February 25, 2018

28AAD… done!

After all this time – I drove all the way to Chartres on 20 September 2015 to bring it home on my trailer – my little French Weedhopper is in one piece at last and to all intents and purposes, ready to fly.

Wim and I met up at Malbec again this afternoon and before he arrived, I first put a little more air in its tyres. Then I took a look at the batten in the right wing tip which had torn through the pocket that holds it in position inside the wing, expecting it to be a tricky job to get its tip over the tear and the batten itself properly seated in the right place.

In fact, it only took a few moments because I found that by twisting the batten and pushing it in slowly, it bypassed the tear to one side and it was then a simple matter to twist the batten back again and push it right in.

But unfortunately, afterwards we had to once again remove all of the battens after fitting them because that was the only way that we could tension the wing fabric sufficiently, it being so cold, to make it pull tight towards the wing roots and clear the aileron attachment holes in the rear wing tubes.

Then it was time to fit the ailerons. We made a false start and had to remove one after attaching it to the wing because after having fitted it, we found a time-saving way to connect the aileron operating cables outside the fuselage before attaching the ailerons, but that didn’t delay us by much.

However, we found another mouse nest in the aileron that had been closest to the ground while being stored in the hangar that we had to clear out before fitting it and although the little horror had done a tiny bit of damage to the fabric, it wasn’t anything to bother about.

After reinserting the wing battens, 28AAD was just about finished. Again, because the wing fabric was so cold and tight, we couldn’t get all of the battens to sit nicely on the wing trailing edge tubes, so I’m hoping that after they’ve been left in situ for a few days, especially as it becomes a bit warmer towards the end of next week, the fabric will stretch a little bit and they will then settle down a bit more neatly.

Here are a few shots that I took at the end of the day.

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So after making sure that its wing battens are in as well as possible, fitting a few safety rings to the ailerons that were left off as I didn’t have enough with me and giving it a ruddy good clean to remove 18 months worth of accumulated hangar dust and dirt, 28AAD is ready for taxy trials and test flying. I’ll naturally also give it a thorough inspection before doing so and run the engine for at least a half hour or so as well.

But this is a poignant moment for me given the events of last year and although I’m not yet back up to full speed and strength, it’s a significant milestone for me.

February 23, 2018

Weedhopper nearly there

Wim and I went back to Malbec this afternoon to see if we could at last get the Weedhopper completely assembled. In the event, we didn’t quite succeed but we did get the main part of the job done, namely attaching the wings and struts to the fuselage.

The last time we did the job way back in October 2106 we had a heck of a job getting the main pins in that secure the wings to the fuselage and finally gave up as they would have had to come off again anyway when the aircraft was moved to the field down the road from my house to fly it over to Malbec. In fact, because I mislaid the starter key, we ended up moving it by road so today was the first time since then that we’d attempted to fit the wings a second time.

In the meantime I’d taken the trouble to RTFM (read the manual) and found that the battens that give the wing its aerodynamic profile should not be fitted until after the wings have been attached and surmised that that was where our problem lay. And I was correct, because today, especially after Wim had tapered the tips of the main pins, attaching the wings went like clockwork.

After we’d got the wings and struts on we went around and fitted all of the safety rings that prevent the pins that secure the structure from dropping out. All went well until we got to the rear main wing pins but we solved the accessibility problem by removing the pins and inserting them from back to front. I can’t remember if that’s how they were fitted originally but in any case, there’s no chance that they can fall out given that they have safety rings fitted to secure them.

We had one slight setback. I learnt at my cost from fitting MYRO’s wing battens that you have to be very careful inserting them into the wing because its easy, especially on an older aircraft, to tear a hole in the batten pockets that hold the battens inside the wing. And sure enough, despite taking the utmost care, the very last batten in the tip of the right wing did just that.

Fortunately the damage is not too severe and I think that with patience it will be possible to insert a length of wood into the interior of the wing through the wing tip to support the tip of the batten and bridge it across the tear into the next section of undamaged pocket. In any case, that’s what Wim and I will be trying to do over the week end and I’m sure that we’ll succeed.

But no matter, after the problems we had last time, today we were pleased to get the wings fully assembled and fitted, albeit with the ailerons still to go on, and they won’t take long to do. The last job we did this afternoon before calling it a day was to fit the tensioning straps between the wings. They’ll need to be pulled much tighter before the ailerons are attached so fitting them and leaving them in slight tension was a good idea as the wing skins have not been tensioned for so long.

To finish off, here are some shots showing the Weedhopper with its wings on in the barn with the X-Air. Just as we thought, there is plenty of room for them both and we think that we’ll be able to make even more space by turning the X-Air a little bit.

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Hopefully, bar a good clean, the Weedhopper will be all ready to fly as of Sunday afternoon. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be, anyway πŸ˜‰

February 22, 2018

Today’s subject – ULMs

Hooray! At last! After the best part of a year – over a year for my French Weedhopper as I’ll explain in a moment – I’m back writing about and doing things to do with one of the subjects closest to my heart. And you have no idea what a relief that is as more than once over the past few months I’ve thought that this moment might never come. But enough of that!

And I’ve got my friend Wim to thank for it because with the weather forecast as being very bright but cold, he suggested that it would be a good time for us to go to Malbec and maybe run some engines. I thought that it would also give us an opportunity to do the work required on the Savannah before attaching the prop and making it flyable again, so I arrived a bit before our agreed time to open up the hangar ready to get going.

Here’s the sight that greeted me at Malbec – the airfield looking surprisingly spruce for the time of year, albeit with the windsock torn and needing replacing but in general not all that bad considering the amount of rain we’ve had lately.

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However, the surface under foot and wheel was very wet – squelchy in fact – on the field itself right up to the hangar and just inside too where the rain had seeped into the ground, with the result that when we began working on the Savannah, our boots soon became caked in mud.

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Before we started I checked on the X-Air, which looked just as I’d left it and I still don’t think that it will take much to get it ready for sale. In theory, it’s ready to fly now as I think that there should be enough fuel in the tank for at least an hour or so’s flying (after checking for water etc, of course).

