassable by open canoe thereby involving another portage. This was followed a little later by the aptly named Thunderhouse falls where the river ran through a narrow canyon into a massive pile of boulders and then into a pool some hundred yards across where we camped on a sandy site amongst the pines. Huge fallen trees, washed down in floods, littered the banks and others were wedged high in the canyon walls. During the night, it rained, the wind got up and a resounding crack close by told us a large tree had toppled in the wind. Thankfully not on us and I was glad we had pitched under an already partly fallen tree which looked secure. In the morning we discovered fresh Black Bear footprints close by.

The following day we paddled 25 k and saw more wildlife including a Broad Winged Hawk being chased for several minutes by a much smaller Merlin. We also passed the portage to Brunswick House, a once famous trading post built between 1789 and 1796 and now deserted in its lakeside setting. Our camp was on a small island and we spent the evening in front of the campfire, enjoying the last of the red wine. I always recommend red wine for insect country. You don’t notice the insects in the glass and this avoids having to rescue them prior to drinking. I guess Guinness would do too.

Not all canoes make it down the river

The river was gradually getting much wider and much shallower. There were large boulders hidden menacingly just below the surface so concentration was needed at all times. We passed many submerged boulders within inches and I hoped Trish at the front would avoid them. A strong breeze on our backs saw another attempt to sail our canoes. This, like the first, was fun but in the confines of the river was difficult to steer effectively.

At Pond portage several fallen trees blocked our way. We took out saws and removed some of the obstructions making the passage easier for those who followed. The large fallen trees strewn about the portage gave evidence of much higher spring water levels with large gashes in their upper trunks caused by ice and other trees hitting them in the spring thaw. A chilling reminder that this was a remote and potentially dangerous river was another intact canoe washed ashore on the other bank; no doubt, it was once pinned in higher water levels; it’s owners having to leave it to its fate until lower water levels released their grip.

Three Loons – Great northern Divers swam in the river ahead, their haunting cries echoing across to us. Their sound, synonymous with the northern wilderness, continued long into the distance as we passed them by. This was our longest days paddle of 31 k.

An early start the next day- well, 9am! We were immediately into grade two rapids and much sideslipping and back-ferrying around boulders, falls and narrow shoots. A strong headwind made paddling hard until we came to Albany rapids, the longest of the trip and consisting of a mile long rock garden. Our first Bald Eagle soared overhead as it too explored the river and a pair of otters played in the river.

Trish taking a rest

Greg, had been told of a new campsite at the bottom of Albany Rapids. We found it set back a short way from the river. It was obviously little used, heavily overgrown and needing much clearance and levelling. This was a much better prospect than another ten kilometres of paddling that day so we set to with saw and axe to upgrade our site. Swimming in the warm water later, we were watched by an Osprey on a nearby tree and were rewarded later as it flew to the rivers edge and had a wash in the river a few yards from our camp.

Getting out of the tent in the middle of that night for a leak I was greeted by the ethereal sight of a luminous green area a foot across which on investigation in the morning proved to come from a much rotted tree stump.

Within minutes of setting out the next day, we were soon navigating easier rapids. As we manoeuvred down one, I saw our only black bear of the trip rapidly retreat into the forest.

On our seventh and penultimate day on the river, rain came in from the west and we donned waterproofs. We battled against the wind and rain only to face a long and wet portage around Big Beaver rapids where we thankfully set up camp. Although we had spare clothing both Trish and I were quite wet and cold and we regretted not bring better waterproofs with us. Peter, as he had at most of our camps, went off fishing and returned with Walleye and Bass, fish we readily ate that evening. A big tarpaulin was erected over an upturned canoe, which was serving as our table, and we got some relief from the steady rain.

Our final day on the river commenced with a steady drizzle. Donning our still damp fleece jackets we were on the water for 8:30 and immediately encountered the first rapid which we paddled down without any scouting. We also encountered our first of two portages that day, the first a short 60 yards and the second 200 yards, which was made difficult by having to negotiate wet logs and slippery rocks. Here in the mud we saw a fresh wolf print filling with water. Unseen in the forest we were being observed!

Greg and Emily put on a steady pace. We knew Greg had to meet our outfitters at 2pm but Emily’s hurry was motivated by the prospect of seeing her boyfriend. Stopping on the water only twice for snacks we paddled on. Luckily the rain held off although we had light showers, which were thankfully on our backs. The river, now much wider, was shallow enough to wade. Avoiding going aground or hitting an unseen boulder in the current meant there was little time to relax.

As we neared Mattice and the end of our trip, we came across the first of man’s intrusions into the wilderness. The remains of an old tin shed rotting at the end of a portage and the first of several houses stood amongst the trees. Later in the afternoon the roofs of Mattice appeared and on the bank an old Cree Indian burial ground, a reminder that we were just tourists in this land. Just beyond the Trans Canadian Highway Bridge we pulled into the bank. This was the end of our journey.

As we unpacked, an elderly Cree Indian walked up to us and asked me if there was enough water in the river. Knowing that the Cree Indians had been paddling this river for generations and that this man in particular had spent most of his 71 years hunting and paddling everything from birch bark to modern plastic canoes down the river, I felt slightly intimidated. I could only tell him there was enough for me. I would have liked to talk longer but everyone was hurriedly piling equipment and canoes onto trailers. We crammed into the giant pick-up and were off back to civilization.

Want more info? Try, or Getting to the rivers can be difficult. Ours involved a two hour flight from Toronto to Timmins; an hour and half in a bus on gravel roads and a trip in a train. We used an outfitting company and joined a scheduled trip. You could of course hire kit and canoes from an outfitter and get them to drop you off somewhere. Safety is highly important, as rescue is not always available. Even Satellite phones don’t always work in the wilderness (ours didn’t). Finally if you love canoes then south-eastern Ontario and the Canadian Canoe Museum in southeastern Ontario is a must. It is the home the world’s largest collection of native canoes and kayaks. (