Dan Q found GLW4J9AE The Trout Trek

This checkin to GLW4J9AE The Trout Trek reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

A late journey home and a slight diversion brought me up the wonderful Thames Path through Binsey and up to here to find this brilliant cache. It took into the final 150m from the GZ that I realised that really: a bike was NOT the right mode of transportation for this one (see if you can spot my route in the attached photo)! Still I pressed on and got to within 50m of the GZ before having to leave my vehicle behind and brave the nettles, fence, and boggy ground.

Cache in bad condition: missing log and writing implement, mild damage to container. If it’s true that it’s been abandoned I’d be happy to adopt it to keep this great location and cache alive! I’m moderately local (my commute isn’t far away and I’m sometimes caught drinking at the Trout) and I have the perfect replacement container just sitting in my shed ready to go, so I’ll contact the CO.

TFTC. FP awarded. I’m so bored of yet-another-magnetic-nano or city-centre-puzzle that it was genuinely a treat to see a cache that ticks all the boxes of things I love best about the sport.

Cycle trail through the long grass.

Map of 51.77413,-1.2992

Bread Winner

Yesterday, Ruth and I attended a Festive Breads Workshop at the Oxford Brookes Restaurant Cookery and Wine School, where we had a hands-on lesson in making a variety of different (semi-)seasonal bread products. It was a fantastic experience and gave us both skills and confidence that we’d have struggled to attain so-readily in any other way.

Dan wins a certificate for being a Star Baker
I am the Master Baker! The Bread Winner! (Okay, so everybody got one of these certificates…)

The Oxford Brookes Restaurant is a working restaurant which doubles as a place for Brookes’ students to work and practice roles as chefs, sommeliers, and hospitality managers as part of their courses. In addition, the restaurant runs a handful of shorter or day-long courses for adults and children on regional and cuisine-based cookery, knife skills, breadmaking, and wine tasting. Even from the prep room off the main working kitchen (and occasionally traipsing through it on the way to and from the ovens), it was easy to be captivated the buzz of activity as the lunchtime rush began outside: a large commercial kitchen is an awesome thing to behold.

Prep room at the Oxford Brookes Restaurant
Working in our kitchen at home I often have less space than my entire work area in this, the smallest room of the Brookes’ kitchens.

By early afternoon we’d each made five different breads: a stollen, a plaitted wreath, rum babas, a seeded flatbread, and a four-strand woven challah. That’s plenty to do (and a good amount of standing up and kneading!), but it was made possible by the number of things we didn’t have to do. There was no weighing and measuring, no washing-up: this was done for us, and it’s amazingly efficiency-enhancing to be able to go directly from each recipe to the next without having to think about these little tasks. We didn’t even have to run our breads in and out of the proofing cupboard and the ovens: as we’d be starting on mixing the next dough, the last would be loaded onto trays and carried around the kitchens.

Bread making class at Oxford Brookes Restaurant.
Start from the right and weave to the left: over, under, over. Repeat.

The tuition itself was excellent, too. The tutors, Amanda and Jan, were friendly and laid-back (except if anybody tried to short-cut their kneading of a wet dough by adding more flour than was necessary, in which case they’d enter “flour police” mode and start slapping wrists) and clearly very knowledgeable and experienced. When I struggled at one point with getting a dough ball to the consistency that was required, Jan stepped in and within seconds identified that the problem was that my hands were too warm. The pair complemented one another very well, too, for example with Amanda being more-inclined than Jan towards the laissez-faire approach to ingredient measurement that I prefer when I make bread, for example.

Ruth shapes her woven challah loaf.
It looked a little lopsided at this point, but Ruth’s challah looked among the best of all of them among the final products.

The pace was fast and Ruth in particular struggled early on to keep up, but by the end the entire group – despite many hours on our feet, much of it kneading stiff doughs – were hammering through each activity, even though there was a clear gradient in the technical complexity of what we were working on. And – perhaps again thanks to the fantastic tuition – even the things that seemed intimidating upon first glance (like weaving four strands of dough together without them sticking to one another or the surface) weren’t problematic once we got rolling.

Glazing and seeding bread before it goes into the oven.
Having great equipment like large hot ovens, a proofing cupboard, and an endless supply of highly-active live (not dried) yeast might have helped too.

Our hosts, apparently somehow not having enough to do while teaching and supervising us, simultaneously baked a selection of absolutely delicious bread to be served with our lunch, which by that point was just showing-off. Meanwhile, we put the finishing touches on our various baked goods with glazes, seeds, ribbons, and sugar.

Dan and Ruth's challah, between two others.
Dan and Ruth’s challah. Ruth’s is the one with white sesame seeds; Dan’s is the one with poppy seeds to the left of it.

And so we find ourselves with a house completely full of amazingly-tasty fresh bread – the downside perhaps of having two of us from the same household on the same course! – and a whole new appreciation of the versatility of bread. As somebody who makes pizza bases and, once in a blue moon, bread rolls, I feel like there’s so much more I could be doing and I’m looking forward to getting more adventurous with my bread-making sometime soon.

