Archive for the ‘Holiday’ Category

Questival 2011

August 9th, 2011 2 comments

Questival is an annual festival that is put on by the AHS to celebrate the ideas of skepticism and rational thinking. Featuring speakers such as Julian Baggini and Michael Marshall and performers like Matt Parker and Jonny Berliner the weekend long event attracted young people from across the UK.

Having missed its predecessors in the Yorkshire Dales, it was with some excitement that I made my way to Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire to join forty other free thinkers. At this point I must add my sincerest thanks to David and Peter from the Bradford University Atheist and Humanist Society for sorting me out with a lift down from Leeds! I arrived a little after eleven in the evening on Friday to be greeted with some bean chili and a glass of Glenfiddich and rest of the Questivillains (the collective noun according to the organisers) partying like it was 1999. I had booked my spot at Questival quite late so I had turned up without a camping spot but quickly found an old friend from university who had some room in his tent and after I had dumped my stuff I quickly joined in the party.

The theme of the main shenanigans seemed to be worms (the sleepover classic of wriggling around in your sleeping bags pretending to be worms) and the quote of weekend was soon to follow:

Andrew is the egg, everyone sperm him!
- Mark Wonnacott

The drinking and conversing continued late into the night (and the next morning by all accounts) with topics ranging from whether Socrates was a figment of Plato’s imagination to whether Oli had comfortable thighs and ankles. I gave up to hit the sack just after midnight due to the fact I had been at work and travelling all day.

The mob was awoken early Saturday morning for a breakfast of sausages and bacon (and their vegetarian equivalents) that was incredibly welcome by those that had taken the partying too seriously the night before. The rest of us wanted to fuel up ready for a full day of events. We started off with a gentle stroll into Tewkesbury that involved a water crossing! The nearest bridge to cross the Avon was several miles away, so the Questival team had organised canoes to ferry the forty-odd people from one side to the other. Despite the inherent risks of putting many people in small, unstable canoes everyone made it without getting too wet and those of us that thought the crossing was hard work were in for a surprise when we were presented the most fiendishly difficult treasure hunt I have ever been faced with!

Questivillains in Tewkesbury during the treasure hunt.

Splitting into a number of teams we set about trying to solve numerical, general knowledge, observational and physical challenges to try and unlock the secret to the philosopher’s tome (the prize turned out to be a signed copy of Professor Grayling’s The Good Book). Unfortunately, the team I was in struggled to solve the final puzzle, so settled for second prize – that of getting to the pub early! We were slowly joined by the other teams and managed to quaff our fair share of some good ale and cider before setting off back to the festival site for an afternoon of speakers and performers.

Due to a scheduling incident, the weekend’s first speaker, Julian Baggini, failed to show up but the BHA’s faith school coordinator, and former AHS President, Richy Thompson, and skeptic and 10:23 founder, Michael Marshall, stepped into the breach to talk about campaigning from both a national and grass roots level. This was followed by a presentation by the founders of the fantastic Pod Delusion about skeptical landscape and how social and internet media are used to provide balance to the “crackpots”. The talk also laid the foundation for a special live recording of a Pod Delusion podcast which featured some great segments on epigenetics, cyber security, the STEM project and a wonderful summary of the energy industry’s portrayal in the media by an insider codenamed “Steve”. The evening was rounded off by the self-styled standup mathematician Matt Parker who did a meta-gig (a gig about his other gigs) that covered everything from his uncanny ability to predict barcodes, how many times we would need to shuffle a deck of cards to see every possible combination and other fun maths stuff. He had the room in stitches and if anyone gets the opportunity to go and see him then you should jump at it! Many of the attendees then hit the bar at the campsite and spent the night drinking and dancing and wondering if Gordon Swayze was just a figment of their imagination.

Sunday was a little less frantic as we started off with a leisurely breakfast followed by the rescheduled Julian Baggini talking about logical fallacies with reference to news and media stories. The talk struck the right balance between philosophical technicality and layman application. Despite being at a number of events where he has spoken, I have never actually heard Julian talk live. He is an engaging speaker with a real knack of selling logical argument and critical thinking. The early afternoon was then taken up with a variety of activities ranging from archery to sailing to making graven images of gods. The final act of the weekend was a musical performance from the simply brilliant Jonny Berliner whose quirky science and maths based songs had people gasping fro breath whilst tapping their feet. I bought his single and EP on the spot and he is definitely a name to look out for!

