|Tae Kwon-Do South West Championships||Portslade Panelworks||Italian Car Day||Adele's 30th Birthday Party|
|JapFest 2011||Tae Kwon-Do Southern County Championships||Selsey Chalet||Tae Kwon-Do Grading|
|Supercar Treble||Egypt Holiday||Japanese Auto Extravaganza 2011||The End|
|Hot Air Balloon Flight||New Home||The House of Annie Lennox|
This year will always be remembered for the sad event in September but also for moving out of my parent's home in October. Many things happened this year, the major points covered in this review, but also other things which I haven't gone into much detail about, but were also notable. Firstly, while shopping in Bluewater at the beginning of February, Marie & I were told that Jenna & Gavin had separated. This was a very sad time for Marie's sister. I never saw or heard from Gavin again, which was sad as I classed him as a friend.
I experienced a number of minor health problems throughout the year. During late December 2010 and early January 2011, I suffered from acute left frontal sinusitis. The headache symptom was probably the worst headache I have experienced. In January / February, I was diagnosed with right sided mastitis and a suspect allergic rash over my face & neck. The doctor prescribed me some tablets, Hydrocortisone cream and Doublebase gel. After this failed to resolve it, I was prescribed Tetralysal tablets and Eumovate cream. When this failed, in July it was finally resolved when prescribed with Fucidin H cream and Flucloxacillin. It was thought to be folliculitis I had been suffering from. In March, I suffered a wrist injury blocking a turning kick in Tae Kwon-Do, which took me a while to recover from and at the end of October, I suffered a recurrence of my lower back problems. A week after moving in to my new flat during October, my lower back went into a very painful muscle spasm and it took quite a few weeks to fully recover with the help of East Surrey Hospital's Physiotherapy department where I was referred to by Occupational Health. At the beginning of December, I experienced an unusual right sided visual disturbance after coughing a few times at home. It lasted for about 30 - 40 minutes. Some people suggested it could be retinal problems so when at work the following morning, I went to A&E then the Eye Casualty clinic in the evening. After an outpatient appointment during January 2012, the Ophthalmology consultant diagnosed me with suffering from a migraine. I was one of the lucky ones who didn't experience an associated headache. Finally, also during December, I suffered from a fractured tooth while eating my lunch at work. Fortunately, it wasn't painful and a temporary filling was fitted during an emergency dental visit the following day then a permanent filling over a month later.
My Dad's Volvo C70 came to a tragic end at the beginning of March. However, he had been looking to replace it during the previous month, due to being unhappy with its poor reliability. His car had some sort of fault which was being rectified by local independent Volvo specialist. They failed to close his car's bonnet properly, so while driving to work the following day, the bonnet flipped up, smashed the windscreen and damaged both front wings in the process. Luckily, there was no subsequent crash from the sudden lack of forward vision. It was declared an insurance write-off and that was the end of the Volvo C70. He looked at a Ford Cougar, an MG, a Honda Accord and a few Lexus IS200s before buying a snazzy looking silver Lexus IS200 Sport with optional Aero body kit from a dealer in High Wycombe.
I attended just two Japanese car shows this year, having aborted going to JapShow at Santa Pod Raceway on 18th June due to the rain. While on the subject of my car, on 7th June, while staying at the Selsey Chalet, I took this rather stunning photo of my car, which I now have enlarged as a 60cm x 80cm poster in a clip frame on my wall. And on 7th July, I celebrated 10 years of Honda Prelude ownership, albeit with a gap of a few months in 2005 when I was without a car. Then during November, a minibus driver who wasn't concentrating, drove into the rear off-side of my car causing superficial damage which was repaired at the beginning of 2012.
My interest in Formula One waivered even further this year. Last year I started watching the highlights rather than the whole race. Now I have lost the enthusiasm even to watch the highlights. I find it quite odd as years ago I was a big F1 fan, it's odd how things have changed. I understand that the BBC have lost the rights to Sky TV, or at least some of the rights, to broadcast F1 on TV from 2012. I don't have Sky TV, I'm happy with Freeview instead, so now this issue has been solved for me. I'll still probably be interested in the result though, and of course hopefully seeing the crashes on the news. Years back, the thought of not being able to watch F1 racing mortified me. Before I started losing interest in F1 a few years ago, I only missed one race since 1992. If I wasn't in to watch the race live, I would record it, and the only reason that I missed that one race was because of a problem with either my video recorder or the tape itself. Oh well, I suppose that's the end of an era for me.
This year's saving of £2 coins came to a total of £164, matching the total I saved during 2009 and this year's profit from selling items of eBay came to £153.92.
Marie & I arrived at Salisbury's Five Rivers leisure centre at about 08:40 in time for the 09:00 starting time. We could tell that this was going to be a busy competition as the corridor outside the hall where everyone was queuing was packed. And when the doors opened at 09:00, it soon became packed inside. The participants & spectators were packed in to the seating area like sardines.
As with previous championships I had attended, I was nervous, but for some reason, this time I was extremely nervous, more nervous than I had ever been. This time I was determined to be fully ready and take part, unlike the previous two championships at the end of 2010 which didn't go to plan.
The adult events were scheduled to start at 11:00, but there is no timetable for the individual events. Part way through the morning while the children were still doing their events, I started to warm up in preparation for sparring. It turned out this decision was a bit premature, but as no one knows the exact time of their individual events, no one knows when is the best time to warm up. It's a guessing game. I alternated between sitting down next to Marie in the spectator's seating area and getting up to do some warming up & stretching a few times. My anxiety was making me very restless and even gave me abdominal pains.
My wait was finally over when I heard the callout for men's welterweight blue & red belt sparring. I was glad the waiting was over as the suspense was getting to me and I was glad that I actually heard my callout this time, unlike last year. Surprisingly there were only three of us in the men's welterweight blue & red belt division, most of the other blue & red belt men were in the heavier weight divisions. The other two in my weight division went up first. Both were younger than myself but one was a lot taller than me and he won the fight, so I would be fighting him. The TAGB officials let 2 or 3 fights of either the middleweight or heavyweight divisions have their fights before going back to welterweight where I would be fighting the winner of the first round. I suppose this was to give him a rest. I wasn't full of confidence because I saw that he was a good fighter and he was taller than me so had a much longer reach with his longer legs. I believe being tall is a definite advantage in sparring due to the longer reach, a bit like Dhalsim in Street Fighter 2.
As I expected, I lost, but did give it a good go. This was a continuous two minute round as opposed to a minute and a half round of point stop sparring. During the fight, I felt like I wasn't doing too bad even though I knew my opponent did have the edge over me. He was throwing out more kicks than me but most of which weren't connecting. Most of the points I scored against him were head punches, which I found quite satisfying. I was able to get close up when blocking his kicks and then countering by punching him in the head. Towards the end of the fight, probably when there was about 30 seconds left, I ran out of energy and found it a real struggle, I even felt lightheaded. In retrospect I wonder if nerves or stress can tire someone out? No injuries were received, although I was on the receiving end of quite a hefty side kick into my abdomen at one point. The end result was that my opponent was awarded three votes compared to my one vote, so could have been worse. At least one of the corner judges voted in my favour.
After my opponent was declared the winner, I sat down by Marie who had recorded the whole fight on her digital camera. I later got up and went over to my opponent to introduce myself properly and congratulate him on his win. His name was Simon and looked like a member of the pop group Hanson, or at least how they looked back in the mid nineties when MMMBop was released. He was a blue belt red stripe so was one grade higher than myself.
After all competitors had fought in the men's blue & red belt division, the medals were handed out. I was happy to be handed a silver medal. This was of some consolation as I must have done better than the guy who was awarded a bronze who first sparred with my opponent at the beginning.
Upon reviewing the recording of my performance, I would say that I didn't do as well as I had thought at the time. My opponent did appear rather dominant throughout the fight, but I didn't do too badly.
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After over 11 years, my car was suffering from the effects of rust, focused around the off-side rear wheel arch, which is common amongst Honda Preludes. Luckily, my near-side rear wheel arch was not effected. The rear body panels, at least, are double skinned and the rear wheel arch edge / lip has a protective strip of rubber lining it. The common consensus is that these cause the problem and the cars are better off without them fitted. As I liked the look with them fitted, mine were replaced with new ones during August 2009. At that time there was no rust visible. Before fitting the new ones, I stuck a strip of insulating tape along the edge of the wheel arch lip and folded it over, one half was above and the other half was below. In 2011 I discovered that that I inadvertently only did the near-side, I can't remember why. The near-side had no rust so didn't need any work carried out. The off-side which didn't have the strip of insulating tape along the lip did rust. Maybe this was just coincidental? But I reckon that the insulating tape sealed the gaps between the double skin spot welds and prevented the rust.
