Sand at North Berwick
North Berwick, July 2012

Between other chores I’ve been gathering some photos from recent trips to post here. It always takes forever, so here’s one to tide you over. (Boom, boom.)

21 August 2012

The AFOL Truth

I was never the Lego kid in my family; that was my brother. Over the years, my handful of Lego sets were subsumed into his, leaving me with only one. When it came to toys, my focus was on Matchbox cars and action figures, but I knew the sight and sound of Lego all too well. G. kept it in a divided wooden caddy our Dad had made him, and throughout the summer holidays it would be spread out in the lounge-room somewhere, waiting for someone in bare feet to tread on it.

So there’s some irony in being father to a Lego kid of the 2010s. I’m reliving part of my childhood vicariously through him, but it’s a part that was vicarious in the first place.

Read More · 14 May 2012 · x1

Never Let Me Go

The Lego Show

In the end, we spent all three days at the Lego Show. I’m just about all Lego’d out, but I’ll try to post a proper account of it tomorrow.

7 May 2012 · x1

Manchester Sans Mad

For some reason or other, I’d never been to Manchester before this weekend. Never been to Liverpool, either. I’d been to Chester (man) and Blackpool, but not their big brothers.

Visiting a place for the first time with a five-year-old, and specifically for that five-year-old, is an odd experience. I haven’t done any of the general wandering around to get my bearings that I otherwise would have, so haven’t seen many of the supposedly nice bits yet. Instead, after getting off the train at Manchester Piccadilly, which is surrounded by a jumble of nondescript buildings, we caught a cab to our hotel and then two buses out to the Trafford Centre, the neo-Victorian shopping mall where the Lego Show has been held. Along the way we passed Daniel Libeskind’s striking Imperial War Museum North and the new BBC buildings, but haven’t visited either. On our bus trips up and down Oxford and Wilmslow Roads we’ve been travelling along the “Curry Mile” of Rusholme, which has left Mint Royale running through my head and my tastebuds tingling, but we haven’t eaten there—we ate at Pizza Express last night and the hotel restaurant tonight so that we could avoid scary spices and stick to the bedtime routine. Manchester’s famous nightlife is just up the road, but for this trip it might as well be on the Moon.

But never mind: the Lego, and especially W.’s reaction to the Lego, has been worth it. Two full days of it seem to have satisfied him, so we might get to see something else before we catch the train back tomorrow afternoon. I don’t think it’ll be the War Museum—or, as one of his nursery friends told him it was called, the National Worm Museum (in memory of all those worms who have given their lives for us...). Maybe it’ll be some of the fancier Victorian buildings of the West End. I hope they’re fancier, anyway; so far, Manchester reminds me of the dingier parts of Glasgow or London. But I’m sure my limited exposure to its non-Lego charms isn’t doing it justice.

6 May 2012

The Lego Show

The Lego Show

W. and I have spent the afternoon at the Lego Show in Manchester, and will be back there tomorrow. It’s five-year-old heaven. A fuller report will follow in due course—it’s been a long day of trains, buses and bricks.

5 May 2012

University Library door, Durham

Today I was in Durham for a few hours as the external examiner for a doctoral viva, which went happily for all involved. Afterwards I went for a wander along the River Wear, over the Elvet Bridge, and up the hill to the castle and cathedral, between which are several old university buildings and a grassy square. I’d been to Durham a couple of times before, in 1985 and 2003, and even went on a student-guided tour of the castle the last time, but it was still good to see it again, even if briefly. A shame it was a bit grey there today. GREY. I DIDN’T SAY GRIM. (Actually, I inadvertently did, when I was chatting with the receptionist on my arrival. Oh dear.)

Click on the photo above for a bit of a gallery.

3 May 2012


There was a time when I knew the conversion rate from the pound to the Aussie dollar almost by heart, and from the AUD to the USD, and a few others. But I realised the other day that I hadn’t checked in a long while what the pound was doing against the Aussie. When I did, it wasn’t pleasant.

Read More · 7 April 2012

Jedburgh Abbey
Jedburgh Abbey in the Scottish Borders

A busy week with no time for Great Thoughts Befitting Blog, so here are two more photos from Monday. Mouseover to see the other, or click through if your browser doesn’t like miceovers.