Ruth among the challah, stollen, and wreaths.
Tired-but-proud would be a pretty good description of Ruth here, I think.

I’d really highly recommend the Brookes Restaurant courses; they’re well worth a look if you’re interested in gaining a point or two of Cooking skill.

Dan Q found GLGJ74TY villaflou

This checkin to GLGJ74TY villaflou reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Je parle un peu le français. Je me excuse pour la rédaction du présent en anglais.

I have been staying in La Tania on a ski holiday with friends and family. This morning, I fell and her my neck, so I thought I’d take a break from skiing and do some geocaching instead. The hike down the valley was hard in the fresh dump of snow, and I wished that I’d brought snowshoes! Or poles! Our even a rope! I routinely found myself wading through knee-high snow, and I’d ocassionally have to traverse drifts that came up to my thigh. I was very glad to reach the convenient break point of La Nouva, where I stopped to chat to a small yappy dog before pressing on.

Villaflou itself is beautiful: I especially love the cute little chapel at its heart. I spent some time investigating the wrong thing, looking for the cache, before eventually working out where it might be. Only the 5th person to find it!

On the way back to La Tania (an even more arduous hike by a different route that I thought would be easier but truly wasn’t) I was distracted by two French ladies calling me over. They were lost, having taken a wrong turn, and – perhaps as a result of them being 4 and 6 months pregnant, respectively – were finding it very hard to push themselves up the mountainside against what was now ocassionally waist-deep snow. Naturally I came to their rescue, using my GPSr to lead them up to the path they sought: a further arduous journey of pushing, pulling, digging, and crawling until we finally reached the outskirts of La Tania and they were assured of their safety.

Four hours of hiking in snow, sometimes up to my waist and rescuing two lost hikers makes this perhaps the hardest I’ve ever worked for a geocache. And I loved it.

FP awarded. SL. MPLC/TFTC!

Map of 45.438,6.59925

Devon – the trip we’ll never forget

[spb_message color=”alert-warning” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”]Update: following feedback from folks who found this post from Twitter, I just wanted to say at the top of this post – we’re all okay.[/spb_message]

Our holiday in Devon last week turned out to be… memorable… both for happy holiday reasons and for somewhat more-tragic ones. Selected features of the trip included:

Croyde

A Fish & Chip shop in Croyde
This pile of breezeblocks on the edge of a camp site was perhaps the sketchiest fish & chip shop we’d ever seen. Not bad grub, though!

We spent most of the week in Croyde, a picturesque and tourist-centric village on Devon’s North coast. The combination of the life of a small village and being at the centre of a surfer scene makes for a particularly eccentric and culturally-unusual place. Quirky features of the village included the bakery, which seemed to only bake a half-dozen croissants each morning and sell out shortly after they opened (which was variably between 8am and 9am, pretty much at random), the ice cream shop which closed at lunchtime on the hottest day of our stay, and the fish & chip shop that was so desperate to “use up their stock”, for some reason, that they suggested that we might like a cardboard box rather than a carrier bag in which to take away our food, “so they could get rid of it”.

Annabel on the beach with Ruth and JTA
“You’ve never seen a beach before, have you? Isn’t this exciting?”
/stares in wonderment at own thumbs/

The Eden Project

Annabel looks out over the Eden Project
In the right dome, a Mediterranean climate. In the left, a jungle. In both, lots of things for Annabel to try to grab hold of and put in her mouth.

Ever since it opened in the early 2000s, I’d always wanted to visit The Eden Project – a group of biome domes deep in the valley of a former Cornish quarry, surrounded by gardens and eco-exhibitions and stuff. And since we’d come all of the way to Devon (via Cardiff, which turns out to be quite the diversion, actually!), we figured that we might as well go the extra 90 miles into Cornwall to visit the place. It was pretty fabulous, actually, although the heat and humidity of the jungle biome really did make it feel like we were trekking through the jungle, from time to time.

Annabel gets a drink in the cool room.
The jungle biome was a little hot for poor Annabel, and she was glad to get into the cool room and have a drink of water.

Geocaching

Stile to an overgrown path; Devon.
In Devon, nipple-high grass counts as a “footpath”.

On one day of our holiday, I took an afternoon to make a 6½ mile hike/jog around the Northern loop of the Way Down West series of geocaches, which turned out to be somewhat gruelling on account of the ill-maintained rural footpaths of North Devon and taking an inadequate supply of water for the heat of the afternoon.

Very badly-maintained footpath in North Devon.
Seriously, Devon: if I need to bring a machete, it’s not a bridleway.

On the upside, though, I managed to find 55 geocaches in a single afternoon, on foot, which is more than three times my previous best “daily score”, and took me through some genuinely beautiful and remote Devon countryside.

Dan with GC24YCW - Way Down West 105
GC24YCW (“Way Down West 105”) was the last in my 55-cache series, and my body was glad of it.

