Apple Watch

What normally happens is this:

A new Apple product comes out. I have a look at it in an Apple Store and conclude that I don’t need or want it. Some time later I end up buying said product.

I think this particular product may be the exception to the rule.

Having had a look at them in their glass cases and examined a “Sport” model close up I can confirm that I won’t be buying one. I’m sure they are very nice and have lots of geeky features but that’s not going to tempt me.

I have a wrist watch (quite a nice one as it happens) which I use to find out what the time of day is. For everything else I have my iPhone. And my Mac, Oh, and my iPad.

If I was going to spend a lot of money on a watch I’d buy something more traditional which just tells the time.

Sorry, Apple.

Getting The Freelander Muddy

My off-roading chums organised a green lane trip on Salisbury Plain.

The gang

It was billed as “non-damaging” so I decided to take my Freelander 2 (which we call “R2″).


The Freelander doesn’t have the ground clearance of the Range Rover or Discovery 3’s in our group but, apart from a couple of lanes with deep ruts (which I dealt with by straddling the ruts) and a water splash which looked very deep from where I was (and which I chose to miss out), R2 took everything in his stride. Most of the time I had Grass/Gravel/Snow selected on the Terrain Response, switching to Mud/Ruts when required. At one section – which was a bit of an axle twister – R2 had one wheel in the air several times! When we encountered a steep climb I let R2 negotiate the start in first gear with the engine pulling along at idle, once it got steeper I just gave him a bit of welly and he simply shot up the slope with no drama.

Here’s our navigator checking the byway signs. As the Plain is a military training area, access to civilians is controlled and we had to ensure the byway we wanted to drive was open. We didn’t want to get shot at!

Checking the Byway signs

The only lane I had a problem with was a fairly narrow one enclosed by hedges and small trees and it was inevitable that these would rub along the side of the vehicle.

A bit of a narrow lane

Half way along, we encountered a huge pile of fly-tipped rubbish. It’s so disappointing; some unscrupulous people will fly tip anywhere just to save a few bucks. Getting past this obstacle wasn’t easy to do without risking a scratch or too and unfortunately I collected a few. No lasting damage though. Now that I’ve washed the mud off I’m sure the scratches will polish out with a bit of elbow grease.

I love the openness of the Plain. If the weather’s nice you’ve got all that “Big Sky”.

Front and back

In the middle distance, lots of evidence of the Army’s tank training:

Big sky

We didn’t see any tanks. :( The only Army activity we saw were a couple of platoons of squaddies doing some running, some of them carrying bergens or mortar ammo. At their RV they had a strategically placed Land Rover ambulance! :)

Is it an Evoque Plus ?

The other day, I parked my Freelander nose-to-nose with an Evoque. At least that’s what I thought it was.

On walking back to my car, I noticed that the “Evoque” wasn’t. What it was, was a Discovery Sport.

Looking at it properly, which I didn’t do when I was walking away from it, it seems to share design cues with the Evoque and the Range Rover Sport. It doesn’t have the boxy side view of the Freelander it replaces – which is a shame as far as I’m concerned as I like the square shape of my car (and that of the “proper” Discovery 4).

So I’m wondering who would buy it? Someone who wants an Evoque with more “rear” perhaps? It’s a bit like the choice facing an iPhone purchaser, i.e., buy the iPhone 6 or the 6+ ? In other words, you’d buy the “6+” if you needed an iPhone 6 that was, um, bigger.

Probably a poor analogy. Stop rambling, Wizzard Prang!

Un-Common Caching

Last week I finally managed to solve a puzzle cache that had been bugging me, Hope2pigs’ Conjuring Card Cache (GC5CDAZ). Not a subject I was at all familiar with (I’m still not!) but once more I’ve learned about something hitherto unknown thanks to Geocaching. Actually, it turned out I’d been on the right track with my solving method and it was a simple error with my maths that had prevented geochecker from giving me the green light. Hope2pigs had set a small series around Bricket Wood Common and I had visited there once on a FTF attempt (we got STF) but I had held off going back for the others, until now.