8 March 2012

Now that the saga of our drive back to Scotland from Spain in 2010 is complete, I can at last post this gallery of photos to accompany it, which I put together months ago but couldn’t post without telling its full story:

Volcano Days

Read More · 29 February 2012 · x1

I almost forgot two further ironies of our volcano story. The first was that when our flight was cancelled because of the ash I was in the middle of reading The Black Swan: The Impacts of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Read More · 28 February 2012

Home Stretch

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 7

DATE: 23.4.2010
TIME: 11:23:00
TYPE: stored/sent
STATUS: stored SMS
Paris Gare du Nord with two hours to spare!

Read More · 27 February 2012


Just because: this is the Basque sheep fridge magnet we bought in San Sebastián.

Basque sheep fridge magnet

26 February 2012

La Belle France

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 6

I heard after we were back in the UK that many rental companies closed off the border car-swapping possibility not long after we did ours, presumably so they could charge the extortionate one-way drop-off fees that crossing a border otherwise incurred. Profiteering from customers’ misfortune is always such an attractive trait in a business.

Read More · 25 February 2012


The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 5

DATE: 21.4.2010
TIME: 20:52:00
TYPE: stored/sent
STATUS: stored SMS
San Sebastián very beautiful, looked around old town and sat on beach. William getting tired and missing home now.

Read More · 24 February 2012

The First 550

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 4

Even once we were on the road, our plans were changing. In the rush to make bookings on the Sunday, I had missed one obvious option for the car-swap at the border. As we travelled, I texted our friends so that they could judge for themselves how feasible the plan was, in case they had to do the same a few days later.

Read More · 23 February 2012

Escape Route

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 3

Subject: Making a break for it
From: Rory Ewins
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 2010 22:06:42 +0100

Hi folks,

We’ve decided to stop placing our bets on EasyJet cancellations and rebookings, with the only options extending well into next week (with no guarantee that they’ll eventuate), and to make the journey back overland: a 1500-kilometre drive from Alicante to Paris, Eurostar to London on Friday, and then the drive to Edinburgh. Should be back there on Saturday, nine days after we were supposed to be. It will cost a bundle, two grand by the end of it probably. There goes any summer holiday.

Read More · 22 February 2012


To accompany the latest instalment of The Year of Travel Disasters, here’s the latest gallery at Detail: the Spanish province of Murcia (with a bit of the neighbouring province of Alicante, although not that city itself).

Read More · 21 February 2012

Unfortunate Statistics

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 2

Subject: Stuck in España
From: Rory Ewins
Date: Fri, 16 Apr 2010 23:15:18 +0100

Hi folks,

Well, it had to happen sometime: after countless flights over many years, we are suddenly an Unfortunate Statistic, three of the 100,000 people stranded outside the UK by the volcanic ash from Iceland. Our flight home from our visit to S. and E. in Spain was supposed to be at 11.10 on Thursday; the text cancelling it came through at 5 a.m. At least I read it rather than bundling us all into the car back to Alicante airport and returning the vehicle before realising.

We rebooked for today and extended the car rental; and when it became clear last night that nothing was happening today, we grabbed one of the last remaining EasyJet flights next Monday, taking a punt before they actually cancelled the Friday flight; which they did; and now there are no flights available to Scotland before next weekend, so that was wise. Of course, there may still be no flight on Monday. Fingers crossed for a change in wind direction over the Hebrides.

Read More · 20 February 2012

The Fatal Text

The Year of Travel Disasters, Part 1

The text came through at 5 a.m. Spanish time, just before we were due to get up to head to the airport. At first I thought it must be from a friend of ours who lived in Boston and sometimes texted us lyrics from nightclubs. But it turned out to be far less welcome than that.

DATE: 15.04.10
TIME: 03:50:46
TYPE: received/read
STATUS: received SMS
NAME: easyJet
Your easyJet flight on 15th April 2010 is cancelled due to volcanic ash in the atmosphere. Please check and your email for further details.

Our five-day trip to Spain to visit some friends in a family holiday home was about to get much longer, much more expensive, and much more eventful.

I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since, but the Eyjafjallajökull eruption came at the start of a relentless march of Events, compounded by a relentless march of Work, which together resulted in an eventless Blog. I did write about it at the time, though, in a string of emails to my family. Looking back over them, they’re as effective an account as any. So over the next few days I’m going to post those emails, some SMSs, and two photo galleries from that fortnight in April 2010 (names of friends will be initialized throughout to spare them from the harsh spotlight of fame). It’s the biggest travel disruption I’ve ever experienced, and it’s had some competition before and since, so it deserves more than a 22-month-old promise to write about it someday.

19 February 2012

Travel in 2011