Rust had been very slowly bubbling up over the last year or so, but wasn't too bad, so I didn't get it seen to. I chose to get it sorted, before it got much worse and while I could afford it. After removing the rubber wheel arch liners, I saw that the rust was worse than I originally thought. In addition to this, the near-side of the front bumper had sustained damage from two separate incidents so I wanted that repaired too. The first was from a hit & run where a vehicle had made contact with my car while it was parked unattended and the second was during the prior December, while Christmas shopping in Brighton, my car's front bumper had an altercation with a multi-storey car park concrete pillar. Here are some photos of the rust and front bumper damage.
After getting a few quotes from local body repair shops and asking for recommendations on Prelude UK, I settled on Portslade Panelworks and got a quote from them on Thursday 31/03/2011. They seemed friendlier than some of the places I visited and had many flashy expensive cars there which I thought was reassuring. The cars I saw included a BMW 840, BMW M3, Mercedes SL, Aston Martin Vantage V8, Porsche 911 & Audi R8 V10.
I dropped off my car to them on Thursday 14/04/2011 for them to repair the rust & front bumper damage. While my car was in for repair, I had the use of their Chevrolet Matiz SE courtesy car.
As agreed, I went to collect my car on Tuesday 19/04/2011, but the work was incomplete, so that was a wasted journey (21 miles x 2). It would have been nice for them to have forewarned me. Again, I returned on Wednesday 20/04/2011 and collected my car after paying the sum of £810.36. That might seem like a lot, but compared to other quotes I had received, it was quite reasonable.
Portslade Panelworks apparently cut out the rusty sections and welded in new metal, before painting. After giving it some consideration, I thought it would be best to do without those rubber wheel arch liners so I asked Portslade Panelworks not to refit them and to paint some sort of protectant on the wheel arch lips instead. They applied a thin layer of rubbery stuff which is transparent so you can see the paintwork beneath. This was a bonus as I was expecting the stuff to be black. Both sides of the car had this treatment, above and below the lip. Here are some photos of the completed work.
I washed my car the following day and discovered some problems:
The presumed lacquer overspray polished out easily so was dealt with promptly along with the other minor problems.
On Saturday 25/06/2011 while carrying out my annual routine of giving my brakes a new coat of paint and the wheels a thorough wash & wax, I noticed a recurrence of rust on my newly repaired off-side rear wheel arch. Seeing as I had spent £810 in getting it sorted, along with the front bumper only two and half months ago, I was very unhappy indeed! A couple of bubbles had developed under the paint, a tell tale sign of rust.
So, back to Portslade Panelworks I went on Thursday 30/06/2011 to show them the rust recurrence. They accepted responsibility and agreed to sort it under warranty. Originally, there were two separate areas of rust - one at the bottom and one at the top. Upon close inspection, I could see inside the bottom of the wheel arch that the metal had been cut out and replaced, as was agreed. I'm sure they said they were to do the same to the top too, but it seemed this may not have been done. I got the impression that maybe it was rubbed down and painted over again. I couldn't be sure what exactly was done so I didn't make any accusations. However, they had rightly agreed to sort it so I was happy.
At the same time, I agreed to pay for them to sort another couple of bits I had been meaning to get done - the near-side side skirt was cracked and paint was flaking off the rear skirt. Here are some photos of the car before the second visit.
I bought the optional Honda body styling kit (Motegi body kit) from a private seller in Wembley back in 2004 and it was originally from a Iceberg Silver Prelude. The two cracks in the near-side side skirt were there when I bought the kit but it was repaired when I had it resprayed Ruby Red Pearl back in 2005. Through the years, the cracks came back and were no longer subtle. This was be the third time the rear skirt had been resprayed. It was originally resprayed Ruby Red Pearl back in 2005. The paint started flaking off years later so I had it resprayed somewhere else back in 2009. I specifically asked the second bodyshop to strip the skirt down back to the bare plastic as the primer / paint doesn't like the original silver paint underneath. Obviously, they ignored this request. The paint had cracked in three separate places and on the worst area, the original Iceberg Silver paint could clearly be seen.
On Monday 11/07/2011 I dropped off my car at Portslade Panelworks for the further repairs and had the delight of driving a Citroën C2 VT (1.1) courtesy car for a few days. I collected my car on Thursday 14/07/2011 and paid £397.68 for the extra work I requested. More problems were later discovered:
Another very minor point is that they gave my interior a courtesy polish where they sprayed some sort of polish over the dashboard, door cards and console. However, they omitted to use a cloth afterwards so everything was splattered with polish which I had to buff out myself. Oh well, I suppose it's the thought that counts!
I know some of these are quite minor things and I can forgive them breaking some of the clips, but I would expect for them to be replaced with the correct items, and not metal bolts / screws. I would expect a company such as Portslade Panelworks to keep a supply of plastic clips for when they need to replace them, rather than hoping it will go unnoticed.
I genuinely wonder if the more expensive cars I saw there such as the Audi R8 and Aston Martin V8 Vantage receive the same level of treatment as my humble 11 year old £2k Honda.
On a side note, rather coincidently (I wonder), the off-side rear brake caliper seized up (same side as the rear wheel arch which was repaired). I know it was OK a few weeks before as I had cleaned the brakes and given them a fresh coat of paint. Also, I had replaced it less than 4 years ago during August 2007. I noticed that the silver Hammerite paint on the brake disc hub section had turned bronze and was blistering. When I arrived at work on the Friday morning after collecting my car on the Thursday, I could smell burning! The paint had got worse and the wheel was very hot. Great, more money to spend out! I sourced a replacement remanufactured brake caliper that morning, took half a day annual leave off of work, painted it silver to match the other calipers and fitted it. I had to use paint stripper on the brake disc hub section to remove the old burnt paint before repainting it. Anyway, it seemed that the actual caliper may not have been at fault, I think it was rather a problem with the other bit which I think is called the carrier? The slide pins were very sticky and stiff. After cleaning them out and putting new grease in there, all was sorted.
On Friday 29/07/2011 I was extremely disappointed to discover another recurrence of the rust! My car successfully fought off rust for 10 years, but the last repair did not last even 2 weeks. So, on Tuesday 02/08/2011, I returned to Portslade Panelworks and showed them the rust recurrence. The man I spoke to (I think he was the joint owner) did genuinely seem very shocked and disappointed over the rust recurrence. He was very apologetic and did come across as sincere. My car was booked in for a further repair the following week.
I dropped off my car again at Portslade Panelworks on Monday 08/08/2011 for rectification of their failed repair. I didn't request a courtesy car this time, instead my Dad gave me a lift in his car. When I returned to collect my car on Wednesday 10/08/2011 I saw quality of work was terrible. Unfortunately, I didn't take a photo, but I've edited the previous photo to illustrate the fault. The horizontal straight line of the rear panel which the rear bumper goes up against was VERY wonky, as shown in the edited photo. It wasn't what I would describe as a small gap, it was a gap of a good few millimetres and looked absolutely terrible. I told them that I wasn't happy and they said they would sort it and it should be ready the next day. Other than the wasted time and petrol, I was getting really fed up. On the way home, I wondered to myself if the person working on my car stood back afterwards and actually reviewed their work. Did they seriously think that was acceptable? It was unbelievable.
I returned on Thursday 11/08/2011 and collected my car. This time the shape of the off-side rear wheel arch was satisfactory. The wonky line was now straight, as it should be. As usual, more minor problems were later discovered:
I am relived to say that as of 2012, the rust has not reoccurred so looks like it has been sorted at last.
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My Dad & I had previously been to Italian Car Day a few times so knew what to expect and this one wasn't a disappointment. As always, there were lots of Ferraris, Lamborghinis & Maseratis, along with other Italian Marques carrying less of a kudos including Alfa Romeos, Fiats & Lancias amongst others. There were a couple examples of the new Ferrari 458 Italia on show, one of which was a safety car on the Mercedes-Benz World circuit. This was the first time I had seen one, apart from pictures in magazines and on the TV.
At about midday, there were numerous parade laps around the Mercedes-Benz World circuit which consisted of a mixture of both old & modern cars. I did find the very old slow cars quite boring in contrast to the Lamborghini Diablo which seemed to be straining at its leash behind a queue of cars paced by the safety car.
My favourite cars of the day were the Ferrari F40, Lamborghini Diablo & Lamborghini Countach. I was hoping that there would be a Pagani Zonda on show but unfortunately none were there. At one point I found myself daydreaming, imagining myself owning a pristine red Ferrari 328. Yes, I could happily own one of them. I've decided that, in my opinion, modern day Ferraris don't look too good in red. It seems Ferrari changed their shade of red in recent years which now looks a little orange compared to the red of old. Besides, a red Ferrari could be considered a default choice, therefore a little common, therefore I would probably choose either yellow or silver. The Ferrari 458 Italia safety car caught my eye as it was finished in what I would describe as an eye-catching shade of pearlescent yellow.
