Saturday, 2 March 2019

Route 38

In a moment of madness I decided that driving the A38 was a challenge I needed to undertake.  It's a local road to me, living in Devon, but I realised it headed far north, nearly to where my daughter is at university.  Driving it became irresistible.

So after visiting her in Sheffield the other Sunday, my friend and I drove to Mansfield to start the big drive south.  This is the first sign we saw.
It doesn't get much more exciting than that. 

I have since found out that I chose to drive the longest double figure A road in the UK.  It is a glorious 470 km plod from Nottinghamshire through the Midlands, the Severn reaches and down to Bodmin in Cornwall.

Sunday afternoon/evening must be one of the best times to drive this.  It trundles through all the big cities on the way south.  Birmingham was quiet, which was a relief, and familiar territory as my other daughter had lived there for 4 years, some of it on Bristol Road (the old A38 as it turns out).
Bristol was a fiddle and I think we lost it at one stage.  Once through this I was on home turf: Bridgwater, Taunton and Wellington.  And then it completely disappeared at Tiverton!  So it was a run down the M5 to Exeter.

Last weekend I finished if off driving from Exeter down to Bodmin.  I always love driving over the Tamar bridge.
And there's even a route 38 cafe to mark this iconic road.
I think next time I drive back from Sheffield, though, I'll stick to the motorways.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Astronomical Clocks of Southwest England

On a roof tour of Exeter Cathedral over the summer I did my usual and swung by the magnificent astronomical clock on my way out.
20180811 Exeter astro clock
Then, in a random conversation with someone, I discovered that Ottery St Mary had one, so off I trogged.
20180923 Ottery astro
I then discovered that there were four of these 14th-16th Century beauties in the south west and, as I'd already found two, it seemed churlish not to bag the other two.  So a month ago I visited Wells Cathedral.This clock dates between 1386 and 1392.
20181013 Wells Cathedral 14.36.07
And then last weekend I finished the set with Wimborne Minster.
20181117 Wimborne Minster 14.23.19
What wonderful creations of art and science these are!  Added to that I had the joy experiencing such amazing architecture of these cathedrals/minsters/churches, such as this unique archway in Wells.
20181013 Wells Cathedral 14.32.20
And this stunning ceiling in Wimborne Minster.
20181117 Wimborne Minster 14.28.07
I listened to a lecture recently about building these cathedrals and I'm in awe at what people achieved without a fraction of the equipment and technology we now have. The reason we still have these ancient buildings is that they are continually maintained.  Being places of worship, they have been cared for over the centuries, unlike castles which sit in ruin.

By the way, if you ever want to see an up-side-down sundial, Wimborne is your place.
20181117 Wimborne Minster 14.45.26
And, oh dear me, I've just found a list of 18 wonderful astronomical clocks.  Exeter and Wells are there - but there are maybe 16 others I now need to find?!



Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Career Lessons Learned: The Tripod of Experience, Qualifications and Networks

I have had a great surveying career and now, as I stand at another crossroads wondering in which direction my career will take me, I have been reflecting.  I have picked up lots of advice during my career but two things have stuck.

A.  Be careful with the impression you leave with others

Be kind and respectful to colleagues, clients and competitors.  One day they may be your competitors, colleagues and clients (note order switch) and we all remember how people have treated us over the years.  Dissing others will come back to bite us.  We have all bad days so be gracious to others when they do.  And hopefully they will to you too.  For sure there are those we hope to never work with again but, by and large, they are thankfully few and far between.

B.  Build a broad and stable career base

By this headline I mean more than just experience.  A colleague once said to me that one's CV is the most important item in your briefcase: you can lose your job and arguably your money, but with a solid CV and reputation you can pick yourself up, brush yourself down, and rebuild yourself.  Wise words indeed.

Your portfolio of experience is just one leg of the tripod to support your career.  Added to this one needs the pillars of professional qualifications and a network you can reach out to.  I worked for 25 years in a large, wonderful and successful organisation.  During that time I gained qualifications and networked extensively.  I was often asked why I bothered with external qualifications since I had a job for life.  Yes, indeed I did if I chose it, but I knew that if we ever parted company I needed a richer career platform.