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But anyway, my first priority was to replace the two front bolts attaching the Savannah’s nose wheel fork to its nose leg so I can attach the tow bar crossbar that Victor made. But alas, it was not to be. Firstly, I’d cut the new bolts too short (in all fairness, I wasn’t well at the time) and secondly, the crossbar needed an arc ground out of its middle area to clear the nose leg.

So then we decided that if we pulled the Savannah out, it would be a good time to move the Weedhopper together with its wings and fittings over to the barn so the wings could be fitted. The ground outside the hangar was so soft that it was difficult enough pulling the Savannah out but even more difficult moving it back in because its wheels dug several centimetres into the mud.

But we succeeded and when we’d finished, the Savannah was finally alone in the hangar for the first time in many months. Before leaving it, I spun the engine a few times on the starter and after all this time, although it turned (without the prop fitted), it was sluggish and the battery will need a charge.

We had a go at fitting the Weedhopper’s left wing but we hadn’t planned for it and didn’t have everything we needed to complete the job properly. So we decided that the best thing would be to leave it until tomorrow and to then do just the one job.

The big problem is that the main pins that secure the wings to the fuselage are a devil to line up and this is not helped by their ends being almost totally square cut. This means that in order to insert them, the holes in the wing tubes and the fuselage brackets have to line up exactly and even if they’re only a half a millimeter out, you have no chance of getting the pins in.

The solution will be to very slightly file or grind the ends of the pins into a small taper so when the tips go into the bracket holes, they self-align, and Wim is going to do that tomorrow morning before we reconvene at Malbec in the afternoon.

But unlike the Savannah, after priming and spinning its 503 engine, it burst into life very readily. I was very pleasantly surprised because the battery that’s fitted was new in October 2016 when I finally finished the work on the Weedhopper, and although its engine was run a couple of times afterwards, the last time being March last year, the battery hasn’t been charged since October 2016. So well done Varta!

To finish off with, here are a couple of shots that I took of the Weedhopper before we pushed it into the barn next to the X-Air. There should be plenty of room in there for both aircraft even with the Weedhopper’s wings on.

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I can’t wait to get back tomorrow and get the Weedhopper all in one piece. Although the runway will be too wet to taxy up and down on, just having the Weedhopper finished and ready to go (bar giving it a good clean) will be a highly significant moment for me given what has happened to me in the last year.

Sadly, after I’d started the Weedhopper’s engine, Wim pointed out a small tenant who had to be evicted. We had found what we thought was a bird’s nest in the engine cover that I’d put in place to keep muck off the engine but in fact it belonged to a little mouse who was awakened when the engine burst into life. Wim took him away and dropped him in the grass so I hope that he found another warm spot before it got cold again this evening. My bet is he’s now in among the hay bales in the other end of the barn πŸ˜‰

February 20, 2018

So now what?

After a treatment cycle lasting eight months, my chemotherapy finished half way through January, on the 11th of the month to be precise. So now I’m officially in ‘recovery’ mode, which is why I took myself off to Hurghada for a week to feel the warmth of the sun on my body again, having missed out on the experience for the whole of last summer. But although the worst is over, I’ve still a little way to go.

My finger tips and toes are still slightly numb and I’m still highly deficient in the hair department. Although I have a light fuzz now showing on my head and have had to start electric shaving my chin again every morning, there are still no signs of the emergence of new eyebrows and eyelashes.

I’ve almost got used to the bald head now and don’t bother covering up, especially now I have a light suntan, except when it’s cold. One of the nurses at Rouffignac said that she thought that I looked quite fetching without hair but she wasn’t hitting on me and I suspect that she was just trying to soothe me in one of my moments of hairless anguish!

But I think that the absence of eyelashes and eyebrows is something completely different. Although my friends have disagreed, I think that their absence imparts to one a kind of serpent-like quality which I don’t think is at all flattering and I can’t wait therefore for new ones to grow back. I just hope that they do because I have heard of cases of their never returning at the end of chemo and I just hope that I’m not one of those so affected.

My health team here in PΓ©rigueux have been, and continue to be, fantastic. They have lost no time at all in shifting gear into follow-up mode and my upcoming highlights are CAT and PET scans on the 12th and 13th of March followed by a consultation to discuss the results with my oncologist on the 22nd.

I still get occasional twinges in my stomach and chest but I think that this is not surprising as I’ve had poisonous chemicals pumped into my system every two weeks for the past eight months and I can hardly expect just to bounce back in a couple of weeks. If all is still clear, which I naturally hope it will be, I will then really be able to breath a sigh of relief, turn the page, shrug my shoulders and just get on with things.

It looked as though things would begin to warm up here as from the end of this week and I’d looked forward to at last being able to start getting my ‘fleet’ of ULMs organised. However, it now looks as though I’ll have to wait another week for the temperature to rise enough for me to start working longish hours outside.

The X-Air is in the barn which is open-fronted but not facing in the direction of incoming weather and with a clean up will be ready for sale. It’s uncovered since a prospective ‘buyer’ came to view it a few months ago but it’s not very dirty and there’s no problem with UV just now so to all intents and purposes, it’s flyable.

Jean-Michel had a small ‘pendulaire’ in the barn up until a few months ago but he and it have now left Malbec. I’m hoping therefore that I’ll be able to get my little French Weedhopper in there fully assembled together with the X-Air rather than leaving it with wings detached in the back of the Savannah’s hangar. I finished repairing the Weed using some MYRO bits plus MYRO’s old 503 engine more than a year ago (in October 2016 actually) but was then overtaken by events.

It hasn’t even been run sadly for nearly a year and I can’t wait to fly it. To be honest, if I had to keep one of either the X-Air or the Weed it’d be the latter as it’s in good nick and is the ideal ‘low and slow’ machine compared to the X-Air. It will also fly at the same speed as Wim’s single-seat Weed so we would be able to fly together which we can’t do with me in the X-Air. Plus it would be an incentive for Wim to keep flying as he’s getting involved in other interests (RC model aircraft and boats) and it would be a sad day for me also if he decided to give it up.

And as for the Savannah, it’s been in the hangar ever since May of last year waiting for its new Ukrainian scimitar prop that I’ve had in my living room for many months to be fitted. I’m looking forward to getting around to it next week now that I’m getting my health and strength back, together with fitting a crossbar to the nose wheel that my pal Victor made for me for a towbar.

