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May 27, 2014

Headaches and knots

So, El Beardo and I are planning a wedding. Which, as you can imagine is Very Exciting. And Oh So Stressful.

I sort of understand the evolution of the Bridezilla. I think it comes from two sources:

1. The expectation that the bride does most of the planning (not the groom)
2. The mantra that “it’s your (your plural) day.

This would be fine, if in doing 1, you were allowed to exercise some control over 2.

Unfortunately for me, I am what is known as a people pleaser. I just want to keep everyone else happy. And I am trying. Oh boy am I trying. I’m trying to involve everyone that wants to be involved. I’m trying to meet my maternalworriers expectations/sooth her worries. Am trying to keep the price down. Am trying to not upset anyone with the guest list. But at the end of the day it’s a losing battle.

I now understand why some people go so insane and just steamroller over other people’s opinions, because frankly most of the time they are Not Helpful. Of course, I haven’t done this and have nearly stopped caring about any of it. Apart from the marriage bit of course – looking forward to that. But mostly, the whole process sucks.


September 27, 2013

Exciting times

Exciting times in the world of this little microbiologist.

1. The bearded one finally got around to asking me whether I’d stay with him just a little bit longer. It took a trip to Denmark and a strategically placed cannon, but I gave in to the tears, wailing and general begging and said yes. So, it looks like I’m going to be stuck with a beardy for the rest of my life. Who’d’ve thought? So, planning a wedding. Which was exciting for about 5 minutes until QUESTIONSQUESTIONSWHYDOYOUHAVETOASKMESOMANYQUESTIONS?!?

Turns out I’m not as into wedding planning as I thought.

2. I have created the ultimate microbiologists fantasy, that is a range of microbe themed top trumps complete with awesome cartoons!

You might think I’m joking, but I’m actually not. Bug Battles. They exist. I have boxes of them in my office. I didn’t do the cartoons (a Good Thing), but I came up with the design, did most of the writing, all of the editing etc. And I think they’re seriously cool.

Ok, I would, I’m a microbiologist. But do you have a cartoon of Ebola on your wall? See. I win.

3. Ooh I have a house! This news is a year out of date, but the fact remains, we own walls. And a roof. Although we knocked down some of the walls. And removed a layer off all the floors. And all the wallpaper. In fact the roof is pretty much the only thing we haven’t changed. Even the garden was de-ground forced (deathslide decking begone). House ownership surprisingly unexciting (money comes out every month), but the fixing stuff up and making pretty is quite fun.

Note to house buyers insistent on buying a ‘fixer-upper’: don’t have a ‘vision’ or a ‘concept’ for a room you’re redoing. Go to B&Q, buy a nice kitchen/bathroom set. ‘Concepts’ are for when you have a)unlimited resources b) lots of time, and c)a builder with the patience of a saint. That said, I do adore our bathroom, but boy did it cost us b, c, and more of a than we planned. Not that we had much of a to play with in the first place…


September 22, 2011

We're going on a house hunt

It’s time for me to grow up and join the adult road. None of this free-livin’, rent-payin’, irresponsibility malarky for this increasingly ageing decreasingly little microbiologist. Oh no. It’s time for me to settle down and get a mortgage.

Option 1. Buy house currently living in (affordable I think). Maternal pragmatist has pointed out it’s in catchment area for a good school

And there was I thinking our ‘ceramic floor which is ceramic but designed to look like not just wood flooring, but laminate wood flooring’ was my primary concern. Oh no.

Option 2. Buy other vaguely affordable house somewhere closer to work.

Hmm unknown territory here..Potential for wierdy neighbours, bike thieves, collapsable roofs, and flooding. Oh the dilemma.

Option 3. Buy wildly expensive 3 bedroom house and live off noodles.

Eh, eh bien. I do not know. But I go examine 4 houses on Saturday with the bearded one, and try and look grown up. I work for a University doncha know.


May 29, 2011

Mexico City – A Suprisingly Nice City

The text message comes in from Fawzan as I'm transitting in Madrid (an awful experience).

Dude! guess which city featured on the World'd Most Dangerous Cities on TV last night? :D

Mexico City

I ended up travelling to Mexico City twice (cheers boss) in the Summer of 2009. The direct BA flights were always impossible to get an economy ticket on, so I had the privilege of using Iberia on both occasions. A long 2hr flight from London to Madrid, and THEN you start your mammoth 13hr journey. I would land at 6:00am and head straight for the customer's office in des Pantalons (yep) for a long day until 8pm. Best way to start readjusting to a new clock? Reset the old one.