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Adele, aka Smelly Beer Monster, a friend who I met whilst working at Tiny Computers many years ago invited Marie & I to attend her 30th birthday party being held at Redhill & Reigate Golf Club. After driving past the place once, due to the map showing the site on the other side of the road, we arrived at about 20:15. As expected there were quite a lot of people there. I think Adele expected about 120 people, but I don't think there were that many in attendance on the day.
Sarah & her boyfriend Malcolm arrived shortly after us. Sarah also worked at Tiny Computers and rather coincidently she was already working as a Clinical Coder at East Surrey Hospital when I started there in 2003. Other familiar faces from Tiny Computers included Ross Mackenzie, Nigel Alexander & Amelia Hodson. I briefly spoke to an inebriated Ross who insisted on apologising for being a wanker when at Tiny. I told him he wasn't all that bad. Nigel was still amusing & witty, but seems to have mellowed a little. Surprisingly Amelia spoke to me which came as a shock as the last time we saw each other nine years ago, we weren't on speaking terms. It seems time may have helped bury the hatchet, or maybe she was just being polite?
As Marie predicted, I did get rather drunk. As I hadn't intoxicated myself with alcohol for a while, it didn't take long for the effects to take hold. I prefer it this way as it's cheap. After just two large glasses of rosé wine, I was encouraged to drink rosé wine spritzers for the rest of the evening. I left in a drunken state at midnight.
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This was the second time I had graced JapFest with the presence of my Honda Prelude. As with last year, we stayed at a Premier Inn in Swindon so we had only a 20 miles trip in the morning instead of over 120 miles.
En route to the show, I met up with some of the members of both Prelude UK & Lude Behaviour at our designated rendezvous point of a retail park in Chippenham between 07:00 - 07:30. While there, Marie & I chatted to Gordon & Polly who we had previously met at JapFest and the Miss Banzai Tunnel Run last year.
After crawling through a slow moving queue to enter the site, we arrived at Castle Combe Circuit and discovered that our plot wasn't big enough for all our cars. Rob, who organised our plot on behalf of both clubs, arranged with the site management to move us to a more suitably sized plot. We swapped plots with what I assume was a Honda SMX club (they look like lunch boxes on wheels), most probably to their displeasure.
We were all pleased to see that there was probably about 30 Preludes on our combined Prelude UK & Lude Behaviour plot. After giving my car a quick freshen up with a damp shammy leather (it had already been given two days of thorough attention during the prior Thursday & Friday), Marie & I had a walk around, including watching the on track drifting action.
I was delighted to see that NSX Club Britain were back in force, to me, they definitely had the most impressive stand which made me drool.
When we arrived at the main retail area, I had a go on the bucking bronco / rodeo ride, which cost £2.50 for two tries. This is basically a mechanical mock raging bull which the rider tries to stay seated on for as long as possible. I didn't last as long as I had hoped and managed to stay seated for somewhere between 20 - 30 seconds before being flung off.
Later on, we came across the Team Japspeed stand where rather surprisingly Shane Lynch was sitting on a chair by the team's cars. Shane Lynch, a singer from Boyzone and drives for Team Japspeed, stayed in the same hotel as us last year and also ate in the same onsite restaurant. We were surprised to see him there in full gaze of the public as we had expected him to be hidden away in a V.I.P. area. While I was faffing with my digital camera replacing its flat battery, Marie approached him and asked if he would allow his photo to be taken with her, to which he kindly agreed. Marie & I were delighted with the photo taken by one of his colleagues.
During the long walk back to the car along the other half of the circuit, my head & face were feeling increasingly sore from sun burn, I could even feel my pulse across my scalp. A week or so beforehand, Marie had given me a haircut but had the clippers on the wrong setting so it was cut shorter than normal. It was probably the shortest I have ever had my hair, giving the sun's rays easy access to my scalp.
We left JapFest late in the afternoon and stopped off at the Morrison's supermarket in Chipenham near our morning rendezvous point to buy dinner for that evening.
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This was intended to be a much smaller event than other TAGB championships and was jointly organised by my Instructor & his father, who is also an Instructor. I had invited both my parents and Marie's parents to spectate so the self inflicted pressure on myself was wound up the max.
My parents, Marie & I met with Marie's parents, Lynne & Nigel at The Triangle leisure centre in Burgess Hill at 09:30. As always, patterns were performed before the sparring commences. There were probably about 10 students participating in the men's blue & red belt division of patterns. Before the event, I had decided my chosen pattern would be Joon Gun rather than the more popular choice of Yul Gok which could be considered as the default choice for blue & red belt students, owing to its powerful, more visually cleaner movements. Joon Gun is a more advanced pattern than Yul Gok and I chose it to be different.
When it was my turn, I didn't do very well at all, I suppose the nerves got to me as I rushed through my chosen pattern and it was subsequently not very good. Even at the beginning I noticed that the positioning of my arms was wrong. I was quite disappointed at myself for rushing through the pattern too quickly and being sloppy in the process. Oh well.
Not long afterwards was the men's welterweight blue & red belt sparring. We were surprisingly up quite early on, probably because this was a much smaller event than others.
When it was my turn, I was up against a blue belt, red stripe, who was from another club. During the fight, he was a lot better than me and dominated through the 3 minute session. Although I did score a few points, I was no match for him and he won rather convincingly. As there were only 3 of us in our weight and grade division, I was to fight once more and was guaranteed a medal.
My second fight was against fellow Crawley student Saleem Nadir who was a red belt. I have sparred with him many times during lessons and knew he was better than me, so him winning was a near-enough certainty. Sure enough, during our fight, he proved to be faster and more agile than myself and predictably won, although, as before, I did win some points against him.
Afterwards, Saleem fought against my first opponent and unfortunately lost, but did put up a good fight. My first opponent was awarded a gold medal, Saleem received a silver medal and I received a bronze medal. As I fought twice and was clearly beaten on both occasions, I can't really say that I won that medal, it was a hollow victory for want of a better word.
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This was our second visit to the chalet at Selsey Country Club this year but this time we were staying for 5 days rather than just a weekend like we did in March.
After shopping at Sainsbury's, we arrived at a wet Selsey on the Sunday afternoon only to discover that the door key we were given didn't work. After a couple of phone calls we were glad to discover that Marie's Aunt Sue who lives in Selsey had a spare key. To save us reloading the car with our bags full of food shopping and bedding, we posted most of it through an open high window of the bedroom where it all fell safely onto a bed.
After chatting in her Aunt's house for an hour, we went straight to the Summer Palace Chinese restaurant and ordered our meal for that evening before making our way back to the chalet equipped with our new key.
Monday's weather was also a little gloomy to start with, so after washing my car, we walked to Selsey town centre to buy a few things. While there, I joined the local video shop. I haven't rented out a video from a video shop for many years, maybe not since the early nineties when VHS tapes were the standard. We rented the film Red (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) on DVD for the night. In the evening, I cooked us pork chops with vegetables. Cooking isn't one of my strong points. I had to open the front door to let out the smoke which was filling the chalet. The pork chops were well done.
After returning the DVD on Tuesday, we went to Arundel to have a walk around Arundel Castle. I parked up in the adjacent car park but needed change for the parking ticket machine, which I didn't have. I didn't want to put a £20 note in just for the sake of £3 - £4 pounds. I went to the small café at the edge of the car park and was greeted by an unwelcoming sign stating they do not give change for the car park. I thought I'd buy a couple of small packs of biscuits instead. I was told they didn't have enough change for my £20 note. I then walked to the shops and found another small café / restaurant where I wanted to buy Marie & I something to eat. But no, for whatever reason, they were not currently supplying take away food. I was now starting to feel fucking well pissed off. What the fuck are visitors to the shit hole of a town supposed to do if they haven't got change? I was very tempted to say "fuck it, I've tried, I won't bother anymore" and go back to the chalet as whoever is responsible for this almighty crap system is doing a great job in making visiting Arundel quite difficult. Instead, I persisted. I tried a newsagents and bought lunch for Marie & I. At last, I had change to buy a parking ticket!
After calming down slightly over lunch, we walked across the road to Arundel Castle and had a slow wander around. We've wanted to go to Arundel Castle since our last visit to the chalet in March but was unable to then as it was still closed for the winter months. History bores me so I'm not quite sure why I wanted to visit. We spent a few hours walking around the large castle and I found it very boring indeed as I have no interest in history, although, the views from the castle were nice. It felt a little like being back in school on a school trip. We splashed out on the full ticket which allowed us to view the bedrooms which were otherwise restricted. They were boring too. Parts of the castle are still inhabited so it was a little odd seeing modern day framed photos in some of the rooms. After eating lunch which consisted of scones with cream and jam we had a wander around the gardens. Although I'm not into flowers or gardening, I found the gardens more pleasurable than the castle.