So I’ve plenty to be getting on with, and that’s without even mentioning the work that I’d like to get going extending my house. Plus, of course, I’ve got my electric bike and must keep up the exercise regime that I’ve started. We’ve had a few dull, wet days lately but that hasn’t stopped me from getting out on my bike.

Today’s ride was my most ambitious to date involving my heading downhill on the main road in the direction of Montignac. I’ve remained cautious about going too far, especially downhill, because I need to know that my bike will get me back up again. And today it did, so I’m extending my boundaries every day since my illness. And that’s what I want to keep on doing πŸ˜‰

February 19, 2018

Windows 10 – the travesty

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been a long term fan of Windows and it’s been my operating system of choice since Windows 95, before actually if you include MS-DOS. I’ve got Windows 10 installed on all my machines, separate authentic fully activated copies on this, my main 64 bit PC, my second 32 bit machine and my 64 bit laptop, plus at one time I also offered IT support to mainly small solicitors and accountancy firms running Microsoft networks. So you can hardly describe me as anti-Microsoft and not knowing what I’m talking about, but they do do some damn stupid things.

I have a 64 bit PC with an AMD FX-8350 8-core processor running at 4.25 GHz with 8 GB of fast RAM and a Nvidia GTX 1060 display adaptor with 6GB of videoRAM. This may not be the fastest machine around but it’s certainly pretty capable and no slouch. However, I’ve noticed that for the past few months it seems to have been running much more slowly than usual, especially with internet related tasks like viewing Youtube videos, other graphics heavy web sites, stuff like that, and I’ve always blamed the internet down here in this corner of France which is only very poor at the best of times.

As an indicator, I just ran a quick DSL speed check on my line and the results were download speed 2.1 MBps and upload speed 0.3 MBps, which is pretty primitive. By way of comparison, the average download speed in Montignac is 4.25 MBps, which itself is not brilliant, whereas out to the west where fibre optic cables were recently put in place they’re getting around 27 MBps. So I need all the help that I can get and I especially need my PC operating system to work with, not against me. But that’s not what’s been happening and I fear that I’m far from alone.

One of the things that Microsoft ridiculously trumpets is that Windows 10 ‘gets better with every update’ and as a result, like it or not you, or more accurately your PC, gets updates constantly shoved down its throat day after day, week after week and month after month. And you can’t stop them as with Windows 10, Microsoft has more control over your machine than you have. So when things just got so bad with my own machine a short time ago, I began to look into the update situation, and this is what I found.

He’s a shot showing its recent update history file.

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And when I paged back, I found that the system had been trying to download and install the Windows 10 1709 fall update ever since the latter part of last year, without success, probably because of the low download speed that we have here. ‘But so what?’ you might ask and the answer to that is very important because of the crazy, pathetic, stupid way that Microsoft has set the system up to operate.

What happens is that the system starts to download the update, which takes many hours here because of its size. This means that on every occasion that it tries, which the log shows is non-stop three or four times a day, every day, the download is interrupted or fails for some reason or another and when this happens it just stops, resets itself and starts all over again.

So my PC is constantly connected to the internet in order to download this update and has been every day since the update was released at the end of last year, with the result that any other intended internet use has been, and still is being, strangled.

But that’s not all. Microsoft has also installed another program on my and every other Windows 10 PC to ‘assist’ with this update process. The program is called Modern Setup Host (MSH for short) and they’ve installed it without telling anyone, although like everything else, word soon spreads on the Net which is where I got the information from. ‘OK, but this must be a good thing’, you might say, ‘If it’s there to ‘assist’ the update’. Well, that may be the case IF THE UPDATE WORKED PROPERLY, which for me and many millions of others, it doesn’t. For us the update download screws up our internet speed and MSH simultaneously grabs something over 10% of our processor power doing God knows what, we’ll never know.

And the best bit is that when MSH gets confused, which is all the time if you don’t know about this and leave it running, it stops everything and reboots your PC without warning. This is great because anything you might have been working on is then lost if you haven’t saved it and even better, the update download is halted, reset and restarted all over again from zero. So no wonder that it is restarted three or four times a day, every day, day after day.

You have to wonder what kind of demented brain can have come up with such a system and I’ll tell you what kind it is – it’s one that sits on its backside in Silicon Valley, has absolutely no knowledge of how the real world works outside of the four walls and the closed mind that it inhabits and thinks that the whole world is working with an internet speed of 250 MBps or more, just like it is.

So what can you do about this? Not a lot unfortunately, without ultimately moving to a different operating system. The first thing that you can do is delve into the deeper workings of your operating system and try to switch this ungodly process off. I went into Control Panel and did a search for Administrative Tools which aren’t readily available (wonder why?) but come up by doing this. Then I went into Services and found Windows Update, which I first turned off and then disabled totally.

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Then I rebooted my machine and afterwards found that I could view Youtube videos in HD without constant buffering at a time of the evening when my system would normally be running at a snail’s pace. Bliss, and I thought that this would be the end of it. But in the best Microsoft traditions, this was not to be so. You, client, are a dullard and stupid and only they know what’s best for you and your system, so suck it up.

This morning I started up my machine as usual and found that it seemed to be running more slowly again. And I was right, because during the morning the following message popped up on its screen.

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Further investigation revealed that without telling me, the system had restarted the update service and had once again been trying to do the huge 1709 download behind my back. It failed yet again, of course so I was left again with the only option of turning the service back off once more. And from now on, that will have to be part of my boot up process every day, which won’t be too onerous as it only takes a minute or two.

So a big THANK YOU to Microsoft for supplying me with an operating system (three copies actually) that I’ve bought and paid for but which, instead of making my machine fast and efficient has crippled it. And I know I’m not alone – there are millions more like me all over the world and so long as you have our money, you don’t give a damn.

As usual.

February 18, 2018

Hurghada – great!

The Long Ride Home

Ah, not so great, but I’ll come back to that later. First there were other issues to deal with. I’d started the week off still feeling a bit low after my 8 months of chemo but began to feel much better as their effects began to recede. So I was dismayed when, on about the Wednesday, I began to feel a bit rotten again. It turned out that I’d picked up a monstrous head cold on my travels, the first that I’d suffered for many a long year.