Now someone in the airport will volunteer to pull your light suitcase 90 or 100 metres out of the terminal for you and point you at a taxi and then expect to receive some dollars/pesos for that. Save yourself the embarrassment of having no cash and don't let them! Now I'm belted up in a worn small toyota, and the taxi driver did about 3 hail marys. I thought why does he need to do that? We're just going to downtown Santa Fe?

Argh! We're going to crash into that stationary coach in our lane!

Zipping and weaving through traffic like there was a time-limit in each lane. Our taxi would end up at exactly the same level you would have been if you stayed in the same lane. At least some petrol was wasted on the way! I don't get latin drivers.

I got to the customer site and popped into a cafe whilst I waited for the Americans. Now this is when you get the foreigner ordering something he doesn't want. I somehow ended up with a toasted soft cheese and ham croissant (gracias) and a coffee. Now in Europe you pay for this with your Visa/MC. But in the Americas the roles are reversed, they give you a dirty look for presenting a low cost Visa to them and then request you pay with an American Express.

The Americans arrive and are very grateful for my appearance and sympathetic to my long journey. They seem to need to commute weekly from Dallas (3hrs). We get along well and the day's work goes quite well working with the Americans and the Mexicans and I manage to get a breakthrough - rewarding after a long day.

Travelling around Mexico City seems fine with the locals, the small areas you go for lunch seem nice and safe, the tranquil hotel lunches and the weird Polanco hotel district seems good too. The best part is when you go out on those highways over the mountains to the other towns. Remember playing those driving games in the arcade where there are 3 lanes either side and they twist and curve along the mountains ridge? That's what it is like there.

Mexico is hot, about 25degrees but only slightly humid. And one of those places you have to remember not to drink the tap water.

MonterreyMexico City 1

I even had the chance to go to Monterrey on my second trip. This meant a 2hr Madrid flight, 13hr transatlantic (business fortunately), then another domestic Monterrey flight 2hrs. I think that may have been the definition of tired. Monterrey is just flat land in the middle of the valley, with lots of factories inside. Everything manufacturing related was here.

I stayed at the Intercontinental both times in MX and in Monterrey. Seems more classical styled (verging on aged?). I had to extend my stay by 1 night once and the Continental was full on the Tuesday night, so was the Nikko next door. It seems the demographic of people going to MX city seemed to be businessmen. Rooms at weekends must have been freely available. Fortunately a double double-bed room was available in the W. I missed a trick not using this hotel for the past 2 stays! They had ipod docks and USB connections on all their stereos, a funky bathroom where the shower was a cup in the middle of the room and the head just popped out of the ceiling. And of course the W does not believe in frosted windows nor bathroom doors. Now I thought it was cool to have a shower whilst looking out at the city from the high vantage point, but the American's room had no frosted windows in the actual toilet part! So his party piece was being able to tell people that he would be sitting on the 'throne' and have an unbridled and amazing view over the city.

I would say it didn't feel too dangerous when I was there. Admittedly I was at Polanco where the cream of the crop seem to hang out. But the odd local lunch place we went to seemed nice and fine. They said it was probably the North of the country which would be the most dangerous. And everyone I met were very nice and friendly.

So I leave you with some tips:

  • Stay at Polanco, W Hotel if possible
  • Don't buy Tequila from inside the airport if you're transitting via somewhere, you will have a short Spanish lady in Madrid Security shouting at you
  • Don't get an adjoing room in the Continental hotel, as your neighbour WILL bring a prostitute back with him at 2am to disturb your sleep! (You can tell from the fake laughter)
  • Keep with the local food in moderation. Try to have beer.
  • Avoid the British/Irish Pubs that undercook the beefburgers (the lights are so dim you won't notice your eating steak tartar); No amount of Duvel 8.5% will save you from the inevitable at 3am in the morning

February 04, 2011

Things behind which it is not much fun to be stuck while on a bike

  1. Rubbish trucks
  2. Buses
  3. Recylce trucks
  4. First-gear cyclists
  5. a car which can’t make up it’s mind about turning left
  6. Buses
  7. White vans

I should, however, remember I am not a car. Repeat to yourself Anna, I am not a car. There. Now stop giving way to the enemy.


November 11, 2010

Never ever

I never thought I’d see this day. The day when I open up an email with a conference programme in it and see my name down as a keynote speaker. I’ve only just mastered the art of eating choc ices without giving myself an ice-cream moustache and now I have to speak with authority?

Eeek.


March 30, 2010

It's science, but not as we know it.

Ta da!

Well, I suppose if being a “snot specialist” isn’t a claim to fame, I don’t know what is!


