Given that it is impossible to pick up a paper or view a web site at this time of year without encountering a Review of the Year, I felt I couldn’t miss that particular band wagon. So here goes…
Probably of interest only to me and to my fellow tech geeks, the year opened with the purchase of a new camera – a Casio H20G – distinguishable from its predecessor pretty much only by the inclusion of a GPS chip. To me it has been a wonder of the modern world that photographs can have location data embedded in them, and that iPhoto allows them to be displayed on a map. So to have the camera do this automatically (And accurately) is a great advance. This really came into its own in March, as I will mention in a bit.
January also brought a less welcome event in the form of an injury at work which put a big dent in my previously barely blemished sickness record. Still, going out and testing the new camera was good physiotherapy.
The first trip away of the year was a weekend to Gloucester and Cheltenham in March. Not very exotic or adventurous, but we enjoyed our stay in what was then Ramada Jarvis’s Bowden Hall.
Also in February was the inaugural Derby Winter Beer Festival in the newly restored Roundhouse – a superbly atmospheric venue, but the news that an extra Gents toilet is to be in use of the 2012 event is welcome! Requiring users of the only gents toilets at a beer festival to use the main entrance/exit to the venue is a recipe for a large backlog of people. Fine ales were drunk nevertheless.
The rest of winter 2011 passed uneventfully, but as March dawned, the highlight of the year arrived. Regular readers of arewethereyet.org.uk will recall the details of our fabulous trip to San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, California.
San Francisco is a city rich with interesting things to see and do, and we were generally pretty fortunate with the weather. As fascinating as Alcatraz is to visit, I doubt we’d have enjoyed it quite so much without the bright sunshine which accompanied us. Certainly, when the rain came a few days later, it limited the enjoyment of the area a little, but our digs, the Argonaut Hotel, were first class and Kimpton Hotels are a chain to look out for. Once we got mobile with a hire care, however, and began to explore the area outside the city, things – literally – brightened up again. Half Moon Bay on the Pacific coast is a real delight, and to see the sun set over the Pacific surf is a life-long memory. Again, we struck lucky with our choice of place to stay, not least as we started the day with no real clue where we would end up, so it was real ‘pot luck’.
All too soon it was time to fly home, though as a last surprise of the holiday for Kay, we came back in Premium Economy, the extra leg room making it almost – but not quite – a comfortable journey home.
After such a high, life back home was ordinary. We had visit to Royal Crown Derby to see the exhibition of Titanic ephemera. To fair, it was slightly miscast, though had they billed it more accurately as an exhibition of White Star Line material, it wouldn’t have had the same draw. For my part, having lived in or around Derby for 30 years, it was my first visit to the Crown Derby museum, which is actually well worth visit in its own right.As summer approached we had several day trips out into the Peak District to appreciate the beauty on our door step. I took a drive over to the Potteries to successfully seek out the grave of my great-grand parents in Tunstall Cemetery in order to keep my genealogy quest going.
11th May was a highlight – the arrival, at long last, of my iPad2. Though still hard to get, several weeks after their UK launch (they were released when we were in San Francisco, so I’d had a play around with one then), I managed to secure one on-line from John Lewis and hotfooted it over to Nottingham to pick it up. The device has barely left my side ever since, though I admit that this is being typed on my MacBook. As good as the iPad virtual keyboard may be, it still doesn’t lend itself to long, illustrated, blogs.
Also in May, one of several beer drinking highlights in the year – Rail Ale at Barrow Hill. Inevitably it rained (the event wouldn’t be the same without a drizzle finding its way through the engine shed roof!) The vent continued the theme of drinking beer in Midland Railway buildings, which is always fun, and there was – as you’d expect – another fine range of beers to go at.
With June came a domestic upheaval as the incredibly long overdue replacement of my bathroom began. Having lived with the 1970’s burgundy bath and suite, it was definitely past its end of life by the time work started. Not wanting to be in a house for too long without toilet facilities, I upped and went off on my travels. Kay was on holiday with her mother in Spain during this period, so I headed for Dorset.
The first night of my adventure was actually in Birmingham as I went to a concert at the NEC. Originally booked when we thought Kay could go too, I ended up enjoying Journey, Foreigner and Styx all by myself (and a few thousand other crowd members!).
I arrived in Dorset to find it sunny and beautiful as ever. I stopped in the Grand Hotel at Swanage, having secured a good rate on line of course. Though I remember having meals there when Mum lived in Swanage, this was the first time I’d stopped there. Though perhaps living on time os long gone grandeur, it was nevertheless a pleasant hotel to stay at.