Whether it was down to my depressed immunity system or just a hazard of travelling by air I have no idea, but I guess that I must have picked it up on one of the aircraft on my journey between Toulouse and Hurghada. But although I otherwise didn’t feel too bad, by Thursday my nose was streaming to the point that at meal times in the dining room, for example, I was surreptitiously wiping it on my napkin (too much information?) and on the paper tissues supplied in glasses on each table in the bar area.

This continued through Friday and even into Saturday, so with my impending flights home getting ever closer, I decided that I had to do something about it. So on Saturday morning I nipped across the road to the pharmacy that I’d spotted to see if I could get something for it. By then my runny nose had abated somewhat and I was more concerned about developing a sore throat and/or a chesty cough, so when I walked in having been greeted by the proprietor who was standing outside dismally scanning the horizon for prospective customers (remember, it was very early in the season) I was pleased when I spotted some Strepsils on his shelf.

He instead recommended some Egyptian lozenges, so having no knowledge of their relative efficacy, I acceded to his recommendation and bought a pack each of the lemon and orange flavoured. I handed over a small quantity of Egyptian Pounds and then, having eyed me up and down, he pointed to some packages on his counter top. Did I want any Viagra, very cheap? I declined saying that I didn’t have any need just at that moment and he seemed a bit disappointed.

On my way back across the road to my hotel, I allowed myself a wry smile. Evidently he’d come to the conclusion that I was a likely customer, either because I looked so desperate that I needed all the help I could get or because, although on the elderly side, I was still sprightly enough to still be in the game with a chance of scoring. I, of course, think that it must have been the latter πŸ˜‰

My usual routine was to go to the beach after breakfasting and reading the internet news using the free wi-fi in the hotel foyer, to lie in the sun and read. I’d then return to my room for a quick shower and lunch and then either return to the beach for a bit more reading, sunshine and fresh air or while away my time on my balcony or the foyer area where I could partake of the free refreshments on offer.

Usually I found that although it was sunny and pretty warm, up to 28 degrees Celsius before lunch, by lunch time the southerly breezes were whisking up a thin layer of low cloud that, although it didn’t prevent the sun shining through, made the afternoon useless for tanning purposes. It was still nice to lie out in though and read but no good to add to the bronzing that I’d managed to accomplish on my toned abs or swelling biceps (ahem…), so most days I was back in the hotel by 4.30 pm or so, giving me time for more refreshment and a shower before the evening meal.

The attentions that I’d had to pay to my medical matters in the form of my visit to the pharmacy on Saturday had taken up most of the morning and afterwards there was no point my going to the beach. That was fine by me as with my journey home commencing that night and with my case more or less packed, I wasn’t inclined to get into another cycle of getting hot and sweaty and needing to shower again after my morning ablutions.

And in any case, I’d taken four books along with me to read during my stay and with just under 200 of the 600 of Robert Harris’s ‘An Officer and a Spy’ still to go, I was quite happy to finish that off in the time available to me before leaving. So that’s what I did before enjoying a final lunch and evening meal and handing over a small tip to the young man who’d done such a sterling job of keeping my room immaculately clean and tidy and stocked up with more bottled water than I could shake a stick at πŸ™‚

As I’d not received the free transfer that I had been entitled to from the airport to the hotel when I’d arrived, I took the precaution of asking the hotel Reception to check what the procedure was to be for my departure. I was told to ask again the next day (Saturday) as technically my departure was, although in the early hours, on Sunday. In fact I received a call in my room before breakfast on Saturday morning confirming that I would receive a free transfer and that I should be in the foyer ready to go by ‘midnight forty’.

And that’s how it worked out. There were one or two groups of Russians who were leaving at around the same time as me, probably on the same flight to Istanbul, and slowly they dwindled away as their transfer buses came and went. Finally, a gentleman with an identity card and a clip board arrived and asked for me. It turned out that I was the only one being taken back to the airport by him and his driver in their Toyota minibus and they popped my case in the back and settled me comfortably in the row of seats behind them for the 20km journey.

After negotiating the same hazards and obstacles that we’d encountered when I arrived, we eventually arrived at the road entering the airport. I could see that a chicane system had been installed preventing any approaching vehicle driving at more than about 10 or 20 kmh and at the end of it there was a barrier and a group of armed officers. They were checking every vehicle, including underneath with mirrors on sticks, and their occupants and I had to produce my passport before we were allowed to proceed. I wondered what they did with the buses full of 40 or 50 Russian tourists but didn’t ask πŸ˜‰

They dropped me off at the airport entrance where there was a queue of departing tourists waiting to enter and slowly proceeding as their passports and tickets were checked by a lone armed officer. After five or ten minutes I was processed and allowed in and then, then the fun really began. First, the usual security check. Bags on the belt for X-Rays and phones, belts, shoes, all the usual stuff into a tray for the same while you step through the metal detector with your arms out, men to the right, women to the left, ready to be searched. So far so good, all done, no problems.

Then I was stupid enough to ask where there was a bank where I could change the last few (25€ worth) of Egyptian Pounds that I was still holding. I was told that the only banks were in the Arrivals Hall, where we had purchased our entry visas on arrival, and before I could say, ‘Don’t bother then’, I was told that if I waited a couple of seconds, someone would take me up there.

And so it was that I then found myself being walked through the airport terminal building towing my little case behind me accompanied by a burly armed officer. As we proceeded the crowds of queuing tourists turned to see what was going on and must have wondered what on earth I was guilty of, but whatever it was at least, they must have thought, the bald-headed rogue hadn’t got away with it and was on his way to receive his just deserts 😐

As it happened, the officer took me to a money-changing machine that was identical to the one in my hotel that we’d already established only handed out Egyptian Pounds and didn’t take them back again (after all, who but the Egyptians wants to hang onto Egyptian Pounds rather than a harder foreign currency?) so it was a fruitless mission and we ended up trudging back through the terminal with the staring hordes again wondering what on earth I had been up to to be in the custody of an armed escort!