Final set of photos from Europe

April 7th, 2011 No comments

So Kieran has finally managed to get his photos up from Europe.

A busy year already

January 9th, 2011 3 comments

Opera North - Carmen

The second week of January is upon us and it seems my diary is filling up faster than I could ever have imagined. I have developed a very bad habit in recent years of making big plans and not really following through with them, with perhaps the exception of the trip to Europe I did last year.

To try and counter that, I am going to post up the things I have planned right now so that I will hopefully see them through. It will also remind me to blog about the events and give me a lot more to say in my review of 2011, rather than the the relatively dismal look back at 2010.

The first major highlight of 2011 I have already organised is a trip to opening night at Opera North’s production of Carmen with my friend Aislin. I really love the opera and have only really started up going to see them again since I met Aislin. It is really cool to have a friend that likes some of the more obscure hobbies that interest me like opera and ballet etc.

Carmen was a natural choice for me to go and see as it is one of my favourites. I have seen a couple of productions of it, although both times were amateur ones, so will be great to see a professional performance.

I am hoping to squeeze in a few more operas this year too following the success of Turn of the Screw last year and what I am sure is going to be an epic experience at Carmen. It will also be my very first opening night!

Dungeon Ghyll

Next up is a trip to Langdale with some of my family. Langdale is one of my favourite places int he whole world despite its relatively unglamorous reputation in comparison to the rest of the Lake District. For me though, the valley has everything I could possible want from a remote, relaxing holiday destination. It is quite simply a stunning part of the country, a long glacial valley with a few vllages spread out along the valley floor and walled by soe impressive hills. The valley is home to three of my top 5 Lake District pubs, the Old and New Dungeon Ghyll hotels and the Wainwright Inn.

February also sees Andrew’s stag night, which will be an interesting experience as it will be my first ever stag do. Andrew is getting married in Jamaica in March which i can’t afford to attend, so it is my intention to make sure he gets a fantastic send off! Whilst I am talking about Andy, I should probably plug his great football blog that is probably his one true love (sorry Laura).

Josh Ritter

I have two trips abroad planned for April this year. The first is to go an see a band I really like play live in Dublin. Josh Ritter is doing a few dates in Europe as part of his tour and Dublin was the cheapest place to go and see him play. The other two cities he is doing in British Isles are Edinburgh and London and at the moment, both of those places are more expensive to get to and stay over in than Dublin. So look out Emerald Isle, I am coming for a party.

I plan to head over to Dublin on a Thursday and stay until Sunday, hopefully getting in a tour of the Guinness brewery as well as maybe seeing some of the sights and sounds of one of Europe’s capital cities.

The second trip in April is a little more ambitious. I hope to go and visit a friend of mine who is currently working for the British government in New York City. I am hoping to get out there for a week or so around Easter time to take advantage of the bank holidays (meaning I have to take less annual leave from work). I have never been to the Big Apple before, other than layovers at the airports there. I am not usually a city fan and prefer countryside and remoteness over the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s most populous conurbations. However, it is one of those cities that is everyone’s must visit list and that includes me. I want to be able to say I have see Time square, visited central park and been up the Empire State building.

Yankee Stadium, New York

I am going in April so that I have a chance of catching a ball game at Yankee stadium but I haven’t actually checked the schedules to see if this is going to be possible.

Following that is not going to be easy, but I have plans to go on holiday to Malta at the start of summer with my mum. Normally I would never consider Malta as a holiday destination, but on seeing the photos and stories my mum and auntie told when they visited the island a couple of years ago I was instantly sold on the idea. Malta has a rich history, perhaps best known for its role in the second world war where the nation and its people were awarded the George Cross for resisting the axis powers.

Lincoln Cathedral

June sees the long awaited marriage of two good friends of mine, Bryony and Chris. They have been together for over five years and I don’t think anyone could imagine them not getting married. The ceremony is taking place at Lincoln Cathedral and I have the honour of being one of the ushers. I have been to quite a few weddings over the years, but this will be my first as a participant (of sorts) and the first of my generation of friends. Technically Laura and Andrew get married earlier, but as they will be in Jamaica and I will be in Leeds I don’t think it counts.

