Just added some photos from two USA trips, both to Charlotte, North Carolina. These were the 2nd and 3rd trips to the city to visit our daughter. The pre-pandemic first trip details can be found here
The first in December 2021 somewhat constrained by COVID tests and restrictions. It featured Christmas, New Year, and the highlight, the engagement of our daughter. The proposal at sunset on the beach in Ocean Isle. The trip included the first physical and very emotional meeting with her thanks to the global pandemic for a few years.
In June 2022, we returned for our first trip in Summer. Despite airline delays and lost baggage, thanks to AA and BA not assisted by Heathrow and JFK, we had a great time. We also headed up into the Blue Ridge mountains another contrast in Summer from the cold of winter and in other photos. Our previous trip to the mountains at Christmas 2018 featured snow and storms before the cold of Washington. This time we paddled in waterfalls.
Out of hundreds of photos taken with family and friends, I’ve selected a few to share to a wider audience. The contrast with winter was not just the average temperatures but the greenery of the scenes.
Charlotte is a rapidly expanding city with new housing and businesses seemingly everywhere. No wider trips on this visit except up to the mountains.
Today 31st March is a strange day. Following redundancy I have decided to retire from full-time employment. I wish I could say my working life has No Regrets like the song but there have been many. I didn’t do it all My Way either despite many positives.
I started full time work with a small company called Microwave Associates as an electronics technician before moving to British Aerospace testing missile components – which could be a lot of fun – I had a penchant for blowing things up.
I joined the Royal Air Force and was commissioned in time for the end of the Falklands War, luckily I didn’t go down there until later.
After 17.5 years I left to start a civilian career. I had lots of jobs with lots of different companies, some so-called permanent roles and then may engagements was a contractor. Some contractor roles lasted longer than the permanent ones. That was before returning to full time for the last ten years or so and now that has come to an end.
Of course, never say never, but… I have hectic plans for the next few months, and a very long list of things that I have been putting off. Now, I may I have more time. I’ll continue to write whenever I can or get the urge.
I’ll still take photos and post some. I hope to get my guitar and piano back to a decent standard (Not much hope there). Perhaps, I will finish digitising old photo albums.
My much better half has a few things planned, and we have travel plans too. Perhaps another long distance walk, now the memory of the pain of the last few days of South Downs has dimmed.
All these plans depend on maintaining our health and keeping finances in budget.
This is a time to reflect, and I have been over the last few weeks. The clock has slowly ticked down. No more email and Teams meetings. No more deadlines and fighting corporate bureaucracy. I will miss work colleagues, but I won’t miss late night go-lives or security incidents.
None of us know how long we’ll have left to enjoy life. I certainly intend to enjoy what time I do have without worrying about booking leave and making sure that task is complete. So, a new chapter begins. That reminds me I need to get writing….
Lots of updates on translations of my books with dedicated pages created for Spansih, Portuguese, French and Italian copies. This includes links to the various translators via BabelCube, You can find the pages here
More translations are in the works.. The current list is here.
Translated versions are available on multiple platforms including Amazon Kindle, Apple Books and Google Play as well as other platforms. These are all as e-books.
The spy thriller Counter is Free on Kindle from Saturday 22nd January to Monday 25th January, inclusive
Ben Walker, The Count, is off the grid hiding because of what he took. A life in the shadows with covert military operations was terminated. He sought revenge. He tracked down the chain of command. LC is the man who tried to have him killed but he made an offer to be a different type of hunter.
Now, Walker has taken information and money and gone into hiding. LC wants Walker and what he took. He will take extreme measures to get it. LC has also disappeared. He is wanted too.
The hunters are now hunted.
Helen Lawrence is part of a team cobbled together from the maze of Government agencies. They set out to try to find Walker so that he can help find LC who has also vanished. The team members are not all they seem and if they do find him then the real hunt needs to start. She has her own problems and desires without an entanglement with Walker.
Approaching the 20th anniversary of the attacks, I like many others, have been reflecting on 9/11 and New York.
My family and I were on holiday in New York in the summer of 2001. It was our first trip back to the USA since we had left from living there in February 1998. Little did we know, as we visited the sites, what would unfurl a few weeks later. There are some photos below, including a couple from 2008 when we returned via a cruse ship sailing at dawn into New York
One summer morning, we queued by the elevators to reach the Top of The World observation deck on the 107th floor. It was not a bright blue morning sky that greeted us. Not like the blue we saw in the pictures weeks later. It was cloudy and hazy. A day or so before, we had been at the top of the Empire State looking across the city at the towers. Now, we looked the other way and watched the ants in the squares below. Virtually every view of the city contained the iconic landmarks.
Reflecting On The Attack
We were back home in UK, when like the rest of the world we watched in fascinated horror as the buildings were hit and then fell. I was at work when others called me to look at the news coverage. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Like many others I thought it was a plane accident to start with. We’d watched the planes heading along the Hudson river. Stared out the windows at the cityscape as we flew into JFK a few days before. Then, the second plane hit and there was no doubt.