Having done a spot of research, I decided to go for the Multi of the series first for reasons which will become clear. Bricket Wood Common has SSSI classification, so is an interesting location. You can find more information about the Common here.

So Skye and I parked the Freelander in one of the designated parking spots and headed off towards the first cache, Hear or There (GC570QC). I had decided to do this one first as I suspected it might take some time and I wanted to make sure I bagged the “important” ones first in case I ran out of time. The cache page describes quite well what is required without giving the game away completely, so I’m not going to spoil it for you (should you wish to attempt it for yourself). The task is first to locate the first stage (at the published coords) which I did without difficulty. Once I had retrieved the container and opened it, I was then in possession of a “tool” (as the CO describes it). I’m not giving anything way by saying that I had to operate the “tool” and listen for a response. As the CO states, this cache is not suitable for the hard of hearing. Not knowing what to expect, I stood motionless and waited for what passed for silence before operating the tool. Nothing. I moved a few paces away and tried again. At which point the birds started singing. Then a truck trundled along the nearby road. Silence descended once more. I operated the tool. Just as I did so the birds started tweeting again. Damn! I waited for the next quiet period and tried again. As I strained my ears to listen (not actually knowing what I was listening for) Skye decided she was a bit bored of standing around and she started scuffling about in the leaves. “BE QUIET, SKYE!”. Hmm, that didn’t help. Once more I moved my position, thinking, correctly as it turned out, that my range to the “thing” might be critical. Then, faintly, I heard it! For a minute or two I moved around, homing in on the source…

After a bit more to-ing and fro-ing, I identified the location of the final but, before I could move in for the “kill”, a chap appeared along the nearby path with his German Shepherd. What now! Trying to be nonchalant, Skye and I engaged him and his canine companion in a friendly conversation until he decided to move on. Once he was a safe distance away I homed in on where I thought the final cache would be, at which point it was easily spotted behind some camouflage. Result! Once I had signed the log etc. we retraced out steps and replaced the “tool” in its hiding place. That is one novel, well thought out and prepared cache.

Next, it was on to the Conjuring Card Cache, by way of a small detour to pick up First Class?, a more traditional cache. Even this “Trad” was cleverly constructed, so much so that it was really hidden in plain sight. I love those!

Anyway, on to the puzzle cache. The coords were spot on, I think this may have been helped by us attempting these before the trees develop their full foliage and bugger up the GPS signal. As it was, it seemed a short search indeed before I spotted the very well constructed natural camouflaged container.

Once we’d put everything back, it was time to cross the railway line (via a footbridge) for a longer, circular, walk around another part of the common where we picked up three more caches (Will you take offence?, nano sect and Uncommon in the common), all of which had ingenious containers. Then it was back to the car – which we found without drama – a relief as I had failed to waypoint it before we left it.

The Common is a lovely location only minutes from main roads and houses, yet it seems a world away. The woodland, soon to be carpeted in bluebells (I hope) and the birdsong soundtrack make this a great place to find a few caches. The containers and their camouflage are brilliantly designed and constructed and a joy to find. I recommend a visit, just as soon as you’ve solved that Card puzzle!

Flying Corps Dog

When I was at the RAF Museum last week, I had a look at their new exhibition, World War One in the Air. In one of the exhibit cases I found this.

Flaying Corps Dog Coat

Dating from 1917, this jacket was made by a Royal Flying Corps tailor using uniform fabric and badges for a RFC Officer’s dog. Tally Ho!

Vulcan Visit

Avro Vulcan

I visited the RAF Museum at Hendon, London, recently. I’d booked one of their open cockpit opportunities, in this case the rare chance to gain access to the flight deck of their Avro Vulcan B2 bomber.

Potted history: This particular aircraft – XL318 – has been a museum exhibit since 1982. Designed in 1947 to fulfil the Cold War role of nuclear strike, XL318 was delivered to 617 Squadron in 1961. In those days it was painted in the white “nuclear blast reflective finish”. Here’s a picture of some Vulcans on a QRA dispersal:

Vulcans on QRA

By 1966 XL318 had been repainted in the low level camouflage finish it wears today. In December 1981 it made its last flight, at which time 617 Squadron was disbanded as a Vulcan squadron (later to reform as a Tornado Squadron in 1983).