Eventually we got back to the security check but I was to be disappointed if I thought that having been through it once, I’d be just waved through. Not a bit of it. I had to get out/ take off everything yet again for X-Raying and this time both the officer and I had to subject ourselves to being frisked by security. OK, so that made two security checks, but don’t go away…

What I hadn’t realised was that this was just the preliminary security check and as we turned the corner and entered the next part of the hall, blow me down, we had to do the whole thing all over again. Yes, shoes and belts off and into a tray with your wallet and phone and cases and bags on the belt with them for X-Raying. Now bearing in mind that I’d been through security checks in Toulouse, Istanbul and Hurghada when I’d arrived, I thought that although the whole procedure was pretty useless and just a pain in the arse, it would be just routine. However, on this occasion I was pulled up.

The guy on the X-Ray machine said that I had scissors in my case and that they must be thrown into the rubbish. By this time I’d had enough and I refused point blank as (a) they were there for a purpose (chemo has affected my nails and I need to trim them every day or so until the effects have grown out), (b) they were so tiny as to offer no kind of threat whatsoever to man or beast and (c) they were part of an expensive set that had been purchased many years before in the USA as a gift.

So we had a standoff and there we were, the security guard and me glaring at each other eye to eye. ‘Where do you come from?’ he asked. I had no idea what relevance that could possibly have and I replied, ‘The United Kingdom’ with a note of defiance in my voice. We looked at each other for a few more seconds and he thought that he had the whip hand when he said, ‘If you don’t take out the scissors you’ll have to go right back to the beginning and check your case into the hold’.

He banked on the fact that I’d come through emigration, that my visa had been stamped and that it would be too much trouble to resist. But he didn’t know me. I still had ages to spare before boarding, so I said, ‘OK!’ This took him aback somewhat as then he had the problem with me needing to go back out into the unsecured area of the hall with my visa cancelled and my passport stamped. But out I was determined to go.

As I was on my way out, another security man demanded to know what I was doing. I told him to ask his colleague as he’d told me to return to the Turkish Airlines check-in desk to surrender my case. He was a bit perplexed but told me to hand over my passport, which I was reluctant to do but did anyway, and then sneaked off around the back of the passport check area to head for Turkish Airlines.

They couldn’t have been more helpful – they took my case and replaced my Istanbul-Toulouse boarding pass that had got torn in the earlier melee. Then I had to get back into the boarding queue. As the officer was still holding my passport, I had to sneak around the back of passport control again and was waiting at any moment to hear a shout ring out from an armed guard somewhere or other. In fact, I arrived back at the officer with my passport who then demanded to know what I was doing.

By then I’d had enough of these games. I exclaimed , ‘Jesus fu**ing sh*t’ in a very loud voice making a few people turn around at which time he immediately reached into his pocket, handed me back my passport and waved me through. But the fun and games hadn’t ended, not by a long chalk, because then I had to go through the whole security check rigmarole yet again for a fourth time. And this time, the guard doing the body frisking reached into my top pocket, took out the throat lozenges that I’d bought earlier that day and tossed them in the bin before I could protest. Just to show that he did in fact have some power over me.

Still, at least all the passengers were safe in the knowledge that half a dozen lemon and orange throat lozenges wouldn’t be used by some dastardly means to blow up their airliner, not while this keen security officer was there doing his duty and foiling such plots. Ridiculous, I ask you.

From then on the journey back to Toulouse was pretty routine. I had a six hour layover in Istanbul before picking up my Toulouse connection in what must be one of the most uninviting airport terminals in Europe (Asia?). There is hardly any seating and what there is is scruffy, a bit dirty and well used. As a result, people sit at tables in the refreshment areas with or without buying anything first and if, like me, you are a genuine customer with a ham roll and a cup of coffee, you have difficulty finding somewhere to consume your meal. Horrible.

But I have no criticisms of any of the four Turkish Airlines flights that I travelled on, apart from never seeming to leave on time. The cabin staff were all friendly and helpful and the food was OK if not wholly to my taste. But eventually I arrived safe and sound at Toulouse where I anticipated a final problem. Somehow during the last security check at Hurghada, the idiot who had done a physical search of my case (without finding the scissors) had managed to fiddle and change the combination of my lock. This meant that I couldn’t open it, as the final security officer in Hurghada had found and thought that I was obstructing him on purpose.

What I was concerned about was that I would be pulled over in Toulouse and asked to open my bag, with whatever consequences you might imagine. In fact there was the best part of an hour’s delay while a baggage handling fault was dealt with (and why I had decided on just having cabin baggage in the first place) after which I was allowed to proceed unhindered under the watchful eye of four gendarmes. So I was grateful for that at least as I headed off for car park 6 and my drive home.

For anyone interested, I surmised that the idiot in Hurghada could only have changed my case lock combination by a couple of digits or so and sure enough, it didn’t take me long to find that he’d managed to change an 8 to a 6. So I was able to get at my dirty washing immediately, without incurring a delay of any kind πŸ˜‰

February 17, 2018

Hurghada – excellent!

Hawaii Riviera Aqua Park Resort

My intention here isn’t just to post a bunch of holiday snaps – rather it’s to show what visitors to resorts like this one can expect to find when they get there. I get the impression that after the terrorist incidents that have occurred in recent years – I read last week end that Thomas Cook has only just resumed tours to Tunisia after the atrocity there when a terrorist murdered more than 30 British tourists on their hotel’s private beach a couple of years or so ago – many western Europeans are still averse to travelling to ‘Arabic’ destinations like Hurghada because of the security threat.

Now I don’t claim to be up on what anti-terrorist measures have been taken in, say Spain, where I understand many UK tourists are choosing to travel to as an alternative, but I’d bet that given my experience in Hurghada, they could just as easily be subject to a terrorist attack there as in one of these Red Sea resorts.

What seems to me to be clear though, is that visitors from eastern Europe are far less concerned because although I came a cross a few other British, Dutch and German guests in the hotel, by far the majority of the clientele were from eastern Europe and the bulk of those from Russia.