We left at the chucking out time of 17:00 and made our way back to the chalet. That evening we made fish pie for dinner, but as Marie did most of the cooking, the chalet wasn't giving off smoke signals this time.
On Wednesday we went to Bognor Regis, had a walk around the town centre and found it a little boring. The last time I had been to Bognor Regis was in 1997 when I stayed in the local Butlin's holiday camp for a week with my then girlfriend Lois & her parents. Although only 14 years had passed, I could not remember the town centre whatsoever. We had lunch in a KFC and briefly visited the beach but it was way too windy for my liking. I would have liked to have revisited the park where I went in 1997 where I was able to personally feed the pigeons and squirrels but as I couldn't remember where it was, we didn't.
As I had a Tae Kwon-Do grading coming up at the end of the month, I had planned in advance to attend the local TAGB class. After speaking with the Instructor, Mr Carl Jones-Taylor, during the previous week over the phone he welcomed me to attend his West Sussex Tae Kwon-Do class being held at Felpham near Bognor Regis. Coincidently, the class was held at the same time as the Wednesday Crawley Tae Kwon-Do class which I attend weekly. When I decided to get ready for the class, I was quite pissed off to discover that I had left my uniform at home. I had my Tae Kwon-Do kit bag with sparring gear and other stuff, but no actual uniform, although I did have my blue belt. Other than not going, I decided to attend wearing shorts and a bright neon yellow T-shirt.
With the help of my sat nav, I easily found Felpham Community College which was about a 20 - 25 minutes drive from the chalet. When there I wondered if I was in the right place as the people waiting outside the class, while the junior lesson was taking place, were not wearing Tae Kwon-Do uniforms, but they did confirm that I was in the right place. I assumed they might be new and did not yet have their uniforms. After the junior class had finished, I went into the hall and I think I was the only student who bowed when entering the dojang (dojang is Korean for training hall). I introduced myself to Mr Carl Jones-Taylor who said that his lessons were relatively informal insofar as they only wear the uniforms during official events such as gradings and championships. He was the only one there wearing a uniform so I was quite glad that I had forgotten to bring mine as I might have felt a little overdressed compared to everyone else. In contrast to everyone else, I chose to wear my belt. I didn't have to pay for this lesson as the Instructor kindly let me attend his lesson for free. As it was quite a warm evening, I was doubly glad that I was wearing shorts and a T-Shirt rather than my slightly thicker, long sleeved Tae Kwon-Do uniform. I very much enjoyed my lesson there and I'm grateful that I was welcomed to Mr Carl Jones-Taylor's class. At the end of the one hour lesson, I stayed behind to take part in the half hour sparring session. At the end of it all, I was dripping with sweat so walked back to the car topless and also drove back to the chalet without my very damp T-shirt on.
When I arrived back at Selsey Country Park at about 21:00 and I was getting my stuff out from my car's boot while still topless, a fellow resident asked if I was alright. I explained that I had just been training so had removed my T-shirt which was soaked with sweat. We both laughed when she thought I had a screw loose, or words to those effect.
After waking late on Thursday, we decided to miss the opportunity to meet Sir Patrick Moore who was holding some sort of coffee morning at his Selsey home. This, we're told, he regularly does. We didn't get up to much on Thursday and decided to have a relaxing day in instead.
On the Friday, after packing our stuff and having a thorough cleanup inside the chalet, we dropped off the spare key to Marie's Aunt Sue before driving to West Wittering beach. It was a lovely sandy beach, with hardly anyone there, but it was quite breezy at the time, so we didn't stay there long. We said we would like to visit there again when the weather is more suitable, but we feared hundreds of other people might have the same plans so the peaceful quiet beach might turn out to be a busy crowded beach. On our way home, we stopped off at the Woodlark pub restaurant in Bordon for dinner.
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It was over a year since my last grading, so I was long overdue a blue belt, red stripe. I had been quite nervous during the build-up to previous gradings, but for some reason I didn't feel as nervous on this occasion. However, I didn't feel as confident that I would pass as with previous gradings. As the student progresses through the grades in Tae Kwon-Do, naturally the gradings become more difficult and more complex. I had witnessed a fellow Crawley student failing his grading on two separate occasions, likely undertaking gradings at the level I was now at. Therefore, I was prepared for the possible outcome of failing this particular grading.
About a month beforehand, my friend Qasim had finally started Tae Kwon-Do after many years of failed promises and he was to take part in this grading too, for a white belt, yellow stripe. We both arrived and Maidenbower in Crawley over an hour before the grading was due to start at 19:00 so we could warm up and practice in preparation. After ensuring Qasim was confident with 4-directional punch, I practised all my patterns. Later on, a teenage blue belt from the Croydon club arrived so I was able to effectively practice all 8 sets of 2-step sparring with him. Out of all the requirements for my grading, I suppose I was least confident about the 2-step sparring. All 8 sets of 2-step sparring involved 2 specific attacks and 2 specific blocks followed by a counter attack, but it was the memorising them which I had been having issues with. I did know all 8 sets, if I didn't, I wouldn't have been doing the grading, however occasionally I would get a mental block where I would pause before commencing a set where I had to think what that set involved. I feared that I would suffer from this during the grading. I also feared that I would suffer some sort of mental block part way through one of the more basic patterns. In 2-step sparring, when the attacker is ready to attack, he or she must kihap to confirm they are ready, the defender must then also kihap to confirm they are ready too. A kihap is the name given to the shout made when attacking. I spoke to a few fellow students who I potentially could be paired up with and explained my mental block problem and emphasised that they must wait for my nod and kihap to signal that I was ready. Both my parents arrived shortly before 19:00 to spectate with the rest of the parents there. This day was amidst a mini heatwave and was said to be the hottest day of the year so far, so the high temperature wasn't ideal for us taking part in the grading. It was very hot and very humid.
While watching the lower grades undertaking their gradings, the familiar feeling of dread was settling in and I kept on thinking to myself that I want to be at home in bed! While the green belts were undertaking their grading, our Instructor Karl James called out for all blue belts and blue belt, red stripes to put on their sparring gear. It was shortly before 20:00 when I was called up and confirmed my name and grade by shouting "Adam Carr, 4th kup Sir", holding up my right hand at head height. The beginner student starts at 10th kup and progresses to 1st kup which is red belt, black stripe, before becoming a black belt which has numbered dans.
Our first task was free sparring where Karl pointed out that I needed to be careful with the younger students in my grade. Luckily, I was paired up with the Croydon student who I had been practising with. A few seconds after we started, he was laying on the floor after I performed a high section kick on him. This didn't look good on me, but I am confident that I didn't kick him hard at all. I must of caught him off balance. But I did feel bad and helped him up as I think he looked a little dazed.
The choice pattern we were requested to do was Do San which I carried out without any mistakes. However, as I was worried about messing it up due to a mental block part way through, I found myself concentrating too hard and subsequently wasn't putting enough energy into it. I felt a little disappointed of my lack lustre effort but was glad that I didn't make a mistake. My grade pattern of Joong Gun went smoothly as did my choice pattern of Yul Gok. Later on during the line work, we were asked to do a side kick, reverse turning kick combination and I wasn't sure which leg was to land forward so I had to correct myself a few times. However, I felt I did perform the actual kicks correctly. Our final task was the 2-step sparring which I wasn't looking forward to. All was fine until I reached number 7 where the mental block struck! I stood there trying my hardest to remember what number 7 involved for what seemed like an eternity. It was probably 4 or 5, maybe 6 seconds, but it felt a lot longer. Thankfully the Croydon student didn't start attacking until I finally signalled I was ready. I think he did one of his attacks or blocks wrong, but it was nothing major. During the grading I was dripping with sweat, partly due to the high temperature, but it didn't bother me at all and I reckon it helped make me look like I was putting in a lot of effort!
After the practical, I lined up for the short theory test where I was asked just 2 questions - what red belt signified and what is the meaning of Joong Gun. I think I gave the answers to those questions word-for-word how they are printed in the syllabus! As with previous gradings, I had put a lot of hard work into learning the theory so was more than prepared for the 2 questions asked and was surprised that I wasn't asked any actual Korean terminology questions which I had prepared myself for.
After the grading I felt confident that I was going to pass, but was worried that the sparring incident at the beginning might go against me. I hoped that the examiners saw that I didn't use excessive force in my kick. During the following lesson on Wednesday, I was relived, but unsurprised that I passed and was handed my new blue belt, red stripe.