So now I'm on the road again looking for a change of employment grateful that I have my trusty tripod to support me: my CV containing a wealth of experience, professional qualifications and a network of contacts who may be my future colleagues, competitors or clients.  Let's go and turn another corner.  This amazing career isn't over yet.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Progressive History of the UK Census

As part of my MSc I'm studying social applications of GIS and I read up on the history of the UK census recently.  The Office of National Statistics has a collation of census data taken over the years from its inception in 1801.  It took Britain a while to get into the swing of counting people, some fearing that Biblical plagues would rain on our heads cf King David, or that if our enemies knew how many (or rather few) residents we had they'd invade.  Fortunately, common sense prevailed and the need to know more about the population that they were administrating lead the government to start regular censuses.

Since then censuses (am I the only one that wants to call them 'censii'?)  have occurred every 10 years excepting 1941 when Britain was busy.

The first censuses were quite elementary, compared to the booklet one now has to complete, and undertaken by parish officials or similar due to the lack of literacy from many of the population.  It's interesting to note that in 1821 around half of the population was under the age of 20.  Little by little the census grew: residents became responsible for filling it out themselves although, by 'resident', one meant 'men' or, as the census called them 'Head of the Family'.

One of the key columns in the census during the 19th Century was the requirement to list people's infirmaties.  Initially the option was just 'deaf and/or blind' but over the decades 'imbecle/idiot' or 'lunatic' was added.  Although, as the Registrar noted in 1881

“It is against human nature to expect a mother to admit her young child to be an idiot, however much she may fear this to be true. To acknowledge the fact is to abandon all hope.”

Also in 1881 a woman creatively "gave her title as Maid of Allwork, her occupation as slave and a handicap as scarcity of money."

In 1911 census highlights included the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison hiding in a broom cupboard in the House of Commons, and the census confirmed her residence as such.

One man "...described an occupant of his house as ‘Peter Tabby’ and lists his occupation as ‘mouser’. His nationality is ‘Persian’. The enumerator has crossed out the entry with red ink and noted sternly: ‘This is a cat.’"

Throughout the first half of the 20th Century the census still asked for the Head and details of his wife ("how many times had she been married?" - no idea why that question wasn't relevant for men). No, it doesn't irk me...

In 1971 it appears to be a little more neutral with the questions being pretty generic for both sexes (although still the 'Head' and 'wife').  And, at last!, in 1981, there is no 'Head' just person 1 and person 2 etc.  1991 would have been the first census I completed and, if I'd got there before my husband, I've no doubt I'd have been person 1.  By this stage the census form had grown to 12 pages.

The length dropped to 8 pages for 2001 but was a bumper 24 in 2011.  I wonder what will be in the 2021 one?

Monday, 9 October 2017

Norman Lockyer

On Saturday I visited the Norman Lockyer Observatory out near Sidmouth.  I have known of this place ever since moving to Exeter but never made the effort to get there - until now.  They have fortnightly open evenings and I joined the one called 'The Moon'.
2017-10-07 18.55.01
A lovely sunset from the hill.
2017-10-07 18.55.32
We started with a moon talk, including, during the Q&A session, a teenager posing the statement "I read on the web that the moon landings are fake...."  Oh honestly.  You can find anything you like on the internet nowadays.  [As an aside, the chief geodesist at the Ordnance Survey still has to bat off questions about how he can prove that the earth is not flat.]

We then had a planetarium show.  This is the smallest planetarium I've been to so the show wasn't as whizz, bang and pop as I've experienced before (most notably in Armagh and Cape Town).   The projector was fine however I found that it seemed to illuminate all the stars equally and you couldn't make out the constellations easily despite the narrator waving his red laser pointer at them all in turn.

We then headed out to see Norman's 1881 Kensington telescope with its 9 and 10 inch tubes.  This used to housed at the observatory in South Kensington, however Norman moved his outfit to Sidmouth in 1912 due to excessive light pollution at the London site.  This telescope has to be wound up every 30 minutes or so.
2017-10-07 20.56.15
2017-10-07 20.56.44
After this we visited the Lockyer Technology Centre (LTC) which was fun for two reasons: (a) lots and lots of monitors with geeky realtime information on them and (b) it was warm!  Standing peering through a telescope in an unheated dome is never going to be an occupation that will lure me.