December 29, 2009

Sony Ericsson C905 Long Term Review

C905

I waited ages for the Sony Ericsson C905 in 2008. It was just what I needed, a phone that could handle many features, but is not a smart-phone. I still wanted a xenon flash to replace my trusty K800i that served well for 2 years. A xenon flash is undeniably useful. It allows you to be there to take something that only a regular camera could have. The K800i ran all the apps I wanted to: OperaMini to google maps to a trading platform. The addition of WiFi, HSDPA and GPS in the C905 was very welcome. Despite my previous abhorence to the 3 UK network I decided to return because it was the only network that had Skype available, and plus it is now managed by a reputable telecoms firm.

So after about a year how has it faired?

The camera with xenon flash has been brilliant - with red eye reduction on it is capable of three successive bursts. Only gripe is the colours on any daylight photos are a bit washed out. Everytime I take a picture it produces a 1MB file which I just right click and email or upload online. It has followed me around the world allowing me to capture important moments such as visiting the Acropolis and socialising with great people in Mexico.

Most days when I wake up, BBC's World Business Report show is unavailable on computer at 7am, so I just use the phone to stream the show over HSDPA to catch up on the news. One time I found myself on the train to London watching the Wimbledon final. The other commuters were hunched over my little screen.

I like how on the phone each java application can be set permissions for whether it is allowed to use mobile network and/or WiFi. This has been useful for ensuring the mobile network's Skype application continue to work whilst hooked on to WiFi. I have noticed a few issues (probably with earlier SW versions) where on WiFi emails can't be sent/received unless when your phone's on a non-home network. This can be solved by allowing connections to "Any Network." Not an issue for me, but might affect some people.

The GPS doesn't work too well in built up areas, even with assistance (where the local mobile basestation provides which satellites can be reached from the area). If you're in an empty field you can get lock without assistance but then you might be waiting anything between 30seconds or 30 minutes. I find googlemaps works better without GPS enabled. When the GPS does work, you can use it from log your running regieme to turn-by-turn road mapping with Wayfinder. Wayfinder (subscription needed) did work well on a quick drive to Wales and it even tracked my progress for reviewing later in Google Earth.

Battery life is ok. When I use it (with gmail, operamini and skype open all day), I use just over 50% each day which means a daily charge is needed. When I leave it alone on HSDPA network, it lasts 2-3 days on standby. Unfortunately my operator has locked out the 3G/2G switch for commercial reasons.

The phone reboots every now and then, but then again I am stressing it by running three java applications simultaneously all the time. I wanted the simplicity of the basic Sony Ericsson OS but I think I have now reached the limits of non-smartphones. So to conclude the phone has been very good for the past year. Great travel companion, WiFi allows hooking on to local cafes to send your emails and allowed me to capture moments I might otherwise have missed. Next phone may be an LTE Android though!



December 24, 2009

On the nth day of Christmas my true love gave to me

Snow sleet and ice,
Two broken windscreen wipers,
and a bill for one hundred pounds!


December 05, 2009

Bad–ass leukocyte

This sort of thing makes me very happy


August 24, 2009

Ashes to Ashes, Memories to Dust

So we won the Ashes. Yay. Awesome. Etc.

Can’t help but wonder how many people actually saw it happen though. There were several thousand in the stadium, but the best that the bulk of the country could do was hope to catch it on the radio.

Given how much press the series has generated on both back and front covers, isn’t it a bit wrong that so few had the opportunity to see it happen? Isn’t it time to move the Ashes – home and away – to the protected list of events that have to be on terrestrial?


July 27, 2009

Published at last

There some sights that warm the cockles of your soul.. and this is one of them :

Article

:)


July 21, 2009

The Parthenon

The Parthenon (C) Nathaniel Ho 2009

© Nathaniel Ho 2009

Camera: Canon EOS 350D
Lens: Canon EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6
Filter: Skylight 1A
Date: 14th April 2009 18:52
Location: Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Focal Length: 18mm (equivalent focal length: 29mm)
Shutter: 1/125s
Aperture: F/14
ISO: 100
Post–processing: can't remember - minimal contrast boost I think


July 13, 2009

All I really want

Eh bien, I am a rather sleepy but marginally less confuddled microbiologist. Now this may have something to do that come Friday I shall be jetting off to Spain for a week in the sun with colleaguewithgenerousparents. However, I do still have to give a seminar on Friday on a topic which is controversial to say the least and likely to bring a whole host of evil questions upon me. Further more I have several funding applications to try to pull together with people all over the country who don’t answer emails.