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This experience was paid for with money given to me for my birthday last year, although I had to put some money towards it as I chose quite an expensive driving experience. I checked out many web sites of companies offering driving experiences, but didn't want to have to drive too far to get there. I soon discovered that no companies offer the cars that I longed to drive, including the great Ferrari F40, Ferrari 512TR, Lamborghini Countach or even a Honda NSX. Most companies offer modern day sports cars on sale today, although at Goodwood I had the option of driving some older cars including a Ferrari 308 and Lamborghini Diablo. In the end I chose the Supercar Treble package, courtesy of 6th Gear Experience at their Longross Proving Ground track near Chertsey in Surrey. The cars I carefully selected were: Ferrari F430 Spider, Porsche 911 (997) Turbo and Ariel Atom. I would have 3 laps in each.
Marie, her parents & I arrived at a slightly overcast Longross Proving Ground on the Saturday afternoon. After being given a tour of the track, with briefing from an instructor, in what I assume was a Range Rover Sport, at about 16:15 it was time for my first drive of the afternoon.
First up was the red Ferrari F430 Spider, with figures of 0-60 in 4.0 seconds and a top speed of 196 mph. I specifically wanted to drive an open top Ferrari to experience the much praised noise from the Italian's V8 engine. Initial thoughts were that I wasn't too impressed with the interior. It seemed a little worn and I wasn't a fan of the cockpit design, a bit too fancy for my liking, maybe too much Italian flair. It just seemed a little messy. I gingerly set off and all seemed quiet and relaxed. After the long curve we were on the straight and I floored the throttle and started flicking through the gears via the flappy paddles behind the steering wheel. Its demeanour transformed. This was a proper machine with a purpose. It was fast, very fast. The 483 bhp, 4.3 litre V8 wailing behind me was certainly making its presence known, both through its shove and aural delight. Like the Ferrari F355 I drove at Silverstone in 2003, the noise was a very metallic mechanical noise. When cautiously navigating the series of curves at the end of the straight, I could tell this car meant business, its brakes were effective and steering was responsive. This car was capable of a lot more than I had the guts to exploit. Even if I did have the bottle, my co-driver wouldn't have allowed me to get near this car's full potential. At the end of my 3 laps, I could tell this was a very extrovert car, it has the sporty looks and certainly the performance and soundtrack to match. Not a car for shrinking violets.
Next up was the black Porsche 997 Turbo, with figures of 0-60 in 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 193 mph. For a while, I've wanted to see what all the fuss was about regarding the Porsche 911. What makes them so special allowing them to be around for so long? Why do people still buy them after so many years? In comparison to the Ferrari, the Porsche does look quite mundane. It doesn't look bad or boring, it's just that the Ferrari is shouting "look at me, I'm red and Italian" whereas the Porsche's styling is a lot quieter and understated. I would feel a lot more relaxed parking this in a supermarket car park than I would the flamboyant Ferrari. When sitting inside I immediately realised it was a much nicer car to be in than the Ferrari. Much more tidy, more civilised and felt a lot better quality too. I liked this car and thought I would much rather sit in this car every day than the Ferrari. The car's Tiptronic S transmission was in automatic mode, so I didn't have to worry about changing gears in this car. When on the straight, I unleashed the 473 bhp, 3.6 litre, flat-six, twin turbo and... woosh! There was a slight pause while it changed down a gear or two then it launched. My god, the Ferrari was fast, but surprisingly this was even faster. I was in awe. My own car is considered quick, but it pales into insignificance compared to the performance from this turbo charged rocket. A Honda Prelude is like a Daewoo Matiz compared to this. This was a real eye opener, I didn't know cars could feel this fast. Its performance was on another level. At full throttle, the acceleration is mind boggling and relentless with none of the dramatics which accompany the Ferrari. It just goes and keeps on going with very little fuss and drama. I could imagine this car on real road, it could overtake anything with ease. There are fast cars and then there's the Porsche 997 Turbo. While still in shock by the time I reached the series of curves, I then learnt that its handling was excellent too. The 4 wheel drive grip and steering were faultless. The Ferrari's grunt was exhilarating but the Porsche's thrust was addictive, I was loving it and wanted more & more. On paper at least, very few cars can touch it and sitting in the driver's seat, it certainly feels like that. It instils confidence, like nothing out there is as good. This car makes you feel invincible. After parking up, I felt a little sad. For many years, I have been a big Ferrari fan, and I still am. But now, this Porsche has made me look at sports car in a different way. Yes, Ferrari's have the history, flare and soul, but this Porsche has got me truly hooked. There are many cars I would love to own, however, if I was to win the lottery, I would sooner be paying a Porsche dealer a visit rather than a Ferrari dealer. I felt like a traitor. Enzo, I'm sorry.
My final drive that day was in the Ariel Atom. Many people have probably seen Jeremy Clarkson's face being distorted on Top Gear while driving an Ariel Atom and me getting to drive one of these was a tantalising prospect. As the seat wasn't adjustable I had to have sheets of foam slotted between my back and the seat (I'm vertically challenged). Unlike the previous two cars, I had to wear a crash helmet in this one and the co-driver was able to stay in contact via a radio link. From seeing this car on TV, I knew it was a very basic raw car. This one was the supercharged variant, incorporating a Honda 2.0 litre, 4 cylinder i-VTEC engine, producing 300 - 325 bhp thanks to its forced induction. This results in a 0-60 in 2.8 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. To be honest, I was a little scared of this car, it is quite intimidating knowing what it was capable of. Driving it is very different to anything else, it's pretty much like a go-kart. No windows, no heater, no radio, no doors, no roof, nothing. Just a couple of seats, 4 wheels, a steering wheel and a powerful engine, meaning an incredible power to weight ratio. The whole car probably weighs as much as my car's bonnet! The unassisted steering isn't too heavy once on the move and the brakes aren't servo assisted either. Gear change is via a conventional gear stick, but the gears were very close together. Although, such is the power of this car, changing gear isn't particularly necessary a lot of the time. When on the straight, I put its acceleration to the test. Yes, it was very fast. It was manic but very scary. I liked the whining noise from the supercharger behind me and the experience of the raw unadulterated power, but it was a scary experience. On paper, it is faster accelerating than the Ferrari and Porsche, but oddly it just didn't feel as fast as the Porsche! Maybe that was because I didn't feel relaxed while hanging on for dear life. Through the corners it didn't feel as poised or surefooted as the previous two cars. I'm sure this car is capable of incredible performance, but you need to be a racing driver to make the most of it. I just didn't like it. It's a car that demands a lot of your concentration and isn't a car you're able to relax in. I'm thankful I've experienced this jet propelled go-kart and I will cherish the memory forever, but this car just isn't my cup of tea.
After driving the three cars, I was given a passenger lap in a green Ford Focus RS. Bloody hell, it was mental, or perhaps the driver was. The cornering capability of this hot hatch defies belief. While heading into a chicane, I was wondering when the driver was going to slow down. When heading towards the trees, I honestly thought we were going to die, but our professional driver was able to fully exploit what this car was capable of. In a straight line it was quick, but certainly did lack the power of the cars I had driven previously. However, with our professional driver in the driver's seat, through the corners, this car was unbeatable. The handling of the Ford Focus RS was jaw dropping in the same way that I was blown away by the Porsche's straight line performance. Until this moment, I never knew cars were capable of going around corners so fast.
In May 2009 I decided I would love a Lamborghini Gallardo following a drive in one after driving an Audi R8 that same day. Now, choosing between the Gallardo and the 997 Turbo wouldn't be easy, but I'd love to be in the position to be able to afford one and take both out on test drives to compare before deciding which one to buy.
So, in one day, I've driven a Ferrari F430 Spider which brought a big smile to my face. I then drove a Porsche 997 Turbo and fell in love with it. Finally I drove a supercharged Arial Atom and will always savour that experience. Throughout the following few days, I kept on repeating to myself "woosh" not able to shake off the memory of the Porsche's immense thrust. Woosh! This day was one of the best days of my life.
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After visiting many Greek islands over the years and a couple of the Balearic Islands, I decided some place new was required. I've always wanted to go to Egypt but have been put off going due to it being relatively expensive compared to cheaper European destinations. Marie & I gave in to temptation and took the plunge and paid for a week's holiday in Egypt. After researching on the internet, we chose Hurghada as our specific destination, rather than the more well known and popular Sharm el-Sheikh.
As usual, we wandered around Gatwick Airport duty-free and sampled some of the perfumes & after shaves. I bought some sweets from WH Smiths and a pair of linen trousers from Next before having lunch in Wetherspoons. Our Boeing 757-200 took off at about 14:15 and during the flight I entertained myself by reading part of one of my Jeremy Clarkson books and playing Robo Defence of my mobile phone. From the on-board duty-free menu, we purchased a couple of Mosquito repellent wrist bands.