One of the things that impressed me was that there was at least one security guard, and often during the day two, stationed at the hotel entrance, together with an airport-style metal detector that everyone entering the building had to walk through. While sitting in the foyer you could hear it constantly beeping but that was because most of the people passing through it in both directions were either hotel guests who, with their plastic wrist bands that we all had showing we were entitled to the hotel’s all-inclusive services, were allowed to pass freely, or were tour guides or excursion operators, for example, who were already well-known to the guards.

Not a perfect system admittedly, but one that shows that they have made a real effort to address the concerns of their foreign visitors.

All of the hotels in this part of the world are on a coastal strip many kilometres long both to the north and the south of Hurghada. My hotel, The Hawaii Riviera, is some 15 kilometres to the north of the town and 20 kilometres from the airport, so although it is on a busy main road, you aren’t disturbed by noise and hustle and bustle. It didn’t matter to me as I was really only there for the sun, but it does mean though, that any visitors who do want to see more of the local area need to either hire a car for transport or go on one or more of the many excursions being offered in the hotel by various operators.

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To me the above images are extremely redolent of Spain in the 1960s when the surge in construction and development of its tourist facilities was taking place. It seems to be the same here in Egypt, with the hotels that are open and in use by tourists being surrounded by an enormous building site with other new ones springing up all around surrounded by wooden scaffolding. But somehow it didn’t seem to be noticeable, probably because being ‘all inclusive’ it wasn’t necessary to leave the hotel in search of the ‘basic’ food, drink and entertainment services that you might otherwise require.

It appears that just about all of the hotels in the surrounding area called themselves ‘resorts’ and all seemed to offer similar facilities to the one I was in. I also noticed that all of the ones in the area immediately surrounding mine had ‘Hawaii’ in their names and were presumably therefore all owned and operated by the same group. When I was outside mine taking a few pictures I noticed this sign on the other side of the road which presumably shows the two gentlemen who are either the owners or the joint chief executives of what appears to be a pretty successful enterprise.

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Now I’m going to let the images speak for themselves. The resort is primarily aimed at couples and families and although there were a few other singletons like me there during my stay, I think that this was only because they want to get as many paying customers into the hotel as possible at this time of the year and that single occupants of what are quite large and airy rooms would not be accepted as the season hots up (together with the room prices).

The large, airy foyer area was occasionally a bit cool at this time of the year but must become a haven when things begin to heat up later on. It was kept scrupulously clean, as were all of the public areas of the hotel as far as I could see, by attentive staff who were on duty non-stop from early morning until late into the evening when, after almost all of the guests had gone off to bed, yet more thorough cleaning and polishing got underway.

There was a free bar in the far corner of the following shot serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks all day from 10.00 am and always a table of colourful cold non-alcoholic ‘cocktails’ for the children and the not-so-small who needed one at any time. Around the foyer’s periphery there were the usual small shop concessions offering general nick-knacks, watches from $10 apiece, cheap jewellery, snacks, sun-tan oil and so on, so what was not to like?

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This shot taken looking back towards the main entrance shows the security guard station next to the door and the metal detector.

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And this shot taken in the opposite direction shows the attractive outdoor covered area at the rear of the foyer where guests could smoke and relax with coffees or their drinks.

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Down below that was an attractive ‘cafe’ area facing the hotel’s main pool which, due to the time of year, was not open for use while I was there but which must be an attractive daytime and evening venue later in the year.

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This is a shot looking back towards the cafe from the pool.

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Then on to the pool itself, one of several in the gardens of the resort.

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The gardens themselves or lush and green and kept that way by constant heavy watering.

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Here’s another pool aimed at the younger children with plenty of sun-loungers around it from which their parents can keep an eye on them

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Then something that I don’t approve of that’s also evidently aimed at the children, in the form of an animal enclosure. This shot shows from the left a cage containing two or three small Capuchin monkeys, one of which was regularly released by the ‘handler’ and passed from hand-to-hand by sundry guests, often ending up being thrown onto the ground, a fully-grown pelican, a fully grown male peacock and a small white flamingo. The birds were on bare earth in cages no more than 1Β½ metres square and it was heart-breaking to see them in such an environment.

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Here’s a shot of the pelican who would fix you with a knowing eye and then grab at the wire mesh of its cage with it’s enormous bill if you stopped as you walked by its enclosure as if to say, ‘Help me, I can’t break this down myself, please do something.’ It surely needed to be soaring in the wide blue sky and plunging into the waters of the Red Sea scooping up fish as it cut through the water.

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The peacock and flamingo were no better placed and the latter spent most of its time either with its head submerged in a dish of filthy water as it would do naturally if it was in a shallow river or lake, or standing on one leg with its head under its wing. And further over to one side there was also an enclosure containing two what appeared to me to be Muntjac deer. One spent its whole time lying on the ground with a glazed expression while the other seemed to be more active and alert, but in my view, neither had any place in such an environment.

And then there was the beach stretching down to the water of the Red Sea. Towels are provided free by the hotel and at this time of year there were plenty of sunbeds to choose from, although I doubt that that would be the case later in the season. As for other areas of the hotel and the resort, it was kept scrupulously clean and tidy by the staff who took it upon themselves to turn all of the beds so they faced the sea.

The trouble was that if you wanted to face the sun, you had to turn them around through 180 degrees and quite often, if you returned after lunch to the same bed that you’d occupied in the morning, you’d find that it had been sneekily turned back again while you’d be gone πŸ™‚

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I didn’t bother to take any pictures of the dining room, which I found to be very pleasant with a wide range of food laid out in buffet style. I always found something to my taste, although I was taking just a main course with salad, and as usual, soft drinks, red and white wine and beer were freely available as an accompaniment to the meal. And not only that, despite there being so many visitors from eastern Europe, the friendly staff all beamed at you and wanted to speak English!

Before finishing, I must mention something that happened involving one of the two lifts that I used to go to and from my room on the fifth floor (there were several others in the hotel). One was constantly giving problems with doors that occasionally wouldn’t work properly or sometimes refused to work at all no matter how many times you pressed the buttons. Things finally came to a head when in the course of bringing two more senior gentlemen guests down to the ground floor, it stopped about a metre above the floor level and refused to budge.

A member of staff hot-footed it to deal with the emergency and the doors were prised open revealing the lower parts of the passengers’ legs and then their faces as they bent down to decide what to do. In the event, they both decided to, somewhat creakily, ease themselves out of the open doors and down the last metre onto the floor, despite being told not to do so as there was a real danger that if they had toppled backwards, they would have fallen through the gap into the lift shaft.