Watermouth Castle

We took an expedition out to Watermouth Castle, which turned out to be an experience as eccentric as we’d found Croyde to be, before it. The only possible explanation I can think of for the place is that it must be owned by a child of a hoarder, who inherited an enormous collection of random crap and needed to find a way to make money out of it… so they turned it into something that’s 50% museum, 50% theme park, and 100% fever dream.

ABBA Robots at Watermouth Castle
A group of animatronic robots playing automatic-organ versions of ABBA songs greet you at Watermouth Castle. And then things get weird.

There’s a cellar full of old bicycles. A room full of old kitchen equipment. A room containing a very large N-gauge model railway layout. Several rooms containing entertainments that would have looked outdated on a 1970s pier: fortune tellers, slot machines, and delightfully naïve peep-show boxes. A hedge maze with no exit. A disturbingly patriotic water show with organ accompaniment. A garden full of dancing gnomes. A hall of mirrors. A mock 1920s living room. A room full of primitive washing machines and their components. The whole thing feels schizophrenic, but somehow charming too: like a reminder of how far entertainment and conveniences have come in the last hundred years.

Baggy Point

Ruth, JTA and Annabel on Baggy Point
The tip of Baggy Point gave me vibes of Aberystwyth’s own Constitution Hill, with the exception that it was sunny at Baggy Point.

We took a hike out to beautiful Baggy Point, a beautiful headland stretching out into the Atlantic to make it the Easternmost point in North Devon. It was apparently used by soldiers training for the D-Day landings, but nowadays it seems mostly to be used to graze goats. The whole area made me reminisce about walks to Borth along the Ceredigion coast. Unfortunately for Ruth and JTA, who headed back to our accommodation before me, I’d failed to hand them the key to the front door before we parted ways and I went off to explore the rest of the headland, and in my absence they had to climb in through the window.

The Collision

For all of the wonderful things we got up to in Devon, though – everything above and more besides – the reason that we’ll no-doubt never forget this particular trip came as we set off on our way home.

[spb_message color=”alert-warning” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”]Warning: this section discusses a tragic car accident.[/spb_message]

About an hour after we set off for home on our final day in Devon, we ended up immediately behind a terrible crash, involving two cars striking one another head-on at an incredible speed. We saw it coming with only seconds to spare before both vehicles smashing together, each thrown clear to a side of the road as a cloud of shattered glass and metal was flung into the air. JTA was driving at this point, and hit the brakes in time to keep us clear of the whirling machines, but it was immediately apparent that we were right in the middle of something awful. I shouted for Ruth and JTA to see what they could do (they’re both Red Cross first aiders, after all) as I phoned the emergency services and extracted our location from the SatNav, then started working to ensure that a path was cleared through the traffic so that the ambulances would be able to get through.

Police car in Devon
Ambulances, fire engines, and police cars arrived quickly, or so it felt: honestly, my perception of time at this point was completely shaken.

A passer-by – an off-duty police officer – joined Ruth and I in performing CPR on one of the drivers, until paramedics arrived. My first aid training’s rusty compared to Ruth and JTA’s, of course, but even thinking back to my training so long ago, I can tell you is that doing it with a real person – surrounded by glass and oil and blood – is a completely different experience to doing it on a dummy. The ambulance crew took over as soon as they arrived, but it seems that it was too late for her. Meanwhile the driver of the other car, who was still conscious and was being supported by JTA, hung on bravely but, local news reported, died that afternoon in hospital. Between the two cars, two people were killed; the third person – a passenger – survived, as did a dog who was riding in the back of one of the cars.

The emergency services from a distance
Once we’d handed over to the emergency services, we retreated to a safe distance and, for perhaps the first time, began to contemplate what we’d seen.

I am aware that I’ve described the incident, and our participation in its aftermath, in a very matter-of-fact way. That’s because I’m honestly not sure what I mean to say, beyond that. It’s something that’s shaken me – the accident was, as far as I could see, the kind of thing that could happen to any of us at any time, and that realisation forces upon me an incredible sense of my own fragility. Scenes from the experience – the cars shattering apart; the dying driver; her courageous passenger – haunt me. But it feels unfair to dwell on such things: no matter what I feel, there’s no way to ignore the stark truth that no matter how much we were affected by the incident… the passenger, and the families and friends of those involved, will always have been affected more.

It took hours for us to get back on the road again, and the police were very apologetic. But honestly: I don’t think that any of us felt 100% happy about being behind the wheel of a car again after what had just happened. Our journey back home was slow and cautious, filled with the images of the injuries we’d seen and with a newly acute awareness of the dangers of the glass-and-metal box we sat inside. We stopped at a service station part-way home, and I remarked to Ruth how surreal it felt that everybody around us was behaving so normally: drinking a coffee; reading a paper; oblivious to the fact that just a few tens of miles and a couple of hours away, people just like them had lost their lives, doing exactly what they were about to go and do.