The final plans for 2011 are less entrenched than those above. I want to try and get back to Venice in the Autumn as I had such a fantastic time there last year and would love to spend a few more days there, perhaps an extended weekend. I aim to also spend more time in my role on the management board of the AHS as I feel that the next 18-24 months for the organisation could be key to its continued success.

2010 in Review

January 3rd, 2011 No comments

2010 started quietly for me on the blogging front, apart from my Twitter updates my first real blog post was about the 10:23 Homeopathy Overdose Project (which I was unfortunately unable to attend due to work commitments) and my strongly worded letter to David Cameron.

February was another quiet month on the blog front although I did spend a week in the Lakes and come hoem to find my house was flooded which left me without a PC for nearly a month.

March saw me foolishly making some long term plans about future living arrangements as well as celebrating’s 3rd birthday. I also gave up my car to cut down on costs and get ready for city centre living.

A good friend of mine was deported in April and threatened with death on his return to his native Pakistan. Leeds Atheist Society ran Reason Week 2010 and I started following Major League Soccer.

In May I spent a lot of time preparing for my speaking engagement at CWF’s Enquiry conference in Birmingham. I also split up with my partner and moved in with Chris and George.

June was world cup month, so the less said about it the better, but I was hardly in a celebrating mood following the events of the previous month.

I spent most of July running around the country with work, really throwing myself in to my job.

Blackpool started their Premier League campaign during August and I started to really get ready for my trip of a lifetime. The month finished with a really great weekend with Sarann at Solfest.

Eurotrip 2010 took up September. In three weeks Chris, Kieran, George and I took in Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Munich, Salzburg, Venice, Verona, St Gallen, Montreux, Monte Carlo and Jard-Sur-Mer. I also turned 26.

October was a catching up month. I was working a lot to pay off Europe and to make sure that I got my best ever performance review to date.

I was off around the country again in November. Taking in an audience with Greg Epstein and a load of gigs.

December saw me celebrate the success story of Blackpool FC’s season in the Premier League so far as well as the contribution made by their manager. I also found time to go and see Tim Minchin thank god for Sam’s Mum’s Cateracts.

As you can see, it has been a mixed bag of a year. Some real highs in the form of Eurotrip and the number of gigs I’ve managed to catch, but also some real lows.

I think 2011 might be OK, there are some things that I am already really excited about seeing how they pan out as well as some concrete plans to go to Dublin, Malta and maybe even back to Verona over the summer. I also have some great work to do with some of the organisations I support i.e. the AHS and BHA as well as continuing to build up my own career and developing some projects of my own.

Here’s to you 2011.

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September 23rd, 2010 No comments

The pool at our gite.

With only a couple of days left of our trip round Europe, I thought I would write a quick post from our gite in Jard-sur-Mer, France to sum up the last few days and throw out some thoughts on the trip as a whole.

We have been staying in gite in a little village just north of La Rochelle where the order of day has been swimming in the pool and drinking rather large quantities of beer and cocktails. This frivolity has been interspersed with good cheese and plenty of barbecued steak!

We really haven’t done much, although this has entirely been by design due to the 3000 miles we had clocked up on our whistle stop tour of Western Europe.

The Atlantic ocean - the third sea of out trip!

I have enjoyed the relative serenity of the Atlantic coast and have caught up on reading and quiet contemplation, but I do rather miss the channelled excitement of venturing into a new city and the joy of the open road (even the Italian ones).

I’m really glad I got the chance to do this trip and I have made a decision about what order to visit the cities we have encountered en route. Venice and Salzburg were two cities that I am already looking forward to revisiting and Luxembourg still holds some pull due to the fact we only got a taste of its allure.

Part of me is a little surprised that the four of us managed to live so closely for so long without any major eruptions or falling outs, but maybe those fears were unfounded as we have all spent plenty of time together in the past.

Beer shelf!

The photos from our trip are starting to appear on Facebook and Twitter. Kieran’s website is still tracking our hashtag and movements, so check it out for developments over the last couple of days of our trip.

Our ferry back to the UK departs St Malo at about 10am on Saturday so we should be back in Leeds in the early hours of Sunday morning when real life must start again.

Monte Carlo

September 19th, 2010 No comments

Casino de Monte Carlo, Monte Carlo, Monaco

I apologise for this post being a couple of days late, but with the end of trip involving some pretty mammoth drives and not much sleep I chose the latter over posting. If that makes me a bad blogger then I don’t care.