So, it may be because various Good Things have recently happened to me:

1. I went, I auditioned, I passed. Woot! I am now involved in 1 play and 2 choirs. Can’t believe I have put this off for so long-rather exciting to be getting involved in so much. And the choir audition was fun-especially the oral tests (there’s no way of saying that without it sounding dodgy, so snigger away while I roll my eyes and sigh).

2. I went up to Shropshire for much drunken cavorting and general s’moreage. And lots and lots of meat. Lots of meat. Never seen so much cooked meat. Mmmm…meat. And discovered a new part of the country which is Very Pretty

3. I went to Burgundy avec les parents to a tres charmant petite maison a la campagne. Mmm soleil et beacoup de fromage. Et cycling around from little picturesque village to little picturesque village and getting lost in a wood. Twice. On two separate occasions. Same wood. Oops.

4. Saw friendwhoisimportantgovernmentpersonage and had chocolate cake and enjoyed sun.

5. Purchased tres pretty shoes. Oooh spotty.

6. Assortedchums from Cambridge visited last weekend and we went to Longleat which was so much fun!! Have been once before but not done safari etc, and girliefriends and I went to see Lord Bath’s murals, which if you haven’t seen I thoroughly recommend*.. but watch out for the last room..oooh matron!

7. I got to play with an M.I.S. robot in a pink building today. Tres exciting.

8. I have done lots of ironing. happy sigh

Enfin, I deserve them not, but they have made me a happier bunny. Just need to work out what on earth is going on in my head with regard to other elements and I may yet achieve sanity. Who knows! Watch this space..

*not for quality. Yuck.


July 01, 2009

Watching black and white paint dry…

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/eng_div_1/8124105.stm

No. This is not fair.

The BBC have a grand total of ten Championship matches last season. That’s ten between a league of 24 teams, so already four teams won’t be making an appearance. So in the interests of fairness… they give Newcastle the first two games.

How can this be fair to the myriad of quality sides in the division that some team, who at the back-end of last season played some pathetically soulless football, can be guaranteed two appearances on terrestrial television when unfashionable sides like Doncaster who play a decent hard-working probably won’t be shown at all? Would it really have been that difficult for the BBC to, if unable to at least pick up a couple more games, structure things so only four clubs miss out rather than immediately focus on a club which claims to be big yet continues to achieve nothing?

Oh wait, I forgot – Newcastle are going to be the Man Utd/Chelsea/Liverpool/Arsenal of the Championship, getting far more TV exposure than the rest of their division. Difference is, in Newcastle’s case I think it’s going to be 1 from 24 rather than 4 from 20.


June 27, 2009

Hong Kong Island Skyline

Hong Kong 2009 I -  62

(C) Nathaniel Ho 2009


June 16, 2009

Don't tax my phone line

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8102756.stm

So the latest great completely stupid idea of the government is for all of us with phone lines to pay £6 a year to make Britain “the digital capital of the world”.

Wonderful. By 2017, our internet speed will have caught up with where Japan and South Korea are… um… well, where they are in 2009.

Something doesn’t seem quite right with this deal…


May 21, 2009

Cool rider

As part of my new job, I go and look at interesting and innovative new technologies, and see where possible collaborations lie. This is something my new boss is very keen on, and it’s great to be in such a forward thinking area. This is however, slightly beside the point. On Wednesday, such a collaboration led to my boss, another colleague, and I driving to Leicester to attend several meetings over two days. Such a trip necessitated a hire car. And since boss is rather senior member of organisation, he qualifies for rather good things. Having blithely asked his lovely secretary if I could be put on the insurance for the (at that point unknown) car, just in case. I went on with life, expecting not much. However, boss was not in mood to drive, and so I was to split the journey with colleague.

And so it was, that in the course of my work, I got to drive one of these:

Yes, a Jaguar X-type (automatic). Whizzy.

I normally drive a 1.1l Fiat Panda (love love love my little car) and was rather scared at prospect of driving car significantly larger, faster, more expensive and less manual than my little Panda. And having driven it, I still love my Panda. I can’t afford a Jaguar so there’s no point in repining. However, I did appreciate the following benefits:

  • No tailgaters. Clearly if you are driving such a car you have the capacity to go whizzily. You get respect from Audis. (I know!!!!)
  • Responsive acceleration. Normally if I put my foot down, Panda makes a noise and then about 10 seconds later gets up to something resembling the speed of everyone else. In the Jaguar, I put my foot down and whiiiiiiizzzzzy. Hello A34. Who’s the Daddy.
  • Automatic gears make traffic jams much easier. Yes I know, that is partly the point, but I didn’t realise just how much easier. I didn’t stall-because I couldn’t!
  • It’s actually possible to have a conversation at whizzy speeds. Because there is no engine noise. None. It feels like you’re gliding.
  • It’s surprisingly easy to drive. I was expecting it to be fiddly/cumbersome/easily reversed into a)other cars, b)miscellaneous walls, or c) people, but the little beepy things help and it doesn’t feel that much bigger.