There were phone calls home and concern about relatives and friends who may or may not be in New York and Washington. I had former US military colleagues in the Pentagon (all safe it turned out, but some close shaves). Many contacts who visited New York. Then, there was the fear of an attack in the UK.
I was quizzed about what might be happening. My new civilian work colleagues of just a couple of years, knew I had been in the RAF and some knew that was in Air Defence. Our office was adjacent to an airfield. I could imagine the scrambles of jets and alerts rushing round the system. I could imagine my RAF colleagues manning consoles and radars, as they tried to check every single plane flying in and near UK airspace. Just in case the conspiracy was across the world.
I stated loudly in the open plan office, that the USA ‘would go to war over this.’ My comment was met by some disbelief. I had no pre-knowledge, other than my time serving directly with the US military. Such an attack could not go unpunished. I had seen intelligence from a few years before. It was used it in classified lectures I gave that mentioned the rise of Islamic extremism, across the World. Nothing specific to an attack on the USA. There had been attacks earlier that year and in previous years. The signs were there. We didn’t know until much later, how much the CIA knew and failed to tell the FBI.
When we stood atop the towers looking at the stunning views, it was just a spectacular visage at the start of a holiday. New York was very crowded and not suited to our young children. They were more used to quiet country towns. As parents, our heads were full of keeping an eye on the children, where we should eat, and the travel plans for the next few days. Central park was a notable exception of tranquillity.
We headed West from Newark to LA, in the following days to visit friends near San Diego. A few days later, we went to Tucson with more friends before a trip to the Canyon and Vegas. We flew back from LA to London. The children went back to school. My wife and I with our respective jobs. I’ve posted some photos, with the addition of a couple from our next visit in 2008 including driving past the then construction site.
The mess that Afghanistan became, has been highlighted with the chaotic withdrawals this summer, The anniversary of the attack that sparked the NATO invasion is not just a twenty year mark. It is something that happens every day and every year for those who lost loved ones in the attacks.
It’s not just 10, 15, twenty or eventually 50 year occasions. It’s every birthday or wedding anniversary missed. Children’s graduations and other events missing a parent’s attendance. Then, we have the anniversaries of those that lost loved ones or had them returned injured in the wars that followed; highlighted in recent weeks with the events and more deaths in Afghanistan.
Now, is not the time to comment again on the fallacies or justifications of those wars. Instead, I can recall a happy holiday. The gasps at the views and famous landmarks lost. The other pictures I haven’t posted, of my young children, both now grown adults with my daughter living and working as a teacher in the USA.
Skylines have changed, children have grown, yet twenty years have gone in what seems a blink of an eye.
Reflecting On A New York Return?
One day, we’ll probably head back to New York. We were in DC driving past the Pentagon in December 2018. Maybe we will visit the new One World Trade Centre and take a ride to another observation deck. I know I will think back then to other towers and similar, but different views.
The new landmark may be very tall but is perhaps less distinctive than the former twins. If we go, we will certainly visit the memorial. Save for a couple of weeks, we could have been on top of the towers watching the hijacked planes head for us. Our names could be on that list. It was not a close escape but one of several weeks. Luck of time and distance, as many things in life are.
A colleague of mine was sailing towards New York that day. He was due to visit the Towers on the 12th. He spent a few extra days on the cruise ship before they were flown home when flights resumed. I have colleagues who visited the towers regularly. More worked in the Pentagon or they were frequent fliers on internal US flights criss-crossing the country for work or pleasure. I know others who were on-board planes at the time and the fear that swept though them. I was in an office, not where I had been a few weeks before.
A time for reflection, a time to mourn, but also a time to be thankful that I had the experience of standing in the breeze looking at the Statue of Liberty.
Just added some new butterfly photos from the South Downs Way Walk and these are one of my favourite things to see. This beauty was feasting on a lone flower as we walked the last day. Two shots were very quickly taken and I got lucky as auto-focus was troubling.
We (my wife Lisa and I) have finally completed the South Downs Way on Friday 16th July having originally commenced it on 25th May 2019! My knees may never recover as The Seven Sisters took their toll.
The map and elevation guides above show the route from Winchester in Hampshire, England through to Eastbourne in Sussex. During the walk we gained one dog, several pounds in weight and two years in age including one with a zero for me. We lost the year of planning to complete the route in 2020 due to the global pandemic.
Many will do the walk faster or complete tougher/longer walks. We have done tougher individual climbs Helvellyn in the Lake District a notable previous trip.
We started off in May 2019 with the aim to complete that summer but as usual life got in the way and we had only completed 70 of the 100 miles from Winchester by the end of November 2019. We drove away from Pyecombe on a bright but cold early winter’s day when the short daylight hours limited further attempts. We stopped for the winter expecting to restart in Spring 2020. Well nothing restarted until July 2021. We managed to book some accommodation for now two dogs and two adults. Not easy at best of times as few hotels, B&Bs or cottages are available that take dogs and cottages. (They wanted a lot of money and a week’s booking too.)