I am writing most of this post from poolside at our French gite just outside La Rochelle in the Vendee region of our continental neighbour. Got croissant and pain au chocolat for breakfast!

Whilst Montreux was one of the quieter stops on our tour we knew Monte Carlo would be one of the maddest. A 9 hour drive across the highways of Switzerland and Italy, an Alpine pass that had a lot in common with the road into Hades and more tunnels than I’ve ever encountered en route to anywhere saw us pull into the tiny principality of Monaco.

A quick beer at a local bar, turned into a long chat with an ex pat from Zimbabwe and an Italian. We couldn’t work out what line of black market business they were in, so I am sticking to my guess of arms dealers or human traffickers.

We then headed for dinner at a small Thai place to keep up our tradition of trying new things. The food was both tasty and very very spicy, which is apparently the Thai way.

A quick costume change saw us get suited and booted for our long awaited trip to the Casino de Monte Carlo. The casino is famous for its appearances in film (including the Bond series), TV and the famous Monaco grand prix. It really did live up to its billing! A stunning building inside with fantastic painted interiors and every bit as luxurious as I had been left to believe. Well worth lugging our suits around Europe for!

I couldn’t afford to put money on any of the gaming tables as roulette had a minimum stake of 10 euros (min table change of 200 euros) and the black jack tables were 25 euro minimum bets. As I couldn’t visit a casino without some gambling, I put 10 euros in the slot machines!

The cars outside the casino (including one with my number plate NR2) and the yachts in the harbour confirmed Monte Carlo’s reputation as a millionaires playground. I liked the city and lifestyle that it attracted, but I did get the feeling that it was all a little one dimensional and we had pretty much done Monaco in a night.

This was probably a good thing as the morning after was going to see us drive 1000km in 11hrs!

This is pretty much my last blog post for the trip as we are now settled at our gite in France. Keep up with the tweets at my Twitter feed or at Kieran’s site.

I will probably post some pics etc up on Twitter too.


September 16th, 2010 No comments

The view from our hotel in Montreux, Switzerland

.This is the penultimate blog post for the driving part of our European road trip. Tomorrow night we stay in Monte Carlo, Monaco then we head to France for a week of chillaxing on the Atlantic coast.

The drive through Switzerland today was a tale of two halves. The first was a twisty turny drive through central Switzerland followed by a rush through the motorways of the south western region of the country.

We set off from St Gallen at around 11.30 after a brief wander around the old part of the city and the monastery buildings (which make up a world heritage sight). We arrived in Montreux at a little after 5pm. Following the Alpine scenery of yesterday was always going to a be a tough job, but Lake Geneva has managed to do a darned good job!

My Blackberry didn't capture the actual sunset particularly well, but this is the best one I got just before the sun started to sink.

The lake is really beautiful, and the mountainous backdrop adds a real sense of drama. Montreux sits on the ‘Swiss Riviera’ and enjoys a much milder climate than the surrounding region.

We watched the sun set behind the mountains whilse enjoying some fantastic French/Italian fusion cuisine. Kieran had mussel pizza! I enjoyed a great (in both taste and size) bowl of moules marieniere et frites.

I am writing this post sat on the lake terrace of the hotel enjoying a cold beer; and whilst I have enjoyed every second of the trip so far, I am really looking forward to some well earned rest and relaxation in La Rochelle.

I will be posting a few times in France, but it won’t be every day. Please keep commenting on my posts and following my Twitter feed

St Gallen

September 15th, 2010 No comments

Our first Swiuss tunnel!

Still no working laptop, but that may be more to do with stupid Swiss plug sockets than anything else. I mean who uses hexagonal plugs?

For those that have had their head in the sand for the last few days, today is my birthday. I spent 5 hours of it driving and 6 hours of it as a passenger. I had a curry and a beer and I got a mug off Chris.

The rest of this post is going to consist of me trying to do some sort of justice to the breathtaking scenery we experienced today.

We left Verona around 9am to drop Chris off in Milan before the rest of us headed for Switzerland. The drive to Milan was pretty enough, mostly Italian farms and villages. However, I will never forget the experience of driving into Milan and then out of it. In fact it hardly counts as driving. It is 90 per cent stuck in total gridlock followed by 10 per cent total chaos. If any rules of the road are observed I have been completely unable to detect it. Also, there is nothing more terrifying as a driver as being able to hear mopeds and motorcycles around you but being unable to see them as they swarm around the sides of your car! It was absolute mayhem.