Upshot is, I want one please. I would like to keep it, polish it and take it out on weekends to meet my mother. And father. I think my paternalengineer would particularly appreciate it. And maternalworrier might realise that I am to be trusted with her BMW…. gooooaaarn.

[N.B. I am a little naive car wise.Since the demise of ALF (RIP) 2.7 years ago, I have only had the panda. So I get very excited about these things.]


May 04, 2009

What if…

Last week, Britain’s only world champion boxer (Carl Froch) beat American Jermian Taylor in the final round with seconds remaining. Of course, nobody in this country could watch it, as due to the senselessness of boxing politics no TV channel would screen it. So of course, it was off to YouTube if you want to see any coverage of any of the fight.

Once you remove the anti-American/British/English/Welsh/disestablishmenterialism rubbish, you are left with two strong opinions:

  1. If you disagree with me, you are gay. In fact, the only place where you are more likely to be gay is Xbox Live. Not even Gay Pride has as many people who are gay, if the comments are to be believed.
  1. Taylor “deserved” to win because he was winning most/all the earlier rounds.

Of course, the latter was largely the thoughts of bitter Americans and/or Taylor fans who couldn’t accept their man had lost, let alone the circumstances. Their case was that Taylor had been so dominant in the fight, that he was clearly the superior fighter. Moreover, because Froch was just a punchbag until the end, the fact that Froch had fought so well in the 12th and forced the referee to end the contest in his favour was irrelevant, as Taylor was ahead on the scorecards.

So let’s put this logic into other sports…

  • Pretty much any team sport on the planet, but let’s stick with football: Man Utd go 4-1 on Liverpool. Liverpool score 4 in the last six minutes. However, Man Utd were better for the first 84 minutes, so they should win the fight.
  • Golf: Tiger Woods leads by six shots with two par 4 holes to go. He finishes bogey-double bogey, Ernie Els finishes eagle-eagle and takes one shot less for the competition. But Tiger was better for 16 holes, therefore he deserves to win.
  • Motor Racing: Jenson Button is six laps clear of Lewis Hamilton in second place, before his engine blows up and he stops at the last corner. Hamilton crosses the line first, but because Button led until the last corner he should be the winner.
  • Rowing: Oxford have rowed ten lengths clear of Cambridge with metres to go before the end of the race, but the stroke violently sneezes and tips the crew into the water. Cambridge row past and cross the line in first place, but Oxford led for all that way so they should be the winners.
  • Diving: Tom Daley executes a whole series brilliant dives to leave him miles ahead of Blake Aldridge. Unfortunately, on his last dive Daley gets it wrong, smacks his head on the diving board, the crowd watches his brains splatter across the pool, and he scores nothing. Aldridge dives into the pool, avoiding the bits of broken skull, and does enough to make up the deficit on the final dive. However, Daley was better before that dive, so he should win.

These farcical examples should go a long way to proving three things. Firstly, that the winner is the one who is in front at the end of the competition, not some arbitrary point in the middle. Secondly, that the internet gives a very powerful voice to very stupid people. And thirdly, I am supposed to call your sexual orientation into question if you do not agree with this entry. According to YouTube, anyway.

As an aside, Ricky Hatton got beaten by Manny Pacquiao, and said that the winner deserved it. Just like Jermain Taylor did, as a matter fact. Wonder how long it is before Mancunians claim Filipinos are homosexual?


March 31, 2009

This may get you in a lot of trouble

If you have been shopping at Topman and bought some manly shirts, you will probably find "Topshop" on your credit card bill. What you don't expect is the description of Women's Clothing to be included. This is either very funny, or very unfunny if it gets you into trouble!


Topman

Actually some of the men's clothes in there are a bit girly...


March 22, 2009

Results for 'Expert' F1 2007 Season Predictions

Follow-up to 'Expert' F1 2007 Season Predictions from nathanielho :: blog

Sorry this is over a year late!

I can confirm that the 2007 Winner was Rich! Followed by Paul in second place and myself in third.


F1 Predictions 2007 - Results


2009 Predictions coming soon!


March 14, 2009

Dublin 2009

Bank of Ireland (C) Nathaniel Ho 2009 Trinity (C) Nathaniel Ho 2009


I was on trip to Dublin this week on a work assignment. Going out there was brilliant: 30 second check in at BHX, 3 minute baggage reclaim at DUB, a quick AirCoach connection and a quick walk through the grounds of Trinity College to get to my hotel.