We landed at Hurghada International Airport at about 19:00 UK time which was 20:00 in Egypt being an hour ahead and were then taken to our massive luxury hotel, the Sunrise Mamlouk Palace Resort. The entrance area was very posh with marble floors and stone pillars. The hotel was very large, the largest Marie & I had seen. We estimate it probably takes about 7 - 8 minutes to walk from the entrance to the far end by the beach, where the hotel owns a part of the beach for its customers. It has a sister hotel next door of a similar size and customers are allowed to use the facilities in either hotel, effectively doubling the size. We were given a whirlwind tour of the site en route to our room, number 21/3/06 (room 21, floor 3, block 6). The porter expected a tip and as we had no change between us, we could only give him 100 EGP of which we were given 20 EGP back. So, if anyone reads this and is planning on visiting Egypt, make sure you have some change ready for the greedy porter when you arrive! Our room was very spacious with air conditioning, TV, fridge, a safe with keypad and quite a firm bed. There was also a disappointing balcony. Its wall was solid and above waist height so obstructed the view, when sitting down you could only see the sky and nothing on the ground. Our room door lock was opened via a credit card style key akin to those at a Premier Inn. We headed back to the hotel's main bar for a luke warm snack and some non-alcoholic cocktails before bed.
We woke at 08:45 the following day for our induction at 10:30 where we paid £291 each for four excursions. At 38 degrees Celsius, it was very hot outside so briefly retreated back to our room. At lunch time, we located the main restaurant after being unsure of its location up until then. From there, we relaxed in the shade by one of the pools. Irritatingly, many of the sun loungers were reserved with towels over them. In Egypt, or at least during the summer months, the nights draw in relatively early compared to the UK. And being 1 hour ahead of UK time, it was even more so. After a shower in the evening, we had dinner then a couple of cocktails - Pina Colada and Surfer's Voodoo Magic, before having an earlyish night.
Sunday was the day of our first excursion, our destination was Luxor. We collected our pre-arranged breakfast boxes from reception and were picked up at 05:30 for the four hour coach trip which initially took us across the desert with rocky mountains in the distance. The landscape reminded me of the Jawa's habitat in Star Wars. The coach tour guide talked about the sites we were to visit, the recent Egyptian revolution and Egyptian customs. During the journey, it became evident that Egypt has a litter problem. There was quite a lot of rubbish left lying around and sadly the canal banks seemed to be used as a dumping ground.
Our first stop was at Karnak Temple, which had many pillars, obelisks, statues, and walls with hieroglyphics. The temperature was very hot so while we were given a guided tour, many people tried to seek shade from the extreme heat. Afterwards, we were taken to a Sunrise Restaurant for free lunch (excluding drinks) then to the Valley of the Kings. Very annoyingly, cameras were not allowed on site. Here it was even hotter, probably exacerbated by the valley shielding us from any breeze. The hieroglyphics in the tombs were very colourful, especially considering their age. We visited a few tombs, plus the additional tomb of King Tutankhamun where I was the only person in our group who paid the extra 100 EGP for the privilege. His tomb was smaller than the rest and I even got to see his decomposed remains and coffin, or whatever the ancient Egyptian equivalent is known as. From the Valley of the Kings, the coach took us to Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple. As with the Valley of the Kings, free transport was available to take us from the entrance to the actual site. From the distance, it does look quite impressive. Afterwards we went on the optional boat trip along the River Nile costing just 40 EGP and lasted about half an hour. Our final stop was at a papyrus museum. It was called a museum but was more like a factory / shop making and selling papyrus. I bought a papyrus scroll for my parents and Marie bought one for one of her employers. We finally arrived back at our hotel at about 20:45 and went straight to dinner before returning to our room.
After a lie in the following day, we woke shortly after 11:00 then headed to the beach for some sun bathing (albeit mainly in the shade) and a paddle in the sea while enjoying the temperature of 39 degrees Celsius. Our hotel, I assume like many others, had its own beach. It was probably the warmest sea I had been in but certainly not the clearest. It was called the Red Sea, but it was more green than red! For lunch we had pizza & chips from the nearby bar next to the beach. We preferred it by the sea rather than by the pool as it was quieter and there was a slight breeze too. After showering, the coach, which was 20 minutes late due to a breakdown of another coach, picked us up at about 19:10 for our second excursion, named Shop & Rock, which was an evening trip to Hurghada town centre. After the 20 minutes journey we had only about an hour and a half to wander around the shops before dinner at the Little Buddah restaurant. The alternative was dinner at Hard Rock. For starter, I had Yakitori Chicken (Japanese chicken kebab). For my main course I had Sushi for which I bravely used the chop sticks. The green blob of Wasabi (which I hate) looked like Play-Doh and I left it alone. For dessert, Marie & I shared a crème brûlée and chocolate vanilla ice cream. The meal was free, but we had to pay for drinks, I had a Strawberry Exotic Colada and Marie had a Three Berry Vodka. When back at the hotel, we had a cocktail each before bed.
On Tuesday we woke shortly after 10:00 and headed to the beach again to enjoy today's temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, Marie slipped on a sand covered marble slope and hurt her back, shoulders & hands. If this hotel was in the UK, those of a health & Safety disposition would have a field day. I took her back to our hotel room for a lie down to recover before I continued on to the beach where Marie joined me an hour or so later. We sun bathed while I continued the reading of my Jeremy Clarkson book. In the evening we ate in the hotel's Oriental restaurant booked for 19:00. We decided to skip the starter of chicken soup with vermicelli, whatever that is. For my main course, I had lemon chicken with cinnamon rice. When having Chinese takeaways, 9/10 times I order lemon chicken, so it was a safe option, however there was no taste of lemon, it was just like a chicken kebab, or if in Greece, chicken souvlaki. Marie had lamb kofta tagine & rice which didn't seem oriental. For dessert, Marie had fruit slices and I had oriental pastries, or biscuits to everyone else. Overall, the meal was a disappointment, it was hardly oriental. After our lame meal, we went to the shops across the road where we were pestered by sellers and bought some souvenirs from a large shop. When back at the hotel, we had some non-alcoholic cocktails from the lobby bar then checked out the shops within our hotel. We didn't buy anything as the staff were way too pushy and the items too expensive.
Wednesday was the day of our third excursion and our destination was Egypt's capital city, Cairo. We woke very early at 03:30 to be picked up at 05:10. Also waiting with us in the hotel's foyer was a family with the man, dressed like he was going to a business meeting, rather than sightseeing in Cairo. His name was Roy, his wife Vikki and son Edward. The airport was about 20 - 25 minutes away and the Midwest Airlines jet took off at 06:45 and landed at Cairo International Airport at 07:30 where we boarded the coach on which Natalie was our tour guide. Although she was Egyptian, she spoke very good English, better than Sherif, our Luxor tour guide. Natalie was pro Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian President who was ousted in the revolution of 2011, whereas Sherif was anti Hosni Mubarak. Her communication and character was much better than our previous tour guide.
The roads were very busy, which was why it was best to head to the Egyptian Museum early. In Hurghada, the range of cars being driven around was quite limited. They mainly consisted of Kias, Hyundais and Mitsubishis. The best car I saw was a fifth generation, early nineties Toyota Celica. In Cairo, the cars were more varied including variations of cars which are not available in the UK, such as a Toyota Yaris saloon and an unrecognisable Nissan Sunny. There was also a make of car called Speranza which I had never heard or seen of before. We learnt that Cairo's drivers are crazy. Vehicle horns are used almost constantly. Honestly, not 2 seconds goes by without you hearing a horn, it is near enough constant. It was like what you hear in films or on TV.
On our way to the museum, we passed by Tahir Square and could see tanks & armoured vehicles! Next to the museum was the burnt out government building which was damaged during the revolution. As with the Valley of the Kings, cameras were not allowed in Cairo's Egyptian Museum which was annoying, so all the cameras from our group were placed in a safe and the key handed to a member of our group to look after. Before entering the museum, to avoid the busy opening queue, Natalie gave us an in depth talk sitting at the outside café / bar area. We found it funny when Natalie shit herself when she was approached by a stray cat, she is very scared of cats.
Within the museum, we saw a mummy, sarcophaguses and lots of artefacts. The highlight was the famous King Tutankhamun's mask. A fantastic moment, I'll never forget laying eyes on it. I have now stood inches away from King Tutankhamun's mask. In the room dedicated to King Tutankhamun there were many other items including stuff he was buried with. There was an eerie hollow sound in the room, possibly coming from the air conditioning. We also saw his little throne - it's estimated he died when only 18 - 19 years of age. His cause of death is not certain, but recent studies suggest malaria. As far as Egyptian rulers go, King Tutankhamun was relatively insignificant and didn't achieve much considering he was in reign for only nine years. Apparently his tomb was cursed. Many years ago, 10 thieves broke in, the 5 - 6 that went in, died while in there, their skeletons were later discovered. There are also stories about the curse killing off Howard Carter (the archaeologist credited with discovering King Tutankhamun's tomb) and many of his co workers. There is a theory about bacteria or fungus in the tombs which have affected people. It was also said that thieves broke into the museum during the revolutions and intended to steal oils. Their dead bodies were discovered in the museum and the autopsy results were NAD. 4 other thieves who did succeed in stealing items were jailed and their items later recovered. The oil which was targeted is said to have the ability to cure all and every illness apart from cancer, as apparently cancer was not around when it was invented!