It’s all about perspective, of course. I feel a deep sorrow for the poor families of the people who didn’t make it. I feel a periodic pang of worry that perhaps there were things I could have done: What if I’d have more-recently practised first aid? What if I’d more-quickly decoded our position and relayed it to the operator? What if I’d have offered to help Ruth immediately, rather than assuming that she had sufficient (and the right kind of) help and instead worked on ensuring that the traffic was directed? I know that there’s no sense in such what-if games: they’re just a slow way to drive yourself mad.

Maybe I’m just looking for a silver lining or a moral or something in this story that I just can’t find. For a time I considered putting this segment into a separate blog post: but I realised that the only reason I was doing so was to avoid talking about it. And as I’m sure you all know already, that’s not a healthy approach.

Right now, I can only say one thing for certain: our holiday to Devon is a trip I’ll never forget.

Dan Q found GLE7H2JG Swing Lower (Historic Site)

This checkin to GLE7H2JG Swing Lower (Historic Site) reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

After my visit the other day, I went home, read some of the logs, and thought about this cache. Boards? Boards are something that people worry about when they’re not Batman. A cache that’s placed in the middle of dead space? That’s not a problem Batman would have. I can be Batman, sure. I AM BATMAN!

So today, I finished work, changed into a set of loose clothing (that I could comfortably climb in and wouldn’t mind having to swim in if I had to), rallied my coworker and fellow ‘cacher kateevery to act as my eyes-on-land – and my photographer – and set out to the bridge.

The boards on the side I opted to start my expedition from were a little more-troublesome – stretching farther out over the water – than the one I’d taken on before, but that hardly mattered: today, I was Batman. A grab and a leap, and I was on the other side. Next came the tough bit – the crossing: no Bat-Belt; no Batarang… but I still had my pure Batmanosity. Leaping up and bracing myself against the beams, I began shuffling across. Just as I began to tire, kateevery – my very own Robin – called out, “just four more steps”, exactly the motivation I needed to complete my crossing and grab the cache.

Totally great location. Totally Batman expedition. Totally adding this cache to my favourites.

EDIT: I’ve now written a blog post about the experience – https://danq.me/2014/05/18/batman-geocaching/

The epic (and challenging) geocache GC13WZQ.

Map of 51.75557,-1.27013

Surprises, e.g. a Brother-in-Law

Last weekend was an exciting and unusual experience, full of exciting (expected) things interspersed with a handful of exciting (unexpected) things. Let’s go chronologically:

Thursday/Friday – Mario, Magic, Marriage

I left work, picked up a rental car (having unfortunately forgotten to take my counterpart driving license to the rental place, I had the choice of either cycling for an hour to collect it or else paying a fiver for them to run a DVLA check, and I opted for the latter on the grounds that an hour of my time (especially if I have to spend it cycling back and forth along the same stretch of road) is worth more to me than a picture of Elizabeth Fry. I drove home, packed a bag, said goodbye to Ruth, JTA, and Annabel, and drove up to Preston.

"I just found this card."
“I just found this card; is it yours? Maybe it will be, later.”

There, I spent most of Friday playing the new Mario game with my sister Becky, gave a few small performances of magic (did I mention I’m doing magic nowadays? – guess that’ll have to wait for another blog post) at various places around Preston, and went out for a curry with my mother, my sisters Becky and Sarah, and Sarah’s boyfriend Richard. So far, so ordinary, right? Well that’s where things took a turn. Because as Becky, our mother, and I looked at the drinks menu as we waited for Sarah and her boyfriend to turn up… something different happened instead.

Sarah and Richard announce to the rest of the family that they're now married.
Never before in our family has a marriage been conducted with so little pomp nor pre-planning. Except for our mother’s, of course.

Sarah turned up with her husband.

It turns out that they’d gotten married earlier that afternoon. They’d not told anybody in advance – nobody at all – but had simply gone to the registry office (via a jewellers, to rustle up some rings, and a Starbucks, to rustle up some witnesses) and tied the knot. Okay; that’s not strictly true: clearly they had at least three weeks planning on account of the way that marriage banns work in the UK. Any case case, I’ve suddenly got the temptation to write some software that monitors marriage announcements (assuming there are XML feeds, or something) and compares them to your address book to let you know if anybody you know is planning to elope, just to save me from the moment of surprise that caught me out in a curry house on Friday evening.

Richard pushes Sarah around Sainsburys.
Tie some cans behind that trolley and spray “just married” on it in shaving foam, would you?

So it turns out I’ve acquired a brother-in-law. He’s a lovely chap and everything, but man, that was surprising. There’ll doubtless be more about it in Episode 32 of Becky’s “Family Vlog”, so if there was ever an episode that you ought to watch, then it’s this one – with its marriage surprise and (probably) moments of magic – that you ought to keep an eye out for.