It was nice to return to again Dublin and doing my homework 9 months ago certainly helped! My experience of the O'Callaghan Davenport hotel was good. It was in a perfect location for my needs south of the river. When travelling for work you have to get used to dining alone! My favourite destination was the Millstone on Dame Street. I tried the Ostrich burger - it's frankly awesome meat. I managed to get an a few hours off on my last afternoon to visit the National Gallery and the Old Trinity Library.

Obviously this good fortune meant I was in for some real poo on my return. My flight was delayed for 2 hours and I had already got to the departure lounge 2 hours early! It didn't help that I was visiting Dublin during my 'no alcohol' month. So I wasn't able to make have an Irish coffee or have a Guiness during the four hour wait! It. was. hard.


February 21, 2009

Keep Alive

I apologise for not providing any update for almost 6 months. Even the lobbying from pressure groups to keep the blog alive ran out of steam.

I have been working steadily in my first full-time job, playing football on tuesdays and living in Leam. I work in the telecoms industry (no surprise) as a services engineer and the graduate scheme I'm on means I get a lot of varied training. I have been fortunate to meet quite a lot of good people within and outside the company. Leam is comfortable, however after 4 yrs of uni, almost everyone I know have left the town.

You find when working full time, there are a few changes you must look out for:

  • Weeks and months pass quite quickly - There is none of the pain of long terms that existed with school and university.
  • There is no homework - if you have homework, then you need to find a job with no homework!
  • You come home, eat, watch tv, sleep and then do it again - this is a dangerous trap that you can easily fall in to. The trick is to make the most of your free time - which isn't that hard. And another important thing to do is to USE your annual leave.
  • Your blog is never updated

So once you are aware of that you can plan your time well. I have made odd trips every now and then to keep in touch with old uni people. I think I have got a good balance going - except for the blog updates.



February 07, 2009

April–June 2008 – about time to catch up!

I’m starting to write this entry on the way home from France, on a quick trip home for four days off before I actually start flying again. It’s just under two weeks since I moved over to live on the French/Swiss/German border and to be honest I’m ready for a few days break. [Edit – it’s now over a week later and I’m only just finishing it…!]

It’s been a busy 24 hours, because as I start to write this (29 January), this time yesterday I was in the FSC Flight Simulator Centre in Amsterdam, undergoing by 6-monthly recurrent check which all airline transport pilots have to do. To the vast majority of pilots it’s a non-event, it’s just something you have to do every six months and you just get on with it. Without getting too technical, it’s basically to check that if anything goes wrong during flight we know what to do, in the safe confines of the simulator! It’s actually good fun because you get to practice things and come across new scenarios that you shouldn’t – and virtually never – come across in the aircraft, and there are numerous aspects that the trainers have to check us on; for example, do we understand the aircraft’s systems correctly? The A320 is a pretty complex piece of machinery, and it takes masses of experience to know every little detail in intricate detail. Also, are our CRM (crew resource management) skills up to scratch – i.e. can we work together well as a crew? Do we share the workload properly? And, in the unlikely (but possible) event of something like an engine exploding on takeoff, are our manual handling skills up to scratch? Then there are specific scenarios we have to train for; for example, flying into specific airports that are known to be complicated and require specific training – Mykonos and Ajaccio, in this case – and do we know exactly what to do if our Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) starts shouting at us and we have to perform an evasive manouever? It’s not something you can really practice for in the aircraft, for obvious reasons, so we need to know what to do, instantly, from memory.

I was a little apprehensive beforehand because I’ve never done simulator training with an experienced captain before, only trainees of similar experience to me, so I was expecting the CRM aspect to be a little different. The captain doing his check with me was one of the most experienced in the company and an examiner himself, so it was pretty much the other end of the scale to what I’m used to, but the whole point of the training we undergo is so that we can work well as a crew whatever the experience levels, and it does work. I’m pretty glad that I’ve got 6 months to wait until my next one, but overall it was good fun and a good learning experience. From here, I start flying again on Monday (a nice short Basel-Amsterdam and return) and then have to go to Geneva for a few days of line training flights before being released to the line again!

Anyway, as it’s been so long since I wrote anything proper on here, there is a big gap which needs filling for much of what I’ve written above to make sense. After I finished the AQC course which I wrote about some time early last year – the part of my training programme which taught us the basics of moving up to a passenger jet from a light aircraft, before moving on to the aircraft-specific type rating – I then had about 7 weeks off before actually starting on the type rating course. For this, after going to the company induction day at Luton, it meant another trip down to Southampton for another few weeks at CTC, where the course would be conducted. Familiar territory! (Apart from the accommodation, which, due to the company’s normal residence being full, meant being put up in a posh country hotel for a few days.)