The walk is full of stunning views and panoramas:
In November 2019, we had managed two days in a row with calm weather even if cold and despite arriving in the dark. Going downhill at dusk can be fun – not. We split two days walking with a stay in the South Downs Way B&B Poynings (Very Good). The B&B lies in the valley off of the walk and therefore not at a start or end point.
Previous days we had driven to the day’s end point then taken a taxi (dogs allowed booking) back to the start point. On one day, for Leg 4, we had taken the train from Amberley Station to Chichester, and then a bus to a start point in the lay by ending from Leg 3. These were new experiences for Merlot our then 9 year old lone tricolour border collie, since joined by his great nephew Malbec.Both MastaMariners
Leaving the car in a lay bys or car parks to be reclaimed with tired and muddy walkers and one dog at that time, is fine if the journey back home is about an hour. As we ventured further east the trip out and back increased, traffic and weary bones starts limiting the enjoyment so more planning for overnight stays and therefore hopes of good weather.
We were lucky on nearly every occasion. On only one day did we have heavy rain at any point and that was on Leg 2 when despite a reasonable forecast our luck did not hold.
Then again there were days with glorious weather, too warm to walk and the problem of water. The heat of summer did lead to some spectacular sights.
There were occasional unexpected stops
Finally in July 2021 we were able to re-start and complete the walk. Two nights staying in the centre of Lewes (pronounced Lew-is) at The White Hart (Needs some TLC). This covered Leg 7 – which was a long leg. Some great views but one very long concrete paved track down hill into Southease followed by a train back into Lewes. Even Malbec making his debut was not impressed.
We ate local meals in the centre with an accompanying local beverage. The beer had to travel across the road!
This was followed by two nights in Eastbourne at the York Hotel on the sea front (nice with a pool and a sea view in a large room!). The legs had fabulous scenery and increasing temperatures.
There is a choice for walkers for the last leg, inland or down to the coast. We chose the coastal route. The leg was tough going covering the walk to the coast from Alfriston, past the Litlington White Horse (across the valley) through to Seven Sisters Country Park and then the Seven Sisters themselves and Beachy Head. A lot of up and down in a roller coaster path, for which the ticket entry was painful knees and more blisters.
Finally a suitable toast with my beautiful wife to complete the walk
Leg 1 – Winchester (elevation 20 feet at Riverside) to Exton – 25th May 2019 – 12 Miles / 19.5 km – two main climbs Cheesefoot Hill 577ft and Beacon Hill 659ft
To celebrate the release of the sequel Sail Chains, my book, Sailing Clear will be free on Kindle from Saturday 19th June Midnight Pacific time through to Monday 21st June – get it while you can.
Sailing Clear Missing girls, missing money, missing man, luxury motor yachts and the people chasing them.
An old MI6 undercover mission to prevent terrorists entering the UK via sex trafficking routes went wrong. The undercover agent is assigned to a new role.
A man lost in the shadows manages the hidden finances of the security services but dreams of a better life sailing the Mediterranean. When he runs off he is hunted, but he may have been killed by an organised crime leader. The police are assigned to find him.
Two sisters run away to Greece from the sexual abuse of their father.
The characters intersect as the hunt commences. Then the security services need to find options to deal with the fallout.
The undercover agent now in her new planning role is assigned to trace the missing financier, but a corrupt cop may give them all away
Available as a Paperback and on Kindle as an e-book. It is part of the Sailing Clear series and a sequel of sorts to Sailing Clear but can be read as a stand-alone. As it provides a tale heavily connected to intelligence systems run by the NSA and GCHQ, there is a forward in the book which can also be found in this blog post
Captain Tom Larring barely escaped alive from a mission in Afghanistan. He now has another task. Effi Miani has been undercover in the Middle east but is needed for the same operation. Together they must find Bravo-One-One who is the highest priority target for MI6. He is believed to be building a chemical weapon in Northwest Pakistan. A previous MI6 operation has already failed. A leak or a traitor inside MI6 may have destroyed that mission, so extra precautions must be taken otherwise, this team will also fail.
Tom and Effi need a faultless back story before embarking on their mission. The operation needs financing and a cover story. The help of a former disgraced MI6 officer, Michelle Houston, and her lover, Hugh Turnbill, is sought. They successfully control the laundering of black funds for the security services whilst sailing clear of the security services. Some of the MI6 leadership wants to gain direct control of the money and the couple, despite previous agreements. They want that control regardless of the risks to the operations in Pakistan. They think they may get leverage using two former teenage runaways connected to the couple.
The hunt for whoever leaked the information continues. Suspicions are raised. The internal security team needs to prevent the traitor putting the financiers and the operation at risk. An MI5 team is on the trail of a suspicious Saudi diplomat. He may be connected to Bravo-One-One.
Closed missions should not be re-opened. The NSA and GCHQ are monitoring and tracing communications using secret programmes and techniques, but some secrets should not be shared with allies.
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