The LTC is geared up for meteor detection and monitors space debris and asteroids.  In fact, asteroid TC4 is heading our way later this week, 11/12 October, and passing within the moon's orbit. However it is unlikely to breach our atmosphere swinging past at a safe 50 000 km overhead.

We finished off back in another cold dome with the Lockyer telescope.  This is a smaller older one, built in 1871 and a mere 6¼ inch lens.  It was set focused on the moon which was very full and bright.  A beautiful sight.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Heading East - Mpumalanga and Swaziland

After the fabulous time in Etosha we had work in Windhoek for nearly a week then flew back to Johannesburg on the Friday.  Martin and I had to be in Swaziland for the Monday and, once again, he thought a safari was in order.  We had planned to stay in Kruger itself but the prices were extortionate so we stayed in Graskop, intending to safari on the Sunday.

On Saturday we drove out of the metropolis of Johannesburg onto the N4 and, after a few hours, stopped at the Alzu Petroport.  My third time now so it's starting to feel local.
20170909 Alzu Petroport  13.21.49
Eland drinking.
20170909 Alzu Petroport  12.24.02
And white rhino loafing around.
20170909 Alzu Petroport  12.23.33
Once you leave the N4 the road winds its way up towards Graskop through some stunning valleys on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment. A long drive but worth it.

We decided that evening that we couldn't fit in a Kruger visit as it would have meant an early start on the Sunday with a large chunk of the day in the car. We had work to do so instead spent the next morning writing up Namibia, enjoyed a pancake lunch (a local speciality apparently) then a took drive around the local area. Our first stop was Bourke's Luck Potholes. Apparently he wasn't a successful gold prospector, but his name has stuck.
20170910 Potholes  14.30.08
20170910 Potholes  14.33.27
Amazing geology.
20170910 Potholes  14.48.50
20170910 Potholes  14.50.33
We then drove to God's Window to see the panoramic view.
20170910 Umbangaland   15.20.26
20170910 Umbangaland   15.20.05
And, finally, we swung by Pilgrim's Rest. This was once the centre of the gold mining business.
20170910 Pilgrims Rest   16.25.20
Martin remembers this from a decade or two ago when it was a thriving tourist town but it has been sadly mismanaged. The souvenir shops are closing, the buildings unmaintained and the tourists, needed to keep the economy pumping, absent.
20170910 Pilgrims Rest   16.19.21
Anyway, a quick drive around and then back accompanied by yet another wonderful African sunset.
20170910 Pilgrims Rest   16.35.37
On Monday we drove down to Swaziland to meet the other RGC'ers at Mananga Lodge in the north east of the country. Oooh, these sunsets are so awesome!
20170911 Managa Sunset  16.39.31
On Tuesday we set to work.
20170912 Managa work 1
Bandile has such a cool shirt :-)
20170912 RGC Bandile
We had lots to discuss and spent the next two days debating current and future business plans. We sat outside all Tuesday and on Wednesday were just settling down when Sipho leapt up off his chair. And I'm not surprised. A snake was slithering out of the arm of it. Bearing in mind Sipho was bitten by a snake earlier this year, and nearly lost his foot due to the infection, he had every right to jump.
20170913 Managa snake    09.49.42
We watched it slide out and off up into the next chair. We elected to sit inside thenceforth...

In the evenings we would braai.
20170914 Camp fire
And sometimes, to break up the work, we'd shop. It's certainly cabbage season in Swaziland.
20170914 Cabbage
During my stay at Mananga I read a tourist brochure and realised that I had hardly explored this country.  I was on my third visit and yet each time we'd pretty much driven in, worked, and then driven out.  I noted that there was a nature area northwest of us which we could drive through on our way back to Johannesburg.  Fortunately, we weren't in a rush so this was do-able and, also fortunately, Martin's car is a 4x4.  That came in handy later.