After our quick guided tour we had a 40 - 50 minutes walk around the museum before having our free lunch at a TGI Friday's restaurant where we sat with Jim, Liam & Jody. After a soup starter, I had fish & chips and Marie had grilled chicken (I swapped a piece of my fish for a piece of her chicken). Roy answered the question which was likely to be on everyone's minds, about his choice of clothing for the day. He said they were surprisingly airy so he could keep cool and probably only cost him about £2.50 from Primark.
After lunch we went to the Pyramids of Giza. Not all the pyramids are accessible. There is no access allowed to one section but it is said that the security guards accept bribes. At the accessible site, there are three large pyramids, known collectively as the Great Pyramids, as well as some smaller pyramids. Visitors have the option to pay to enter one of the large pyramids, but through a tunnel measuring about 1 meter high, with not much at the end. None of us fancied doing this. The temperature was very hot as we stood taking photos at a nearby viewpoint which allowed for a good view of the pyramids. As with our previous day trip to Luxor, the persistent street sellers were out in force and as irritating as ever. It was great getting up close to the pyramids and being able to actually climb on them. We were told of a tourist who had recently climbed to the top of one of the pyramids before falling down and I think he died. I would imagine his body would have been quite a mess, assuming he tumbled all the way to the ground. After the pyramids, we went to the nearby Sphinx, where there were more sellers greeting us. They latch on to people pretending to be site staff. One guy insisted he was a tour guide and pretended to be doing us a favour by pleading with security to let us in to a part of the site saying that it was past the 15:00 closing time, which was BS. Eventually one of our proper tour guides told him to go away.
Our penultimate stop in Cairo was at an oil / perfume factory which made and sold various essences and we were allowed to sample some. A few drops of mint essence in hot water proved to be extremely potent, Edward, the kid who was with us, gave it a big sniff and his head nearly came off. As we all suspected, this was intended to be a money making exercise whereby our tour operator has some sort of deal with the oil / perfume factory. We were told that we would be under no pressure to buy anything, but when we were given the opportunity to part with our cash in return for some of their goods, there was a very awkward silence while we sat there with the staff member staring at us waiting. Although I was slightly tempted to buy some, myself and no one else did.
For our final stop of the day, we visited another papyrus factory, like the one we visited during our Luxor trip and we were given the same talk as before. I bought another papyrus, this time for my friend Caleb.
On our way back to the airport, our coach briefly stopped at the side of the road, giving us a great view of the sunset over the pyramids, through the cityscape. When we arrived at the airport, the fun, or lack of it, began. Our flight back to Hurghada was delayed from 22:00 to 22:30. There wasn't much communication so there was lots of uncertainty. Part of it was spent sitting on the floor as there were no seats. When we were eventually moved into the boarding gate room, where there were seats, the air conditioning was too cold. After a while, I started to feel quite cold and nauseous too. I was extremely bored, having no book with me to read or mobile phone to play Angry Birds or Robo Defence on. The other people in our group kept themselves entertained with their Apple products - Liam playing Angry Birds on his iPhone and the family (Roy, Vikki & Edward) viewing their photos on an iPad. Our flight eventually took off at 22:50 and landed at about 23:35. We had a quick snack and cocktail in our hotel's bar before going to bed.
On Thursday, we were woken at 12:00 by the cleaner phoning our room asking if he could come in. Obviously the "Do not disturb" sign on our door was not important to him. After having lunch by the beach, we spent our afternoon sunbathing and relaxing in the sea. At 18:30 we were picked up for our final excursion, Arabian Nights which was to be an Egyptian themed evening. Our destination was a 15 minutes drive into the desert in a Land Rover Discovery, we were sat with a couple of German girls, one of which omitted to where a bra.
We were at a sort of villa, without knowing the proper name for the place. In the centre was a large open area with stage and no roof over us. Our seats were low down with the tables about knee height and we were sat near Jim who we met during our Cairo trip the previous day. After dinner, we went outside the premises for some star gazing, which was a little pointless. The telescopes just made the stars look like large blobs. We were given watermelon as desert while watching the various entertainers laid on for us including a belly dancer, a spinning man, a fire eater with an overly dramatic piece of entrance music, a man laying on a nail bed & broken glass and a man dancing on a stool. On our way back to the hotel in the Land Rover Discovery, one of the staff members was all over the bra-less German girl and she seemed OK with it, so he probably got his wicked way with her that night. We had some cocktails before heading back to our room to pack most of our belongings in preparation for the next day.
On Friday, our final day, we sun bathed and ventured in to the sea again until about midday. We showered then packed the rest of our belongings before leaving our room at 14:00 which we had already extended our stay in by two hours the previous day. As we had a few hours left before being collected, we got in a taxi to a local shopping mall called Senzo Mall. We hoped to pick up some bargains in the way of cheap clothes or after shave, but the fixed prices were quite expensive, so we ended up only buying some sweets & snacks. While in the food court, I noticed that there was free Wi-Fi access so I was able to check my emails for the first time while on holiday and also updated my Google Latitude location.
Back at the hotel, we had some drinks from the bar and I slept on the sofa for about an hour while Marie read a book. I was a little bit sun burnt from the sun bathing earlier so put on some after sun lotion in the toilets while changing from shorts into jeans before being picked up at 19:00. It felt a little odd wearing jeans as I had been wearing shorts all week. On the coach, we were sat in front of some juveniles akin to Kevin & Perry. They were a bit like the main cast from The Inbetweeners, but without the charisma. Embarrassingly, they slightly reminded me on how I was as a teenager when I used to hang around with a guy called Nathaniel. The chubby blonde chav kid was very disappointed when a girl he fancied only spoke to him on his last day. Clearly if she had spoken earlier, he would have been having sex with her all day long. It was quite funny really.
While queuing at the airport, I spoke to a charming 83 year old gentleman from Esher who owns a 30 year old Mercedes. Marie & I hoped to offload most of our loose change, but frustratingly most of the duty free shops in the airport only accepted US dollars, which we could not fathom out why. Our return flight was delayed, but only by 25 minutes so we took off at 21:40 and said goodbye to Egypt.
This holiday was probably the best holiday I've been on and I saw some great sights which I will never forget. Before our holiday, we were warned that the temperature would be extremely hot at the end of August, but when there we were fortunate as it wasn't too hot. Although it was very hot, it was bearable. Compared to previous holidays, this one felt quite odd being on an all inclusive package. Going up to the bar and asking for a drink, without having to pay, or helping yourself to an unlimited amount of free food in the restaurant was quite an unusual experience. By the end of our holiday we had worked our way through all the non-alcoholic cocktails on the menu and most of the alcoholic cocktails.
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Again, JAE was based at Wicksteed Park in Kettering, Northamptonshire and I attended on the Saturday this year, not the Sunday like I did last year and regretted it. Marie & I arrived during the morning and parked between a Subaru Imprezza and a Honda Accord on the JapCars-UK plot.
After wiping down my car's exterior to make it look immaculate again following the 2 hour drive, we had a walk around to look at the various cars. Unfortunately, there was a brief shower or two, but we didn't get too wet. From the various retailers there selling car stuff, I purchased four decorative metallic red 6mm capped nuts to compliment my car's customised Ruby Red Pearl cylinder head cover. It uses eight in total, but the other four are covered up out of sight, so were not replaced. At only £1.00 each, they are a bargain compared to the standard Honda items costing £2.12 each. I also purchased a "VTEC inside" silver vinyl sticker to stick to the underside of my car's bonnet which cost only £2.00.
We decided to leave the show during late afternoon / early evening but before heading home and we stopped off for dinner at a Beefeater Grill Restaurant in Bedford.
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Very sadly, the relationship between Marie & I came to an end. This was probably the worst day of my life and we were both very badly affected. Fortunately, we didn't part in a hostile way so are still friends. I will love Marie, always.
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This was last year's birthday present from my parents to Marie & I. However, due to recent events, my Dad took Marie's place.
This was the fourth booking, having had the previous three between June and August cancelled due to inclement weather conditions. On the day of the flight, the takeoff site was switched from Frith End to Petersfield due to the wind direction. My Dad & I arrived at the launch site shortly before 16:00 following a rather enjoyable spirited drive along some picturesque roads on the sunny day that it was. At the time, the UK was going through a mini heatwave.