It also occurred to me, although not to others who were still happily pressing the buttons to activate the lift next door, that if the lift in question had suddenly sprung into life while the two gentlemen were clambering out, they could have ended up being cut in two! Luckily no such thing happened and they were able to plod off to the foyer bar, for a welcome (free) brandy I would think.

So what were my overall thoughts of the hotel and resort? It wasn’t the kind of place that I would usually have gone to because with its extensive water facilities, that I didn’t make any use of on this occasion, it was aimed at a younger family market. However, I just went for the sun and a rest and in that respect it met my needs exactly.

Would I go back again? Yes, I would, but I think at the same time of year, not in high season. In fact, I did a quick internet search the other evening and found that by booking the Turkish Airlines flight and hotel directly myself, I could go again in March from Friday to Friday for 50€ less than I’d paid through Thomas Cook, so I’ll bear that in mind for next year perhaps, when it would be nice to go with a companion.

But now I’ve got my annual ULM insurance to think about, so the money will be better used for that, and a return to flying to look forward to, something which my ‘sunshine break’ has ideally prepared me for πŸ˜‰

February 15, 2018

Hurghada – brilliant!

Getting There

Yikes, is it already four days since I got back from my break on the sunny shores of the Egyptian Red Sea? Yes, I’m afraid it is – time marches relentlessly on. But boy, was that break worth it, even with the tortuous travel that was involved in getting there and back. That blast of sunshine on my poor old body was a godsend and came just at the right time for me πŸ™‚

But one step at a time – so how was it getting there? The answer is ‘tedious and tiring’. It didn’t start out too well, really. The usual driving time between my house and Toulouse Blagnac airport is about 2Β½ hours but being a prudent kind of chap, I always allow a little bit longer in case of unforeseen events as I hate having to get somewhere by a deadline and then having to rush under pressure in the last stages to get there on time.

So I left home at about 9.30am having arranged a check-in time at the airport parking of 2-2.30pm, so plenty of time to stop on the way for refreshment. And lucky I did, because some attention was required to the carriageway of the motorway to the north of Montauban and in the usual French way, they just closed the road and shoved up diversion signs which you then had no choice other than to follow.

And that’s what the stream of traffic did – for kilometre after kilometre back north again but also out towards the east. And it went on and on and on. Sometimes you arrived at junctions and roundabouts and there was no hint of a diversion sign, so you just carried on ahead. That’s if the vehicles behind would allow you to after hesitating for a moment to make your decision without hooting their horns and nearly going up your back.

We continued heading east right out into the Aveyron, a considerable distance let me say. It would have been a pleasant drive under different circumstances, but not one that you really would have chosen to make with a flight deadline to be met at the end of it. However, once we crossed the river Aveyron at a quaint village whose name I have now forgotten in a mountain gorge that was infested with walkers in stout boots, warm jackets and beanie hats, we began heading back in the opposite direction towards Toulouse, still a great distance away.

So then, of course, we got stuck behind a huge truck, which had also been forced to leave the motorway, and had to sit in a massive queue behind it as it trundled along at about 80 kmh (50 mph), there being absolutely no chance of safely overtaking it on those narrow roads running through the rocky, rolling countryside. That’s until after the best part of an hour when we reached the motorway again at the junction after we’d been forced to leave it and the stream of trapped traffic popped out from behind the truck like champagne fizzing out of a newly opened bottle.

I’d been able to remain relatively sanguine about all this though, as I still had plenty of time to make my flight, but I had considerable sympathy for anyone who was already under pressure to make theirs and had been forced to sit in that queue for kilometre after kilometre as the clock ticked down.

Shortly afterwards the turn-off for Blagnac hove into view and not long after that I arrived at the airport, located my off-site long-term parking that I’d pre-booked and was transported to the Departures Hall by the free ‘navette’ or transfer bus for check-in on Turkish Airlines some 2 hours before scheduled take-off time.

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Then through into the main departure area where, after an hour or so we were greeted with the news that the flight was subject to a 30 minute delay. Nothing to do therefore, except to just sit there patiently and wait. Blagnac is not the prettiest airport in the world but at least the seats were padded and it was possible to buy a tasty bagel and a drink and listen to a pianist playing on the now almost obligatory piano sited next to the seating area.

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But eventually it was time to submit ourselves to the ritual farce of the security check. During the machinations imposed upon the normal families, grand-mas and grand-pas whereby we are all humiliated by having to remove items such as shoes and belts and take ‘suspicious’ items such as tablets and mobile phones from our hand baggage not only was the head cover of my electric razor lost but also a brand new, unopened small bottle of suntan oil that had cost me 18€ and that I’d foolishly declared (next time I’ll keep my mouth shut) was taken off me and tossed in the bin.

Personally I’m still of the opinion that at the end of the day the security staff go through their treasure trove and divide the spoils up between them, at the expense of the long suffering, innocent travelling public that they’ve put through the mill for what is clearly no reason other than a political display.

After the ritual humiliation, we were eventually all allowed to board the Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 that would take us to Istanbul on the first leg of our flight and as we taxied out we saw the Airbus factory which had not one but four of the Belugas, which are used to transport in parts like wings from the UK and other parts from elsewhere for final assembly at Toulouse, parked on its apron

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Our pilot swung the aircraft very wide onto the runway and as he did so, I was able to capture this ‘captain’s eye view’ of the runway from which we would take off.

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Toulouse was cool and cloudy as we climbed away, a far cry from the sultry southern city that it becomes later in the year as the temperature and number of sunshine hours both increase dramatically.

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But if Toulouse was cool and cloudy, Istanbul was awash. It was chucking it down and cold with it and as the transfers to and from the terminal were by bus that you had to walk to in the open air, I was already missing my warm coat and cap that I’d left in my car back in Toulouse, thinking that I’d hardly be needing them in the Egyptian desert!

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However, it was warm enough in the terminal building compared to outdoors, although you could hardly call the passenger accommodation ‘comfortable’ with its uninviting and uncomfortable metal seats. And it became even less inviting when the information that our flight would be subject to a 55 minute delay came through, meaning that we’d be stuck there for well over three hours.