The Swiss Alps as we clibed over them looked so dramatic.

Once Chris was safely deposited at his hotel we turned north and headed for the Swiss border via Lake Como and St Moritz.

Lake Como is beautiful, tranquil and full of famous people. Unfortunately, we were too busy negotiating tunnels, bridges and berserk lorry drivers to experience it. The vistas were amazing though.

We then started our ascent of the Italian Alps towards St Moritz where we climbed a few hundred metres in no time at all and saw the temperature drop over 15 degrees centigrade.

We headed over the Juliper-pass from St Moritz to Bovio, which peaks at over 2200m above sea level (that’s about 6600 feet). The views on the pass were out of this world.

Basically half the roads on Switzerland were under construction it seemed. This one is on the highest mountain pass in Switzerland!

The sat nav was set to avoid motorways in Switzerland as the tolls and charges are pretty high, so we were heading north when we suddenly found ourselves passing through a military camp. At first we thought that we had taken a wrong turn, but apparently the A13 happens to go through one of the old border stations on the Swiss border. It wasn’t long after this that we noticed another strange marker on the sat nav. We had driven over the border into Liechenstein. This is apparently the optimum route to St Gallen from Milan!

We eventually arrived in St Gallen at about 8.30pm after 11hrs of solid driving. We were so tired we just wanted to eat and head to bed. This, however, turned out to be an issue. It seems that no where is open in St Gallen after about 6pm so it took us ages to find a restaurant. We eventually stumbled on a little Indian place so we plumped for a nice birthday curry. We also realised just how expensive everything is in Switzerland (so thanks Mum).

One of many pictures I tool whilst Kieran was driving.

This post originally had no pics as it was written on my Blackberry. I have now added some pics to it [edited 26/09/2010]. I am going to post a load on Twitter right now, so get over there to check them out.

Tomorrow we head to Montreux and Lake Geneva for some R&R before our last day on the road in Monte Carlo.

Last few days to follow our real time progress on Kieran’s website.

Please keep the comments coming in as I love to hear from you. You can also SMS me if you have my number (it’s free from a UK mobile), email me or leave me a message here.


September 14th, 2010 No comments

Well my laptop is dead. So rest of posts will be made from my Blackberry, which means no pics. What I will do I’d try and upload some pics as separate posts when we have wifi connectivity. I’m not going to post them on 3g.

Back on topic, we have spent a 2nd day in Italy today. The first time on the trip we have spent consecutive nights sleeping within the same national borders!

Crazy Italians put aeroplanes on their buildings!

We left Venice for Verona at around 1pm having spent the morning walking through the narrow streets and soaking in as much of the history and magic of the city as possible.

It is impossible to describe how completely bewildered yet enchanted Venice has left me. If it were possible to form a romantic attachment to a city, Venice and I would be starting some some of affair right now.

Anyway, enough of the hyperbole and cliche. We decided to shun the motorways and highways of Italy for some country roads on our hop from Venice to Verona. We experienced some great rural scenery and some colourful Italian driving! I could (and maybe will) dedicate a whole post to the crazy and apparent random nature of Italian driving. I haven’t had the pleasure of driving in Italy yet, but part of me is looking forward to the experience and the other half is saying it would rather climb a mountain in 2nd gear behind a coach!

One of the many ornate monuments and churches in Verona, Italy

We arrived in Verona in the early evening and headed straight out into town. We wandered the old town streets, taking photos of old churches and marvelling at the architecture and culture of this Shakespearean corner of Italy until we decided to get down to the serious business of eating and drinking some of Italy’s finest exports. Namely lasagne and wine. I was responsible for lasagne and Chris for wine, and I think we handled our tasks well, even if our waiter interpreted a glass of sweet white wine as a glass of rich red.

A few beers later we headed off to finish our odyssey by visiting the Casa da Giuletta. Unfortunately, the courtyard was closed for what looked like a private photo shoot, but we could see enough to make out the fact that most people thought that touching the bosom of Juliet’s statue would bless their relationship.

Tomorrow is my birthday, which will be spent crossing the Alps into St. Gallen, Switzerland. Apparently the town’s university has one of the most ornate libraries in Europe.

As always, please keep up to date by visiting my homepage or on Twitter. You can follow our real time progress on Kieran’s page here.