Those of us on the type rating course (10 or 12 in total, I can’t quite remember) had received the welcome pack in the post a few weeks earlier and I’d been completely unable to fathom what on earth it was on about. A full-motion flight simulator session on day 2? Before we’d even learned anything about the aircraft?! And two more on consecutive days afterwards?! Surely not! But it turned out a few of us had been assigned to a new-style type rating course the CAA were trialling, the so-called FORCE (Flight Operations Research Centre of Excellence, or something) course. Rather than take the traditional approach of two weeks’ classroom study of the aircraft followed by 12 or so simulator sessions, the new approach was to throw us into the simulator on day 1 and then do the ground school half way through the course. The intention, I believe, was to introduce the automation in a different way to normal. The Airbus is a very clever aeroplane and the automatics can do all sorts of wonderful things to make your life easier that older aircraft can’t do, but if you don’t understand them then you’ll find yourself digging yourself very quickly into a big hole. So the idea I believe was to build us up gradually from fully manual operation (including manual thrust, which I’m ashamed to say I didn’t use in an entire six months on the line in summer) towards an intermediate level of automation to build up our understanding before finally letting us get the aircraft to look after certain things itself. It was hard work and those of us who’d done the AQC course on the A320 a couple of months earlier definitely felt like we had a bit of a head start over those (including some reasonably experienced guys) who’d never set foot in an Airbus before. It’s not really up to me to say whether I thought it was the right way to go about it, but suffice to say that the company only ran a few courses that way before dropping it a few months later and reverting to the traditional type!

The course I did consisted of six 4-hour flight simulator sessions, followed by 2 weeks’ ground school, followed a further six 4-hour sim sessions – these at Burgess Hill, just north of Brighton – of which two were devoted to the LST – Licence Skills Test, the bit you have to pass to have the A320 qualification printed in your licence. It’s pretty intense to get everything you have to do actually done in the time you have available; the course requires an intense amount of study to ensure that where there is a procedure for something, you have to know it off by heart and then be able to do it more or less first time in the simulator, before moving straight on to something else. There is a form about 4 pages long with all the different scenarios and exercises that must be covered before being put forward for the test and each one has to be signed off by an instructor to say it’s been covered. In the test itself, the examiner then has some specific things which must be tested and has a plethora of options to choose at random to throw at us. At this stage of the course you don’t want to have to be repeating stuff – it’s not like the early stages of basic training where if you messed up a few circuits you could just get back in a Cessna the next day and go and do them again; at this stage, you really need to be able to do everything first time (with training and guidance, obviously, otherwise there would be no point in actually training!) Fortunately I did pass everything first time, despite messing up quite a bit in the final session before the test and a few “errrrrrr…” moments during the test itself, but by the end of it I was pretty shattered! It was about six weeks long in total and I finished the test on 2nd May 2008. Despite finishing the test session at around midnight and not getting to bed until gone 1:30am, we’d been told to go back in the next morning (a Saturday) for another unrelated training session. By the time I got back from Burgess Hill on Saturday evening I was absolutely shattered, and just to temper the feeling of euphoria at passing a difficult test on something I first set out to do 18 months earlier, City went and lost 8-1 at Middlesbrough…!

It wasn’t over, however, because to actually fully qualify, six take-offs and landings are required in the real thing, so a day is spent on what’s called base training – where the airline will take an aircraft out of service and fly it round and round an airport all day training us newbies and check we know how to land properly; and before that, we had to spend two days back at Luton doing the airline’s safety and security courses. This is basically a much shortened, abridged version of the full cabin crew course which teaches us just what we as pilots need to know. One of the first things we did was the ‘wet drills’ where we learn how to use the lifejackets. Naturally, as this involves getting in a swimming pool with lots of lovely young trainee cabin crew, it’s a part that many of us looked forward to quite a lot! We also had got to practice jumping down the emergency slides (in a nice, calm, slow, health-and-safety conscious manner which doesn’t really reflect what having to use them for real would be like), put out fires using BCF extinguishers (well, replica ones containing water at the behest of the health and safety people), find people in a smoke-filled cabin, learn to operate the aircraft doors – all sorts of stuff really. Unfortunately the attempts of Skeelsy and myself to get chatting to some of the aforementioned cabin crew in the hotel bar were scuppered slightly by the fact they all had exams coming up, but it wasn’t for want of trying!