Saturday/Sunday – Distillery, Drinking, Debauchery

Next, I made my way up to Edinburgh to meet up with Matt R and his man-buddies for a stag night to remember. Or, failing that, a stag night to forget in a drunken haze: it’s been a long, long time since I’ve drunk like I did on that particular outing. After warming up with a beer or two in our hotel room, the five of us made our way to the Glenkinchie Distillery, for a wonderful exploration into the world of whiskies.

Still #1 at the Glenkinchie Distillery.
It’s hard to appreciate how large the pair of stills at Glenkinchie are, if you’ve only seen the stills at other Scottish distilleries before. See the people in the background, for scale.

And then, of course, began the real drinking. Four or five whiskies at the distillery bar, followed by another beer back in the hotel room, followed by a couple more beers at bars, followed by another four whiskies at the Whiski Rooms (which I’d first visited while in Edinburgh for the fringe, last year), followed by a beer with dinner… and I was already pretty wiped-out. Another of the ‘stags’ and I – he equally knackered and anticipating a full day of work, in the morning – retired to the hotel room while the remainder took Matt out “in search of a titty bar” (a mission in which, I gather, they were unsuccessful).

The Glenkinchie Distillery bar.
The Glenkinchie Distillery bar carries a full range of Diageo Scotch whiskies, plus a handful of other brands, and expert staff are on hand to help with tasting.

Do you remember being in your early twenties and being able to throw back that kind of level of booze without so much as a shudder? Gosh, it gets harder a decade later. On the other hand, I was sufficiently pickled that I wasn’t for a moment disturbed by the gents I was sharing a room with, who I should re-name “snore-monster”, “fart-monster”, and “gets-up-a-half-dozen-times-during-the-night-to-hug-the-toilet-bowl-monster”. I just passed out and stayed that way until the morning came, when I went in search of a sobering double-helping of fried food to set me right before the long journey back to Oxford.

All in all: hell of a stag night, and a great pre-party in anticipation of next weekend’s pair of weddings… y’know, the ones which I’d stupidly thought would be the only two couples I knew who’d be getting married this fortnight!

Second Time Lucky

At the end of 2012, I shared some sad news: that Ruth and JTA had suffered a miscarriage. It was a tragic end to a tragic year.

I just wanted to share with you something that we’ve all kept quiet about until now, until we all felt confident that we weren’t likely to have a repeat of that tragedy: as Ruth just mentioned on her blog, too, she’s pregnant again! With a due date of New Year’s Eve there’s plenty of time for us to get settled into our new house before then, but it looks like she’s still going to find herself excused of all of the heavy lifting during the move.

Needless to say, this is all incredibly exciting news on New Earth, and we’ve had to bite our tongues sometimes to not tell people about it. Apologies to those of you who’ve invited us to things (e.g. at Christmas and New Years’) that we’ve had to quietly turn down without explanation – at least now you know!

I’m sure there’ll be lots to say over the coming months. I can’t promise as thorough updates as Siân‘s fantastic pregnancy blogging, but we’ll see what we can do.

Dan Q found GLBERMGT Summit or Submit

This checkin to GLBERMGT Summit or Submit reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Went up the PYG track this weekend with the TransAid team, raising money in memory of my father (who was killed when he fell from a cliff last year, while in training for a sponsored trip to the North Pole). Whlie the stragglers made their way up to the summit, I whipped out my GPSr and found this wonderful little cache (pretty sure it wasn’t here when I last came up Snowdon, in early 2006).

A glorious day, marred only by the ludicrous number of walkers that had come out to make the most of it – the top was heaving with people!

Didn’t have a pen with me, and there wasn’t one in the cache. I’ve taken a photo of myself holding the cache (which I’ll provide on-demand, but in order not to spoil the cache for others I’ve not included it: instead see attached a photo of my group at the summit – I’m the guy at the front with his arms out; I’ve just run up from where the cache is in order to get into the picture at the last second!).

TransAid team atop Snowdon

Map of 53.06868,-4.07653

Dan Q found GLBC0T42 The runaway prince

This checkin to GLBC0T42 The runaway prince reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Off for an afternoon’s caching with tajasel, we decided on a whim against our plan to go down the Thames Path and instead found ourselves further West, in Radley Wood. We spotted this cache listing, and thought we’d give it a go… and we’re really glad we did! A fantastic cache with a wonderful puzzle theme; the “decoder” is a wonderful idea; I really love it. Thanks for a great cache!

Map of 51.70552,-1.25012

Dan Q found GLB6RP12 Not much room?

This checkin to GLB6RP12 Not much room? reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

My 100th cache find turned out to be also my most-Southerly find so far, and also turned out to be a most-spectacular little hiding place. After walking up and down the path a bit with fleeblewidget and her mother, while our GPSrs got their bearings, we managed to pinpoint the location almost exactly, but we were still clueless. Eventually, it was fleeblewidget‘s mother – completely new to caching – who decided to investigate what turned out to be exactly what we were looking for! A most-wonderful cache; thanks!

Log full, unable to sign.

Map of 49.19302,-2.16885

Top of the World

This Saturday, my dad finally made it to the North Pole. Or, at least: some of him did.