On to my visit. I was met underneath XL318 by one of the Museum’s volunteers. Then up the crew ladder I went!

Up the crew ladder

Once inside, I was met by two more volunteers who started off by showing me around the “back seat” crew area where the Navigator Plotter, Navigator Radar and Air Electronics Officer were stationed. Revealing its early post-war design, the Vulcan has a conventional bomb aiming window, a feature it shares with its wartime ancestor the Avro Lancaster. The Vulcan was never fitted with an optical bomb sight, however, as by the time it went into service it was equipped with a radar bomb sight which was operated by the Navigator Radar.

Here’s me looking out of the bomb aimer’s window (photo taken by my daughter!)

Note the yellow ladder up to the flight deck – this is just for visitors and wouldn’t be there in an operational Vulcan.

Old school bomb aiming window

Then came the tricky bit, climbing up to the flight deck and swivelling myself into the right-hand, or co-pilot’s, seat. In the photo below you can (sort of) see the rear crew area behind me. It was pretty dark inside the fuselage. What little illumination there was, was provided by some hand held working lamps, The Museum opens this aircraft so rarely, I guess it isn’t practical to set up permanent interior lighting. Also, it was surprisingly cramped up there. Every inch was occupied by equipment and it was an interesting exercise moving about in there. For once I reckon it helped being a short-arse. Maybe the 1960’s RAF selection process weeded out anyone above 5’6″.

The pilot and co-pilot (who was also responsible for looking after the engines, transferring fuel around the many tanks to balance the aircraft, in-flight refuelling, etc., there being no flight engineer) enjoy the luxury of ejection seats. In the event of an emergency, the other three crewmen would have to exit the aircraft via the same crew hatch I used to get into the aircraft. Once they had left the aircraft the co-pilot and pilot would then jettison the canopy and eject upwards.

Me in the right hand seat

So, I’m sitting there, in the surprisingly comfortable, right-hand ejection seat, soaking up the sights and smells of this awesome piece of aviation history. If you’ve ever been inside an old aircraft you’ll probably know what I mean about the smell. It’s a mixture of metal, rubber and… something else, I’m not sure what, old air? Anyway it’s distinctive and instantly recognisable.  I quite like it.

The volunteer sitting in the pilot’s seat had been a Navigator in 617 Squadron Vulcans back in the day. Between them, the two volunteers talked me through the instruments and controls, the engine start procedure – explaining the “green button” used when the aircraft was on quick reaction alert at the height of the cold war.  When the Vulcans were scrambled the crews could be in position and starting the Olympus jet engines within a minute; and be airborne within 5. That’s going some!

Flight Deck

They also explained the equipment designed to block off the flight deck’s windows, this was designed to protect the crew’s vision in the event of a nuclear blast. It’s chilling to think that these chaps could have been alone up there after a series of nuclear strikes with quite possibly no home airfield to return to. Down to a sunless sea indeed.

After a few years, the Government transferred the nuclear deterrent to rocket technology – the ICBM – and so XL318 and her friends were reconfigured to the more conventional bomber role. We had a chat about “Black Buck” and the bombing of the runway at Port Stanley during the Falklands war, and the radar bomb aiming techniques they used.

cockpit selfie

All too soon my time in XL318 was up. I managed to grab a quick “selfie” of me in the right-hand seat. With apologies for the rubbish quality – blame the limited light and lack of a flashgun on my phone’s front (selfie) camera. :)

I managed to extricate myself from the seat and reverse the sequence of 3 ladders back down through the hatch. Time for a quick pose for the waiting photographer (my Daughter).

Me posing in front of XL318

Wow. That was great. What an awesome aircraft.

A boy’s day out

In which we do some green laning, move a tree, rescue a horse and FTF a geocache.