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But eventually it was time to go back out into the rain and make our way to the transfer bus and thence up the open stairs to the aircraft itself, which was another Boeing 737 I think. Both of its entrances were open, front and rear, and I judged that as my previous seat in row 24 was close to the rear, my new seat in row 15 would be better approached from the front.

Unfortunately, such logic wasn’t apparent to some of the other passengers, notably an extended Chinese family who took it upon itself to march the whole length of the aircraft, from the back to the front, against the flow of passenger traffic who just wanted to get on board, stow their cabin baggage in the overhead lockers and get seated.

I was one of the lucky ones. While the Chinese family disrupted everything and everybody by their thoughtless behaviour, I was at least able to stand up-front in the cabin in the dry. I pity all of the others, especially the young mums carrying little babies of which there were one or two, who were forced to stand outside on the boarding stairs in the meantime in the lashing rain.

By the time we had arrived at Hurghada, purchased our $25 entry visas (mine was 21,30€) and cleared Egyptian immigration, it was after 4.00 am local time and although I had a voucher from my tour company for a free transfer to my hotel, I doubted, as I was evidently the only person heading in that direction, that it would happen. And I was not to be disappointed.

I found a Thomas Cook office adjacent to the parking area but they claimed that although I was on a Thomas Cook ‘tour’, it wasn’t their responsibility as my booking (made on the French Thomas Cook web site) was via FTI, an independent French company. I was hardly in a position to argue at that time of the morning and as there were several taxi ‘touts’ operating in the vicinity, I allowed myself to be taken over to a waiting taxi.

The driver grabbed my case and bundled me into the back of his cab, but when I told him that I had a voucher for a free transfer to my hotel, he bundled it and me back out again. I then went vainly in search of the FTI office that somebody claimed to be nearby, but as if it was there it was obviously closed, I made my way back to the taxi rank.

Then the fun really began. Their general idea is to get you on board and rolling, preferably as far as possible, before telling you how much your journey will cost. But I’d have none of that and as the supply of passengers had dried up to a trickle by that time and the parking lot was nearly empty, I had the whip hand πŸ™‚

I told the driver where I wanted to go, the Hawaii Riviera Resort Hotel, and asked him what he’d charge. He squirmed a little bit but when he saw that if he continued he might lose my business completely, he asked if I wanted to pay in Egyptian Pounds or Euros. His eyes lit up when I said Euros, and he told me he’d want 20€ for the trip. So it wasn’t worth arguing and in we jumped and away we went.

My first taste of the external security was as we drove away from the airport, which you couldn’t do without going through a security barrier and identifying yourself. That hurdle overcome, off we went again. I was amazed – the journey was like driving through a bomb site, or a demolition or construction site at least. To one side of the road there was just the desert and to the other sundry buildings in various states of construction (and those being constructed surrounded by wooden scaffolding that seemed just to have been chucked up as building had progressed).

On either side of the road there were just low heaps of what looked like rubble – either from buildings that may have previously stood there or intended for use in the construction of ones yet to be built, it wasn’t obvious. And the road itself was an eye-opener. Its surface near the airport was quite respectable, nicely metalled and with high, bright street lamps. But things changed as you got further away.

The first indication of this was when, while driving along at a breakneck 50 mph or so (with no seat belts and the driver frequently one or no-handed while taking calls on his mobile phone) the driver slammed on the brakes. The reason became obvious when you realised that not only was there no road surface in front of the taxi but what was there was at about a kerb’s depth lower than the road we’d been driving on.

The driver knew all of these obstacles intimately, of course, and after we’d bumped up and down and went over and around all of them, we eventually arrived at my hotel. Ah, then there was a problem. I thought that I still had a 20€ note but I’d forgotten that I’d used it to buy my entry visa at the airport. I had a 50€ note but the driver didn’t have change and I didn’t have anything like sufficient Egyptian Pounds to pay him off, even after I’d scrabbled together all of the odd Euros that I had in my pocket.

I said that I’d try to get some change from the hotel reception (imagine being able to do that at 5.00 am) and he said he’d wait. Sure enough, the reception staff couldn’t help but we found a solution. In the reception area there was a mysterious National Bank of Egypt machine that they knew very little about and which moreover, evidently they regarded with some suspicion.

However, it transpired that it would devour a 50€ note and disgorge a huge wad of Egyptian Pounds in return (I didn’t see any Egyptian coins during the whole of my stay and I don’t think that there are any as the currency is so low in value, there are only paper notes), that I could use to pay off the taxi driver, who by now was waiting somewhat anxiously, I thought, at the hotel’s main door.

So armed with my wedge of cash, I went across to him and asked how much he wanted in Egyptian Pounds. He did a quick calculation and said that he needed 200, which I swiftly handed over. I was well ahead of him. I’d agreed to pay 20€ for the journey. When I swapped my 50€ for Egyptian Pounds, I got just over 1000 of the latter, making 200 worth 10€. I bet he was the only Egyptian taxi driver who got bamboozled by a tourist that day πŸ˜‰

So at around 5.00 am I was checked into the hotel and taken up to my room. And not before time as far as I was concerned, as that equated to 4.00 am French time and I’d left home at 9.30 am the day before. I placed the ‘Do Not Disturb’ tag on my door and after a quick shower, eased myself into bed and was soon asleep. Funnily enough, although I missed breakfast that morning, which was from 06.30 to 09.30, I was awake and not feeling at all tired after having slept for less than 5 hours and pulled back the curtains to the vision of a glorious hot, sunny day. Bliss!

Here are the initial shots that I took of the hotel and my room both of which I found more than satisfactory. This being an Arab nation, all of the hotel staff were male and I was very impressed by the care taken by the young man who looked after my room and was in attendance from early in the morning till late in the evening, as most of the general staff were.

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And so ended the first stage of my Hurghada Red Sea ‘break’. Now it was just for me to put my personal plans into action, namely to eat, drink (a little) lie in the sun, read a bit and sleep. And it was easy for me to do just that as the hotel was ‘all inclusive’ and I didn’t therefore have to worry about a thing.