So we set off towards Piggs Peak in the Hhohho district of Swaziland.  Nice and steady to start with.
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  09.45.22
Then the dirt section started.
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  10.25.20
And the views got more amazing.
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  10.10.03
We had a short stretch of tarmac at one juncture, which literally stopped with ~5 cm drop just outside Piggs Peak town.
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  11.02.03
And then we were back onto the dirt road.  You can imagine how tricky this is to navigate in the wet.
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  11.07.27
This is the main road to the border post of Bulembu/Josefdal but there is an impasse on who should pay for its upgrade.  The road has been partly destroyed by numerous mining HGVs using it - however the owner of the company unsurprisingly isn't interested in paying for the road to be resurfaced and the government is refusing to 100% fund it.  
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  11.11.51
So glad we took this circuitous route. Such scenic views.
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  11.16.58
We stopped for lunch at Bulembu Lodge. Bulembu has a fascinating history shaped by mining, bankruptcy, environmental contamination and Christian orphanages. The wiki link I've provided only tells half the story...
20170915 Driving over Piggs Peak  11.43.39
20170915 Bulembu Lodge 16.56.28
This was a wonderful pit stop. The sort of place you initially would be a dream to live in, until you realise how isolated you'd really be.
20170915 Bulembu Lodge 16.56.33
The border. Small and sweet. Didn't take us a minute to get through.
20170915 Swazi border
20170915 Swazi flag
The views, the views!
20170915 Piggs Peak  12.47.21
And then it was a long drive back on the N4 into Johannesburg. My last African sunset for some time to come.
20170915 M4 sunset 2
20170915 M4 sunset  17.01.21

Monday, 18 September 2017

Etosha National Park

I was back in Namibia late August for work and took the opportunity to travel to Etosha with my co-director, Martin, who couldn't believe that I'd never been on safari.  Well I'd sort of seen a few animals in the bush in Zambia many years ago but nothing on this scale.  And there's little scope for big game viewing in the southwest of England.

We drove from Windhoek up to Okaukeujo, just inside Etosha National Park - circa a 5 hour drive.  We stocked up on supplies before arriving as we knew vegetables would be a limited event on the menu (too true - there was as much meat/game as you could eat - but very little fresh veg).

Anyway, before supper we went down to the waterhole to catch the sunset and see who was down there.  We were armed with cameras, binoculars, cool beers and, because it's me, eau de deet.  In fact that was the overwhelming smell at the waterhole due to the number of spectators there!

What an amazing hour we had there.  We arrived to find a herd of elephants drinking and cooling themselves by spraying themselves with dust.
20170831 Etosha 903
20170831 Etosha 908
20170831 Etosha 917
20170831 Etosha 911
20170831 Etosha 913
It was wonderful just to sit and watch. So peaceful.
20170831 Etosha 921
20170831 Etosha 933
20170831 Etosha 949
As the sun set the zebra arrived, their stripes reflecting magnificently in the water.
20170831 Etosha 953
And then the giraffe swung by.
20170831 Etosha 965
Can't be easy to drink with a neck like that.
20170831 Etosha 968
And that was Thursday evening ... bliss.
20170831 Etosha 970
Friday morning we decided to head down at sunrise. This time the jackals were sniffing around.
20170901 Etosha 0977 Jackal
And springbok.
20170901 Etosha 0979 Springbok
There are circa 30 000 zebra in Etosha so it was no surprise that we kept seeing them.
20170901 Etosha 0985
The reflection of their coats/shadow was wonderful in the rising light.
20170901 Etosha 0988
After breakfast we headed off towards the salt pan stopping at a zebra crossing on the way (boom boom).
20170901 Etosha 0989
We drove slowly on the dirt track, stopping frequently at sightings in the bush and at the waterholes.
20170901 Etosha 0991
20170901 Etosha 0992
An ostrich party.
20170901 Etosha 0996 Ostrich
A giraffe crossing (no joke there then?).
20170901 Etosha 0998
This was an ideal time to visit Etosha as it is the dry season and the animals naturally congregate around the waterholes.
20170901 Etosha 1002
At this waterhole we watched an elephant herd chase another herd off. Martin hadn't seen that happen before: this was a large waterhole with plenty of room for everyone. For some reason the bulls really were not keen to have this other group in any near proximity and chased them off a few times with much stomping, charging, snorting and ear flapping.
20170901 Etosha 1005
Meanwhile the black rhino just stood under a tree. We went back the next day to this same waterhole and he'd turned the other way. Such is the life of a rhino.
20170901 Etosha 1009 Black Rhino
Wildebeest.
20170901 Etosha 1010 Wildebeest
We drove up a short slip onto the salt pans. These apparently look amazing just after the rains have fallen as they turn from dust to carpet greenery. Another visit will be due me thinks.
20170901 Etosha 1014 Salt Pan
20170901 Etosha 1012 Salt Pan
We saw wee creatures too. This is a ground squirrel.
20170901 Etosha 1017 Ground squirrel
And a young kudu buck.
20170901 Etosha 1018
Back after our drive we returned to the camp waterhole to watch the sun go down again. This springbok decided to drink whilst sitting in the middle of the water.
20170901 Etosha 1021
20170901 Etosha 1022
Such amazing colours.
20170901 Etosha 1024
The sun had set and we were just heading back when a whisper went out - "lion!" And there she was.
20170901 Etosha 1025 Lion
Her presence didn't overly bother the buck and giraffe. As Martin pointed out, you could see blood on her muzzle so was obviously deemed 'safe' (in the safe-lioness-terms of 'safe') and everyone left everyone else alone.