Members of the polar trek team in training in Norway, last month.
Members of the polar trek team in training in Norway, last month. With thanks to Geoff Major (click photo for his blog post about the training).

My dad was killed in February while training for his planned exhibition to the North Pole, fundraising for charity TransAid. Since his funeral last month, my life’s been a whirlwind of emotional ups and downs and administrative challenges with the handling of his estate, of which I’m an executor.

Geoff Major's tweet about my dad reaching his destination.
Geoff Major’s tweet about my dad reaching his destination.

So it was a really special moment to discover that, this weekend, my dad finally made it to the pole. My sisters and I had arranged that a portion of his cremated ashes would be carried with the polar trek team and scattered at what must be one of the most remote places on Earth – the very top of the world. It’s nice to think that not even death was enough to stop my dad from getting to the planet’s most Northernmost spot, even if he had to be carried for the last 600 miles.

My dad, "dressed for cold weather", according to my sister.
My dad, “dressed for cold weather”, according to my sister.

Meanwhile, donations flooded in faster than ever to my dad’s fundraising page, taking the grand total to over £12,000 – significantly in excess of the £10,000 he’d hoped to raise. My family and I are gobsmacked with the generosity of the people who’ve donated, and incredibly grateful to them as well as to the team that took him on the last ten days of his journey to the Pole.

The fundraising total, according to JustGiving.
The fundraising total, according to JustGiving. A significant amount of money was also raised offline, via donations at or around my dad’s wake, and is not included in this already-impressive total.

It pleases me that my dad gets to trespass somewhere he shouldn’t be, one last time: this time, breaking the international conventions that require that nothing gets “left” at the North Pole. The remainder of my fathers ashes will be scattered by my sisters and I from the top of a particular mountain, as he’d sometimes said that he’d wanted.

And after all of these adventures, I think he deserves to get what he wants. With no apologies for the pun: he’s urn‘d it!

Ashes to Ashes (The Funeral of Peter Huntley)

Friday was the day of my dad’s funeral. If you’ve just tuned in, you might like to see my blog post about his death, and a second article about the things that have been hardest, so far, in its aftermath. I’m not inclined to say too much, so I’ll be brief and let pictures, and a video, tell the story. As usual, you’ll find that you can click on the pictures to enlarge them.

A convoy of buses arrive to deliver attendees to the funeral.

A remarkable number of people turned up to mark my dad’s passing on this sad occasion. I was genuinely surprised to see how many lives he’d touched (and to hear about a great many more from people who couldn’t make it). About 350 people struggled to fit in to the cramped crematorium, and many had to stand outside where – thankfully – there were repeater speakers.

The buses with digital display boards, provided by Stagecoach, had been reprogrammed to show my dad’s name and years of life.

My sisters and I were determined that this event would be a celebration of our father’s life. So rather than focusing on his tragic and premature death, we made every effort to commemorate his achievements and reinforce the lessons that we can all learn from his time with us. In a similar vein, we’d told everybody that we had the chance to that there was no need to wear black for this funeral: that people should wear what’s appropriate to them for their personal act of mourning and remembrance.

In memory of my dad, I wore his old-style bus driver’s license badge, as well as wearing both socks and sandals together, as he often would.

We’d hired a former minister, Ken Howles, to provide a (thoroughly secular, under threat of non-payment!) framework for the service, but we “rolled our own” so far as possible. Seven individual tributes and eulogies were given by people representing different aspects of my dad’s life: from my mother, from his partner, from the friend with whom he was walking on the day he died, from the managing directors of the company he founded and the company he last worked for, from the chief executive of the charity he was fundraising for, and – finally – from me.

(if you can’t view the YouTube video above, or if you want to share it with others, you can also view it on YouTube)

The contrast between the different tributes was stark and staggering, reflecting the huge variety in the different facets of my father’s life. From guerrilla gardening to trainspotting, lessons learned to tyres pulled, we collectively painted a picture of the spectrum of my dad’s life. The tributes given were, in order:

  • My mother, Doreen (watch), who talked about their adventures together as young adults and the roots of his career in transport
  • His partner, Jenny (watch), who shared the experiences they’d had together, and mourned for those that they would not
  • His friend, John (watch), who let us in on the things that they’d talked about during my dad’s final hours
  • Adrian, the managing director of the company my dad founded (watch), on his success in the world of transport consultancy, and working with him
  • A break in the middle to watch a video of my dad singing karaoke
A picture of the “Celebration of Life” order of service that we distributed at the funeral. Click on the picture to download the original (which includes a list of some of the charities my dad supported) as a PDF.


  • Kevin, the managing director of Go North-East (watch), on the subject of my dad’s recent career and influence on British transport
  • Gary, chief executive of TransAid (watch), announced the future creation of the Peter Huntley Fundraising Award, and thanked my dad and his supporters on behalf of the dozens of charities my dad helped
  • And finally, me (watch), contrasting all of the above by talking about what my dad was like as a father and a friend, and the lessons we can learn from him

If you can’t watch YouTube where you are, you can also read the full text of my personal eulogy here.