Plain lane

At silly o’clock, Bob picked me up in his Range Rover Classic and we set off for the byways of Wiltshire. I don’t normally do early mornings but we had to be at the RV just north of Devizes by about 08.45 and it would take us a couple of hours to get there. As well as us, there was our geocaching mate Jeff in his Discovery 3, plus four non-geocachers in two more Disco 3’s. The day was officially a geocache-free day, however Jeff managed to get us a “pass” to look for a cache he’d DNFd some time ago – GC36MA9 – Log it. It was on the first byway we were going to drive so while the 2 non-caching Discos drove on, we paused to find the cache. As we drove to catch the others up, we met a fellow cacher, who happened to be standing right next to another cache – GC36M9G – It’s miles!  – so we jumped out of the Land Rovers and found that one as well!

After that, we caught up with the others and the laning began in earnest; we set off in the general direction of Avebury and its famous stone circle. Unfortunately, the winter weather had left several of the byways extremely wet, these had voluntary restrictions on them which we complied with and so we didn’t drive them. This meant a bit of “recalculating” by our navigator but he soon had us back on our planned route.

Later, we were driving along a rutted lane which followed the hedge line of a field, when we came upon a fallen tree completely blocking the lane. We could have driven “off-piste” around it but we stopped instead. Jeff made short work of the branches with his trusty bow saw, until the tree was sufficiently manageable for us all to lift the tree and move it off the track and into the hedge. At that point, Jeff managed to get his Disco stuck in the rut and it took a gentle pull from one of the other Discos to help him get going again. At that point we all decided to back up and leave the lane for another, drier, day.

After a while, we agreed that it was time to find a suitable lunch stop and we parked up in a secluded lane which ran next to a field. This field contained several horses and a couple of donkeys. We stood around munching our sandwiches and chatting to the friendly horses who came up to the fence (presumably hoping to snaffle our lunch). I noticed that one of the horses had got a back leg caught in the strap of his overcoat making him a three-legged horse . He was hopping about trying to free himself. Along with Nick (one of the Disco drivers) I hopped over the gate and the two us approached the horse. He wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry so we soon caught him. With Nick holding his head, I, being careful to keep away from his legs (as I didn’t fancy being kicked), reached under said three-legged horse and pulled his foot clear of the strap. As soon as he was back on four hoofs he scampered off across the field. Not a word of thanks. Typical horse!

Anyway, after we’d finished our lunch we continued on our route, navigating our way in a southerly direction towards the byways which crisscross the eastern side of the Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA). The army are using most of the SPTA for a major exercise but the eastern side was (fortunately) open to civilian traffic over the weekend. Finally, skirting Tidworth, we reached the end of our planned route.

End of the route

cleaning the Rangie

Just enough cleaning to keep it road-legal.

Looking at the map, we found that we were very close to a cache (GC401F7 – Devil’s Ditch #3), so, freed from the no-caching constraint, we set of to find it. On the face of it this was an easy one, although we still made a meal of it, eventually finding it in a place we’d allegedly searched thoroughly a few minutes earlier. Duh! After that, we drove a short way up the byway opposite and made another quick (and easy) find. Back on the blacktop, we stopped once more for what we thought would be our last cache of the day, then we set off for home.

As we drove homewards along the M3, we discussed some new local caches which had been published that morning while we were en route to our RV. I called them up on my iPhone and discovered that one of them had not had a find logged. Could it be that nobody had FTFd it all day? I input the cache’s coordinates into Bob’s satnav and we continued on our way with a slightly amended plan. When we got closer, I checked again – still no log on the website!

So, at about 19.05 we arrived near to GC5NXZT – A cache with a view too. It seemed only a minute or so before I spotted the container. We opened it and… a clean log. FTF! Incidentally, that was my first FTF for a whole year – partly due to my unwillingness to compete with the local FTF hounds – so it was a super result. Bob and I were pretty pleased with that; we jumped back into the Range Rover and drove to the other new cache (which had already been FTFd) and found that as well. Well we had to pass it on our way home anyway.

After that it was back home for tea and medals. For a non-caching day it had turned out to be pretty successful: 7 caches found and one of them a FTF. Excellent!


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