On Saturday we had an issue. We only had enough fuel for ~100 km but the campsite fuel station was empty. They didn't announce this until you drove up and they just shook their heads at you. The next nearest fuel pump was 76 km distant - annoyingly this was where we'd driven to only the day before.  So our mission was to drive as economically as possible to Halali camp and hope that their promise of fuel was actually a reality or else we were going to be stuck in camp and miss our meetings in Windhoek.

So we drove at 50 kph as smoothly as possible.  We realised the surrealness of our situation when we turned a corner to find a herd of zebra scattered across the road.  "Blinking zebra, get everywhere," I muttered.  And then I realised just how amazingly privileged I was to be able to say that.

Anyway, zebra notwithstanding we made it to Halali with 3 litres spare in the tank.  I was most relieved as it was 37 deg C outside and I didn't fancy walking far in that.

To celebrate we decided to get some internet vouchers, a cool drink and do some work on the grass; keeping a sharp eye out for the gardener who was in charge of turning on the sprinklers that were placed across the lawn.
20170902 Halali work  12.44.38
Now we were two surveyors in a car and we'd noticed that, as we drove cautiously towards Halali for our fuel, the road signs and the distances on our map differed.  So we decided to have real fun on return journey ("yes, yes, it's just another elephant...") and we checked the map against the odometer as we drove.  We sadly enjoyed our 68 km journey (no, not 76 km as the road signs said and not 64 km as my map did) adding the kilometre distances as we went.

However at one stage I spotted something interesting in the bush and we backed up to take a photo of this hyena. And, yes, we added in the additional 200 m that this added to the odometer...
20170902 Etosha 027 Hyena
As we pottered back suddenly a springbok shot across the road with a jackal hot on its heels.  It turned parallel to the road, in the direction we were driving, and ran for its life.  We tracked it for over  3 km.  It was sprinting at circa 40 kph.  What an amazing race.  We never saw the end as they veered off away from the road but when we last saw them the springbok was still flat out and the jackal was still chasing.  These things are fast.

Once back at the the camp we climbed up their tower to take in the view.
20170902 Etosha 032 Okaukeuja
This is looking towards the Etosha salt pan.
20170902 Etosha 030 Okaukeuja
It was another amazing sunset this night. The clouds added another dimension to the reflections as the sun went down. All very awesome.
20170902 Etosha 035
20170902 Etosha sunset  17.37.47
Lots of giraffe tonight.
20170902 Etosha 038
It was an amazing few days being immersed in the world of wild animals.  It was quiet, still (give or take a springbok/jackal hunt) and a million miles away from the rest of the busy world.

On Sunday we headed back to the real world but, just as we neared the park entrance, we were reminded that we were still in a zone where the wild animals roamed.
20170903 Etosha 050 Lion
20170903 Etosha 051 Lion