JTA serves butter pie, mushy peas, and hotpot – classic Lancashire comfort foods – to guests at the wake.

Afterwards, we held a wake at Grimsargh Village Hall which, on account of the sheer number of bus industry attendees, rapidly became a micro-conference for the public transport sector! It was great to have the chance to chat to so many people who’d worked with my dad in so many different contexts.

Mourners gather near the (convenient!) bar at Grimsargh Village Hall. I’ve decided: all wakes should have a bar.

Between hot food provided by a local caterer, cold savories courtesy of Jenny’s daugher Eppie, and a copious quantity of cakes baked by Ruth, there was an incredible superfluity of food. These two, plus JTA, Paul, and Eppie’s boyfriend James, provided a spectacular level of “behind-the-scenes” magic, keeping everything running smoothly and ensuring that everything happened as and when it was supposed to.

Among other things, Ruth baked biscuits in the shape of buses, decorated in the colours of the different routes that my dad rebranded during his time at Go North-East.

We set up a “memory book”, in which people could write their recollections of my dad. I haven’t had time to read much of it yet, but one of them stands out already to me as a concise and simple explanation of what we achieved at the crematorium that day. It reads:

“Great funeral, Peter. Sorry that you missed it.”

It was certainly a great send-off for a man who did so much for so many people. Thank you so much to everybody who made it such a success, and to everybody who, in the meantime, has donated to TransAid via my dad’s JustGiving page (or by giving us cash or cheques at or after the funeral). You’re helping his memory live on, for everybody: thank you.

My dad didn’t teach me to drive. But he did teach me to read a bus timetable. Thanks, dad. I love you.

Full Stop

Update: the funeral will take place at 4pm on Friday 2nd March, at Preston Crematorium.

On Sunday, my dad died.

And honestly, I’m not sure what else to say. There’s nothing else left to say. It felt like my tweet – like all tweets – said too little, too. But I didn’t want to keep anybody in the dark about this tragic news, so… well…

As I mentioned in December, my dad had planned a sponsored expedition to the North Pole, this April, in order to raise money for TransAid, a charity about whose work he was passionate. As part of his training, he was up on High Street, a fell in the Lake District, with his friend John. There, he lost his footing and slipped, falling over a 200 foot precipice. He was discovered to be dead when the air ambulance arrived; almost certainly killed pretty much instantaneously by the fall.

My dad, doing what he loved the most: taking on the world and braving the elements.

Since then, I’ve been in Preston, where my sisters, our mother, my dad’s partner, and our friends have been trying to come to terms with this tragic loss, and to make arrangements for his funeral. We’re keeping busy, which is probably for the best, right now. I’d like to say thank you to everybody who’s sent cards, emails, or text messages: your thoughts and sympathies are really appreciated, and I apologise that there simply hasn’t been time to reply to you all individually.

My dad died doing what he loved: exploring the outdoors, walking, climbing, and pushing his limits, in aid of a worthy cause that meant a lot to him. He was in incredible physical fitness, and I’d always suspected that 15 years from now, with him in his 70s and I in my 40s, he’d still have been able to outpace me on a scramble up Helvellyn’s Striding Ridge.

I’m sad that that’s a theory that I’ll never be able to put to the test. I’m sad that my dad never lived long enough to see if he’d have any grandchildren. I’m sad that the world is so cruel as to deny us all those conversations left unfinished and those mountains left unconquered. I’m even sad that I’ll never again get an out-of-the-blue call from him on some Saturday afternoon because he  can’t work out how to use his printer, or fix his Internet connection.

And I still don’t know what to say. So for now, at least, that’s all.

Update: Added photo and funeral info.

Argh, It Burns! Night

This weekend the other Earthlings and I celebrated Burns Night. Of course, we’re just a little bit eccentric between the four of us to celebrate it like normal people, so we decided to apply a little bit of a twist to a tried-and-tested theme.

A traditional Burns Night consists of a hearty meal of haggis, ‘neeps and tatties, drinking of whisky, and the recitation of songs, poems, and stories (with a particular emphasis on works by the poet himself). We all enjoy a nice haggis – albeit a veggie one, which I dubbed a vaggis, for Ruth and Paul – and a dram or two of decent whisky – with the exception of Paul, who substituted a series of Irn-bru-themed cocktails – so these aspects were kept intact. But we decided to swap out the traditional songs, poetry and storytelling for something a little more contemporary…

In our newly-invented, “Argh, It Burns! Night”, attendees each perform a reading of the worst piece of fan fiction that they can possibly find. There’s a wealth of truly awful fan fiction in the world, and we wanted to do justice to it by performing readings and voting on which was the most awful, or most entertainingly terribly. I suppose this was inevitable: after Troma Night gave us years of watching the worst films imaginable, the next step had to be to expand to other media.

After finishing our supper and fortifying ourselves with a drink or two, we drew lots to determine who was to go first. JTA began.

