Another whistlestop tour of the country. I must stop doing this. Top of the attractions is Runcorn. Well, first at least.

Yep, actual work again. The Machine Evaluation Workshop is Runcorn's premier supercomputing conference, and all round excuse for meeting sysadmin types. It's still a good conference, and I remember very little of it.

The Tour hits Liverpool, Durham and Edinburgh on consecutive days, while the country is under biblical levels of snow. And because the country in question is England, the public transport system falls apart. My TransPennine Distress "service" across from Liverpool to Durham is replaced with Gloom, Delay and Waiting In Station Pubs.

My tour of Durham's rustic IT Service facilities is definitely work too.

Edinburgh of course looks lovely in the snow (compare Liverpool, which just looks like it stole it). I take the opportunity to have another go at the panoramic photo I attempted last year from the top of the Scott monument. One year on, I'm capable of using the little tricks my camera offers like actually getting the thing in focus. Unsurprisingly, it's perishing up here and I can barely see out of my right eye by the time I finish.

And that's it for this outing. By the evening, I'm in Heathrow waiting for a dude to finish spraying steaming deicer on a 767, and the following morning, I'm back in work in the desert. In body at least.

Posted Sun Dec 5 00:00:00 2010 Tags: England

It's time to leave the Kingdom again. I flew out a couple of days ago, on the usual early o clock flight to Heathrow. The Saudia alternatives to this BA flight are at more civilised hours but there's a good reason to pick this one. Once we get over Egypt, BA has beer, and that's crucial for coping with the small child intent on destroying the back of my seat.

I've got a few days in the UK to do shopping and a few other errands. The important one is opening an offshore bank account, and I appear to have achieved that. I also crack after months of not having a watch, and invest in one that I hope is too nice for me to randomly destroy through neglect. Also, beer and curry.

So today will be a long day, flying from Heathrow to New Orleans. Crazy 7am start to get to Heathrow on time. I've picked American Airlines for my transatlantic flight because I've got a tight connection in Chicago, and I want to make it the airline's problem to get me on the second leg.

I've naively assumed that all transatlantic flights are much the same - where my experience is BA - but I'm not right. American is a proper trial. The in-flight entertainment is pitiful. There's no video on demand at all, and the choice is extremely limited. Even more shockingly, there's no free booze. The journey is as long and tedious as this post. Peering out of the window at Canada's frozen wastes does little to alleviate the boredom.

Happily, O'Hare is functioning better than I have been lead to expect. We land on time, immigration are swift and even polite, and I'm admitted to the country. My bags are soon re-checked onto the next leg of my journey and I'm on the way to the domestic terminal, which is where it all goes wrong.

The line for security is long and slow-moving, and uses up most of my remaining time. I'm getting twitchy as I finally reach the front of the line and dutifully undress in order to be violated by the hired goons.

I leave the security area in my socks, and hustle towards my gate, where my flight is ostensibly boarding. In reality, of course, it's not and they've just flicked the sign to "Last Call" to get all the sheeple in line before they open boarding.

The flight itself is uneventful and by the end of the day I'm ensconced in the disappointing Hilton Garden Inn with my colleagues.

Posted Sat Nov 13 00:00:00 2010 Tags: England

Morning: Being driven down a camel-lined highway through the desert by a deferent Filipino gentlemen.

Afternoon: On a train to Guildford surrounded by green fields.

Cultural dissonance completed by evening of beer and curry.

Posted Mon Mar 22 00:00:00 2010 Tags: England

Another stupid o clock start after packing to survive a week in the Frozen North. As usual my bag is groaning under the strain of my abuse of its capacity. Today's destination is Durham. First class, natch.

I'm no longer enamoured with First Class. The internets aren't as nippy since they opened them to the masses, the coffee-wallahs are insufficiently attentive, and worst of all, the biscuits are of a quite inferior standard these days.

The do in Durham is an excuse to meet people for a five course banquet. No reason. Much devouring was had by all.

Posted Fri Dec 11 00:00:00 2009 Tags: England

Day out in London. It's another early morning as I have an appointment at Australia House at midday. I killed my last Australian passport with coffee and I've had to wait until I got back to Blighty before I could find someone who met the requirements for signing my photo. It all goes very smoothly, and I've soon back on track. A relaxed lunch at a boozer behind the British Museum later and I'm on the prowl for gadgets down the Tottenham Court Road.

Turns out Apple parts are ridiculously expensive. Who knew?

So I largely fail at most of the things I want. I suspect BOSE QC 15s are the right noise-cancelling headphones to replace my slightly shoddy Sennheisers, but I fail to find any to apply the comfort test. And surprisingly, Panamas are thin on the ground on a rainy December afternoon in London. My one success is $NEWTOY. Shiny.

Next stop Wandsworth for good boozes and good company, with one pub I particularly approve of, despite the overly trendy decor, because of its community centre feel.

Posted Wed Dec 9 00:00:00 2009 Tags: England

In Loughborough to see my sister and her cat. We settle on a trip to Bosworth to get some History. The visitors' centre is reached after a certain amount of getting lost on the back roads. It gives you an excellent account of the battle and then spoils it, to my mind, by admitting at the end that no-one actually knows where the battle was.

The other stop is Foxton locks, which consists of a flight of staircase locks and a disused inclined plane - a crazy device for raising wheeled troughs of water containing boats up a slope. It wasn't found to be economical for particularly long, so naturally there are enthusiasts who want to rebuild it.

The locks themselves are closed at the moment for repair, and the gates are all open.

Posted Sat Dec 5 00:00:00 2009 Tags: England

It's stupid o'clock in the morning. I have an early morning flight because the travel office successfully failed to book the afternoon one I asked for, so there's a taxi waiting to take me to the airport at 6am. I'm a little concerned that the effect of of weather and Haj will conspire to make me late for my flight, however the alternative is getting out of bed earlier, so I'll just have to risk it.

As it turns out, I needn't have worried. The taxi driver has helpfully driven down the pavement up to my house (the road's walled off) to wait, and the drive into Jeddah reveals him to be suitably crazy. Highlights include being told by the police at a checkpoint to slow down, and him getting out of the car to move a barrier out of his way to allow us to park right in front of the terminal.

Check in is fast, and security is even faster as the two guards interrupt their chat briefly to wave me through. I'm in the departure lounge about an hour after leaving my front door.

First order of business after getting back is a frenzied search for my whisky in my parents' house, after it's been helpfully tidied. I have a quick unpack and repack to do before getting on a train tomorrow for Runcorn, jewel of the northwest, and I shall be needing to take whisky with me.

I've come back from Jeddah with some exciting virus, and that night is spent with a fever, shivering under a vast pile of blankets.

Just call me Patient Zero.

Posted Sun Nov 29 00:00:00 2009 Tags: England