After that course I then had a week or so off before base training day. The day itself, when it arrived, involved a lot of travelling around as the departure point was Stansted. Annoyingly, at the time I was still officially based at Stansted so despite me not actually having started with the company, I wasn’t put up in a hotel so had to make do with a cheap-and-cheerful Travelodge type place while my colleagues were all enjoying the delights of the rather more flash Radisson SAS at Stansted. Anyway, I arrived late the evening before, having been stuck stationary on the M11 for an hour and a half and eventually resorting to putting my seat back and playing Champ Manager, while waiting for the remnants of someone’s crashed caravan (absolutely hate the damn things) to be removed from the road. I didn’t sleep too well but made it into the airport nice and early the next morning. As a new first officer, base training is the first time you get to wear your uniform and you do feel quite a sense of pride in doing so in public! After I’d met the other boys fresh from their posh Radisson full English breakfast with smoked salmon – a little more substantial than my apple and a cup of tea – we headed to the Stansted crew room and met the training captain running the day. We would be doing the circuits at East Midlands and I was to go in the second session, once we’d picked up a second training captain at East Midlands. There were six of us and we each had to do six take-offs and landings, so we were in for a long old day and were pleased to see the caterers had loaded us up with plenty of food! Most importantly we were shown how to work the brew-maker, probably the most used piece of equipment on the aeroplane all day.

I was number 4 out of the 6 to go, so the first in the ‘afternoon’ session. Sitting in the right hand seat of the real thing for the first time was a little bit daunting but the training captains were great – they took a lot of the pressure off. Once we’d started up and called for clearance we headed out for runway 09, and the first thing I noticed was that taxiing the aeroplane is a bit easier than doing it in the simulator! The sim is too responsive and sensitive to ground movements, and in trying to replicate cornering/braking forces and bumps can sometimes end up making you feel a bit sick if you have too long a taxi. The real thing is much smoother as long as you’re gentle with the nosewheel tiller! Anyway once we’d completed the before take-off procedures and checks, we were told to line up and cleared for take-off.

The circuits themselves passed fairly quickly, which was a shame as it was great fun! As it’s probably the only time in a pilot’s career that they get to do touch-and-goes in a jet aircraft, it’s really something you have to savour. It’s a little difficult to describe it fully without going into lots of technical detail but the A319 is a joy to fly and in the end, with a helpful and experienced instructor, it didn’t feel particularly difficult! Of course now, 9 months later on, any take-off feels just like any other really, but those first few were quite special – getting to fly a passenger jet, hands on, is what the entire course which I started 21 months earlier was training us for, so actually getting to do it for the first time really gets the adrenaline going. Likewise, any landing now is totally routine, but on that first day, as a newly-qualified novice, it was a good feeling getting off the aircraft later on, looking back up at the Airbus and thinking “wow, I just landed that!”

The next day we had to make our way back to Burgess Hill again, not for a simulator session this time but for a couple of days’ Line Training Ground School, i.e. classroom sessions on flying the aircraft ‘on the line’, in normal passenger service rather than in the set scenarios we’d become accustomed to in the simulator. During this time we were also supposed to get the Airbus rating added to our licences by the CAA but due to a series of admin balls-ups it wasn’t possible to do it that day, which meant spending an extra night down south and heading to the CAA building first thing the next morning. Fortunately my good friends living in Finsbury Park were more than accommodating but it still took about 2 hours to there from Gatwick (and an hour and half the following morning) and the drive across London, just like every time I visit, merely reinforced my opinion about how much I can’t stand the place and how I’m infinitely glad I’ve made my way into a career which doesn’t involve having to live there to go to work. By this point I’d already had confirmation that my transfer to East Midlands would be going ahead before I started my line training programme, so fortunately I could go back up north!

That’s probably quite enough for one entry, because it’s going to take forever to finish. I know all this probably doesn’t quite explain how I’ve ended up living in France and working abroad; that’ll come in a separate entry which I’ll start writing soon! There’s a lot to catch up on yet with all the flying I did out of East Midlands between June and November so what’s above is only really half of the story, but at least it’s a start having not written anything for so long.


January 25, 2009

It's been a long time…

For anybody who still checks this blog occasionally, which I suspect might be a grand total of 0 these days; as promised, it will reappear over the next few weeks, and I’ll try to update anybody interested on what I’ve been up to over the last year since I qualified. There’s quite a lot to tell.

My career took an unexpected turn in December and has taken me to Switzerland. It can get pretty quiet out here at times in the little French village where I live, therefore I forsee lots of blogging time.

I’m currently studying for my 6-monthly LPC/OPC (basically a 6-monthly check we have to pass to be allowed to keep flying). Once I’ve got that out of the way and I’ve briefly popped back to England next week, I’ll get on with it.