JTA begins his reading.

JTA had chosen to read Guywars, by Josh Vandergriff, a strange crossover between the Monkey Island and Star Wars franchises, with an embarrassing number of “jokes” stolen verbatim from Spaceballs. Depite lurching between the past and present tense and riddled with humour a little immature even for the playground, we couldn’t help but laugh out loud at some of the accidental moments of literary genius, like this gem:

Guyvador [a Darth Vader-like character] breaths like someone breathing out of a paper bag might breath, only without that great lunchy smell.

Paul and Ruth appreciating the... umm... "art?"

Next up was Ruth, who shared with us all Garfield: First Blood, the first in a two part series of stories in which Garfield repeatedly rescues Natalie Portman from vampire gangsters. And I’m ashamed to say that I really enjoyed this piece. Not because it was good – far from it – but because it was so beautifully awful.

“HAHA Garfield!, We demand the blood Bank of USA give us 600 million gallons of blood, all in one hundred dollar bills or else we will be making evening breakfast out of Natalie Portman!” Said the head Vampire Gangster with menace.

I’m honestly not convinced that the author  is even aware of who Garfield is, because instead of being a lasagne-eating, lazy feline, the Garfield in this story carries a handgun (difficult with paws), drives a pickup truck (very difficult when your knees are backwards), and woos movie stars. I would love to see somebody make a comic book of this story.

But although the author – the optimistically-titled “ShakespeareHemmingway” – may not know who Garfield is, he certainly knows who Natalie Portman is. The story ends with a postscript to let her know, if she’s reading this, that if she would like to date him, that would be okay.

Ruth performing a reading.

Paul took the chair next, giving us a reading of the first six chapters (they’re miniscule, although one gets the feeling that this is perhaps because large chunks of them are missing, based on the continuity problems) of HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH – yes, that’s really it’s title.

Listening to this story is like going to Azathoth‘s house and dropping acid. While outwardly it sort-of appears to be Harry Potter fanfiction, I’m convinced that it’s something more: I’m not sure what. Perhaps it’s a chant to summon demons of insanity, or perhaps it’s a piece of neo-Dadaist genius, but there’s something there. What I can tell you, though, is this: hearing it makes you feel like your brain is at risk of melting out through your ears.

Harry vomited steam and summoned a great meteor from space to smash into Hogwarts and kill everyone there, for no reason at all… He encased the entire meteor in a wreath of holy fuckfire and flew through Mercury, killing the fuck out of it. Then he sent Mercury’s carcass into Venus, killing the fuck out of it and making every vagina in the galaxy explode, and inside every vagina a booby sang of mortal life’s fleeting precipice.

Seriously. You can’t tell me that doesn’t mean something?

Paul and JTA listen and prepare for the voting...

For my story, I’d selected QUAKE THE EPIC FIGHT!, which is – I hope – probably the only piece of Quake-themed fanfiction to have ever been written. It’s starts – and finishes – with Chapter One, which kind of makes me wonder why it bothers with a chapter title in the first place, and tells the story of old schoolfriends Bill and Norman as they fight together against the, and I quote, “evill strogg robot alien things who kill humans”.

It’s pretty dire, and remarkably hard-to-read on account of it’s random tense changes, spelling (both awful and inconsistent), and the absence of punctuation. Let me share a sentence:

ther vas loud boom when bills ship crash but ther vas louder more BOOM when normans did. “oh no is he ded!” bill sayed lik sad but ther vas body who climed up from shp and they ran to others in happy!

Ballot papers.

Finally, it came time for the voting – by STV, of course, because we’re not savages. After a run-off round between tied winners Ruth and Paul, Ruth finally came out on top! Garfield had it!

The prize! Jack Daniels and ginger. In a can.

JTA has decided to provide a prize that fit with the theme. Fanfiction is a good way to ruin a perfectly good story… so what happens if you ruin whisky? You get this, it turns out: Jack Daniels and ginger, in a can. Ruth was less-than-delighted by her prize (it didn’t taste too bad all by itself, but the soapy aftertaste was pretty grim), but managed to gulp down the whole can with minimal help from the rest of us.

Ruth with her "prize".

Ruth mentioned that there existed a sequel to the piece of fan fiction she’d read, and we insisted that she give us a reading of this, too. And so, we got the dubious pleasure of a live reading of Garfield: First Blood Part II: The Legend of the Warrior of the Forever Fist, feature fantastic paragraphs like this closing moment:

Garfield and Natalie Portman went on her bed and embraced for love makings. They rubbed eachother with oil and perfume and touched eachother all over. Their bodies then joined like peanut butter and jelly and created delicious loving all night long.

Wow. The author even updated his postscript to let his admired Natalie Portman know that he’s still single (shocking, I know, that a talented author like this can’t get a date) if she’s interested.

All in all, the first ever Argh, It Burns! Night was an amazing, hilarious, and only sometimes painful, success. We’re totally going to have to do this again next year.