Geoff was our pilot for the day working for Go Ballooning and he gave us the opportunity to contribute to preparing the hot air balloon for flight. I had the simple task of standing on one side helping to hold open the large opening while large fans blew in cold air to inflate the balloon. Later on the flame throwing burners were used. The balloon's woven wicker basket had internal partitions, dividing it up into five sections with two large sections at both ends and one narrow section in the middle where the pilot and his stuff resided. I think there were 10 of us passengers, plus Geoff the pilot.
We took off at about 16:50 and it was very smooth with a seemingly quick ascent. When up in the air, as we were travelling with the wind, we couldn't actually feel the wind and it wasn't cold either. However, when the burner was used, the heat given off from it was immense. The organisers supply you with lots of information before the flight informing passengers on what to expect, but there was no mention of this. If I was to do this again, I would definitely bring a hat or a damp flannel to protect my head. The ride itself was very surreal and calm. Obviously, it's quiet up there with good views of the horizon. It was amusing looking down at people on the ground looking up at us, including farm animals too. We even got a wave from some spectators. In the distance, we could see Butser Hill in the distance where I went with Marie & her extended family during a night at the end of May 2010.
Geoff spotted a suitable landing site in a farmer's field somewhere in Hampshire, 8.5 miles north from our launch site, so began the descent. Our landing didn't quite go to plan. It was more of a crash landing. We were travelling a little too faster than desired and Geoff knew so. When near the ground, we were instructed to get into the landing brace position. As I could see the ground getting closer and closer, and moving by a little more quickly than it should have been, I began to think that this might hurt a little. I wasn't scared, in fact I was a little excited, but we could all tell it wasn't going to be a soft gentle landing! At about 17:45, we came back down to earth with a big thud, then another thud as it bounced then landed again, before being dragged along the ground for a few meters. The wicker basket had capsized, coming to a rest on its side. It was wicked, I loved it, and proclaimed my approval with a "boo yeah"! No injuries were sustained, apart from me taking a knock on the head from a heavy bag which was originally hanging on the outside of the balloon. I think it was used as ballast or something.
Throughout the flight, Geoff was in contact with our retrieval vehicle which would transport us and the balloon back to the launch site. The Land Rover Discovery soon found its way into the field and the staff helped us all pack up the balloon before we shared a couple of bottles of champagne watching the sunset.
This was great experience, it's a shame that the day for me was marred by recent events as I should have shared that experience with my beloved girlfriend.
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After 33 years, most would agree that me moving out was long overdue. So in October, I finally flew the nest.
On Monday 10th of October, I saw a suitable flat in Horley advertised on both Rightmove & FindaProperty. As it was 19:00, the estate agent was closed for the day, so I promptly telephoned James Dean estate agents the following morning at about 08:45. I viewed the flat during my lunch break at 13:30 and paid the agreed reservation fee that evening and completed the relevant forms online. The next day, my employer completed the necessary forms and I subsequently passed the required checks. The following day, we agreed on a move in date of Saturday 22nd October, which coincidently is my Mum's birthday.
That weekend, I went shopping with Marie for stuff that I would need for the flat. Marie kindly gave me many items that we had collected over the years which we had planned to use when we had hoped to move in together. My parents were very generous and bought me many items that I needed too.
On the day of the move, I used a friend of a friend who owned a suitably sized van and it all went surprisingly smoothly.
As I was now less than 4 miles from work, taking less than 10 minutes, compared to my previous 12 miles at 30 minutes or more, on 28th November I started using the bus to and from work instead of my car. There were a couple of reasons behind this decision. Firstly, short car journeys are harmful for cars, so it would not have been doing my car any good driving to and from work with the engine barely getting up to running temperature, especially in the winter. Secondly, it's cheaper than driving with the associated, petrol, wear & tear and newly introduced parking costs at work involved. So, effectively my car has gone into semi-retirement, being used much less often than it has been. To those of you who watch The Inbetweeners, I'm now a Bus Stop Wanker.
The newly redecorated flat did have a few minor issues which were resolved by the landlord and myself. Apparently, the electrics were in quite a dangerous state, so an electrician was employed to remedy and upgrade, taking him two and a half days over a period of just over two weeks from the end of November to mid December. I assume that wasn't cheap for the landlord.
It didn't take me long to settle in to my new home and enjoy my new found independence. It's nice having my own place & privacy. Another bonus is it being in an area which has cheaper car insurance and there is also ample parking outside, unlike where I moved from in Crawley. It's still close to my parents and Tae Kwon-Do so I don't have to travel far for either. However, I do miss cuddles from my cat Ashley and being greeted by her on most mornings when I wake up!
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A few months beforehand, from the BBC News web site, I had learnt of an Annie Lennox exhibition being held in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. I had originally hoped to visit with Marie, along with her uncle & his partner Miles who was also an avid Annie Lennox / Eurythmics fan. But this plan fell by the wayside.
This was to be the first time visiting London solo. I left home shortly after 11:00 to make my way to the Post Office in Horley town centre to post a book I had recently sold on eBay. It turned out, this was a mistake. As Christmas was approaching, there was a very long queue inside so it took longer than anticipated to be served. Subsequently, I missed the 11:41 train to London Victoria by what must have been a few seconds. The train was still there, stationary at the platform but was locked so I couldn't board. After it left, I considered my options of either waiting for the next train to London Victoria which would arrive an hour later, or get on the next train to London at 11:56 which was destined for London Bridge. I chose the latter option and it didn't take long at all to get to London. I intended walking from London Bridge station to Monument with the help of Googe Maps Navigation on my mobile phone, but as it proved to be crap when being a pedestrian, I gave up and took the Tube instead to South Kensington via a change over at Westminster. The Victoria & Albert Museum was a walk of less than 5 minutes from South Kensington station through a subway.
When I arrived there, it was a bit like a maze inside. The Annie Lennox exhibition wasn't very well signposted at all so it took me a while to locate it. The tour guide was a little late, but when she turned up, I was wondering if I was actually following the correct tour guide. I specifically chose this day to visit as there was due to be a guided tour of the Annie Lennox exhibition, however the tour I was tagging along on seemed to be more of a general tour of the Theatre and Performance section with the Annie Lennox section right at the end. The guided tour wasn't my cup of tea, I found it very boring and uninteresting. It was like being back on a school trip, being thoroughly bored about things I have no interest in. I was only interested in the Annie Lennox stuff, not the rest displayed in the Theatre and Performance section. The Annie Lennox part of the tour was very brief, so a waste of time really, as far as the guided tour is concerned with me. Afterwards, I took my time checking out all the Annie Lennox items, including various costumes she has worn in videos and on tour. There were numerous items scattered around including awards she has won, photos, items she has been pictured with on album covers, items she has worn in her videos and original draft lyrics for her songs in Eurythmics and as a solo singer.
Returning home was less straight forward. I took the tube from South Kensington to Victoria and arrived there between 16:00 - 16:30 where I discovered that most of the trains were cancelled due to a fatality on the track at Croydon. I later found out that this had happened much earlier in the day, which pissed me off no end. Why the fuck can't the authorities just get a spade and scrape up the dumb fuck who is causing the misery for hundreds of people? It would take a few minutes, then the line would be open again and everyone would be happy. But no, they must close the train line for hours on end and stand around in their high vis jackets, following health & safety protocols.
Eventually I was amongst many people cramming on to a train destined for Horsham. Honestly, we were packed in like sardines. I felt like I was overheating, but I wasn't able to remove my coat as I simply didn't have the room to move. Then my back started giving me grief. Towards the end of the journey, when the passengers were thinning out, I was relieved to ease my back pain when a seat became available. Shortly before the train reached Horsham just after 19:00, we were told to go to platform 2 for our train, however a staff member at the station said to go to platform 4. When on platform 4, an announcement over the tannoy confirmed this was the correct platform so I got on the train along with others. Just before the train was due to leave, I noticed that the scrolling digital display showed the train was due to be heading to Bognor Regis and the announcement over the speakers confirmed it. WTF! I quickly departed, along with a few others. I wonder how many people on that train didn't realise they were heading south instead of north. I boarded the train on platform 2 which came to a stop at Three Bridges. Reason being was that there was no driver to take it further and we were waiting for a relief driver. I was thinking that I'm sure that this country currently has millions of unemployed during the current economic difficulties. Can't the train company simply employ someone to cover? Obviously not, as a short while later there was another announcement saying that we were now waiting for the next train from Horsham to connect to this one to take it to Victoria. In other words, no fucking driver has been organised! After more thumb twiddling, another announcement suggested that if we wanted to go to Gatwick, we should hurry to platform 4, so just about everyone, including myself, ran there. Gatwick South Terminal still has crap signage to the bus stop, which I originally discovered when coming home from Zakynthos in August 2010. After a 20 minutes wait at the bus stop, I finally got home at 20:45. I have little respect for the service provided by public transport and those who govern it.