I’m not sure if it was the sun (yes, it was that strong) or something I ate, but my last night in Dorset was marred by being slightly under the weather – so much so I didn’t even go out in search of beer from the several excellent pubs in the town (or the hotel bar which served real ale).
Work-wise June was notable for a week’s driving refresher, which was a fun break from routine. Though with a true lack of foresight other part of the job, I would be at the retirement do of my cremate on the course before the year was out!
The summer Derby Beer Festival in July was another opportunity to catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen all year, and my attendance maintained a tradition unbroken since 1983.
A minor ambition was achieved in August, quite by chance as it turned out. Rather like the comment I made above about Crown Derby, in my years living in & around the city, I had never been up the cathedral tower to appreciate the views. As we happened to be passing by one day, it turned out to be one of the infrequent open days, so I rushed back to the car for my camera and went up. Though not the sunniest of days, the weather was fine and the views more than satisfactory. Derby lies in the Derwent Valley, so the view to the south is longest, but even looking down on the city itself presented a unique perspective.
September saw the retirement do of Alan Smith that I alluded to above. Held in the Dolphin at Derby, that was a splendid night with several faces from the past showing up and many memories being recounted. The end of September, as you may recall, was exceptionally hot and warm – an Indian Summer if you will. At the risk of a theme developing in this narrative, I took advantage of that wonderful wether to visit a beer festival – this time at Ripley. So yet again I found myself drinking beer in Midland Railway surroundings as Butterley was the unusual, and very effective, venue for the event.
September also saw the debut of this Blog to an unsuspecting and ill prepared world. Theoretically at least, here I ought to end this recap of the year and everything from hereon should be Blogged. True to my promise not to treat the blog as a diary, however, there should be a fair bit that happened in the later half of 2011 which wasn’t mentioned here.
Autumn eventually came and 14th October found me queueing up outside an O2 shop after a night shift to buy the iPhone 4S. That, of course, was Blogged about so ’nuff said.
Toward the end of October there was another concert, this time with Kay, as well as Nick & Sue. The venue was the Ice Arena in Nottingham and the act was Steve Steinman’s Vampire’s Rock. Apart from a not-so-brief technical hiccup with the sound system, the performance was very good and really entertaining…. not bad for a Meat Loaf tribute!
Into November and a weekend away at Center Parcs. Most enjoyable and probably should have been subject of a blog in itself. In the end, despite taking lots of photos, I didn’t get round to writing about it all. The break coincided with Guy Fawkes, so we were treated to a fireworks display over the lake – an excuse to snap lots of photos, and some of them actually came out alright.
Center Parcs is notable for several things; its “sub tropical paradise”, sports activities and squirrels. True to form, we were adopted to a number of them, and despite their reputation as ‘tree rats’ I have to say they’re quite entertaining creatures. So much so that a calendar made up of photos I took of squirrels formed one of Kay’s christmas presents this year!
The other advantage of Center Parcs is that there’s not one, but two Starbucks in the village. That was attraction enough as far as I was concerned. An ideal place to chill-out. We certainly came back rested and ready to face the onslaught of Christmas!
November culminated with an unusual but very pleasant day out – a steam hauled rail tour. The objective from my point of view (apart from drinking beer with good friends) was that the route of the tour was over several freight only lines in the Burton & Derby area, an unusual opportunity to see the rail network from a different perspective. The tour was very popular with 12 carriages sold out. I’m not a steam aficionado, but even I could appreciate the spectacle of two small pannier tanks slogging their guts out to haul such a long train. The refreshment break at Leicester allowed us to adjourn to the Ale Wagon for several pints and convivial conversation.
Final highlight of the year was another concert, again at the Ice Arena but this time just me and Kay. The concert was opened by a joke of a heavy metal band called Steel Panther (at least I think they were a joke), followed by an incredibly loud and entertaining Mötley Crüe (the drum solo with Tommy Lee and his kit being rotated upside down while he drummed will live with me for a long time) and rounded off by Def Leppard. Though we were toward the back of the arena, we were pretty much central to the stage and so treated to a spectacular view of the stage. At its height (the drum solo) there must have been a thousand camera in the air capturing the performance – but that didn’t stop a steward near us remonstrating with someone for using their camera. Jobsworth!
So Here It Is Merry Christmas, as Noddy Holder once quite profitably said. The year is about up and we now have 2012 to look forward to. Let’s see what that brings…